Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 8

This is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, and after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE.

Chapter 8


Judi rolled onto her back in bed and stretched, wishing she didn’t have to crawl out from under the covers today. She closed her eyes against the sunlight, a familiar empty feeling settling in the center of her chest. She didn’t have much of a life without alcohol and bars. The friends she used to hang out with had faded into the background once she started declining their offers to go out.

 If she wasn’t at work, her nights were either spent helping her dad in the barn — something she swore she’d never do again when she moved to the city  — or watching a show on one of the streaming services she’d subscribed to. She often fell asleep wondering how she had ended up here and if being sober was supposed to be so boring.

Most mornings she woke up with a gasp, never sure what the day would bring, but glad to have left the night behind where nightmares often clawed at her in her sleep.

She glanced at her phone. There were three voicemails, but she refused to listen to them. The caller ID said one was Seline, the other Ellie and the third a number in New York City she didn’t recognize. Answering any of them meant being responsible and she didn’t feel like being responsible today anymore than she had yesterday.

She’d already answered a call from Rachel last night, letting her know she wouldn’t be drowning her sorrows in a cocktail over Jerry’s comments. She’d agreed to let Rachel pray with her and they hung up after making plans to meet at the downtown diner for lunch the day after tomorrow.

Now she had a full shift at Lonny’s which she wasn’t looking forward to. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with people, especially with some of the regulars. Granted, the bar and grill wasn’t a gritty bar with the main focus being on alcohol. It was more upscale than a regular bar, serving professionally cooked food and hosting high profile community or corporate events. It was after nine and on weekends when some of the customers became a little looser with their tongues and hands.

While their actions bothered Judi, she also knew she’d been them not even a year ago. When she’d drank, she let go of anything holding her back and enjoyed the feeling of not having to think of anything other than the buzz in her head and the urge to giggle over everything, even men touching her bottom when she didn’t want them to. She wasn’t drinking anymore, though, so now she was more uncomfortable with men who thought that by delivering their order they were entitled to a tip of their own.

Two hours later, though, that’s exactly what one of the customers was doing and it wasn’t even the night shift.

Judi pushed the man’s hand off her shoulder. “I’m here for your order, sir, not your unwanted attention.”

“Come on, sweetie.” The man grinned, revealing teeth brown from years of smoking. “I’m just being polite. Letting you know how pretty you look today.”

Judi guessed his age to be anywhere from 50 to 70 with the way wrinkles had cut into his skin and the tuft of graying hair on his head. All she knew was that he was old. She took a step back as the smell of stale cigarettes wafted toward her. “You’re welcome to let me know with your words, not your actions. Now, what can I get you to drink today?”

“Sounds like someone isn’t appreciative of compliments,” the man said, his smile slipping into a sneer. He tossed the menu onto the table while the man across from him smirked. “Bring me a whiskey sour.”

Judi took a deep breath and turned back toward the bar area, hoping when she returned to get the orders for their food the man had calmed down. Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of Ben walking slowly behind his father and three other men toward a table in Hannah’s area.

Better her than me, she thought picking up an order for another table. She’d had her fill of Ben Oliver in the last couple of weeks.

She delivered the meals to the table to her right and a drink to a man sitting alone in the corner. When she returned to the kitchen, Hannah cornered her with a mischievous smile.

“There’s a group of lawyers in my section babbling about lawyer stuff. Pretty boring. All of them are old except that one guy.” She winked. “He’s pretty cute. He isn’t your lawyer, is he?”

Judi rolled her eyes. “I don’t have a lawyer, Hannah, but, yes, one of them is the guy who swerved to miss my car, if that’s what you mean.”

Hannah’s eyes widened. “Really? I was joking. Which one?” She peered through the door as it swung open. “Oh! Of course! The one with the cast on his ankle and the bruise on his cheek? No way. Judi. You should have told me how good looking he is.”

Judi accepted the loaded tray she was handed. “What I did tell you was what a jerk he can be. He cheated on a friend of our family’s years ago when they were in high school, and he yelled at me at the accident scene.”

Hannah scoffed. “That’s high school. People mature. Plus, you did total his BMW. I would have yelled too.”

Judi rolled her eyes. “All I know is that I’m not interested in him in that way or any way.” She nodded toward the chef standing behind Hannah. “Enough talking. James is waving at you. I think your orders are ready.”

After another food delivery she retrieved a whiskey sour and a Black Russian for the table with the elderly flirt, ready to take his order. He gave it without the flirting he’d offered with his whiskey order, and her shoulders relaxed. Maybe her day was looking up after all. Once she reached the kitchen, she rubbed the muscle between her shoulder and neck and felt a twinge there, realizing how tense she’d been all afternoon, waiting for something bad to happen.

She refilled a drink, took two more orders, and delivered to two more tables before she returned to the man’s table to ask if he needed a refill.

“I’d take a refill of you, sweet thing,” the man responded sliding a hand against her lower back. She shifted away from him. “Oh, come on, young lady. Let an old man feel some soft skin for once.”

The muscle tension returned, but this time spreading from her shoulder, down her back and across her chest. Her heart rate increased, and her legs weakened.

 “Don’t touch me.” Her sharp voice shattered the noise of the dining room, silencing it for a few seconds as heads turned and eyebrows raised.

“Whoa. Whoa.” The man laughed and held his hands up in front of him. “Calm down, hon’. There’s no reason to get all riled up.”

Judi kept her eyes on the floor and took a step back. “I’ll get your bill, sir and then you can leave.”

The man’s laughing stopped. “I’ll leave when I want to, and I don’t want to leave. I’m not done with my drink.”

“Yes, you are.”

The voice behind Judi brought her gaze up to see Ben standing next to the man’s chair.

“Who are you? The police?” the man asked as the other man with him started to laugh.

“No, I’m her attorney,” Ben responded.

“But I’m the police,” another male voice said. “And the young woman asked you to stop talking to her.”

Judi didn’t recognize the man behind Ben and wasn’t sure if he was actually a police officer or not, but his presence was certainly intimidating. With dark hair and eyes and broad shoulders, he towered above her and Ben and the men sitting at the table.

“Fine.” The man tossed a handful of dollar bills on the table as he stood. “The food here sucks anyhow.”

Judi’s legs were at a full tremble now and that infuriated her. What was wrong with her? She’d handled these types of guys before. Why was this one setting her off so badly? The chatter in the restaurant continued again, signaling the show was over.

“You okay?”

Her gaze met Ben’s and she saw the concern there, but she didn’t want it. She was fine. This was something she dealt with all the time, and she didn’t need someone to protect her. Still, Ben had been kind enough to stand up for her when others hadn’t, including her boss and co-workers, though, in fairness, she didn’t think any of them had heard what was happening until the voices grew louder.

“Yeah,” she mumbled. “I’m fine. Thank you.”

She wished she could be kinder in her response, truly express how grateful she was but instead her stomach twisted inside her and her legs threatened to give way. She needed to get out of there and fast, find somewhere to sit down and maybe even throw up.

***

Ben placed his hand under Judi’s elbow. She looked like she needed steadying. “Why don’t I walk you out for some fresh air?”

Judi shook her head briefly. “No, really.” She pulled her gaze from his, rifling in the pocket of her apron. “I’m okay. This isn’t anything new.” She straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. “Thank you both for your help. I really do appreciate it.”

Ben watched her walk toward the kitchen where the owner, Lonny, was now standing outside the door. He said something to her, brow furrowed, and then she walked away from him toward the restrooms.  

Ben followed Scott Leonard back to their table. Scott was a probation officer that worked in the courthouse with his dad and he was glad he’d been there. Ben was sure he wouldn’t have been able to convince that guy to back off Judi without Scott standing behind him.

