Fiction Friday: The Next Chapter Chapter 9

As always, this is a story in progress. There might be typos or errors that will be fixed later.

To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE.

Story description:

Liz Cranmer is a single mother struggling to figure out life after past mistakes. She can’t change the past but she can change her future and she’s determined to do so, first by going back to college and maybe later proving to her parents and the people in her small town she isn’t the train wreck they all think she is.

Ginny Jefferies, is Spencer Valley’s 53-year old librarian, retired teacher and she’s stuck in a rut. Her husband is too busy for her and the lives of her children are taking unexpected turns.

When Liz, the sister of Ginny’s daughter-in-law comes to the library looking for ideas to help her new motherhood journey, the two form a bond they hope will lead them both to a better, more fulfilling future.

Chapter 9

It was too late. Liz’s knees gave away and Matt’s arms tightened around her, catching her before she slid to the floor. Black spots were encroaching on the edges of her vision. She took a deep breath to try to chase them away.
“Hey.” His brow furrowed as he tipped back his head to look at her face. “What’s going on?”
“Just get me out of here,” she hissed. “Don’t let me ruin their reception.”
“What’s going on?”
“I’m weak. Like that day after I brought Bella home. Just get me out of here.”
“Can you walk?”
She let out a shaky breath, nodding slowly.
When he slid his arm around her waist and turned her away from the dance floor, though, she wasn’t as confident. Hypochondria-ridden thoughts roared through her mind, thoughts she had been able to push aside for most of the pregnancy and in the last few weeks. Something was wrong. What was going on with her body? Did she have a fatal disease?
Sweat beaded across her forehead as they walked slowly toward the back of the house.
Please, please don’t let Molly be watching me.
No one followed, though, and when they turned the corner, Matt scooped her into his arms, much to her annoyance and carried her to the front porch, cradling her like she was the baby.
“No.” She shook her head. “Take me to my car.”
“I’m not taking you to your car. You’re not driving anywhere.”
“I won’t until I’m feeling better. I just don’t want anyone to see me this way.”
“Okay.” He huffed out an aggravated sigh. “Fine.”
They changed directions, crossing the small driveway toward her car. He let her stand next to the car but kept an arm around her as he opened the passenger side of the door.
“Sit,” he ordered and when she did, her legs facing him, he squatted in front of her and looked up into her face. “What’s going on, Liz? This is the second time in the last three months I’ve had to keep you from hitting the floor.”
Liz sighed and raked her hand back through her hair. “I’m supposed to be drinking more water when I’m nursing.” She shrugged a shoulder. “I just didn’t drink like I should have today.”
Gosh she hoped that was all it was.
“Why?”
Because I kept thinking about everyone in town thinking you are the father of my baby instead of remembering to drink water.
“I don’t know. I just forget sometimes.”
Matt huffed out a breath and stood. “Stay here. I’ll be right back with a bottle of water.”
Where else was she going to go? She wanted to put the key in the ignition and take off, but her head still felt like it was full of helium and her arms fell limp next to her as if someone had sucked the muscles out of them.
When Matt returned, he opened the bottle and handed it to her. “Drink. Slowly.”
She sipped the water while he cracked open a sports drink bottle.
“Where did you find that?”
“Jase’s fridge. He has them to drink after his workouts. You’re drinking this next.”
She sipped more of the water, resigned to the fact she couldn’t leave until she’d consumed the liquids Matt had brought her. Matt set the sports drink on the roof the car, then turned leaning back against the back door with his arms across his chest, resembling a centurion she’d seen on the front of a fiction novel one time. He was definitely guarding her, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She wasn’t a fan of people telling her what to do. In this case she had no choice.
Five minutes passed before he spoke. “You getting anymore rest these days?”
“Yeah. Some. Bella is sleeping through the night more.”
He chuckled. “Going with the nickname Bella instead of Izzy, huh?”
Liz made a face. “Yeah. Izzie is too close to Lizzie.”
“Lizzie Borden took an —”
“McGee! Knock it off!”
Matt chuckled, looking out toward the setting sun. “Heard that enough, huh?”
She scowled at the setting sun. “You know I have.”
The music from the reception drifted toward them, mixing with the sounds of birds chirping and a cow mooing up the road at the Tanners main barn. A breeze rustled the leaves of the maple trees lining one side of the driveway. Brighter colors were already starting to spread across the green, dull yellows, and oranges. Liz wondered if they would have a nice foliage this year or if the leaves would simply shrivel and die like the year before.
“I like Bella,” Matt said after a few minutes. “Sounds like a princess name. It fits her. She’s already beautiful enough to be a princess.”
He handed the sports drink to her without looking at her. “Drink.”
She obeyed and sipped the lemon-flavored liquid, calculating in her head if she could make it back to town without needing a bathroom with all these fluids in her.
The tenderness in his voice when he spoke about Isabella touched her somewhere deep in her chest, but she didn’t want to think about that right now. She just wanted to feel better, head home, and relieve Ginny so the woman could go home and spend some time with her husband. She also wanted to get out of the driveway before Molly or anyone else saw her in this ridiculously vulnerable state.
“Feeling any better?”
She nodded slowly. She wasn’t lying either. The sports drink was doing its job.
“Sit a little longer.”
She scowled at the man who obviously thought he held authority even out of uniform.
Sitting there begrudgingly she realized she’d left her purse at her table under the tent.
“I don’t have my keys,” she mumbled.
“Where are they?”
“In my purse.”
Matt stepped away from the car. “Stay here. I’ll get it.”
Aggravation bubbled up in her. Even more, than being in a weakened state, she hated being waited on or fawned over. She was feeling better. She could get her own purse.
He came back holding a small black purse like a football. He thrust it at her like he was making a pass. “Molly asked where you were.”
She shot a glare at him.
“Don’t worry. I didn’t rat you out. I told her you were getting some fresh air.”
She took the purse. “Thank you.”
She’d already made her way to the driver side door and was preparing to slide behind the steering wheel when he held out his hand. “No way. Give me your keys.”
Her jaw tightened, but she tried to keep her voice calm. “You are not taking me home, McGee. I feel fine now. Really. I can drive myself.”
Matt reached over her and plucked the keys from her hand. “Nope.” He folded his hand around the keys. “I can’t allow that. It’s in violation of code 38, section 75. Driving while impaired.”
Her eyes widened. “Impaired?! I am not impaired! Doesn’t that mean under the influence of alcohol? There isn’t even any alcohol here.”
“That’s the main purpose of the code, yes, but that’s not the only thing that can impair a person.”
Oh, wonderful. He’s gone into police officer mode again. She started to open her mouth to respond, but he talked over her.
“You are impaired because you are suffering from dehydration. I can’t possibly, in good conscience, let you drive yourself home.”
Liz’s eyes narrowed. She tried her best to steady her voice. “I am no longer dehydrated. I am fine. Give me my keys.”
“Slide over, Liz.” It was obvious his stubbornness was as strong as hers. “The only way you are getting home today is if you let me drive you.”
She slid over with a small huffed of breath and folded her arms tight across her chest, sliding in the seat like a teenager. Matt laughed as he slid behind the steering wheel.
Liquid sloshed in her stomach. “How are you even going to get home?”
“Alex and Molly are coming over to watch a movie later, remember? Alex will bring me back for my truck.”
“You just have an answer for everything, don’t you?”
“I do when you’re trying to get out of letting me help you.”
Liz rolled her eyes. She wished some of the ladies at her parents’ church could see Matt now — harassing a poor single mother. She sat back in the passenger seat and slid her shoes off, pulling her legs up next to her so she could rub her soles. Matt slid the seat back to accommodate his long legs and adjusted the steering wheel and rearview mirror. He wriggled in the seat and scrunched up his nose.
“This is weird.” He leaned back against the seat and stretched his arms out and made a face again.
“What is?”
“Being this close to the ground. How do you ride around like this? It’s awful.”
“I’m not exactly tall, McGee. Climbing up in a big pick-up really doesn’t appeal to me.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “You should want to be in a truck that much more. Then you can feel tall for once.”
“Ha. Ha. You’re so funny.” She gestured toward the front of the car. “If you’re going to drive me home then let’s just go already.”
She yawned and stretched her arms over her head as he pulled onto the dirt road in front of Jason’s. “You know my mother thinks I was sleeping with you and dating Gabe at the same time thanks to that birth announcement.”
Matt snorted a laugh. “She does not.” He glanced at Liz. She wasn’t laughing. “She really thinks you would do that? Or that I would?”
Liz shrugged. “Par for the course in my life. She always seems to think the worst of me. The fact she’s thinking the worst of you is definitely different. She’s always looked at you like you have a glowing halo above your head. ” She pushed her lower lip out and gave him a mock expression of pity. “Sorry, McGee. You’ve clearly fallen from the pedestal she had you on.”
He shifted one hand over the other, as he turned off the dirt road onto a paved one, his brow furrowed. “I don’t think she really thinks that. About you or me. You talked to her, right? Told her what happened?”
Well, not exactly.
He didn’t wait for her to answer. “Let me talk to her. I’ll clear it up.”
“I don’t want you to talk to her.” The way Liz snapped startled even herself. “Sorry. It’s just, she made up her mind without even asking me. Let her believe what she wants.”
