Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 35


Welcome to a special Fiction Saturday and another chapter of The Farmer’s Daughter. If you want to catch up on the rest of the story click HERE. I posted Chapter 34 yesterday.



Chapter 35
Molly was tired of looking at her phone, waiting for Jason or her mom to call her with an update. She knew Jason was anxious to head home, take his mind off things by getting back to work. They’d agreed he would head home in a couple of days and they would switch places.

Her mom had sounded exhausted, yet still in good spirits, when she’d talked to her the night before. Molly wished she could make it all better, take away the fear she’d heard in her mom’s voice. None of it seemed real. Her dad should be with her right now in the barn, or at least out in one of the fields planting rye not laying in a hospital bed four hours away.

Looking out the barn door as she filled the bottles for the calves, she squinted at the sun bouncing off the hood of Cecily’s Jaguar as it pulled into the driveway and headed toward the barn. She hadn’t spoken to Alex since he’d taken his mother to dinner, but he knew Cecily had planned to head back to Baltimore today.

Molly stepped outside, watching the woman step out of her car, struck again with how out of place she looked on a farm in her expensive clothes and designer boots. She was also struck, again, how different Alex was from his mother

“Good afternoon, Cecily.” She smoothed her hands along her jeans, sucked in her stomach, still thinking of the way Cecily had looked her up and down at the house the day before and her comment about the ‘leggy blonds.’ “Alex isn’t here right now. He is up at one of the other fields.”

Cecily slid her sunglasses on. “That’s fine. I just thought I’d say goodbye before I headed back.”

Molly slid her phone out of her pocket. “Let me call him down for you.”

Cecily shook her head and held her hand up. “You know what? No. That’s okay. I doubt he’d want to see me anyhow. I’m afraid he didn’t find me in very good shape last night.”

She cleared her throat and looked at the ground briefly then back up at Molly again. “Have you heard anything about your father?”

“Just that he’s the same as before.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Cecily looked out at the cows in the pasture. “It’s tough for you all without him, I’d imagine.”

Molly nodded, sliding her phone back in her coat pocket. “Yes. It definitely is. We’ve been trying to pay off a loan and the deadline was coming up this week, so that’s made it a little harder too.”

Cecily’s eyebrows furrowed as she turned her gaze back to Molly. “A loan?”

Molly kicked at the dirt with the tip of her boot, wishing he hadn’t said anything about the loan. “Yeah, well, dad and Uncle Walt were trying to help make ends meet during a tough time and got behind. It will work out though.”

“So, what’s going to happen now?”

“We were able to pay off part of it at the end of summer.” Molly moved her gaze across the field, away from Cecily’s curious gaze, suddenly uncomfortable discussing her family’s personal business and wondering why she had started to in the first place. “And this morning my uncle got a call from the bank. They granted a six month hardship deferment after they heard about what happened to my dad.”

“Wow.” Cecily frowned. “I’ve never heard of a bank doing something like that.”

“It’s a small town,” Molly said. “Everyone knows everyone and for the most part people seem to want to help other people. We didn’t expect that, but we’re grateful.”

Cecily rubbed her hands across her arms as a breeze moved strands of hair across her face.

“What will happen when the deferment is up though? Will you be able to keep the farm?”

Molly shrugged a shoulder. “I’m not sure. We always seem to manage somehow. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

Cecily looked out across the fields again, shielding her eyes from the sun. “Your family has a nice farm here.”

“Thank you.” Molly shoved her hands deep in the pockets of her coat and gestured toward the west. “Further down is the farmland that used to be my grandparents. Both sets of grandparents actually. One lived at the first farm and the other one about a mile past that. Alex lives with Jason at my mom’s parents’ old place. Beyond that is land my family bought years ago to create Tanner Enterprises to try to help other farmers either stay in business or sell and move on.”

Cecily nodded slowly, following Molly’s gesture toward land she couldn’t see.   

 “It really is impressive what your family has done here, Molly. My husband would be amazed at their ingenuity and resolve not to give up.” She looked at Molly. “He sells and buys real estate for a living. He’s made the bulk of his money off multi-million dollar deals. Much different than what all of you are dealing with, of course, but he’d still be impressed.”

She pressed her lips together for a moment, opened her mouth to say something and closed it again.

She cleared her throat.  “What do you think your parents would say if I wrote them a check to help pay off that loan?”

Molly’s eyes widened. “Oh. Well, I don’t know, but Mrs. — I mean, Cecily, it’s a lot of money and —”

Cecily waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “Money isn’t an issue.” She was playing with her necklace, sliding the charm up and down the chain. “Would they feel like it was charity if I wrote them a check? They’re hard workers. Maybe they wouldn’t want to feel like someone was pitying them. I don’t want them to feel that way. It’s just —”

Cecily took a step forward, pressed the charm against her bottom lip, and tilted her head, narrowing her eyes. “I wasn’t a very good mother, Molly. I’m sure you’ve heard that from Alex.”

Molly didn’t know how to answer so she didn’t. She simply watched Cecily as she turned her head to watch the sunset.

“It’s okay,” Cecily said without looking at her. “You don’t have to tell me. I know.” She turned her head to look at Molly again. “I can’t give Alex back all those years where I wasn’t who I should have been to him. I think at this point saying ‘I’m sorry’ would sound hollow and cold somehow. The only way I’ve ever known how to show my boys I care about them is to buy them things.” A slight smile tugged at one side of her mouth. “Sad, I know.”

She shook her head slightly and smoothed her hands down her skirt. “I know I can’t buy Alex’s love, but he loves this farm. He loves your parents and brother, and from watching how he looked at you yesterday, I can tell he loves you too. If helping your family will help Alex be happy then it’s what I want to do.”

Molly took a deep breath. She was afraid to say anything that might offend this woman she barely knew but she still felt it needed to be said. “Cecily, as much as that money would help my family, I really believe Alex needs to hear from you that you care about him. That’s what he needs.”

Cecily looked down at her pink high heels, twisted the tip of one in the dirt, and laughed softly. “It sounds so easy when you say it.” She drew in a deep breath and hugged her arms tight around herself. “Maybe I’ll try that, but until then will you talk to your mother? Ask her if she’ll allow me to help.”

Molly smiled, pushing a strand out of her face as a breeze blew at it. “I’ll ask.”

Cecily rubbed her arms against the cold. “Thank you.”

She started to turn toward her car, wind whipping at her hair. Molly had already been bold when she told this woman she barely knew that she needed to talk to her son, so she decided to be bold again.

“Would you like to stay for lunch?”

Cecily turned back toward her.

“I was just going to cook some chicken for me and Alex,” Molly said. “and bring my grandmother down to eat with us. Why don’t you stay?”

Cecily chewed on her lower lip for a moment, then released it. “Thank you, Molly, but I think I’d better get on the road.” She opened the driver side door, then paused, holding on to it and looking over the edge. “Tell Alex I said good-bye and I’ll be in touch.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to wait for him?”

Cecily shook her head. “No. That’s fine. I think he’s happier when I’m not around.”

When the door to the car closed, Molly felt the heaviness of a family’s brokenness in Cecily’s words. Her family life had been so much different than Alex’s. Her relationship with her parents was so much different. She couldn’t help but feel guilt that she had been given two parents who loved her and loved each other.

While she’d heard the stories about Alex’s mother, she now saw a reason for the walls Alex had built around himself, for the destructive behavior he had engaged in to try to forget it all. She’d sensed a sadness in Alex for as long as she’d known him, but now she had seen that same sadness behind the eyes of the woman who had given birth to him, a woman that Molly had a feeling wanted a real relationship with her son, but didn’t know how to make it happen.

***

Walt sipped coffee from the mug and let out a long sigh.

“Now that was definitely needed,” he said with a contented smile. “That’s good coffee, Molly. Not as good as mine, but good nonetheless.”

Molly chuckled. “Your coffee tastes like tar, Uncle Walt. Anything has to be better than that.”

Walt gasped in mock shock. “Molly Tanner. How could you? I’m your favorite uncle.”

Bert rolled his eyes and laughed. “Yeah, right. You know I’m her favorite uncle.”

“Boys. Boys. Settle down.” Hannah sat across from Molly with her own cup of coffee. “We all know she loves both of you.” She stirred cream and sugar into her coffee and sipped it. “But she loves me more.”

Franny, sipping tea instead of coffee, raised a mischievous eyebrow. “And she loves me more than all of you, so that settles that.” She winked at Molly who laughed and took her hand, squeezing it gently.

“I love all of you,” Molly said. “Now, what is this meeting all about?”

