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.

Fiction Friday: Harvesting Hope (formerly The Farmer’s Sons) Chapter 18

Hold on to your seats, regular readers. Today’s chapter is going to send you on a bumpy ride. In fact, the next several chapters are going to.

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.

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


Chapter 18


Sunday morning Ellie watched a bottleneck effect unfold in the sanctuary doorway and wished she had slipped out of the service early. At this rate, standing all the way at the back of the crowd, she’d never get out of the sanctuary. It was her turn to provide lunch at her parents, and she still had to go back to her apartment and pick up the crock pot with the shredded chicken. And Judi. If Judi was even awake. Ellie had driven a drunk Brad and Judi home the night before, sometime around midnight, dropping Brad off first and then parking his truck at her parents. He could walk to her parents this morning, or whenever he regained consciousness, and pick it up.

She’d done everything she could to keep Judi quiet while she helped her from Brad’s truck and practically shoved her in the passenger side of the sedan, hoping their parents didn’t wake up and find out the truth about Judi at 1 a.m. on a Saturday night. Her absence in church wouldn’t have been a sign to them that anything was amiss, since Judi hadn’t attended a service since she’d arrived. Their mom had mentioned it once, in private, to Ellie, expressing concern about Judi’s spiritual health, but hadn’t pursued it further as far as Ellie knew.

This morning Ellie’s eyes were heavy, and she’d yawned more than once during the sermon, hoping Pastor Joe hadn’t seen her and thought it was a silent review of his message.

She looked to her left and flinched involuntarily at the sight of Jason standing directly next to her. She had no way to get away from him. People were crushed against them on all sides.  Their shoulders touched, and heat rose from her chest to her face. There it was again. The physical attraction she wanted to deny but couldn’t. Without warning, an image of him shirtless by the woodpile the afternoon before popped into her mind.

She let out a slow breath and willed the image away, but only managed to transform the image into one of him swinging the ax, his biceps contracting with each hit. His biceps. The ones she used to run her hands up as they kissed. The ones pressed against her shoulder at this very moment.

 He glanced at her at the same moment she glanced at him, then they both looked away quickly. Like a pair of love struck teenagers, she thought, withholding an eye roll, so he didn’t think she was rolling her eyes at him.

“Good morning,” he said at last.

“Good morning.” Where had her voice gone? It came out as a squeaking rasp.

Finally, the crowd broke through and they were stepping into the more spacious lobby area. Sunlight taunted her through the floor to ceiling windows lining the front walls. A few more steps and she would be free. She started to step away from him, toward the hallway that led to the back door, when she heard a voice behind her.

“Ellie. Jason. Hey.” Pastor Joe stepped between them and placed a hand lightly on each of their elbows like a teacher who’d caught two students misbehaving in the hallway. His voice was gentle, though not in the least bit scolding. “Glad to grab you two together.”

They caught each other’s gaze. They weren’t exactly together. They’d simply walked out at the same time.

“I was hoping I could talk a few minutes with you,” Joe continued. “In my office?”

He gestured down the opposite hallway that Ellie had been trying to escape down.

She looked up and Jason was looking at her, as if he was trying to decide how he should answer the pastor.

“Um. Yeah,” Jason said slowly, his gaze still locked with her’s. “Sure.”

Sure? No. It wasn’t supposed to be sure. Where was his usual excuse of “I’ve got work to do at the farm”? She could have really used that line from him today.

“Hey, Don.” Pastor Joe called to the assistant pastor, who was saying goodbye to parishioners. “Can you make sure we’re not interrupted?”

Don nodded and smiled as if he knew something Ellie and Jason didn’t.

Ellie’s eyebrows dipped down, and she frowned. Is this some kind of intervention?

Inside his office, Pastor Joe sat in a chair in front of his desk and gestured to two chairs across from him. “Sit down, guys.” He gently pushed the door closed. “I don’t like to sit behind my desk when I talk to people, if you’re wondering why I’m sitting here instead. I feel the desk puts up metaphorical walls between us and we don’t need walls up today.”

Ellie’s muscles tensed at his words. Walls? What walls? Had Pastor Joe heard about her conversation with Jason in the parking lot? The service has been in the middle of worship. Could the congregation have heard them between the songs? Maybe the walls weren’t as thick as they looked. If someone other than Molly had heard them, though, then why had Pastor Joe waited so long to talk to them about it?

“So.” The pastor clapped his hands together and leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. “This is an awkward conversation for me to initiate but, well, I care about you two and I’m just going to go for it.” He cleared his throat and sat back in the chair, propping his elbow on the arm. “Normally I don’t get involved in the private lives of my parishioners, unless they ask, but in this case, I hope you’ll take this as me simply being concerned about your well-being and not me being nosey. Frankly, I’m worried about you two.” He paused for effect and held each of their gazes for a few seconds. “Let’s not beat around the bush. I’m aware you two are not a couple at the moment and, well, I just want to be sure that this is what you both want.”

Ellie and Jason had both pulled their gazes from their pastor. Jason had found something very interesting on the front of his shirt and was picking at it. Ellie was examining the carpet like it was a science experiment that needed to be figured out. Ellie chewed lightly on her bottom lip and Jason rubbed two fingers against his chin, as if suddenly deep in thought.

After about thirty seconds of silence, Pastor Joe cleared his throat. “So, it is what you both want then.”

It was a statement, not a question.

Jason glanced at Ellie, then looked back at the desk. “It’s what she wants.”

She stiffened at his comment, and her jaw tightened. Oh really? She’d wanted him to keep his past from her?

“Okay.” Pastor Joe leaned back in his chair and looked at each of them. One at a time. “Is there a reason for that? I mean, would you two like to talk more about it sometime? Maybe during a type of counseling session?”

Ellie laughed softly. “What, like marriage counseling? We’re not even married.”

And probably never will be at this point.

Pastor Joe smiled. “I know, but you’ve been together so long it’s almost like you are.”

So long. Yes. Twelve long years. Maybe twelve long, waisted years.

“But we aren’t,” she said stiffly.

She felt rather than saw Jason roll his eyes. “Just keep rubbing that in why don’t you?”

She didn’t respond, crossing one leg over the other and leaning back in the chair instead, now studying Pastor Joe’s collection of books.

Oswald Chambers, C.S. Lewis, Derek Prince, Billy Graham, and several theological texts.

All out of alphabetical order too. She should volunteer to organize it for him sometime. The disorganization was making her head spin.

Pastor Joe nodded. “Okay, so I’m guessing one of you wants me be married and the other doesn’t?”

Her muscles tightened at the question, waiting to hear what Jason would say.

He didn’t say anything for several minutes. Then, finally, he cleared his throat. “You could say that, I guess.” He was looking at the arm of the chair as he spoke. “I wanted to marry her but she —”

“He wasn’t even really going to propose.”

Had she just said that out loud? Apparently she had, and apparently, she wasn’t done. “I thought he proposed, but really he was going to tell me about something he did in college. Something he’d never told me about.”

Pastor Joe nodded, encouraging her to continue.

“Well, I mean —” She swallowed hard. Her mouth was dry. What had she been going to say? To their pastor? She certainly wasn’t going to say what Jason had done and why it bothered her.

“You mean what?”

Jason’s tone was as sharp as the look he was giving her.

Her heart rate had increased, her palms were damp. She clutched the sides of her skirt, hoping to calm her breathing. For a brief time Pastor Joe disappeared from her view, or at least she forgot he was there.

“You gave to her what you were supposed to give to me.” She blurted the accusation out before her brain had fully engaged. “‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall become one flesh.’ That’s what we were supposed to be on our wedding night but you became one flesh with another woman instead.”

She’d expected Jason to apologize again, to recognize she was trying to tell him how she really felt. She expected him to soften, to understand the vulnerability she was showing.

Instead, he snorted.

Literally snorted.

Like Old Bart before he charged.

His green eyes darkened.

“I know the verse, Ellie.” His tone was even and low, but she could hear the slight tremble in it, like a rope straining under a great weight, just about to break. “That’s what I wanted with you but then you dropped me in college.”

“I did not drop you in college. We agreed to take a break.”

“No. You wanted the break. I agreed because I thought it was what you wanted.”

“What I wanted? I thought it was what you wanted. You kept talking about hard long-distance relationships were. I thought you were saying you thought we should break things off while you were in college.”

“You thought? Why didn’t you just ask?”

“What, like you asked me? You didn’t ask either. You assumed. You assumed I didn’t want you and I guess that was the excuse you needed to go get what you’d probably always wanted to do anyhow.”

A muscle in Jason’s jaw jumped, like the pump of a shotgun being pulled back. “Excuse me? What’s that supposed to mean? What I always wanted to do?” There was the snort again. “Is that all you think I ever wanted from you? I mean, it’s how you acted part of the time over the years. Always apologizing when you told me we had to slow down like I was some sex-craved maniac who only wanted to ravage you. Then me, going home, feeling guilty because I wanted to ravage you, but it wasn’t all I wanted to do. There’s more to a relationship than sex, Ellie and I thought that was obvious by how I’ve respected your wishes all these years.”

Now it was her turn to snort. “My wishes? Weren’t they your wishes, too? You act like it wasn’t hard for me either.”

“Well, was it? I don’t know. You always acted like it wasn’t difficult for you. As far as I know you’ve never even wanted our relationship to progress beyond making out and holding hands.” He gripped the arms of the chair, his knuckles white. “You know what, that’s not true.” He leaned forward. “I know you did. Let’s stop pretending for our pastor’s sake. You never said it, but your body showed it more than once. Don’t sit here and lie. Why don’t you tell Pastor Joe the truth? That you aren’t the innocent little virgin everyone thinks you are. That you have sexual desires just like anyone else. You’re not some virtuous, pure of thought woman, sitting on a bed of lily-white. You wanted me as much as I wanted you or your hands wouldn’t have been —”

She stood quickly. “That’s enough Jason.”

“What’s enough?” Jason leaned forward, and she could feel the anger radiating off him. “Pulling back the curtain you hide behind? Calling you out for your hypocrisy? Who knows, El. Maybe I’m not the only one who has secrets. What happened between you and Brad while I was gone?”

Her mouth opened slightly and stayed there a few seconds before she closed it again.

“Nothing happened between me and Brad.”

“Really? Because he’s been sniffing around you like a bloodhound since he got back. Seems like he wants to rekindle a fire he started at some point. Maybe on those dates you two went on while I was in college.”

“You’re comparing three dates with your cousin to you sleeping with a girl in college while drunk and never telling me?”

Jason was standing now. He took a step closer, his eyes never leaving hers, practically boring holes straight through her.  “I screwed up. I told you that. I forgot who I was. I was drinking and made a huge mistake.” He pointed a finger at her chest, like he had that day in the parking lot. “Real life isn’t like one of your Christian romance novels, Elizabeth Lambert. Those novels where everyone is pure and perfect and never fall. In the real world, people go against everything they stood for and wanted in life to make all the pain stop and then they regret it.” Her gaze fell on a vein popping up on the side of his neck as his voice rose.” I messed up. I know that. I went against God’s word and my morals. I shattered my idea of what my first time would be like, and I get I shattered your perfect dream of that moment, but real life is messy.”

He stepped back, tossing his arms up and then down again. “And I’ve apologized. More than once. To God and to you. I will not spend my whole life apologizing for something I can’t go back and change.”

Pastor Joe stood and took a step forward until he was practically between them. “Okay, guys, listen. I can tell there are some real issues here. I have no problem talking through them with you now, but if you want to take a break, calm things down some, we can agree on a time to meet again and —”

Jason propped his hands at his waist, shook his head. “What’s the point? She’s never going to forgive me.”

Ellie huffed out a sigh. “It’s not just about forgiving, Jason. It’s also about forgetting. I have to forget that you weren’t open with me, that you felt like you couldn’t tell me about your past. I have to forget about you sleeping with this other woman. That’s not an easy thing to do.”

Even as the words came out of her mouth, she knew it was a mistake. First, she had her own issues she hadn’t been open with him about and second  . . .

“And this is why I didn’t feel like I could tell you about my past. Because I didn’t know how you would react, if you would stop loving me, stop looking at me like I’m someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. My nightmare became a reality the moment you broke down when I told you, the moment you told me you needed a break. Be honest with me, Ellie. You don’t just want a break, you want to end this. You want to turn around and walk away and find the perfect man who fits your perfect idea of what a Christian man should be — pure and righteous and never makes a mistake.”

