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.

The Sacrifice

I challenged myself this weekend by deciding I’d use a photo as the basis for a 300-word flash fiction piece idea. I challenged myself to make it 300 words, no more, no less. This was the photo:

And this is what came from my freeflow writing session:

The Sacrifice

Standing at the top of the stairs leading to the Catholic school next to the church the man froze, a cold chill shivering through him. He couldn’t do this. He didn’t want to do this. Continuing this farce was killing him. He pulled at the stiff, white collar around his neck. It was suffocating him, not physically, but in every other way.

“I want to be a priest.”

Had he really said that to his mother all those years ago?

Had her look of delight been the only reason he’d kept pushing forward, attended seminary, and was only a few hours away from being confirmed as a priest? He knew it wasn’t, but it was a big reason. He’d made a promise, to her, to himself, to God. But now, standing here, ready to walk into the reception hall where dinner was being held before the ceremony, he felt sick to his stomach.

He wanted to honor God, but did honoring God mean sacrificing all that God had created for man to enjoy?

Did honoring God mean sacrificing her?

He closed his eyes, drew in a deep breath, and let it out again.

He had made a commitment. A commitment to be married to Christ, to His will, and His direction for his life, not to his own human desires. As much as his heart and mind screamed at him to turn around, to not take one more step down those stairs, he knew he had to ignore them both.

To sacrifice was to be closer to God.

To sacrifice meant understanding Christ’s sacrifice more.

Isn’t this what God wanted? For him to understand Christ more so he could show Christ’s love better?

He took a step, heard her voice behind him, and stopped.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Bits and Pieces

Truth be told, this weeks chapter is pieces of two chapters as I’m reworking parts of the story. This week I’ll include a snippet between Molly and Robert but also a snippet that will be in Jason’s novella later. I’m looking forward to fleshing out Jason’s story but also his and Ellie’s characters in a novella I plan to call The Farmer’s Son. That will also allow me to focus more on Robert and Jason’s relationshp.



To catch up on the full story click HERE.


Crickets chirped and fireflies blinked in the field.

There was a chill in the air and Molly knew before long winter would arrive and bring with it cold nights and even colder mornings in the barn. Local farmers, including her dad, were already preparing to cut down the dying corn stalks to eventually grind up for feed.

She buttoned her sweater and pushed the porch swing a little to make it sway as she looked out into the dark, thinking about Alex and remembering their kiss from the day before. He’d been right; working together in the barn after that passionate half hour had been awkward. They did their best not to smile too much in front of Jason or her dad or Cody and the other workers who came in and out of the barn throughout the rest of the day.

She did  her best not to smile when his hand grazed her arm as he handed her the pitchfork and he told her later that night on the phone he’d done his best not to grab her, pull her into a stall and kiss her again.

“We’ll be having our first frost before we know it.”

She looked up to see her dad walking out of the darkness from the direction of the barn.

“Not looking forward to the snow, that’s for sure,” she said, though she couldn’t help think how nice it would be to cuddle Alex close on a cold winter night, if they could find somewhere to cuddle without anyone else seeing. She wondered how long they’d keep their relationship secret, or how long they’d be able to. Watching her dad wince as he walked onto the porch and sit on swing next to her, she also wondered how her parents would feel about her and Alex.

“Knee bothering you again?”

Robert shrugged. “It’s always bothering me. A lot of people have it a lot worse.”

“You could slow down a little.”

Her dad looked at her with a mock look of disgust. “And why would I want to do that? Sounds boring to me.” He smiled and slid his arm around her shoulder and hugged her against him. “Plus, I have too much work to do to make sure we pay off this loan in time.”

Molly sighed. “Oh yeah. That.”

Robert reached his other arm around her and hugged her tighter, propping his chin on the top of her head as she rested her cheek against his chest.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the loan before, kid. I didn’t mean to keep things from anyone. I guess I just got cocky. Walt and I both did. We thought we’d be able to pay it off and . . .” Her dad sighed. “and never have to tell anyone we’d sunk the business so far into a hole in the first place, I guess. Apparently, we forgot about Luke 8:17. What is hidden will be seen. And what is out of sight will be brought into the open and made known.”

Molly hated hearing the guilt in her dad’s voice. “You were trying to help, not deceive, Dad. It’s going to work out somehow. Besides, now that we all know we can help find a way to pay it off.” She sat up and looked at him, smiling. “No man is an island after all.”

Robert laughed softly. “Good reminder kid. I guess I just got too wrapped up in wanting to fix it all myself. I thought I could protect the family from the struggle.”

“We’re a family. We’re supposed to struggle together.”

He slid a strand of her hair behind her ear and cupped her chin in his hand. “How did you get to be so smart?”

“I learned it from watching you and mom, you know that.”

He shook his head. “More like your mom.”

She sat back against the swing as he let her face go and together they tipped their heads back and looked up at the stars scattered against an almost pitch black sky.

“Molly?”

“Yeah?”

“I know you won’t always want to stay here with me and your mom. When you’re ready, it’s okay with us. You know that, right?”

“Yeah. I do.”

“Okay. Just checking.”

***

He hadn’t even noticed her standing in the doorway. Not at first anyway. When he did notice her, he couldn’t stop his eyes from sliding over her slender figure cradled in a low cut, tight black tank top, and a blue denim skirt with a hemline that hovered a few inches above her knees. A pair of black, calf high boots completed the outfit.

“Hey, Jason. You looked good out on the field today.”

She bit her lower lip, watching him pull a gray t-shirt over his head and down across his bare chest and then growled softly in approval. “You look good now too.”

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

Lauren Phillips.

Tall. Blond. Shapely.

Attractive like Ellie but totally opposite in her personality and tone. Ellie’s sweetness was natural, God-given, and genuine. Lauren’s sweetness was an act, a way to get into the heads of men she’d set her sights on and had decided she wanted to conquer. At least that’s how he saw her looking back.

Still, no matter how many ways Jason tried to villainize Lauren, he knew he couldn’t. He’d made the decision to accept her offer, to let her attention lull him into what he’d hoped would be a pleasure filled distraction from the distorting thoughts ruling his brain that third year at college.

He and Ellie had decided to take a break from their relationship before he left for his sophomore year of college. Actually, Ellie had decided. He’d simply agreed because he’d thought she would change her mind in a couple of months. She didn’t and he didn’t try to change it for her. Maybe he should have. He was completely lost without her – without her friendship because that’s what their relationship was — a friendship as much as it was a romantic relationship.