Leaning back against the kitchen counter, Alex folded his arms across his chest and watched the exchanges with what looked to Molly like an amused expression. She poured creamer in her coffee and leaned back in the chair, looking at Walt.

“It is about some ideas your aunts and I have had about how to keep our farms, the store, and Tanner Enterprises as a whole making us a profit,” Walt said, rubbing his chin, his elbow propped on the table. “I mentioned some of this to Annie last night when she called, and she said she was on board with it but wanted us to discuss it all together as a group.”

The only one who wasn’t there was Walt’s wife, who was manning the store with Ellie while they were all at Robert and Annie’s farm, and Jason who was returning the next day.

“There’s a young kid in the next county over who mentioned to me at one of the 4H shows that his younger brother has a milk allergy,” Walt continued. “He’s allergic to the protein. While doing some research about milk allergies for a school paper, this kid found out about something called A2 milk, which I had briefly heard about at one point. Some Jersey cows produce this A2 milk, which is apparently easier for some people to digest. The kid said a simple genetic test using the hair of the cow can help determine if a cow produces A2 milk or not. It could be an expensive endeavor to start, but if some of our cows produce this milk, it could be another revenue source for the store.”

Hannah nodded. “There are a lot of people out there who are sensitive to dairy but who would still like the health benefit of milk. We have people who mention their sensitivity to dairy a lot in the store. This could help them and us.”

Molly and Alex listened as her aunt detailed additional ideas for the country store, including items to add to the café she had already suggested they add.

“We thought an indoor patio near the greenhouse would be a nice addition,” she said. “That might not come right away, of course. We have to see if the café takes off first.”

Walt looked between Molly and Alex. “We wanted to discuss all of this with you two because we’d love for Molly to help with the advertising and promotion, maybe by starting one of those things on the internet.” He looked at Hannah. “What did you call it again?”

Hannah rolled her eyes. “Really, Walt. You need to move into the 21st century.” She winked at him and looked at Molly. “A website and a blog. I know you’re good at writing and thought that might be up your alley.”

Walt looked at Alex. “And Alex, we’re hoping that you’ll stay on and help us with the construction of a new milking station for the A2 cows, if we have any, and maybe in the future a bottling plant. We think you could run it. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, a lot of drive, and from what I can see, you really care about this farm.” He paused a moment, rubbed his stubbled chin. “So, what do you think? Will you stay on? Help us out?”

Molly’s eyes moved to Alex and she drew in a slow breath, holding it, waiting for his answer. She didn’t have to wait long.

“Yes, sir. I’d be glad to stay on.”

She let her breath escape slowly.

Walt smirked. “I’m sure my having a pretty niece is a good incentive to stay, eh?”

Alex laughed, looked at the ground and rubbed the back of his neck.

Was he actually blushing? Molly smothered a smile behind her hand.

He looked up, caught her eye, held her gaze. “It certainly is, Walt. It certainly is.”

Hannah smiled at Molly. “So, Molly, what do you think? Is this something you’d be interested in as well?”

“It is,” Molly said. “The only thing we have to do now is sell the idea to Dad.”

Everyone nodded, a somber tone settling over them.

“Don’t worry,” Franny said finally. “I’ll make him see the positives of it. I’m his mother, after all. He has to listen to his mother, right?”

Everyone agreed, but Molly knew they were all hoping they’d have a chance to pitch their idea to Robert, that he’d wake up again so they could.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 34

This week’s chapter is a little bit longer. The chapters in the final book will probably be longer than what I usually post here, which will reduce the number of chapters in the final book. Also, for those who have been following this story for awhile, you might be wondering what will happen with Jason and Ellie. I haven’t forgot that I need to finish that part of the story and will add it as a separate part at some point in the future. Honestly, I’ve been so focused on finishing the storyline with Robert, Alex, and Molly, that I haven’t gone back to decide what will happen with Jason and Ellie. I’ll keep you updated, in other words.

To catch up with the rest of this story click HERE or find the link at the top of the page.

To pick up a copy of my other books see the link at the top of the page under “Books for Sale.”


Chapter 34

Cecily Madigan Burke stepped inside the Tanner’s farmhouse with two swift, long steps, paused in the living room, and slowly slid her sunglasses off, taking it all in.

Alex could only imagine what she was thinking as she looked around at the walls covered in family photos, at the comfortable couches and chairs, the woodstove, and the cozy farmhouse kitchen. It was nothing like her three story, 10-bedroom mansion in the Baltimore suburbs. Unlike the Tanner’s house, nothing about where she lived felt like a home.

“Mom.” He snapped his fingers in front of her face. “What are you doing here?

She huffed a breath out and propped a hand on her hip. “What am I doing here? I had to hear about my own son being injured from his best friend instead of him and he asks what I’m doing here?”

“Mom, I’m fine —”

“You’re fine? Really? You don’t look fine. You’re all bandaged up and bruised. You wouldn’t answer my phone calls, so I finally called Jason.”

In one quick movement Cecily swung around to look at Molly who was still standing in the doorway with a stunned expression.

Cecily tipped her head to one side, lips pursed, and stuck her hand out. “Hello. I’m Cecily, Alex’s mom. Apparently, my son isn’t going to introduce us.”

Alex sighed and shoved one hand in his front jean pocket and gestured between his mom and Molly with the other. “Mom, this is Molly. Molly, this is mom.”

He tipped his head at his mom and raised an eyebrow as Molly took her hand. “Happy?”

“Nice to meet you,” Molly said quickly, apparently still trying to recover from Cecily’s sudden appearance.

Cecily let her hand drop, pursed her lips, and studied Molly, looking her up and down. “Ah, yes. Jason’s sister. Alex has mentioned you.”

Alex noticed his mom didn’t tell Molly it was nice to meet her too.

“Molly’s my girlfriend, Mom.”

Cecily looked Molly up and down again, slower this time, her cheeks sucked in slightly. “Oh. Well, okay. That’s different. You usually date tall, leggy blonds.”

Alex rubbed a hand across his eyes, closed them, and pinched his nose between his finger and thumb. “Mom, how did you find me?”

Cecily slid her jacket off and sat on the couch, crossing one leg over the other. “I know how to use the internet, Alex. I’m not a total moron. I just punched in the Tanner’s address, told Harold to put the directions into the Jags GPS, and here I am.”

Harold? Really? Apparently his mom had claimed his stepdad’s assistant as her own.

Alex scoffed. “You drove here alone? You?”

Cecily raised an eyebrow and narrowed her eyes. “Yes, Alex. All by my little ole’ self. Now, are you going to tell me what happened?” She glanced at Molly. “Or am I going to have to ask Molly here what happened?”

Alex tried to suck in the exasperated breath quietly but failed. “I got hurt trying to lift a tractor off Robert. He’s in critical condition. I’m fine. Just a few stitches.”

For the first time, Cecily’s tense demeanor faded. Her eyebrows lifted and her mouth fell open slightly. “A tractor fell on Robert? Are you serious?”

She swung her head to look at Molly. “Is your father okay?”

Molly looked startled at having the attention turned to her so quickly. She glanced at Alex then back to Cecily. “Oh. Well.” She started to stammer. Watching his mother unnerve someone wasn’t a new thing for Alex, but he didn’t like that Molly was his mother’s target this time.

“I – I’m not sure,” Molly choked out. “He had surgery yesterday for a broken leg and cracked pelvis and, um, well, during surgery he had a small stroke so he’s in a coma right now.”

Cecily looked genuinely concerned and that surprised Alex. “Oh my. I had no idea.” She smoothed her hand across her pleated pants and cleared her throat. “I’m so sorry. Alex speaks very highly of your father. Much more highly than he does of his own father but then, I can’t blame him for that, of course.”

Alex exchanged a look with Molly and rolled his eyes.

“Can I get you something to drink or eat, Mrs. Burke?” Molly asked.

“Call me Cecily, please. I’ve never been good at being a Mrs. Not with Alex’s dad and not now. And I’d love a glass of water with a splash of lemon if you have it.”

Molly smiled as Alex flashed a look of annoyance at his mom behind her back. “We definitely have that. I love a splash of lemon in my water myself.”

Cecily watched Molly walk into the kitchen and then looked at Alex. “You ignored my calls.”

“I had a lot going on.”

“You ignored Sam’s calls too.”

“Like I said —”

His mom waved her hand dismissively. “I know. You had a lot going on.” She leaned back on the couch. “Did you ever call Sam back?”

“No. I’ll call him later.”

She cocked an eyebrow. He hated when she cocked an eyebrow. “So, you don’t have any idea what’s going on?”

Alex shook his head. “No. Is something going on?”

Cecily accepted the glass of water from Molly and took a sip. “That’s good water. Very fresh. Thank you, dear.”