He took a step back, shaking his head again, jaw tight again, eyes flashing again. “Well, I can’t be that. I’m real. I’m not the figment of some novelist’s imagination. This is real life. Right here. With me loving you despite it all, with me wishing you could see that I’m not perfect, but all I’ve ever wanted is to spend my life loving you and our future children. If you can’t see past my imperfections, then I don’t know what to tell you.”

He turned quickly and ripped the door open, walking through it and maybe, Ellie realized with sickening dread, out of her life.

Pastor Joe placed a hand on her shoulder. “You okay?”

She nodded slowly, knowing she was lying, again, to her pastor. Emotions swirled in her like a tornado across the Kansas prairie. Hurt, desolation, and anger dominated, ready to alight on her soul and take it over. Humiliation was fighting for its rightful place, too. Her face flushed warm at the memory of Jason’s words. How he’d almost told Pastor Joe about the many times they’d pushed the envelope, set a foot over the line of temptation and almost been unable to turn back.

“I need to go.”

“Ellie, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed you two to talk. I had no idea things would get that heavy that fast.”

She waved away his guilt. “It’s not your fault. It’s been building up to that for months. Sadly, you were just here to witness the final explosion.”

He squeezed her shoulder gently. “If you need to talk, you know how to reach me. Call me anytime. Truly. And if you’d feel more comfortable talking to a woman, I know Emily would be more than willing to talk with you as well.”

She thanked him, suddenly numb. Out in the parking lot, she didn’t even feel the sun warm on her face or hear the birds chirping in the oak tree next to the church playground.

The next ten minutes were a blur. The dam she’d built over the last several months broke as she drove out of town. Her vision blurred behind a veil of tears. She barely noticed the buildings and cars rushing by her, the town fading into farmland and forests, green and brown rushing by her car window until she reached a pull off along a wooded area next to the river, five miles out of town.

She slid the car into park, shut it off and pressed her hands against her face, images of Jason’s angry face swirling in her mind as sobs shook her body. Rung out, beat down, drained of any strength, physical or mental. That’s how she felt.

How could he have said all of that in front of Pastor Joe? About the times they’d almost slept with each other? About the times they’d gone further than either of them had planned? About how she was a liar and a hypocrite?

She was glad she saw the dark side of him before she’d made the mistake of marrying him. Now she was sure that the Jason she had thought she had known all those years wasn’t the real Jason.

The real Jason was the shouting man in Pastor Joe’s office.

The real Jason kept secrets from her and humiliated her.

The real Jason wasn’t who she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.

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

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

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


***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denny and Jason agree with quick nods of their heads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No. Not yet.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sneak peek of Chapter 7 for next week:

Chapter 7

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

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

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

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s daughter chapter 31

I’m definitely in need of distractions these days and writing and reading is helping some of that. What are you all doing to distract yourself from stress? Let me know in the comments.

Want to catch up on The Farmer’s Daughter? Click HERE or find the link at the top of the page. Also, let me know about typos or your ideas for what you think should happen next in the comments.

***

Chapter 31

In the ambulance Robert had been too weak to talk, but Annie had held his hand and the steady beat of his heartbeat against her palm was reassuring for the duration of the drive to the hospital.

“Where is the blood coming from?” she’d asked Randy Dunham, one of the EMTs and a former classmate of Jason’s.

“Puncture wound to his back,” Randy said. “They’ll be able to see how bad it is when we get to the hospital. We stopped the bleeding as best as we can for now.”

Annie had thanked him, then turned her attention back to Robert, smoothing his hair back off his forehead, praying for him to pull through somehow. The idea of spending the rest of her life without him by her side terrified her.

“Mrs. Tanner?”

Annie was pulled from her thoughts by the voice of the doctor. She stood quickly, her knees weak. She thought she might not be able to stay upright at first. The room shifted slightly around her and she closed her eyes briefly.

“Yes?”

The doctor’s expression was compassionate and that terrified her. She braced her heart for the worst. As if sensing her unsteadiness, he sat on a small couch and patted the seat for her to sit next to him.

“Your husband is stable right now.” The doctor’s voice was soft. “He has a broken leg, a cracked pelvis, a puncture wound to his back that struck his lung and collapsed it. He’s going to need surgery and that leg is going to need more than what we can offer here, so we’re going to life-flight him to Mercy Hospital. Mercy has one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the country working there right now.”

Annie nodded. The doctor kept his eyes focused on her. She was impressed by the compassionate, measured way he spoke to her. She was also surprised by how young he looked, and she realized the older she got the younger doctors had started to look to her

“Unfortunately, he is also bleeding internally.” Annie drew in a sharp breath. “We need to try to find the source of that before we fly him. He’ll have exploratory surgery here tonight to find the bleeding and stop it, and then, if he’s stabilized, we’ll fly him to Mercy first thing in the morning.”

Jason stepped into the waiting room with two cups of coffee. His gaze moved between the doctor and his mom and he recognized the gravity of it all before either of them spoke a word. The doctor looked at Jason, nodded, and then turned his attention back to Annie

“Mrs. Tanner, I don’t want to ask this, but we need to know if Mr. Tanner has a DNR on file, in case we would need it.”

“A DNR?”

Jason sat the coffee cups on the little table next to his mom’s chair. He cleared his throat. “A DNR is a Do Not Resuscitate Order, Mom.”

Tears filled Annie’s eyes, she nodded, and her voice trembled when she spoke. “Oh. I don’t kn— I mean. No. He’s never filled one of those out.”

She clutched the arm of the chair, as if to steady her swirling thoughts.

The doctor nodded and covered her hand with his. “Let’s hope we won’t need it, okay? I don’t expect we will, but I needed to ask.”

Tears spilled down Annie’s cheeks. “Can I see him?”

The doctor squeezed her hand as Jason sat on the chair next to her and laid his hand on her back.

“You can,” the doctor said. “I just want you to be prepared. He’s in rough shape. We’re prepping him for surgery, and he’s already being sedated to help with the pain.”

Annie took a deep breath and let it out again slowly. “I understand.”

And she did understand, but when she stood next to Robert and saw how pale he was, and the tubes and IVs hooked up to him, she thought her legs might give way. She wasn’t about to let herself collapse, though. Not when her husband needed her. Jason’s hand on her elbow strengthened her resolve to stay strong. She swallowed the tears and took Robert’s hand.

“You know, Robert, if you wanted a vacation, all you needed to do was ask.”

His eyes were barely open, but he managed a faint smile.

“Cows,” he whispered. “Milking.”

Annie smoothed his hair back from his forehead. “Walt and Hannah are taking care of the farm. You don’t need to worry about that.”

Robert swallowed hard and coughed. His voice faded to a whisper. “Annie, you’ve been the best part of my life. You and our kids. I need you to know that.”

Annie kissed his forehead. “Just rest. We’ll be here when you get out of surgery.”

“Alex and Jason, they’ll  . . . take care of you . . .”

“Robert Charles, don’t you talk that way. You’re going to be fine.”

“But, if —”

Her voice broke as she slid her hand behind his head and clutched his hair, still damp with blood. “God can’t have you yet. Do you understand me? He can’t.”

A faint smile tugged at Robert’s mouth as his eyelids closed. “That’s up  . . . to God.”

Annie waited until Robert’s bed had been wheeled out of the room, turned, and let Jason hold her against her as the tears fell. She pulled away a few moments later, stared at her hand stained with Robert’s blood and staggered toward the bathroom across the hall. Jason followed close behind, steadying her with a hand under her elbow again as she scrubbed the blood from her skin, sobs shaking her shoulders.

“You can’t have him, yet, God,” she choked out between sobs. “Not yet.”

***

Alex was awake but only barely when Molly found him in the ER exam room. His eyes were glassy, and she wasn’t sure if that was from the blood loss or from whatever fluid was being pumped from the IV bag into his arm. His shirt had already been cut away and the wound was covered with blood-stained bandages loosely stuck in place. The bed was slightly reclined.

The nurse had asked her if she was family when she’d first arrived, and when she’d said he didn’t have any family who lived local, the nurse had nodded in understanding and motioned her back.

“The doctor has examined him, stopped the bleeding, and started an IV with painkillers and an antibiotic,” the nurse told her. “Once that kicks in we’ll start cleaning out the wound and stitching him up.” She leaned toward Molly. “Just a heads up, the meds can make some people a little loopy so don’t take anything he says too seriously.”

He flashed her a weak smile as she reached the side of his bed.

“They gave me the good stuff. Said I would need it when they start cleaning this out.”

A nurse loaded supplies onto a tray on the other side of the bed.

Molly decided their usual barn banter style of talking would keep her from feeling too many emotions. “You look like crap.”

A small smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. “I feel like crap.”

“You won’t be feeling much of anything when that painkiller kicks in,” the doctor said as he walked into the room. He held his hand out to Molly and she shook it. “Doctor Murphy. Feel free to keep talking. I’ve got some stuff to get ready over here so we can start fixing this guy up.”

He started opening drawers and cabinets, pulling out gauze, medical tape, and antibiotic cream.

Alex fought to keep his eyes open. “Robert. . . how is he?”

Molly shook her head. “I don’t know yet. Jason went to find Mom and I came to find you.”

“Go,” he whispered. “Be with your dad.”

Molly sighed. “I can’t leave you here alone with that hole in your side, you big loser. I’m the only family you’ve got around here.”

Alex laughed softly then winced. “Don’t make me laugh.”

She tried not to look too closely at the bandage, red seeping through it. “What happened anyhow?”

“I tried to get the tractor off your dad. He told me not to. Didn’t listen. The board broke.”

“Hmmm, yes. I’ve also learned my lesson the hard way when I don’t listen to my dad.”

Alex winced again, trying to push himself up on the bed.

“Molly —”

Molly pressed her hands against Alex’s shoulders. “Um, no. Lay back.”

He fell back against the bed, and exhaled a frustrated sigh, his eyelids heavy.

“We need to talk.”

“We’ll talk later. After you’re fixed up.”

He grabbed her wrist gently. “I didn’t sleep with her, Molly.”

The nurse paused in her journey out of the room and looked back over her shoulder with wide eyes. Molly wished the nurse would keep walking and Alex would stop talking.

“Rest Alex.”

She glanced at the nurse, shooting her a glare. The nurse nodded apologetically and stepped out of the room.

“I didn’t sleep with her,” he repeated softly, so softly she barely heard him. His eyes were closing again.

She squeezed his hand. “I know. We’ll talk more when you’re a little more with it. Okay?”

He nodded weakly. “I’m really glad I never did drugs. Getting drunk was bad enough. This stuff is seriously messing with my mind.”

She laughed softly and shook her head. His eyes drifted closed and she breathed a sigh of relief, glad the painkiller had finally kicked in. Her hand was still holding his and his fingers had tightened around it. She smiled and rubbed the top of his hand with her other hand.

There was something so different about seeing him this way, peaceful and vulnerable versus his joking and teasing in the barn. Sitting with him now reminded him more of that day at the overlook when he kissed her, how his obnoxious façade had fallen, and she had seen a seriousness and sincerity in him she’d never seen before.

Suddenly he mumbled something, and she jumped slightly. She leaned closer to try to understand him, her cheek grazing his as she tilted her head.

His breath was warm against her ear, his lips grazing it, as he spoke. “Molly, I’m scared.”

“To get stitches?”

He tried to shake his head. “No. Of you.”

She smiled, amused at how out of it he obviously was.

“I’m a very intimidating person, I know. I think the painkiller is sending you for a loop.”

He tried to open his eyes, but he was clearly losing the battle. They fluttered closed again. “I’ve never seen my future as clearly as I do when I’m with you.”

“Okay, bud. You really need to —”

“I see babies.”

She pulled her head back and looked at him, then laughed, wondering where this conversation was going. “Did you mean, ‘I see dead people?’”

If he’d been more alert, she knew he would have laughed at her reference to a movie they’d watched together a couple of years ago with Jason and Ellie. They joked about it often in the barn, making the line a running joke between them. Instead of laughing, he grew quiet and she thought he was asleep.

“I’m going to marry you someday, Molly Tanner,” he whispered a few seconds later, his eyes still closed. She leaned down again. “I know it. I’ve known if for a long time, even before I kissed you that day on the overlook. I didn’t want to admit it because it scares me. I never thought I’d get married.”

He took a deep breath, and she could tell he was fighting to keep his eyes open again. She wanted to make another joke, but the tone of his voice was serious. Too serious. She swallowed hard as he spoke again, his lips grazing her skin just below her ear.