Jason had been brought up in a Christian family, taught that a person was supposed to live within boundaries that God set for them. But those boundaries felt suffocating and boring while he was at college and he wondered if the boundaries were worth it. The boundaries kept him focused on what he didn’t, and couldn’t have. That’s how he felt then anyhow

When Lauren kissed him that night after a party, pulling him toward an open bedroom door in her apartment, he knew he was crossing a boundary he’d set for himself years ago and he didn’t even care anymore. For that brief time, he forgot who he was and it felt amazing.

At first it felt amazing.

Then the guilt set in like a heavy chain around his neck.

It had all been so rushed. The alcohol had blurred his senses, confused his thoughts, tossed him into a world of chaos. She was dressing before he’d even had time to wrap his mind around it all.

He’d woke up a few hours later in his dorm room, Alex standing over him, his expression mixed with concern and confusion.

“Hey, Jase. You okay?”

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

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

While he had decided that short time in college that his Christian beliefs cut all the fun out of his life, he had later realized that fun without boundaries could lead to dire consequences.

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

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

He refocused himself for the remainder of that year and for the next year after that. All he wanted was his degree so he could learn how to make sure his family’s business survived and then he would go home to the farm. During the second half of his junior year he also realized he wanted to go back to Ellie. Along with God she was an anchor for him and he’d let go of them both and it had sent him spinning out of control.

Alex’s reaction to his mortified feelings after sleeping with Lauren were less than supportive. At least at first.

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

Jason vomited in an empty container from the Chinese restaurant.

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

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

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

“I just mean the whole Lauren situation. Geeze, Alex. Don’t make this worse than it is.”

Jason sat back, pressing his hands to his face. “I’m not the kind of guy who just jumps in bed with a woman I don’t even know. You know that.”

“You mean like me?”

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

“Oh.”

Alex wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t want to make fun of his friend for this revelation for a couple of reasons. One, he admired Jason for his integrity, his morals, and his sense of romanticism, even if he didn’t have any of those himself. And two, he liked his front teeth and didn’t want Jason to punch them out of his head.

Alex shrugged scooting himself back onto the top of the dresser, his legs hanging down. “Okay, listen. You made a mistake. That’s all. It’s not the end of the world. Just cut Lauren loose and take some time to think about things. About what you really want. This is college. This where we screw up and learn our lessons, right?”

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

The front door slammed open and Alex stepped inside.

Present day Alex; Alex six years later but in some ways the same ole’ Alex.

He brought with him the noise of the storm outside, which pulled Jason out of his thoughts.

Alex’s clothes were drenched, clinging to him as he pushed the door closed. Sliding his cowboy hat off, he propped it on the hook next to the door, then paused and looked at Jason, sprawled on the couch on his back.

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

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

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

“No, not yet.”

“So, you’re just sitting here stressing about talking to Ellie?”

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

“Yeah. That and remembering college.”

Alex winced as he pried his wet button up shirt off and tossed it toward the laundry room. “Ah, man, no. This can’t be good.”

He reached flicked the light switch for the overhead light to ‘on.’  “You can’t sit here sitting in the dark reflecting on past mistakes. It’s not healthy.”

Jason burped and reached for the can of soda on the coffee table. Alex kicked at an empty bag of potato chips. “Um…this isn’t healthy either. Where are your regular veggie sticks and protein shakes?”

Jason sighed and rolled on his side to face the back of the couch, feeling like a pouting teenager.

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

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

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

“You really want me to answer that?”

“Shut up.”

When Alex came back a few moments later he smacked the bottom of  Jason’s feet and told him to shove over and sit up. Cracking open a can of soda he’d grabbed out of the fridge on the way back to the living room he sat where Jason’s feet had been and took a long drink before speaking.

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

Jason groaned and sat up, accepting the bottle as Alex handed it to him. He leaned his elbows on his knees and sipped from the bottle, staring at the turned off television.

The rain had slowed down and the thunder was fading. The sound of raindrops against the metal porch roof filled the silence as Alex waited for Jason to talk.

“I just don’t how Ellie will feel when I tell her about Lauren.”

“I know, man, but you’ve got to tell her. It’s the right thing to do.”

Jason looked over his shoulder at his friend. “Since when did you become so ethical?”

Alex pushed his fist gently against Jason’s arm. “Since I started living with you. Blame yourself.”

Jason shrugged and nodded while he drank from the bottle of water. When he looked back at Alex he didn’t see the grin he expected to see. Instead, Alex’s joking demeanor had faded and  his expression had become serious.

“I can’t help feeling some of this is my fault.”

Jason looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

Alex leaned back against the arm of the couch, propping his leg up on the coffee table and sliding an arm behind his head. “You were a good guy when you came to MU. Squeaky clean.” He shrugged his shoulders as he sipped from the soda. “I think I broke you or something.”

Leaning forward, Alex rubbed his hand against his chin, under his bottom lip. “I talked you into going to bars, into drinking. I’m the reason you met Lauren. Maybe I’m the reason you, how do you Christians say it? Compromised your morals?”

Jason laughed, shaking his head as he stood from the couch. “Alex, you didn’t force me to sleep with Lauren Phillips. I did that all on my own. I’m the one who screwed that up. It wasn’t your fault. I’m also the one who made the decision to go with you to those bars and parties.” He pushed his hands into his hair and shook his head again. “If anyone should feel guilty it’s me for not influencing you in a more positive way, telling you that you didn’t need to go out and drink way your childhood pain or find your worth in the way hot women looked at you. I should have taken you to church with me and showed you that there’s more to you than rugged good looks and a charming personality. For that matter I should be doing that now.”

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

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

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

Jason stood with his hands on his hips, tipped his head back and looked at the ceiling. “I’m going to tell her. As soon as I get my nerv —”

And that’s when he saw her.

Ellie.

Standing in the doorway between the living room and kitchen. Her long, dark brown hair damp from the rain outside, stray strands of it clinging to the side of her face.

Jason thought his heart would pound out of his chest as their eyes met. Sweat beaded across his forehead as if he’d just worked out at the gym for an hour and his legs gave their best impression of spaghetti underneath him.

“Ellie. Hey. What are you doing here?” he asked instead of what he wanted to ask, which was: “How long have you been standing there?”

“I – uh . . .” Ellie’s voice trailed off, emotion catching her words and strangling them. She looked at the floor quickly and swallowed hard.

“The back door was open. I was going to sneak in and surprise you two with a pie I baked earlier.”

Alex straightened on the couch and cleared his throat, quickly looking at the floor. “Um. Excuse me. I have to. . . uh . . . I’m just going to go head up to bed early.”

He shot a sympathetic look at Jason, but Jason wasn’t looking at him. He was staring at Ellie, his mouth partly open, but no sounding coming out.

With one foot on the bottom step Alex closed his eyes and grimaced as he heard Ellie’s question: “Who’s Lauren Phillips?”