Molly stepped toward the door. “Listen, I’m going to head out to the barn to check on Uncle Walt. You catch up with your mom, okay? So nice to meet you, Mrs. —”

Cecily raised her hand and shook her head. “Again, please, Cecily is fine.”

“Nice to meet you, Cecily,” Molly said.

Alex looked over his mom’s head and mouthed, “Don’t leave me.”

 “Good luck,” she mouthed back with raised eyebrows.

Cecily sat on the couch patting the cushion next to her as the front door closed. “Sit, Alex. We need to talk.”

***

Alex looked sore and beat down as he walked toward the barn from the house. Molly had watched his mom drive away in her silver Jaguar about ten minutes earlier and she wondered if it was his side that was making him walk slowly, or the conversation with Cecily.

“You okay?”

He nodded. “Yep.”

He kept walking toward the stalls, pushing his hands back through his hair and clutching it there for a moment before he reached for a shovel.

“Maybe you should just rest today.”

“Too much work to be done.”

“Uncle Walt and Hannah are here. Troy too.”

He shook his head as he reached for a shovel. “I need to keep my mind off things. This will help.”

She didn’t want to push for information about what all he needed to keep his mind off of. Was it just her dad or was it whatever his mom had talked to him about?

 She knew he’d share when he was ready.

Or he wouldn’t.

 It was up to him.

“Is your mom driving back to Baltimore already? I could have made up the spare room for her.”

Alex pushed the shovel gently between the cow’s hooves, scooping manure and hay. “Actually, she’s going to stay overnight at that bed and breakfast in town. I forgot the name.”

“The Lavender Inn?”

“Yeah. That one. I’m not sure it will be up to her standard of living, but I’m sure she’ll whip them into shape in no time.”

Molly stuffed her hands deep into her coat pocket. “I’m going to head out to the store, see if they need anything there.” She kicked at the dirt with the tip of her boot. “Do you need anything?”

He shook his head. “Nope.”

She turned, leaving him in the barn, working and clearly not interested in talking about his mother’s visit.

On her way to the store she called Liz to update her. After she’d filled her in on her dad and Alex’s condition, she decided to tell her about Alex’s morphine-induced rambling.

“Whoa.” Liz blew out a long whistle. “That’s a Hallmark movie moment right there.”

 “I’m starting to think he was pranking me,” Molly responded. “Maybe he wasn’t as out of it as I thought.”

Liz laughed. “I doubt it. Has he said anything since then?”

“No. I don’t think he remembers anything after those painkillers kicked in.”

Molly heard her friend sigh on the other end of the phone. “Molly, why don’t you think Alex could really feel that way about you?”

Molly paused at a four way stop, empty fields on either side of her and a red, paint-chipped barn in front of her. Her chest constricted. She didn’t want to answer the question.

“Molly?”

“Yeah.”

“I knew you were still there. You hadn’t had time to hit that dead spot yet,” Liz said. “Listen, I’m going to tell you something that you would tell me if the situation was switched. You need to start believing Alex really loves you. I’m your best friend and I know you think that you aren’t pretty enough or good enough or whatever enough for a good-looking guy to be in love with you, but you are, Mol. You’re way too focused on your weight and it’s obvious Alex isn’t. He loves you for you.”

Molly pulled her lower lip between her teeth and left it there while she turned toward the main road into Spencer. All the doubt about anyone loving her even though she wasn’t a size four wasn’t going to disappear with a simple pep talk from Liz, but she knew her friend meant well, and she knew she needed to work on believing that Alex truly loved her, despite the flaws she saw in herself.

“You know,” she said finally. “I have a feeling that I’ll be saying something similar to you one day, Liz. Like how you seem to think you’re not worthy of happiness because of your past mistakes or —”

Liz hissed out a few breaths to mimic static. “What’s that? Molly, you still there? I think I’m losing you. Did you hit that dead spot?”

“Very funny, Liz. I am actually almost at that dip. I’ll call you later and we will finish this conversation.”

Molly shook her head as she pushed off on the phone and laid it in the seat next to her. Liz was right. She needed to accept that Alex really loved her, but she had doubted her worth for so long she didn’t know how to break out of the pattern. It was something she couldn’t do alone, she knew that. It was also something that wouldn’t come over night, no matter how much she wanted it to.

Her thoughts drifted from Alex to her dad as she hit the main road to head to the store.

Jason had texted her while she’d been in the shower. There was no change in her dad’s condition, and she couldn’t help wonder if there ever would be. Would he ever come home and if he did, would he be the same man he’d been before the accident?

***

Alex had been looking forward to another night with Molly, but she’d chosen to spend the night with her grandmother, who was having a tough time after losing her husband only a year and a half ago and now her son being in critical condition.

He knew it was the right thing for her to do, not only so she could be with Franny, but to remove the temptation that would come if they were alone again. With her trying to distract herself from worrying about her dad and him trying not to think about his dad or how his mom was staying at an inn 15 minutes down the road, they were both in dangerously vulnerable emotional spaces in their minds. That vulnerable mental status could very well lead to a vulnerable physical status and he had committed to Molly, and himself, to not rushing things.

Now, instead of watching a movie with Molly, he was standing outside The Lavender Inn, scowling at the front door, dreading having another conversation with his mother and regretting he’d agreed to her request to take her he’d take her to dinner before she left for Baltimore in the morning.

At this point he wished he hadn’t decided to give up alcohol. He could certainly use a belt of something strong before he faced her again. He let out a long breath and took a step toward the front door, which opened quickly before he got there.

“There you are.” His mother swept past him wearing a puffy silver jacket, a pair of blue slacks, and pink high heels. “Does this town have any good restaurants or should we just swing by a convenience store and buy some packaged meat and cheese?”

Alex recognized the sweet smell that overtook his senses as his mom passed. It clearly wasn’t her perfume. She’d been drinking and by the way she was listing toward the left he had a feeling she’d worked her way through the mini-bar over the last several hours since she’d left the farm.

He pressed his hand against the truck door as she tried to open it. “I don’t think you’re in any shape to go out, Mom.”

She turned to look at him, scowling. “We’re going. We have a lot of things to talk about.”

“Like?”

Anger flashed in her eyes. “Like how you never talk to me.” She stepped toward him, speaking through clenched teeth. “Like how you blame me for your father leaving us.”

Alex rolled his eyes. He didn’t have the emotional reserve for this conversation after the week he’d had.

He grabbed his mother under her elbow and turned her toward the inn. “You’re drunk. Come on. You’re going back inside.”

She wrenched her arm out of his hand. “You!” She pointed at him and staggered backward. “You act like I’m – I’m too stupid to know that you and Sam hate me. You always hated me. After all I did for you!”

Alex put his hands on his hips and bit the inside of his lip to keep himself from causing any more of a scene than his mother already was. Thankfully no one was outside to see her. “We don’t hate you.” He grabbed her arm gently and pushed her toward the front door of the inn. “Come on. Let’s get you back to your room so you can rest. You need to sleep this off.”

She swung to face him, her face smeared with tears and mascara. “I did not drive your father away. I was never good enough for him. I wasn’t pretty enough. I was never skinny enough. I- I – I wasn’t strong enough or something and that’s why he left us for that woman and —”

Alex placed his hands on his mom’s upper arms and turned her toward him. “Dad left you because of his problems, Mom. It wasn’t something you did. Now come on. I’m taking you back to your room.”

Cecily nodded slowly, closing her eyes as the tears rolled down her cheeks. She slumped against Alex as he hooked an arm around her waist and led her back into the inn.

She fumbled in her purse for her key when they reached her room, swaying too much to slide it into the lock. Alex pushed it in for her and helped her into the dark room.

When she collapsed onto the bed, still crying, he saw for the first time his mother for what she was, maybe what she’d always been: a lost, confused, and betrayed woman who used her internal pain to lash out at others. He should have felt more compassion for her in that moment, but his emotional well was dry, especially for the woman who had never really been a mother to him.

He sat on the chair across from her as she sniffled and pulled the comforter up around her shoulders, not even bothering to slip off her designer boots. Leaning back, he watched her a few moments, until her sobbing quieted and her breathing fell into a rhythmic pattern.

He didn’t know how to feel about this latest breakdown. Mostly he felt annoyance, bordering on anger. He’d seen so many of these shows over the years, most of them fueled by too much alcohol, that he’d grown numb to them. Was it all an act this time too? Like all her other performances? A ploy for sympathy? Simply an opportunity to paint herself the victim again?

He didn’t know. Maybe this time there was sincerity in her tears. Sadly, he didn’t really care if there was.