I’m not a perfect person, but I’m not that bad, she wanted to add but decided not to in case he agreed with her mother about what kind of woman she was.
Matt reached over and squeezed her hand. “Why don’t you close your eyes and rest?”
She looked at his hand on hers for a few seconds before drawing it away. There he went again. Being the charming man everyone said he was.
She slid her sweater on and leaned against the door, reluctantly closing her eyes. Matt was right. She needed to rest. When she got home, she would be on baby duty and need to be alert.
She jerked awake when he pulled into the parking lot behind her apartment 15 minutes later. She blinked her eyes and rubbed them. It hadn’t been much, but hopefully, it would help. A cat nap was better than nothing these days.
Inside they found Isabella snuggled in the bassinet asleep and Ginny laying on the couch, a blanket pulled up over her shoulders and her eyes closed.
Standing in the living room doorway, Liz smiled. “I hate to wake her,” she whispered. “She looks so peaceful.”
Matt grinned, standing behind her, looking over her shoulder. “Bella or Mrs. Jefferies?”
Liz looked up at him, amused. “You can call her Ginny now Matt. She’s not your teacher anymore.”
Matt frowned and cocked an eyebrow. “I can’t do that. That would be weird.”
Their eyes met and she suddenly realized how he close he was standing. So close she could see a small scar under his bottom lip, in the crease of his chin. She was pondering where the scar might have come from when snickering from the couch brought both of their attention to Ginny. She tossed the blanket off her shoulders, laughing fully now.
“My name is Ginny, Matthew. Why would it be weird to call me by my name?”
Matt’s eyes widened. “The way you said Matthew just now gave me flashbacks to that time you made me write the spelling words I’d missed five times each. I’d missed ten that day. My hand ached for a week after that.”
Ginny stood and began folding the blanket. “I don’t even remember that, kid. The fact you do makes me think you might need a bit of therapy.” She looked over her shoulder and winked. “Anyhow, how was the wedding?”
Liz tossed her purse on a chair and flopped onto the couch as Ginny laid the blanket across the back. “Wonderful. Ellie was beautiful. The wedding beautiful. The reception was beautiful . . .”
Matt waved his hands and raised the tone of his voice to mimic Liz. “Oh my. There was just so much …” He placed his hands to his face and gasped. “Beauty.”
Liz playfully tossed a pillow at him. “Shut it, McGee.”
Matt ignored her admonishment and caught the pillow tossing it back at her. He jerked his thumb toward the door. “Hey, I’m going to pop down to Ned’s and grab us some snacks for the movie. Want anything.”
Liz’s feet ached and all the liquids Matt had made her drink were hitting her system now. “Nothing specific. Something crunchy. Just nothing spicy. It upsets Bella’s stomach.”
Matt saluted and headed toward the door as Liz rushed toward the bathroom. When she came out, Ginny was reaching for her purse.
“Thank you so much, Ginny. I really appreciate your help today.”
“No problem, my dear. I absolutely adore that baby of yours. It was a nice break from tearing down the garden for winter.”
Liz pondered the older woman as Ginny pulled a sweater over a light tan tank top. She was always so well put together; her long, dirty blond hair pulled back from her face in a ponytail or bun, her makeup on point, her outfits perfectly matched and always clean. Yet, there was something that seemed out of place somehow. There was a sadness in her eyes each time she left to go home. What was going on at home that made her shoulders droop slightly each time she said goodbye?
“So, are you and Stan going to have some quality time together tonight? Watch a movie maybe?”
Ginny shook her head as she buttoned the sweater, her eyes on the buttons. “No. Not tonight. He’s in Philadelphia for a real estate conference.”
Meetings last week. A conference today. Was this guy ever home?
“Oh. So, you’re going home to an empty house then?”
Ginny smiled. “Yep. A nice quiet night with a good book is in order, I think.”
Liz narrowed her eyes, studied the woman as she finished buttoning the sweater. Did she really want to be home alone with a book? “Sounds a little boring. You sure you don’t want to hang out with us tonight? We’re going to watch a movie and will probably order a pizza at some point. You’re more than welcome to stay.”
“That’s sweet of you, Liz, but this old lady would just cramp your style.” Ginny laughed. “Do they even say that anymore?”
Liz sat on the couch and rubbed the bottom of her foot. “Some people do, yes, but you wouldn’t cramp our style. We don’t have any style.”
Ginny hooked the strap of her purse over her shoulder. “Very funny, young lady. Seriously, though, I’m sure Matt would prefer to have a little alone time with you this evening.”
The liquids were definitely kicking in again and Liz wanted to rush back to the bathroom but needed to set the record straight first. “There’s nothing between me and Matt. We’re just friends.”
She didn’t like the way Ginny’s eyebrows raised as she looked at her. A small smile pulled at one corner of her mouth. “Oh. Does he know that you’re just friends?”
Liz’s eyelids drooped and she huffed out a sigh. “Yes. He does. Why do you ask?”
“It’s just — well, the way he looks at you makes me think maybe there’s a little more going on there.” Ginny cleared her throat, twisting her purse strap around her finger. “At least in his mind.”
Two could play at this game.
“Oh yeah? You mean the way that Keith guy was looking at you the other day?”
Ginny visibly flushed and she tilted her face toward the ground. “Now, Liz, Keith and I knew each other years ago. He was not looking at me the way Matthew McGee looks at you.” She smirked. “This conversation is over, young lady.”
The conversation wasn’t over, but Liz couldn’t argue. Not right now anyhow. Her bladder wouldn’t allow it.
“Ginny, you need to tell me more about Keith.” She stood and held her finger in front of her face. “As soon as I get out of the bathroom. I had a ton of water before I left Jason’s. Don’t go anywhere. I want the full story. There is definitely a history there. I could tell.” She started toward the bathroom. “Wait. I know you. You’re going to slip out on me before you fill me in. I know how you work. Follow me to the bathroom. You can tell me through the door.”
Ginny tipped her head back and laughed. “Liz, go use the bathroom. There’s really nothing more to tell about Keith. I knew him in high school and that’s all.” She turned toward the front door. “You young people have fun tonight.” She looked over her shoulder. “Are you still going to that art class with me Monday?”
“Yes!” Liz shut the bathroom door, shouting the rest of her words through the door. “I’ll meet you there! You still think it’s okay if I bring Bella with me?”
“Absolutely. She’ll probably nap in her seat during the class anyhow. You might as well enjoy it while you can. She’ll be demanding your undivided attention soon.”
When Liz came out of the bathroom, Ginny was gone as she had predicted, and Isabella was waking up. She’d need to be fed. Liz decided she’d better hide in the bedroom so Matt wouldn’t get too much of a shock when he got back from the store.
When Isabella seemed finished, Liz made sure nothing was exposed that shouldn’t be and returned to the living room where Matt had already made himself comfortable in the center of the couch, leaning back casually. Containers of food were unopened on the kitchen counter next to two grocery bags. Liz stifled a laugh. Even the way he sat was polite. He didn’t prop his feet on the coffee table or sprawl back with his legs taking up half the couch like Alex did when he came. He sat with one arm across the back of the couch, but still looking like a Bible study leader waiting for the rest of the attendees to arrive. All he needed was a Bible on his lap and a thoughtful expression as he flipped through the pages.
It wasn’t that Liz minded the idea of him waiting for a Bible study to start, or the way he looked sitting on her couch. It was — she didn’t even know what it was. Maybe it was that she didn’t feel like she could ever measure up to the grandeur of Matt McGee’s reputation.
“Hey.” His face lit up as she walked into the room, Isabella cradled against her shoulder. He tilted his head to get a better look as she sat next to him. “Hello, little girl. Get your fill of dinner?” His eyes were focused on Bella’s, his smile wide and, dare Liz say it, amazingly attractive. Soon Bella’s hand was encircling his index finger, bringing an even more delighted grin to his face.
Liz leaned toward him. “You want to hold her?”
He reached over. “Absolutely.”
His hands cradled Bella and then he laid her gently in his arms where she laid on her back, looking up at him, eyes wide, tiny mouth slightly open. “You’re beautiful, Bella-girl. Do you know that? Yes, you are.”
Liz couldn’t help smiling, watching Matt’s demeanor completely transform from friendly, sometimes goofy police officer to a man completely adoring a newborn. He was entranced, completely oblivious to the world around him. He laughed softly, his eyes still on Bella’s. “Is that a smile? Are you smiling at me? Is this your first little smile?”
Liz glanced at her daughter and saw that she did indeed look like she was smiling. Huh. She’d figured it was probably gas and maybe it still was, but the newborn’s little arms and feet were kicking too. She certainly seemed happy.
Liz’s chest constricted. Again, she felt the familiar pang of disappointment, of shame.
Why had she taken that drink from Jimmy Sykes hand? Why had she believed Gabe when he’d said he just wanted to talk?
She was such a fool. If she had simply walked away, then — She smiled at Bella’s little mouth as it curved into an o shape. If she had walked away maybe she wouldn’t have Bella right now. Or maybe she’d have had Bella, but later, in a future with someone like Matt. Or with Matt.
Thinking about it was futile, of course. She couldn’t turn back time, change what she’d done. She could only move forward even if her parents were still stuck on her past mistakes.
Moving forward wouldn’t include Matt either. She had to get used to him not being around because in only a couple of more weeks he’d been off to the state police academy and after that who knew where he’d be assigned. Besides Molly and Ginny, she was on her own and it was high time she remembered that.

