Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 12

I worked on this book this week, finally feeling creative after shutting off the news and social media. I probably wrote 1,000 words Tuesday night, saved and shut off my computer, only to discover that the computer, which saves to Microsoft OneDrive, had not saved any and I mean ANY of my changes that I had worked on for hours that evening.

I had been saving for hours and all of it was gone when I opened it up right before bed to add something. I normally email a copy to myself but it didn’t matter because none of the changes had saved so the emailed copy didn’t have any of the changes or additions either. I have no idea why it happened but now I am working on rewriting entire chapters, fixing errors and rewriting rewrites.

Some days I just want to give up on this silly writing thing but then I remember that no one really reads my stories or books anyhow so this whole writing thing is really just a hobby and I should not be upset by a hobby. Ha! A hobby is for fun so I had fun going back and rewriting all that I had lost and I will be rewriting much of it again in the future when it is all complete.

Anyhow, to catch up with the story, you can click HERE or at the top of the page. This is a work in progress and as always there could be errors, typos, plot holes, etc. that I will hopefully fix in the final draft. My other works of fiction are linked to at the top of the page as well and both of my books are currently on Kindle Unlimited: A Story to Tell and A New Beginning.

The serene scene of cows grazing in a field bright with golden sunlight was in stark contrast to the direct view Molly had of a grieving Alice Stanton. Alice’s hands were pressed to her face, the tears she’d fought to hold back for much of the day spilling down her cheeks and through her fingers.

 Alice, a small woman with long dark brown hair streaked with graying highlights that fell to the  middle of her back, was known by many in town as usually being upbeat and optimistic in situations others found too overwhelming. Today, though, Alice was the one overwhelmed.

Her cheeks were splotched red from crying and her usual upbeat demeanor had crumbled under the pressure of her family’s financial strain. Her body trembled with each sob and it was all making  Molly feel awkward, unsure how to respond to Alice’s tears. But then Molly did what she’d want someone to do for her if she was in the same situation: she pulled Alice into a hug and let Alice cry on her shoulder while stroking Alice’s hair.

The Stanton’s farm had fallen on hard times three years ago and instead of trying to survive another year they had given up, like so many other farmers, filing for bankruptcy and choosing to sell off their animals, equipment and land.

“Oh, Molly,” Alice said as she lifted her face and tried to dry her eyes with an already soaked, crumpled tissue. “I can’t believe this is really happening to us.”

Molly looked across the Stanton’s field at the tractors and farm equipment lined up in rows, people walking around the items, looking at them thoughtfully, studying them, discussing their worth. Behind the farm equipment were rolling hills, fields filled with cows that were also being bid on, and beyond those fields, other farms dotting the landscape, some of those farms on the verge of bankruptcy as well.

“That’s our life for the last 30 years,” Alice said in disbelief, looking out at the large crowd and the auctioneer setting up his booth. She gestured at the scene with one quick movement of her hand that she returned to the cross necklace, clutching it tightly. “There it all is – set up for strangers and neighbors to pick through and pick apart. It’s so surreal.”

Fresh tears spilled down Alice’s face and Molly felt the sting of tears in her own eyes.

“What will you and Jim do?”

Alice shook her head. “I don’t know for sure yet. I picked up a job at the bank and Jim has an interview at the meat packing plant next week. Isn’t that ironic? He couldn’t afford to produce milk and meat himself so now he’ll have to work packing some factory farm’s meat.”

The auctioneer started the bidding on the Stanton’s hay baler, rattling off its attributes and suggested prices in a quick paced tone, almost too fast for Molly to keep up with. The men standing in front of the auctioneer trailer were a mix of mostly men, some well-dressed while others had obviously driven straight from the barn to the auction.