Maybe there was some legit guilt on her part. He probably should have said even more, comforted her more, but he truly didn’t have it in him. He didn’t feel the compassion he knew he should feel for a woman who was obviously in search of reassurance that she wasn’t as bad as she thought she was. The problem was, he couldn’t lie and tell her she’d been an amazing mother. He couldn’t summon the tenderness a son should have for his mother. It simply wasn’t there. It had been drowned out by resentment and bitterness he knew he’d have to address one day.

As he left the room and the inn, climbing back into his truck, he knew one thing. He’d rather be cuddled up with Molly, instead of driving home on a cold autumn night, alone, thinking about how dysfunctional his family had been his whole life.

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 32

I posted Chapter 31 yesterday, if you are interested. To catch up with the other chapters click HERE or the top of the page. Also, if the chapter shows up twice here somehow, I apologize. WordPress was giving me a fit last night when I scheduled it.


Chapter 32

They’d been on the road for 90 minutes.

She was restless.

He could tell by how she kept shifting to try to find a more comfortable position and the way her face kept scrunching up like she was thinking deeply.

He knew what she was thinking about, worrying about.

Her father.

The farm.

Hopefully not him.

He pulled off the exit onto the highway. “What’s keeping you awake?”

“Your driving.”

He laughed. “Thanks a lot. I thought I was doing pretty good.”

A tractor trailer roared by them, followed closely by a red convertible with the top down. A man about 50 and a young girl were in the front seat, the wind whipping their hair back.

Molly shuddered and hugged her arms to her. “It is way too cold to have the top down.”

Alex leaned back and propped his wrists on the steering wheel. “So, are you going to keep changing the subject or are you going to tell me what’s really bothering you? Is it your dad? Have you heard anything?”

Molly wrapped her coat around the front of her like it was a blanket and slid down in the seat. “That’s part of it, yes. She called while you were getting dressed. He’s in surgery and the doctor said it could take a few hours. She’s going to call when she knows more.”

He changed lanes, passing a small sedan. He rubbed his unshaven jawline with his chin, trying to keep his thoughts from jumping to the worst when it came to Robert. He probably shouldn’t bring it up, but he was starting to wonder if their conversation in the barn before the accident was bothering her too.

 “Listen, maybe this isn’t the time, but about Jessie —”

She waved at him dismissively. “Jason and I talked. He said you told him about Jessie.”

He glanced at her. “And?”

“And what?”

“And do you believe me?”

She looked at him, catching his eye as he glanced at her then back at the road.

“Yeah. I do.”

“I meant what I said, Molly. All of it. About how long I loved you, how you were the only person I could think of that night.”

He reached over and took her hand in his and she smiled but then nodded toward the steering wheel. “Two hands on the wheel, Stone. This family has enough going on without us driving into another car.”

She reached for her bag as he grinned and put his hand back on the wheel.

“Hey,” she said, sliding his phone out of her purse. “I almost forgot. Jason grabbed your phone when he went to get your clothes. He said you had a couple of missed calls and might want to check them.” She laid it on the seat, but he kept driving, ignoring the phone.

“You don’t want to check your messages?”

He shook his head. “Nope. Doubt it’s anyone I want to talk to.”

“What if it’s your mom or dad? Maybe you’d —”

“I’ll check it later. I’ve got enough on my mind right now. I just want to check on Robert.”

His tone, while not hard, indicated he didn’t want to discuss it further.

Molly shrugged. “Okay, but maybe you should tell your mom you were in the hospital at least?”

He shook his head. “Mom’s not maternal. You know that.” He smirked at her. “I’ve told you a few of those stories.”

She tipped her head forward to capture her hair into her hands and pull it into a ponytail. “Yeah, you have. If you don’t want to call her right now, I understand.” She sighed and sat back against the seat. “I guess all this means we won’t hit that deadline to pay that loan off. We’re not even going to hit the extended one that Bill was able to get for us.”

“We’ll figure something out,” he told her, shifting lanes again. “That farm has been in your family for how many years again?”

She tipped her head, her eyebrows furrowed as she thought about it. “Wow. Good question. I’m not sure really. I mean, the main farm was founded by my great-great grandfather. His brother ran it for a while with my great-grandfather. Then Grandpa’s dad passed it on to him. Grandpa expanded it in the ‘60s and again about 15 years ago.”

Alex whistled. “So, it’s been in your family like 200 years or something.”

Molly nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”

 “That’s amazing. Do you guys know how amazing that is? I mean, I don’t know anything about my family. We don’t have anything in our family that’s been passed down from generation to generation like that. I don’t even know much about my family beyond my maternal grandfather.”

“Honestly, it’s something I’ve taken for granted all these years,” Molly said softly. “Lately, I’ve been wondering if I’ll ever find a life beyond the farm. I keep wondering if this is all I’m meant to do — milking cows and shoveling their poop. It’s weird, before I learned we could lose it, I wanted to walk away from it all.”

Alex shifted gears as he passed a slower moving car. “Do you still want to?”

She slid her hand along the inside edge of the door. “Sometimes.” She looked out the window at farmland fading into more towns with large buildings and housing developments. “But I can’t leave my family, especially now when they need my help the most.”

She pushed her hand back through her hair and propped her arm against the window.

“What about you? I can’t imagine that you ever thought you’d still be working on a farm. Have you ever thought about leaving?”

Alex winced. “Ouch. That’s a loaded question.”

He looked over at her, at her questioning expression, and cleared his throat. “Honestly, yes, I have thought about it. I thought about it after I was here for two years. I thought about it again after I was here for three. Then one day I realized I was in love with the farm. I realized I loved waking up in the morning and smelling freshly cut hay and watching the sun rise while we milked the cows. I even loved milking the cows, despite the fact they totally freaked me out when I first started. I loved knowing we were growing food for the world to eat and for the first time in my life I loved hard work.”

She watched him with a smile as he pulled the truck off the highway, parking at a rest stop. He shifted the truck into park, laid his arm across the back of the seat, and looked at her for a few moments before he spoke again. He trailed the back of his index finger along her jawline.

 “I also looked over one day and saw how beautiful you’d become. Soon, the love of farming wasn’t the only thing keeping me here.”

He tucked a strand of hair that fallen out of her ponytail behind her ear. “I didn’t know if I’d ever get the courage to tell you how I felt, but just being around you was enough.” He slid closer. “For a while anyhow.”

He kissed her mouth briefly, then jerked his head toward the driver’s side. “It’s your turn to drive and my turn to rest. I’m not sure but I think that painkiller messed me up.” He made a face. “I’m rambling way too much about my feelings.”

She tipped her head back and laughed.

“Not as much as last night,” she whispered after he’d climbed out on his way to the passenger side.

***

Alex scrolled through the missed calls on his phone. Three from Sam, two from his mom, a voicemail from his mom, and two voicemails from Sam.

He listened to Sam’s first. “Alex. Where are you? I need to talk to you. Call me when you get a chance.”

His Mom: “So, you’re ignoring your mother now, are you? Well, that’s not very nice Alex. I’ve been trying to reach you all week. It would be nice if you’d return a call.”

Sam again.

“Alex. Seriously. Pick up. Don’t ignore me. I need you to call me. It’s about Dad. Call me when you get this.”

Alex slid his finger over the delete button. How many times in the last five years had he received similar messages? And when he’d called his brother had told Alex his dad had moved another woman in, or was selling company stocks, or wanted Alex to come work for him. It was never an emergency but somehow Sam always seemed to think it was.

As for his Mom, she craved attention she’d never earned.

He tossed the phone on the seat of the truck and yawned. He and Molly had spent the day waiting for Robert to come out of surgery. They’d hoped for good news, but had receive a mix of bad and good news. The good news was that Robert’s pelvis had a handful of screws in it, but doctor’s expected him to be able to walk again, hopefully within the next six months. The bad news was that Robert had had a small stroke during surgery and hadn’t woken up yet.

Alex had left Molly, Jason and Annie to have some private time with Robert. He’d told them he planned to take a nap in the truck and he had, for about two hours. Now he was awake, watching the sun set between two tall buildings in the distance. There was a time when being in the city had invigorated him and sent a chill of anticipation shivering through him. There was always something happening in a city.

Now, though, after living five years in almost completely wide-open spaces, the buildings, parking lots, and loud noises made him feeling like the world was closing in on him. He stretched the full length of his body across the front seat and closed his eyes, wishing sleep would come again. If he slept, he didn’t have to think about Robert hooked up to all those wires and tubes in that hospital room. If he slept, he didn’t have to think about the possibility of losing the only man besides his grandfather who had shown him what a real man should be. He laid his arm across his eyes and let out a long breath.