Short Fiction: Better Than Whiskey

The alcohol had dulled his senses, but he still take in how good she looked in that low-cut tank top. Looking down the length of the bar, it was clear a few other men had noticed too.

She held the bottle, tipping it toward the glass. “Another one, Luke?”

He slapped his hand over the mouth of the glass, looking up at her through glassy eyes. “Something different this time.”

 “Like what?”

 “Don’t know.” He shrugged. “Let me think about it.”

The shirt plunged lower when she leaned forward, elbows on the bar, as she waited for his decision.

Her finger under his chin lifted his eyes back to hers. “Up here, buddy.”

He grinned. “Got any whiskey? That stuff from Tennessee I like?”

She snatched up the bottle from the collection behind her, poured, watching the glass, then him, then the glass again.

“That’s enough.”

He winced as it hit his tongue. It burned all the way down, making him cough hard.

By the time he could speak again, she was pouring a drink for the next guy. When she didn’t look his way again after she was done, he brushed a hand against hers.

“You look good tonight, Lily.”

She kept her eye on the drink she was pouring. “You look drunk tonight.”

He grinned. “And good, right?”

She walked away without ever looking at him.

If he hadn’t been so drunk, he would have enjoyed the way she ordered him to get up a few minutes later when he slid off the stool and hit the floor. He always did like a forceful woman.

Orange streetlights streaking by in a haze of rippled patterns constituted his last memory until he woke up face down on an unmade bed, the smell of vomit thick in his nostrils. Sunlight burned his retinas and for a moment he thought he’d gone blind. Blind drunk. That was the saying and maybe it had happened to him. Pain exploded in his temples and through the back of his head. He groaned as he sat up. The world came into focus again and he didn’t like what he saw. And overflowing laundry basket, crumpled sections of a newspaper, a half -eaten banana and an empty carton of cigarettes littered the bedroom floor.

The clanking of dishes brought him to the kitchen reluctantly, his feet shuffling, as if lifting them would make his head hurt worse.

Standing straight wasn’t an option this morning. He leaned a shoulder against the doorframe for support. “You been here all night?”

She flipped a pancake onto a plate. “Didn’t think you should be alone, old man. You’d probably trip over that ugly dog and hit your head on the toilet.”

Pete, the basset hound, let out an indignant huff.

He rubbed the dog’s head in comfort. “Who you callin’ old? They, whoever they is, say you’re only as old as you feel. I don’t feel a day over sixty.”

He winced as he sat in a hardwood chair at the kitchen table, using the table to buffer his weight, knowing sitting too fast would send more pain shooting through creaking joints.

She scoffed. “Well, that’s not good. You’re only fifty-five.”

He rubbed his hand across the stubble along his chin. “Fifty-four.”

She slid a plate of eggs with a side of unbuttered toast and two slices of crispy bacon across the table next to the plate of pancakes.

“You turned fifty-five last week.” She scowled. “You were probably too drunk to remember.”

He grimaced. “Not sure I can stomach that this morning.”

 “The food or the truth?”

“Both.”

She leaned back against the counter, folded her arms across her chest. “You’re going to have to start taking care of yourself. I won’t be around the bar anymore to keep an eye on you.”

He looked up from his pancakes, one eyebrow raised questioningly. “What do you mean?”

She tossed the pan into the sink. It clattered, metal on metal. He groaned at the pain radiating in his skull.

“I quit.” The words clipped out of her sharp, like the pan in the sink. “Tired of seeing people drink themselves into an early grave. Not exactly what the honorable Rev. James Fields wanted for his baby girl.”

He snorted a laugh, a piece of bacon pinched between a thumb and forefinger, hovering a few inches from his mouth. “Funny you’d use that word to describe him.”

She stopped mid-pour, slammed the pot down. Coffee splashed onto the table. “Get yourself cleaned up, Luke. You’re pathetic.”

The slam of the door reverberated in his head.

He thought of her that night when he methodically slid the bullets in the chamber, one by one by one by one, and held the gun in a trembling hand.

He thought of her when he tipped the bullets out fifteen minutes later, placed them in the drawer by the bed, the empty gun in its box on the top shelf in the closet.

He thought of her as liquid swirled down the sink like melted caramel two days later.

He thought of her a week later during the meeting in the stale-smelling basement of the old Baptist church.

For two months, the phone didn’t ring; the knock didn’t come.

When she finally walked up the sidewalk he stood in the doorway, hands in his front jean pockets, one side of his body propped against the doorframe, eyes narrowed in bright sunlight that caught the blond highlights in her hair. Fresh from the shower, he was clean shaven, his hair wet, but combed.

She stopped a few feet away, one hand resting on a slender hip encased in faded blue jeans. His gaze stayed on her eyes, didn’t stray, even though he wanted it to wander down the length of her, across the curves his hands wanted to touch.

“You should have left me when you had the chance.”

She smirked. “I did.”

A smile tilted one side of his mouth up. “You should have stayed left then.”

“I should have done a lot of things.”

He pushed off the doorframe and stood straight, fully blocking the doorway. “I could fall off the wagon, you know.”