The well-dressed were usually from the corporate farms, having driven two or more hours. Molly looked at them like vultures come to feed on dying carcasses of the small family farms. She knew she shouldn’t think that way. They had their place in the world too, but Molly agreed with her dad and other small farmers who worried about the loss of quality and safety in corporate farming. Then there was the questionable care of the animals and the reduced profits for small farming operations when the bigger farms moved in. Molly didn’t know how it all worked really, but small farms were all she’d ever known and she felt a fierce loyalty to them.

Molly knew from past auctions that many of the farmers from the family farms didn’t want to bid, not because they couldn’t use the equipment, but because they didn’t want to see their neighbors go out of business. And in some cases, the bidding farmers wondered if they might be next and if they should waste money on equipment they’d soon be selling themselves.

“This was a four-generation farm,” Alice said softly, watching the auctioneer. “Jim’s grandfather took it over from his father, who died very young from tuberculosis. This was all Jim ever wanted to do, from the time he learned to walk, pretty much. If this is this hard on me I can’t imagine how devastated he has to feel about all of this. He won’t even talk to me about it. He’s so matter-of-fact about the bills and how we are too far in debt.”

Alice found another tissue in her jeans pocket and wiped the tears from her cheeks.

“I just wish he would talk to me about how he is feeling,” she said, blowing her nose. “I worry about what holding it all in is doing to his health.”

Molly’s chest constricted. She understood Alice’s worry for Jim. Molly had the same worries about her father who rarely spoke about how situations his family had faced or were facing him made him feel.

Alice lowered her voice and leaned closer to Molly. “Did you hear about Larry Jenson?”

Molly shook her head.

“He couldn’t take the pressure,” Alice whispered tearfully. “He felt like he’d let his family down when the farm failed last year. His wife found him two nights ago in the barn, a bottle of pills in his hand, an empty glass that smelled like whiskey next to his body. The coroner told his wife he’ll most likely rule it a suicide but he’s waiting for the toxicology report.”

Molly gasped. “Oh my gosh! His wife and family must be devastated.”

Alice nodded. “She is and I think that’s one thing I’m worried about with Jim. If he won’t talk to me about how all this making him feel, maybe he won’t talk to me if he’s thinking of . . .” Alice shook her head, closing her eyes briefly. “I can’t even bare to think about it.”

Molly laid a hand on her shoulder. “You won’t have to,” she said, hoping she was right. “Just keep an eye on Jim and be there for him. When he’s ready to talk he will. I’m sure he’s just keeping quiet now to make sure he can get what needs to be done done.”

Alice turned her head, wiping the tears from her face. “I’m going to go make sure they have enough hot dogs and snacks for the bidders. If I cry anymore my eyeballs will fall right out.”

Molly watched Alice walk back toward the barn and bit her lower lip, wondering when the day would come when her family auctioned their life away. She turned and watched her dad walking with other farmers, studying equipment, contemplating about quality and price. Jason and Alex stood at the back of the crowd talking to a small group of younger farmers and Molly recognized one of them as Jason’s former classmate Jeremy McCarty. The McCarty’s had been farming their land with a head of 250 dairy cows for three generations, but Jason had said the family was considering selling out and moving to Kansas within the year.

“This is a fine harvester,” the auctioneer said. “Three years old. Great paint job still. Well taken care of. Let’s start the bidding at nineteen. Nineteen thousand. Nineteencanigetnineteen? Nineteennineteennineteen – Nineteen in the back. Can I get twenty-twenty-twenty? Twentytwentytwenty – twenty-one. Twenty two thousand-twenty-twothoussandtwentythreecanigettwentythreeandtwentytwentytwenty -three! Twenty-three!”

The bidding went on like that for the rest of the afternoon while Molly served buyers hot dogs and soda and agreed with other farmers that the day was one of sadness; the end of an era. This was the first auction Molly had been to, but she knew there had been others in recent months and she knew there would be more. The faces of many of the farmers who walked by were etched in worry, eyelids drooping from late nights of crunching numbers.

“Sold off half the herd last month,” one farmer said to another, standing in the doorway of the barn where a makeshift concession stand had been set up. “If we can save some money this year, I’m hoping to bring some more cows back.”

