Special Saturday Fiction: Harvesting Hope Chapter 19

If you are a new reader here, I share a chapter from my WIP each Friday, and sometimes Saturday, on my blog. There are typos, grammatical issues and even plot holes at times because this is a first, second, or third draft that hasn’t gone to my editor (eh, husband) yet. If you see a typo, feel free to kindly let me know in the comments. Sometimes the error has already been fixed on my copy, sometimes not.

Catch up with the rest of the story HERE. Don’t feel like reading the book in a series of chapters each Friday? Preorder the book HERE. Do you want to read the first book in the series? Download it HERE.

I will be looking for people to provide advanced reviews of the book on Goodreads, so if you are interested in that, let me know. I could use a couple beta readers in mid Mid-July as well.

Chapter 19

Bile rose in Jason’s throat as he drove out of the church parking lot, his foot pressed all the way down on the accelerator. He tasted bitterness and dragged a hand across his mouth, considering pulling over and vomiting on the side of the road. Had he really just snapped on Ellie in front of their pastor? He’d made her sound like she was the villain, and he was the victim. How could he have done that?

He loved Ellie. More than he could even express. He certainly hadn’t done a good job of showing it by yelling at her, though. Now he wondered if she had any love left for him at all. Not only had it sounded like he had been mocking her, and his firmly held Biblically-based beliefs, but he’d outed her as a hypocrite in front of Pastor Joe. Just as badly, he’d made it sound as if she’d done something worse than what she actually had.

He pounded the steering wheel as he drove toward her apartment. The conversation had careened completely out of control.

No. It hadn’t been the conversation.

He had lost complete control, and he hated it. He hated he had shared their private struggle without her permission; used her pain and embarrassment as a weapon.

He yanked the truck into a parking space in front of her apartment building but didn’t see her car. She’d probably gone to her parents.

Great.

He’d almost got her father killed and now he’d screamed at her in front of their pastor. He needed to find her and apologize.

Now.

He pulled onto the road, headed toward her parents, hoping he could find her before she reached her parents and either she or Tom met him at the door with a shotgun.

The scanner trilled out a series of tones as he drove. He ignored it, focused on the drive to Ellie’s, replaying what he’d said and how he’d said it.

He couldn’t let this conversation fester like the other one, drill holes of bitterness into their hearts. She was too important to him for him to let that happen. Like his grandmother had said, Ellie was worth fighting for.

The voice of the female dispatcher caught his attention. “Department 12, Tri-County EMS. Ellory Road, two miles past Tanner Enterprises. Kitchen fire. Two story family home. Call came from the homeowner.”

He mentally ticked off the houses on Ellory Road. There were only four houses, One was a ranch home, another a one-story modular. Dread set in like a brick, sinking to the bottom of a creek bed. What if it was the Weatherly’s? They had a two-story home. Then again, the Murphys, who were probably home with their six children having Sunday dinner, also had a two-story home.

His worst fears were realized with the next dispatch.

“Department 12, homeowner is still in the home. An elderly woman. Has been advised to leave but refuses. Coughing and choking. Difficult to understand. Possible smoke inhalation.”

He yanked the trunk into gear and took off, knowing immediately it was the Weatherly home. If Ann was the homeowner her lungs would fill up fast if she didn’t get out. She weighed less than a fifth grader at this point in her life and her lungs were probably even smaller.

By the time he ripped the truck into a space in front of their house, Denny was standing outside, pulling his gear on. Jason slammed his truck into park and reached for his suit, keeping his eyes on dark black smoke billowing from the window at the back, where the kitchen was, flames darting through the smoke and licking the siding.

“Where are Ann and John?” he asked.

Denny shook his head. “John’s car is gone. He may not be home. Dispatch says Ann’s still in there and she’s not answering me.”

Jason yanked his glove on and reached for the oxygen mask and tank he’d stashed behind his front seat. “I’m going in.”

Denny reached out and grabbed his arm. “We need to wait for the fire truck so they can fight back the flames.”

Jason jerked away. “If Ann is in there, she could be dead before they get here. I’m heading in. Spot me.”

The scanner squealed, and Cody’s voice informed dispatch the truck was on its way.

Jason smiled through the oxygen mask. “See? They’ll be here any minute.”

Shaking his head, Denny positioned his oxygen mask on his face and followed him. “You better know what you’re doing, Tanner.”

Jason knew it didn’t matter if he knew what he was doing or not. Someone had to go in that house and find Ann. He was nervous, knowing the ceiling could come down on them if the fire spread. He had to take the chance, though. Ann had lived a long, full life. She didn’t deserve to die this way, and he wasn’t about to tell her children she had.

***

Ellie had washed her face, reapplied makeup, and walked into the apartment to pick up the crockpot and Judi. She’d silently prayed Judi wouldn’t ask her where she’d been or why her eyes were red and swollen. Luckily Judi had been as self-focused as ever, dealing with a hangover. She perked up ten minutes into the drive and spent the rest of the short trip talking about new outfits she had purchased and the party she planned to wear them to later that night. She obviously didn’t remember how she’d acted the night before, when Ellie had tried to convince her to leave the club.

Ellie wondered if she was ever going back to the city. She’d said she had a job. Didn’t she have to get back to it? If Ellie hadn’t had so much on her mind already, she might have asked her. At this point, though, she couldn’t handle anymore drama. It was bad enough Judi had taken over her spare room, her mess spilling over into the rest of the apartment. Ellie had no idea why she had a spare room, anyhow.

It’s not like she had visitors, or at least rarely did, which is probably why she’d only placed a used daybed in the room after she moved in. Lucy liked to joke she would crash in it some night when she needed a break from Denny and the kids. Her cousin Randi had used it once to stay in when she’d come for a family reunion.

Ellie did her best to sound chipper during lunch, grateful when it was over, and she could use the headache she’d developed since leaving the church as an excuse to leave early.

“Want to go to a party with me at Lana’s?” Judi asked on the drive home.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I still have a headache from last night.”

“Take an Advil. It’ll be gone in time for the party.”

“I’m not interested, Judi.”

“I’m not interested, Judi.” Judi’s tone was mocking. “You’re not interested in much, are you? What do you even do all the time now that you don’t have a boyfriend?”

Ellie pressed her foot down harder on the accelerator. “Maybe you’d know if you were ever around.”

Judi snorted a laugh. “As if you’d want me around. You never have and you know it.”

Ellie didn’t have the energy for this. Not now. She turned the music up on the radio.

“Isn’t there anything to listen to besides Family Life?”

Judi reached for the radio knob, but Ellie slapped her hand.

“Oooh. Someone’s hormones are raging.”

She wasn’t in the mood for Judi’s snarky retorts. Family Life offered uplifting Christian music and that was what she needed at the moment.

“I like Family Life. Leave it.”

Judi groaned. “But the music is so boring.”

 “It’s my car and we’ll listen to what I want. You can listen to whatever you want while you clean the mess you’ve made in my apartment.”

Judi sighed and propped her feet on the dashboard, sliding her finger across the screen of her phone. “You’re such a cranky old lady, I swear.”

Back at the apartment Ellie walked to her room immediately, not even caring if Judi had followed her inside. She flopped on the bed and pulled her knees up to her chest, closing her eyes, hoping in vain that when she opened them Judi would be gone, and everything that had happened earlier in the day with Jason had never happened at all.

When sleep didn’t come, she rolled over and picked up her phone. She tapped the FaceTime button, hoping Lucy was home and not at her or Denny’s parents.

Lucy’s cute, round, and very perky face greeted her. Maybe this had been a bad idea. Lucy looked so happy and relaxed. Ellie didn’t want to ruin her day.

“Hey, pretty lady. I lost you after church. Where’d you go? You okay?”

Ellie sighed. “Yeah. No. I don’t know. Pastor Joe asked if Jason and I would come talk to him.”

The image on the phone blurred, jerked and straightened again, Lucy’s background now the family photo on the wall behind her couch.

“Oh boy. How did that go?”

“I don’t want to dump on you. It sounds quiet there, like maybe you’re finally getting some alone time?”

Lucy waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it. Now we can talk without the kids interrupting. They’re at my parents. Denny and I were going to watch a movie, but the tones dropped so he’s out on a call.” She popped a grape in her mouth. “Tell me what happened. Did Pastor Joe getting the boxing gloves out for you?”

Ellie scoffed. “He should have. That’s how bad it got.”

Lucy’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh. Am I going to need chocolate for this story? Or should I hop in my car and come over?”

Ellie shook her head. “No. Don’t do that. I’ll be fine. Maybe get the chocolate for yourself, though.”

“Fill me in, kid. Come on. I can tell you need to talk about this.”

Ellie filled her in, blow by blow, even telling her the part where he accused her of trying to act like she was a perfect, virtuous woman. Lucy knew about her struggles with trying to be authentic, yet still trying to keep her private life private. She also knew about her struggles with desiring more of a physical relationship with Jason, even as she desired waiting until marriage.

Ellie didn’t think she actually pretended to be virtuous or have only pure thoughts. It’s just that Bible study wasn’t the place she was going to admit she’d imagined Jason naked more than she cared to admit. Maybe it should have been the place, and maybe the ladies would have appreciated her honesty, but it wasn’t something she felt comfortable with. She supposed she’d have to analyze why later. Maybe Jason was right and she wanted people from the church to think she was someone she wasn’t.

“Okay, El.” Lucy clapped her hands together and shifted closer to the camera. “I think it’s time for some tough love, but I’m really not sure if you are in a place you can handle it. Are you in a place where you can handle it?”

Ellie sighed, her chin propped on her hand, her elbow propped up on the bed. “Might as well let it loose. Soft love isn’t getting me anywhere these days.”

Lucy shifted her bottom on the couch, wiggling like she was trying to get more comfortable. Ellie braced herself.

“Okay. So. You said Jason showed you his true colors today. Let me ask you something.” She leaned closer to the camera, narrowing her eyes. “Do you really think that? Do you really think that what you saw from Jason today is who he is? Ellie, you’ve known this man for over a decade. Besides this one secret and him blowing up today, have you ever witnessed him be anything other than good, kind, and loving to you? He’s never going to be perfect, but Jason is always going to strive to be a good man and he’s always going to strive to be the best man for you and in the sight of God. You know that. Deep down I believe you know he’d never intentionally hurt you. I’ve told you before that one day your stubbornness is going to be your downfall. I hate to say it, but that day might be here.”

Ellie’s whistle sounded similar to Judi’s from the other day. “Ouch. That was some tough love.”

“Yeah, well, I think you needed it. No matter what, though, you know I love you, right? You know I’m always here for you no matter what you decide when it comes to Jason.”

Ellie propped the phone against a pillow and moved her other hand under her chin, folding it over the one she’d been leaning on before. “Yes, I do.”

“El, we’ve known each other almost our whole lives. I know you planned your life out long ago.  Who you would marry, when you would marry, when you would have kids and a career. You have these ideas in your head of how it is all supposed to go, but life doesn’t always work out the way we expect it to.”

Ellie knew that.

She did.

There were just times, like now, that she didn’t want to accept it.

Lucy squinted at the phone screen. “Hold on. Denny’s calling. I’d better take this. I’ll switch back over in a minute.”

The screen went blank, and Ellie waited, thinking about what Lucy had said. How Jason had always strived to be a good man. How the angry Jason at the church wasn’t all there was to Jason. She knew that, of course. It was hurt and anger giving her tunnel vision. She needed to pull back and look at the bigger picture.