“When I kissed you that night in the barn, I saw a baby on your hip and one hugging your leg and you were standing on the porch of Ned and Franny’s house. There was a dog in the yard and cats in the barn. I don’t like cats, but they were there. Do you like cats?”

He didn’t wait for her to answer. His voice was starting to slur. “My truck was there, and your mom and dad were in the backyard. Your mom was watching your dad push a kid on a tire swing. The fields were full of corn and Jason was riding a tractor in the distance. And Ellie was there too . . . She was . . . standing in the front yard with an apple pie and . . .” his eyes closed. “A big belly.”

When he didn’t speak again, she let out the breath she realized she’d been holding. His skin was warm against her lips as she kissed his forehead.

She looked up and saw the same nurse who had been eavesdropping earlier watching her with wide eyes. She guessed the nurse to be a few years younger than her. Her name tag read Mackenzie.

“Oh my gosh. That was, seriously, so romantic.” Mackenzie gushed like the schoolgirl she probably was. “I would just die to have a man say something like that to me.”

Molly scoffed even though nervous butterflies were buzzing in her stomach. “He was under the influence of drugs. I doubt he’ll remember any of this later.”

Dr. Murphy pulled a rubber glove on and smirked. “Honestly, I find a lot of people speak the truth when they’re under sedation.”

“Oh really?” Molly’s tone was doubtful.

“Sure. Didn’t you ever hear about spies being drugged so the government can find out the truth? Like a truth serum.”

“Yes, but he’s on painkillers, not a truth serum.”

Dr. Murphy shrugged. “If you say so.”

Molly looked at Alex, then back at the doctor. “Does anyone remember what they said when they wake up?”

The doctor smiled. “Sometimes.” He pulled antiseptic from the drawer under the tray next to the bed to clean the wound. “Even if he doesn’t, he seems to be a man who knows what he wants. Or at least his subconscious knows.”

He nodded toward the curtain. “Unless you’ve got a strong stomach, you might want to sit in that chair over there while I do this.”

Molly lifted a shoulder in a quick shrug. “I’m a farm girl. I can handle it.”

But when the bandages came off and she saw the deep gash in Alex’s side, she couldn’t handle it.

She took three steps back and steadied herself against the wall, sliding her hand along it slowly until she found the chair. She tipped her head back, closed her eyes and willed the room to stop spinning. Watching someone she loved being sewn back together was a lot different than watching the vet sew the belly of a mama pig closed after they’d delivered a litter of over-sized piglets.

If she couldn’t handle seeing Alex injured without becoming woozy, she knew she’d be a mess when she saw her dad.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter, Chapter 29

Anyone else ready for an escape from reality?

Some of you probably won’t be happy with me today because I’m going to leave you on a cliffhanger. However, I will post Chapter 30 tomorrow so you’re not left hanging for too long.

I’ve been posting these chapters since April. I can’t believe it, but I have. I’ve been working on this particular story for a couple of years now, off and on anyhow.
As always, there will probably be typos, missing words, etc. as this is a novel in progress. If you find some of these typos, etc., please feel free to let me know in the comments or via the contact form so I can fix them. I’ve seen some really dumb mistakes on my chapters long after they were published here and I’m always amazed someone didn’t say something about them so I could fix them. Ha!

If you would like to catch up to the rest of the story you can do so HERE or at the link at the top of the page. Or, you can wait until February 2021 when I publish it on Kindle (after rewrites, editing, etc.).


Chapter 29

“No, Mom, I won’t hear of it.”

Robert held his hand out toward his mom and shook his head. “We are not selling this property or this house to cover that loan. This house has been in our family for generations. I appreciate the offer, but that’s not the answer.”

Franny sighed and slid her glasses off, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Robert, we can’t hold on to all this property forever and if it will help save the rest of the business then we need to consider it.”

“Mom. No. I’m not allowing —”

“There is no allowing anything on your part. This house and property are in my name and my name alone. I will make the final decision, not you.”

Robert sat in the recliner that had been his father’s and propped his elbows on his knees, looking at his mother. Her jawline had that familiar set of a woman who was not to be deterred. Her eyes were flashing with determination and her lips were pressed firmly together. Worst of all was her unwavering gaze that told him she’d made up her mind.

She wanted to move into an apartment close to Betty and Frank. It would be less upkeep and the sale of the house and property would go to help pay off the loan. Robert appreciated her offer, but at this point, the deadline to pay off the loan was closing in and the sale would take longer than they had. Thankfully, they’d be able to pay off a large portion of it with the proceeds combined from the sale of the corn, the milk sales, and profits from the farm store over the last month.

“Mom, I know it’s up to you. The decision is yours, but at this point, the sale would take a while and it wouldn’t be in time to go toward the loan.”

 Franny sighed. “Well, I guess I can hang on to the house for a bit longer. Who knows, maybe I can give it to Molly to live in when she gets married. “

Robert raised an eyebrow and narrowed his eyes. “Married? Have you heard something I haven’t?”

Franny laughed softly and leaned back against the couch. “Don’t get all flustered now. I haven’t heard a thing. I’m just thinking about her future. I’m sure she’ll get married someday.”

“To Alex?”

“I don’t know who. I’m just saying, our Molly is a good catch for any man, and she might want to stay close to her family. We don’t know.”

“Or she could want to leave the farm, see what else is out there for her,” Robert countered.

“True. That’s all up to Molly, but just in case she wants to stay close to her family, raise her children here, then —”

“Children?” Robert scoffed. “Mom, let’s slow down a bit okay? I haven’t even wrapped my head around her kissing my farmhand let alone let my mind go to her being married or having children.”

Franny chuckled. “Good grief, Robert. You need to get with the program and realize Molly isn’t a little girl anymore. She’s a grown woman with her own path to carve out in life.”

“I know that mom, but I think you would agree that even though she’s a grown woman, she will always be my little girl.”

Franny tilted her head and smiled. She leaned forward and covered her son’s rough, hard-worked hands with her much smaller ones. “Just like you will always be my sweet boy.”

A grin tugged Robert’s mouth upward. “Thanks, Mom. I love you too.”

***

Molly had been avoiding Alex all day and she knew he could tell. He’d tried more than once to reach for her hand and she’d pulled away each time, reaching for a shovel or a bucket or anything so she wouldn’t feel his skin against hers and lose control of her senses every time he was around. She couldn’t miss his looks of confusion, the way he’d looked at her with narrowed eyes from the main barn doorway on his way to the lower barn as if trying to figure out why she’d turned so cold in such a short time. 

Several times during the day she snuck looks at him, trying to decide if he was the type of person who would have confessed his love for a woman only a couple of weeks after taking another woman he barely knew home from the bar and sleeping with her. There was part of her who couldn’t imagine it, but part of her that thought it was possible, not because he was a horrible person, but because she knew Alex used things like alcohol and women to distract himself from the difficulties in life. 

She knew he had strained relationships with both of his parents. Maybe he’d been trying not to think about that. Still, if he had loved her for years as he said, then why would he have taken Jessie home instead of telling her how he felt? Why had it taken him so long to tell her anyhow? Alex Stone wasn’t someone who was afraid of women and there was no way he was afraid of her. There was nothing special or intimidating about her. She wasn’t beautiful and tall and leggy like Jessie Landry. She was just Molly. Boring, fat, plain, and forgettable Molly Tanner.

She swallowed hard, walking toward the chicken coop, shaking her head at the tears stinging her eyes. A few nights ago, she was overcome with emotion by the words Alex spoke, and by the way, he held her tenderly. Now she was wondering if that had all been an act, even though she truly couldn’t comprehend it had been. She drew in a deep breath, held it for a moment, and silently prayed for God to reveal the truth to her and stop her racing mind.

Warmth against the back of her neck a few moments later as she collected the eggs sent a shiver of panic rushing through her. She could smell his aftershave and it was clouding her thoughts. Why did he have to stand so close?

She snatched up the eggs and quickly moved to the next nesting box to move away from him.

He moved with her, stepping even closer until his front was almost touching her back. “Hey, you’ve been avoiding me all day. What’s going on?”

She didn’t turn around. She knew if she looked at him, she’d burst into the tears she’d been fighting back all day.

“Nothing’s going on. I’m fine.”

He laughed softly. “Yeah, um, I know ‘I’m fine’ is code for ‘something is wrong’ in women speak.”

He touched her arm gently and for a brief second, she pictured herself leaning back into him so he could hold her. “Molly, talk to me.”

She slid past him and carried the basket of eggs out of the chicken coup, walking back toward the barn without answering him. She could hear his footsteps quickening behind her. Where did she think she was going to go that he wasn’t going to follow? The bathroom was the only option, and she was fairly certain he would block her way if she tried to get to the house. 

His hand caught hers as she stepped inside the feed room door. Trying to pull loose she moved toward the middle of the room, but he pulled her gently back toward him until she was facing him.

His voice was firm. “Talk to me. I need to know why we’ve gone from making out one day to you not even acknowledging I’m alive the next. What happened between a few days ago and today?”

His hand gripped hers tightly. She closed her eyes, praying the tears would disappear. 

When she opened her eyes, she was staring straight into a pair of captivating blue eyes clouded with genuine concern and confusion. At that moment she couldn’t imagine Alex would ever lie to her and that fact terrified her because she knew she was about to ask him a question she didn’t want to know the answer to.

She asked it quickly and bluntly before she chickened out and ran for the house. 

“Did you sleep with Jessie Landry?”

Alex’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. “No. Why would you even ask that?”

“Because Jessie says you did.”

He released his grip on her hand. “And you believe her?”

She chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment and shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t really, no. I’ve known Jessie for years and I can’t remember her ever being a very honest person.”

He stepped back from her, hands on his hips, turning to look at the field across the road. Panic began to surge through her. He’d already denied it but now he had withdrawn, and she wondered if that meant there was some truth to Jessie’s story. When he turned back toward her, his expression was serious.

“I didn’t sleep with her, but I did bring her back to my place that night.” He walked toward her until he was standing a few inches in front of her, his eyes glistening as he spoke. “I took her home because I wanted to take my mind off you because I didn’t think I was good enough for you, Molly. I still don’t. I saw you with Ben that day outside the church and I thought something was going on between you. I figured it was because he was better than me. I went to the bar a couple of nights later, Jessie was hanging all over me and I didn’t want to think about how I wasn’t good enough for you anymore so I brought her back home.” He looked at the barn floor, shaking his head. “The entire time she was there, though, all I could think about was you.”

Warmth spread through Molly’s chest and her face flushed. 

He swallowed hard and brought his gaze back to hers again. “That’s the truth. I don’t expect you to believe me because you know my past, you know I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I promise you that this was not one of them. I never should have taken her home. I never should have gotten drunk that night. I kissed Jessie, I almost slept with her, but I didn’t.” He pushed his hand through his hair, laughing softly. “She definitely was not happy about that, but I couldn’t help it. It was you I wanted. Not her.”

“I meant what I said Molly. I’m in love with this farm, I’m in love with this family and more importantly, I’m in love with you. Do you really think I lied about that? That I could lie about that?”

She opened her mouth and closed it again, unsure how to answer. Did she really think he’d lied? She couldn’t even imagine he had, yet she was afraid to fully trust he hadn’t. Fully trusting meant opening her chest and letting her heart be exposed in a way she hadn’t allowed since she dated Ben.

“Molly?”

The hurt in his eyes shot daggers through her heart and she wanted to tell him she believed him, she trusted him, she loved him as much as he said he loved her but she couldn’t seem to move beyond her fear.

She reached out and laid her hand against his upper arm. “Alex, I —”

The back door to the feed room swung open and Jason filled the opening as he guzzled soda from a can and burped loudly. “Oops did I interrupt some kind of lover’s spat?”

She thought her head was going to explode.

She didn’t even know her brother had a clue about her and Alex’s relationship and at this point, she didn’t even care. 

She swung to face him. “Excuse me?”

Jason stepped into a square of light on the barn floor made from an opening above the door. “You heard me.” He winked and pointed to her then to Alex and back to her again. “I know all about you two.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “What — how — I mean just seriously, what is wrong with my family? You all have the worst timing on the planet and act like I can’t have a life of my own.”

Jason’s eyes widened and he blinked at her innocently. “What do you mean? I didn’t say you couldn’t have your own life, I just —”

“Interrupted me,” Molly snapped. “Interrupted me again. Like everyone else in this family has done every time Alex and I are together. I’m sick of all of you sticking your nose in my business.”