“Maybe lunch here was a bad idea,” Lance Morrison, one of his dad’s assistant district attorneys said.

“I’ve never seen anything like that happen here before,” Maxwell said rubbing his chin and glancing toward the table where the man had been sitting. “I know we’ve had to prosecute a couple of cases from fist fights from here over the years, but they usually happened at night.”

Carl Roberts, Maxwell’s other assistant, sitting across from Ben, sipped from his water. “If I had known this place attracted customers like that, I wouldn’t have picked it for lunch.”

“Sadly, those type of customers can be anywhere these days,” Ben said. “Especially if alcohol is involved.”

Maxwell had asked Ben if he’d be comfortable at a bar and grill when he had invited him for lunch.

“I let the guys rotate choosing a place for lunch on Wednesdays,” Maxwell had said that morning. “Carl chose Lonny’s, but I didn’t know that when I invited you. Is it going to be hard to be at —

“Dad, I can be at a bar,” Ben had said. “I’m good. Really. I’m past the withdrawal struggles. It’s not like it was in the beginning.”

He had to admit, though, seeing that man inebriated had triggered some uncomfortable memories for him.

“It was nice what you did for Judi,” Maxwell said, patting his son on the shoulder and bringing him back to the present. He looked at Scott. “Thanks to you too, Scott. Glad you guys were here.”

“I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t been here,” Scott said. “Do you think anyone else would have stepped up?”

Ben shrugged. “Probably. Eventually. I’ve heard Lonny’s a pretty good guy, actually.”

Maxwell turned in his chair toward Ben. “Still, it’s too bad Judi has to work here. It might be better for her to be someone else while she gets back on her feet. Somewhere like a quiet law office in Burkett.”

“Dad —”

Maxwell held his hand up. “I’m just saying. It’s a thought.”

Scott chuckled and patted Ben on the back. “Ah, Dads. Aren’t they great?”

“Yeah,” Ben said. “They can be. At times.”

His dad was right, though. It would be nice to give Judi somewhere other than Lonny’s to work at, even if he was only able to get her off a few shifts during the week. Here he’d been worrying about trying to train her and he didn’t even know if she’d be interested. A small, boring law office really wasn’t her speed compared to the life he heard she’d been living in the city. Then again, she was back home and attending AA meetings for a reason. Maybe slower was what she wanted, or at least what she needed, right now.

When they finished their lunch, he asked his dad to wait for him in the parking lot and then looked for Judi, hoping to at have a chance to mention the job to her. Maybe if she knew she had a chance to work somewhere else it would make the rest of her shift seem less like a prison sentence.

“In the back,” the girl behind the register told him, jerking her head toward the back door. “She’s on a break.”

Ben walked through the restaurant to the back door and found Judi leaning against a tree on the other side of the employee parking lot, her arms hugged around her. The waitress who had waited on his table was standing next to her, smoking a cigarette. He tried to remember the other waitresses name, but drew a blank. 

 Judi looked up as he approached and straightened her shoulders. Her usual confident manner had faded into the background and she was definitely more subdued than normal. He waited for a witty comment or a snarky verbal jab, but none came.

“Hey,” she said. “You need something?”

“Just wanted to double check you were okay,” he answered, knowing he was only giving her half an answer.

She shrugged a shoulder. “Yeah. I’m pretty used to that stuff. They usually back off when I tell them to. I guess this guy just didn’t want to take no for an answer.”

Ben glanced at the other waitress. He wasn’t sure he wanted to ask Judi about working for him with her standing there, but he also didn’t know how to tactfully ask her to leave.

Maybe he could hint. “I actually had something I wanted to discuss with you. Maybe I can give you a call later.”

The eyes of the other waitress widened, and he could only imagine what she was thinking after he’d said he had a question for Judi. Now he seemed to be asking for her number.

 The rumors would be flying within the hour.  

“Now is okay.” Judi gestured to her co-worker. “This is Hannah. She’s a friend.”

Hannah winked at him. “Yeah. I’m a friend.” She placed a hand on her hip, the other one still holding the cigarette. “Don’t worry. I’m really good at being discreet.” She took a puff of the cigarette, blew a long plume of smoke out the side of her mouth, and looked at him through heavy eyelids. “Oh, yes. I can be very discreet. About whatever you need me to be discreet about.”

Ben pulled his gaze from Hannah’s and cleared his throat. “Ah, thanks for letting me know. I’ll keep that in mind.”

He noticed Judi shoot Hannah a glare. “Didn’t you come out here before me, Hannah? I think your break is over.”

Hannah sighed and dropped the cigarette on the ground, grinding it in with the tip of her sneaker. “Fine. You get to have all the fun, Judi.” She smiled and winked again. “At least this one isn’t old and a pervert.” Her gaze traveled down Ben and back up to his face. “Or at least he isn’t old. I don’t know about the other part . . . yet.”

“Hannah!” Judi pointed toward the restaurant’s back door while trying to swallow a laugh. “Go back to work.”

She rolled her eyes as Hannah walked back toward the restaurant. “Sorry about her. She’s a little crazy.” She flipped a strand of pale blond hair over shoulder. “And a hopeless flirt.”

Ben laughed softly. “Yeah, I can tell.” He slid his hands in the front pockets of his khakis. “So anyhow, I have this temporary position at my office. I’m wondering if you’d be interested in it. It would only part time and until my secretary gets back but maybe you could take a few less shifts here in the meantime.”

Judi’s expression was difficult to read, but he thought he recognized a hint of amusement. “Wait a minute. You want me, the woman who you say totaled your BMW to come work for you?”

A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Yes. On a temporary basis. If you can promise me that you won’t total my BMW again when I get it back.”

Judi folded her arms across her chest and studied him for a few minutes. “You know I don’t know anything about attorney stuff, right?”

Oh, this was such a bad idea. Curse his father for passing on a desire to help others to him.

“Yes, I guessed that, but the job is fairly simple. It’s some filing and answering phones and if you are able, there might also be some note taking and letter writing involved.”

Judi quirked an eyebrow. “You should probably know that I flunked out of college. I’ve only ever worked in retail.”

Ben laughed softly. “One thing you do seem to be good at is sabotaging opportunities in your life.”

Judi pushed a hand back through her hair and let the strands fall down her back. “Actually, yes, I am an expert at that.”

Ben pulled his wallet out and slid a business card from a inside pocket, handing it to her. “My secretary’s husband is undergoing cancer treatments and she needed some time off. I’m a one-man show right now and I could use some help. Give me a call at that number if you’re interested in the job. Like I said, it won’t be permanent or full time, but it could give you a little breather from this place.”

Judi took the card and slid it in the back pocket of her jeans. “Okay. I’ll think about it. Thanks.” They both started toward the restaurant, falling in step with each other. “Your bruises are fading. How’s the brain damage?”

Ben scowled at her out of the corner of his eye. “Brain damage? It was a concussion and it’s getting better but I’m still having a lot of issues. Thanks for asking.”

Judi bit her lower lip as they reached the back door. “Listen, I know I’ve never really apologized, but I really didn’t see you when I pulled out.”

He opened the door for her. “Apology accepted but if you want to make it up to me, you can come help me out at the office and do your best not to make my job even harder.”

Judi smirked as she walked back into the restaurant. “Wow, with an offer like that how could I refuse?”

“So you’ll take it?”

She looked over her shoulder. “I’ll think about it, Mr. Oliver.” When he got to the car, Ben filled Maxwell in then leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes. He could only hope that if Judi came to work for him, it would help ease the headaches not make them worse.