“I saw the most recent reports from the dairy bureau,” the other farmer said. “The numbers don’t look encouraging.”

Both farmers shook their heads.

“This is all I’ve ever done,” the first farmer said. “It was all my dad and his dad ever did. I can’t imagine what I’ll do with myself if I have to finally pack it in.”

His friend laughed, clapped him on the back.

“How about finally retire and take Eloise on that cruise she’s always wanted?”

“I get sea sick, but even if I did go, what will I do with myself after we get back?”

The farmers stood, hands shoved in their overall pockets, silent for a few moments, and looked out over the field full of farm equipment, buyers and curious onlookers weaving around each other.

“Welp, best get back to the barn and milk what’s left of my cows.”

“Yep,” the other farmer nodded, still looking out at the auction. “Need to get back and make sure mine are all in the barn for the night.”

The two men parted ways, heads both down, deep in thought as Molly watched them. She sat on the stool behind the table and felt a strange heaviness in her chest. The idea that these men, so much like her father, could no longer live the lives they had hoped to broke her heart and made her world feel upside down.

She sat down on the stool behind the table, opened a bottle of water and watched the trucks pull in and out of the Stanton’s side yard where a makeshift parking lot had been set up.

She had been considering walking away from farming, seeing what the world was like beyond her parent’s corn fields, but at the same time she dreaded the possibility that in the near future she wouldn’t even have a choice if she wanted to be involved in farming or not.

“Whatchya thinking about?”

Molly startled at the sound of the voice to the right of her. She looked over to see Alex grinning, his black cowboy hat tipped low on his head, a black sleeveless shirt revealing his tanned muscular biceps. She wasn’t sure when he started wearing that hat, but every time she saw him in it, it flipped her stomach upside down.

Alex had come to their farm a city slicker, but he should have been born a country boy as fast as he had adapted to life on the farm.

She shrugged as an answer to his question, then thought for a moment about how to answer.

“Alice was just telling me about Larry Jenson, this local farmer . . .”

Alex cracked open a Pepsi and sat on a stool next to her.

“The one who offed himself? Yeah. Jason was telling me about that.”

Molly’s eyebrows darted up, and Alex knew he’d said something wrong.

“Offed himself? Really? That wasn’t very sensitive, Alex.”

“Oh. Sorry. I mean —”

Molly sighed. “It’s okay. You can’t help being insensitive. You’re a man.”


“Anyhow, it’s just — I mean, Mr. Jenson had to be really down to do that, you know? What if —”

“Molly, your dad would never do that, if that’s what you’re thinking, and neither would Walt. You know that.”

“I don’t know. Do I? If things got bad enough and —”

Alex shook his head. “Not going to happen. No more thinking that way, okay? Your family has a good thing going. They’ve got the farm store, the rain has finally let up, there should be a good crop this year. Everything is going to be okay.”

He looked over at her, reached out and laid his hand against her shoulder. “No more worrying, okay?”

His hand on her skin flustered her for a moment, but she managed to nod as she looked at him.

“Okay. I’ll try.”

She pulled her eyes from his, her heart pounding.

She watched the farmers walking by the open barn door, cars pulling in and out of the field that was serving as a makeshift parking lot.

Alex watched too.

After a few moments of silence, he looked at her again.

“So, if you’re done worrying, I’m heading back to see how much equipment your dad is going to make me haul out of here when he’s done bidding.”

Alex’s grin as he stood to leave not only lifted her heavy mood, it made her feel almost giddy. She leaned forward on the stool, propped her elbow on the table, her chin on her hand and welcomed the distraction of watching him walk away. Now one wore a pair of jeans as well as Alex Stone.

Alex tried to push Molly’s worries from his mind as he walked toward Robert and Jason. He whole heartedly believed that Robert Tanner would never leave his family, in any way, no matter how tough it got, at least not on purpose. Still, Molly’s concerns were contagious.

