Extra Fiction Thursday: Quarantined Chapter 11 and Epilogue

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


Chapter 11

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

“Matt, have you seen this?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several cellphones and microphones were shoved back toward him.

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

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

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

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

“No, I don’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are we going back to Ohio?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, Liam.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He said they’re watching movies.”

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

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

Epilogue

“Pregnant? Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“Senator Grant?”

“Yes?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 17

I have to admit that sometimes my stomach tightens when I write certain scenes I know will be uncomfortable for my characters.

I know. That’s weird.

“They’re fictional characters, Lisa.”

That’s what you’re thinking, but to me they are real. At least in my head so when I have to write —wait. I know what you are thinking again: “When you have to write something? You don’t have to write anything. You’re the writer. You can write whatever you want.” Oh, how I wish that was true. See, I write by the seat of my pants. My characters tell me their stories and I transcribe what they tell me, but sometimes they tell me to transcribe something I don’t like. This week’s chapter won’t be too rough but a couple upcoming chapters are causing me some stress and to yell: “No. No! Don’t do that! You idiot!”

Maybe that’s why I had been putting off writing them until this week. This week it had to be written though because the scenes were playing over and over in my mind. When that happens I have to write them down before my creative brain will stop bugging me. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this week’s chapter and brace yourself for the next few chapters. We might all be going on an emotional roller coaster.

If you want to catch up on the story you can find the link at the top of the page or HERE. And you can find the link to my books on Kindle on Amazon.

Molly’s stomach tightened at the sight of Ben Oliver standing with his parents in one corner of the church lobby before the service.

What was he doing here? She hadn’t realized he even attended any church anymore.

They had attended youth group together as teens but in their senior year Ben had started attending church less and less until he didn’t attend at all. The way he had talked about Angie that day at the store had told her all she needed to know about his Christian walk and where he was in it. She had no idea what his relationship with God was now and there were times she didn’t feel like she cared.

People can change, she reminded herself as she watched him laugh with the pastor, shaking Pastor Joe’s hand. Ben had the same charming smile, the same bright green eyes, the same dark hair swept back off his forehead, and the same chiseled jaw she remembered from high school. He looked older, yes, but no less handsome.

She lowered her gaze as she walked past him, hoping he wouldn’t see her. She followed parents into the sanctuary, joining them next to Jason and Ellie in the pew they had occupied for most of her life. She inwardly cringed when Ben sat with his family four rows in front of theirs, realizing she’d have to stare at the back of his head for the entire service and smell his familiar cologne even from four rows back.

She closed her eyes, willing away the memories of his lips on hers so many times when they were teenagers, his arms around her, his palm pressed gently against the side of her face. All of that tenderness seemed a lifetime ago. She didn’t know Ben now and in many ways, she hadn’t really known him then either, not the real Ben. The real Ben had shown himself in the way he’d broken up with her, in the way he’d spoken about her that day with his friends.

She did her best to focus on the hymns  being sung, her friend Mary’s singing at the front of the church, and Pastor Joe’s sermon, relieved when the last hymn was song and she could head toward the back of the church and toward the exit.

“Meet you at home,” she told her Mom. “These shoes are killing my feet.”

It wasn’t a lie; the straps of the black dress shoes she’d picked out that morning were digging into the tops and backs of her feet. She was much more comfortable in a pair of work boots or sneakers. It wasn’t only the shoes she wanted to leave behind, however. She also wanted to travel as far as she could from Ben and the painful memories he brought with him.

 A hand touched her elbow as she reached for the door and her heartrate quickened at the sound of the voice close to her ear.

“Hey, Molly.”

More than anything she wanted to keep walking through those doors, but instead she paused and turned to face him.

“Oh, Ben. Hey there. I didn’t know you were here today.”

His hand was still on her elbow. “I’m hoping to get back into regular church attendance now that I’m back in town.”

Time for me to find a new church then.

“Oh. Okay,” Molly said out loud. “Well, that’s nice. Will you excuse me? These shoes are killing my feet.”

Ben laughed softly, dropping his hand from her elbow – finally. “Yeah, those shoes don’t exactly look like something I remember you wearing when we were younger.”

What is that supposed to mean?

Molly forced a smile. “Well, people change and so do their taste in shoes. These straps just happen to be a bit tight.”

Ben laughed softly. “Of course, people change. I didn’t mean to offend you.” He followed her through the large wood doors into the bright sunlight. “Molly, can we talk for a minute?”

The softened tone of Ben’s voice caught her attention and she looked at him as they walked, noting his serious expression. She really didn’t want to talk to him but the sincerity in his voice had changed her mind.