She squinted back at him, shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand. “You could. “

Her perfume, like lilacs blooming in spring, was intoxicating, the kind of intoxication that heightened his senses instead of dulled them. She stepped up to him, tilted her face up toward his.

His fingertips grazed her cheek, trailed along her jawline. “You’re better than whiskey, Lily. Always have been. I was just too messed up to see it.”

He traced her bottom lip with the edge of his thumb. She closed her eyes.

Pressing his forehead against hers, his voice faded to a whisper. “You sure you want to take a chance on me again?”

The answer came with her mouth warm and soft on his. Sliding one arm across her lower back, he pulled her gently against him and moved his other hand behind her head, his fingers clutching at her hair. She wound her arms around his neck as the kiss deepened. The taste of her lips sent adrenaline crashing through his veins, chasing away logic and reason.

They stayed pressed together, clutching each other, even when their lips parted. They didn’t speak for a long time; simply looked into each other’s eyes, relearning.

Sunlight glinted off the diamond when she raised her hand. “For better or for worse. Right?”

He shook his head. “All I’ve ever given you is worse.”

She smiled. “Then it’s time for the better.”

Flash Fiction: Strike It Rich

I am still working on this one, but still thought I’d share it for fun.

It was rejected for a flash Fiction magazine but I was given some pointers to improve it. I may share it again when I touch it up.

Strike it Rich

“Holton Fields, you can’t be serious.” Her voice grated on his nerves like a baby rabbit stuck in a garden fence. “Put that contraption down and get back in this camper.”

But he wasn’t going to put that contraption, as Lulabelle called it, down. No siree, he was not. That contraption was the key to his fortune, and he aimed to use it tomorrow up there in those hills right in front of him.

“Why do you think I brought you all the way out here to Wyoming, woman? Just to sight-see? No. I’m here to make us some money. Just like Charlie Steen.”

Lulabelle propped a hand on her hip and tipped her head. “What crazy stories you been listening to?” Wearing a pair of thigh high denim jeans and a sleeveless red and white checkered shirt tied above her belly button, she looked like a movie start to him. If he hadn’t been so annoyed with her, Holton would have been turned on.

Now her arms were tight across her chest. “And who is this Steen fellow anyhow?”

“That guy I read about in the paper. I told you. He’s rich now. Made all that money when he found the uranium over there in Utah.”

Lulabelle rolled her eyes. “Uranium sounds like a disease.”

Holton slapped his hand to his forehead. “It’s a metal, Lulabelle. An expensive metal that Steen made a bunch of money from and now I’m going to do the same thing.” He shook his head and twisted the knobs on the machine he’d bought from George Kissinger before he left.

“It’s a waste of time, Fields,” George had told him. “It’s all wishful thinking. A pipe dream. There ain’t no way to strike it rich looking for that stuff. Steen got lucky. That’s all.”

Holton ignored him though. He was going to find uranium. He’d been studying how to do it. Read all the books he could find at the library. Read all the articles in the paper about that Steen fellow. He’d even talked to a professor at the local college.

All he’d needed was that Geiger machine and George had sold him that. He’d cashed in his life savings, bought the camper and took off for Wyoming. The land there was ripe for picking. That’s what it’d said in the newspaper.

“How you going to use that thing anyhow?” Lulabelle was looking over his shoulder now.

“I’m going to go up in those mountains and do some digging, and this machine will tell me when I strike it rich.”

His wife pursed her lips together and played with a dark curl draped across her shoulder. She looked past him at the mountains. “Those mountains don’t look safe to me. I don’t think you should go. You might fall down a hole and break your neck, and then what will I do? I’ll be all alone. All alone in this camper with no way to get home to my mama.”

Why did women always go to the worst-case scenarios? Break his neck. Good grief. What Lulabelle needed was for him to paint her a positive picture.

“Now come on Lulabelle, baby.” He hoisted the machine against his shoulder and turned to face her. “Don’t think that way. I’m out here for you. I promised you the moon when we got married, didn’t I? Told you I’d find a way to give you everything you wanted. Don’t you want to be living high on the hog like those Rockefellers? Don’t you want a fancy house on the river? A fancy car to drive and a mink coat to wear? I’m going to go up there tomorrow so I can give you all that and more.”

Both hands dropped to her hips and her eyebrows dipped down. “I’m allergic to mink, Holton. It makes me break out in hives. All over my body. You know that. Or you would if you ever paid attention to anything other than all these hairbrained ideas of yours.”

Hairbrained ideas. That’s gratitude for you. Didn’t that door-to-door book salesman thing do okay? Before he’d left the books out in the rain and had to pay the company back all the money he’d made?

Fine.

So that idea didn’t work, but what about buying those hens and selling eggs? That worked for a few months.

Until that he’d left the door open, and the coyotes ate them all.

“Yeah, well, you might be right.” He set the machine in the back of his pickup. “I made some bad decisions over the years. This ain’t one of them, though. I’m going to find uranium and buy you a genuine diamond. It’s what you deserve, Lulabelle. It’s what you deserve after all these years of putting up with me and my crazy ideas.”

Lulabelle sighed and shook her head. “Holton Alexander. When you gonna realize that I don’t want anything in this world except you?”

He squinted at her, studied her face. She’d never said anything like that before. Did she really only want him?

Even now, 40-years after that conversation in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, he couldn’t believe it, but it was true. She really had only wanted him.

He’d never found the uranium, even though he’d tried for two weeks straight. He’d never bought her that mink coat. Good thing, since he never forgot again that she was allergic to mink. Who ever heard of anyone being allergic to mink? He shrugged and laughed.

He’d never built her a fancy house or drove her around in one of those pink Rolls-Royce cars either.

None of that mattered to either of them now.

Love had made them richer than any of those men who went looking for their fortunes in the hills.

“Grandpa?” A little voice pulled him from his thoughts. “Tell me again about driving to Wyoming in a camper and seeing those coyotes and Buffalo and how grandma fell in love with you again.”

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmers’ Sons (Harvesting Hope) Chapter 10

Welcome to another edition of The Farmers’ Sons, which has been renamed Harvesting Hope for it’s novel release at the end of the summer. This is a serial fiction, which I share each Friday and ocassionally Saturday.

If you didn’t catch it yesterday, I shared Chapter 9 yesterday for Fiction Friday. To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE.

Chapter 10

Jason stared in horror at Tom’s pale face and motionless body. He reached out slowly then jerked his hand back, startled, as Tom groaned and slowly rolled to his back. Tom’s voice rose barely above a whisper as he moved his hand around to touch his own side.

“When did you Tanner’s install a train in your back pasture?”

“Tom, I’m so sorry. He almost never charges like that. Maybe once every couple years.”

Tom laughed softly then wince. “We must have really pissed him off then.”

Jason lifted Tom’s hand, saw red drops staining the ground, and swallowed hard. Old Bert had hit his mark, but Jason wasn’t sure how much damaged he’d managed to inflict.

“I’m going to call for help. Don’t move, okay?”

Tom nodded weakly. “It’s probably not as bad as it looks.” He winced again. “Or feels.”

With the phone cradled between his cheek and shoulder, Jason waited for 911 to pick up while he gently lifted Tom to get a better look at his back. Red was spreading across Tom’s shirt. Jason pulled off his own shirt and bunched it up against Tom’s back, pressing it firmly in place while he gave 911 his location. He hoped the pressure would stop the bleeding.

The dispatcher gave him directions on how Tom should lay until the ambulance arrived. “Keep him still as much as you can,” she said. “There may be broken bones or internal bleeding. The ambulance will be there soon. And keep the pressure on.”

Jason was glad to have the dispatcher on the other end of the phone because he was having a hard time remembering his training as he watched Tom close his eyes. First his dad last year, now Tom. It was a trend he didn’t welcome.

“They’ll be here soon, Tom.”

Tom nodded and grimaced.  “It hurts about as bad as that kidney stone I passed last year, but I’m okay.”