Jason looked at Alex who raised his arms slightly from his side and shrugged. Jason looked back at his sister and sighed. “I just can’t win with women right now, can I?”

Molly folded her arms across her chest her cheeks bright red. “Apparently not. Now get lost. This is a private conversation.”

It was Jason’s turn to roll his eyes. “Fine, I’ll leave but I needed to ask Alex if he can run down and check on dad first.”

Molly cocked a leg to one side, folded her arms across her chest, and glared at her brother. “Why?”

“Because Dad has been down in the field by the lower barn for two hours. It shouldn’t take him two hours to plant rye in that area and I wanted to know if Alex would go see if the tractor broke down again. Dad didn’t take his phone with him.”

Molly was certain her blood pressure was at a dangerous level at this point. “Why can’t you do it?”

“Because Uncle Walt is on his way over with Troy and we’ve got to move those heifers up to the upper barn before the storm moves in.”

Alex stepped between the siblings and held a hand toward each of them. “Hey, guys, truce, okay? I’ll head down and check on Robert.” He turned toward Molly, his back facing Jason. “Can we finish this discussion when I get back? I want to talk this out, okay?”

Molly nodded, touching his arm gently. “Yes. I want to too.”

For the first time since they’d started talking a small smile tugged at Alex’s mouth. “Good,” he said softly.

Jason groaned. “Gross. I don’t need to see you two swoon over each other. I’m going to go wait outside for Uncle Walt.”

Alex laughed softly as Molly stuck her tongue out at Jason’s back. 

He stepped toward her, leaned in, and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be right back, okay?”

She nodded. “Okay.”

“We’ll talk?” he asked softly, cupping his hand against her face.

A faint smile tugged at her mouth. “We will.”

Molly watched Alex climb into his truck from the feed room’s doorway. On the horizon behind him, dark clouds were inching toward the farm, threatening to pound the ground with rain for the third time that week. She pushed her hand back through her hair, anxious to continue their conversation but feeling relieved that they had at least broached the issue instead of letting it fester.

***

As he drove toward the lower field, Alex’s mind was filled with what else he wanted to tell Molly when he got back to the barn. He wished their conversation hadn’t been interrupted — again. Did she believe him? What had she been about to say? He knew Jason hadn’t meant to interrupt their conversation but part of him wanted to tell his friend off – from a distance where Jason couldn’t shove him again, of course. Alex’s chest and back were still aching from the encounter a few days before.

He should have known Molly would eventually find out about Jessie, but at the same time, she’d told him she already knew about his past and still loved him. The memory of her words gave him hope that she’d been about to tell him she believed him and understood why he hadn’t told her about Jessie before. And then there had been the way she had touched his arm before he left, telling him she wanted to talk more. That was a good sign, right? It had to be. 

He drove slowly over the small dirt road that connected the upper and lower fields of the Tanner’s farm, his mind focused completely on Molly until he came up over the hill and looking down saw the underside of Robert’s tractor facing toward him instead of the cab. That definitely wasn’t normal. Was Robert trying to fix it? If he was, how did he get it up on its’ side? Alex’s chest tightened. Robert couldn’t have pushed it over on his own.

He quickly scanned the grassy area around the overturned tractor for Robert, terror gripping him when he didn’t see him.

“Please let him be in the barn,” he prayed, gunning the accelerator. 

The moment he slammed his foot on the brake and threw the truck into park he knew Robert wasn’t in the smaller storage barn. His chest constricted as he shoved the truck door open. 

He could already see Robert’s body pinned underneath the 1960 Ford tractor that had originally been Ned’s. 

Oh, God

He started running.

“Robert! Robert! Talk to me!”

Robert’s torso and legs were under the main part of the tractor, his pale face visible, glazed eyes looking up at the darkening sky.

Dark red pooled around his upper body.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 28

I’m pushing through The Farmer’s Daughter, hoping to finish the first draft so I can gut it later. Ha. Seriously, I like the story, there are just some parts I want to change a bit. Sharing the chapters of my book on my blog helps motivate me to complete the books, knowing I can always change things later. If I had a bigger following than I do, I probably wouldn’t share a semi-first draft of my novels on my blog, but I like my small “following” and how you’re all supportive and give me ideas for future chapters, and even future books.

A reminder to my blog readers who read Quarantined, it is out on Kindle now. For this week only I am offering it for $.99 on Kindle to allow my blog readers time to download it at the lowest price. If you don’t have a Kindle but would like a copy, let me know, and we’ll figure out a format that works for you. If you miss the deal, don’t worry, the book will only be $1.99 in the Kindle store since it is less than 100 pages.

To catch up on the rest of The Farmer’s Daughter, find the link at the top of the page or click HERE. Or you can wait until February when I release it in Kindle on 2.21.21


Chapter 28

Alex stretched his legs in front of him under the table at Lenny’s Diner, leaned back in the chair and groaned softly.

Matt chuckled. “Doing okay over there, farm boy?”

Alex rubbed his shoulder. “I always forget how much work it is to get the farm ready for winter. My muscles have been screaming at me.”

Their friend Troy, sitting across from Alex, winked at him. “Sounds like you need a night out.”

Alex shrugged. “Nah. I’m good. I just need a hot shower and a good night of sleep.”

Matt was still in his police uniform and Alex couldn’t help but notice the appreciative glances cast in the officer’s direction from many of the women in the diner. As usual, Matt was oblivious. He had to return to work after this impromptu lunch Alex had invited him to.

Troy worked for the Tanner’s, helping with the additional farmland the company had added a few years ago and he’d rode to town with Alex to pick up a part for one of the tractors at the local hardware store.

“We haven’t seen you at the bars lately, Alex,” Troy said as the waitress brought the drinks. “What’s up with you?”

I’m growing up, Alex wanted to say.

“Just been enjoying some solitude,” he said instead, deciding not to add that he was actually enjoying that solitude with Molly when they could find time alone.

He found it uncanny that at the same moment he thought of Molly she appeared out front of the restaurant, talking to the librarian. What was the librarian’s name again? He thought Molly had said her name was Ginny. They’d been attending art classes together.

He started to smile as an idea struck him; a way to make his friends think he hadn’t lost his way with women, when he knew he had and didn’t mind at all.

“What do you boys think about Jason’s sister? She’s good looking, right?”

Matt raised an eyebrow. “Um. Yeah. She is, but you better not be noticing.”

Alex laughed, looking out the window at Molly. “Why?”

“Because Jason will kick your butt for checking out his little sister,” Matt answered with a tone that signaled he thought Alex had lost his mind.

Troy shrugged. “I don’t know, she’s a little too big for me. Nice girl though.”

Alex took a sip of his soda, still watching Molly talking with the librarian, and then smirked.

“She’s just right for me. I like a girl with some meat on her bones.” He winked at his friends. “More for me to hold on to.”

Matt rolled his eyes. “Dude. You’re so going to end up with a bloody nose if Jason ever hears you talking like this.”

Troy laughed and punched Alex in the arm.

“Yeah, seriously, Stone you better watch it. Jason will kick your butt to next week if he hears you talking like that about her.”

Alex looked at Troy and Matt and rubbed his thumb and index finger along his unshaven chin. “I bet I can get her to go out with me”

Matt shook his head. “You’re too old for her. She doesn’t want to go out with an old man like you.”

Alex’s grin widened. “Hey, she’s only a few years younger than me. I bet you she will.” He stood up from the table. “I’ll be right back.”

“Dude! Don’t make an idiot out of yourself!” Troy called after him.

“More than you already are anyhow,” Matt added with a laugh.

Alex stepped into the sunlight on the sidewalk as Ginny climbed into her car.

“Thanks for letting an old lady share with you, Molly,” she said.

Molly laughed softly. “I’m so grateful you did and stop calling yourself old.”

When Ginny drove away Alex walked toward Molly, knowing he was in full view of Matt and Troy.

“Hey, beautiful,” he said softly, stepping behind her. “What was that all about?”

Molly turned and the smile she flashed him made his heart pound. He hadn’t expected his body to react so viscerally to being so close to her, not now, after he’d already told her how he felt, and she’d said she felt the same.

“Hey, yourself. You know Ginny, don’t you? She’s the librarian down at the Green Leaf Library. We were just chatting about – life, I guess you’d say.” She tipped her head slightly, still smiling “What are you doing in town?”

He jerked his head toward the diner front window. “Just having some lunch with the guys.”

Molly glanced throw the window and saw Troy and Matt watching and smiling, which made her wary.

“Uh huh. What are you boys up to?”

“I told them I was going to ask you out.” He stepped closer and laid a hand against her waist. “Want to help me have some fun with them?”

Molly’s cheeks flushed warm. She twisted her finger in her hair, as Alex stepped closer to her. He slid his other arm around her waist and pulled her closer.

“Out here? On the street? Where everyone can see?”

He moved his head closer to hers. “I doubt anyone will even notice the farm hand kissing the farmer’s daughter on a public street.”

Molly glanced around her at the cars and trucks on Main Street, people walking with their heads down, looking at their phones. She knew he was right. None of those people cared about two people they didn’t know sneaking a kiss on the sidewalk. She looked back at Alex, smiling as he leaned closer and caught her mouth with his.

She closed her eyes and the kiss lingered before he slowly pulled away.

“See you later,” he said softly, taking her hand in his.

Molly laughed softly, shaking her head. “I have no idea what is going on but, yes, I’ll see you later.”

Before she walked away, he pulled her back toward him and kissed her briefly again, then looped his thumbs through his belt loops and watched her walk to her truck across the street.

Matt and Troy were shaking their heads and laughing as he walked back to the table a few moments later.

Matt smirked, cocking an eyebrow as he sipped his soda.  “You’re already seeing her, aren’t you?”

Alex sat down, looking smug. “Maybe.”

“And Jason doesn’t know?” Troy asked.

“Not yet but her dad does,” Alex said. “He caught us a couple weeks ago. I figure he’s told Annie by now too.”

Both of Matt’s eyebrows were up now. “Caught you? Dude! Caught you doing what?!”

Alex raised his hands and shook his head. “Kissing. He caught us kissing in the barn. That’s all.”

“I don’t think Jason is going to like it,” Troy said shaking his head.

“Me neither,” Matt agreed. “He knows you too well.”

Alex shrugged. “He’ll be fine. I’m not who I used to be. He knows that.” He looked at the two men who were watching him with wide, unblinking eyes. “I’m changing. For Molly. She’s worth it.”

Matt grinned as he set his drink down on the table and looked over Alex’s shoulder. “Well, I hope you’re right about Jase, because here he comes now and he does not look happy.”

Alex turned in his seat to see Jason walking through the backdoor of the diner. He raised his hand to wave but paused mid-wave as he noticed Jason wasn’t actually walking. He was storming across the diner like a freight train. Combined with the fact he was as big as a freight train, Alex had a feeling this wasn’t going to end well.

He stood slowly. “Hey, Jase, you okay?”

“Am I okay?” Red flushed up into Jason’s face from his gigantic neck. “Why don’t you tell me what you’ve been doing behind my back with my little sister?”

Matt and Troy looked at each other.

Troy winced.

Matt grimaced.

“This is going to be better than the game,” Troy whispered nodding at the television screen behind the counter.

Matt nodded, his eyes fixated on the scene before him.

Alex’s eyebrows furrowed. “What do you mean what I’ve been doing with Molly?”

Jason towered over Alex, nostrils flared. “You know what I mean, Alex. Don’t play games. I was over at the gym just now and saw you kissing Molly.” He took another step toward Alex. “What are you doing messing around with my sister?”

Alex didn’t take his eyes off Jason’s, anger rising in him at the tone of Jason’s voice. “I’m not messing around with her, Jason. I’m in love with her.”

Troy raised his eyebrows at Matt and mouthed the words, “In love? Whoa!”

“She’s my baby sister,” Jason snapped. “You’re too old for her.”

Alex looked at Jason with an amused expression. “She’s a grown woman, bud, and I’m only four years older than her not ten or twenty.” He laughed and propped his hands on his hips. “It’s not exactly like I’m robbing the cradle.”

Jason’s jaw was so tight Alex expected his teeth to shatter at any moment. “She doesn’t need someone like you messing her head all up,” he hissed, practically nose to nose with Alex now.