Fiction Friday: The Next Chapter. Chapter 3

I almost forgot to put this up today. I haven’t had a chance to go over this chapter well, so bear with me. It will definitely change before I finish the final version of the story.

To read the first two installments of this story go HERE.

Chapter 3

“Blanket, car seat, paperwork, duffle bag . . .” Molly Tanner twisted and scanned the hospital room with narrowed eyes, turned again at looked at the infant car seat on the floor at her feet. “Newborn in car seat. Check. Okay. Looks like we have everything.”

Liz smiled at the flush of red spreading along her friend’s naturally pale complexion, a sign that she was flustered, yet trying to act like she wasn’t. Molly had been a literal Godsend from the beginning, there for Liz every step of the way, from bringing her ginger tea and lemon water at work when the morning sickness kicked in, to helping her out of bed in the morning when Liz had become too round to roll out of it herself. 

Molly had even moved in with her six months ago, which hadn’t been a huge sacrifice considering she should have been out of her parent’s house and on her own long ago. It had at least been a small sacrifice, however. One, because Molly was still working on her family’s farm and in their farm store. Living in an apartment with Liz in town meant Molly had to drive twenty minutes around 5 a.m. each morning to help milk the cows. She also had to drive fifteen minutes from the farm store on the days she worked there. More of a sacrifice than any of that, though, was that Molly was now delayed an entire 20 minutes from seeing her boyfriend, Alex Stone, in the barn each morning.

“I can handle not seeing him as often as I used to,” Molly had said one day when Liz had teased her. “Don’t be so dramatic.”

Luckily, she wouldn’t be delayed in seeing him today. Alex had come with Molly to help carry Liz’s gifts and belongings to the car. He’d carried one load of gifts, flowers, and balloons to the car already.

Liz stood and winced, every muscle in her body screaming in protest. Her labor hadn’t been as long as some, but she still felt as if she’d run a marathon two days before. “I hope you didn’t bring that truck of yours to drive us home.”

Molly looped the duffle bag over her shoulder. “Give me a little credit. I borrowed Ellie’s car. I can’t have you trying to climb in a truck in your condition.”

Liz sighed. “In my condition? Do I look that bad?”

“You don’t look bad. You look tired. Rightly so. You just pushed a human being out of you.”

Alex reached for the duffle bag as he appeared in the doorway. “I’ll take that.”

“Liz is the one that had the baby.” Molly leaned away from him. “Not me. I can handle it.”

“No, I’ll carry the duffle bag and that last vase of flowers and you’re going to carry the baby.”

Liz smirked. “Shouldn’t the man carry the baby? That seat is probably the heaviest thing here.”

She enjoyed the way Alex glanced at the sleeping newborn like she was a rabid dog. He swallowed hard. “Well, I think a woman should carry a baby. I mean, women are more gentle and . . .” He glanced at the baby seat again and shrugged a shoulder. “Maternal. 

You know.”

Liz laughed. “You’d be carrying her in a baby seat, not cradling her.” She folded her arms across her chest and leaned toward Alex, lowering her voice. “You do realize that birth isn’t catching, right?”

Alex scowled, sliding the duffle bag off Molly’s shoulder and reaching for the vase. “Yes, Liz. I’m aware of that.”

He ducked out of the room before she could harass him even more.

Molly gently nudged her elbow into Liz’s side. “Leave him alone. I think he’s nervous he’ll hurt her somehow. He’s never been around a newborn before.”

Liz’s chest constricted. “Neither have I, for very long anyhow.”

Liz’s sister Tiffany had five children, but she lived several states away, so when Liz did see her nieces and nephews it was only for a few days or a few hours. Even then she barely held them. Tiffany or one of the children’s grandparents whisked them out of her arms within minutes, either wanting quality time with the children or, Liz wondered, were they afraid her recent black sheep behavior would rub off on them?

Today, looking at the tiny bundle in the baby seat, she battled second thoughts. Maybe she should have placed this baby for adoption like she’d considered when she’d first seen the two lines on the pregnancy test. Molly’s brother, Jason, and his fiance, Ellie, couldn’t have children — or at least that’s what it was looking like. They might have adopted Isabella. They’d most likely be better parents. Ellie was more organized and definitely more maternal. Her entire career was built on educating and supporting young children. She was a teacher at the local preschool. 

It seemed cruel to Liz that she might not be able to have children because of endometriosis. If anyone should be a mother, it was Ellie Tanner.

“Hey. You okay?”

She looked at Molly, wishing her best friend wasn’t as perceptive as Matt was. It was as if Molly could read her mind most days.

“Yeah, it’s just —”

“You’re going to be a great mom, Liz. God chose you to be Isabella’s mom. Okay?”

Liz nodded and took a deep breath.

Molly looped her arm under the handle of the car seat and the other under Liz’s arm. “Now come on. Your Mom and Dad are waiting at the apartment for us. They’re cooking you some lunch and your mom has ‘spruced up’ as she likes to call it.”

Liz’s chest constricted. Her parents. They hadn’t brought her up to live the way she had been living for the last couple of years. Moving in with an emotionally abusive boyfriend, starting to drink and take pills, and then, the coup de grâce — having a baby out of wedlock.

She grabbed Molly’s wrist. “Wait, Mol, I need to talk to you, before Alex comes back.” She looked at the doorway. “Matt was here yesterday when the nurse wanted to fill out Isabella’s birth certificate. He gave her his name as the father.”

Molly’s eyebrows shot up and she set the seat down gently. “Why would he do that?”

Liz pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and shook her head. “I don’t know. He said he wanted to protect us from Gabe.”

Molly sat on the edge of the bed. “But he’s leaving for the state police academy in two months. Does he think — I mean, does he want to be her father?”

Liz shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t know what he was thinking. When I asked him, he said not to worry about it and that it was just to keep Gabe’s name from being connected to Isabella’s. Then I had to nurse Isabella, he had to get to work, and I haven’t seen him since to talk to him more about it.”

Molly chewed on the back of her thumb, a usual move for her when she was thinking, her eyebrow furrowed. “But are you and Matt —”

“We’re not dating.”

“You should be.”

Liz jerked her head up. “Excuse me?”

Molly smirked. “Matt has been there for you almost from day one since he found out you were pregnant. Most guys would have taken off when they found out the woman they’d gone on a few dates with was pregnant by another man. They wouldn’t have picked up your groceries for you, booked you a day at the spa, or been with you when you went into labor. Which reminds me. You need to fill me in on that story sooner rather than later.”

Alex leaned into the room. “Okay, ladies. We ready?”

A nurse stepped past him. “No. They are not. Not until we fill out these discharge papers and Liz sits in the wheelchair outside the room so she can be pushed to the car.”

Liz scoffed. “I’m not sitting in a wheelchair.”

The nurse smiled and winked. “You sure are. Hospital policy.”

Alex chuckled. “I’d be glad to push you, Liz.”

Liz narrowed her eyes. “I’m sure you would. I think I’ll ask the nurse to push me instead to keep you from pushing me into the street.”

Alex laughed. “What would give you that idea? Just because you interrupt me and Molly every time we have a minute alone doesn’t mean I want to get rid of you.” He looked at the car seat with a grin. “Besides, who would take care of the baby if you weren’t around?”

Liz’s smile faded and her gaze drifted to the sleeping baby. Right. Taking care of a baby.

How did she do that again?

***

Ginny flung open the freezer door and stood in front of it, lifting her shirt, glad she was alone in the house since Stan had a late afternoon showing. As if gaining weight wasn’t enough, she had to deal with hot flashes and a hundred other aggravating side effects of perimenopause. Whatever that was. She wouldn’t even have known about perimenopause if Rena Lambert hadn’t asked her if she thought she might be in the middle of it — six years ago. 