Extra Fiction Thursday: Quarantined, a novella, Chapter 5

As always, this is a work of fiction in progress. What I share on the blog is not the final draft of the novel or novella I’m working on. I reread, rewrite, and rework the stories a few times before I finally publish them on Kindle or Barnes and Noble. I also try to fix typos, plot holes, and punctuation issues in the final draft and have it proofed and edited. If you see errors in the chapters I post on the blog, feel free to send me a note on my contact form (link at the top of the page) so I can make the corrections, if I haven’t caught them aready.

Following along with the story and missed a week or want to follow along? Find the other chapters HERE.

Have some thoughts on the story itself? Let me know in the comments.

Chapter 5

Cassie climbed under the covers and flopped on her back to stare at the ceiling, moonlight cutting a square across it from the window.

What was with all of Matt’s weird questions tonight? The situation with Liam and Maddie must be rattling him even more than she realized. She rolled to her side, fluffed up her pillow, hugged it and tried to get more comfortable.

It wasn’t working.

Her mind was racing too much.

Maybe Liam and Maddie’s situation was rattling her too.

She was thinking about them and their marriage, and viruses and if her family was safe and how to get groceries if they had to shelter in place for even longer and the media and what they’d be saying for the rest of the week with Matt and his staff having still worked for a week after they knew they’d been exposed to a contagious virus and  . . . .

She squeezed her eyes shut, sucked in a deep breath, and held it for several seconds before letting it out again. She had to calm down. What was that one relaxation technique she’d heard about again? Breathe in six seconds, hold five? Or was it, breathe in seven and hold six and then let it out for the count of four or was it letting it out for the count of seven? Oh, forget it. Trying to remember the technique was making her even more anxious.

She closed her eyes and tried to focus on one worry at a time instead.

She couldn’t deny that there were days she regretted agreeing with Matt that he should run for the senate in the first place. They both had such high hopes six years ago; hopes that they could make changes for the voters who had put their faith in Matt, while not being changed themselves. But it was impossible not to be changed by the influences of Washington, D.C. Nothing in this city was like the small upstate New York town Cassie had grown up in and it was also nothing like Stevensville, Ohio where she and Matt had lived before he had been elected.

Stevensville, Ohio was small. Very small. Like everyone knows your name and your business small. It was also still her and Matt’s home in the summers when they left the city behind for much needed breaks. Only that break wouldn’t be coming this year. Not with all the craziness about viruses and quarantines and freezes on travel. Cassie wanted to cry but she was afraid to because once she started, she might not stop. She was homesick for New York and Ohio, for her own family, for Matt’s family, for the familiar she’d left behind when Matt was elected six years ago.

She sighed and opened her eyes, looking at the other side of the bed where Matt slept most nights of the week, unless he was working late and then he stayed at John’s apartment, closer to his office. She touched cool sheets, thinking of how many nights they’d laid here next to each other, back to back, rarely speaking because she knew he needed his sleep, because she knew he needed to get up early in the morning, because she didn’t want to burden him anymore than he was already burdened.

But she missed him. She missed him holding her and them talking about their future, instead of him telling her about the stress he’d been under that day and then falling into a fitful sleep. She missed his hand on her cheek as he moved closer late at night, a small, mischievous smile that signaled he wasn’t ready for sleep yet.

She missed long, slow kisses, roaming hands, but as much as the physical, she missed the emotional connection they’d once had. The connection when Matt wanted to talk with her before anyone else, when he didn’t want to make a decision unless he’d asked her, and when she’d known so much about his day, his job and his life that it was as if they were thinking like one person.

“Cassie, are you sure you’re okay with this?” he’d asked eight and a half years ago when he’d considered running for Senate.

“Yeah. I am.”

That’s what she’d said, but she really hadn’t been sure she was okay with it. She was okay with Matt wanting to help the people of his small hometown and the surrounding counties by becoming a senator from Ohio, but she wasn’t really sure she was okay with the lives of their entire family being upended. She’d given up her social worker career four years before, deciding to spend more time at home with the children. Matt’s career as a lawyer had exploded and from there he’d become involved in county politics and then state politics. When the state’s Republican party came to him and asked him to run for the senate, he’d turned them down at first. But after several meetings, a few months of consideration, and talking to Cassie, his parents, his sister and brother, and his pastor, he’d decided to step into an already contentious race for the seat.

From the moment he’d announced to the day he won the seat the lives of the Grant family had been a whirlwind. After the election, the moving began. Tyler had been 7 at the time, Gracie 3 and Lauren was born in Washington. Every effort was made to ensure that the children and Cassie would see Matt as much as possible, despite his job, but there were weeks they still barely saw him at all.

The idea of having the family living close had been a good one, but the execution of it had started to fail within six months. Meetings, conferences, sessions that ran late into the night, and media-made emergencies were constant, taking over every aspect of Matt and Cassie’s life. Matt still made every effort to attend baseball games, dance recitals, and Saturday mornings at the park, in addition to balancing his responsibilities as a senator, but that left little to almost no time for him and Cassie.

For the most part, Cassie was okay with being the last in line for his attention. She preferred he spend as much time as he could with the children during their formative years. This was a season of life, not a new normal. Time for them, as a couple, would come later, when things slowed down.

If things slow down, Cassie thought, panic suddenly gripping her, like a heavy weight in the center of her chest. If Matt gets reelected we could have another six years of this and maybe even another six after that. . .It’s already been six, I don’t know if I can take another six.

She shuddered, pulling the covers up around her, even though it wasn’t that cold in their bedroom. She tried to imagine six more years, or even more, of accusations against her husband, and sometimes even her, in the press. She tried to imagine six more years of barely seeing her husband; of feeling like her husband’s nanny, even though she loved her children desperately; and of constituents confronting her husband when they were out in public, complaining about this or that change he’d promised he’d make if elected but still hadn’t been able to.

Tyler would be graduating high school at the end of six years. So much of his life had already been consumed by Matt’s position. Would he have to endure it during his high school years as well?

Cassie knew it wasn’t only the quiet life she and Matt had led before he’d entered politics that she was homesick for.  She was homesick for time alone with Matt. She was tired of sharing him with his staff, his fellow congressmen, his constituents, and the press. She was tired of feeling like she was second in line for his attention, even though she knew he didn’t mean to make her feel that way.

Who knows, she thought, feeling sleep finally settling on her. Maybe this quarantine will be good for not only Liam and Maddie but for Matt and me. Maybe I’ll actually get him to myself for once.

***

The election had been brutal. There was no denying it. Worse than the campaigning, the traveling, the long days, had been the media coverage. Non-stop negative stories aimed at destroying Matthew Eben Grant before he could even open his mouth. The media machine was out of control. There was no denying it, especially after that first month of campaigning when one of the state’s biggest newspapers had questioned his staff’s lack of diversity. Those questions had led to him refusing to answer questions of his campaign staff’s ethnic backgrounds and horrified when a newspaper had called the head of his campaign his “one token person of color,” as if she hadn’t been qualified for her job simply on the merits of her professional experience.