 Like her, he had many emotions, many feelings and even though this was the first time she’d witnessed anger directed at her with such animosity, it didn’t mean it had taken him over completely.

“Hey, El?” Lucy’s face popped back on the screen, but her smile had faded, replaced by a somber expression. “You still there? The fire was at the Weatherlys.”

“Oh, no.”

“Yeah, total loss but worse than that, they think John didn’t make it out.”

Ellie gasped, tears filling her eyes again. She and Jason had both delivered groceries to Ann and John over the years. She also remembered Ann well from when her mother used to host a sewing circle at their house.

“Denny said he and Jason were first on the scene. Jason went in and carried Ann out. He didn’t see John though and he’s taking it pretty hard that John might have been inside. Cody wants a cut on Jason’s head checked at the ER, but Denny said he won’t go. He just keeps pacing back and forth, waiting for the state police fire marshal to come so they can get confirm if John was inside.”

Ellie sat up on the bed and drew in a shaky breath.

For the last seven months she’d been questioning who Jason really was, asking herself how much of his life and their relationship had been an act. She still had lingering concerns about what else he’d hid from her, but what she did know was that Jason hadn’t been faking it when he showed love for the Weatherly’s. He hadn’t been faking the glint in his eye over the years when he announced he’d “take one for the team” by delivering their groceries, knowing they’d lavish him with praise and, most likely Ann would slide him a desert for his effort.

This would hit him hard.

Very hard.

“You okay?” Lucy asked.

Ellie wiped a finger under her eye. “Actually, in a renewed effort to be authentic, I will tell you that no, I am currently not okay.” She laughed through the tears and rubbed the palm of her thumb along the corner of her eye. “I’m going to go sign off and have a good cry. Can you call me if you hear anything else?”

Lucy nodded. “I will. For now, though, let’s pray before you hang up.”

Lucy prayed for the Weatherlys, the firefighters, and Jason, asking for God’s comfort in all the ways that were needed.

After they hung up, Ellie knew she couldn’t sit in her room crying. She needed to drive to the scene as hard as it would be.

She needed to make sure that Jason was okay, even if he pushed her away.

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmers Sons (Harvesting Hope) Chapter 12

For anyone who is new here, this is a continuing story. It is a semi-first draft that I edit more later through a few more drafts before it hits as a self-published ebook and paperback sometime in the future.

If you’d like to catch up on the rest of the story, feel free to click HERE.

I posted Chapter 11 yesterday for Fiction Friday. Today’s chapter is a little rough around the edges. It will get a serious working over before final publication.

If you like what you’ve read here, let me know in the comments. You can catch the first book in this series, The Farmer’s Daughter, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and get an excerpt here.

****


Chapter 12

“You be good to the land and the land will be good to you.”

Ned’s words echoed in Robert’s mind. Then he remembered with a laugh how Ned had added, “That’s what some farmers say anyhow. Sadly, I’ve learned that’s all a bunch of garbage.”

Ned had laughed and taken a long swig of his coffee. “The land doesn’t care about you one little bit, Robert. Remember that. It’s got a mind of its own and only cares about itself. It would sooner eat you up and spit you out than be good to you. So, remember this instead, when the world isn’t good to you, it doesn’t matter, because God always is, even when we think he isn’t.”

Robert certainly hadn’t felt like God was good when Ned had gotten sick and passed away so quickly. He eased himself down on the bench of the picnic table outside the barn. Reminding himself that God was good, “all the time” had become a daily practice even when he didn’t feel it. There were days he couldn’t see the good of God, but he knew He was working all things to His glory. One day Robert would see it all, the other side of the picture and what it looked like once complete.

He dragged the back of his hand across his forehead to wipe away the sweat. It was the first official week of spring. What was with the high temperatures? It was like they had skipped spring and jumped head long into summer.

Maybe he was simply perceiving the temperatures as high because he was so wiped out from lifting himself up and down while he tried to repair the mower. He missed being able to easily push himself up from the ground, without the pain in his leg and hips. The loss of simple mobility had been harder to accept than the loss of time while he’d been in the hospital. As much as he missed the ease of which he’d been able to move before, though, he missed his father even more.

Dust curled up around the truck barreled up the road and Robert leaned back on his elbow, considering making himself look useful but deciding he was too tired to care if the visitor thought was lazy or not. When the truck came closer, and he recognized it, he no longer cared about appearances. His nephew Brad knew about the accident and Robert’s struggle to recover, even though he’d been away at the time, spreading his wings, trying to decide if farming was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

Brad parked his truck next to the barn and himself next to Robert on the bench. “Is it the leg?”

Robert shrugged. “Yeah. Not the best today.”

“Taking the painkillers?”

Robert scowled. “We’re Tanner men. We don’t need no painkillers, boy.”

Brad laughed, leaning back on his elbows on the top of the table. “Very true.” He stretched his legs out in front of him. The brim of his hat cast a shadow across his face, but Robert could still see Walt’s smile and green eyes reflected in the face of his nephew. “I’m headed out to Mansfield to pick up some supplies. Dad wanted me to ask if you need anything.”

Robert looked toward the backyard, his eyebrows furrowing. “Well, yeah, I could use a load of potting soil for Annie’s garden. She’s determined to grow strawberries this year.”

Brad scoffed. “Good luck with that. Either the weather or the deer will get them before she can ever harvest them.”

“Hey, Dad?”

Robert was being summoned. Probably for another menial task Jason was asking him to do so he didn’t feel useless.

When he saw Brad, Jason’s questioning expression faded into a more neutral one, tinged with annoyance. The change in demeanor wasn’t lost on Robert who looked between the two young men, confused by the tension in the air.

Brad flicked his hand up in a quick wave, still leaning back on the picnic table. “Hey, Jase.”

Jason nodded curtly at his cousin. “Brad.”

The two men looked at each other for a few seconds of awkward silence before Robert interrupted the stand off. “Whatchya need, Jason? I was just giving the leg a break.”

Jason pulled his gaze from Brad’s. “Um, yeah. It’s the feeder lever. It’s stuck again and I didn’t know where you put the new box of Shell we ordered.”

Brad twisted so he could see Jason. “Dad and I’ve been using Mystik JT-6 and it’s been working great. If you want to try some, I’ve got a can in the car.”

Jason stiffened, took a step back and turned toward the barn. “No. Shell’s is what we use.”

Brad shrugged a shoulder. “Whatever works.”

Robert cleared his throat pushed himself up from the table. “I think I stacked the box in the workroom. Let me see if I can find it.” After Jason was inside the barn he turned back toward Brad, leaning closer and lowering his voice. “What’s up with you two anyhow?”

Brad pulled his cap lower on his head. “Just a misunderstanding.” He sighed and stood. “I guess we’d better work it out before it gets out of hand.”

****

JASON TOOK THE container of grease from his dad and headed toward the feed room, doing his best to ignore Brad following closely behind.

It was hard to ignore Brad tapping on the inside wall of the feed room, though. “Knock, knock, cousin. We need to talk.”

Spreading the grease on, Jason tried his best to concentrate on his work and not on the man behind him, the man related by blood who had gone out with his ex-fiance while he was away at college.

“Do we?”

Brad leaned back against the wall of the barn, folding his arms across his chest. He was almost as tall as Jason, less muscular, but still built strong and lean like most of the Tanner men. Wearing a pair of faded jeans, brown work boots, and a white t-shirt, he was also wearing what most of the Tanner men wore. As far as Jason was concerned, physical appearances were where the similarities ended. Brad had taken a few years away from the farm to, as he said, “figure out if farming is what I really want to do.”

To Jason he’d shown he didn’t have the passion for the business that the rest of the family did. Jason hadn’t needed two years away from farming to know farming was in his blood and what he wanted to do.

Brad propped the bottom of his foot against the wall behind him. “Yeah, we do. You’re blowing this whole thing with Ellie completely out of proportion. I took her out on two dates, six or seven years ago. That’s it.” Brad shrugged a shoulder. “I wouldn’t even call them dates. We went to a movie once and lunch at Bettie’s Diner another time. We ended up talking more about you than anything else. She probably went out with me to be nice. That’s how she is. You know that.”

The lever still wouldn’t move. Jason scowled at it and walked past Brad to find a wrench.

Brad pushed himself off the wall, hands on his hips, watching Jason walk back into the room with the wrench.

“It’s true, Jason. Besides, why are you angry at me? It’s not like you and I were dating. Your relationship was with Ellie. She’s the one who didn’t tell you. You should be mad at her.”

The wrench wasn’t loosening anything. In fact, it was the wrong size for the bolt. In a burst of frustration Jason tossed the wrench against the wooden planked wall, denting the wood. The wrench flew back and struck the metal of the feeding pipe with an ear piercing clank.

“I know, Brad! I know! I am mad at her, okay?”

He dragged his hand through his hair and let out a low guttural growl. “I know we were in a relationship. I get it. She didn’t feel she could be open with me, I wasn’t open with her. It’s a mess. I know. Just —” He let out a breath, propped his hands at his waist and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be taking this out on you. You didn’t know she hadn’t told me. None of this is your fault. I’m just — It’s just — I screwed stuff up with Ellie and I’m on edge about anything to do with her.”

Brad’s eyebrows raised and he held his hands up, palms out. “Whoa! That’s more than I bargained for.” He laughed softly. “Seriously, Jase. I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened between you two, but I’m sure you and Ellie will work through it. She loves you and you love her, or you wouldn’t be so upset.”

Jason shook his head, retrieved the wrench from the ground behind a bag of feed mixture. “I don’t know if we’re going to work it out. She’s not very interested in that at this point.”

Brad laughed, slapping Jason on the back. “Well, then, there is plenty of fish in the sea, as they say. You’re a good looking guy. I mean, how couldn’t you be? You’re a Tanner. I’m sure you’ll find someone new.”

Jason looked up from the lever, scowling. “Really, Brad?”

Brad shrugged. “You know me. I’ve never been good at comforting people in their times of need.” He patted Jason’s shoulder. “Really, though. You and Ellie are going to make it. You’re the golden couple. Everyone wishes they could be like you two. Chin up, bud. It’s all going to work out.”

Jason kneeled back by the lever, working at the bolt again. He wanted to believe Brad but his faith that he and Ellie would be able to patch things up was fading the longer she wouldn’t talk to him.

***

HE’D LIED to Jason.

Brad knew it was wrong, but there was no way he was going to tell his 6’ 2” tall, overly muscular cousin how much he’d enjoyed going out seven years ago with the girl who was now the man’s ex-fiance.

He turned his truck onto the dirt road, headed toward home.

Sure, it was true that Ellie had spent most of her time talking about Jason on the three dates they’d gone on, but it didn’t stop Brad from noticing how beautiful and sweet she was and wishing she’d been talking about him instead.

Three dates.

Oh, that’s right. He told Jason it had only been two.

What Jason didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Apparently Ellie hadn’t told him the right number either. There must be a reason for that.

Jason didn’t need to know how many dates they’d actually gone out or the fact that his break-up with Ellie had been the icing on Brad’s welcome home cake.

He probably still didn’t have a chance with Ellie, but her view of Jason had changed for the worse. Maybe, if he could find time alone with her again, her view of him would change for the better.

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 (Harvesting Hope) Chapter 7

This week’s chapter is a pretty long one, so brace yourselves. It is also the week where I am announcing that this latest book should be out to read in full this summer, most likely the end of July. And because I like announcements, I am also announcing that the final title of the book will be Harvesting Hope but I will be calling it The Farmers’ Sons here on the blog.