 Good grief, she didn’t understand why menstruation didn’t just end abruptly instead of dragging women through up to ten years of hormonal upheaval like a lion leisurely dragging a pray through the Serengetti to devour. Not all women suffered the way she was, she knew that, and she despised those women for it.

“Oh gosh, I never even had those,” Jan Ellory said with a small laugh and a wave of her hand one day at ladies’ group. “One day my period just stopped. Snap.” Jan snapped her fingers with finely manicured fingernails. “I never felt happier or lighter than I did that day. My 50s have been amazing! Weight has fallen off like butter falling of an ear of corn on a hot summer day and I have so much energy.” She emphasized the word energy with a little shake of her head and a smile. “And —” She smiled and winked. “Things have been amazing in the bedroom. It’s like David and I are newlyweds again.”

At that moment Ginny had considered how bad it would look if she throat punched Jan during ladies group. Bad. It would look very bad. Especially right after they had discussed how to look at each season of their lives “as an opportunity to reveal God as the anchor of their souls.” 

Yes, it would have been bad, but yet . . . it might have also felt good. 

Ginny wasn’t sure how this season of sweat, crankiness, anxiety-induced trembling, and out-of-control emotions was an opportunity for much of anything other than to hopefully have a valid excuse when she actually did deck someone.

She tipped her head back and let the rush of cold air spread across her chest and then sighed. She snatched a pint of chocolate ice cream from the freezer door, jerked open the silverware drawer, grabbed a spoon, and headed toward the living room to watch a Hallmark movie. Passing the mirror on the wall between the dining room and the living room she caught sight of her uncombed hair and paused. She’d fallen asleep after work, thankful the library closed early on Saturday afternoons. Her hair was sticking out in various directions, long and unkempt. Dark circles painted the skin under her eyes, and she was sure more wrinkles had etched their way into the skin along the edge of her eyes overnight.

Dragging her hand through her hair, she sat the ice cream carton on the table under the mirror, and lifted her hair off her shoulder, propping it on top of her head. 

She needed a haircut. Maybe she’d dye it too. She needed something — anything — different at this point. Pressing two fingers against each side of her face she lifted her cheeks and pulled them back. She tried to eliminate the pooch of skin under her chin with the movement. It wasn’t working. Maybe she should consider a facelift. She stuck her tongue out at the face in the mirror – a face she was starting not to recognize each time she looked at it — and spun herself around and toward the living room.

“We’ve got to get rid of this stupid mirror,” she grumbled, snatching the ice cream carton up again.

Her cellphone buzzed as she sat on the couch. She glared at it, uninterested in a conversation with anyone, but then noticed the caller ID.

Wisconsin. She’d better answer this one.

“Hey, Mom. How’s it going?”

She fanned her chest with the folded-up newspaper she’d snatched from the coffee table. “Oh, just fine, hon’. How are things there? Are we having another grandbaby yet?”

Her son Clint chuckled. “Ah, no. I think five is enough, don’t you?”

“I don’t know. I have room in my heart for a few more.”

“Well, maybe you can have one of your daughters provide those down the road because Tiff and I are done at this point. No, what I called about was to let you and dad know some other news. Some news I hope you will all be excited about.”

Ginny set the ice cream carton on the coffee table and leaned forward slightly in anticipation.

“We’re moving back to Pennsylvania.”

Her mother senses alerted. This was either for a good or a bad reason. Why did her intuition tell her it was bad?

“Are you? Why? What’s going on?”

Clint hesitated. She heard it. He could deny it, but she heard the pause, the clearing of his throat, if ever so softly on the other end of the phone. 

“Everything’s fine, Mom, but I got laid off from work last week. I didn’t want to tell you until I had something else.”

“Laid off?”

“Well, not exactly laid off. My job was eliminated. The industry is changing, and the economy isn’t doing great, so they had to cut back. I was the low man on the totem pole, so . . .”

Ginny’s heart thudded with alarm. He had five children and a wife to support. “What are you going to do? Do you have a job out here?”

“Yes, actually. A colleague put me in touch with a finance company about an hour from you actually. They offered me the job on the spot. It’s a step-down, a cut in pay, but we’ll be closer to our family, and I really think that’s something we could use right now.”

Ginny tried not to read between the lines. Something they could use right now. Why? What did he mean? Was something else going on? She resisted the urge to pepper him with more questions.

“Do you have somewhere to live?”

“No. Not yet, but Tiffany’s parents have offered us a place to stay.”

Ginny felt a tinge of jealousy that they had talked to Frank and Marge Cranmer before her, but, then again, it wasn’t like her house would hold seven more people. Two or three maybe, but not two adults and five children between the ages of a year and 10-years of age. The Cramner’s had a large two-story, five-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom home, despite having raised only two daughters.

She’d often wondered why they needed all that space, but it wasn’t her business.

“Oh. Well, okay. When does all this happen?”

“We’ve already started packing and hired a moving company,” Clint said, screaming and giggling in the background almost drowning his voice out. “Max, Twyla. Please. That’s enough. I’m on the phone. No. Because you’ve had enough ice cream today.”

Ginny eyed her own ice cream and hoped it wouldn’t melt before she could get back to it.

“Sorry about that, Mom. Anyhow, I’ll give you more of a timeline when I have more information.”

When they’d said their goodbyes and Ginny leaned back against the couch again, she tried to decide how she felt about her son’s news. She scooped a heavy helping of chocolate ice cream onto her spoon and swished it around on her tongue, staring at the turned off TV.

She was happy her family would be living closer. 

Yet, also nervous. She and Stan saw so little of each other already. Would more visits from the grandchildren mean even less time together?

She scoffed. “Not like we spend any time together now.”

Her frown tilted upward as her gaze drifted to the photographs of her grandchildren on the mantel over the fireplace. 

It would be nice to see the children grow up in person instead of through photographs. She’d envied her friends all these years. They’d been able to hold their grandchildren, take them to the park, spoil them with sweets and send them back home to mom and dad.

 She and Stan visited Clint and Tiffany a couple of times during the year but mostly communicated with them over the phone and through video chat.

It was time to perk up. This was good news. Having the grandchildren closer would mean she’d have something to think about other than the mundane — work and feeling like a third wheel to Stan and his job. 

She took another bite of the chocolate ice cream, savoring it. 

Yes, this was good news. Very good.

Special Saturday Fiction: Harvesting Hope Chapter 17

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 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. I shared Chapter 16 of this story yesterday.

Catch up with the rest of the story HERE.

Chapter 17

Loud music thumped under Ellie’s feet, in her brain, and through her veins. She could barely form a thought against the onslaught of dance music bouncing out a rhythm every second. Colorful lights flickered across the mass of bodies on the dance floor making the scene look otherworldly and, through the eyes of someone as sheltered as Ellie, demonic.

Men and women writhed against each other, whooped and screeched, the sounds reminding her of mating calls in the wild. Judi was out there somewhere, letting loose her own mating call of sorts, giggling and jumping, singing along to the music, degrading herself exactly like Ellie knew she would.

The tables were for standing only so Ellie stood at one, leaning both elbows on it, spinning the glass of ginger ale around on its surface, wishing she’d never agreed to tag along.

Brad had tried more than once to pull her into the chaos, but she’d resisted each time, finally confessing that a headache was pulsing against her temples. It wasn’t a lie. The pain was now slamming against the inside of her head at the same tempo as the dance song blaring from the speakers.

Within a half an hour, Brad was back, hair damp around the edgest, eyes bright with adrenaline. He said something she couldn’t hear over the music. She cupped her hand to her ear, even though she didn’t really want to know what he was saying.