From that story it was a quick jump to combing through Matt and Liam’s social media accounts, searching for anything that would sink them in the political arena. One rogue satirical Tweet from his college days, labeled as sexist by feminists, dominated headlines for a few days, but as it always was with the current 24-hour/7-day a week news cycle, the press had turned it’s hungry eyes to another candidate, another subject to devour. the following week.

The polls showed Matt losing and big, right up until election day, but the night of the election the numbers had come in fast and furious late in the evening. Matt had won by a landslide. Apparently the silent voters, the one who didn’t want to be yelled at or condemned for their opinions, had come out in droves and sent a hard message home to the incumbent and his political party: “We’ve had enough of the status quo and of corrupt politicians with empty promises and even emptier apologies.”

Matt knew, though ,that in less than a year he could be in the same boat and it could be his rear end with the boot of the voter against it as they shoved him out the door. Voters preferences were fickle and ever changing and some days nothing a senator did could make anyone happy. Matt had only been a senator for six years, but it felt like it had been 100. Now he had a small idea why so many presidents went gray while in office, though thankfully he didn’t have the same pressure as a president.

He yawned, stretching his arms out as if he intended to stand up and head up to bed, but he didn’t stand up. Instead he fell back on the couch, remote in hand. He surfed streaming services, suggested shows and movies scrolling by, but he wasn’t really seeing any of it. His mind had slipped back to five and a half years ago, to near the end of the election when the news stories were at their worst. He was being called a racist, anti-woman, anti-this, anti-that. He had lost count of all the names they had called him.

“Is this even worth it?” he asked Cassie one night in bed, snuggled close against her.

“If you can get in there and really help facilitate some change, then, yes, it’s worth it,” she assured him.

But then the win came and with it came more news stories, personal attacks against him and his family. The worst came when one of his staff members brought him an article about Cassie, accusing her of being fired from her previous job.

He was furious. “Where did they even get that story? Cassie was never fired from her job. She left to support me and be with the children.”

Scanning the story, he saw a former co-worker of Cassie’s was quoted and offered only summations, not facts. Still, the headline suggested the accusations were true. It wouldn’t have upset Matt as much if it had been about him instead of Cassie. He’d grown accustomed to being accused of inappropriate acts or offensive words, or anything else the press could come up with, but Cassie?

Cassie was off limits.

Only she wasn’t off limits.

She wasn’t off limits because he had made her fair game when he’d decided to accept the party’s urging to run.

He’d dragged her out into the open and essentially thrown her to the wolves.  

The story had been pushed to the side quickly in a few days with another news story, about another politician, overshadowing it. One of the only good aspects of the 24/7 news cycle was how fast paced it was. It meant a story that was in the forefront one day was gone by the next and even though the story on Cassie had faded fast, he still felt incredible guilt about how much he’d exposed his family during this process.

He’d always wanted to protect Cassie. Now he didn’t know how to. In a hyper-political atmosphere that was beginning to suffocate him, the negativity was coming from every side.

His phone rang and he glanced at the ID before answering it. He let out a sigh of relief when he saw it wasn’t John, a member of the Senate or the press trying to reach him.

“Hey, bro,” he said to Liam. “You hanging in there?”

“Yeah. Locked myself in my office. You?”

“Yeah. Feels weird just to be sitting at home.”

“A good weird or a bad weird?”

“Both.”

“Things okay with Cassie? The kids?”

“Kids are doing great. They don’t know much about what’s going on. Cassie’s . . . okay, I guess. She seems tired.”

“Is she mad at you for all this?”

Matt laughed. “She doesn’t seem mad, really. She just seems like Cassie. She’s cooking for the kids and me, cleaning, checking on her parents.”

“Did you ask her if she was okay?”

“Yeah, she said she’s fine.”

Matt heard a small laugh on the other end of the phone.

“What?” he asked. “No. Don’t even say it. You think ‘I’m fine’ is code for something else.”

“You know I’m no expert on women,” Liam started.

“Uh, obviously.”

“But I am learning during this that apparently when a woman says she’s okay, she’s really not,” Liam continued. “I didn’t know that Maddie was struggling, Matt. I just thought she hated me, that I was doing everything wrong, but I think she feels — I don’t know. Abandoned? She pretty much told me she feels like I abandoned her.”

Matt sighed, laying on his back, staring at the ceiling. He slid his arm behind his head. “In what way did you abandon her?”

“Staying at work too much, for one. She says I worked more so I didn’t have to face us losing the babies.”

“Did you?”

“No, I . . .”

Liam’s voice trailed off and then there was a brief silence. “Yeah,” he said finally. “Yeah, I did. When you asked me to be your press secretary I jumped at it because I knew I would be so busy I wouldn’t have to think about losing the babies, about that empty hole in the center of my chest.”

Matt grimaced as he sat up, propping his elbow against his knee. “Liam, I’m sorry I was so focused on the election, on me really, that I didn’t notice all you were going through.”

“Dude, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I didn’t even admit to myself how much it was bothering me.”

“I know, it’s just — I’m really starting to realize how out of touch I’ve been with what really matters in the last few years; you and Maddie, the kids. Cassie. When I decided to run, I pulled all of you —”

“Matt. No. You were doing what you felt was right. And it wasn’t just you who decided to run. We all decided. As a family. We knew this could be rough. Yeah, it’s a little worse than we expected with all the extra political drama going on these days, but we are still in this together. It’s okay. We’re all okay. Well, we will be okay, one way or another anyhow. None of this is your fault.”

Matt flopped back on the couch again. “I know it isn’t. But I still feel . . . guilty. I don’t know. What I do know is that all of this, this forced slow down, has opened my eyes up to what I’ve been missing lately. I don’t like that our family, or our country, is going through this, but it’s putting some things in perspective for me.”

Liam sighed on the other end of the phone. “Yeah. It’s doing the same for me.”

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 18

Chapter 18 of The Farmer’s Daughter? Really? It seems so strange to be this far already in some ways, but in other ways it isn’t because I actually started this story sometime last year and have been slowly working on it since I even wrote my other books.

I can already see some changes and additions I want to make, but so far I’m liking the direction of the story. I have a feeling I’ll be tweaking a lot before all is said and done, but for now – brace yourselves, one of our characters may get themselves in some trouble in the next couple of chapters.

Catch up on the story HERE.




Molly slid a pile of books across the library desk at Ginny, unsure of when she’d have time to read the books but knowing she needed to do something to distract her from life, or her lack of one, these days.