This story may be a little more raw than some of my other stories, but I hope my regular readers know that even if I mention topics such as sex, drugs, suicide, or low self-esteem, I always try my best not to get too descriptive or graphic. I am not someone who will be writing erotica on here, in other words, but the subject matter is a little more gritty than your average clean/Christian fiction.

So, with all that said, here is Chapter 7 of the story and at the end there will be a sneak peek of Chapter 8. If you don’t know, I share these chapters as a work in progress, so there will most likely be typos and plot holes, etc. If you notice them, please feel free to share with me in private or in the comments. Also feel free to share with me your thoughts on the story so far, on the characters, and on where you think the story should go next.

To read Molly’s story from the first book of this series, download a copy on Amazon or read it through Kindle Unlimited. To read the other parts of this story click HERE or find a link at the top of the page.

****

Ellie winced, curling her legs up against the heating pad pressed against her stomach. A burning pain had started in her lower stomach an hour earlier and was curving around to her back. She’d finally given up and taken ibuprofen. It hadn’t kicked in yet.

Outside, the sun was glistening off the trees where the leaves had come out on the maple tree behind the building. She enjoyed the blooming trees and flowers on her walk home from work, despite the pain that had increased after lunch time.

Was it the stress of the last few weeks causing her pain to be worse? Maybe her condition was simply getting worse. Either way, she prayed for the pain to end soon. She had Bible study in a couple of hours. They were studying Proverbs 31, and she needed to be there, not only to lead the study, but to focus on something other than her deepening depression.

She drifted off into a fitful sleep for 20 minutes before a knock on the door woke her.

Trying to ignore it, she rolled on to her side, facing the back of the couch.

The knocking continued. Then a voice she didn’t want to hear sent an aggravated growl up from her throat.

 “El-bell! Are you in there? I have to pee! I held it all the way from Scranton.”

Ellie flung the blanket off her and glared at the door as she walked to it and unlocked it. What is she doing here?

Judi bounded in as soon as she opened the door.

“Oh, my gosh. Thank God.” Judi dragged a suitcase on wheels behind her and walked into the middle of the living room. “I think my bladder is going to burst. Where’s the bathroom?”

Ellie sighed and motioned toward the hallway beyond the kitchen. She shuffled back to the couch and flopped on her face, waiting for her sister to come out and explain why she wasn’t in New York City right now. A few minutes later, she heard her sister’s heels on the laminate floor.

“Whoa. Has the break-up hit you hard or what? You look awful.”

She squeezed her eyes shut, wishing Judi would go away again. “Thanks, Judi.” She spoke into the couch cushion her face was pressed into. “If you must know, I’m having cramps.”

“Oh.”

Cupboard doors opened and banged closed. “Got any food? I’m starving. There is like nowhere to stop on the drive down here. Or in town, of course. This place still doesn’t have any good restaurants.”

Ellie tilted her head to one side, still laying on her stomach. “What are you doing here?”

Judi shoved a wheat thin in her mouth. “Wow. That’s rude. I haven’t seen you in over a year and all you want to know is what I’m doing here?”

Ellie sat up and hugged a pillow against her chest. Her sister had just arrived unannounced, but had the audacity to call her rude? Yeah, okay.

Judi should consider herself lucky that Ellie was too tired to yell.

“I’m sorry,” she said, holding back the annoyance she felt. “It’s just that you don’t visit very often, so this is a bit of a surprise.”

Judi poured a glass of iced tea and then started opening the vegetable drawers. “Do you have any lemons? I like lemons with my tea.”

“Bottom drawer, in the back.”

“Where are the knives?”

“Second drawer from the stove.”

“Cutting board?”

“Cupboard next to the fridge.”

“Awesome. Thanks.”

Ellie listened to the click of the knife against the cutting board, waiting for her sister to enlighten her with her reason for the unexpected visit. After a few moments Judi sat in the blue plush chair across from Ellie and crossed one bare leg over the other, the hem of her maroon shorts pulling up to her thigh. She took a long drink from the iced tea before speaking.

“I was worried about you, El.” Her foot bounced as she talked. “You sounded so sad on the phone so I took some time off work and come see if I could cheer you up.”

Ellie looked at her sister through narrowed eyes. “You’re still working?”

Judi scowled. “That’s not nice. Yes, I’m working. I’m still at that designer clothing store I told you about.” She placed her glass on the table next to the chair. “Oh! Which reminds me — I have some of the cutest outfits to show you. I get an employee discount. I thought we could try them on and go out to Mooneys or drive up over the state line and find somewhere to show them off.”

Ellie raised an eyebrow. “I hope you don’t mean tonight because I can’t tonight. I have Bible study.”

Judi made a face. “Tell me you are not still leading Bible studies.”

“I am still leading Bible studies, yes.” Ellie tried to keep the aggravation out of her voice, but it wasn’t working. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and tried again. “I have a Bible study at 7. You’re welcome to come along.”

Judi scoffed. “No thanks. Sounds boring. A bunch of uptight women sipping tea, highlighting passages in their Bibles, and acting as if they are so perfect and special.”

“Judi, come on. That’s not how it is.” Ellie tossed the pillow aside and walked into the kitchen to make herself a cup of blueberry tea. The cramps were still there but staring to fade to a dull ache. “These are nice women. Real women, talking about real issues. They aren’t fake.”

Judi stretched a leg out and propped her foot on the coffee table. “Real issues, huh? Like what dress to wear to church on Sunday? Or how ashamed they are for noticing how good looking the pastor is? Or maybe they talk about how disgusted they are with all the people who go out and live lives instead of sitting around reading some old book all day.”

A bird chirped from the branch of the cherry tree outside below the kitchen window and Ellie wished she could turn into that bird and fly away. She filled the kettle and sat it on the burner and turned it on. She turned toward Judi and leaned back against the kitchen counter, folding her arms across her chest.

“What happened to make you so angry at Christians, Judi? You never used to be like this.”

Judi sighed. “I’m not angry at Christians. It’s just —” She shrugged. “Some of the women that go to that church seem so stuck up. They act as if they are so perfect.”

The bird chirped again, and Ellie could almost feel herself in flight, gliding above the roofs of the buildings in town, over the courthouse and the library, to the edge of town where the train tracks cut a path between the business and residential districts. If Judi hadn’t been there, she would have closed her eyes, completing the mental journey out of town, across the farmland, down the path of the highway; transporting herself as far away from her current life as possible.

“Some do, yes, but not all. Most of those women are normal, everyday women who just want to learn more about God and how they can trust him during the good and bad times. It really isn’t fair for you to judge them.”

Judi turned in the chair and laid her arms across the back of it, propping her chin on her arm. “Is that what you talk about with these women? Your bad times? Like your bad times with Jason?”

Ellie bristled at the mention of Jason. The anger she felt toward Judi for bringing him up startled her. It was sudden and visceral. She didn’t talk about Jason to anyone but Lucy. Judi didn’t even know why she and Jason had broken up. When she’d asked, Ellie had told her they’d grown apart, and she didn’t want to talk about it. For once, Judi had left it alone.

Ellie turned and set the tea bag in the honeybee mug Molly had given her last year for her birthday. “Have you been home to see Mom and Dad, yet?”

Judi laughed. “I see how it is. Not going to talk to your little sister about the big breakup. Well, fine. You don’t have to. We’ll get you out to some clubs, meet some good-looking men and you’ll forget all about that dirty cow farmer.”

Judi stepped around the island separating the living room and kitchen and hoisted herself up onto the countertop next to the breadbox. “I’ll pop over to the parental units tomorrow. See what’s going on at the old homestead.”

Ellie reached in the cupboard next to the stove and reached for the jar of honey. “Did you even tell them you were coming?”

“Nah. I knew they’d be glad to see me no matter what.” Judi reached into the breadbox and pulled out a piece of the homemade bread Ellie had brought back from her parents Sunday. She bit into it and groaned with pleasure. “Mom’s homemade bread. So good. Makes me almost sad I gave up gluten.” She shoved more of the bread into her mouth, talking with her mouth full. “This one little piece shouldn’t hurt.” She looked down at her hips and patted the left side. “I hope anyhow. I can’t afford to gain weight or I won’t fit into that cute skirt I brought with me.”

She jumped off the counter. “I’m going to go grab my bag. It’s cool if I stay here, right?”

“Yeah, I gue—”

“Cool. I need a shower and a nap. I drove straight through and I’m beat. Have fun at your Bible study.”

Ellie waited for the teakettle to whistle, tapping her foot against the floor, her jaw tight. First, she’d had to deal with Brad, and now she had to deal with Judi. Could this week get any worse? She rolled her eyes.

“Don’t speak it into existence, Ellie Lambert,” she whispered as the teakettle whistled. “You know it can.”

***

She’d stood in the locker room doorway, dirty blond curls spilling down her back like a luxurious spider web. She pressed one finely manicured hand flat against the door frame, the other curled around her slender hip.

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

Lauren Phillips.

Bright red lipstick highlighted full lips. Dark eyeliner and light blue eye shadow complimented her green eyes.

“Hey, Jason, you’re looking good.” Her gaze had traveled down the length of him and back up again, lingering on his bare chest. She pulled her lower lip between her teeth, a soft purr vibrating in her throat. “Of course, you’re always looking good.”

He’d slid his shirt on, pulling it down with a quick jerk. “Thanks. You look nice too.”

She took a step forward, sliding a hand down a thigh length black mini skirt. “You think so?” She straightened her shoulders, pushing her chest forward, the red fabric of her shirt stretching tight against her slim figure.

“This is a new outfit.”

He nodded, cleared his throat. “Looks great.”

Returning to packing his gear in his locker, he tried to give off the vibe that he wasn’t interested in whatever Lauren was offering. And she was offering a lot. Not so much in words but loud-and-clear in body language.

She was attractive, yes, but Lauren also had a reputation around campus, and it wasn’t a good one.

Her fingertips trailed up his arm as he slammed the locker door closed, swirling a pattern up his shoulder and along the back of his neck. “We’re having a party tonight down at Phi Beta Kappa. I need an escort.” She played with the hair on the back of his head. “Interested?”

He shook his head, wishing her touch didn’t feel so good. “Nah. I’ve got a workout session scheduled.”

Her lips were close to his ear. “The party will be going late. Stop by and join us.” She leaned even closer, her breath hot against his skin. “When you’re done.”

Everything about Lauren was the opposite of Ellie. Ellie’s sweetness was genuine. Lauren’s sweetness was an act, a way to get into the heads of men she’d set her sights on to conquer. At least that’s how he saw her looking back.

No matter how many ways Jason tried to vilify Lauren Phillips, though, he couldn’t. He was the one who had decided to accept her offer to go to those parties, to let her lull him into what he’d hoped would be a pleasure filled distraction from the distorting thoughts that had settled on him at college.

The first kiss, outside his dorm when she’d walked back with him from the gym, had been intense. It had sparked a physical desire in him he’d almost caved in to but had resisted, using the excuse he had a class to get to. It wasn’t a lie, but he knew he was copping out. Any other guy on campus would have accepted her advances and launched a counter-attack of their own.