He had been noticing how tired Robert had been looking lately, but he wasn’t about to mention it to Molly or Jason. Alex had tried to step up more, offering to take on jobs Robert would normally do, hoping it would encourage Robert to slow down. Instead, Robert had replaced the jobs with different jobs, never slowing down, always on full-speed. Alex had acted confident with Molly, but inside he worried like she did that all the pressure of running a large farming business would finally break the man he’d come to think of as a father figure.


“So, when were you going to tell me about the financial trouble the business is in?”

Robert’s back was to his sister but he didn’t have to see her to know that Hannah was standing with her arms folded across her chest, her leg cocked to one side, and a tight scowl pursing her mouth into an angry frown. He inwardly groaned and titled his eyes toward the heavens, silently praying for an interruption.

He and Bert, her husband, had talked last night about telling her about the issue with the loan so he knew this moment was coming. Bert had even called an hour ago to warm him she was on the warpath. Bert had already had his hide chewed and it hadn’t been pretty. Robert knew he was next.

He had hoped she would find Walt first, but Walt told him last night he’d be an hour away today, picking up supplies for the farm store at a partner farm. Walt had a way of avoiding conflicts by making himself hard to find. 


Robert cleared his throat before turning away from the tractor he’d been preparing to climb into. It was obvious it was time to face the music with yet another woman in his life.

He turned and saw his youngest sibling standing in the exact way and with the same expression he had pictured in his mind. “Good morning to you too, Hannah.”

“Robert, I can’t even believe that you and Walter and Bert kept this from me. I had every right to know what was going on. I’m a full partner in this business.”

She was doing that thing now where she pointed one finger down at the ground at the end of every sentence and emphasized every other word.

“Hannah, I know. It was wrong. I just – we just —”

“Didn’t want me to know because you thought you could fix it on your own? Because I’m a woman? What?” She placed both her hands on her hips, her nostrils flared.

“You know that’s not why.”

Hannah’s light brown hair, now streaked with blond highlights from exposure to the sun, was pulled back in a tight ponytail, and her brown eyes were flashing with fury.

Robert was a mild-mannered man who often spoke softly and was rarely angered. He remained calm when others weren’t and normally Hannah admired this quality but today she wanted to see some actual emotion from him, to see a response behind his normal calm, closed off demeanor.

“No, Hannah, that wasn’t it at all.”

“You need to be honest with me this time, Robert. Don’t keep hiding things from me.”

With a heavy sigh Robert sat on a square bale of hay near the barn door and leaned forward slightly, arms propped on his knees. “Walt and I wanted to protect you because of how hard Dad’s death was on you. We planned to pay things off at the end of this summer with the corn harvest, but as you know, that’s not going as planned. We were going to talk to you once we had the money to take care of the shortfall. Until then we tried to shield you so you wouldn’t have to face anymore stress. You’ve been the main one caring for Mom, we saw how hard you tried to act like Dad’s death didn’t affect you, but Hannah . . .”

He looked at up at her from where he was sitting, saw her mouth was still pressed into a thin line. “Walt and I know it almost destroyed you. We didn’t want that to happen again. We didn’t want to see you hurt and worried again. We thought we could handle it. We were wrong. I’m sorry.”

Hannah’s shoulders had already started to relax as she listened to her brother and her face was less pinched than before. She sat next to him on the hay bale, not sure whether to yell or cry. The emotions she had been shoving inside for the last year chose for her.

Robert reached over and squeezed her hand as tears rolled down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Hannah.”

She nodded and accepted the wadded up handkerchief he handed her, blowing her nose into it and wiping her eyes.

“I know you didn’t mean to keep me out of the loop. It’s just — I always feel like I’m the last to know everything. I was the last to know that Daddy was sick. No one wanted to tell me when the doctors said his heart was in worse shape than they thought. And now here we are, possibly losing our livelihood and I’m in the dark again.”