Ginny glanced at the title of the book on the top of the pile.

How To Get Out of A Rut in Your Life.

She cleared her throat, sliding it into the library bag and reaching for another book.

How To Spice Up Your Life.

And then, Does He Like You? Ten Ways to Tell If He’s Totally Into You.

Ginny raised one eyebrow and looked up at Molly who was chewing on her fingernails.

“So, Molly, have you figured out how you were feeling a few weeks ago about sort of being stuck in life?”

Molly shrugged. “Not really. Still not sure about things and still feel like my life is somewhat. . . Hmmmm..I’m not sure what to call it.”

Ginny knew what to call it.

“Stagnant,” she said bluntly.

“Yes. That’s it. Stagnant. Like dirty water.”

Ginny laughed softly, tapping the top of her pencil on top of the desk, leaning against her hand. “Trust me. I get it.”

Molly studied Ginny’s expression, the sadness there, and wondered what was making Ginny feel stagnant. She had a good job, was popular in the community, had three lovely, now grown children, and was married to the most successful real estate agent in the region.

“You?” Molly asked.

Ginny looked up at Molly, a faint smile tugging at her mouth. “Yes, Molly. Even old people feel stagnant in life sometimes.”

Molly laughed, flipping a strand of her hair off her shoulder. “Ginny. You are not old. Stop.”

Ginny shrugged. “I feel old. Much older than I actually am. Maybe we need to cheer both of us up. I’m not an expert on how to do that, unfortunately.”

“Maybe an art class?” Molly suggested, gesturing toward the flyer taped on the top of the counter. “There is one in two weeks that is entitled ‘Lessons in realistic sketching.’ The description says we will be drawing a life model.”

“Knowing my luck it will be some skinny model with a perky chest and perfect skin,” Ginny sighed, rolling her eyes.

Molly snorted a laugh. “It will be both our luck, but let’s try it anyhow.”

Ginny handed Molly her bag of books. “And maybe by getting out a little more you won’t need all these books. Except that one about finding out if he really likes you or not.”

Light pink spread along Molly’s cheeks.

“Um..just pretend you didn’t see that one.”

“You don’t need to read the book. He likes you. I already told you he was flirting.”

“Ginny . . .”

“I’m just saying.”

“I know you’re just saying, but I’m just saying hush.”

Ginny laughed as Molly walked toward the door. “Okay,” she said softly. “But he does.”

“See you Wednesday night, Ginny.”

During the drive to the farm Molly thought about the conversation she’d had with her parents, Jason and Alex earlier in the day.

“We didn’t want to tell you anything until we knew for sure what was going on,” her father had said after he told her about the financial trouble the farm was facing.

“I understand,” she said, deciding not to mention she’d already been tipped off about the situation when she’d eavesdropped on her aunt and uncle at the farm store.

Her parents had assured her and Jason that every effort was being made to keep the farm and the rest of the enterprise afloat  but she still couldn’t help feel a twinge of panic and alarm at the idea her family could be standing with so many others watching their lives being auctioned away.

Sure she felt stuck in some ways, but that didn’t mean she wanted her family’s farm to go under or the families who worked with them to be left without an income. The thought that it could happen terrified her. She’d called Liz shortly after talking to her parents. Liz had seemed concerned, but distant somehow.

“Are you okay?” Molly had asked.

“Yeah, fine,” Liz said. “I was just thinking about work, but that can wait until later. What are your parents going to do?”

Molly didn’t think Liz was fine at all. She could hear the tension in her voice, but she decided she wouldn’t push for an answer for now.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing but add some different items for sale at the farm store, expand what we offer and hope we have a good crop this year. We are looking at opening a café. I don’t think we have time to pull it off, though, Liz. We had a lot of rain this spring, the crops aren’t growing as fast as they should and it will take time to expand what we offer at the store. This might be it. We might lose our farm.”

“It’s not going to happen, Molly,” Liz’s tone was firm. “Something is going to work out. It has to. I can’t imagine your family without their farm.”

Molly couldn’t either and as she pulled into the driveway toward it she felt tears choking her. She pulled the truck off next to the top field, shifted it into park and gulped back a sob. She’d spent her whole life here, took her first steps outside the barn, learned to ride her bike in this driveway with her grandfather’s hand on the back of the bike until she took off. She’d even had her first kiss ever on the front porch of her house. That kiss had been with Ben, of course, and even though her feelings for him weren’t as strong as they were back then, it was still her first kiss.

Her grandfather had taught her about cows and calving and how to store grain on this farm. She had shucked corn and snapped green beans with her mother and grandmothers on this porch before her mom’s mom had moved away. She didn’t even have to close her eyes to imagine her grandfather walking out of that barn wearing a pair of dirty overalls and a pair of manure and mud caked work boots, reaching into his front shirt pocket for a piece of hard candy to hand her before he headed back to his house for the evening. Somedays it was if she could still see him there, out of the corner of her eye, but when she turned it was her dad or the wind or nothing at all.

“God, what are we going to do?” Molly asked softly. “Please, please don’t take this farm from our family. Help us, somehow. Help us figure out how to save it.”

She wiped the back of her hand across her cheeks and couldn’t help laughing slightly. Only a few weeks before she’d been lamenting her life here on the farm and now she was asking for God to save this farm, save her family’s livelihood, save the very life she thought she hadn’t wanted.

***

Alex’s phone blinked a warning of awkwardness ahead.

He held it in his hands for a few moments, staring at the ID blinking at him, his thumb hovering over the decline button. He rolled his eyes and hit the accept button instead, bracing himself.

“Well, well, look who finally answered his phone.”

“Hey, mom.”

“Hey, yourself. I guess you’ve been busy. I’ve been getting kicked to voice mail for a month or more now.”

“Service isn’t always great out in the fields.”

“Hmmm..right. The fields.”

He heard the mocking tone and chose to ignore it.

“Have you heard from your father lately?”

“Nope.”

“Me either. Thank God. How about your brother?”

“Last week.”

“Is he doing okay? He never calls me anymore and I have to chase him down too. I guess I’m not as important to him as his father is.”

Alex ignored the passive aggressiveness. “Yeah. He’s fine. Got a promotion at the office.”

He heard an exhale, knew his mom was blowing a plume of cigarette smoke out. “Well, good for him.” She inhaled and exhaled again. “So, you’re happy? On that farm in the middle of nowhere?”

He laughed softly. “Yeah, mom. I’m happy here. On this farm, in the middle of nowhere.”

“And Jason is good?”

“Yes, Mom. He’s good.”

Jason grinned and pointed his thumbs toward his chest. “Is she talking about me?” he whispered.

Alex nodded and rolled his eyes.