Jason did his best to cover his rising panic with a laugh. “I remember that stone. Ellie was beside herself with worry.”

Tom closed his eyes briefly. “Yeah, she thought I had cancer.”

Jason grinned. “How did you know that? I thought she only told me that.”

“I know her too well,” Tom answered. “It was written all over her face.” He shifted his arm under his head. His shirt and jeans were coated in a layer of dirt. “Don’t blame yourself for this, Jason. It wasn’t your fault.”

Jason looked down the road, willing the ambulance to come faster.

“Jason, don’t ignore me.” Tom’s voice was firm. “I’ve known you long enough to know you’re going to blame yourself. This was no one’s fault. Except ornery Old Bert’s.”

Jason was grateful when he heard the sound of a car approaching and didn’t even mind that it was his truck instead of the ambulance. At least this way he didn’t have to answer Tom.

Molly jumped from the truck and approached them quickly. The color had already drained from her face. She took on a grayish hue as she kneeled next to Tom.

“The ambulance is on the way,” Jason told her then briefed her and Alex on what had happened.

“Jason told me you took Liz to the hospital.” Tom’s voice was tinged with pain, but he was smiling. “Do we have a new resident in Spencer Valley?”

Alex shrugged. “No new baby yet. False alarm.”

Jason was glad for the chance to laugh, at least a little. “I told her she wasn’t in labor.”

Molly unhooked the flannel shirt she’d had tied around her middle and balled it into a pillow for Tom.

“You Tanners sure know how to take care of a guest.” Tom laughed then winced again.

After Tom was loaded into the ambulance a half an hour later, Jason sat back along the dirt road, his arms propped on his knees. He stared at his trembling hands, stained with Tom’s blood. Letting out a shaky breath, he closed his eyes and clenched his fists, fighting nausea and dizziness.

“I’ll head up and tell Rena,” Molly said, squeezing his shoulder. “I’ll also call Ellie.”

He nodded and looked up to see her holding a paper towel. He took it and worked at scrubbing the blood from his skin.

“Come on.” Alex held his hand out. “We’ll drop Molly off at her truck and head back to the hospital.” He smacked Jason on his bare back as he pulled him to his feet. “I’m starting to get use to the place. Let’s stop and get you a shirt first, though. We don’t need your six pack causing pandemonium among the nurses.”

ELLIE’S HAND SHOOK she opened the door to her car and stepped out into the hospital parking lot. The black asphalt was still damp from the passing thunderstorms earlier in the day.

Her legs wobbled under her and she wasn’t sure she’d make it to the emergency room entrance without collapsing. She had rushed across town from her apartment, calling Judi as she drove.

She’d tried reaching Judi on her cell three times in the last fifteen minutes. She wasn’t picking up. She tried again before walking inside the hospital.

“Judi, where are you? Pick up!”

Voice mail. Again. When Judi had said she was going to visit friends, Ellie had thought she meant locally. Maybe she’d meant her friends in the city, not the ones she’d left behind in Spencer.

The hallway leading to the emergency room was blocked by a tall white desk with a receptionist sitting at it.

The receptionist didn’t look up from her computer as Ellie approached.

“My father was being brought in my ambulance. Can you tell me if he’s here yet?”

Shoulder length, straight black hair, featuring a solitary purple streak down the left side, framed the receptionist’s face. “Name?”

“Thomas Lambert.”

Immaculate, extended hot pink fingernails clicked over the computer keys. “He’s here. Exam room three.”

“Which way?”

The woman, who could have been anywhere from 30 to 50, pushed her tongue through light pink gum and blew a bubble out and up to the height of her nose. Ellie’s gaze focused on her dark purple lipstick as the bubble popped, the gum’s remnants spreading over the woman’s lips. The receptionist shook her head and sucked the gum back in her mouth, her eyes on the computer, her index finger pointing at Ellie’s left shoulder. “You need to wait in the waiting room across the hall. I’ll let you know when you’re allowed back.”

“But it’s my —”

The woman’s finger retained it’s original position while her other hand glided over the surface of the keyboard and her gaze remained on the computer screen.

Ellie emitted a frustrated huff of air as she walked into the waiting room, sitting down in a blue plush chair with tan wooden arms. She tapped her foot impatiently against the freshly cleaned linoleum. An elderly woman sitting across from her held a purse on her lap, hugging it to her chest. Her chin rested on her chest and a soft snore whiffled from her nose.

Ten minutes passed before Ellie heard the emergency room door slide open again. She watched the door expectedly. Molly had said Rena had declined to be driven to the hospital. She was driving herself. It wasn’t her though.

Her stomach tightened at the sight of Jason and Alex standing at the front desk. She should have expected them, but her mind had been on her father’s condition not on the chance she might see her ex-boyfriend.  Ex-boyfriend. Had she just thought that? Well, he was her ex now. Wasn’t he?

She prayed to God they wouldn’t come into the waiting room.

It was one of many unanswered prayers she’d expressed lately. They walked in a few moments later, Jason’s gaze shifting away from hers quickly as he sat in a chair to her right, against the wall..

Alex sat next to her. “Any news?”

She shook her head, keeping her eyes downcast. She couldn’t help noticing spots of red on the legs of Jason’s jeans. A lump formed at the base of her throat. “No. Not yet.”

Several minutes of awkward silence followed. Alex tapped his hand on the arm of the chair and Jason leaned his elbows on his knees and stared at the floor, periodically adjusting his brown John Deere cap.

“I told him I could handle it.” Jason’s voice, barely audible, broke the silence. He didn’t look up from the waiting room floor.

Ellie folded her hands in her lap, her gaze focused on her red and blue slip on shoes.

“Well, he’s always been stubborn,” she said finally, feeling like she should say something.

Alex laughed, rubbed a hand across his unshaven jaw. “Guess it runs in the family.”

Ellie and Jason both looked at him sharply. He pushed himself up in the chair and cleared  his throat. “Too soon?”

The receptionist materialized in the doorway like a haunting visage, tapping a pen on the doorframe.

“You with Tom Lambert?”

Ellie and Jason stood, speaking in unison “Yes.”

The receptionist pointed the pen at Ellie. “You’re the daughter, right?”

Ellie nodded.

“You can come back.” The melancholic figure pointed the pen at Jason. “You can wait here. Unless you’re the son?”

Jason shook his head. He wasn’t, but he’d almost been his son-in-law. The realization seemed especially painful at the moment.

Ellie stepped around Jason, pausing when his hand touched her forearm. Lifting her eyes, she stared into glistening green eyes she’d lost herself in so many times before.

“I’m sorry.” Her lips parted to respond, but she wasn’t sure what to say. What was he apologizing for? Her dad? What had happened in college?

“I shouldn’t have let him help,” he whispered.

She swallowed hard, nodded. Part of her thought that after their break-up Jason would simply disappear from her life, her family’s life. Obviously it was an absurd thought. They lived in a small farming community, he lived down the road from her parents’ house, and they’d all known each other for years. Of course, they’d interact with each other in some way. Even in ways that would lead to physical and emotional pain.

Her voice was nearly toneless. “Okay.”

The word fell flat against what she could tell was a sincere apology. She hated it, but she didn’t have time to focus on his feelings. Her father was laying in an emergency department exam room, and she had no idea what his condition was. How Jason felt wasn’t her priority right now.

His hand slipped from her arm as she walked toward the exit of the waiting room. At the same moment she entered the hallway, her mother walked through the emergency room doors. She reached for Rena’s hands to steady herself, provide distraction from the way she’d walked away from Jason as if she didn’t believe he was actually sorry.

Somehow, at that moment, for so much more than what had happened to her dad,  sorry wasn’t enough.

Fiction Friday: The Farmers’ Sons Chapter 2

For those who are new here, this is a story in progress. To catch up with previous chapters, click HERE.

Chapter 2

Even now, five months later, he struggled to remember what had happened.

The pain had been blinding, the fear of certain death all consuming. Darkness encroached across  his vision like a hungry specter. When he came to his face was soaked and when he looked up, a barrage of tiny pellets fell at him from the sky, slicing through the clouds.