He leaned close, his lips grazing the skin under her ear. “I asked if you’re sure you don’t want to dance.”

He laid his hand over hers as he spoke then raised it and trailed his fingertips across her wrist and slowly up her arm.

She shook her head. “I’m sure.”

“You need to have some fun once in a while, Ellie. Let off some steam.”

His other hand had slipped to the small of her back, a place too intimate for his hand to be in her opinion.

She shifted her body until his hand dropped away. “I’m good. Really.”

He shrugged a shoulder, frowned, and stepped away. “Okay then. I’ll find Judi. She’s always good for some fun.”

The comment sent a chill through Ellie. What had that meant? Judi was always “good for some fun”? They’d come up here with four other people and met six more. Weren’t any of the other women in the group good for some fun, so to speak? Or were they all paired up with other men? Either way, Ellie didn’t like the idea she’d essentially offered her sister up like a lamb to the slaughter simply because clubs had never been, and never would be, her so-called “scene.” Of course, she’d also wanted to stay as far away as possible from Brad and his roaming hands.

She lifted herself up on the tips of her high heeled shoes — shoes she’d only worn once before and were now pinching her feet like a lobster about to be boiled in a pot of hot water. Craning her neck. she tried to catch sight of Judi. Her sister had downed two beers and a mixed drink shortly after they’d arrived, disappearing into the mob, rarely seen from since, other than one trip to the bathroom.

Judi’s hair was blond now, after convincing Missy to give her highlights the other day. Ellie switched from looking for honey blond hair to looking for bleached blond hair and spotted Judi in the middle of the dance floor, under the spinning lights, arms flailing like a drowning victim. In front of her Brad was gyrating, though Ellie supposed some might define it as dancing. He moved an arm around Judi until the front of their bodies touched while they danced. Judi tipped her head back, exposing her throat and Brad lowered his head until his lips touched the nape of her neck.

Ellie made a face as Judi curled her fingers in Brad’s hair. This evening had worn out its welcome. She slammed the glass on the table, setting her jaw tight as she stomped into the pulsating crowd, pushing through sweating, perfume drenched bodies to grab her sister’s arm. Judi wrenched her arm away and used both hands to push Ellie back, pressing them against her chest.

“Back off! Just because you’re a dried-up old prude, doesn’t mean I have to be.”

Ellie gasped and fell backward into a solid body behind her. Hands grabbed at her, a derisive  laugh coming from whoever belonged to them. She looked over her shoulder, glaring into dark brown eyes connected to a leering 20-something year old.

“Hey, baby. If you wanted to meet me, all you had to do was say ‘hello.’”

Ellie clutched at his hand still on her hip and pulled it away from her. “Get off of me.”

The younger man laughed again, his eyes roaming across her, and her stomach churned.

She had clearly underestimated the strength of a fully-intoxicated Judi.

Judi had turned her back on Ellie and resumed her Dirty Dancing-style moves with Brad. He raised his eyes to look at Ellie over Judi’s shoulder, his sneer highlighted by multiple colors flashing across his face. His hands slid down Judi’s backside and cupped both cheeks of her bottom as he held Ellie’s gaze,as if to say, “You could have had some fun, could have protected Judi, but now I’m having fun with her instead.”

He flicked the tip of his tongue out across his lips, his eyes wild.

She shuddered at the evil in his eyes and movements, turned slowly, and broke his intense, mocking gaze. Wrapping her arms around herself as she walked, she rubbed her upper arms, wishing again she was at home in her apartment, curled up on the couch, sipping tea and watching a Hallmark movie.

She pulled her phone out and as if on instinct clicked on Jason’s name. She stared at it for several seconds, her fingertip tracing each letter. What would she even say to him if she texted?

My sister is in worse shape than I thought she was?

I never should have come up her with Brad?

Why did you never tell me about Lauren? Do you think of her when you kiss me? Are you worried I’ll be horrible in bed if we get married because I’ve never had any experience with a man beyond you?

She sucked down the rest of her ginger ale, her eyes still on her phone then scrolled down and clicked on Lucy’s name.

She tapped out a text that bordered on an SOS.

Judi out of control. Never should have come.

Several minutes passed before the response came.

Lucy: Sorry. I was giving Lexi her bath. What’s going on?

Ellie scowled at the dance floor. She’d rather be Lucy right now, wrapped up in calm, domestic bliss instead of out here, trapped among wolves and ravenous lions.

Ellie: Judi’s out on the dance floor practically having sex with her clothes on with Brad. They’re both drunk. He’s mad I don’t want to dance. What made me think I could keep her from making a fool out of herself?

Lucy: You’re a good person, that’s why. And you’re a good sister. You love her. You’re worried about her and as much as she drives you crazy, you still want to protect her.

Ellie: I guess.

Lucy: Sorry we missed your grandma’s birthday party. How did it go? Did you have to see Jason?

Ellie: Of course, I had to see Jason. It’s his grandmother. I saw him all afternoon. With his shirt off while he split wood. It was torture.

Lucy: LOL. Girl, you just need to admit how much you still love him. You two need to talk this out. Your heart belongs to him, and you know it.

Ellie chewed on her lower lip, swirling the ice in her glass with her finger.

Yeah, she thought with a sigh, but is his heart still mine?

Paragraph Squiggle with solid fill

Jason looked around the barn and noticed the only other one there was Molly. Somehow in the last several weeks they hadn’t been alone together anywhere, and he’d been glad. It had meant she couldn’t bring up what she’d heard in the church parking lot that day. He had hoped wouldn’t have to try to explain to yet another woman in his life what happened in college. Maybe he’d get lucky, and he still wouldn’t have to.

“You’re actually on your own?”

Molly looked up from the bottle she was filling for the calves and smile. “Yes. Alex is out mixing feed. Why? Should we be connected at the hip all the time?”

“You shouldn’t be, but you normally are.”

Molly scowled at him. “Very funny.”

She stood and placed the lid on the bottle then placed the bottle in a bucket and reached for another empty bottle. “Hear anything from the builders for the new bottling plant and milking parlor yet?”

Jason shook his head. “No. So far we’ve only got the plans for the goat barn. Still can’t believe everyone is on board with this. What do you think? Is it going to work or are we spreading ourselves too thin?”

Milk poured from the spout into the bottle. Molly would feed the calves as soon as the bottles were filled. “I’m worried about the goats, but I think the A2 milk is going to be a good thing. Keeping the cows separate will be a challenge unless we can get another heifer barn built at the same time. And that’s if we can get that grant, we applied for through Tina’s office.”

Tina Shipman was their local state representative and a family friend. Her staff had been optimistic about their chances, but the grant would only cover about half of the project at this point. The rest would need to come from loans or a federal grant they’d applied for around the same time they’d applied for the state one.

He took the bottle from her and placed it in the bucket. “If we apply for the loan and all of these changes do work out, we should be able to have it paid off within the first year.”

She agreed. “It would definitely help us secure things more financially if it does pan out the way Dad and Uncle Walt hope.”

She screwed a lid off another bottle. “Hey, Jase, I wanted to ask you something.”

His chest tightened. Here it came. The conversation he’d been dreading.

He placed another empty bottle next to her.

“Listen, I know you overheard Ellie and me in the parking lot that day so if this is about that, let me explain first.”

“You don’t have to explain. It’s none of my business.”

“I’m sure you’re thinking the worst of me about now and I can’t blame you, I —”

“Jason.” Molly straightened, a half-filled bottle in her hand. “I don’t think the worst of you. It sounds like you screwed up in college somehow and your upset about it, not like you were bragging.”

Upset was an understatement, but he decided Molly didn’t need to hear about how deep his shame went. There was only so much a sister should have to hear about her older, supposed-to-be more mature brother. “Yeah. I am upset about it. Have been for years.”