When Lauren kissed him hard one night after a party at her apartment, his will crumbled around him. Her arms wound around him like a serpent. As she pulled him toward an open bedroom door in her apartment, her hands up under his shirt, he knew he was crossing a boundary he’d set for himself years ago. He hadn’t even cared anymore. He needed something, anything, to drown out the pain of Ellie’s rejection, the doubts about his faith clouding his mind.

For those brief moments he’d forgotten who he was, and it felt amazing.

At first.

The guilt set in like a heavy chain around his neck within moments after he’d stumbled through her bedroom door, carrying his shirt and jeans.

The alcohol had blurred his senses. It had all been so rushed. She was dressing before he’d even had time to wrap his mind around what had just happened.

“That was fun.” Her tone was casual as she buttoned her blouse. “We should do it again sometime.”

He’d woke up a few hours later in his dorm room, unable to remember how he got there. Alex stood over him, his expression a mix of concern and confusion.

“Hey, Jase. You okay?”

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

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

Alex’s reaction to his state of mortification was less than supportive. At least at first.

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

Jason vomited in an empty container from the Chinese restaurant.

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

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

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

“I just mean the whole Lauren situation. Come on, Alex. Don’t make this worse than it is.” Jason sat back, pressing his hands to his face. “I’m not the guy who just jumps in bed with a woman I don’t even know. You know that.”

“You mean like me?”

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

“Oh.”

Alex shrugged, scooting himself back onto the top of the dresser, his legs hanging down. Jason could tell he didn’t want to talk about his friend’s bedroom experiences, or lack thereof.

“Okay, listen, you made a mistake. That’s all. It’s not the end of the world. Just cut Lauren loose and take some time to think about things. About what you really want. This is college. This where we screw up and learn our lessons, right?”

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

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

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

It was the last time he’d seen her, other than across the campus from time to time when she was hanging off the arm of one of the other football players.

He had refocused himself for the remainder of that year and for the next year after that. All he wanted was his degree, so he could go home and make sure his family’s business survived. He’d also realized he wanted to go back to Ellie. Along with God she was an anchor for him, and when he’d let go of them both, it had spun his life out of control.

The front door slammed open, bringing Alex and a gust of wind into the room and jostling Jason from his memories.

This was present day Alex, Alex seven years later but in some ways the same ole’ Alex. But hopefully not exactly the same Alex, since he was dating Molly now.

The crash of thunder and rush of pounding rain roared into the living room, quieted only when Alex pushed the door closed, his clothes clinging to him. Sliding his cowboy hat off, he propped it on the hook next to the door, then paused and looked at Jason, sprawled on the couch on his back.

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

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

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

Alex winced as he pried his wet button-up shirt off and tossed it toward the laundry room. It landed in the hallway, and Jason hoped he would pick it up this time. “Thinking about Ellie?”

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

“Yeah. And Lauren.”

Alex reached up and flicked on the light switch.  “Ah, man, no. Not a good combination. You can’t sit here sitting in the dark reflecting on past mistakes. It’s not healthy.”

Jason burped and reached for the can of soda on the coffee table without sitting up. Alex kicked at an empty bag of potato chips on the floor. “Um… this isn’t healthy either. Where are your regular veggie sticks and protein shakes?”

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

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

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

“You really want me to answer that?”

“Yeah, well —”

“If you say Molly likes to look at that I will get off this couch and mess up your pretty boy face.”

Alex raised his hands in a surrender motion. “Okay. Okay. Calm down, big boy.”

A few moments later, dried off and wearing a fresh t-shirt and pair of jeans, Alex smacked the bottom of Jason’s feet and told him to shove over and sit up. He sat a water bottle on the coffee table and cracked open a can of soda he’d grabbed out of the fridge on the way back to the living room. He took a long drink before sitting where Jason’s feet had been.

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

Jason groaned and sat up, picking up the bottle. He leaned his elbows on his knees and sipped the water, staring at the turned off television. In its reflection, he saw a hollow version of himself, eyes heavy and empty.

Rain drops against the metal porch roof out back filled the silence. He rubbed his hand along his jawline, staring at the television until his haggard image blurred. The last three weeks had been full of training sessions for the fire company mixed in between building pens for the goats and planting corn and rye and his regular duties at the farm. His body was screaming a warning that he couldn’t keep this pace up much longer.

Alex cleared his throat, leaned forward, and propped his elbows on his knees. “Listen, Jason, like I said that day Ellie overheard us, I’m sorry for any part I played in you meeting Lauren.”

Jason waved his hand dismissively. “No more apologies, Alex. Like I told you then, my choices got me here, not yours. It wasn’t your fault. I decided to go with you to those bars and parties and I chose to sleep with Lauren, even if alcohol did cloud my judgement.” He pushed his hands into his hair and shook his head again. “If anyone should feel guilty, it’s me for not influencing you in a more positive way. I should be doing that now.”

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

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

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

 “Talked.” A derisive laugh escaped Jason’s lips. “More like yelled until I was hoarse, and she was bawling.”

Alex tossed the empty soda can toward the recycling bin in the kitchen. It bounced off the edge and rolled across the kitchen floor. “Yeah. Didn’t sound like it went very well.”

Jason swallowed hard, remembering the way Molly had looked at him. It had been almost as bad as the way Ellie looked at him.

“She said she needed time but I’m pretty sure she meant she needed to never see me again.”

Alex shook his head and leaned against his hand, propping his elbow on the arm of the couch. “It doesn’t seem fair. I mean, it’s not like you slept with Lauren when you two were dating. You were broke up.”

“That’s not the point in her mind.” Jason stretched his legs out in front of him, propped his feet up on the coffee table. “The point is, I never told her about it. She feels like I broke her trust.” He closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “And she’s right. I did.”

Alex tipped his head back against the couch, looked up at the ceiling. “The thing is, though, you’re a guy and guys can’t always push their needs aside like women can.”

Jason tilted his face toward Alex, cocking an eyebrow. “Oh, yeah?” He folded his arms across his chest. “You don’t say.”

“Listen, it’s admirable that you and Ellie waited for this special time between each other. It really is, but is it realistic? Like I said, guys have needs. She gets that, right?”

Jason narrowed his eyes, tipped his head to look at Alex, trying to stay calm. “Yes, Alex. Guys do have needs and you’re dating my sister. Anything you need to share with me right now?”

Alex laughed, rolled his tongue inside his cheek, propping his ankle over the opposite knee as he folded his arms over his chest and shook his head. “Let’s not get off topic here —”

“I’m on topic.” Jason watched Alex intently. “Tell me more about how the guy who is dating my sister has needs that need to be met. I’m listening.”

Red spread quickly across Alex’s cheeks and ears. “Listen, I respect Molly.” He cleared his throat and picked at a string on the bottom of his jeans, back to Jason. The smile had faded.

Jason cocked an eyebrow. “Yeah. And?”

Alex held his hand up, palm out. “Hey, remember what I told you after you found out about me and Molly? About things being private between a man and women, even if that woman is your sister? That applies here too.”

Jason wasn’t looking away. Alex cleared his throat again. “But — since I like my face being in one piece, I will tell you that your sister is worth waiting for.” He paused for emphasis, his gaze meeting Jason’s. “In every way. Okay? Now, let’s move this conversation back to your situation with Ellie.”

Jason’s eyes stayed narrowed. “Just because we men have needs, Alex, as you put it, doesn’t mean we have to have those needs met all the time or at the wrong time. There’s something called self-control and I should have had more self-control with Lauren. I’d committed to staying sexually pure for my future wife. It may sound old-fashioned to you, but it was how I felt and how I still feel.”

The teasing disappeared from Alex’s tone. “I get it, Jase. I do. Okay? You’re right. It sounds old-fashioned to me, but it also sounds nice. It just doesn’t seem fair to me you’re losing everything you had with Ellie over a woman like Lauren Phillips.”

Standing and walking across the floor to look out the window, Alex let out a long breath. Raindrops speckled the windowpane. Thunder rumbled in the distance. He turned to face Jason again, leaning back against the door and crossing one leg over the other. “That girl was trouble. I saw her making out with Jake Murray at a party a couple days later. I think she made her way through the entire football team that year. Probably that semester even.”

Jason rubbed his eyes, a stinging ache growing behind them. His chest tightened, and he shook his head. He felt like he was suffocating under the weight of shame-filled memories.

A pounding on the door gave him the chance to quickly pass his hand over his eyes and swallow his emotion. Alex stepped away from the door, turned, and opened it, letting in the sound of the pouring rain.

Molly stood on the porch, breathless. Rain matted her hair to her forehead and face, drenching her clothes. “My truck has a flat up the road and I think Liz is in labor.”

Jason grabbed his hat and jacket. “We’ll take my truck, come on.”

By the time he pulled his truck behind Molly’s, sitting along ditch about a mile from their grandmother’s house, the rain had stopped. Liz was pacing alongside the road, rubbing her protruding belly.   She had pulled her long dark brown hair into a tight ponytail and her face was pale.

Alex jumped out first, helping Molly out next. “Should you be walking around like that?”

Liz shrugged and tossed her hands up. “It’s either this or sit in there and hyperventilate.”

Jason glanced in the back of the truck. “The spare is here at least. Your water broke yet?”

Liz rubbed her arms and continued pacing. “If you mean all that water that is supposed to come out before the baby does then no. It’s just cramping right now. Intense cramping. Every ten minutes or so.”

Jason retrieved the jack and spare tire from the truck bed. “If your water hasn’t broken, we’ve got time to change the tire.”

Liz made a face. “When did you become a doctor?”

Kneeling next to the flat tire, Jason grinned. “I’ve watched about a few hundred cows give birth in my lifetime and not much happens until the water breaks.” He stood, pushed his foot down on the jack handle. “I’m sure it’s the same with humans.”

Liz scowled, folding her arms across her chest. “Jason Tanner, did you just compare me to a cow?”

He winked under the brim of his John Deere cap. “If the shoe fits, sweet cheeks.”

Liz kicked mud at him and growled. “If I wasn’t about to give birth, I’d kick your bu —”

“You’re not about to give birth.” Jason loosened a bolt on the tire. “You’re probably just having false labor.”

Liz swung to face Molly. “It’s fine if I bludgeon your brother with the tire iron, right?”

“Not unless you don’t want to get to the hospital,” Molly laughed.

Jason reached into his pocket and tossed the keys at Alex. “Take my truck. I’ll drive Molly’s.”

Liz winced and held on to the side of the truck, breathing slowly. The color in her face had drained again, and she bent over slightly.

“Get going,” Jason said, jerking his head toward his truck. “I’ve helped plenty of cows bring babies into the world, but I have no interest in doing it with a human.”

Molly took Liz’s hand and slid her arm around her waist. “Lean against me and breathe like we learned in class.”

Liz nodded, a tear escaping from the corner of her eye. Jason looked up to see her look at Molly with glistening eyes. “I don’t think I can do this,” she whispered.

Alex laughed softly as he opened the passenger side door. “A bit late for that.”

He winced as Molly’s fist hit his upper arm. “What? It is.”

Jason chuckled and shook his head. “Better watch it, Alex. Molly doesn’t get angry, she gets even.”

Molly turned her scowl from Alex to Jason, then back to Alex before smiling at Liz and rubbing her back. “Ignore them. Focus on the fact that soon you’ll be holding your baby in your arms.”

Alex placed a hand under Liz’s elbow and helped her into the truck.  

Liz’s shoulders noticeably relaxed as she leaned back against the seat, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. “Stay calm. Have a baby. Beat up Alex and Jason. I can do this.”