He remembered that one morning he’d stumbled into the barn after a night of drinking. His eyes had been blood shot and his head felt like a bowling ball. Despite trying his best to hide it, he was – completing tasks slower than molasses. Robert had seen right through him. Unlike most employers who might have lectured him and told him to get his act together, Robert had asked him first if he was okay.

Alex had nodded but then clutched at his head when pain seared through it.

“Looks like you have a hangover,” Robert said, wrapping a rope around his hand to hang up in the barn.

“Yeah.”

“You’re not good to anyone in this shape. You were supposed to be on the tractor today and I can’t have you out there without a clear head.”

Robert had jerked his head back toward Alex’s truck, the rope wrapped up tight around his hand now. “Head back to the house and sleep it off. If you feel better this afternoon come back. If not, I’ll see you in the morning.”

More than anger, Alex heard disappointment in Robert’s voice. He’d left without argument, too embarrassed to even try to defend himself. After a few hours of sleep and some food he’d wandered back to the barn and found Robert underneath one of the farm’s trucks, changing the oil.

He stood next to the struck, shifting his feet, his hands in his front jean pockets.

“Feeling better?” Robert had asked.

“Yeah.”

Sliding out from under the truck and standing, Robert wiped his hands on a rag, looking at Alex, appearing to be thinking about what to say next.

“You’re a good, kid, Alex,” he’d finally said. “Polite. Hard worker. I think you’ve got a really bright future doing pretty much whatever you want to do. I know I’m not your dad and maybe I shouldn’t be saying anything, but I hate to see you throw it all away because of alcohol.”

Alex kicked at the dirt with his shoe, looking at the ground. “Yes, sir.”

“I hope you know that I don’t mean to be lecturing you, or telling you what to do,” Robert had continued. “It’s just that I’ve come to care about you and don’t want to see you get hurt.”

The softness in Robert’s voice had startled Alex. His own dad had never talked to him that way. Michael Stone’s idea of a pep talk was to tell Alex to “grow up” or “be a man.” Rather than being concerned about Alex, he was normally concerned about his own reputation or the reputation of his business.

Robert hadn’t only shown Alex what it meant to be good father by how he treated him but also in how he treated his own children. His example of how to be a good husband also fascinated Alex. How he treated Annie was worlds apart from how Alex’s father had treated his Alex’s mother, or any of the women in his life actually.

Alex had walked into the farmhouse one day to tell Robert he’d figured out an issue with the feeder and wished a few moments later he had knocked. He had interrupted a tender moment between Annie and Robert. Thankfully it wasn’t too racy, but it had been enough to make him try to back out slowly so he wouldn’t be seen.

Robert had been standing behind Annie while she cooked lunch, kissing her neck.

“Marrying you was the best thing I ever did, Annie Tanner,” Robert had said softly.

She had laughed and looked over her shoulder at Robert. “Are you saying this because I’m making you homemade chocolate pudding for dinner tonight?”

“No, ma’am. I think that even when you don’t feed me my favorite dessert.”

Alex had started to back away, trying to escape before they saw him, but he ran into the table by the couch and almost knocked over a lamp. The sound of the lamp rattling back into place as Alex caught it and placed it upright gave Alex away and he smiled sheepishly as the couple turned to look at him. Even though he hadn’t seen anything he shouldn’t have, he felt like he had been spying on an intimate moment.

The pair had laughed at him when he stuttered out an apology, assuring him they’d only been chatting. They might have only been chatting, but the fact they did so like a newly married couple, despite being married almost 30 years, made Alex realize not all marriages were like his parents had been — loveless and full of deceit and bitterness.

Rain splattered the windshield in the truck and Alex watched droplets slide down the glass and pool at the bottom.

In the hospital room, Molly, Jason, and Annie had prayed for Robert while he watched uneasily from the other side of the room. At one point Molly had reached for his hand and he’d let her pull him into the circle as they prayed. He closed his eyes, but he didn’t feel comfortable. He didn’t know how to pray or even if he believed there was someone out there or up there to pray to.

Letting out a long breath, he felt emotion catch in his throat. He hadn’t expected that.

“God,” he whispered. “If you’re there, please don’t let Robert die. Don’t take Molly and Jason’s dad from them. Don’t do this to Franny and Annie. They’ve all lost so much already.”

He dragged the back of his hands across his eyes and shook his head.

Well, he’d prayed. He didn’t feel much different, though. It certainly wasn’t like in the movies.

 In fact, he felt a little stupid talking to himself.

He closed his eyes again and let sleep overtake him, hopeful that when he woke up there’d be good news about Robert.

A New Beginning: Free on Kindle today and tomorrow

I wanted to make sure I told any Kindle readers that my second book A New Beginning is free on Amazon right now (until Saturday, Oct. 17). I am including a small excerpt of the book here and you can read a longer one by clicking HERE.



Five years later I could still vividly remember the moment I broke Hank Hakes’ nose with my foot after he broke mine with his fist. I could still hear the sick crunch of bones under my heel and still clearly see in my mind his glazed eyes before they closed, and his face fell into a pool of blood on the carpet.

I knew if I didn’t remember how Hank had beat me and I had fought back, I might let my walls down, leaving my son and me vulnerable again. I wasn’t about to let that happen.

Maybe that’s why I felt so uncomfortable when my best friend Emmy Lambert said she couldn’t wait for me to meet her cousin J.T. from North Carolina. I didn’t like the idea that she might be trying to set me up.

The truth was, I had met J.T. Wainwright years before when we were both children, and the memory wasn’t one that overwhelmed me with an interest to meet him again. He’d been a scrawny kid with big ears, messy red-brown hair, and freckles all over his dirt-smudged nose. He had also been loud, obnoxious and downright rude. Imagining that in a 27-year-old man wasn’t making the meeting any more appealing for me.

Emmy insisted she wasn’t trying to set me up. “J.T. is moving up to work with daddy in his construction business and I thought it would be good to introduce him to some people up here.”

She’d invited my sister and brother-in-law and my parents. Perfect proof that she wasn’t trying to get me alone with him, she claimed.

I finally agreed to attend the dinner, hoping Emmy would change the subject.

She didn’t. Instead, Emmy tapped her finger against her chin, her eyes focused on the ceiling in a thoughtful expression. “But, if I was setting you up, J.T. would definitely be a good one to set you up with. He’s handsome, well-built, a former football player, and Southern, which is always a plus.”

I knew Emmy had added the Southern reference because she still considered herself Southern, even though her family had moved from North Carolina a little over a decade ago.

“Emmy, you know I’m not interested in dating.”

“I’m just saying. You know. In case you change your mind.”

“I can assure you, Emmy, I won’t.”

Emmy sighed. “Blanche, you have to get back on the dating horse someday.”

I cocked at eyebrow at her. “Do I really? Because Jackson and I are happy the way things are now.”

“But what if a man simply adds to your happiness? Not every man is like Hank, you know.”

It was a blessing not every man was like my first husband, but that didn’t mean I was interested in starting a relationship with another one and take that risk.

After I’d left Emmy at her father’s office, I’d walked back to my sewing shop down the street to meet my older sister Edith.

“Oh, Blanche! I just love the dress!”

Edith twirled in front of me, the dress I’d made for her swirling around her in a blur of dark red.

She slid her hands down the front, resting them on her hips and admired herself in the full-length mirror. “Do you think Jimmy will like it?”

I stuck the pin I had been holding between my lips into the pincushion next to the sewing table and stood, admiring the view of my older sister filling out the dress. I didn’t have to look at how it fit her to know her husband would love the dress she was wearing.

“He likes anything you wear, you know that. You could wear a garbage bag and he’d fall all over himself trying to get to you.”

Edith tipped her head back and laughed, dark curls spilling across her bare shoulders. “You think so? Even with all this extra weight I have on my hips?”

“I know so.”

Edith turned, admired herself in the mirror eyes traveling down below her waist.

“It doesn’t make my – “

“Your bottom is fine,” I said with a laugh. “But I can loosen the fabric a little in that area if you like.”

Edith wrinkled her nose and tipped her head to one side as she studied her reflection. “Nah, I think this is going to work fine for our anniversary dinner. More than fine. You’ve done such a beautiful job, Blanche. Thank you so much.”

Edith, who possessed curves in all the right places, had always been beautiful, but she never seemed to believe it. As a teen and young adult, she’d always needed some sort of reassurance of her beauty and worth. At one time in our lives that reassurance came from the attention of boys – lots of boys.