“Did he ever ask that nice girl he’s been dating forever to marry him?”

Alex laughed out loud, looking at Jason.

“No, Mom, he hasn’t asked Ellie to marry him yet.”

Jason smirked, shaking his head. He stood and leaned close to the phone. “You too, Cecily? Thanks a lot.”

Alex wasn’t used to hearing his mom laugh, especially now that her laugh was hoarse from her years of smoking. The sound was slightly jarring to him. “You just tell that boy to do the right thing and propose,” she said.

“She says just propose already,” Alex told Jason as Jason walked toward the door.

He waved his hand at Alex. “Yeah, yeah. See you at the barn later.”

Alex turned his attention back to his mom. “So, what’s up, Mom?”

“Nothing is up. Can’t a mother just call her son?”

“Sure, she can, but you don’t usually do it unless something is going on.”

“It’s just — well,” his mother let out a heavy sigh, an exhale that probably include more smoke. “It’s your father.”

Alex rolled his eyes. “What about him?”

“I don’t think he’s doing well, health wise.”

“Why do you think that?”

“It’s just that your brother hinted that something was going on awhile back. He said he’d had some appointments with a doctor. He said it wasn’t anything to worry about, but I don’t know. I felt like he wasn’t being honest about what’s really going on.”

Alex shrugged. “Like I said before, I just talked to him and he didn’t say anything to me about Dad’s health. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

“You know I don’t care much about your father’s health for my own sake, Alex, but maybe you should call him, talk to him.”

Cecily Madigan Burke wasn’t sounding like herself and now Alex was wondering is something was wrong with her health.

“Mom, compassion toward Dad really isn’t like you. Are you okay?”

Cecily sighed again. “Alex, I just said I’m not worried about him for my own sake. I’m not even worried about him for his own sake, but I don’t want something to happen to him before you’ve talked to him and worked some things out. I don’t want you to carry that anger for him for the rest of your life. It’s not healthy. I’ve had to let a lot of it go or I’d have even more wrinkles than I do now. My Yoga instructor led me through this amazing meditation of forgiveness last week. Maybe you could do something like —”

“I think we’re rushing things a bit here,” Alex interrupted. “We don’t even know there is anything wrong with his health, okay? And you’re already acting like he is dying. Besides, Dad is the one who should be contacting me and, as you have always said, act like a real father for once. I’m not going to chase someone who obviously doesn’t care whether I live or die.”

“Alex, I don’t think it’s true that he doesn’t care, he’s just too selfish to show it.”

“He’s focused on himself, Mom. Always has been and always has. Listen, I’ll ask Sam about his health, but I think you’re reading too much into it. He’s probably just getting a vasectomy to make sure he doesn’t father anymore children in his old age.”

His mom laughed softly at the suggestion and then they said their goodbyes, with Alex agreeing he’d try to keep in touch more and insisting he was still happy on the farm. When he slid his finger over the end call button his phone, though, he knew he was only half telling the truth. He did love working on the farm, but right now he was struggling because of what he’d witnessed between Molly and Ben.  

He pulled a soda out of the fridge and cracked it open, pushing the refrigerator door closed hard behind him. He hadn’t been able to get the image of Molly and Ben together out of his mind for a week now. He’d been quiet in the barn, talking when talked to but not offering comments or jokes like he usually did. He’d been inside his head too much to feel relaxed enough to act like nothing had changed since he’d seen Molly laughing and lightly touching Ben’s arm outside the church that day.

He sat on the porch railing, his legs hanging down, the soda can cupped between his hands, glad Jason was still down at the farm bringing the cows into the barn for the night.

Sleep had been hard to come by for the last week. When he closed his eyes, he pictured Molly and Ben together, Ben’s arms around Molly, leaning down to kiss her, her leaning up to kiss him back. No, he hadn’t seen that actually happen, but in his mind it had or was going to.

He was tired of thinking about it, tired of knowing he wasn’t good enough for Molly. He needed to get out of his head, and he needed to get out of this house.

He crunched the empty soda can in his hand, jumped off the railing, and stood on the porch as he stared down the road that would lead him toward town. He had no chance with Molly. He was wasting his time imagining he did.

 She was a hundred times better than him. She believed in God; he didn’t know what to believe. She was sweet and gentle; he was hard and often cynical and bitter. She’d been talking to Ben outside a church.

A church.

They’d smiled, looked happy together. Because they were, like Jason had said, “meant to be together.” A good fit.

He and Molly weren’t a good fit and it was time he accepted that.

When it came down to it, she was good, and he wasn’t. 

He was restless, anxious to get away from his own rambling thoughts. He’d been avoiding the bars lately, avoiding the temptations they brought but he needed the distraction tonight, temptations or not. He reached inside the front door and snatched keys off the hanger then turned on his heel, walked briskly down the front steps and to his truck. 

He ripped out of the driveway, driving fast in the direction of town and away from the thoughts that tortured him at home.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 16

The chapter is long this week but I’m throwing it up anyhow. Not a ton of people read my fiction or comment so who is going to care? No one. *wink* Sometimes it’s depressing writing into a void and sometimes it is very, very liberating.

Seriously, hope everyone is doing well and to find previous chapters from this story you can click HERE or at the top of the page where I also have links to excerpts from my books that are on sale on Kindle.




The board says they are going to need at least half of the loan paid off by the end of the summer for the bank not to foreclose.”

Bill Eberlin’s words were like a kick in the chest to the Tanner siblings and their spouses.

Half of the more than $50,000 loan paid off in less than three months? With the way the milk market was and the fact the corn was barely growing Robert knew the task was virtually impossible. He slid his hand over Annie’s as she sat in the chair next to him and clutched it tight. She smiled at him, but he saw the worry in her eyes.

The men of the family had kept their word and brought Annie, Hannah, and Lauren into the loop, to be sure the women were aware the full extent of the trouble the family’s business was in. Now they were sitting with him, Walt, and Bert in the sparsely decorated conference room at the Spencer Valley Savings and Loan, trying to find a way to save a business that not only supported them but several other families.

“By the end of the summer?” Bert shook his head. “I just don’t see how that’s possible. Will they accept installments of some kind?”

Bill drummed his fingers on the top of his desk. “They might would have if payments had been made before this ‘come to Jesus’ talk, so to speak. The members of the board are nervous, afraid they won’t get their money back. I think they believe setting a deadline will push you to get this loan paid and show you how important paying this loan back is to them.”

Robert rubbed his hand across his face. “I shouldn’t have dragged my feet on getting this taken care of.”

Walt leaned forward on his elbows on the table.

“You weren’t the only one who should have done something,” he said. “We were overly confident that we could take care of this with last year’s milk prices. The last quarter was much worse than any of us imagined.”