“Yeah. Okay.”

Ben paused by the bench in the courtyard and gestured toward it. Molly sat next to him with apprehension, remembering a similar moment eight years before, her chest constricting as she looked at Ben and her mind transported her back to that night on her parents’ porch. The memories were less painful than they’d once been, but they were still painful.

“So, this is awkward for me, and I’m sure it is for you,” Ben started, one elbow propped on the back of the bench, his body twisted slightly toward her. He dropped his gaze, looking at the ground as he continued. “I should have had this talk with you years ago, Molly. I know that. I was ashamed, though. Ashamed of how I treated you, how I acted, who I was back then. To be honest, there were years I didn’t even think about how I had treated you or the things I did at the time. I was completely self-focused, completely arrogant.”

He looked back at her and Molly’s breath caught at the genuine soft expression, at his green eyes shimmering slightly in the sunlight. “But when I hit rock bottom and woke up, there you were, at the forefront of my mind. Molly Tanner. The one person who loved me even when I was unlovable and I threw it – and her – away for a cheap fling with a girl who had eyes for every boy in the county. I’m sorry, Molly. I’m sorry for how I treated you and how I broke it off with you. I’m sorry if I hurt you. I’m sorry it took me so long to say I’m sorry.”

Molly sat for a few moments, unsure how to respond. She didn’t want to say, “Hey, no hard feelings. No problem,” because there were hard feelings. She’d held on to that hurt for years and only recently had started to let it go, if even a little. Still, she saw an earnest effort in Ben to apologize, to make amends to ask for forgiveness for how he’d hurt her.

The cynical side of her wondered if his request for forgiveness was for her benefit or his own, though. Had he really changed?

Ben didn’t want for her to respond, reaching out to lay his hand gently on her arm. “I understand if you can’t forgive me right now but maybe in the future you’ll be able to and know that I am truly sorry for who I was back then.”

Molly let out the breath she realized she’d been holding. She nodded slowly, the words he’d said to his friends all those years ago still in her mind, even as she tried to ignore them.

“We were young, Ben,” she said finally. “Kids make mistakes. People grow and mature. And, yes, people do change.” She laid her hand over his. “Thank you for apologizing to me. I’m sure it was hard to do.”

Ben smiled, that familiar beautiful smile that used to make Molly’s heart race but today only made her smile back and feel a sense of peace.

“It was hard,” Ben said. “But it’s been the one thing on my mind since I got back to town. The one thing I knew I needed to do even if you had moved on because I knew I hadn’t. I was still holding on to the guilt over how I had treated you, the girl who used to be my best friend.”

He rubbed the palm of his thumb against the top of her hand has he held it. “We had some good times, didn’t we? Before I became the worst boyfriend on the planet.”

Molly laughed softly. “Well, not the worst . . .”

Ben grinned. “But pretty darn close.”

Molly bit her lower lip and lowered her gaze, still smiling. “I plead the fifth.”

“Remember that time we were on that haunted hayride?” he asked. “That guy jumped out at us from the dark with a chainsaw and you almost ended up on my lap.”

Molly laughed and shook her head. “I think it was you who almost ended up on my lap.”

“Um, no. That does not sound manly at all. It had to be the other way around.”

Molly was very aware that his hand was still on hers, his thumb still making circular motions on her skin.

“Maybe we both were afraid and jumped at each other then,” she laughed.

She gently pulled her hand away, pushing her hair back from her face.

“I miss those days,” he said softly, moving his hand to his knee and tilting his head slightly as he looked at her. “They were innocent times in so many ways.”

Molly watched her parents and brother and Ellie leave the church, get into their cars, drive away and wave at her and Ben on the way by. She knew lunch would be ready soon.

“One thing I always wondered,” she started as they stood from the bench. “Why did you even bother to take me out that night you broke up with me? You could have just broken it off before the date.”

Ben winced, rubbing his hand across the back of his neck. “Ugh. That night. I hate remembering that night. I almost chickened out. I think deep down I knew what I was doing was wrong. Part of me wanted one more night together and part of me wanted to get it over with. I thought I loved Angie, you know I didn’t even know what love really was. What I had for Angie was lust. That lust caused her and me, and you, a lot of pain.”

Ben nodded his head toward the parking lot. “Let me walk you to your car. I’m sure your mom still cooks those amazing Sunday dinners.”

“Yes, she does.”