Robert shook his head. “We’re not going to lose the business, Hannah. It’s going to be fine. Walt and I,” he took her hand again. “and you, will go over tomorrow and talk to Bill and we will work out a plan, like we should have in the beginning.”

Hannah nodded, sniffing and blowing her nose again. “Okay.”

She looked at her brother, tears glistening in her eyes. Seeing her in such a tender moment, so vulnerable and emotional, was unnerving to Robert. Hannah was always the strong one, the determined one, the one who seemed to have it all together, even though she was the baby of the family. Even at their dad’s funeral she’d been composed, strong, and had only cried once, briefly, in front of everyone else.

He knew from what Bert had told him, though, that the tears had flowed, hard and fast at home, locked in her room at night or in the bathroom when she thought no one could hear her or see her. Robert didn’t know why his sister had always fought so hard to hide her emotions but he was glad to see a part of that wall breaking down now, even if it did make him uncomfortable.

“We need to talk about Mom,” she said finally, after a few more moments of tears and blowing her nose.

“She’s still pretty down, isn’t she?”

Hannah nodded. “I’m worried about her, Robert. She has little interest in anything anymore. I can’t get her to go to church. She complains all the time.”

Robert knew all of this already. He’d listened to his mom complain about a variety of people and situations in recent months. He’d also listened to her refusals to attend church with him and Annie, instead saying she didn’t feel well and would rather read her Bible at home.

“I’m not ready to lose Mom too.” Hannah choked out the words. “But I think she’s just given up since Daddy died.”

Robert slid his arm around Hannah’s shoulders and pulled her gently against him. “I’ll go talk to her. All we can do right now is love her through this.”

Hannah nodded against his shoulder and blew her nose again.

 She looked at the soggy handkerchief crumpled in her hand. “Is the handkerchief you always have shoved in your pocket and blow your nose on all day?”

Robert sighed. “Yes. It is, but I haven’t used it yet today.”

Hannah wiped her eyes with the corner of the handkerchief. “Oh. Thank God. Men are so gross.”

Robert shook his head. Some things never changed.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 2

Life has been crazy in my neck of the woods, but revising Chapter 2 to share here this week helped distract me a little. Hopefully, it will actually post because my parents’ house (where we are staying for a while) has some pretty awful WiFi. That has been both a blessing and a curse. I’ve been frustrated at times being unable to access things online I’d like to but it’s also been a blessing because I am cut off in many ways from the negative news of the world. I can’t scroll Facebook or even access news sites at certain points in the day and I’m actually liking that.

If you missed Chapter 1, you can find the link HERE.


The Spencer Valley Community Center was the gathering place on Thursday nights for half the town of Spencer, population 3,000. In one conference room, the Spencer Valley Historical Society was meeting to discuss the upcoming history fair and fundraiser. In another room, there was a painting class, ages teen to 90s.

At the end of the hall a dance class was being held in the main gathering area and in a small conference room behind the kitchen, the Spencer Sewing and Knitting Club was holding its weekly gathering for amateurs and experts alike.

Molly was an amateur, which was clear from how she was sucking her index finger after stabbing it the third time in ten minutes while trying to learn to cross-stitch. She wasn’t even sure why she was at the sewing club. She’d never been interested in creating anything with thread and needle. She was usually at the community center for painting or sketching classes. When her friend Liz had invited her to the sewing club meeting she’d agreed, simply to break up the monotony of her evenings at the milking barn.

Molly laid her project down on her lap and rubbed her eyes.

“I haven’t been able to sleep all week,” she said through a yawn. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Liz Cranmer, Molly’s friend since seventh grade sat across from her in a cushioned wooden chair, her red-blond hair tied back in a neat ponytail.

“It’s all that worrying you do,” Liz said, matter-of-factly. “You have too much cortisol in your system.”

Oh, here we go again, Molly thought, fighting the strong urge to roll her eyes.