Forever tethered to Robert’s recollections of that day would be the memories of Alex frantically calling his name; Jason’s eyes full of terror as he kneeled next to him.

Everything within him told him he was going to die. Each breath sent a thousand shards of agonizing pain ripping through his chest, but he had to make Jason understand how much he loved him.

“Jason. . .”

Jason shook his head. “Don’t talk, Dad. Rest.”

He’d gripped Jason’s hand as tight as his weakened state would allow him, urging him to listen.

“Jason. I love you.”

Jason’s eyes glistened. “I love you too, Dad.”

Standing at his bedroom window now, watching the sunrise paint purple and pink across the horizon, he closed his eyes against the memories. Letting out a deep breath he opened his eyes, leaned on the window frame, and looked out over the side yard, toward the barn, Jason’s truck already parked there. It took a team to keep Tanner Enterprises running. The business consisted of four separate farms growing a variety of produce and products to sell to suppliers and in the family’s farm store. Robert and his brother Walt had handled managing the farming side of it for the past four years since their father Ned had retired. After Ned passed away last year, only a couple of years after retirement, Jason had begun stepping into a leadership role even more.

In the months before the accident, after his father died, Robert had considered telling Walt it was time to let it all go, that he didn’t have it in him anymore. That feeling had been the strongest when the bank had called in the loan last spring. He’d known they didn’t, and wouldn’t, have the money to pay it off. Now, though, he was grateful for it all – even the tough days – and not only because Alex’s mom, the wife of a wealthy entrepreneur, had helped pay off the loan that could have ended it all.

Even with the loan paid off the farm was struggling, but there were opportunities on the horizon that would help if they could get the permits and the funding.

“You’ve got that crease in your brow again.”

Annie’s arms wove through his, her hands stretching across his bare chest. Her kiss was warm against his skin, between his shoulder blades and the warmth of it slid throughout him, making him wish he didn’t have work to do in the barn.

“What’re you thinking about?” Her voice whispered concern.

“The accident. The future of the farm. Jason.” He lifted her hand, kissed the top of it. “The usual culprits.”

“The accident is in the past, we’re working on the future of the farm, and Jason —” She moved to his side, manuevered herself in front of him, sliding her arms around his waist. “He’s going to be okay. He and Ellie will work things out.”

A tractor started up outside. Jason had always had a strong work ethic, but Robert knew that wasn’t what was driving him now. “He’s trying to bury himself in work.”

Annie laid her cheek against her husband’s shoulder as he wound his fingers in her hair. “I know.”

“It’s not going to work. It didn’t when I tried it after Dad died.”

The growl of a truck engine cut into the quiet of the morning. Molly had pulled in, probably more anxious to see Alex than start milking the cows. Robert laughed softly. “I can’t believe she’s still driving that old truck.”

Annie leaned her head back and looked at him, cocking an eyebrow. “Well, isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black, considering you’re still driving your dad’s old clunker.”

“Yeah, but Dad had that truck before he even had mine.” They laughed together.

She kissed him softly on the mouth. “She loves it. It’s the last reminder she has of him.”

“I know.” His lips grazed hers as he spoke and then he slid his hands behind her head, up into her hair. Her mouth under his was exactly what he needed to take his mind off it all. Jason, Molly and Alex could start the milking without him. He hadn’t been much help anyhow since the accident, a fact that irritated him beyond belief.

Laying in the hospital room, staring at his broken and bruised body day after day, he’d known it might be months, maybe even a year before he would be able to work normally on the farm again. What terrified him even more had been the thought that he wouldn’t be able to care for Annie the way he always had. The idea of her consumed with worry over him and the farm, knowing she’d take the burden of filling in the void he would leave on her shoulders, had tightened his chest more than once during his hospital stay.

He’d wanted to protect her from the hard moments of life since he’d first really paid attention to her that day at her father’s farm, watching her stack hay bales as easily as any man. He’d seen her before, of course. Their families had been neighbors their entire lives. They had been in the same class at school. Until that day, though, he’d never really noticed her. Not the way he noticed her that day.

 They’d both been 17 and she didn’t look like she needed protecting, but a deeply ingrained desire to do it anyhow had bubbled up in him, spilling over the day he’d softly kissed her in the hayloft of her father’s barn.

He knew he couldn’t always protect her.

He hadn’t been able to shield her from the pain when they’d lost their infant daughter between Jason and Molly, from the reoccurring fear of losing the farm, from the death of his father, who she’d always been close to, or from the aftermath of his accident.

 When he couldn’t protect her, though, he’d been there to walk beside her, hold her close, show her how much he needed her, as much as he needed the air in his lungs.

Her hands slid up his chest, across his shoulders, the kiss deepening, making him forget they were almost 51 now. A pounding on the door startled them both.

“Dad? You awake yet?”

Their lips parted and Robert groaned, pressing his forehead against hers. “It would be nice if we could experience at least a few days of empty nest syndrome.”

Annie buried her face against his shoulder and laughed.

He called over his shoulder, “Yes, Molly. I’m awake. What’s up?”

“The pump is broken again, and Jason says you’re the only one who knows how to fix it.”

Robert tipped his head back, focused on the crack stretching across the ceiling, reminding him he still hadn’t picked up the supples to tackle that project. “Yeah. Okay. I’ll be right there.”

“I hated to bother you but —”

“I know. We can’t milk the cows without it.”

Robert kissed Annie’s neck. “We’ll pick this up later.”

“I certainly hope so,” she said, reaching behind him for her robe.

He limped to the dresser to search for a shirt and jeans, hating that Annie had to see him this way, like a crippled old man.

“Isn’t Liz due soon?”

Annie tied her robe closed, much to his disappointment. “Two weeks.”

He pulled the shirt over his head, his eyebrow furrowing. “You think Molly is prepared for living in a tiny apartment with a crying newborn and a weepy new mother?”

Molly had left the farm a couple of months earlier and moved into an apartment in town with her friend Liz, who was facing an unplanned pregnancy.

Annie yawned and tossed her clothes over her shoulder, reaching for the doorknob.

“I doubt it, but she promised Liz she’d be there for her and I’m proud of her for standing by her friend.”

Robert laughed, sliding past her through the doorway. “I am too, but I wonder how many times we’ll find her curled up in the truck taking a nap.”

Outside the front door, a chill in the air greeted him and sent goosebumps up his arm. He paused on the top step of the back door, drawing a deep breath, his head tipped back. He smelled the hay in the barn, the perennials along the side of the house beginning to bloom, soil being warmed by the rising sun.

Looking out across the pasture his eyes fell on the sparkle of sunlight off the dew on the grass, then shifted toward the barn where he heard laughter from his children and Alex, the man who had become like another son to him.

If any good had come from the accident, it had been that it had shown him what really mattered in life. Even if they lost the farm, lost everything material, life would be worth living as long as he had his family. He was eternally grateful for it all – even the hardships that came with recovering and running a farm while he felt like half a man.

Soon, he’d be able to work even harder next to Jason to protect what generations of Tanners had built, attempt to shield it from economic downturns, changing markets, and fickle consumers.

He winced at each step down the stairs.

Soon, but not yet.

***

Alcott, Angelou, Austen, Barrie, Bronte, Blume . . .

Ellie’s fingers slid over the spines of the books on her bookshelf until she came to the Cs.

“C is for Christie.”

 She slid the book back in its place and stood up, stepping back to admire her handiwork.

All three shelves of books completely organized, in alphabetical order. Just the way she liked it.

Contentment settled over her like a warm blanket. At least she could control one thing in her life.

While all other aspects of her life swirled around her in blistering chaos, this one place, her new apartment above Missy Fowler’s hair salon, offered her a reprieve from it all, a place where she controlled what was out of place and what wasn’t.