Ben cleared his throat as they walked. “Maybe this is oversharing, or maybe I’m confessing too much, but I came back here to try to get my life back on track after I was fired from my last job. I’d started drinking to drown out all my guilt, not just over you, but over a lot of things. Angie got pregnant a couple of years ago. I wanted her to get an abortion, she wanted to keep the baby. I didn’t want to be a father. I was too young. I left her to raise the baby on her own.”

Molly wasn’t sure what to say. Should she congratulate him on being a father or comfort him for his mistake in walking away? Part of her also wanted to punch him for suggesting the abortion.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly as they approached her truck. “That must have been very hard for you.”

He shrugged. “Not at the time. It was a relief. I was glad to be set free from the burden of raising a child. I was finishing my law degree while working at the firm in Boston and now with Angie gone, I was free to date other women, find a new kind of excitement. My whole life was in front of me. Or so I thought. Depression hit me hard after she left. The realization of who I had become hit me like a freight train, but I kept trying to ignore it, tell myself I wasn’t really as bad as I thought I was.”

They paused at the truck and Ben laughed, patting the rusting hood. “I can’t believe you’re still driving this old thing.”

Molly scowled. “I thought men liked classic cars, but you’re the second man to make fun of me for still driving this truck.”

Ben grinned. “Well, classic is one thing, but a piece of junk is another.”

“You know this was my grandfather’s truck, Ben.”

Ben nodded and laid his hand on her shoulder. “I know. I’m sorry for teasing. I was sorry to hear he’d passed away. My mom told me. I wish I had snapped out of my selfish behavior long enough to come back for the funeral.”

He closed the door behind Molly after she slid behind the steering wheel.

“So where is Angie now?” she asked. “Did she keep the baby?”

Red flushed along Ben’s cheekbones. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his dress pants and nodded. “Yeah. She kept the baby. It was a girl. Amelia. Angie wrote me a letter about a year ago, sent me a photo. They, uh,” he kicked at the asphalt with the tip of his dress shoe. “Live about four hours from here, close to where Angie’s parents moved about two years ago.”

“Do you think you’ll go see them?”

“I don’t know, really. I don’t know if Angie would even want me to. I wasn’t even paying child support, but she didn’t ask for it either. I never answered the letter. I’m pretty much a deadbeat dad.” He shook his head, tears rimming his eyes. “I never imagined myself that way, you know? My parents were amazing parents. I always wanted to be a good dad, like my dad has always been. Then — I became who I never thought I would be — selfish, arrogant, and a complete idiot.”

Compassion overwhelmed Molly, pushing back her awkward feelings toward Ben. She reached through the window and held her hand out and Ben took it, looking at her.

“As long as you’re still breathing there is still a chance to change things, Ben,” she said softly.

He nodded and swallowed emotion. “Thanks, Molly. I appreciate that.” He squeezed her hand briefly before letting it go.

“Hey, how about you?” he asked. “I know we were joking a bit at the rummage sale that day, but are you really dating that guy who works for your dad?”

 “No, Ben,” Molly sighed. “I’m really not.”

Ben smirked. “But you have feelings for him?”

Molly started the truck and smiled. She was not about to talk about her love life with her old high school boyfriend, especially her old boyfriend who dumped her for someone he had called “hotter” at the time.

 “He’s a good friend,” she said. “That’s all. It was good to talk to you, Ben.”

“You too. I hope we can do it again soon, but without the awkward conversation about what a jerk I was.”

“Sounds good.”

Molly smiled as she pulled out of the parking lot and turned toward Main Street to head out of town and back to the farm.

She let out a long breath as she drove, shaking her head as if to shake off the surreal. Had Ben Oliver really just apologized to her, ending years of overthinking and over analyzing the event she had once seen as life-changing and romance ending? It was something she’d never thought would happen and now that it had she laughed to herself realizing she would probably end up analyzing what the apology meant to how she had perceived herself all these years. No analyzing today, though. Today she only wanted to live in the moment, a moment of peace and kindness that had soothed once raw wounds.

***

“Yeah, I’ll let you know when we get home, but so far she seems fine. Okay, Mom, talk to you later.”

Jason tapped end call on his cellphone and turned to see the nurse wheeling his grandmother toward him through the opstistrics door to the main lobby.

“I told her I could walk on my own,” Franny informed him. “I’m not an invalid yet but she said it’s hospital policy.”

“Just to your car, Mrs. Tanner,” the nurse said with a smile. She looked at Jason. “You can take it from here if you want and just bring the chair back to the valets at the front.”

“I’m sure you’ll be glad to  have her off your hands,” Jason said with a  wink.

The nurse laughed and shook her head. “Not at all. Your grandmother is a breath of fresh air. I love her spunk.”

Franny snorted. “Spunk. Is that what they’re calling cantankerous these days?”