“Someone like me?” Alex’s heart pounded in his ears. He wasn’t amused anymore. He folded his arms across his chest.  “What’s that supposed to mean? We hang out every night and you trust me to help run your family’s business but now I’m what? A piece of garbage? I’ve never done anything to hurt you or your family. Why would I start now? My past is in the past. You know that.”

Jason tipped his face toward the floor, opening and closing his hands, snorting through his nose like an angry bull before he moved his eyes back to Alex’s again. “This is my sister, Alex.” He riser his eyes again, pointing aggressively at his own chest. My sister. I don’t want you playing your games with my sister.”

Red spread from Alex’s cheeks to his ears. “You need to calm down, Jason. I’m not playing games with Molly. I already talked to your dad about this after he caught us in the barn the other night and he — ”

Jason grabbed Alex by the front of his shirt and yanked him forward, almost off his feet.

 More people had started watching. Matt and Troy stood up and stepped back from the table. This was indeed better than the game, but it was also getting dangerous. Matt wasn’t sure if he was going to be needed professionally or not.

“He caught you? Caught you doing what?” Jason growled at Alex.

Alex put his hands on Jason’s large fists, which were curled way too close to his throat, and tried to pull them away.

“He caught us kissing,” Alex growled. “That’s all I’ve done with Molly, Jason. That and fall in love with her.”

Jason let go of Alex’s shirt and shoved him back hard, sending him skidding across the hardwood floor on his back.  Alex winced and looked up to see Jason breathing hard, standing with his arms at his sides like a WWE wrestler about to grab his opponent and slam his head into the ground.

Even he looked surprised he’d pushed Alex. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I need some time to think,” he said softly before turning and walking toward the back door.

Pushing himself off the floor, Alex looked at everyone watching him, most of them smiling with amusement.

“Go watch your race,” he told them, smiling. “Nothing to see here.”

Matt patted him on the back as he sat down at the table.

“Well,” Matt said. “That went much better than I thought it was going to. You still have all your teeth.”

Troy nodded in agreement. “Yeah and your jaw isn’t broken. Yet. So, there’s that.”

 “Yet. Yeah.” Alex rubbed his jawline and laughed softly.  “Maybe I’ll sleep in my truck tonight instead of going home.”

The more Alex thought about it, though, the more Jason’s reaction ticked him off and by the time he’d finished his lunch and headed back to the farm with Troy his heart was racing in anticipation of the conversation he knew he was going to have to have with Jason.

He dropped Troy off back at the farm and head back to the house to try to cool down before he encountered Jason again.

When he saw Jason’s truck in the driveway he parked, but hesitated going in. He knew his blood was boiling and a conversation with his friend probably wouldn’t end well if he talked to him now. Then again, if he let the anger fester the conversation would be even worse.

He opened the front door and headed straight for Jason who was in the kitchen making a sandwich, knowing he might regret it in a few moments.

“What was that all about earlier?”

Jason kept making the sandwich, ignoring him. Alex knew he heard him though. Red was spreading up his neck to his face and he was working the muscles in his jaw as he clenched and unclenched it.

After a few moments he turned to face Alex, leaning back against the counter and crossing one leg over the other, and pressing his palm against the counter. “So, tell me, Alex, are you making Molly another one of your conquests?”

“No, Jason, I’m not. I don’t want to be like that anymore. You know that. I told you that after that night with that girl from the bar.”

“Jessie.”

“Yeah. Jessie.”

“She has a name, Alex. Her name is Jessie. She’s not just that girl from the bar and Molly isn’t just that girl in the barn. Get it? She’s my sister. She’s a real person with real feelings and I don’t want you toying with her and wandering off when something better comes along.”

Alex seethed with anger. “That’s not what this is about, Jason. Don’t you get it? Molly isn’t just some one-night stand for me. She’s different.”

Jason folded his arms across his chest and tipped his head slightly to one side. “Some one-night stand? What have you been doing with my little sister, Alex?”

“Jason, I already told you – nothing. I mean, something but not that. I’ve only kissed her, I swear to you. I wouldn’t do that. I don’t see Molly that way. Well, I mean, I see her that way but I —”

Jason took a step forward, unfolding his arms. “You better get your tongue untied, Alex and tell me what you mean.”

Alex slid his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. “I want something different with Molly. I feel something deeper for Molly. Deeper than a physical connection. I love her personality and talking to her and just being with her, as much as I like,” Alex dropped his gaze from Jason’s and kicked at the kitchen floor with the tip of his boot, his hands in his pockets. “As much as I like looking at her.” He looked up at Jason again. “Jason, I love Molly. I’ve loved her for a long time and I’ve never made a move on her, tried to seduce her, whatever you want to call it. Don’t you think if I thought of her as just some conquest I would have made a move before now? I cracked about three months ago. She was running herself down and . . .”

Alex tossed his arms out to his side and cursed. “Jason, I had to show her she was worth more than she thought, that she was worth something to me, that I love her the way she is and wanted her the way a man wants a woman no matter what she thinks of herself. I wanted her to know that what I see isn’t what she sees.”

A deep scowl clouded Jason’s expression as he took another step toward Alex, his arms still folded tight across his chest. “So, you showed her in what way?”

“I kissed her, Jason,” Alex snapped. “I already told you. For God sake, do I have to keep going into detail about this? Some things are allowed to be private between a man and a woman, even if the woman is your sister. All you need to know is that I did not ‘deflower’ your sister.”

Jason tipped his head down, a smile crossing his lips reducing the anger he’d been feeling. He looked up at Alex again, trying not to laugh. “Dude. Did you just use the word ‘deflower’?”

Alex laughed softly, glad for even a small break in the tension. “Yeah. So?”

Jason laughed out loud and playfully punched Alex in the arm. “I’m just about to believe you on all this. I think my sister has screwed you all up in your head. You’re definitely not the Alex I’m used to.”

Alex rubbed his arm, wishing Jason had pulled the punch a little more.

“Yeah, and maybe that’s a good thing,” he said, his smile fading into a more serious expression.

Jason nodded. “Yeah. Maybe it is.”

Alex rubbed the back of his neck, stepped back, and leaned against the door frame. “Give me a chance, okay, Jason? Give me a chance to prove I’m changing.”

Jason shook his head, turning back to his sandwich on the counter and taking a bite. “I want to, Alex. I do. It just makes me nervous knowing my sister is involved and that if you fall back into your old ways, she’s the one who is going to get hurt.”

“I understand,” Alex said. “But I can tell you, I’m doing all I can to make sure she doesn’t get hurt.” He shrugged and stepped forward from the doorway. “Help keep me in line, if you’re worried. Help me be a better man. For Molly.”

Jason remained quiet for a few moments, eating his sandwich without looking up. He wanted to be there for his friend, and he wanted to protect his sister at the same time. He only hoped he could do both. He shoved the last bite of sandwich in his mouth, wiped his hands on his pants, and then held out his hand toward Alex. When Alex took it he pulled him in close for a hug.

“I’ll do the best I can, buddy.”

Alex clapped Jason on the back. “Thanks, Jase.” He pulled out of the hug. “Listen, though, let’s get one thing clear. I like hugging your sister way more than I like hugging you.”

Jason laughed and shoved Alex gently back.

“Whatever, dork.” He leaned back against the counter. “Hey, you know I’m not perfect either. I made my share of mistakes in college. You’ve never ragged on me about them, or told anyone, and I want you to know I really appreciate that.”

Alex nodded. “No problem, bud. None of that was my story to tell. I’ve always known it was up to you to tell the people in your life about your life back then. And I’ve always known that even if you do tell them, they’ll still love you, just like I do.”

Jason drank the last of the water in his glass and set in in the sink. “Yeah, maybe. I don’t know about that.”

He turned back toward Alex. “Listen, just because I’m agreeing to try to help you become a better person,” He stepped toward his friend, pointed at him as he narrowed his eyes. “doesn’t mean I still won’t kick your butt if you hurt, Molly. Got it?”

Alex nodded. “Got it.” He let out a long breath. “I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

***

“So, this is exciting.” Molly slid in the seat across from Liz at Pam’s Diner, which wasn’t owned by, or even employed, a Pam. “Us. Out. Together. Alone. Without a tracker in your neck from your parents, I hope.”

Liz laughed. “Yeah. I know. Honestly, I think they were afraid to let me out of their sight, but when you actually showed up to pick me up, they knew I wasn’t lying about us going out together.”

Molly was glad Liz and her parents had finally talked and that Liz was staying with them while she decided her next step.

“So, you guys talked?”

Liz nodded.

“What did they say?”

Liz sighed. “That they love me. That they’re sorry they had no idea what was going on. They’re blaming themselves. I honestly didn’t expect that.” She twirled her straw in her ice water. “I don’t know, maybe I’ve been too hard on my parents all these years. My mom literally sobbed and said she felt like the worst mother ever. She hugged me and promised to pay more attention, begged me to never try that again.”

“What did they say about the baby?”

“Surprisingly, they didn’t lecture me. They didn’t point out my mistakes.” Liz turned her head toward the window, tears glistening in her eyes. She swallowed hard and shook her head slightly. “They told me they loved me and that that my mistakes don’t define me.”

She looked back at Molly and swiped at a tear that escaped the corner of her eye. “They’re really happy about becoming grandparents and told me they will help however they can.”

Molly smiled and squeezed her friend’s hand. “That’s awesome news. How are you feeling about it all, though?”

Liz let out a shaky breath. “I’m terrified. Most women would be excited, but I don’t feel excited at all. I just feel absolute terror at the idea of being a mother.”

 The waitress set down their drinks and Liz took a long drink from hers.

“I’m not ready for this, Molly. Not at all. I’m not mature enough. I mean, I know I’m closing in on 30 but my head is in the clouds half the time and I obviously don’t  know how to cope with my toxic thoughts or feelings. How can I raise a child? I’m going to give birth to an irresponsible, insecure, emotionally unstable hypochondriac.”

Molly laughed softly, but then shook her head. “Liz, you may be jumping the gun a bit on deciding who your child is going to be. You’re also selling yourself short. That’s not who you are. You’re strong. You’re smart. You’re loving. But the truth is, you can’t do it alone. You’re going to need to ask God to help you.”

More tears filled Liz’s eyes and she nodded. “I know. I’m just too embarrassed to talk to God right now.”

Their conversation paused as their food was placed in front of them.

“Do you think God doesn’t know your heart?” Molly asked as the waitress left. “He knows your shame and he’s already covered that with the sacrifice of his son. Remember?”

Liz looked out the window, wiping her eyes again. “I’m trying to remember that, yes. I’m just going to need a little longer, I think.”

She sniffed and blew her nose on a napkin. “Matt showed up at the hospital. A couple days after I was admitted.”

“I’m sorry? What?” Molly’s eyes widened. “That’s a huge development. What happened?

“He heard about my overdose from his co-worker who showed up with the ambulance. I was so out of it I don’t even remember a cop being there. Matt said the guy knew we’d gone out a couple times and thought Matt already knew. He had asked Matt if I was okay.”

“Oh. Wow.”

“Yeah. So, that was awkward.”

“So, what did you say to him?”

Liz took a bite of her burger. “I thanked him for checking on me and just told him my life was pretty messed up right now so I didn’t think I could keep going out with him.”

“And he said?”

Liz laughed. “Molly, now you sound like me with you and Alex, which reminds me — how is all that going?”

Molly held up a hand. “Tell me about Matt first and then I’ll tell you.”

Sighing, Liz wrinkled her nose at the memory of her conversation with Matt. “He told me if I ever needed anything to call him but that he understood. And, no, I did not tell him I am pregnant.” She sipped from her soda. “Now, tell me about you and Alex. How are things going? Still exchanging kisses behind the hay bales?”

Molly swirled a fry around her plate. “Um.. . yeah, you could say that. Dad walked in on us one night last week.”

Liz raised an eyebrow, her burger part way to her mouth. “He walked in on you? One night?” She set the burger down on the plate. “Explain. Now.”

“We were kissing,” Molly said with a laugh. “That’s all. It was a truly amazing kiss, though.”

Liz stared with wide eyes, her chin propped on her hands. “What did your dad say?”

“Honestly? He acted like I was 15 instead of an adult.” She scoffed as she picked at the bun on her chicken sandwich. “He was all flustered and saying things like ‘how long has this been going on?’ It was like I was caught kissing a Capulet.”

Liz blinked in confusion. Molly rolled her eyes. She tried to think of a more modern example that Liz might understand.

“It was like I was dating someone from a rival clique on a CW show.”