She stooped to fill the rest of the bottle. “I gathered from what you and Ellie were saying that it had something to do with a girl. I figured that maybe,” she looked up, hesitating. “Maybe you slept with this girl?”

Jason took the bottle from her and screwed the lid on. “Yeah. I did. Not a proud moment for me or a nice memory and a one-time thing.”

Two more bottles and it would be time to feed the calves. He’d like to leave Molly to it and go finish fixing the sensor on the robot feed pusher they’d installed a few years ago. Without it, feeding the cows would be a very lengthy process tonight, complete with manually sweeping the feed into the cow’s troughs.

“Whatever happened to the girl?”

Jason looked up, startled by the question. Up until a couple of weeks ago, he’d never given it much thought. When he’d asked Alex if he’d ever heard, he was disheartened at the answer.

“I’m — uh —  not exactly sure. Alex looked her up on some social media site and said it looks like she’s not married and is still pretty messed up.” Jason looked at the floor, shoving his hands deep in his front jean pockets. He kicked at the barn floor with the tip of his boot, knocking dirt and manure off it.

“I can’t help feeling that I had a part in that. To her I was probably just another guy who used her for what they wanted and tossed her aside.” He shook his head, rubbed the side of his hand against his chin, under his bottom lip, and winced. “You know, for years I’ve made her the villain in my story – when I talked to Alex about it and when I thought about it. Instead, I was the villain. I was the one who could have shown her something different, who could have not slept with her and shown her she was as worthy of being loved even if she wasn’t laying down. All girls like Lauren really want is to be loved. She equated sex with love instead of understanding that love can be shown in other ways too. Most of the guys she had sex with didn’t love her. I didn’t even love her. I was drunk and depressed and used her to take my mind off being hurt by Ellie. I’ve lived with that guilt for years but always hid the guilt behind anger — at Lauren, at myself and even at Ellie.”

Molly placed the last bottle in the bucket and laid a hand against his arm. “Neither of you were the villain in the story, Jason. You were just two people who both made bad choices. Pray for Lauren. It’s all you can do at this point.”

“Yeah.” Jason lifted one pail and handed the other to Molly. “Sorry I went on that rant. I just figured that’s what you wanted to talk to me about so — ”

Molly took the pail and walked toward the calf pens. She looked over her shoulder, talking as he followed her. “Actually, I was just going to ask you if you thought Alex would like a new hat for his birthday or if he’s too attached to the one he has. Then I was going to ask if I did decide to get him a hat if you would help me pick it out because I put two in my shopping cart at that hat place online.”

Jason inwardly groaned. He’d just spilled his heart out to his sister and she’d only wanted to buy a gift for Alex. Seriously? “I guess I shouldn’t have assumed.”

Molly stopped at the calf pen, grinning as she kneeled down to offer an all-black bull calf the first drink. “Nope. You shouldn’t have. We all know what the proverbial ‘they’ say about assuming.”

Jason tipped a bottle to a smaller heifer calf, black except a white stripe across her back. “Yep, and I certainly feel like one.”

Talking about his past with his sister wasn’t something he ever thought he’d be doing. Now that the conversation was over, though, it was like a burden had been lifted. A small portion of the burden anyhow. He still felt the heaviness of what he’d done and of not telling Ellie.

Footsteps behind him signaled they weren’t alone anymore.

“Want to trade?” Alex dragged the back of his hand across his forehead.

Jason narrowed his eyes. “So what you’re saying is, you want me to go finish mixing the feed so you can hang out with Molly.”

Alex grinned and reached for the bottle. “Yeah. Pretty much.”

Jason jerked his head toward the barn door. “Get out of here, lover boy. There will be plenty of time later for you two to make googly eyes at each other. After we’re done with work.”

Alex sighed and slid an arm around Molly’s waist. “That’s fine. I guess I’ll just give her a long good-bye kiss before I head back to the mixer.” He pulled her against him, his eyes drifting to her mouth. “While you’re standing here. Right next to us.”

Jason shrugged a shoulder and reached for another bottle so he could feed two calves at once. “Doesn’t bother me. I can handle it.”

Alex wasn’t lying. The kiss was long and slow, and by the end Jason was fighting nausea. He wasn’t going to back down, though. Alex was always trying to get out of the hard work. If they started kissing again, though . . .

“Oh, come on!” Jason shoved the bottle at Alex. “Take it. I’ll finish mixing the feed. Take a cold shower when you’re done, both of you.” Jason paused in the doorway and used two fingers to point at his sister and best friend. “Wait. Let me clarify. A cold shower alone. In separate bathrooms. In separate houses and preferably in separate counties.”

Molly’s eyebrows darted upward and her mouth dropped one. “Jason!”

“I’m serious. My rifle’s in my truck and I won’t hesitate to use it.”

Alex clicked his tongue. “Jason Andrew Tanner.” He propped his hands on his waist and shook his head in a mock scolding motion. “You are so violent. You should really see someone about that.”

Jason snorted out a laugh as he walked toward the skid steer. “As long as you behave yourself, you’ve got nothing to worry about, Stone.”

He glanced over his shoulder at Molly and Alex laughing as they fed the calves. That’s right. Keep them working. It would help keep their hands off each other.

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.

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.

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmers’ Sons Chapter 3

I totally forgot I was going to post Chapter 3 of The Farmers’ Sons earlier today. So here it is, although late. For those who followed Jason’s story when I originally posted it with Molly’s story some of this will be a bit of a repeat, but it has been reworked some.

To catch up on the rest of story, click HERE or find it under the Fiction Friday header at the top of the page.

You can read Molly’s story on Amazon in ebook form.


Chapter 3

Jason loaded another set of weights on the barbells and laid back on the bench, gripping the bar tightly.

Why did I let her think I was going to propose that night?

He grunted under the weight, pushing up until his arms were straight, then slowly lowering the bar again, counting under his breath. His muscles strained under the weight.

I should have never waited so long to talk to her.

He pushed up again.

And when she assumed I had actually intended to propose, I went along with it like a complete idiot.

Down, breathing hard.

Ellie had every right to be angry at him. Not only for his non-proposal but for the secret he’d held on to for so long.

He straightened his arms, set the bar back in its place and lay there on the bench breathing hard.

He came to the gym a few times a week to work off some stress. Lately, though he’d only been finding more stress as his mind raced not only with thoughts of Ellie, but also of keeping the farm running.

When he focused on Ellie, his mind always walked him back to the night he had planned to tell her what he’d should have told her when they’d first started dating again, the night that they got engaged instead.

***

Seven months earlier

His heart had been racing, his palms damp with sweat. His stomach was tight and nausea spun in his stomach.  What had he been thinking? Was he really going to do this tonight? Was he really going to tell his longtime girlfriend about his past and let the chips fall where they may?

He had taken a deep breath and tightened his hands on the steering wheel until his knuckles faded white. Yes, he was. He was doing this because he needed the burden off his shoulders, and he needed to know how Ellie would feel about him after he told her. He couldn’t keep waiting, torturing himself with worry of what might be.

He and Ellie had gone to school together since junior high, but it wasn’t until his junior year he really noticed her, or she had noticed him, or he guess he would say they noticed each other. It was in history class and Mr. Prawley had placed them in a group together to work on a project. Before that they’d seen each other at 4H meetings or when Robert took Jason with him to pick up equipment he’d borrowed from Ellie’s dad Jerry.

Late one night after working on their project about Pennsylvanian history they found themselves laughing about their shared interest in old movies.

“Cary Grant is the epitome of old fashioned suave and charm,” she’d said, pretending to swoon, her hand against her forehead when they watched North by Northwest together at his parents.