Alex laughed and patted her shoulder. “At least you have your priorities straight.”

Chapter 8 Sneek Peak

Chapter 8

Jason watched the truck disappear down the road for a moment before turning back to the tire. He worked a bolt loose, saying a quick prayer for Liz. Quick prayers were all the prayers he allowed time for these days. Any longer and his thoughts spiraled out of control.

The crunch of tires on gravel brought his head up. There was little chance he didn’t know whoever was driving by. Everyone knew everyone in this county. When he recognized the old blue pick-up pulling up behind Molly’s truck, his heart sank.

Tom Lambert, his dark brown hair speckled with gray, leaned an arm on the wall of the truck bed.

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmers’ Sons Chapter 6 Part 2

Here is part two of the chapter I posted yesterday. If you read down to the end you’ll also get a sneak peak of next week’s chapter. If you would like to read the story of Jason’s sister, you can learn more about The Farmer’s Daughter HERE or at the link at the top of the page. If you don’t have a Kindle or Kindle Unlimited, I’ll have options to order digital copies of the book other ways in June. You can also order a print copy on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

To catch up on the rest of The Farmers’ Sons click HERE.


***

Jason glanced up at the tops of the trees as he drove, noticing the limbs bending in the wind. Wind and fire. Never a good combination.

He saw the smoke before he saw the fire. Dark clouds rose up in plumes against a backdrop of the blue and green hillside, over the roofs of the homes he passed. When he rounded the corner, he saw flames ripping across Lester Franklin’s side yard and the dry-yellow field next to it. Lester, a truck driver for a local heating oil business, was standing a few inches away from the flames, beating them down with what looked like a wet burlap sack used to store grain.

Cody was already there in his blue Ford pick-up. The fire truck hadn’t arrived yet.

“Controlled burn that got out of control,” Cody called as Jason jumped from his truck. He handed Jason a shovel and a hoe. “Lester was burning some old brush and branches. The grass was dryer than he realized. Let’s try to keep it from going toward the house until the truck gets here. We’ll dig a buffer zone and hope it doesn’t jump it. If it does, we may need to light another fire, but hopefully the guys get here first. If a flame sprouts up in front of you throw some dirt at it or take one of the soaked bags over there and try to beat it back.”

Cody briefly explained the concept of a buffer zone and how to create one, demonstrating it as he began creating a line between the field and yard.

The heat from the flames hit Jason full force as he started digging behind Cody. He dug quickly, hoping the flames would keep their path on the other side of the line. Cody grabbed a stack of sacks and soaked them under the outside spicket then returned to digging the path, beating back the flames with a soaked sack every few minutes.

Twenty minutes later, drenched in sweat, Jason heard the sirens of the fire truck blaring about a mile away at the same moment the wind shifted and sent flames slamming toward him and around him. He stepped back fast but not fast enough to keep the fire from jumping from the ground to his jeans.

Cody was next to him in seconds, patting his palms against Jason’s pants, down near his ankles.

 Once flames were no longer slithering up his legs, Jason grabbed one of the sacks as Cody pointed toward the Franklin’s house.

“It’s spreading toward the bush by the back porch!”

The truck pulled into the side yard a few minutes later and blazed toward the back field, siren blaring. Behind it were three more trucks with blue flashing lights on top, volunteers jumping out as soon as their trucks were in park.

“Get the hose and soak the porch!” Cody shouted.

The hose was being rolled out as a smaller truck pulled in behind the larger one.

Brittany Manahan’s arm bumped Jason’s as she pushed past him with the hose. “Hey, rookie, back up before we drown you.” Her arm shot up as she gestured toward the firemen back at the truck. “Let ‘er loose, boys!”

Water shot out across the top of the porch, doused the blazing bush at the same time. Jason moved back to the field where spindly patterns of fire were reaching toward the woods behind the house.

He hit the flames back with the wet sack until the hose from the smaller truck was pulled his way, then grabbed the hose, joining Denny Ward and Jacob Beecher. The three men dragged the hose through the burnt grass toward the flames that still hadn’t been tamed.

By the time the fire was out a half an hour later, Jason’s face and neck were slick with sweat and any skin showing was smeared with soot.

He staggered toward the house with Denny and Jacob, dragging the hose behind them.

“Good job for your first brush fire, Tanner,” Brittany said tossing him a water bottle. “Drink up, I don’t want to have to try to carry your big butt to the ambulance.”

Brittany was a paid EMT for the Tri-County Ambulance service, which covered the county Spencer Valley was in and two others. When she wasn’t riding with the ambulance, she was responding to fires as a volunteer member of the Spencer Valley Fire Department.

Jason caught the bottle, twisting the cap off. “Thanks.”

Brittany tossed her head back, releasing dark curls from a hair tie with one hand and yanking the rest of the strands from where they’d been shoved under the collar of the fire suit.

She drank down half a bottle of her own before focusing her gaze on Jason. She leaned one arm against the trunk of the tree next to her. “You’re a natural at this. You knew what to do without any of us telling you.”

Jason shrugged a shoulder. “Just a quick learner. But Cody did give me some pointers”

Denny walked up to stand under the shade of the tall maple tree with them. He winked at Brittany. “His being built like a Greek god doesn’t hurt any either, does it Brittany?”

There was no mistaking the red that flushed up Brittany’s cheeks, but she didn’t give the men time to harass her about it. “I hadn’t noticed, Denny. Something you need to tell us, or maybe Heather when you get home?”

Heather was Denny’s wife. Jason had graduated with both of them.

“Very funny, Manahan. Don’t try to deflect. You’ve been checking out Tanner since he signed up.”

Brittany tossed her empty water bottle toward Denny, slid the jacket of the fire suit off and turned back toward the rig. “Sounds like maybe you’re deflecting your own obsession with Tanner,” she called over her shoulder.

Denny elbowed Jason in the ribs. He nodded toward Brittany, now across the yard by the truck. “Watch out for that one. She’s a man eater and she’s definitely been checking you out.”

Jason laughed softly, shook his head. He didn’t know if what Denny was saying was true or not, and he didn’t really care.

 “Not worried about it.” He took another long drink from the bottle. “I’m steering clear of the opposite sex for a good long while.”

Denny leaned back against the tree they were standing under. “You and Ellie still on the rocks?”

Jason nodded, finishing the water in the bottle, and crushing it in his hand.  A cool breeze slid over his skin and he closed his eyes briefly to enjoy it.

Cody walked over, leaned one arm against the tree, and shook his head. He looked at the charred scene around them as he guzzled a bottle of water.

“Last year we had too much rain, this year we could use some more. I’d love a year where we’d get just the right amount of rain.”

Denny and Jason agree with quick nods of their heads.

“It would certainly make farming a lot easier,” Jason commented.

Elizabeth Franklin stepped out on the porch with a tray of lemonade and a plate of cookies. She placed the tray on a small table and cupped her hands around her mouth to call across the yard. “Come on over, guys. Have some refreshments before you head out.”

Cody grinned, patting Jason on the shoulder as they walked. “Volunteers may not get paid in money, but we do get paid in baked goods.”

Jason patted his stomach, still flat, but knew it wouldn’t be much longer if he didn’t stop taking ‘thank you’ gifts of food. He would need a couple extra hours in the gym this next week.

Elizabeth poured glasses of lemonade, waving over the rest of the fire fighters still on scene. “Goodness, boys, that was scary. We can’t thank you enough for saving the woods and the house.” She looked up as Brittany walked over, now out of her fire gear. “Sorry about that hon’. I forgot our fire department has a young lady now. No offense meant.”

Brittany waved her hand dismissively, taking a glass of lemonade with the other hand. “No offense taken, Mrs. Franklin.”

Elizabeth propped a hand on her hip. “Brittany, you know you can call me Elizabeth now. I haven’t been your teacher in ten years.”

Brittany made a face. “I’ll try but I can’t make any promises. Just seems weird.”

Jason laughed. “I didn’t even have you as a teacher and I don’t think even I can call you Elizabeth.”

Gray streaked the older woman’s dark blond strands pulled back in a ponytail. She folded her arms across her chest and looked down at Jason, standing on the ground next to the porch. “That’s right. I never did have you in class, did I? I do remember having Molly. One of my brightest students. How’s she doing these days?”

“Good. Working hard at the country store, managing our website, and of course, still working on the farm.”

Elizabeth pressed her hands against her lower back and stretched back slightly. “She’s not married yet either is she?”

Jason’s chest constricted at the question, though he knew Molly’s former English teacher had no idea she’d struck a painful chord.

“No. Not yet.”

Elizabeth smiled affectionally and winked. “Well, you both better get on it and give Robert and Annie some grandchildren to cuddle. They’re just going to love being grandparents. I know Lester and I do.”

Being reminded of not having children yet at his age, while wondering if he ever would, was making Jason wish that fire had consumed him.

Cody jerked his head toward the trucks after a few more minutes of chatting. “We’d better get these hoses rolled up and the rigs back to the fire house.”

The conversations broke up as the firefighters pulled off their gear and headed back to the trucks or their own vehicles. Jason dragged a hand across his forehead, looked at the black smeared on his skin, and grimaced. It was going to take a lot of soap to get all this off.

Brittany climbed into the passenger side of the larger fire truck and leaned her head out the window. “Hey, Jason, some of the guys and I are going to Mooney’s after we clean up. Wanna join us?”

He shook his head, wiping his hands on his pants. “I’ve got to head back to the farm but thanks for asking.”

He didn’t miss the wink she gave him. “Next time, okay? I’ll buy you a beer.”

He waved as the truck pulled out then winced as he watched the truck head down the dirt road.

Maybe Denny was right. He’d better watch his back with that one.

Standing in the shower fifteen minutes later, after telling his dad he’d be in the barn soon to help with the milking, he let the water run hot down his back. Exhaustion ate away at his strength. He leaned his arm against the wall and his forehead against his arm.

He hoped the water would loosen his muscles and wake him. He still had a farm to help run. When he thought about Elizabeth’s comments about grandchildren, he turned the knob further toward the hot, hoping the water would burn her words out of his mind like it was burning the soot off his body.

“Hey, Jase.” Alex’s voice from the other side of the door made him groan softly. “Any idea where the toolbox went? A hose on the milker broke again.”

While he would have liked to have been able to shower in peace, he couldn’t deny how grateful he was that there was always something to keep his mind off what he didn’t want to think about.

Sneak peek of Chapter 7 for next week:

Chapter 7

Ellie winced, curling her legs up against the heating pad pressed against her stomach. A burning pain had started in her lower stomach an hour earlier and was curving around to her back. She’d finally given up and taken ibuprofen. It hadn’t kicked in yet.

Was it the stress of the last few weeks causing her pain to be worse?  Maybe her condition was simply getting worse. Either way, she prayed for the pain to end soon. She had Bible study in a couple of hours. They were studying Proverbs 31 and she needed to be there, not only to lead the study, but to focus on something other than her deepening depression.

She drifted off into a fitful sleep for 20 minutes before a knock on the door woke her.

Fiction Friday: The Farmers Sons Chapter 6 Part I

As always this story is a fictional serial which I update every Friday. it is also a work in progress and will be turned into a book once I’ve posted the chapters here on the blog and once it has been edited and maybe even rewritten.

I will share part two of this chapter tomorrow on the blog.

Let me know what you think of the story so far in the comments. What do you think should happen next or what has happened so far? And if you would like to read the first book in this series, you can find it on Kindle Unlimited or order a digital copy on Amazon. You can also order print versions on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

To catch up on the other chapters of this story click HERE.