“There is plenty of blame to go around,” Hannah said. “But placing blame isn’t going to help us right now. The best we can hope for is a good growing season and stellar sales at the farm store.”

She leaned back in the plush chair with maroon cushions, arms folded across her chest, a determined expression furrowing her eyebrows.

“It’s not hopeless by any means,” she continued. “Our family has a good thing going, a good business. I know the market isn’t great and the growing season has been garbage this year, but the farm store may be just what will keep the business afloat. Molly and I were talking the other day about some ideas for expanding our inventory, adding home décor and expanding the greenhouse.”

Robert admired his sister’s optimism, but spending more money wasn’t what the family needed to do right now.

“Expansion means investing more money and more money isn’t what we have right now,” he said softly.

“I agree with Hannah.”

Walt’s wife, Lauren, was what Robert called pleasantly plump. She wore her light brown hair shoulder length most of the time, curling the edges toward her face, framing her attractive smile and bright blue eyes. She was soft spoken like her husband and thoughtful like Robert, rarely speaking before she had considered all the options of how her words would be received. Her sudden endorsement of Hannah was an unusual step for her.

She shifted slightly in her seat as she realized all eyes were on her now.

“It’s just, I think we can find a way to expand some of what we offer at the farm store and combining that with any income we receive from the milk and produce, we could reach the end of the summer deadline, or at least part of it. Maybe with a show of good faith the board will work with us.”

She glanced at Walt who smiled at her. Their eyes locked as she continued.

“If God is for us, who shall be against us? If we lose the business then, well, God has another plan for this family.”

A brief silence settled over the room. Lauren didn’t speak often but Annie, for one, was glad she had this time. She had a feeling the rest of the family agreed by the way they were nodding their heads.

 Bill, clearing his throat, was the first to speak.

“So, sounds like we have a plan all at least. I’m going to keep talking to the board, keep fighting for them to let you amend the contract, and extend the deadline a little longer and you all get everyone in your circle on board and let me know how it goes.”

Walt laughed softly. “I guess that means we need to let our kids and staff know what’s going on.”

Robert winced. “Ooh boy. That’s not going to be fun.”

“No,” Annie agreed. “But it’s necessary.”

***

Molly had invited Alex to church more times than he could count. He’d always declined. He knew he wasn’t cut out for church. He’d never been a church person. Good people went to church and while he’d never been the worst person in the world, he’d never really been a good person.

In high school, he’d been a troublemaker, mostly pranks and petty theft and underage drinking. He wasn’t sure where he would have ended up if his grandfather hadn’t bailed him out of jail and put him to work at his car business after his last run-in with the law – stealing a truck from a local used car lot and driving it across the city until he crashed it into a telephone pole when the tire blew.

During college it had been all-night drinking at fraternity parties, but luckily he’d kept himself out of trouble long enough to finish his degree, even though he had had no idea if he even wanted to use degree. He’d tried working computer programming for a full year before he hit rock bottom and Jason picked him up and told him: “Boy, I’m going to sweat that rebellious spirit out of you.”

Alex had sweated a lot over the years, but he wasn’t sure he’d sweated anything out of himself except laziness. He’d sweated while working in the fields, cutting down the hay, bailing it, building barns, spreading manure, shoveling manure, milking cows, feeding cows, running errands, and hauling vegetables and other products to the farm store. He’d learned more about farming, construction, operating a business, and planting produce in the last five years than he’d ever learned about computers during college.

The Tanner family had influenced him in almost every aspect of his life, but so far he hadn’t agreed to attend church with any of them. He’d watched them live their faith out every day and that was enough for him. The idea of sitting in a church wasn’t one he relished. Sitting in a hard pew, wearing a stiff shirt and tie and shoes too tight on his feet while a man stood in the pulpit and told him all he’d done wrong with his life did not sound like his idea of fun.

Molly had talked to him about church this morning in the barn, about how a friend of the family was singing a solo, about how the music always made her feel relaxed and at peace. He’d listened to her while hooking the cows into their stall, trying not to laugh at the excited way she talked about a place that seemed so boring to him. Listening to her talk about church, though, didn’t make it sound so bad. Sitting next to her, even on a hard pew, didn’t sound so bad either. Still, he wasn’t interested in tagging along.

“You sure you don’t want to go?” Molly asked as he climbed into his truck.

“Yep, but have fun,” he said with a smile, touching his finger to the edge of his cowboy hat.

He pulled the truck out of the drive and looked in his rearview mirror at Molly walking back toward the farmhouse, wondering if it was wrong to admire the appearance of a pretty Christian girl on a Sunday morning.

Ten minutes later he pulled into the Bradley farm to pick up extra fencing they’d offered Robert the week before to help fix a space of broken fence in the lower pasture.

The Bradley’s 7-year old son Daniel sat on an old rusting milk can by the barn door.

“Hey there, Mr. Stone.”

Alex paused, narrowed his eyes and tipped his head back so he was looking down his nose at the little boy.

“Daniel. Little dude. What did I tell you about calling me Mr. Stone?”

Daniel grinned, a piece of sweet grass in the corner of one mouth. “You said don’t call you that. It makes you feel old.”

“That’s right,” Alex laughed, holding his hand out for a high five. Daniel returned the high five and jumped off the milk can.

“Come on Alex,” Daniel said with a mature jerk of his head.
“Dad said to show you to the fencing back here.”

Alex followed Daniel, amazed, as always at his maturity at such a young age. The first time he’d met him a year ago he’d walked up to Alex and Robert, stuck out his hand and announced “Welcome to our farm. Follow me and I’ll show you the milking room.”

Four-feet tall, dark brown hair and freckles spread across his cheeks and nose, Alex always thought he looked like he walked out of one of those books by that writer his teacher made him read in sixth grade. The Farmer Boy or something.

“Fencing is there, wire is there and Dad says you can have the nails that went with it too.”

Alex nodded and reached for the fence posts and the barbed wire. “Thanks, bud. How’s farmin’ life treatin’ you?”

“Treatin’ me just fine,” Daniel said, leaning back against the wall of the barn, one foot crossing the other, hands in his pocket. “We had a calf last night. ‘Nother bull. Gotta sell it in a few weeks. Can’t give us milk and we already got a bull.”

Alex chuckled as he stacked the posts. As usual, Daniel was giving the run down like he was the parent, instead of the child.

“Were you there for the birth?” Alex asked.

“Yup. It was gross.”

Alex laughed. “But pretty cool to see new life come into the world, right?”

Daniel shrugged and spit the rest of the grass at the ground. “Yeah. Guess so.”

Alex heard Patrick Bradley’s voice boom across the yard to the barn.

“Daniel! Come on up to the house. It’s time to get ready for church.”

“Be right there, Dad! Just helping Alex get the fencin’.”