He grinned, a teasing glint in his eye. “I agree, but I’m the epitome of modern suave and charm, right?”

She’d tipped her head back and laughed and he wasn’t sure if she was enjoying his humor or mocking him.

“Ginger Rogers was a very underrated actress,” he’d announced after they watched Vivacious Lady at her parents’ house.

“I agree,” she had said and smiled.

Wow. That smile.

That smile that was for him and only him.

It took his breath away.

That smile and her soft, long black hair against that pale skin, those large dark eyes and her sweet round face — what a knockout combination.

He’d taken her to the movies twice, dinner once, lunch three times and attended youth group with her every Wednesday for four months before he’d finally worked up the courage to kiss her. And now, here he was working up the courage to ask her to marry him, but first he had to tell her about what had happened during the break they’d taken when they’d both been in college – at two different colleges.

Those two years in college when he’d been without her, when she had decided they should take a break from dating and see “how things developed” as she had said, were the loneliest and most confusing two years of his life. He’d felt like a ship out at sea without a compass. Returning home from college, to the farm and to her had anchored him again. He couldn’t even imagine losing that anchor again.

God, please don’t let me lose her.

 He caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye and turned his head to see her stepping off the front porch, down the steps, watching him as she walked. Her smile was broad, captivating.  His breath caught in his throat, his eyes followed the length of her body as she walked, and he chewed his lower lip hungerly. Even after all these years her beauty still took his breath away.

His voice fell into a whisper; he barely realized he was talking out loud. “Oh God, I can’t —”

“Hey.” She slid into the truck seat and had her arms around his neck and her mouth on his before he could finish asking God for strength. Once she was in his arms, his mind was clouded by her kiss. She smelled of lilac and vanilla scented shampoo. She curled her fingers in his hair and held his head down to hers.

“We should probably head out to the restaurant,” she said breathlessly a few moments later. She tipped her head to one side, her hand against his chest, and winked. “Before we go too far.”

Jason cleared his throat and nodded. “Right. Of course.”

He grinned as he turned back to the steering wheel and she hooked her seatbelt. “But it wasn’t as if things were going to get too far with us parked outside your parent’s house. Not before your dad shot me.”

Ellie laughed. “Jason, Daddy wouldn’t shoot you.”

He pulled the truck out of the driveway, onto the dirt road. “I beg to differ.”

Ellie shook her head. “He loves you. You know that.”

“But he wouldn’t like me making out with you in my truck.”

“No, probably not.” She shrugged, folded her hands in her lap, and looked out the windshield. “Unless we were married, of course.”

Jason swallowed hard.

Married.

There it was.

The one word hovering in his mind 24/7, waking him up at night, giving him near panic attacks daily. And she’d just said it. Because it was probably on her mind too.

“Right.” He pushed his foot on the accelerator, willing his truck to move them faster toward the restaurant where they could talk about the food, the weather, the farm, anything but marriage.

The drove in silence for a few moments, farmland and trees and open fields blurring into green and yellow out the window.

“Jason?”

Hurry up, truck.

“Yeah?”

“Are you ever going to ask me to marry you?”

Jason’s hand jerked on the steering wheel. The truck swerved over the center line and then back  into the right lane. Ellie gasped and clutched her hand around Jason’s bicep as he regained control of the truck.

Her voice trembled when she spoke. “Oh gosh. Sorry. I just — I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that, but I knew if I didn’t say something now, I would lose my courage.”

Jason slowed the truck down and pulled off into an empty parking lot in front of an abandoned convenience store. He slid the gear into park and turned to look at Ellie.

Was she reading his mind? They’d been together so long he wouldn’t be surprised.

His eyebrows knit together. “What would make you ask that right now?”

“I — I don’t know. I just —” Tears rimmed her eyes. “I’m sorry, Jason. Are you angry?”

Jason shook his head. “No. Not at all. I’m sorry.” He reached over and took her hand in his. The frightened expression on her face sent stabbing guilt shuddering through him. He let go of her hand and cupped his palm against her face.

“It’s not that at all. It’s just that I was actually going to talk to you about that tonight and I was surprised that it was on your mind too.”

A tear slipped down Ellie’s cheek and his heart ached even more. He swiped at it with the palm of his thumb.

“Of course, it’s on my mind, Jason. I’ve wanted to marry you since high school. I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to have your children. But sometimes I feel like you don’t want any of that at all.”

“No, El, that’s not true. I do want that. All of it.”

“Then why aren’t you asking me to marry you?”

“I — well, I was going to —”

Ellie’s eyes grew wide, and her eyebrows shot up. “Oh! Were you going to ask me tonight and I totally ruined your plans?”

“Well, I —”

“Oh, Jason! I’m so sorry! I ruined your plan.”

“No, that’s okay. It’s just —”

Her mouth was on his again before he could explain. The expression of sheer delight on her face when she pulled back, her arms still around his neck, sent warmth bursting through his chest.

“You know I don’t need a big fancy proposal. All I want is you. Of course, I’d say ‘yes’ no matter how you asked.”

She was kissing him again and he was forgetting what he’d been going to say. Her body was so warm and solid against his and her lips so soft. Her hands were in his hair again; he couldn’t focus. Slowly his thoughts began to clear and that’s when the panic set in.

Wait a minute. Did she think he had just proposed, and she was saying yes?

She peppered his cheek and neck with kisses. “Oh, Jason! I’m so excited! I’ve been waiting for this moment for years!”

 Yes, she did think he’d just proposed, and she was saying ‘yes’.

“I know. I have been too, but I —”

She cut his sentence short again. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry I ruined the surprise.”

“No, it’s okay, I mean — It’s just that I —”

Her large brown eyes were watching him with hopeful expectation, with joy, with complete and utter adoration. There was no way he could tell her about his past now; ruin her night completely.

“I don’t have a ring,” he blurted.

She tipped her head back and laughed. “I don’t care about a ring, silly! We can worry about that later, or not at all. You know I don’t care about stuff like that.”

“But it’s a symbol and it’s important, El. I should get you a ring.”

Ellie kissed him gently and shook her head. “Later. I just want us to enjoy this moment together for now.”

Jason swallowed hard. He wanted to enjoy the moment too, but he knew he couldn’t keep his secret forever. Ellie needed to know sooner rather than later. He wouldn’t tell her tonight, though. He’d already made his mind up about that. They would go to dinner, celebrate their engagement and then later, another day, he’d tell her what she needed to know and let her make up her own mind about whether she still wanted to spend the rest of her life with him.

Only, that had never happened. She’d overheard him talking to Alex and that’s when the manure, so to speak, had hit the fan.

***

A deep voice startled Jason from his thoughts and he recognized it immediately as belonging to Cody Bracken— Spencer’s fire chief.

“Jason. Bud. You okay?”

Jason sat up, barely missing smacking his forehead on the metal bar. “Yeah. Sorry. Have you been standing there long?”

Cody laughed, tossed his duffle bag on the floor next to the wall. “A few seconds. Saying your name. You were totally gone, though. Got a lot on your mind?”

Jason guzzled the rest of the water from his sports bottle and shoved it in his bag. “Yeah. You could say that.”

Pulling off his sweatshirt, Cody unloaded a couple of the weights off the barbells Jason had been using. “I don’t have the muscle mass you do.” He winked. “Need to talk about anything?”

Jason shook his head. “Nah, but thanks.”

He stood and Cody wiped the bench with a towel. “Don’t want your sweaty germs.” He elbowed Jason playfully in the ribs. “Seriously, you got a minute?”

Jason wasn’t in any hurry to get back to the farm and talking to Cody would take his mind off Ellie for a few minutes at least. “Sure.”