Jason rolled his eyes. “I think someone needs some lunch. Maybe that will put her in a better mood.”

He leaned down next to Franny’s chair, one knee down, the other up. “Seriously, Grandma. You okay? I don’t want us to go until you’re sure you’re okay.”

“I’m feeling fine,” Franny sighed. She smiled and touched Jason’s arm gently. “My vision is still a little blurry, but I’m already seeing better than before. Thank you for your concern though. We’re not that far away from the hospital that if there is an issue we can’t come back.”

Jason nodded and stood. “Okay. Then we will head on home. Molly is going to hang out with you this afternoon to make sure you’re doing okay.”

“This is Bridget by the way, Jason,” Franny said tilting her head to look up at the nurse. “I already told her about you. My strong, smart, very handsome grandson who is helping his family run the farm. But don’t worry, I also told her that you are taken since you are going to be proposing to that lovely girlfriend of yours soon.”

Jason’s cheeks flushed red and he shook his head. “Grandma. . . .”

Franny smiled at Bridget. “Look at how he embarrassed he is that his old grandma is bragging about him.”

Bridget, with a pretty round face and bright green eyes, and probably about ten years younger than Jason watched him admiringly, smiling. “Good luck with the proposal,” she said with a wink.

Jason’s face and ears flushed even redder as he laughed and then cleared his throat. “Thanks. Okay, Grandma, it really is time to get you out of here.”

 Back in his parents’ car, which he borrowed so his grandmother could get in and out of it, Jason started it and braced himself for his grandmother continuing the conversation she’d been having in the lobby with the nurse.

“Well, Jason…”

Here it was.

“I went to my appointment, I got my answers and I’ve even had my surgery, so now —”

“I know, Grandma and I’m excited. I’m hoping the surgery was a success.”

“I believe it will be. Now, with that settled, it’s time for you to hold up your end of the bargain.”

Jason laughed softly, shaking his head. “Grandma . . .”

“Jason . . .”

“I know, Grandma. It’s time to propose to Ellie, but listen, I’m working on a plan for how to do it, okay? It needs to be big, right? I mean, it’s been this many years I really need to do something special.”

Franny rolled her eyes. “Oh, Jason, good Lord. Just jump.”

“What?”

“Just get on the stick. Whatever the saying is these days that means – get your caboose in gear and propose to that girl before you’re both old and gray.”

Jason slid the car back into park and bit his lower lip. He looked at his grandmother, short dark, curly hair with gray streaks, her sweet round race and eyes full of anticipation and sighed.

“Grandma, I . . .listen, it’s just —”

A frown creased Franny’s forehead. “Oh my. Did you and Ellie break up?”

“What? No. No. That’s not it.”

“You don’t love her like you thought you did?”

“No. That’s not it either, Grandma.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

Jason stared at his grandmother, the woman who had helped raise him, taught him what it meant to work hard, push through tough times, and more than any of that, taught him what it meant to be a good Christian. He could not share with her what was keeping him from proposing to Ellie.

“Nothing,” he lied. “Nothing’s wrong.”

Franny wasn’t buying it. “Something is wrong, Jason. Something has happened. What is it?”

Jason shifted the car into gear again. “Nothing, Grandma. Never mind.”

Franny laid her hand over his. “Park this car, Jason and tell me what’s on your mind. You know I won’t love you any less.”

Jason shifted the gear into park again and pressed his forehead against the top of the steering wheel.

“I screwed up in college, Grandma. I wasn’t someone who would have made you proud.”

“Drinking?” Franny asked. “Parties?”

Jason raised his head to look at his grandmother. She was way too much like his mom; some kind of Jedi mind reader.

He nodded, determined not to tell her the rest, though. “Yeah.”

“I had a feeling,” she said with a sigh.

“You did?”

“You were different when you came back from college. Something seemed off. You seemed sadder somehow. I never knew how to talk about it with you. Then your grandpa got sick and, well, I guess I was sadder too. I’m sorry I never asked you if you were okay.”

Jason swallowed hard. “I would have told you I was okay even if you’d asked. You know that. I was embarrassed. And I’ve never told Ellie about what an idiot I was back then.”

Franny squeezed his hand. “Tell her, honey. She loves you. She will understand. I know I do. You were young. You made some mistakes but you’re still my sweet grandson.”

Jason knew his grandmother meant well but she didn’t know everything and he wondered if she would understand or think he was still her sweet grandson if she did. He also wasn’t so sure Ellie would understand. Not about the one-night stand for one, but especially not about why he hadn’t told her about it after all these years.