“Hey, Alex!”

“Hey, Patrick!” Alex shouted back.

He looked at Daniel and nodded toward the house. “Go on and get ready for church. I can finish here. Thanks for showing me where it was.”

Daniel shoved his hands in his overall pockets and turned toward the house then back to Alex again. “Don’t you go to church, Alex?”

Alex shook his head, tossing the last of the posts in the pile. “Nope.”

“Why not? Don’t you believe in God?”

Alex shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“So why don’t you wanna go to church?”

Alex lifted some of the posts and started walking toward his truck. “Just not my thing, kid. You go with your family and enjoy it, though, okay?”

Daniel walked behind him, furrowed eyebrows highlighting a thoughtful expression as he rubbed his chin. “I guess it’s okay if you don’t go to church. Mama says God’s not in the buildin’. He’s all around us so you could just talk to God no matter where you are, right?”

Alex tossed the posts into the back of the pick-up, turned and looked down at Daniel, ruffling his hair. “You know what, Daniel Bradley? You’re one smart kid.”

Daniel grinned, one of his bottom front teeth missing. “My mama tells me that all the time.”

“Well, she’s right. Now, head on in and get ready like your dad said. I’ll see you another day, okay?”

Alex watched Daniel run to the house and laughed to himself. If he’d been as smart at 29 as that kid was at seven he had a feeling he wouldn’t have had made as many mistakes as he had in life.

After breakfast in town, Alex headed back to the farm, windows down in the truck, music turned up. He glanced at the Tanner’s church on his way by, slowing down when he noticed Molly out front talking to someone hidden by a tree. Her reddish-brown curls spilled down her back, loose, unlike when she worked in the barn and secured it in a ponytail or under a baseball cap. She was wearing a light pink shirt that highlighted her curves and a flowing black skirt.

 Molly smiled and nodded to the person she was talking to. When Alex slowed down and pulled his truck into a parking spot further down the street, he could see through his side mirror that the other person was Ben.

Ben motioned toward a bench in front of the church and sat down. Molly sat next to him as he spoke. At first her expression was serious, then a smile crossed her mouth. She nodded again, speaking to Ben and reached across and laid her hand on his.

What are you even doing, Alex? You’re looking like a stalker right now.

He rolled his eyes. No. You don’t look like one. You’re being one right now.

Molly smiled and laughed again.

Ben smiled and laughed too.

They seemed to be enjoying themselves. Alex noticed the way Ben was sitting close to Molly, touching her arm lightly as they spoke, the way she wasn’t moving away from him, instead watching him intently, clearly engaged in the conversation and maybe also engaged in admiring him.

Jealousy hit Alex hard in the center of the chest. Jealousy and another feeling he couldn’t exactly put his finger on. Maybe disappointment mixed with anger, mixed with a hard realization that he’d been a fool thinking he’d ever be good enough for someone like Molly. Uninterested in sitting and watching their happy reunion any longer, he shifted the truck into gear and gently pulled onto the road, back toward the farm, cursing under his breath.


***

Jason Tanner pulled his dirty shirt and jeans off and tossed them toward the laundry basket on his way to the bathroom for a shower. It had been a long day, a long week, and that whole thing with Molly a few days before hadn’t helped his mood at all either. He had no idea what nerve he had touched when he offered his sister a cookie but it had left him bewildered and annoyed. He’d been so annoyed he hadn’t even addressed it with her yet, choosing instead not to poke an angry bear.

Women were so confusing. How did offering someone a cookie translate to “You’re fat.”? And how was he supposed to know that Molly was upset about her weight? He knew she’d been working out with Liz and eating a lot of grass-like foods, but he thought it was because she wanted to get healthier, not because she thought she was fat. She never seemed to let it bother her before. She was funny, confident, joked around in the barn and at work at the farm store. She never seemed down or depressed. At least that he’d noticed.

Of course, he was a guy and it had been pointed out to him more than once by El, Molly and a few other women in his life, that he was a bit oblivious at times.

Molly wasn’t fat anyhow. Sure, she’d gained weight over the years, but she looked fine. What was she so worried about anyhow?

He turned the shower on, washing the dirt, grime and sweat from the day away. Today had been tough and pretty weird but that day earlier in the week with Grandma had been even weirder. Had he actually struck a deal with his grandmother to propose to El? He knew his grandmother would hold up her end of the deal too; anything to get him to follow through on his end.

He didn’t know why he was so worried about it anyhow. He’d wanted to propose to Ellie for a couple of years. He could just never seem to get his courage up and then life, and their relationship, would continue on and he’d push it to the side again. He liked the way things were between them now; date nights, road trips to antique stores, church on Sunday, long walks in the woods behind her parents’ house, movie nights.

Of course, there was that one downside that Alex had harassed him about. The whole ‘waiting for marriage’ thing. He definitely struggled with that one, not so much in respecting Ellie’s wishes, because he did respect them, but with the waiting. Like Ellie, he’d been brought up to wait for physical connection beyond kissing until marriage, but there was no denying it, waiting was hard. Very hard. Especially since every time he was near Ellie a barely controlled desire roared inside him and he often had to step back before he tried to push their kisses further.

They’d come close to going all the way more than once but one of them had always stopped it, reminding each other they wanted to save that special moment for their wedding night. Then they’d have the familiar long talk about making sure they had enough money in the bank before they got married, so they could pay for the wedding (since both their parents were farmers and strapped for money) and since they wanted to be able to buy their own house and be financially secure when they were married.

It wasn’t that Jason had never “been with”, for lack of a better term, another woman. He had. Once. In college. With someone he hadn’t cared about. He had met her at a party and thought he wanted to be someone different than he’d been at home. It wasn’t a pleasant memory for him and he’d tried to push it out of his mind for years. The memory carried with it an overwhelming guilt that  he’d sacrificed his personal morals for an experience that was rushed and impersonal.

He and Ellie hadn’t been dating at the time and though he hated that it sounded like an excuse, Jason had been restless, lonely, lost. He felt like that night was his rock bottom moment; a wake up call to what kind of man he really wanted to be.

He’d never told Ellie, but, of course, she’d never asked either.

Jason shut the shower off and reached for a towel, rubbing it against his face, water dripping onto the floor. Maybe that was why he hadn’t proposed to her yet. He hadn’t been honest with her and deep down he knew he needed to be open and completely honest with her if they were going to get married, letting her decide for herself if she still wanted to be with him, to start a life with him, despite the fact he’d withheld part of his past from her.

He groaned into the towel. He had to bite the bullet, no matter what, though, not just because of the deal with his grandmother, but because he needed to know if Ellie would accept him despite his failings. God, he hoped she would because he couldn’t imagine his life without her.