“I don’t want to add anything else to your plate, but we had a meeting of the fire company the other night and we were talking about the need for more volunteers. Your name came up, along with some other men around town.” Cody sat on the bench and leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. “As you know, we are an all-volunteer company, other than my position. It’s been tough the last couple of years to find volunteers and we’re in need of some younger, strong men to at least be trained in case we need some additional hands in an emergency. I told the board I see you at the gym sometimes, so I’d ask you if you’d be interested.” He grinned. “So, would you?”

Jason leaned back against the wall and pushed his hand back through his hair. “I am interested but things have been pretty busy with the business lately, so I don’t know if I would really be available much.”

Cody nodded. “I understand. This wouldn’t have to be a full-time commitment by any means. We’d just like some guys to be trained in case they’re needed. At the most you’d be committing to, well, 100 hours of training, but it’s broken up into a few week nights and a couple of weekends over the next few months. Once your training is complete you can hold on to the certification and we’d call you only when we are short men. You’d only respond when you’re able to.”

Jason rubbed his hand along the scruff growing along his chin and jawline. Shoving training into his regular chores on the farm and work at the farm store would be tough, but it would also be the perfect way to distract himself from constantly focusing on the situation with Ellie.

“Think about it,” Cody said. “You can let me know later if it —”

“I’ll give it a try.”

Cody raised his eyebrows. “You’re sure? I don’t want to add more to your plate. I know how tough the farms around here have had it.”

Jason shook his head. “No. It will be fine. If I start and it gets to be too much, I’ll let you know, but I’d love to be able to help out my community. My uncle had a fire on his farm a couple years back and you guys were a big help. Consider this my way of paying you back.”

Cody reached out his hand and Jason took it. “Thanks, Jason. We appreciate it. I’ll give you a call when we have the first training session scheduled. Probably about two weeks.”

Climbing into his truck, Jason wasn’t sure he truly wanted to split his time between farming and fire fighter training, but again, the more he could shove into his days, the less time he had to think about Ellie.

Fiction Friday: Lily

Chapter 2 of The Farmers’ Sons isn’t ready yet so I’m sharing something I started a few weeks ago. I’m not sure where I’m going with this one but it’s based on a secondary character in A New Beginning and it’s all I have so far.


Lily

That social worker said it wouldn’t hurt to have that baby. She lied. It hurt like that place Mama said I was gonna go for getting pregnant in the first place. I never felt so much pain and thought I was going to die. They wanted me to hold the baby, but I didn’t want to. He weren’t mine anyhow. He belonged to those people I’d met at the agency and he was squawking and hollering; all red and squishy and ugly. I told them to take it away and let those people who were going to be her parents deal with it.

I don’t remember much after that. I slept for hours and hours. Everything in my body hurt and I was so weak I could barely stand. When I opened my eyes, it was dark, and I knew I had to get out of there. I didn’t want to watch that social worker give that baby to those people. It was weird. Having something growing in you for nine months is weird. Pushing it out your private area while you scream is weird. Giving that baby to people you only met once is weird too.

It’s all as weird as what that man did to me that left that baby in my belly in the first place.

The nurses didn’t even hear me leave.

The social worker weren’t even there.

Wasn’t. That social worker said I’m supposed to say wasn’t instead of weren’t.

What do I know? Mama stopped making me go to school in third grade after she married that man who hit me a couple times before Mama kicked him out. She didn’t kick him out because he hit me. She kicked him out because he stole her booze money.

My clothes were in a drawer by the bed at the hospital and I changed into them quickly but cried because it hurt so bad all over. The area where that baby came from hurt the worse. Blood ran down my leg and I wiped it away. I had to get out of there.

I walked a long way to get to Mama. Thought I wouldn’t make it. My stomach ached from hunger and my body screamed for sleep. I could barely lift my hand to pound on the door to her apartment.

“How did you even find me?”

She spat her words at me after I’d finally managed to slam my fist against the paint chipped metal a few times.

“Mama, I’m tired and hungry.”

“What do you want me to do about it? Didn’t those social workers feed you anything?”

“Mama —“

Don’t call me Mama. You know I don’t like that. You’re bleeding all over the hallway. You have that baby yet?”

I nodded weakly and winced when her hand encircled my upper arm and she ripped me forward into the dark apartment.

“Get in here and stop bleeding on my rug.”

She shoved me down the hallway toward the living room and I collapsed on the couch, clutching at the musty smelling cushions as the room began to spin.

I thought I’d die there. It seemed like days before there were voices at the door and strong arms lifting me. Maybe it was days. I don’t really remember.

It was the last time I saw Mama and now I’m living here in this place with a bunch of trees and empty fields and a stream like I saw a picture of once in a book.

I don’t know what life will be like now, but anything has got to be better than where I come from.

Chapter 1 beginning

That baby was squawking again. Lily Parker rolled over and looked at the ceiling, the room lit only by the light of the moon.

Why didn’t that baby just shut up already?

She was sick of listening to it.

She could never figure out why people wanted babies. They were loud, smelly, and couldn’t do nothing for themselves.

She hadn’t wanted that baby.

All she’d wanted was the stuff that made her feel good, made her forget about Mama and how she hated her.

If it hadn’t been for that, she’d have never let that man do what he did to her.

How was she supposed to know she’d end up with a baby in her? No one had ever told her how babies was made.

She heard Edith’s footsteps in the hallway, going down the stairs, then back up again a few minutes later.

Edith’s voice was groggy. “I’m warming the bottle. Hold him until I get back.”

Warm it quieter, Lily thought, rolling to her side, pulling the covers up over her shoulder.

Maybe she should have been taking care of that baby, but she didn’t know how.

She wanted Edith to be that baby’s mama, even though she wasn’t the one who’d birthed it.

Lily didn’t like calling her Edith. She thought she should call her Mrs. Sickler like she used to call her teachers before Mama stopped sending her to school. Edith said she didn’t have to call her Mrs., though, so she didn’t. Jimmy told her to call him Jimmy so that’s what she called him.

She closed her eyes tight against the screaming.

“Make it stop already,” she grumbled, pressing her palms against her ears.

Babies were so dumb anyhow. She was never going to have one. Not for real. Not one she had to care for. Not ever.

Fiction Friday: The Secrets We Hold

I don’t have a new series to start for Fiction Friday, but I did write a very short beginning to the book in the series that will be about Liz and her journey dealing with an unexpected life change.

I won’t be sharing it here yet. I probably won’t start a new serial fiction story until the new year.

The working title for Liz’s story is The Secrets We Hold.



Guilt twisted in the center of Liz Cranmer’s chest. She’d lied to her best friend.

Not exactly lied.

Simply left some details unspoken.

Still, Molly had left the hospital thinking she knew everything about why Liz had swallowed half a bottle of painkillers.  

There was so much Molly didn’t know, so much Liz didn’t want her to know.

Part of Liz wished panic hadn’t led her to call for an ambulance.

Liz had let Gabe charm her again, the alcohol letting her believe him when he said he was sorry for how he’d hurt her.

“It was my fault,” she’d told Molly.

And it was. Everything that had happened that night and everything she was facing now was her fault. She’d screwed up. Again. Like she always did.

And now her life would never be the same.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 36

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

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

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




Chapter 36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not yet, God, please. Not yet.”

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

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

“Oh God. No.”

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

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

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

“Clear!”

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

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

“Oh God. God help him.”

***

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

“Mind if I put this one in?”

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

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

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

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

“If Dad comes home —” Molly had started.

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

“Yes,” Molly said. “When.”

They were half an hour from the hospital now.

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

“What’s that smile for?”                                

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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