***

Robert set a steaming mug of black coffee on the table in front of Jason and another in front of himself. Sunlight was trying to peek through dark clouds outside and the light in the kitchen cast a warm glow across the wooden table Ned had made 20 years ago.

“I’ve been thinking of some other avenues for revenue for the business.”

Jason laughed softly, reaching across the table for the creamer. “So that’s what happens when we leave you alone too long.”

“It certainly is.” Robert slid a sheet of paper across the table at him. “We’ve got a group of results from the genetic testing on the jerseys. It looks like we have enough with the A2 gene that we can start producing A2 milk once we build a bottling plant to process it.” He pointed to some figures at the bottom of the page. “That’s going to be the cost which part of the money left over from Alex’s mom will cover the majority of.”

Jason read over the paper. This move would definitely be another source of income for the business if it all came together.

His eyes fell on a few words at the bottom of the page that raised his eyebrows. “Goats? You want to add goats?”

Robert stirred creamer and sugar into his coffee, turning it a light brown. He nodded as he sipped. “The way I figure it,

Robert laughed. “But their milk is. It’s just another product we can add to the inventory of the store. Not to mention, we can make soap from the milk.”

Jason grinned and cocked an eyebrow. “Who’s going to make the soap?”

“Your mom and Molly are interested.”

“Molly? Making soap?”

Robert sighed. “Focus, Jason.”

Jason looked back at the paper again. “What’s this over here?” He squinted. “Should have been a doctor with this handwriting of yours, Dad. Corn maze? You want to set up a corn maze in the Fall?”

Robert sipped his coffee. “Yep. Diversify. Landon Bennett from the Lycoming Farm Bureau is going to put me in touch with a maze designer he’s worked with the last three years.”

Jason rubbed his chin under his bottom lip thoughtfully. “And this brought in some revenue for Landon?”

“Double what he makes in six months with milk sales, but he also added rides, crafts, and set up a pumpkin patch, which we have more than enough space for.”

“Have you talked to Walt yet?”

“Briefly. He agreed we need to get some figures together before we make any decisions. Maybe it won’t be plausible, but at this point I say we try everything and see what sticks. The alternative is —”

“Something we don’t need to think about right now,” Jason said quickly.

Robert set his cup of coffee aside and picked up a pen. He drew an arrow to a figure at the top of the page. “The money from Cecily was an amazing, appreciated boost for us and I think we need to capitalize on the breathing room it gave us.”

Jason nodded. “I agree.”

Robert set his pen aside, folded his arms on the surface of the table. “Now that we’ve got the business talk out of the way, maybe you’d like to talk about some more personal issues.”

Jason shook his head as he stood, the paper in his hand.

He leaned back against the kitchen counter, looking at the paper and taking a long gulp of his coffee. “Nope. I’m good. Plus, we’re not done with business talk. We still need to figure out where and how we’re going to build a shed or barn for the goats you want to buy. Not to mention where to buy the goats. Then there’s the need to get some plans together for the bottling plant. I can talk to Greg Stanton at Stanton Designs about that tomorrow when I’m in town if you want.”

Robert nodded. “We can figure that all out in the next few days. Your Uncle Walt is scoping out some of the space near his barn for the goat barn. We’ll see how that works.” He folded his hands in a triangle in front of him and propped his chin on the tips of his fingers, his eyes narrowing. “Jason, I know things have been rough between you and Ellie. If you need to talk —”

“Dad, I appreciate it, but I’m good. Really.”

“Are you? Really? Because you don’t look good most days. You look pretty beat up. It’s honorable of you to offer to help out the fire department besides everything else you’re doing, but do you think that maybe all of this is just a way to avoid dealing with the situation with Ellie?

Jason shrugged, placed his empty mug in the sink. “It’s not a situation. It’s moving on.”

Robert leaned back, draping an arm over the back of the kitchen chair. “So, the relationship is over?”

Jason shrugged again. “Maybe. I don’t know. It seems to be what she wants.”

“Any reason she wants this?”

Jason slid the paper onto the kitchen table, leaning his palms against the edge of the counter, trying to decide how much he wanted his dad to know. “She thinks she can’t trust me.”

“Did something happen to make her feel this way?”

“Not recently, no.”

“Jase, you know I love you, no matter what. You can tell me what’s going on.”

Jason blew out a breath. “I screwed up, Dad. Okay? I screwed up in college and I never told Ellie. Can we just not talk about this right now?”

Robert didn’t appear to be getting the message. “Okay, well, how did you screw up?”

Jason pressed thumb and forefinger against his nose and closed his eyes.

“Dad, I don’t want to talk about it, okay? I just —” He gestured with his hand, clenched his fist closed. How long was he going to hide his shame from his family? “I was down in college. I started drinking. It didn’t last long, but . . .”

“You fell in with some wrong people?”

Jason smirked. “Well, Alex, for one, but yeah…one person in particular. A woman.”

Robert sat back in his chair. “Ah. I see. And you never told Ellie about this woman and whatever happened between you two?”

Jason nodded. “A few months ago, she overheard me and Alex talking about it. I was going to tell her before that but when I tried to, she thought I was proposing so —”

The squeal from the scanner hooked to Jason’s belt startled them both. Jason twisted the volume knob.

“Sorry.”

The voice on the scanner broke through the static. “Department 12, brush fire. Corner of Drew Road and Pine Creek Road. Fully involved and spreading.”

Jason stood and reached for his cap. “That’s just up the road. It would be a good training opportunity for me.”

Robert nodded, his mouth pressed into a thin line. “Okay, but be careful and let’s talk about all of this again later.”

“Yeah. ‘k.”

Out in his truck, starting the engine, Jason was glad for the excuse to leave. He was tired of talking about his past life, his mistakes, Ellie. He was tired of thinking about them, too. Luckily, he now had a brush fire to fight and later he would have a bottling plant and a goat barn to figure out how to build. Plenty to keep his mind off the thoughts burning painful paths through his heart and mind.  

***

Robert envied how quickly Jason rushed out the front door. He couldn’t do anything quickly anymore. He lumbered like a bear shot with a tranquilizer dart most days, staggering across the pastures like a man 20 years older than he was.

It was amazing Annie still had anything to do with him.

It was a silly thought, grounded in self-pity, he knew it, but the thought was still there. Annie was vibrant, active, beautiful. She deserved more than a hobbling old man.

He winced, standing and placing his empty coffee mug in the sink.

There she was now. He watched her walk across the side yard toward the clothesline.

He listened to her often complain about the wrinkles she was finding, the gray hairs that were cropping up here and there, what she saw as extra skin under her chin. He saw none of those things, though.

To him she was still the 17-year-old girl he’d fallen in love with, the 19-year-old who had given birth to his son and then four years later their daughter. There had been a loss in between, a son they’d named Joseph even though he’d been born at 28 weeks, not old enough to breathe on his own, not strong enough even when the machines breathed for him.

A breeze blew stands of her dark brown hair across her face. She pushed them aside, behind her ear, and propped a clothespin in her mouth.

How was it that the sight of her still sent his heart racing in his chest, his muscles tightening with a desire to hold her close? They hadn’t had a lot of time alone together since the accident and before that he’d been working hard to pay off the loan by the deadline. The last several months had been filled with her waiting on him, especially when he’d first come home and slept in a bed downstairs until his pelvis and leg healed more.

He enjoyed waiting on her instead and had hated not being able to do for himself. Now he could get his own breakfast, his own coffee, do some work around the farm, and take showers without her helping him undress and dress again, though he had to admit that part had been fun in some ways. He smiled, thinking of her helping pulling off his jeans each night and how he’d chased her from the bathroom before she tried to remove anything else.

It was ridiculous, he knew, but somehow he had felt less of a man with his leg all mangled and in a cast. The way he winced from the pain in his pelvis each time he’d moved didn’t make him feel very masculine either. Even with the cast off, he still felt like only half of a man.

Annie hooked a sheet over the line, pushing herself up on the tips of her toes to reach. He grinned, his eyes traveling down her legs, exposed thanks to a pair of denim blue shorts.

Robert’s physical pain was better now, but there were still too many things he couldn’t do that he wanted to, including climbing onto the tractor, lifting heavy objects, dancing with his wife under the stars. Not that he’d danced with Annie under the stars regularly. It had only been that one time, three years ago, after they’d helped on of the pigs give birth and he hadn’t wanted to go back to the house yet.

He’d like to try it again, though. Hopefully soon the pain would be all the way gone and his leg wouldn’t be so stiff. He tried to bend the leg, now free of the lighter cast, and grimaced.

Hopefully then he wouldn’t feel as old and helpless as he did now.

He wondered if his dad had felt this way when age, and later dementia and heart failure, had forced him to slow down. Ned had been cognizant enough before the dementia took over to realize he was losing his mental faculties. They’d talked about it one day sitting on Ned and Franny’s front porch, rocking in the chairs his father had built for him and Franny to rock in when Ned retired.

“I’m not of much use these days, Robert,” Ned had said, his cloudy blue eyes looking out over the yard where chickens scratched at corn and a barn cat rolled in the grass. “Not to you boys. Not to your mom. Not to anyone.”

“Don’t say that, Dad.”

“It’s true. I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.”

Robert had laughed. “I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.”

Ned shook his head. He hadn’t laughed. “Who’s going to take care of your mom when I don’t know who I am anymore?”

Robert had reached over and done something the Tanner man rarely did. He’d squeezed his father’s hand and looked at him until he looked back.

“We will dad. Your kids and grandkids. And most importantly God will.”

Ned’s eyes glistened. “Do you think I’ll even know who God is when I forget who everyone else is?”

“Yeah.” Robert clutched his dad’s hand tighter. “Yeah. I do. And if you don’t, it doesn’t matter because he knows who you are.”

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Now For Sale. The book that is.

I don’t have an excerpt from The Farmer’s Son this week because I am working on a section and haven’t quite finished it yet. I do however, want to remind blog readers that The Farmer’s Daughter is available for sale on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Ebooks are available on Smashwords, Barnes&Noble and Amazon. A print version is currently only on Amazon until I figure out how to design the back cover for B&N.

I would like to send a couple of free copies to readers who supported me while writing it so if you are interested please let me know in the comments and then send me an email at lisahoweler@gmail.com and I will send an ebook copy to you.

The first two chapters of The Farmer’s Daughter is available here on the blog. Excerpts from A New Beginning and Rekindle are also available.

To catch up on what I’ve shared with The Farmer’s Son, click HERE.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 25

This week I’ve been busy trying to extract Jason’s storyline from the novel because if I don’t I’m going to have an opus on my hands and I’m not interested in writing one of those. I figure I’ll plop a novella about Jason in between The Farmer’s Daughter and The Librarian, which is already partially written. I’ll share the remainder of his story here on the blog on Fiction Friday, though.

The following chapter will definitely be rewritten. I hesitated even sharing it this week because I didn’t get to rewrite or rework it as often as I usually do before I post it to the blog. Luckily (I mean that sincerely) I don’t have a huge following so not too many people will be disappionted. Haha!

For those who do read each week, stay tuned for updates or you can download the book when it is done. I’m still trying to figure out a way to offer it for free for my blog readers. I know there is a way. I just need to research it more. The final book will be much shorter than what I post here after editing and removing Jason’s story, of course.

Anyhow, to catch up on the rest of the story click HERE.