Liz was a self-proclaimed natural health expert. She was also a well-known hypochondriac. A half-filled water bottle with ice and freshly cut lemons sat next to her chair, which she sipped throughout the meeting.

“I don’t even know what cortisol is,” Molly said. She immediately regretted admitting her lack of knowledge.

Liz laid her project on her lap and looked up. “That’s what your adrenals make when you’re stressed. It’s a hormone that is produced by your body to try to help you —”

“My what?”

“Adrenals. They’re glands that sit on top of your kidneys.”

“Do they help me pee? Because I’m peeing fine.”

The other women, sitting on couches or chairs in a semi-circle, were starting to giggle.

“Oh boy. Here we go again,” Mildred McGee said with a shake of her head.

“No, they don’t help you pee,” Liz said. “They help regulate your flight or fight response.”

“By making me pee?” Molly asked.

“They aren’t related to peeing,” Liz said impatiently, rolling her eyes. “Anyhow, you need to buy some supplements to regulate your adrenals. Are you tired all day and wide awake at night?”

Molly sipped coffee from a thermos next to her and shook her head. If Liz wasn’t diagnosing herself with unusual ailments she read about in some magazine or online, then she was diagnosing her friends.

Ginny Jefferies, the town’s 50-year-old librarian, sighed. “Oh, Liz. You’ve been reading too many medical sites again. You know you’re a hypochondriac.”

“Well, I didn’t say I had it,” Liz pointed out. “I said Molly did.”

Louise McGroarty smiled and looked over her bifocals at Liz and Molly in amusement as she looped another piece of yarn around her needle.

“I don’t have adrenal issues,” Molly sighed. “I’ve just been thinking too much lately.”

“What have you been thinking about?” Liz asked.

“I don’t know. Life in general, I guess. Like what I want to do with mine besides working on the farm.”

“Molly, honey, you only live once and if you want to see what life is like beyond this town then you should finish that degree you started all those years ago and see where it takes you,” Louise said  as she tied off a piece of thread. “You’re almost 30, kid. It’s beyond time to figure out what you want in life and get on with it.”

“I’m 26, not almost 30,” Molly said.

“26 is the new almost 30,” Jessie Newberry, the mayor’s secretary, said with a grin.

Molly sighed. She had been sighing a lot lately.

“Really though, I like living on the farm,” Molly said. “It’s what I’m used to.”

“What you’re used to isn’t always what is best for you, honey,” Ginny said, pushing a needle through her project.

“Exactly. Besides helping your family, and maybe us wonderful ladies,” Lydia Walmsley smiled as she gestured around the room. “What else is keeping you in this town?

As if on cue, the side door to the community room opened and a quiet hush fell over the women as they looked up from their projects. Molly followed their gazes and watched Alex walking toward her wearing a dirty pair of jeans and a stained white t-shirt. The expressions on the women’s faces made it seem like he was strutting down a catwalk on fashion week in Paris instead of into the community room in his farm clothes.

“Hey,” he said, stopping and standing in front of her, hooking his thumbs through his belt loops. “Your mom wants to know if you can stop by the store on the way home and pick up some more flour and sugar for the rest of the cakes.”

She furrowed her eyebrows and smiled slightly. “You don’t know how to buy flour and sugar?”

“You know I always buy the wrong thing,” Alex said with a grin, pushing his fingers back through his ruffled brown hair.

Molly noticed that almost all the women were watching her and Alex, or more accurately Alex as if Alex was standing shirtless under a waterfall.

“I can pick it up,” she told him. “Now get out of here and go be productive somewhere.”

Alex offered a mock salute. “Sure thing, drill sergeant,” Alex said. He turned to walk away and then looked over his shoulder and smirked. “Have fun sewing and knitting, ladies.”

Liz looked at Molly with one eyebrow raised, her back to Alex.

“We sure will, Alex,” she said. “You have a good day now.”

Alex walked through the doorway, his back to the women. “Oh, I plan to.”