Liz nodded. “Oh. I see.” She started eating again. “Yeah. Your dad really does need to realize you’re an adult now. You know what would help drive that home for him?”

Molly smirked. “Eloping with an older man?”

Liz leaned slightly over the table toward Molly. “Are you planning to do that?”

“No!”

Liz held her hands up in front of her. “Okay, okay. So instead, I think you should move in with me like we talked about. You know I can use the support and well, you can use it as a way to push yourself out of the nest already.”

As Molly opened her mouth to answer Jessie Landry and Maggie Baker appeared as if out of nowhere at the end of the table. Molly had Liz had graduated from high school with Hannah. Jessie was a couple of years older, but Molly knew of her and, more importantly, her dating habits.

 “Hey, girls,” Maggie said with a friendly head tilt. “Do you mind if we join you? All the other tables are full.”

Maggie had always been polite enough, Molly thought, but she was a horrible judge of character, hence her hanging out with Jessie.

The pair shoved their way into the booth — Maggie next to Molly, Jessie next to Liz — without waiting for an answer.

Molly and Liz shot each other surprised looks.

“Thanks, girls, we appreciate it,” Jessie said reaching over to Liz’s plate and snatching a French fry. She turned her attention to Molly, plastering a broad, fake smile on her face. “Oh my gosh, Molly, I haven’t seen you in forever. How are you?”

Molly’s muscles tensed. “Good.”

Jessie’s eyes slid down from Molly’s eyes to her chest and back. “You look . . . well, great. Have you lost weight?”

Maggie smiled apologetically and spoke before Molly could answer. “Sorry we busted in on your private conversation, ladies. We were just starving. We’ve been at the gym.”

Molly shrugged. “It’s fine.”

 She slid her gaze over to Jessie busy eating Liz’s fries.

Jessie and Maggie placed their orders when the waitress came back to refill Liz and Molly’s drinks. When the waitress left Jessie turned her attention to Liz.

“Liz, where have you been? I haven’t seen you at Woody’s in weeks.”

Liz shifted uncomfortably and sipped her soda. “Been busy at work.”

Jessie smirked. “Oh. Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

Liz scowled. “Excuse me?”

“Never mind,” Jessie said with a small laugh, looking at Molly. “Hey, Molly, doesn’t that sexy Alex Stone work at your family’s farm?”

Liz raised an eyebrow at Molly who cleared her throat. “Yes. He does.”

Jessie’s smirk seemed permanently plastered to her face and Maggie was shaking her head and smiling.

Jessie leaned back, stretching an arm along the back of the booth behind Liz. “It must be fun looking at him all day. He’s hot.”

Molly eyed Jessie suspiciously. “Yeah. I guess so.”

Liz caught Molly’s eye and jerked her head toward the front door. “Let’s go,” she mouthed.

“Wasn’t he the guy you went home with a few weeks ago?” Maggie asked Jessie.

Jessie pushed the tip of finger in her mouth to suck off the salt from the fries. Light bounced off her calve-high silver boots as she crossed one long leg over the other. “Uh-huh.”

“So?” Maggie watched her expectedly. “Is he a good kisser or what?”

The smile on Jessie’s face was what Molly could only describe as a smug leer. “Well, I don’t like to kiss and tell, but…” The giggle that escaped Jessie grated on Molly’s nerves. “Let’s just say that lifting hay bales isn’t the only thing Alex Stone is good for.”

The waitress set Maggie and Jessie’s food down in front of them.

“Come on, Jess, spill the beans,” Maggie said. “It was more than kissing, wasn’t it?”

Jessie winked, stabbing a fork into her salad. “It was definitely a night to remember.”

Liz shot Molly a look that spoke volumes. She knew that Liz was sending her a warning message to stay calm.

“Stay calm,” was almost exactly what Liz said when they were outside, walking toward Molly’s car after Liz had skillfully changed the subject from Alex, telling Maggie and Jessie she had to get back to work.

“Promise me you’ll talk to him, Molly.”

Molly let out a long breath and tilted her head back to look at the sky, blinking back tears.

“Molly, look at me.”

She looked at Liz. The tears were threatening to spill over.

“Talk to him,” Liz urged. “Don’t take Jessie’s word for it. You know what kind of person she is. You know she’s a liar and she’s, well, I hate to say it, but she’s a . . . ahem . . .very loose woman.”

Jessie’s “loose” reputation is what worried Molly the most, considering Alex had once had a somewhat similar reputation when Jason had first brought him to the farm.

She rubbed a finger across a tear that had escaped from the corner of her eye. “That’s the nice way to say it, I guess.”

“Molly.” Liz placed a hand on Molly’s shoulders. “Promise me. Talk to Alex.”

Molly nodded slowly, taking a deep breath. She closed her eyes and willed the tears away. “I will. Later. For now, let’s go grab some ice cream before I drive you back to jail. I mean, your parents.”

Liz looped her arm through Molly’s. “Actually, you’re going to drop me off at the store. Linda wants to talk to me about what shifts I can work. I’ll walk back to my parents.”

“Liz —”

“Molly, I’ll be fine. Really. I’ve got to get back on my feet sometime and you can’t babysit me forever, okay? I want you to go back to the farm and talk to Alex. Straighten this out before it gets out of hand.”

Molly nodded, but as she walked back to her car, the idea of ice cream abandoned, her stomach ached and emotion clutched at her throat. Alex had told her only a week ago that he loved her and wanted to take things slow. Was he lying? Was she another notch in his bedpost like her grandmother had said? Or was there another reason he had said he wanted to take things slow? Maybe she wasn’t as attractive to him as Jessie Landry was to him.

Then there was that whole thing outside of the diner. Maybe kissing her had been a bet he’d wanted to win. She remembered the kiss on the overlook and shook her head. That kiss had been too amazing to be faked. And the way he’d looked at her? The words he said? She’d gotten to known Alex really well in five years and she knew when was lying. There was no way he had been lying.

“Molly, this is stupid,” she said out loud, pounding the steering wheel. “Jessie Landry is a liar. You know that.” She rubbed her fingers across her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “You are not in the middle of a romance novel where the man finally tells the woman he loves her and then the woman finds out a secret and they break up. This is real life. I’m sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this.” She sighed and turned the key in the ignition. “Now, stop talking to yourself like a crazy person and go talk to Alex.”

By the time she reached the farm, though, her internal dialogue had swung back and forth between trusting Alex and believing Jessie so many times she couldn’t even think straight.

She pushed the truck into park and turned the engine off, staring at the open barn door, chewing on her lower lip, her stomach still aching. She was grateful she had work to do in the barn for the rest of the day and could use it as an excuse to not talk to Alex. She knew she couldn’t avoid him forever, but she needed to for now because she didn’t want to confront him with her emotions as raw as they were at this moment.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 27

I was going to make this a break week, but I decided I’d share this chapter, even though I have a lot of reworking I want to do with it in the end. To catch up on the rest of the story click HERE.

My novella Quarantined will be on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited Oct. 20.





Alex felt the tension in the barn the entire morning. Robert moved around him, completing chores, without actually looking at him other than a curt nod when he had first walked in. Jason, thankfully, didn’t seem to notice Robert’s cold demeanor toward him.

Alex tried to ignore the tension but as the morning went on, frustration swelled inside him until he couldn’t hold it in any longer.

When Jason left to cut more corn stalks down Alex took a deep breath, tossed the dirty rag on top of a bucket, and walked to where Robert was inspecting a hoof of one of the cows. Standing above him, he propped his hands on his hips and cleared his throat.

“Robert, I think we need to talk.”

Robert didn’t look up from the cow. “Ah. So it’s Robert today is it?”

Alex closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. “Sir, with all due respect Molly is a grown woman. She’s nearly 27 and she can make up her own mind about who she wants to be involved with romantically.”

Robert stood and reached for the tube of ointment on the shelf behind him, still not looking at Alex. He kneeled down again by the cow. “How long has this been going on, Alex? I mean, you’ve been here five years …”

“No, sir. Not the whole time. We’ve just been getting closer in the last few months. I mean, my feelings for her started to change three years ago but I tried to ignore them. I was able to, for the most part and we became friends.”

Robert cleaned out the cow’s foot and applied the ointment, not responding.

Alex stood and watched him, his hands still on his hips. “Okay. Well, I guess I said all I needed to. So —”

“She’s been hurt before.”

Alex scoffed. “Yeah, by an immature boy.”

Robert stood and looked at Alex pointedly. “There are such things as immature men too, Alex.”

Alex felt heat in his face and looked away, focusing on the cows in the pasture.

“I don’t feel that’s me anymore, sir. You’ve been around me five years. You’ve seen me grow and, I hope, improve as a man. I don’t intend to hurt Molly.”

Robert nodded. “Yeah. Well, no one intends to hurt a woman.”

“I won’t hurt, Molly, Robert.”

“We always hurt people we love, without meaning to.”

“I won’t hurt her like Ben did.”

Robert replaced the ointment on the shelf and turned toward Alex, folding his arms across his chest.

“Just make sure you don’t.” He rubbed his chin for a few moments, looking at Alex. “I think a lot of you, Alex. You know that. You’re like a member of the family. But Molly? she’s my baby girl.”

The roar of the tractor passing by interrupted the conversation for a few moments and Alex slid his hands in the front pockets of his jeans.

“I understand,” he said as the tractor continued toward the lower field. “I want to protect Molly too, sir. I truly do.”

Robert unfolded his arms and turned to pick up a bucket of feed for the chickens. He walked toward the doorway, stopped, and looked back over his shoulder. “Does Jason know?”

“No sir, not yet. I mean Molly barely knows at this point how I feel about her. We just wanted to be sure we knew where this was going before we said anything.

Robert laughed and shook his head. “And where is it going?”

The color on Alex’s face could only be described as pure crimson. He cleared his throat and looked at the ground. “It’s . . . uh . . . yeah, it’s going well. That’s all I know at this point.”

A tilted smile crossed Robert’s mouth. “Telling Jason should be fun for you.

Alex shrugged. “I’m not worried. He’ll be fine.”

Robert picked up the buckets again and continued toward the door. “That’s his baby sister you were kissing. I’m not sure “fine” is how he will be.”

Alex’s smile faded into a worried expression as he turned back toward a stall and reached for a pitchfork. He’d have to tell Jason about him and Molly at some point.

He rubbed his hand along his jaw and chin, thought about how much he liked not having a shattered jaw, and decided he’d think more about how he’d break it to his best friend he was in a relationship with his little sister.

***

Annie heard the screen door slam shut from the front of the house. She twisted slightly from the counter where she was peeling potatoes for lunch.

Her husband shuffled into the kitchen and sat in a chair with a heavy sigh.

Leaning forward he leaned his arms on his knees and rubbed his hands across his face. He’d been working hard, and she was worried about him. She knew if he asked him if she was okay, he’d say he was fine, but she could tell he wasn’t fine. Not at all. He was exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed.

“We need to talk,” he said after a few moments.

She turned and pressed her palms against the edge of the counter, leaning back against it. “About?”

He leaned against his hand, his mouth set tight. “About Alex Stone and our daughter.”

Annie nodded, a slight smile tugging at her mouth. “Oh. That.”

Robert’s head jerked up and he looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Excuse me? ‘Oh. That.’? You sound like you already know about this.”

“I sound like I knew about it because I did,” Annie said with a brief shrug.

“What do you mean you knew?”

“Your mom asked me two weeks ago if you knew yet. She’d seen them kissing in the field out back and was concerned but she asked me not to say anything to Molly. She figured Molly would talk to us eventually.”

Robert stood and rubbed his hand across his forehead, pacing from one side of the kitchen to the other.

“In the field? Out back?” He shook his head, hands on his hips as he paced. “Is there anywhere they won’t make out?”

Annie laughed. “Robert, stop pacing. You’ll raise your blood pressure.” She turned around and started filling the pot of potatoes with water. “I don’t know that it was a make out session per say. It was just a kiss that I know of. Anyhow, I told Franny you didn’t know yet, but that I would keep an eye on things.”

Robert stopped pacing and looked at his wife. “So, you’ve been keeping an eye on things but didn’t think you should fill me in on it?”

“I didn’t want to get you too worked up unless there was something to get worked up about.”

“You don’t think there is something to get worked up about?”

Annie shrugged sitting the pot on the back burner on the stove. “I hope there isn’t. I mean, we’ve raised Molly well and I think she’s responsible enough not to do anything too crazy.”