Chapter 25

 I miss you, he texted.

Her: You just saw me in the barn a couple hours ago.

Him: Two days without kissing you is too long.

Her: It is. Drive me to my grandma’s in the morning? Dad’s working on my truck.

Him: Can I kiss you before I drop you off?

Her: Maybe.

Him: I’ll meet you after milking.

Her: I can’t wait.

***

The leather of the Bible cover was smooth under Franny’s hand as she brushed the dust from it.

She could see better now since her surgery. She really had no excuse not to read it.

Except that whole being mad at God thing.

She sighed and slid her fingers down the spine of it and then across the front again, across her name embossed in gold on the front. The Bible had been a birthday gift from Ned 20 years ago.

“New King James,” he’d announced proudly as she unwrapped it. “Just like you asked. Not too modern. Not too old fashioned. The perfect translation.”

The perfect translation yet it still couldn’t help her translate her pain into joy or her ashes into beauty.

She held the Bible against her as she walked toward the back porch. She usually sat on the front porch, but she needed a change of scenery today and she only had a little time before her friend Betty, Annie’s mother and Molly and Jason’s other grandmother, came to help her finish a quilt they’d been working on.

The sun poured yellow and white across the paint-chipped floor, stretching shadows of trees toward her brown slippers as she walked.

“Should have brought a quilt out here with me. It’s getting chilly.”

Sitting in the chair closest to the railing she lowered herself slowly onto the soft pillow she’d sown several years ago at the sewing club and looked out toward the dirt road and the field.

Someone had parked a truck in that patch of field behind the maple tree where Ned used to hang the tire swing for the kids and just beyond the chicken coop. The area where Robert had made a makeshift entrance for the field when he drove in there to plant the corn.

“Now who would have done that? It gets muddy out there. Don’t they know that? They’ll get their truck stuck.” She lifted herself slightly and squinted toward the truck. “Is that that Stone boy who works for Robert? What’s he doing parking in the field like that? I hope he’s not out there with one of those little blond floozies again.”

She shook her head, her Bible on her lap, knowing she should open it, but her eye was drawn to movement at the truck as the passenger side door opened. Was that her granddaughter climbing out of that truck?

Franny’s eyes narrowed further down and her mouth pressed into a thin line as she watched Alex slide out of the truck, walk around the front of it, and approach Molly.

“Now, what do you think you’re doing there, young ma—ooooh my.”

The sight of Alex pulling her granddaughter close and cupping her young face in his hands before he kissed her expanded Franny’s eyes from narrowed slits to round circles.

She shook her head. “Well, now I’m not sure if I’m glad I got that surgery on my eyes or not.”

She stood when she saw Molly turn toward the house, deciding she wouldn’t let her granddaughter catch her watching her romantic visit with the farm hand.

She was sitting on the couch in the living room with the Bible on her lap trying to act innocent when Molly slipped through the back door, the screen door bouncing closed behind her.

“Hey, Grandma.”

“Hey, girl. Didn’t know I was going to see you today. What brings you over?”

Molly stayed in the kitchen, reaching for a glass in the cabinet next to the stove. “I just wanted to come and say ‘hello’. I haven’t stopped by for a while.”

“Mmmmm. I see. Well, if you stay a bit you’ll get to see both of your grandmothers. Betty is on her way over to help me finish a quilt.”

“Great! Hey, I’m going to grab myself a glass of water. You want one?”

Franny leaned back against the couch and made herself comfortable. “Yes, actually, that would be nice. It is a bit warm today.” She coughed softly. “I guess you’ve worked up a sweat before you got here.”

Molly sat a glass of ice water on the table next the couch for her grandmother and held hers as she sat next on the couch. Franny studied her second oldest granddaughter’s flushed cheeks and knew it wasn’t only the warm day bringing that light pink to her skin.

“I didn’t see your truck. Did you walk here today?”

She raised an eyebrow, waiting for Molly to answer. I’ve got you now, Molly-girl.

Molly’s uneasy expression and the quick way she adverted her eyes to study something obviously more interesting on the cushion of the couch amused Franny.

“Oh. Um. No.” Molly waved toward the window behind her. “Alex dropped me off on his way into town. He’s going to swing by later and pick me up.

Franny propped her elbow on the arm of the couch and leaned her face against her hand.

“Mmhmm…. I see.” She turned slightly toward her granddaughter, stretching an arm across the back of the couch. “So, tell me, Molly, do you love Alex Stone or was that kiss I just saw him giving you part of a summer romance?”

Molly choked on the water she was drinking, droplets sputtering from her lips. She set the glass down and wiped her mouth before looking at her grandmother with wide eyes. “I’m sorry?”

“Are you now? Well, should you be? Sorry, that is?”

Molly watched her grandmother with wide eyes and a partially opened mouth, unsure of how to respond.

“I was on the back porch and saw you two having a nice moment, you might say. Outside his truck. Just now.”

“Oh.”

“I hope these little rendezvous of yours have only involved kissing. Or was this the first rendezvous?”

Molly looked at the ceiling and sighed. Lord, have mercy. You sent my grandmother to keep an eye on me?

“No. I mean, yes, it was only kissing, but no it wasn’t the first time.” Quieter, under her breath she added: “And I guess that eye surgery did wonders for you. Sadly.”

Franny smirked. “It was my eyes that were the issue, sweetie, not my ears. I heard that.”

Molly was glad to see some of her grandmother’s spunk had returned, though she wished it had been used on another family member instead of her.

“Does your daddy know about this?”

“No. Not yet.”

Franny sipped her water, glancing out the front window. “It should be interesting when he finds out.”

Molly swallowed water in large gulps. “Mmm, yeah. It should be.”

Franny smiled, sipping her water again. “He’s a good looking young man. That Alex.”

“Yes.”

“Polite.”

“Yes.”

“Bit of a drinker, though.”

“He’s not drinking like he used to, Grandma.”

“Used to watch him drive up this road with some pretty young ladies in his truck.”

“Yes.”

“You better not be another notch on his bed post, or I’ll have his hide.”

Molly gasped. What else had the doctors done to her grandmother at that hospital? Apparently, they had turned the dial on her sass factor all the way to ten. “Grandma!”

“I’m serious, Molly.”

“Grandma, I wouldn’t  . . . I mean, I don’t think he’s . . . he’s different now, Grandma. He’s . . . changing.”

“Some men will say whatever you want to hear. They’ll say they’ve changed when they haven’t. But I hope he really has so he’s worthy of my granddaughter.”

Molly sat her glass of water on the coffee table, pulled her legs up under her and turned so she was facing her grandmother. She casually propped her arm along the back of the couch to match her grandmother’s pose.

“You’re really enjoying yourself teasing me, aren’t you, Grandma?”

“I am but I’m also serious. I want you to be careful, Molly.”

“I am.”

Franny raised an eyebrow over her glass as she drank from it.

“Really, Grandma. I am.”

Franny sighed and lowered the eyebrow as she sat her glass back down. “Well, he’s a hard worker. That’s one good thing he’s got going for him. That and those pretty blue eyes. I’m sure you’ve noticed them.”

Molly smiled, red spreading along her cheeks again. “Yes. I have noticed those.”

“Your grandpa was a hard-worker too, you know that.”

“I do.”

Molly leaned back, hopeful the interrogation was over. She decided she needed to try to change the subject. “Grandma, how did you and grandpa meet?”

Franny knew her granddaughter was changing the subject but decided to let it go. She motioned toward the bookcase across on the other side of the room, from the couch. “On that bottom shelf over there is a photo album. Go get it for me, will you?”

Molly heard the front door open as she lifted the album from the shelf and sat back on the couch.

Hannah carried a basket into the house, walking toward the kitchen. “Ladies. What are we up to today?”

 “Your niece is just over here changing the subject.”

Molly shot her grandmother a warning scowl with a hint of a smile. Franny winked.

“What’s that?” Hannah asked from the kitchen.

“We’re just looking at photos of grandma and grandpa,” Molly said quickly.

The last thing she needed was Hannah chiming in on her relationship with Alex.

Staring back at Molly from her grandmother’s photo album was a couple Molly knew were her grandparents, despite how young they were. She could see them in their eyes, in their broad smiles, standing outside the farmhouse she was now sitting in, his arms around her. The photo was black and white. Franny was wearing a flowered dress, her hair pulled back in a 40s hairstyle. Her grandfather was handsome, square jawline, bright eyes, dark hair swept off his forehead, wearing a uniform.

“That was the day before he left for Vietnam.” Franny tapped the photo with the tip of her finger. “He’d proposed to me a month earlier.”

“What color was the dress?”

“Blue with red flowers. Your great grandmother made it for me as a graduation gift.”

Cupboard doors opened and closed in the kitchen. “I picked up some of that soup you like, Mom,” Hannah called from the kitchen. “And a couple boxes of crackers.”

Franny tapped her finger against another photo. “Here we are on our wedding day, after he came home. He was over there about a year before he was shot in the leg. Doctors didn’t think he’d walk again so he was discharged.”

Another page was turned. “Oh, and here a year and a half after our wedding, with your uncle Walt. He was such a fat baby.”

Molly and Franny laughed.

Hannah walked from the kitchen, drying her hands on a dish towel. “I put some lasagna in a container in the fridge for dinner tonight and some pork chops for lunch tomorrow.”

“Thank you much,” Franny said still looking at the album.

Hannah sat on the arm of the couch, craning her neck to look at the album on her mother’s lap. “Is that me with Robert?”

Franny smiled. “Oh, yes. You loved to have him give you piggyback rides around the yard.”

Molly looked at a photo of her grandfather standing outside the barn, a little girl about five, with reddish-brown curls cascading down her back. “Is that me?”

Hannah sat on the couch next to Molly. “Oh, you were so funny. You’d follow Dad around with that little metal bucket we used to use for the chicken feed. ‘I milk da cows now’d, Grandpa,’ you’d say, you rlittle pants falling off your diaper clad bottom.”

The three women laughed at the memory.

“And who knew that a few years later Sarah and Max would be doing the same,” Molly said, talking about her much younger cousins, now 14 and 16.

Franny traced her fingertip along a photo of Ned, mentally transported to a day 10 years earlier when he’d talked about retiring, letting the boys take over more of the operation of the farm.

“We’re going to have more time for ourselves, Franny,” he’d told her. “More time for long walks around the farm, watching fireflies in the field, maybe we can even take a trip or two.”

They had had a few years of those nights to watch fireflies and they’d even taken a couple of trips to a couple of lighthouses a few hours away before Ned became sicker, but Franny had expected many more years and in so many ways she felt robbed.

She bit her lower lip as Hannah and Molly laughed about other photographs on the page; Robert in bellbottoms, Annie’s hair when she was pregnant with Molly, Hannah’s high heeled shoes she almost fell out of on her prom night.

Molly glanced at her grandmother and noticed the tears glimmering, hovering on the edge, ready to spill over. Her laughter faded and she reached over to cover Franny’s hand with her own.

“You okay?”

Franny nodded, but closed her eyes, a tear escaping down her cheek. When she opened her mouth to speak, she found she couldn’t. An ache squeezed at her chest as more tears pooled in her eyes.

“I miss him, girls,” she whispered a few moments later. “I miss him.”

Hannah moved to kneel in front of her mother, sliding the photo album from her lap and laying it on the coffee table.

“We do too, Mom. We do too.”