But six years ago, Edith began to see herself through the eyes of someone more important than the next boy in line – God. When she realized God loved her for who she was – faults and all – her opinion of herself shifted and she began to understand that she was loved – not for what she did or how she looked, but for who she was inside. Even with that realization Edith still had days she worried about her appearance. What was different now was that she worried exclusively about how one specific person saw her – her husband, and one-time high school sweetheart, Jimmy Sickler.

Jimmy ran a car repair business with his father and was someone I’d always wanted to see Edith marry but never thought I would. He was too sweet and polite for her during a phase of her life when only loud and adventurous would do. His looks, with soft brown hair and dark brown eyes, could have been described as more “choir boy” than “bad boy” and for a couple of years bad boys were on the top of Edith’s dating cue.

When Edith finally learned to see herself the way God saw her, she began to realize her worth wasn’t in how many boys loved her. She also realized Jimmy had been the one constant in her life, always there to comfort and support her even when she seemed to reject him.

I unfurled a roll of fabric, spreading it across the cutting table. “Allie Davenport wants a summer dress in this fabric, what do you think?”

Edith snorted, tipped her chin up slightly and looked at herself in the mirror, pulling the top of the dress slightly down to reveal her shoulders.

“I think Allie should worry more about the fact that everyone in town knows she’s running around behind Larry’s back with Jason Taylor than a summer dress.”

“Edith! That’s awful!”

Edith raised her eyebrows and propped a hand on her curvy hip.

“I know it’s awful. Larry proposed to her only a month ago – she’s going to break his heart.”

Edith had changed a lot since we were children, especially after she had started attending church more and even more so when she married Jimmy, but she still possessed a tendency to gossip and judge.

“God’s still working on me,” she liked to remind me.

I knew what she meant. God had been working on me in the last five years, but he still had a lot of work to do. There were many days I looked at myself in the mirror, measuring tape hanging around my neck, a pencil tucked behind my ear, and laughed at the irony of someone who had once hated sewing now working as a dressmaker. As a teenager, I couldn’t thread a needle, let alone create an entire fashionable outfit for the women in town or hem pants for the men. While I had once silently cursed the idea of attending sewing classes with my mom and sister, sewing now supported me and my 6-year old son Jackson.

“So, why do you think Emmy wants you to meet her cousin?” Edith asked, still admiring the dress in the mirror.

“She says she just wants him to know some people in town now that he’s moved up here to work with her dad, but she’s probably like everyone else who thinks Blanche needs a man to fix her.”

Edith frowned and pursed her lips together in a disapproving expression as she turned to face me. “Everyone? I’ve never said you need a man to fix you, so not ‘everyone’ says that.”

I sighed and folded the fabric for Allie’s dress, laying it on a shelf behind me. “Well, Mama and Daddy and Emmy then. Not you. Still, I don’t know why they all don’t understand that I like life the way it is right now. I’m content. Jackson is happy. We’re doing well.”

Edith folded her arms and leaned back against the sewing table, a smile tugging at her lips. “And you don’t have to let anyone in and risk being hurt again. Good plan.”

I playfully tossed a rolled-up piece of tissue paper at her. “Borrowing a saying from Emmy, ‘hush your mouth.’”

Edith laughed. “Well, it’s true and you know it is.”

We turned our heads at the sound of the front door opening and saw our father standing there, briefcase in hand, grinning as he saw Edith trying to reach to unzip the dress from behind.

“Well, you look nice, Edith,” he said. “Special occasion?”

Edith smirked and shook her head, tugging at the zipper. “Daddy…you know it’s Jimmy and my anniversary next week.”

“Oh? Is it? I must have forgotten.”

Edith playfully slapped her hand against Daddy’s shoulder as she walked past him toward the changing room. “Very funny, Daddy.”

Edith had only mentioned her upcoming anniversary several times a day for the last two weeks. We knew Daddy hadn’t forgotten.

Gray speckled Daddy’s sandy brown hair and small wrinkles marked the skin along his eyes. He took his suit coat off and started to loosen his tie.

“You ready to head home, kid?” he asked me. “Mama’s making fried chicken for dinner and I bet she’d love a break from that crazy kid of yours.”

I laughed, knowing my mama never called my son crazy and loved the days she spent with him; playing with him, cooking him lunch, and helping him prepare for Kindergarten, which he would start attending in a few months.

“I’m anxious to see him,” I said, gathering my measuring tape, scissors, and extra thread spools and shoving them in the top drawer of the sewing table. “But I doubt Mama wants a break from him.”

Daddy smiled. “I have to agree. She does love that boy.”

Edith stepped out of the dressing room in a button-up pink shirt and a flared light blue skirt, hooking her long, curly hair into a ponytail. “Speaking of being anxious to see someone, I’ve got a husband to head home to and cook up some dinner for.”

She hugged me quickly and kissed Daddy’s cheek. “Thanks again, Blanche. I’ll swing by next week to pick it up. I don’t want Jimmy to see it until that night.”

***

I’d spent the first year after my divorce floundering, trying to get my footing as a single mom at the age of 20. I stayed home with Mama, helping her cook and clean and care for Jackson, but rarely left home, even for church. Instead, I kept  myself emotionally locked up in the solitude of shame. Eventually, I took a part-time job at the library, began attending church again, and visiting the sewing circle meetings with Mama on Wednesday nights. I also started writing a column for the local newspaper.

I’d left the library job when Doris Thompson asked me if I’d be interested in helping her in the sewing shop. I agreed and a year later Doris semi-retired, working three days a week at first and then one day. Six months ago, she’d signed the business over to me and remained on as landlord only, collecting monthly rent from me.

“I have to stop and drop my column off to Stanley before we head out,” I called over my shoulder to Daddy.

Walking down the sidewalk, I slid a folded stack of papers out of my handbag.

Daddy grunted with disgust as he opened the driver’s side door. “I’ll wait for you in the car. I can only feign politeness for so long with that man.”

A faint smile pulled at my mouth as I remembered Daddy’s dinner rant a few months ago about editor Stanley Jasper’s editorial.

“What’s that fool even talking about, saying we should get involved in the Vietnam conflict?” Daddy slapped the folded newspaper onto the table. “There is no way we should be sending our boys over there. Who does that man think he is? Moves in here from the city and then acts like he knows it all. I have half a mind to go into that office and tell that editor what an ignoramus he is.”

And Daddy did go into the newspaper office, but he came out even angrier than when he’d gone in. Stanley had refused to budge and told Daddy if he had a problem with the editorials that ran in the paper, he was welcome to stop buying it.

Stanley’s name was off-limits in our house from then on. Daddy wasn’t thrilled with me submitting a column to the newspaper but said maybe my lifestyle column would help to offset the drivel Stanley wrote on the opinion page each Sunday.

The newspaper office buzzed with the noise of reporters on the phone, typewriter keys clicking, the press in the back running, and sports reporters commenting on the latest home run by Mickey Mantel.

Reporter Jerry Simms looked up from his typewriter, sliding a pencil behind his ear. He jerked his head toward Stanley’s office door on the other side of the office. “You know the drill. Hand it to Stanley so he knows it’s here.”

I found Stanley where I usually did when I came in to drop off my column; behind his desk in the middle of a cloud of cigar smoke, pounding out a story on the typewriter.

Stanley wasn’t originally from Dalton. He’d grown up in Philadelphia, a transplant, referred to by many in the county as a “flatlander,” a term used affectionately when people agreed with him and with a sneer when they disagreed with him.

Leaning back in a large, black leather chair, his feet propped on top of the desk, a sheet of paper in one hand, a cigar in the other, his black hair, streaked with gray, was disheveled as usual. Circles darkened the skin under his eyes, his jawline was unshaven, his clothes wrinkled, his shirt untucked.

He moved the paper to one side as I stepped inside the door and stuffed the cigar in the corner of his mouth.

“Good column last week, Blanche,” he said around the cigar. “I never thought I’d get so caught up in the story of a pregnant cat.” He shrugged and pulled the cigar from his mouth, holding it between his index finger and thumb. “It’s like I’ve told you before, small town people eat that stuff up.”

I was never sure if the comment about small-town people was a compliment, but I always chose to accept it as one since it was as close as Stanley was probably going to get about a column he saw as “soft news.” In journalism lingo, soft news was considered low priority and traditionally thought of as inferior to the harder news.

“Well, this week we have an update on the cat and her kittens,” I said. “I’m sure the small-town folk you speak of will love that too.”

The newspaper’s typesetter, Minnie Wilkes, sashayed her way into the office and snatched the column from the top of Stanley’s desk.

She turned and looked at me with bright green eyes and long, dark eyelashes, made even darker by heavy, black eyeliner and purple-blue eye shadow. “Hey, Blanche. I’m so glad to have your column to typeset. It’s way more interesting than the political stuff Stanley writes.”