As the door closed firmly behind Alex, Liz smirked.

“And that, my dear ladies, is what is really keeping Molly Tanner in Spencer Valley,” she said as warmth rushed into Molly’s cheeks.

“Ooooh…” several of the women cooed together as Molly rolled her eyes.

“That could not be further from the truth,” she said.

“He’d keep me here,” Maddie Simpson said with a smile. “I’d just follow him around anywhere like I was a lost puppy dog.” The other women laughed in agreement.

Hannah Barks fanned her chest with her hand. “Same here. Oh my, Molly, where have you been hiding him?”

“I haven’t. He’s been working at our farm for the last five years. Of course, unless you live at the local bars or attend a rodeo you’ve probably never met him.”

“Sounds like someone is trying to pretend she’s not interested,” Allie Jenkins said with a smirk.

Molly started to fold her project as she shook her head.

“I’m going to go get those baking supplies for mom to avoid the wrath of Mavis.”

“No matter what you do, you’ll never avoid the wrath of Mavis,” Ginny said with a snort.

The other women laughed and nodded in agreement.

“Isn’t that the truth?” Allie said. “That woman is never happy.”

Liz shoved her project into her bag quickly. “I’ll follow you,” she told Molly.

Outside in the parking lot, the sun was just starting to set. Golden light poured across the small town of Spencer, making it look almost picturesque. Molly always thought that if it hadn’t been for several dilapidated, abandoned buildings along Main Street and the empty shoe factory on the edge of town, her hometown could be mistaken for one of those quaint villages in a Hallmark movie.

Many of the homes were well maintained, fairly new siding, matching shutters, the stereotypical white picket fence surrounding the neatly mowed front and back yards. The homes that were less maintained were where every book and movie always placed them – on the other side of the train tracks and well out of view of most visitors, who usually looked for the small, unique shops on Main Street instead.

The tracks were mainly used to transport cars to and from the railcar repair station. The repair center was the last remnant of the railroad company that once employed the majority of the town, helping to facilitate its growth more than 100 years ago, along with farming and the local medical center. When train transportation became less prominent, its demise was part of what started the town down the slippery slope of its economic decline.

Across from the community center was St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church; one of many churches in town. Molly looked up at the building, a tall cross illuminated from behind and adhered to the front of the stone structure, near the middle of the bell tower. In front of it was a statue of Mary and in front of Mary were a bouquet of fresh flowers that someone must have placed there earlier in the day.

The small farming community was host to a variety of small churches, representing a variety of the main Christian denominations. While Molly had always admired the stunning architecture and stained-glass windows of the Catholic Church, her idea of how to approach her faith had led her to what was called a “non-denominational church” thirty minutes away, in the neighboring town of Millsburg. The church hadn’t hitched itself to any one denomination and this was a concept that appealed to Molly.

“So, are you really thinking of leaving the farm?” Liz asked after she had finished chatting with the ladies and met Molly in the parking lot.

“I don’t know,” Molly admitted. “I like helping dad and mom with the farm. I like helping with the cows and at the farm, working at the farm store, and I even like collecting the eggs from those cranky hens.  On some days I can’t really see myself doing anything else, but on other days – I don’t know. I just want something different.”

Liz flipped a strand of hair off her shoulder. “I hear you. Change is good. Why do you think I left my job at the school district? I needed something more exciting than answering phones and scheduling the superintendent’s meetings.”

“You work at a health food store,” Molly said with a laugh. “Is that really more exciting?”

Liz tilted her head and laughed. “Sometimes it is actually. Yes. Last week a woman came in and asked if the crystals we have would help her to realign her shakra. I don’t even know what a shakra is. I just told her it was possible and left off that I had no idea.”

Reaching their cars, Liz unlocked hers and tossed her bag into the passenger seat. She leaned back against the closed door.

“But enough about me, back to you. You’ll have to think about what you want to do beyond the farm, but I know one thing you can do now: come to the gym with me and get in shape and snag that sexy Alex.”