Sobs shook Franny’s small body as she bowed her head. “I’ve — I’ve been mad at God.” She opened her eyes and looked at the ceiling, so she didn’t have to look at Molly and Hannah, see their looks of surprise, maybe even shock or disappointment. “It’s wrong, but I’ve been mad at him for taking Ned away from me.”

Hannah clutched Franny’s hands in hers.

“Mom. Look at me.”

Franny shook her head and closed her eyes again.

“Mom.”

She looked at Hannah, her eyes red from crying.

“Remember what you told me after my miscarriage? You told me that it’s okay to be mad at God. You told me, ‘He’s big enough to handle it.’ Remember?”

Franny continued to cry, nodding.

She mouthed “thank you,” her voice stolen by emotion.

Molly swallowed hard as Hannah, still kneeling, laid her head in her mother’s lap and began to cry. Franny touched the top of Hannah’s head, sank her hands into her daughter’s dark hair and bent over her in a protective move, continuing to cry softly.

 Molly felt like she was interrupting a tender, private moment somehow until Franny looked over, slid her arm around Molly and pulled her close.

The front screen door squeaked open a few moments later and footsteps followed.

“Hello? Franny? You here?”

There was pause in the footsteps and then a soft gasp. “Oh…my. What have I walked into?”

Molly sniffed and looked up at her other grandmother Betty, smiling slightly through the tears. “A good cry.”

She held her hand out to Betty whose eyes softened with compassionate realization, not needing to be told what the tears were for.

She took Molly’s hand.

“Well, then, let me get in on that good cry, ladies.”

Molly held Betty’s right hand and leaned against Franny and Hannah reached up and clutched Betty’s left hand. The four women cried together, letting go of the emotions they’d been holding in for far too long.

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 23 Part II

I shared part one of this chapter yesterday on the blog. I apologize ahead of time for the cliff hanger.

____

Freshly showered and her hair piled back on her head ready to clean the cows’ stalls, Molly walked to the barn with trepidation. She had no idea how to act in front of Alex after their encounter a couple of hours earlier. She needed to find a way to get him alone and find out what he’d been up to.

What am I going to ask him? Hey, were you about to kiss me in there or am I just having some sort of out of body experience?

She looked inside the barn for Alex, but didn’t see him.

“Molly, hey.”

Molly inwardly groaned.

Jason.

The brother with the worst timing ever. Similar to the mother with the worst time ever.

She could tell by her brother’s tone she was being given some kind of additional chore.

“Dad needs you and Alex to help us pick up some extra feed at Henderson’s.”

“Where are Tyler and Blake?”

“They’re down at the lower barn moving the cows back inside. So, you and Alex are up. Come on. Dad’s waiting in the truck and here comes Alex.”

Molly looked up to see Alex walking toward a truck she didn’t recognize.

Jason opened the front passenger side door of the large white pick-up. “Shotgun!”

Molly scowled. “What are you, 12?”

Her brother turned and stuck his tongue out at her as he hopped in the front seat. Alex shot her a lopsided grin and opened the back door of the extended cab of the truck. “Looks like it’s you and me in the back, my lady.

Molly quickly pulled her eyes from his, warmth rushing through her.

“Whose truck is this?” she asked, not moving.

Her dad leaned his head out of the driver-side window. “Jason Porter’s. He loaned it to me while my truck is being worked on at Bert’s. Can we end the 20- question and answer session now and just hop in so we can get this feed picked up and get back before milking?”

Alex propped an arm on the inside of the door and motioned inside with his other hand. “Shall we?”

Molly kept her eyes on him as she climbed into the cab and slid in. When he walked around to the other side and slid in next to her she quickly moved her gaze toward the front of the truck, her heart racing, wishing she could have talked to him before they’d left. She could feel him looking at her and when she glanced at him she saw his foot propped on the bottom of the door, his knee up and his arm casually laying across it while he watched her with a small smile.

She needed to distract herself.

She asked her dad how much feed he had bought, if it was new for the cows, and about some of the neighbors. Anything to take her mind off the way Alex was watching her. After the 20-minute drive to Henderson’s Hardware, listening to her dad talk about farming, they found their delivery and loaded it into the bed of the truck.

With almost all of it loaded, Jason started loading the last seven large bags himself, carrying two bags at a time, one on each shoulder. “I’ll put these extras in the back of cab.”

Robert walked back to the front door of the store to pay the invoice as Molly dragged her hand across her forehead, wiping at perspiration from the heavy lifting.

She glanced at Alex, leaning against the back of the truck, his hat pulled low on his head, his arms folded across his chest, the pose similar to how he’d been standing in the laundry room.     

“You okay?” he asked.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re something else you know that?”

“What do you mean?”

“You work as hard as any man I’ve ever met.”

Molly smirked. “Well, that wasn’t sexist at all.”

He swallowed a laugh and then stepped toward her, lowering his voice. “Hey, we need to talk about earlier. Can we —”

“Invoice paid. Let’s head on out, guys.”

Molly tipped her head to look at the ground and followed her dad. Oh my gosh. My whole family has horrible timing.

Walking to the passenger side of the truck and opening the door she glared at the feed bags piled in the backseat of the cab. She looked at the front of the truck and noticed there were only bucket seats, nowhere else to fit another person.

“Um, Jase? Where are Alex and I supposed to sit?”

Jason rubbed his hand across his unshaven chin and jawline. “Oh. Yeah. I guess I forgot we had to fit two people back there too.” He shoved the feed bags as far as they would go against the truck door. “It will be a tight fit, but I think you two can manage.”

Molly had barely gotten her heart under control from the ride to the store. Now it was racing again at the thought of having to sit even closer to Alex for the 20-minute ride home.

Her breath caught at the wink he gave her as he leaned on the open door. “Come on, Mol. I think we can manage. You first.”

Once Alex was inside, the door closed behind him, Molly couldn’t think of anything beyond the feeling of his side pressed into hers  — she closed her eyes and drew in a breath slowly — the warm, solid, utterly masculine side of his body.

She shifted slightly so she was facing the front of the truck. No matter how much she shifted, though, his thigh was still pressed tightly against hers.

Alex’s hand shot up behind her to catch a bag of seed that slid toward her when her dad pulled out of the parking lot. He held it in place on top of the other bags and stretched his other hand in front of her to steady the bottom of the pile. Now she was not only pressed up against him but trapped between his arms, possibly for the duration of the drive.

He looked down at her with the cocky grin she’d once thought was obnoxious but had somehow become endearing to her recently. “That was close. You could have been crushed by that bag of feed.” His eyes sparkled with amusement. “And sorry. I’m probably smelling pretty bad right now.”

Smelling bad? Uh, no. He was smelling amazing despite the warm day and the fact they’d just been lifting heavy seed bags into the truck for the last half hour.

Molly shook her head, looking up at him, his face now inches from hers as he leaned against her to hold the bags in place.  “You aren’t.” Her voice faded to a whisper. “At all.”

He kept his eyes on her for several seconds, one hand holding the top of the feed in place, the other the bottom and when he moved his thumb it grazed her side through her shirt. She drew her breath in sharply and held it. He dipped his head until his mouth was close to her ear, out of sight of Jason and her dad.

She closed her eyes at the feel of his breath warm against her skin.

“We need to talk about earlier.”

She nodded.

“Can we meet somewhere later?”

She nodded again.

“Is it bad I want to finish what I started earlier and kiss you right now?”

Molly glanced at the front seat out of the corner of her eye, grateful that the country music station was blaring so loudly from the speakers.

She shook her head slowly, gasping softly when she felt his mouth on her earlobe and his hand lightly touch her side.

“Sorry,” he whispered. “I couldn’t resist. Your ear was right there. Waiting to be kissed.”

Fifteen more minutes. Just fifteen more minutes and I can get out of this truck, clear my head, and make sense of all this.

Jason turned down the radio. “You two okay back there? Enough room?”

Alex lifted his head from where he’d lowered it to kiss her ear, his eyes on hers as a playful smile tilted his mouth upwards. “Yep. Little bit cramped but we’re doing just fine.”

Jason turned part way to look back at them. “Are you two whispering about something?”

Molly smothered a smile behind her hand. She knew she couldn’t answer without laughing and was grateful when Alex answered for them.

“Yes, actually. I was just telling Molly about how much you snore at night and she was just telling me she knows all about it. She was completely sleep deprived as a child thanks to your freight train impersonation.”

Jason scoffed. “Whatever. You should tell her what a pig you are to live with.  Which reminds me, it’s your turn to wash the dishes and don’t wait a week like last time.”

“As long as you didn’t eat those disgusting tuna fish sandwiches again and leave the bowl in the sink.”

Molly looked toward the front of the truck, at the back of Jason’s head after he turned toward the front again. “You know, Jason, you wouldn’t have to put up with Alex as a roommate if you would just propose to Ellie already.”

Jason groaned to cover the nervous butterflies in his stomach. He and Ellie had agreed to tell their families about their engagement in a couple of weeks at the annual firemen’s fundraiser, which was the only barn dance in the area. Alex had agreed he wouldn’t tell anyone until the official announcement.

“Seriously?! What is with everyone lately?”

“We just want to see you happy, buddy.” Alex winked. “And I just want to sleep without hearing your snoring. Let Ellie deal with it.”

Jason turned to look at him. “You know I’m kicking you out when I get married, right?”

“Did you hear that, Dad?” Molly laughed. “There is hope, yet. He just said when he gets married.”

Robert playfully punched his son in the arm. “Hallelujah!”

Jason shook his head, laughing at what the good-natured ribbing.

Molly looked at Alex again, lowering her voice. “Jason’s right, though. He’ll probably move Ellie in with him. Where will you go then?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “Haven’t thought that far ahead. Never do. Planning makes my head hurt.”

He leaned his head close to hers again, his lips grazing her ear as he spoke. “Wherever it is, though, it won’t be far away from you.”

The truck swerved abruptly, and Molly fell against Alex, her hand falling on his knee to steady herself.

“Whoa!” Robert called from the front. “That was a huge deer! Everyone okay?”

Alex smiled at Molly, who realized her hand was still on his knee. “All good back here.”

Molly pulled her hand away quickly and propped it on her own knee, her cheeks flushed bright pink. She focused her gaze out the windshield, but she could see Alex watching her with a Cheshire Cat grin out of the corner of her eye.

Her heart beat faster with every mile that passed. Alex kept quiet for the rest of the ride, but his smile had faded and his hand slipped off the lower part of the seed bag pile more than once to graze her side. She was trying to control her emotions, but her thoughts were jumbled. There was also an insane urge pulsating through her to push him up against the inside of the truck door and press her mouth to his, ending this insane cat and mouse game he’d started. She was definite a move like that wouldn’t go over very well with her dad and brother, though.

Robert parked the truck next to the barn, near the back door. “Okay, kids, let’s get these unloaded and then everyone can head in for some lunch.”

Fifteen minutes later, when the feed was unloaded and stacked in the barn, Molly headed toward her truck.

“I’m going to sit up on the hill and read a book while I eat lunch,” she called over her shoulder. “See you guys later.”

“And I’ve got to run to town for some errands,” Alex called over his shoulder, walking toward his own truck. “Be back in a bit.”

Robert waved toward them on his way to the house, Jason falling in step next to him “Sounds good.” He patted Jason on the shoulder. “I guess it’s just you and me eating Mom’s friend chicken for lunch.”

Jason pumped his fist in the air. “Yes! More for me!”  

. “Just save some for your poor, starving father, big boy.”