Stanley rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Minnie. Your opinion is duly noted, though not asked for.”

Minnie winked at me on her way out of the office.

Stanley stuffed the cigar back in his mouth and moved the paper he was holding back in front of his face.

“Keep up the folksy stuff, Blanche. It sells papers. And that’s what we’re in the business of doing — selling papers.”

Outside the office, standing in the sunlight, I looked out at the town I’d gone to high school in and thought how strange it was to still be in the place I’d thought I’d left behind that day I’d left it as a teenager.

In front of me, the town square was postcard-worthy, a gazebo in the middle of it. Behind the square sat one of the oldest banks in the state, Community State Bank, and next to the bank the Dalton Theatre, built-in 1893 and only renovated twice since then. Down on the other end of the street, Bert’s Pharmacy was wedged between an antique shop and D’s Diner, and a few blocks over was Holden’s Supermarket. Across the street from the supermarket was the post office and two blocks away from the post office was the building where I’d spent many of my days after school, waiting for Daddy to finish at the office and drive us home – The Dalton Public Library.

I’d never felt like I’d fit in at school or in this town and that feeling was even more prominent after I’d returned with a baby and no husband. There were days I was sure the eyes of judgement were upon me when I walked around town, but the feeling was probably something I’d conjured up in my own mind. Since coming home, I had earned a General Education Diploma, started attending church again, began running my own business, writing for the local paper, and slowly working my way back into the community.

I still struggled with feeling out of place. I still kept my eyes downcast most of the time, but more and more I lifted my eyes and met kind expressions and nods of greeting. Eventually, I began to feel less like the outcast I’d always thought I was.

“So, Blanche. . .”

Anytime Daddy started a sentence with “So, Blanche. . .” I knew he was about to suggest something I needed to do or should have done.

I shut the passenger side door behind me, tossed my coat into the backseat and looked at him, bracing myself for whatever conversation we were about to have.

“Yes?”

“I’ve been thinking . . .”

A ‘So, Blanche’ and a ‘I’ve been thinking….’ in less than thirty seconds meant this was going to be an uncomfortable conversation.

“Yes?”

“I think I should teach you how to drive so you can have a little more freedom.”

I let my breath out in a heavy sigh. I wasn’t interested in learning how to drive, perfectly content with Mama or Daddy driving me where I needed to go. I was completely intimidated at the idea of learning how to push in a clutch and shift gears and everything else that went along with driving.

“You’re almost 25, Blanche,” Daddy continued. “You’ve been home five years now. I don’t mind driving you where you need to go, but I think it’s time you start, you know, spreading your wings a little bit, gaining some independence. I love having you and Jackson living with us, you know that, but someday, well, you will – or you could – you might – meet someone and . . .”

“Daddy . . .”

“Well, you might. I mean there are plenty of eligible, good men in this county and it is possible you will, you know . . . Ah. You might want to drive out and meet him somewhere or —”

“Daddy. . .”

I knew he and Mama were old school and felt Jackson needed both a father and a mother, but I wasn’t willing to marry someone just to fulfill my parents’ wish that I be a married mother instead of a single one.

It was hard for me to believe it had been five years since I had left Hank and returned home with a one-year-old on my hip and a heart full of hurt.

Hank had come looking for me a month later and Daddy was waiting for him with a shotgun.

Hank looked at the dirt a few feet in front of him in shock. “Y-you could have killed me, you crazy old man!”

“I could have, and I still can,” Daddy told him. “Now go before I have to.”

When the taillights faded into the darkness that night, I closed my eyes against the tears and wondered if Hank would try to come back again someday.

He never did.

His mama, Marion, told me one day when I took Jackson for our weekly visit that she’d received a letter from Hank a year after I’d left him, saying he planned to move out west. That was the last she’d heard from him. I knew it broke her heart that her oldest son never contacted her, but I could tell that seeing Jackson helped relieve the pain.

I’d seen Hank once before he left to go out West, but he hadn’t seen me, and I never told my family about it. I didn’t know if I ever would.

“I’ll think about the driving lessons,” I told Daddy.

Now, let’s change the subject, I prayed.

“Well, you know, that’s all I can ask,” Daddy said, clearing his throat, looking at the road in front of him. “I guess.”

I looked out at the road too, watching as the paved road faded to dirt, dust billowing around the car as Daddy turned down the road that would take us home. I closed my eyes, tired from the long day, but also fighting back thoughts and emotions I had tried to bury for five years.

I despised myself for letting Hank Hakes abuse me with his mouth and his hands for the three years I’d been married to him. For five years I had been consumed with an inability to forgive Hank or myself for all that had happened after I’d run away with him at the age of 17. Abusing me seemed to finally give him the power his abusive father had stripped from him during his childhood.

The night I left him, he’d shoved me against a table, dragged me by my hair and tried to stop me from leaving our apartment with our son by grabbing my leg and yanking me to the floor. I could remember it all like it had happened yesterday; how I’d reached behind my head and saw the blood on my hand, how he’d hissed at me: “Why couldn’t you have just done what you were told?” and then swung around and staggered into our room, toward our screaming baby. I remembered how he’d danced around the room in a drunken rage after I’d pushed him away from Jackson, laughing in my face.

“Oh, looky here,” Hank had said, leering at me. “Little ole’ Blanche finally got her voice.”

He laughed again, leaned close to my face and sneered.

“Whatcha’ going to do with it now you got it?”

When I fought back, kicking him in the face, knocking him out, leaving him in a pool of blood, I ran to my friend Miss Mazie’s house and never looked back.

More than fighting to forgive myself for leaving with Hank at 17, I couldn’t seem to find a way to forgive myself for the danger I’d put Jackson in by staying with Hank; how I’d caused Jackson to have a life without a father.

In that first year after I left, life unfolded around me like a movie I was a part of but had no say in. I came home to my parents, a father who had barely spoken to me in three years, and a mother who welcomed me with open arms but somehow blamed herself for my smashed nose and bruised face. I pushed the emotion of those years with Hank deep inside me and the darkness of it all lingered in the furthest caverns of my heart for two years, eventually leaving me in a state of emotional numbness.

Slowly I began to feel again – laugh again, trust again, hope again, at least when it came to my family and my future. I had no interest in a romantic relationship of any kind, though, and still didn’t. I wasn’t about to let anyone break down the walls I had built around my life and heart, walls to protect me, but more importantly Jackson. I had exposed my son to darkness and pain once before. I refused to do it again.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 27

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

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





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

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

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

“Robert, I think we need to talk.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s been hurt before.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I won’t hurt, Molly, Robert.”

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

“I won’t hurt her like Ben did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean you knew?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sighed and nodded.

 “Pray, Robert,” she whispered.

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

“Amen,” Annie said when he was done.

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

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

“No, they’re not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Chapter 25

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

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

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

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


Chapter 25

 I miss you, he texted.

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

Him: Two days without kissing you is too long.

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

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

Her: Maybe.

Him: I’ll meet you after milking.

Her: I can’t wait.

***

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

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

Except that whole being mad at God thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, Grandma.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Does your daddy know about this?”

“No. Not yet.”

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

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

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

“Yes.”

“Polite.”

“Yes.”

“Bit of a drinker, though.”

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

“I’m serious, Molly.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I am.”

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

“Really, Grandma. I am.”

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

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

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

“I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What color was the dress?”

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

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

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

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

Molly and Franny laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three women laughed at the memory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay?”

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

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

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

“We do too, Mom. We do too.”

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

Hannah clutched Franny’s hands in hers.

“Mom. Look at me.”

Franny shook her head and closed her eyes again.

“Mom.”

She looked at Hannah, her eyes red from crying.

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

Franny continued to cry, nodding.

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

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

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

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

“Hello? Franny? You here?”

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

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

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

She took Molly’s hand.

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

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

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 24

Here we are, readers. We finally got there – or have we? We will Alex and Molly actually share their feeings with each other? Or will Molly tell Alex she doesn’t have feelings for him? HA! Yeah right on that last one!

This is a novel in progress, so there will most likely be typos, plot holes, or other errors I will hopefully fix before finally publishing the book sometime in 2021.
If you’d like to catch up with the story you can find the other chapters HERE.


Chapter 24

She knew he didn’t have errands to run in town.  

He knew she wasn’t really going up on the hill for lunch.

He pulled his truck in behind hers’, where she had parked near the overlook, and they climbed out at the same time.

Watching him walk toward her, she pushed the truck door closed by backing against it and then pressed herself there, palms against the hot metal; bracing herself for whatever was coming.

His expression was as intense as it had been earlier in the laundry room, only this time he didn’t look like someone who was interested in stopping to talk.  