Robert scoffed. “Oh yeah? Well, I caught them making out in our barn last night. In the middle of the night. I think that’s a bit crazy, don’t you?”

Annie frowned, eyebrows furrowed. “Were they clothed?”

Robert’s mouth dropped open as he stared at his wife. “Were they clothed? Yes, they were clothed, but what difference does it make? Plenty of things can be done with clothes on.”

Annie smirked and trailed her hand up her husband’s arm. “We know that firsthand, don’t we, Robert Tanner?”

Red spread across Robert’s cheeks and ears. “Annie, don’t change the subject here. What are we going to do about this?”

Annie smiled as she stepped closer to him, pushing her fingers through his hair. “I think the subject is a pleasant one to change to really.” She kissed his forehead. “But as for Alex and Molly, we’re not going to do anything for now. Molly is a grown woman. I’m glad to talk to her about being careful, about making sure she knows what she’s doing. I’ll even talk to her about how we raised her to delay a sexual relationship until she’s married, but I’m not going to tell her she can’t see Alex, if that’s what you’re saying.”

Robert sighed. “I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t even know what I think about all this or how I feel. Alex is like one of the family, but . . .”

Annie looped her arms around Robert’s neck. “But you’re worried because we know he’s had some drinking issues and may have dated a few women who had ‘questionable’ backgrounds for lack of a better term.”

Robert nodded. “Yes, Annie. I am worried. I mean he says he loves her, and she says she loves him, but emotions are such confusing things and maybe he only loves the idea of her or maybe he’s using her to —”

“People can change, Robert. We’ve watched Alex change a lot in the last five years. He told you he loves our daughter?”

Robert rubbed a hand across his eyes and held it there for a few moments. “Yes. He said he’s fallen in love with her.”

He looked at his wife — whose head was tipped and whose face held that expression women get when watching a scene in a movie where the hero professes his love for the heroine — and groaned.

“Don’t look like that. Not about our little girl.”

Annie laughed softly, holding her arms out in a gesture indicating innocence. “What do you mean?”

Robert grimaced. “You’re acting like it’s all sweet and romantic.”

The way his wife tipped her head back and laughed sent his eyes rolling to the ceiling.

“But it is romantic,” she insisted sliding her arms around his neck again as he sat on the edge of the kitchen table. She pressed her forehead against his. “How about we take this issue to the only one who can protect our little girl. Okay?”

He sighed and nodded.

 “Pray, Robert,” she whispered.

Robert’s arms slid around his wife’s waist and he closed his eyes to focus on the desires of his heart for his daughter and even for Alex. His muscles relaxed as he began to pray out loud for the protection of Molly, of her heart, of her sweet, gentle spirit, and of her physical body.

“Amen,” Annie said when he was done.

She looked down at him and he realized the anxiety he’d been feeling had left him. His wife’s dark green eyes captivated him, making him forget, at least briefly, about his worry for Molly.

Annie leaned close until her mouth was close to his ear. “The kids aren’t here right now,” she whispered.

“No, they’re not.”

“You came in for a lunch break, right?”

An amused grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Yes.”

Her lips grazed his earlobe as she spoke and desire sizzled through him. “Is it only food that you’re hungry for?”

He pushed her hair off her neck and pressed his mouth against her bare skin. “You know it’s not.”

He grabbed her mouth with his, his hands slipping to her waist as he gently pulled her against him.

When Annie pulled her mouth from his several moments later, he was breathing hard. She stepped back from him, slid her hand down to take his, and walked toward the stairs, tugging gently to indicate she wanted him to follow her. “Come on, Robert Charles. Let me help you get your mind off some things this afternoon.”

He followed his wife willingly, smiling broadly, feeling less like an almost 50-year old man and more like a newly married 19-year old, his concern for Molly at least temporarily forgotten.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 26

I’ve been finishing up editing and final drafts of Quarantined this week, so I wasn’t sure if I’d share a chapter this week, but I guess this chapter is fairly finished enough to share. It will probably go through three more drafts before I’m completely finished with it. I’m looking for Advanced Readers for Quarantined who would be willing to read it and add a review for it on Amazon when it is released, so please let me know if you are interested.

To catch up with the rest of the story of The Farmer’s Daughter click HERE or the link at the top of the page.


The inside of the barn next to the birthing stall was warm, a shelter against the chilly night air, the sweet smell of hay filling Molly’s nostrils. She leaned against the top rail of the gate around the stall and smiled at the newborn calf walking on unsteady legs in the hay around her mother.

She reached through the gate and gently rubbed the head of the light brown Jersey cow named Dandelion. “Good job, Mama. Good job.”

Watching the calf be born had been what she needed to take her mind off her worries, at least for a little while. She’d been lucky enough to walk in the barn just as the calf’s hooves were starting to appear. While she’d wondered at first if she might have to help Dandelion deliver her first calf, in the end the mother cow had done it all on her own and Molly had only had to wipe the afterbirth from the calf’s nose.

It hadn’t been her first time seeing a calf being born but it had been one of the first times she’d paused and really watched the calf try to walk and interact with her mother. Propping her chin on her hand she realized that the last half hour, watching the calf being born, then the new mother and her baby, had been the only time in the last week her mind hadn’t been racing.

She had definitely been thinking about Alex during the last week, but she’d also been worried about Liz, the farm, her grandmother, and her own future. Once the calf was born, she did what she should have done all along. She’d closed her eyes and asked for God’s help.

“I’m leaving this all in your hands, Lord,” she’d whispered.

She knew she would steal her worries back again at another time, though. Like always, shed have to pray the prayer a few more times before she finally let it all go.

The sound of footsteps drew her eyes from the new family to the doorway, and she was surprised to see Alex walking toward her. He’d left hours ago, looking exhausted after a long day of work. Wearing a thick brown corduroy coat with a white wool collar and his brown cowboy hat, Molly thought he looked like he should be on the front of a romance novel.

He and Jason had been busy cutting down corn all week and she’d been busy with Hannah updating the farm stores inventory. Seeing him now, looking amazing, his eyes bright as they watched her, caught her emotions off guard and made her realize how much she’d missed him, or rather, how much she’d missed being held by him.   

He hadn’t shaved in a few days and though she’d once found that unappealing in a man, it somehow made him even more attractive.

He stepped next to her, sliding his hands in his front jean pockets.

“Hey, gorgeous,” he said with a grin. “What a nice surprise.”

She smiled and lightly touched the wool along the collar of his coat.

“You look cozy. What are you doing out here?”

He tipped his head and smiled sheepishly. “Well, I started wondering about Laurel too – if she’d had the calf yet.” He shrugged. “I’ve only been here a couple of times when it happened, and I guess I wanted to see it again. Were you here when it was born?”

Molly nodded and then smiled. “It was pretty cool. Watching a new life come into the world always is.”

Alex leaned on the fence and looked in at the calf as it walked on unsteady legs and looked for its mom’s udder.

The cow leaned down and started licking the calf, cleaning it with her long pink tongue.

“Heifer or a bull?”

“Heifer,” Molly answered.

“Ah, good, then this one gets to stay.”

 After a few moments Alex turned from the fence post and sat on the barn floor next to the support beam, leaning back against it. He patted the floor next to him. “Come. Sit with me. I’ve barely seen you all week.”

She accepted the offer, exhausted from a long day and tossing and turning part of the  night. He slid an arm around her, and she welcomed the warmth his body gave off as she leaned against him. She’d only worn a thin sweater when she’d left the house, not realizing how cold it was outside.

“I can’t believe how cold it is,” she said with a yawn.  “It’s only the beginning of September.”

He nuzzled her cheek. “I don’t mind. It means I have an excuse to cuddle you more.”

She smiled and looked up at him. “I’ve missed you this week.”

“I’ve missed you too.”

He slid his hand in hers and intertwined his fingers with hers. “How’s it going at the store?”

“Good.” She laid her other hand over his. “We’re expanding some of our products, offering some handmade furniture for sale, working with local artists to draw people into the store and also bring the artists some business. I think it’s really going to give the store the shot in the arm it needs. Aunt Hannah is talking to Dad and Uncle Walt about adding a small café with homemade baked goods and sandwiches and soups.”

He smiled. “And coffee?”

“Of course, we will offer coffee. If we decide to move forward with it. Right now we aren’t sure how we’ll pay for it and we know a loan isn’t an option since we still have the first one to pay off.”

He pulled her close again and kissed the top of her head.

“It will get paid off. There has to be a way.” Silence settled over them for a few moments and Molly yawned.

He looked over at her again. “So, hey, I’ve been wanting to ask you, what’s going on with Liz?”

She tilted her head to look over at him. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I saw you two leaving the hospital last week when I was leaving the gym and I just wondered if Liz was okay. Or . . .” He looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “You’re okay, right?”

She shifted so he could see her amused grin. “First, yes, I’m okay, but second, you were at the gym?”

He laughed softly and she enjoyed watching pink spread across his cheeks.  “Yeah. Just thought I should try to get in shape a little more. Plus, it helps me get my mind off things. But, don’t change the subject. What’s up with Liz?”

You really don’t have to get in shape, You’re already in fine shape, she thought remembering how she’d noticed his toned bare arms earlier in the week when he’d been driving the tractor across the field to cut down the corn. She decided she wouldn’t bring that up at the moment. She was having too much fun watching him squirm.

“What do you have to get your mind off of?”

He shook his head, then smirked. “Next subject.”

“But —”

“Tell me about Liz first.”

Molly sighed, tipping her head back against the column.

 “This going to bring the mood down a bit. You sure you want to know?”

A look of concern furrowed Alex’s brow. “Is she sick?”

Molly shook her head. “Not exactly. No.” She grimaced softly. “She tried to kill herself.”

Alex’s eyebrows shot up. “She what? How?”

“She took a bunch of pills, but she panicked and called an ambulance.”

“Why would she do something like that?”

Molly bit her lower lip then released it. “She’s pregnant. With Gabe’s baby.”

Alex’s expression definitely showed his shock. “Gabe? That moron who cheated on her and —”

“Yes, but you can’t tell anyone,” Molly said quickly. “Especially, Matt. Liz told me it was okay to share with my family, and you, but she really doesn’t want other people to know. Especially Matt. She’s completely embarrassed and ashamed.”

Alex blew out a soft whistle. “Wow. That’s heavy. She’s keeping the baby, right?”

Molly nodded. “I don’t think she wanted to at first, but I said I’d help her. We’re talking about getting an apartment.”

Alex shook his head. “That’s crazy. Why didn’t you tell me about this before?”

“Liz promised me I wouldn’t tell anyone. It was so hard not having anyone to talk to about it, though. I was terrified, shocked, so afraid I might say the wrong thing to her. I really could have used some advice about how to handle it all.”

Alex lifted her hand and kissed the top of it. “You’d never say the wrong thing. You’re her best friend.” His expression was serious again . “How are you handling it all?”

Molly shrugged, lifting her head again. “I’m definitely worried about Liz. It totally freaks me out that I could have lost her, first, but second, I — well, let me clarify first. I don’t want to be in the situation Liz is in. I definitely am not ready for a baby and I definitely don’t want to be starting parenthood as a single mom, but,” Molly bit her lower lip and rolled her eyes up to the top of the barn. “it sounds so weird, but I feel like life is passing me by. Neither Ben nor Liz have started families the way I would, but they’re living life, real lives. They’re experiencing life and I’m just . . . floating along.”

Alex smiled and pushed her hair back from her face. “But now you’re floating along with me. That’s different, right?

“Yes.” She turned her body toward him more. “Yes it is. And it complicates things because sometimes I want to experience life with you in other ways.”

Oh my gosh. He’s going to think you’re talking about marriage. Molly, stop talking before he runs away screaming.

“At the same time, I don’t want to have the same regrets Liz has about the ways. . .” He was watching her with an ambiguous expression. Where was she even going with this? She needed to stop talking. Now. Or five minutes ago really. “. . . um. . . the ways she has experienced life.”

She bit her lower lip and closed her eyes. “Oh, my word. I’m so sorry. I’m not making sense.”

Alex laughed softly, turning his body more toward hers. “Actually, you are making sense. To prove that point, let me tell you about why I’ve been going to the gym.”

She opened her eyes slowly and his smile had faded. He sighed and tipped his head back. After a few moments he tipped his head back up and looked at her, deciding to be open with her.

“I work out to take my mind off you.”

Molly tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. “You don’t want to think about me?

“I do but I think about you too much and when I think about you, I think about how much I want to be with you.”