It was how she’d always soothed her soul – enacting control over her physical environment when her emotional environment was off kilter and impervious to her influence. Even as a child her toys, clothes, and books were organized neatly and perfectly in her room while her younger sister Judi’s were scattered across the floor like they’d been caught up in a tornado and deposited there.

Judi, now spelled with an “i”, of course.  Her real name was Judy with a “y” but in an attempt to, in Ellie’s mind, stand apart from others, she’d started spelling her name with an “i” in junior high school. It irritated Ellie that everyone, including her parents, catered to Judi, going along with the ridiculous spelling, like they went along with every other eccentric, off- the- wall thing Judi did.

She looked at the clock above the television, realized she was running late, and snatched her purse and cellphone from the small table by the door. Moving from her parents’ farmhouse to this apartment had a number of advantages, one being she was a five minute walk from Little Lambs Daycare, her main job now that she’d resigned from her second job the Tanner’s small country store.

Walking into the sunlight on Front Street she mentally contrasted the difference between living in town and on her family’s farm, beyond the closer distance to work. Living in town was busier, for one, but not as busy as a big city, which was nice. There was the lack of feeling pressured to get up at 4:30 a.m. with her parents and help with the milking, despite the fact they had two young men who already helped. Then there were the most beneficial differences — living alone, having time to herself, and not having to chance passing Jason on the small dirt road leading from her family’s farm while driving to work.

She paused in front of the mirror when she reached the front lobby of the daycare.

Slacks with no scuff marks and no wrinkles. Check.

New shirt, freshly ironed. Check.

Hair neatly combed. Check.

And a new haircut to boot. She lightly touched the edges of the shorter crop, admired again how it fell along her jawline, yet, briefly mourned her decision to lop off the hair she’d grown down past her lower back since she’d been a teenager.

She still didn’t know what had come over her that day in Missy’s shop.

“Cut it off.”

Missy looked at her through her reflection in the mirror with raised eyebrows. “Excuse me?”

She needed a change, to step away from the life she’d always known. She was stuck in a rut, spinning her wheels. She’d already decided she needed a break from who she’d always been with Jason. Now it was time to change the rest of her life. Starting with her hair.

“Cut if off,” she’d repeated.

Missy cleared her throat, picked up the scissors, then paused and looked at Ellie with a doubtful expression. “Ellie, are you sure? Your hair has always been long.”

“I need something fresh, Missy. Don’t worry. I won’t sue you if I hate it. I’ll just let it grow long again. Let’s go. Start cutting.”

Ellie sighed at the memory but also at herself for checking herself in the mirror. Why did she feel the need to be so well dressed and put together for a group of 4 and 5-year-olds? Maybe it was because she actually was uptight, like Judi always said. Uptight, snooty, too-perfect, or whatever term Judi could describe her to prove that Judi was the fun sister and Ellie was the boring one.

She sighed again, hooking her hair behind her ears.

She wasn’t being fair to her sister. It wasn’t likely Judi was trying to prove anything about their differences. She probably didn’t even care; the same way she didn’t care about most things.

 It was Ellie who was stuck on the fact that Judi had always been more carefree, while Ellie felt like she had been born a little old lady. A little old lady who made lists planning out her life, organized her books in alphabetical order, and who’s clothes were hung by style and color coordination in her closet.

She flipped her hair from behind her ears, deciding it looked better that way, cocked an eyebrow as she inspected her shirt again and touched up her lipstick. It was the same color of lipstick she’d worn the night Jason had not-actually proposed to her. She shuddered at the memory. It had been the night she had thought her life had gotten back on track and she’d been able to write, “marriage and children” back onto that list she’d written out in high school. A few weeks later she was scribbling the list out all over again.

 “Hi, Miss Ellie!”

The sweet little voice coupled with bright green eyes under a shock of red hair pulled her from her thoughts.

“Hey, there, Timmy.” She leaned forward on knees slightly bent to bring herself down more to Timmy Murray’s level. “How are you this morning?”

“Mommy says I’m constipated.”

“Oh.” Ellie made a face. “Well, that’s not very good. Is your belly hurting?”

Timmy shrugged. “Nope. Just can’t poop. What are we doing at playtime today?”

Ellie held a laugh back. She didn’t want Timmy to think it was funny he couldn’t “poop.”

“It’s a surprise. You’ll have to wait and see.”

Timmy rolled his eyes. “Why do big people always make us wait for everythin’?”

Once again Ellie marveled at the verbal capability of this particular 4-year-old as she took his hand and led him into the classroom.

“Timmy, there you are.”

Ellie’s friend and co-worker Lucy O’Neil patted the table in front of Timmy’s chair. “Remember, we don’t leave the room unless we’re given permission.”

“I saw Miss Ellie and thought I should say ‘hello’.”

Lucy winked at Ellie, flipping a dark brown curl back over her shoulder.

“You still need to ask permission, bud.” She patted Timmy gently on his shoulder and motioned him toward the center of the room. “Okay, let’s all get into our good morning circle to share about our weekend and then Miss Ellie will read to us from a new book called ‘Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep.’ Can anyone tell me what the book might be about?”

“Teddy bears!” Lily Jenkins shouted out.

Lily thought every story was about teddy bears.

Lucy winked. “Well, we will have to see, won’t we? Everyone find your place on the circle and get ready so we can find out, okay?”

Lucy straightened and huffed out a quiet breath as the children filed from their chairs and gathered on the rug. She wore a weary smile as she leaned back against the edge of the desk.

“Welcome back from the weekend, Miss Ellie. Was it a good one?”

Ellie placed her bag on the desk and took a sip of the tea in her mug. A mix of honey and lemon hit her taste buds. Time to sugar-coat the depression.  “It was. Yours?”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “Long. My mother-in-law came to visit. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love Margaret, but everything is thrown off when she’s there. The kids don’t want to go to bed, she bakes all these cookies and they’re all on a sugar high . . .”

The kids.

Ellie’s chest constricted.

She’d gotten used to her friends talking about their children, but today it only seemed to highlight the fact she was the only one of her friends who didn’t have children to talk about. Well, there was Molly, of course, but she didn’t talk to Molly about children much, or her hope for them. Talking to her about wanting to have babies with her brother would have been awkward all around. Of course, she didn’t have to worry about that conversation anymore. She hadn’t actually spoke to Molly more than to say ‘hello’ at church since her breakup with Jason.

That’s what it was, right? A breakup. They were broken up. That yelling session in the church parking lot had sealed that deal. That’s what she’d wanted. Right?

 “…but it was a nice weekend overall. Mary Anne went home this morning and I have to admit that it is a little lonely without her. The kids loved her bedtime stories. . . Hey, you okay?”

Ellie looked up, reaching across the desk for the book. Time to change the subject before Lucy asked too many questions about how she really was feeling. “I am, but if I don’t start reading soon, those kids are going to get themselves into even more trouble.” She winked and gently nudged Lucy’s arm on her way to the center of the room.

“Brittany, hands to yourself. No, I don’t care if Matthew sat in your spot. Choose another spot.”

She sat herself in the chair in front of the kids and opened the book. “So, everyone, are we ready for a new book with a new character? A loveable bear I have a feeling is going to become a favorite.”

“Yeah!” All their little voices blended together.

“Okay, well, this story starts — ”

“Miss Ellie?”

A sigh. “Yes, Timmy?”

“How come you aren’t married?”

A catch in her chest. “Timmy, honey, it’s story time, not question-and-answer time.”

“My mommy says you’re old enough to be married, but you aren’t.”

A tightening jaw. “Well, Timmy, your mommy —“

Lucy cleared her throat and clapped her hands quickly. “Let’s focus on story time, Timmy, okay?”

Ellie shot Lucy a grateful smile. She really hadn’t been sure what was going to come out of her mouth. She looked at Timmy and winked.

“I’m sure Timmy understands it’s time to use our ears for listening and not our mouth for talking now. Right, Timmy?”

Timmy nodded and stuck his thumb in his mouth, eyes wide.