Molly unlocked her own car and shook her head at her friend. “Liz, no. Alex is — well, Alex. And he wouldn’t be interested in me at all anyhow.”

“I highly doubt that’s true and besides, are you interested in him?”

Molly raised her arm and looked at an imaginary watch. “Oh, my. Look at the time. Don’t you have a cat to get home and feed, Liz?”

Liz sighed  as she turned to slid into the front seat. “Go ahead, Molly Tanner. Chase away your best friend who is only trying to help you lose your —”

Molly waved over her shoulder at her friend. “Bye, Liz. Will I see you at the ladies’ group Tuesday?

“I don’t know.” Liz shrugged. “I might have to work. Jane has been out sick this week.”

Jane Wilcox was Liz’s boss and the owner of Nature’s Best Health Food Store. Molly thought that for someone who touted healthy living and eating she sure was sick a lot.

“Well, I hope you can come. We’re studying Esther this week.”

“Again? Oh my gosh, I get it,” Liz said with an eye roll. “Esther was wonderful and we should all be like Esther.”

“There are a lot of good lessons in her story, but, no, we can’t all be like her,” Molly said. “I’m sure she wasn’t perfect. We’re only hearing one story of her life.”

Liz laughed. “I know, like how Facebook and Instagram only show the highlights of someone’s life. I’ll see what I can do. Drive home safe, lady. And for Godsake, don’t let Mavis rope you into manning that bake sale table again.”

Pulling the door closed Molly thought about how Liz felt she needed to change her looks to get the attention of a man. She was probably right, still it was weird thinking about the need to become someone you weren’t simply to be paid attention to by the opposite sex. What happened when the man found out Molly wasn’t who he had thought she was? That would certainly be an awkward transition unless the woman simply pretended to be someone else the rest of her life.

Molly shuddered as she drove, thinking about a woman she had known who was doing exactly that and was probably miserable because of it. Dana Priester always had her hair styled perfectly, her make up just so, her clothes always the latest design, and a smile always plastered on her face. How awful it must be for her to always have to be “on” and never be allowed to let down her hair and simply be herself. Then again, Molly thought with a shrug, maybe stuck up and fake was who Dana really was.

Just as awkward as Liz’s suggestion that she get in shape to catch a man was the man Liz had mentioned. Molly had definitely found her mind wandering more than once to Alex’s handsome appearance but she had never thought about trying to “win him over” or “catch him.” Alex was — well, Alex. He was simply there. Her brother’s best friend, her dad and uncle’s employee, her co-worker, for lack of a better word.

He was attractive, easy to talk to and fun to be around but Molly knew he would never be anything more than those things to her. He was too attractive, too charming, and maybe even too fun for her. There was no way he would ever be interested in someone like her; someone who weighed more than she should, didn’t pay much attention to her feminine side and who he most likely merely thought of as his best friend’s little sister who he worked with at the barn.

Passing the town limits and relaxing as the comforting sight of fields of hay rose up around her, Molly shifted her thoughts from Alex to the ladies’ group and how it had been helping her study the Bible more. She still had a long way to go before she felt as “spiritual” as some of the women in the group, who seemed to trust God in every step of their lives, but she felt more equipped to handle life than she had five years ago when her grandfather was first diagnosed and she had started caring for him.

She knew she should have been praying more about what God wanted for her life too, but she’d prayed she had prayed a lot when her Grandfather’s health had taken a turn for the worse and never heard an answer. Why would God now give her an answer about what steps she should take in her life? And even if he did give her answers, how would he give her answers?

She knew answers from God weren’t like an audible voice from the clouds, but she had been seeking answers about her next step in life for seven years and, yet, here she was, almost 26, and feeling stuck in a deep, boring, frustrating rut. She didn’t know if leaving the farm was what she needed to get out of it, but she knew she needed some kind of change and she needed to make that change sooner rather than later.