She smiled, rubbing the top of his hand. “You are with me. Every day in the barn.”

“No, I mean…be with you. In other ways. In . . . um . . . ah.” He laughed and looked out through the open barn door, rubbing his chin. “In other more intimate ways.” He looked at her, tipping his head like he was looking down his nose over a pair of glasses.  “Shall we say?”  

Heart pounding fast in her chest, she drew her breath in sharply and held it. She was catching his drift now.

“Oh.”

She’d never imagined anyone wanting to be with her in that way. The fact he’d said it and was now looking at her with such an intense expression made her feel slightly lightheaded.

“You seem surprised. Are you surprised that I think of you that way or that I’m fighting not to think of you that way?”

“Uh. . .both?”

His smile returned as he laid his other hand over hers. “I definitely think of you that way, but . . .” He pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “I don’t want to rush things with you Molly.”

She nodded slowly, her eyes locked on his. “I understand.”

“I hope you do because I think that’s what you were trying to say about how Liz and Ben started their families. They rushed things. They took some steps out of order and you want to experience life, but you don’t want to experience it in the wrong order. Am I right?”

Molly nodded again as he reached up and cupped his hand along her jawline. “You’re different than any other woman I’ve ever met, Molly. You’re special. I’ve been really immature in the past when it comes to women and broke some hearts, including my own. I’d never forgive myself if I broke yours. You’re too important to me. I want to take things slow with you. Do this right.”

He laughed softly as she watched him, her dark green eyes wide and her gaze unwavering. He wished he knew what she was thinking. She look terrified and suddenly what was funny for one moment wasn’t in the next.  His smile faded. Maybe he’d made a mistake telling her how he felt.

What if he messed up everything with her? Including their friendship. What if he failed at taking things slow? Because right now, with her so close to him, her body warm, her lips amazingly kissable, her skin so soft against his hand, taking things slow didn’t seem very appealing.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have kissed you that day on the overlook.” The words came out of him before he even fully thought them through.

Hurt and confusion immediately registered in her eyes. “I’m sorry?”

He knew he needed to clear up the confusion he’d caused as quick as possible. “I wanted to kiss you. I’d wanted to for a long time. That’s not it.

She tipped her head slightly to one side. “Then what do you mean?”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have stirred up those feelings in you.” He looked away again, down at his fingers intertwined with hers. “I’m not good enough for you, okay? I’m sort of messed up. I don’t want to mess you up too.

When he looked up at her again a few seconds later, the hurt had faded, and softness replaced confusion as she reached up and laid her palm against his cheek. “How are you messed up?

Alex shook his head, looking away again. “I just am.”

“Look at me, Alex.”

He didn’t want to look at her. He couldn’t bear for her to see the vulnerability in his eyes. He was already feeling like a sappy fool. He moved his gaze to hers, though, curious about what she wanted to tell him.

“I’ve worked with you for five years,” she said softly. “I’ve gotten to know you pretty well. I feel like you and I have shared some pretty intense moments and also some really stupid ones. Besides Liz, I think of you as one of my closest friends. Yes, sometimes you drink too much, you flirt too much, and sometimes you seem a little closed off, but I still don’t see how you’re messed up.”

Alex raised his eyebrows. “You, uh… you know about the drinking?

“Yes, and the women. My grandma calls them ‘those blond floozies.’”

Alex laughed softly, shaking his head. “Then why are you even sitting here? You know I’m a mess. Apparently, Franny also knows I’m a mess and I’m going to try not to think about how she knows about my dating history.”

Molly moved closer, her hand still on his face.

Why did she have to move closer? He was having a hard enough time focusing on taking things slow as it was. His gaze dropped to her mouth briefly, then moved back to her eyes.

Focus, Alex. Focus.

“Yes, but you’re a beautiful mess,” she whispered. “and I don’t think those things you do are who you really are. I think you do those things to forget you’ve been hurt and pretend you never have been.”

Alex swallowed hard, staring at this beautiful woman he’d fallen for. It was as if she could see straight through him and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Tears stung his eyes for the first time in years and he turned his head quickly, taking her hand in his and sliding it away from his face, holding it against his chest instead.

For God sake he was not going to cry in front of Molly.

He swallowed hard, trying to hide the emotion in his voice. He couldn’t hide his feelings from her, though, and he knew it. He looked at her, captivated by the way she watched him, the tenderness in her eyes and voice when she spoke.

“You didn’t wake anything in me, Alex Stone. It was already there. I was just too afraid to believe you could ever feel the same.”

She leaned over and touched her lips to his briefly, then moved her head back slightly and smiled. He pushed her hair back from her face, cupping his hand against her cheek, caressing it. He wanted her to kiss him again and hoped he could control his emotions when she did, sticking to what he’d told her about taking things slow.

She moved her head closer again and his resolve to take things slow began to crumble. Her mouth against his felt amazingly right as he pulled her closer.

Caught up in the moment his hands slid down her back, across her side and along her hip, inching toward her thigh. Molly reached down and lifted his hand from her thigh and pressed it against her waist.

“If we are going to move slow, you’re going to have to be careful with those hands,” she whispered with a grin.

He laughed as he leaned in to kiss her again. “Yes, ma’am.”

Losing track of their surroundings as the kiss deepened neither of them heard the creaking of the barn door opening. It was the sound of someone clearing their throat loudly that startled them both. Alex pulled away quickly from Molly, turning his head toward the open barn door. Robert stood with his hands on his hips, his face flushed red.

Alex jumped to his feet and yanked his hat off, holding it to his chest, but wasn’t sure why. He wasn’t in church and the national anthem wasn’t being played but somehow Alex felt like he needed to show respect to the man who had been more like a father to him than his own.

 Of course, kissing the man’s daughter in a dark barn in the middle of the night probably wasn’t the best way to show that respect.

“Umm. . . .Hey, Mr. Tan—”

Robert looked at Alex with raised eyebrows.

“Hey, Mr. Tanner? Hey, Mr. Tanner?” Robert’s tone definitely revealed a level of anger Alex hadn’t yet seen in the man in the five years he’d known him. “You just had your hands all over my daughter and now it’s ‘Hey, Mr. Tanner?’”

Alex held his hat in front of him, rolling the rim tight against his palm.

“Uh…. Yes?”

Robert thought the vessels in his neck might burst. Molly brushed hay from her jeans as she stood. Her cheeks flushed warm under her father’s fiery gaze and her legs wobbled like wet dishrags.

“What the – how long has this – when did you even – “

Robert slapped his hand against his thigh. He was so shocked and angry he couldn’t even talk.

“Mr. Tan-”

“How far has this gone?!” Robert suddenly bellowed. “I mean what have you been doing with my daughter and for how long, Alex?”

“Oh, sir, I haven’t – I mean we haven’t – I mean it’s only been —”

Alex couldn’t believe he was having this conversation with the father of the woman he’d just been kissing. He struggled for words, feeling more like a teenager than a 30-year old man.

Robert’s gaze only seemed to intensify. “It’s only been what, Alex?”

Alex looked at the barn floor, rubbing his hand across his chin.

Robert didn’t like the small smile playing across his mouth.

“It’s just been hugging and . . . um . . .” He shrugged. “Some kissing.”

Robert’s heart pounded fast and hard in his chest. He briefly imagined himself having a heart attack right here in his own barn with his daughter and hired hand watching him. Would they call an ambulance, or simply leave him there while they continued their make out session?

“And?” Robert urged Alex to elaborate while also not wanting him to elaborate.

Alex looked up and the mischievous smile was gone.

“There is no ‘and’, sir,” he said firmly. “It’s just been kissing. I swear to you. I never took advantage of Molly that way, sir.”

Robert looked at Molly, whose head was tipped down toward the barn floor, red spreading across her cheeks.

“Molly?”

She looked at him and he saw a mix of fear and sadness in her eyes.

“It’s only been kissing ,” she said softly, her eyes rimmed with tears.

Robert tossed the gloves he had been holding at the barn wall, not sure if he believed them and not sure if his daughter was crying because she’d been caught, because she was lying, or because she wished there had been more than kissing.

Good, Lord, he couldn’t even believe he was thinking such a thing about his baby girl. Hadn’t he just been teaching her how to ride her bike yesterday? But she was almost 27 — next week in fact. She wasn’t a baby anymore. He had to accept that she was a — he could barely think the words, let alone say them —  a grown woman.

He wanted to curse, but hadn’t cursed since he’d started going to church more regularly ten years ago.

“Mr. Tanner, I —”

“Stop, calling me Mr. Tanner, Alex.” Robert’s jaw tightened as he spoke, his words clipped. “Call me Robert already. You’ve always called me Robert before.”

Alex took a deep breath and cleared his throat. “Robert, I know this doesn’t look good, but I promise you we were only kissing, and we were kissing because I kissed Molly and I didn’t kiss Molly just for fun. I kissed – have been kissing Molly —”

“Been kissing Molly?” Robert’s eyebrows shot up again. “And how long have you been kissing my daughter?”

Alex cleared his throat again.

“Off and on for a few weeks,” he said talking quickly, nervously scratching the back of his head. “But that’s not really the point. The point is —”

“Yes? What is the point?” Roberts eyes narrowed.

“The point is I care about Molly very much. I care about her and . . .” Alex looked at Molly, who was looking at the barn floor. “I love Molly.”

Molly raised her eyes and met Alex’s gaze.

“I love Molly,” he said again as their eyes locked, the corners of his mouth tilting upward.

Robert looked between his daughter and his hired hand and shook his head. He didn’t know how he felt about all of this, but he knew he couldn’t leave them alone in the barn with the way they were looking at each other. He felt too young for grandchildren.

“Alex, I think you need to go – uh – cool down a little and get a couple hours of sleep.” He said. “It will be milking time soon soon.”

He turned toward his daughter. “Molly, go to the house and we’ll discuss this more tomorrow, or later this morning as it stands now.”

Alex started toward Molly but caught Robert’s warning expression out of the corner of his eye.

“Go, Alex.”

“Yes, sir.”

Alex winked at Molly and walked into the darkness toward his truck.

She walked around her dad, clutching a flashlight. “Molly?”

She stopped the doorway and looked at her dad. “Do you feel the same way about Alex that he does about you?”

She lowered her eyes and nodded, terrified at how much she did feel the same about Alex.

“Go to bed,” Robert said softly.

He leaned against the stall and let out a heavy sigh. He had a lot more things to think about now than a pregnant cow.

***

Alex snatched his phone from the seat next to him as he drove. His mind was racing as he thought about how he’d just told Molly he loved her, in the most unconventional way – in front of her father while her father glared at him from across the barn.

“You love me?”

The sound of her voice on the other end of the phone sent a rush of energy through him. He had a feeling he wouldn’t be getting any sleep tonight. Pulling his truck into the driveway of his and Jason’s house he laughed softly. “Yes, I love you, Molly Tanner.”

“Were you just saying that to get out of trouble?”

“I don’t think telling your dad I love his little girl after he caught me making out with her in his barn is a way to get out of trouble. I think it actually dug me in further.”

She laughed softly and he could tell she was trying to be quiet. Was her dad standing behind her with his arms folded across his chest, a shot gun hanging on the wall behind him like in one of those old movies? The thought of it made him want to laugh because he knew that wasn’t the Robert he knew. Then again, he’d never been caught kissing Robert’s daughter before.

“I love you, Alex.”

“I love you, Molly. Get some sleep.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to.”

He laughed. “Me either.”

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 25

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

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

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

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


Chapter 25

 I miss you, he texted.

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

Him: Two days without kissing you is too long.

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

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

Her: Maybe.

Him: I’ll meet you after milking.

Her: I can’t wait.

***

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

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

Except that whole being mad at God thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, Grandma.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Does your daddy know about this?”

“No. Not yet.”

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

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

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

“Yes.”

“Polite.”

“Yes.”

“Bit of a drinker, though.”

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

“I’m serious, Molly.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I am.”

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

“Really, Grandma. I am.”

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

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

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

“I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What color was the dress?”

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

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

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

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

Molly and Franny laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three women laughed at the memory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay?”

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

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

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

“We do too, Mom. We do too.”

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

Hannah clutched Franny’s hands in hers.

“Mom. Look at me.”

Franny shook her head and closed her eyes again.

“Mom.”

She looked at Hannah, her eyes red from crying.

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

Franny continued to cry, nodding.

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

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

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

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

“Hello? Franny? You here?”

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

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

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

She took Molly’s hand.

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

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