Ellie took a deep breath and plunged forward with the book, hoping to make it through the day without any more close calls of verbal slapping down of children. It wasn’t their fault she was an almost 30-year-old woman who wasn’t married, didn’t have children, and had never told her now ex-fiance that she might not be able to even have children.

Lucy cornered her at lunchtime.

“That question from Timmy seemed to unsettle you a little. You okay?”

She nodded, tucking her shirt in, and brushing crumbs left over from her sandwich off the tabletop and into her hand.

“I am. Or will be.”

“So, it’s final? You and Jason — you’re finished?”

Ellie dug into her yogurt and stared into it. She would love to sink into the creamy smoothness of her coconut cream Greek yogurt right now and pretend her life wasn’t in complete, partially self-induced chaos.

Lucy leaned close. “Ellie Lambert, I can see it all over your face. Something happened this weekend. You’re not going to leave me in the dark, are you? Your very best friend in the whole wide world besides Trudy, who doesn’t count since she abandoned us.”

Ellie sipped her lemon water and laughed. “Trudy didn’t abandon us. She got married. It wasn’t her fault Brett got transferred to Detroit.”

Lucy rolled her eyes, popping the last bite of her carrot in her mouth. “It was more like she was sentenced to Detroit. Anyhow, what happened this weekend? Hurry.” She nodded toward the children giggling at their lunch table a few feet away. “The natives are getting restless.”

Ellie poured the crumbs into the waste basket behind her desk. “Jason and I had it out this weekend.”

Lucy winced. “Oh.”

“In the church parking lot.”

Lucy’s eyes widened and her eyebrows darted up. “Oh wow. Like in front of everyone?”

Ellie shook her head. “Church had already started.”

Lemons swirled in her water, bumping against heart shaped ice cubes. She drank lemon water every day. How predictable. Like most of her life, except her love life, of course.

“Wow.”

“You already said ‘wow’, Lucy.”

“But — wow. Outside of church. So, what did he say?”

Wasn’t it time for recess? It must be time for recess. No. There was still ten more minutes until recess. Great.

“A lot. None of it good. Not that it was my proudest moment either.”

Lucy was enraptured, her chin propped on her folded hands as if watching the climax of a horror film. In a way, she was.

“Did he say he wanted to break up, or did you?”

Ellie shrugged a shoulder, tracing a line of condensation dripping down the side of her water bottle, avoiding Lucy’s probing gaze. “I guess I did.”

I definitely did. Just admit it.

“I told him we needed I break. That I needed a break to make some decisions.”

“And have you? Made some decisions?”

She shook her head, sipped from the water bottle.

Lucy let out a breath as if she’d been holding it for the entire conversation. “Whoa, El, this is big stuff. I’m so sorry your weekend was so awful. Why didn’t you call me?”

Ellie leaned over and picked up her maroon lunch bag, shoving the water bottle inside. “I was pretty certain you had heard more than enough of my drama to last you a life time. Plus, I needed time to think, to figure out how I feel about all of this, how I feel about my life without Jason.”

Lucy crumbled the wrapper from her sandwich and tossed it basketball superstar style at the trash can. It bounced off the side of the can and rolled across the floor under the desk. “Is that what you want? Really? To be without Jason?”

Ellie retrieved the wrapper and tossed it into the trash can. Was it what she wanted? Really? She didn’t even know how to answer that. Thankfully she didn’t have to.

“Miss Ellie, Brenda says her booger is bigger than mine. Make her stop.”

Without turning toward the sound of the whining voice, Ellie pressed her hand against her eyes, the other hand on her hip. “Lucy, is Timmy holding a booger on his finger right now?”

The sharp intake of breath alerted Ellie to the answer before Lucy even said the words, “Unfortunately, yes.”

The rest of the conversation about Ellie’s floundering love life would have to wait. She reached for a handful of tissues and turned to address the Great Booger Debate, trying her best, again, not to laugh.

Creatively Thinking: When You’re Okay Not Writing Deep and Praiseworthy books

I was so excited a couple of weeks ago when Robin W. Pearson won a Christy Award for her book A Long Time Comin’.

It was such a well-deserved award for a book I loved.

She worked on this book for years and years – I believe she said 20-years in one interview.

Amanda Dykes, another Christy Award winner also worked on her book, Whose Waves These Are for about eight years.

After listening to an interview with these women, I started to think, “Should I be working on my books for years and years and years, polishing them and using beautiful, detailed descriptions and literary writing like these ladies did? Maybe I’d be a more accomplished writer and person if I did. “

Maybe, I thought.

Probably, I thought.

My books would probably be better, I thought.

But then I thought: There is a place for every type of book. Readers love deep, thoughtful, densely written books, but they also enjoy lighter reads that aren’t as deep. Or at least I do. There are seasons in my life when I need something lighter. There are seasons in my life when I can handle something deeper. Ebs and flows. So there needs to be writers who can offer light and there needs to be authors who can offer deep.

Of course, there are those authors who offer a mix of both, which I feel Robin does very well.

Will my books change anyone’s life?

Maybe, but probably not. Will they offer a distraction when they need it the most?

Yeah, I hope so.

Sometimes something light that takes our mind off of things is just as welcome as something that leaves an imprint on our soul.

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.

Quarantined Release Date and is Quarantined a horror story or a romance?

For those who have been following the Quarantined story, I thought I’d let you know that the Kindle version (edited and in some places rewritten) releases on Oct. 20, 2020.

Someone asked me this week if Quarantined is a horror story or a romance. Of course, I saw the humor in the question, under the circumstances our world has been facing, but no, the novella is not a horror story. But is it a romance? Well. . . yes, in a way. A romance without the “guy meets girl, guy falls in love with girl” part of the story. The main characters of Quarantined, two married couples, have already met and fallen in love and in the case of one couple, have fallen out of love (or at least it appears they have).

I don’t see a lot of romances out there these days where the couple is already married and is now hoping to reconnect, or maybe has no interest at all in reconnecting.

This idea for Quarantined came to me during the start of lockdown back in April. I was stuck inside my house with my husband and children and for the most part it was a pleasant experience, but online I read about women who were unhappy to be stuck at home with a spouse they couldn’t stand. I began to wonder about people who would were quarantining with a person they didn’t want to be married to anymore. What would that be like? Would the situation push them further apart or would they realize they still loved each other and decide to fight for their marriage?

Looking for a way to distract myself from the stress of the daily news, but also from our move, which had been turned upside down at the time, I started sharing the story of Liam and Maddie on my blog. Later, though, I added the story of Matt and Cassie (I have since changed her name to Cassidy because I was finding that switching between Maddie and Cassie confusing and figured readers might as well).

So, Quarantined is a romance in the sense there are affectionate feelings between a man and a woman and there are kissing scenes that might make a non-romance fan roll their eyes. But isn’t a love-at-first-sight romance that will lead you through the detailed story of a how a couple meets and falls in love. This is a story about what happens after those new love feelings fade and grow instead into a deeper, long-lasting, yet still passionate (at times) love.

For those who haven’t yet read the story, here is a description of the novella:

Liam and Maddie Grant are set to sign divorce papers any day now. Liam is already packing to move out. Their plans are put on hold, though. when Liam comes home to tell Maddie he’s been exposed to a new virus that is shutting down the country and part of the world. He tells her that since he’s exposed her she’ll have to be in quarantine as well. Now the couple is locked down for the next 14 days. During that time they find themselves face to face with the issues that split them apart in the first place. Before it’s all over they’ll have to decide if they want to sign the divorce papers or try again.

Across the city, Liam’s brother United States Senator Matthew Grant is quarantined with his wife and children, wondering if his marriage could end up on the same path as his brothers. While stuck at home, Matt realizes he’s lost sight of what really matters since becoming a senator. He and his wife Cassidy have drifted apart and he wonders if he has put his family at risk by serving as a senator during a hyper-political time for our nation.

Now he must decide if he wants to run for re-election, continuing to try to help his constituents, or walk away from the job that has brought his family stress and heartache.