He cupped one hand behind her head as soon as he reached her and gently yanked off the hair tie she’d used to secure her hair away from her face, pulling the strands loose. Interlacing his fingers in her hair at the back of her head he placed his other hand on the small of her back, pulling her gently against him and lowering his head slowly until his mouth was inches from hers.

Studying her for a brief second his eyes trailed from her eyes to her lips before he caught her mouth with his. She lifted her arms from where she’d had them pinned behind her and tried to figure out where to place her hands, finally settling on his waist, slipping her fingers into the belt loops of his jeans, feeling the warm leather of his belt against her skin.

She welcomed the kiss fully, kissing him back with the same intensity he was kissing her.

When he pulled back several minutes later, they were both breathing hard. He searched her eyes, for what he wasn’t sure. Maybe for shock or fear at his boldness. Instead he only saw desire matching his own. He resumed the kiss, sliding both of his hands into her hair now, cupping the back of her head.

Molly closed her eyes, completely overwhelmed as the kiss deepened, then softened, then deepened again as if he was savoring the moment. She pressed her hands against his chest, not to stop him but to feel him, to feel his heartbeat fast and furious under her palms; to convince herself that this was real.

She’d wanted this kiss for a long time and now that it was happening, she was going to make the most of it. When she felt his hands slip down to her back, though, her muscles tightened. His hands were touching the area near her bra-line, the roll of fat she cried over when she saw herself in a mirror.

He felt the change in her, felt her pulling away from the kiss when seconds before she’d been pushing toward it.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, breaking the kiss, pressing his forehead against hers, and breathing hard. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I shouldn’t have — ”

“It’s not that.” Molly couldn’t look at him, couldn’t tell him why she’d pulled away from the kiss. She stared at the top of his shirt, at the tan skin there, the Marine tattoo and traced it with her fingertip.

“You overthinking?”

A smile slowly crossed her lips, but she still couldn’t look at him. “You know me too well.”

His face was still inches from hers, his lips grazing hers. “I want to kiss you again, Molly. Because you are my type of girl. Because I like you the way you are. If you don’t want me to kiss you again, I need you to tell me.”

She stopped her thoughts by lifting her head and pressing her mouth to his, sliding one hand up to the back of his neck and the other into his hair. She didn’t worry about the back fat as the kiss intensified. She could only think about the warmth of his mouth against hers, the feel of his arms around her, the softness of his hair. And then there was the amazing way he smelled. Somehow, she could still smell his aftershave even though he’d been working all day in a barn and lifting heavy bags of seed.

“God, Molly,” Alex gasped hoarsely when he drew his mouth away from hers several moments later and kissed her neck. “It feels amazing to finally be holding you this way.”

His mouth was hot on her skin, trailing a path toward the hallow spot at the base of her throat.

God.

That word.

It snapped Molly out of the fog that had settled over her mind.

Would God approve of her kissing a man like this, pressed up against her truck, in the middle of nowhere? Probably not. And she knew her dad would have a stroke if he caught them.

This moment, here, with Alex’s arms around her felt insanely surreal and confusing. She wasn’t the type of girl men flirted with and kissed yet that’s what had been happening all day between her and Alex.

“Is this some kind of dare?”

Alex pulled back and looked at her with a confused expression, one eyebrow raised. “Huh?”

“You kissing me? Did your friends bet you couldn’t convince Jason’s little sister to kiss you or something?”

Alex laughed softly, shaking his head. “Molly no. Stop it.”

His smile faded as he looked at her. “This is real, Molly. I’ve been falling for you for a long time now and telling myself I wasn’t. In some ways it felt wrong to be so attracted to you. You’re my best friend’s sister, my employer’s daughter . . . but I can’t deny how I feel when I’m around you. You’re different than any woman I’ve ever been around before. I love spending time with you, joking with you, watching you.” He lowered his gaze and winced slightly. “That last part sounded stalkerish.” He cupped her face in his hands, searching her eyes again. “But I’m guessing by the way you’ve been returning my kisses you feel some of the same things about me. Am I right?”

Molly nodded slowly as the palm of his thumb touched her bottom lip gently and he traced her mouth like he had earlier in the laundry room.

“Then kiss me again,” he whispered, lowering his hands to her waist again. “Kiss me and show me I’m not the only one who feels there’s something more between us than friendship.”

When she clutched the front of his shirt, yanked him toward her, and caught his mouth with hers he knew he wasn’t the only one who not only felt but knew that there was more between them than friendship.

Alex had seen Molly wrestle a calf to the ground and clip a tag to its ear more than once. He had to admit he’d watched those wrestling matches with a touch of envy that the calf was able to be so close to Molly when he couldn’t. Now, though, with Molly holding fast to his shirt, he felt like one of those calves and he loved it.

He relished the power in her grip as she held him to her, reminding him of both her physical and emotional strength. Her tight grip on his shirt sweetly contrasted the gentle movement of her mouth brushing his lower lip and then his upper as she kissed him soft and slow.

He knew he shouldn’t have been surprised by the aggressive way she was holding  him, considering the passion he’d witnessed in her almost every day in the barn, but he was. That surprise was pleasant and welcome and making it hard for him to remember he’d promised himself he would take it slow with Molly, unlike past relationships.

When she pulled her mouth away slowly several moments later, he was breathless, adrenaline surging through his body fast and furious.

“I think we’ve established we both feel the same way about each other,” he said softly.

“Yes.”

He glanced down at her fingers still wrapped tightly in his shirt. “Um . . . you’ve got quite a grip there. Afraid I’m going somewhere?”

“Maybe.”

He moved his head in a slight shake, propped his hand above her on the top of the truck door and tilted his head. “Not going to happen,” he whispered, his mouth grazing hers. “Kissing you, Molly Tanner, feels like coming home.”

It felt so good, so right to take things slow, to take the time to enjoy the feel of her mouth under his. He slid his fingers into her hair. Her hair. The soft, beautiful hair he had admired from afar for so long. It felt more amazing than he had imagined.

The kisses lingered for several moments longer before Molly pulled her mouth away, sliding her hands up his arms to his biceps.

“Oh my,” she whispered. “They’re as solid as I always thought they’d be.”

Alex laughed. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Hum . . . what?” A mischievous grin tilted Molly’s mouth upward before she mocked shock and embarrassment, placing her hand vertically across her mouth. “Oh. Oops. Did I say that out loud?”

Alex laughed loudly and shook his head. “How long have you wondered about how solid by arms felt?”

She was laughing but suddenly embarrassed by her bold teasing and looked down at the front of his shirt briefly. “Um…maybe a few months or … uh . . . a year or . . . you know what, let’s just pretend I didn’t say that, okay?

“Are you telling me,” he said softly, his lips grazing hers. “that all this time I was afraid to make a move on you that you were thinking of making a move on me?”

Molly shook her head and laughed. “Oh gosh no. I would have never made a move. I don’t make moves. I just daydream and tell myself that what I’m daydreaming about is never going to happen.”

“I guess you were wrong this time. It is happening.”

A buzz of energy, a mix of excitement and trepidation, slid down her spine. She was both thrilled and terrified of the feelings Alex’s kisses had ignited in her.

“We should get back to the barn,” she said softly. “Jason and Dad will wonder where we’ve been.”

Alex nodded. “Yeah, they will. And I don’t know if they’ll be too pleased with me if they find out I was up here making out with you. Maybe we should —”

“Keep it under wraps for now?”

Alex laughed. “Yeah. At least until I learn how to run faster so Jason can’t get ahold of me and kick my butt for kissing his sister.”s

He opened the door to Molly’s truck, and she climbed inside.

He didn’t want her to climb inside.

He didn’t want to let her go.

She leaned her elbow on the edge of the open window. “See you in the barn in a few?”

He grinned, his voice thick with sarcasm. “Yeah. That shouldn’t be too awkward.”

Back on the road a few moments later, putting his hat back on, Alex noticed his knees felt weak, something he’d never experienced after a make-out session. He’d worried he had been too forward, too bold with Molly. Now he couldn’t suppress the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he remembered how she’d returned his kisses, her hands in his hair, obviously wanting those kisses as much as he had.

His decision to show Molly how he felt about her had definitely been a good one.

He smirked, shifting gears on the downhill incline from the overlook. “Sorry, Benjamin. Looks like Molly isn’t interested in rekindling anything with you, buddy boy.”

Bumping the volume knob, he sang along to the song on the radio, a breeze from the open truck window blowing his hair back from his face and bringing a broad smile to his face. He felt like a man who’d had a large weight lifted off of him. He was going to enjoy this feeling for awhile.