Special Saturday Fiction: The Farmers’ Sons Chapter 3 Part 2

I somehow skipped part 2 of Chapter 2 when sharing excerpts from my latest work in progress so I posted that part yesterday. Today I am posting the second part of Chapter 3.

For anyone new here, I post a piece of fiction or a serial story I am working on each Friday. The excerpt is a work in progress and will go through various drafts and rewrites before I publish it anywhere in the future.

To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE or find the link at the top of the page. You will also find a link to The Farmer’s Daughter under the “books for sale” tab. Or at least I hope you will because at the time of writing this, I was working on updating my blog header. On the page for The Farmer’s Daughter, you can read an excerpt and find out where to purchase a copy of the full novel.


6 a.m.

His dad had given him the morning off, telling him Troy would fill in for him, but Jason hadn’t been able to sleep. His mind was still racing over his “proposal” to Ellie. Which hadn’t been a proposal, but she thought it was a proposal so  . . . yeah. It was a proposal. And he was glad. He wanted to marry her, start a family with her, but they needed to start that life together off on the right foot and right now it was standing square on the wrong one.

He closed his eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but visions of what might happen when he talked to Ellie swirled in his mind. He pushed those images away by trying to focus on his to-do list for the day but then his mind spun off into a hundred what-ifs about the future of the farm.

At 6:30, he gave up on sleep and headed to the gym in Spencer. After a 30-minute workout it was on to the local Agway in Spencer. He needed some new fencing for the chicken pen and his mom had also asked for some for her garden to keep the deer away from her lettuce and green beans. He’d grab some breakfast at Denny’s Diner on the way back and try to take his mind off on trying to figure out the right time to talk to Ellie.

He nodded at Daniel Stanton on his way out of the Agway. “Mornin’.”

“Hey, Jason. You’re in town early.”

“Yeah, had the morning off from the barn.”

“Troy filling in?”

“Yeah. Hopefully it will still be standing when I get back.”

Daniel laughed, pulling his green John Deere cap further down on his head. “Let’s hope so. Troy is a bit spacy at times. Hey, how’s Alex holding up this morning?”

Jason shrugged, reaching for the fencing from one of the employees, a teenager, probably about 16, but everyone was looking younger and younger to Jason these days. “I don’t know. Haven’t seen him yet today. Why?”

Daniel laughed. “Nothing. Just had his hands full last night when he left Marty’s.”

Jason cocked an eyebrow. “Hands full?”

“Yeah. With Jessie Landry.”

Jason cleared his throat as he lifted the fencing into his truck. “Oh. I don’t know.” He grinned, trying to hide how uncomfortable he was with the idea of Alex bringing someone like Jessie Landry back to their place. “I’ll have to ask him later when I see him.”

Daniel nudged Jason in the arm with his elbow. “He’s probably still trying to recover. She’s a firecracker. See you tomorrow at the gym?”

Jason loaded the last of the fencing. “Unless something more important comes up.”

Like if I have to slap some sense into Alex instead, he thought, slamming the tailgate closed.

When he pulled the truck into the driveway an hour later, after a stop the diner and his parents to drop off the fencing, Alex’s red and black pickup was still parked in front of the house.

Not a good sign.

In fact, it might be a sign he was back to his old ways.

The door to the old farmhouse needed to be painted. It creaked open.

It needs to be oiled too.

Jason didn’t close it quietly. It slammed hard behind him and he took the old wooden stairs beyond the living room two at a time.

He pounded on the bedroom door across from the bathroom with his fist “Alex! Yo! You gettin’ up today?”

A groggy groan emanated from behind the door.

“I’ve already been to the barn and back,” Jason said. “And the gym. And the hardware store. And Denny’s.”

Silence.

“Hello?”

He heard a thud and then . . . more silence.

Then finally, “Yeah. Comin’. Just . . .” Another groan. “I’ll be right down.”

Yep. Alex is definitely back to his old ways.

That meant late nights at the bar, strange women calling his cellphone, and hangovers in the barn that Jason tried to distract his dad from.

Jason made sure to slam cupboard doors and clank a spoon loudly into a bowl downstairs.

Footsteps on the stairs moved slow but steady until Alex slumped into a chair at the table.

Jason tried to remind himself what Alex did with his life wasn’t his business. Still, he hated to see him turn back to a path that had left him vulnerable to be hurt and hurt others. Plus, Jason’s family was personally invested in Alex now, not only as an employee but essentially another member of the family.

 “Cereal?”

Alex nodded. “Sure.”

Jason pushed the cereal toward him and reached for milk in the refrigerator.

“You go out last night?”

Alex poured milk on his cereal without looking up. “Yeah.”

“Daniel Stanton said you left the bar last night with Jessie Landry hanging all over you.”

Alex scowled at his bowl, still not looking up. “If Daniel Stanton already told you I was at the bar, then why did you ask if I went out?”

Jason shrugged, folding his arms across his chest. “So, you ended up back up here?”

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t see her this morning when I got up. Is she still asleep?”

“Yeah. I mean, no. I – sent her home. Or rather, she left. In a bit of a huff, really.”

“So, you didn’t sleep with her?”

Alex shook his head, shoving a spoonful of cereal into his mouth.

Jason leaned back, reaching for his coffee cup on the counter and sipping from it. He winced. It was cold, which wasn’t surprising since it was four hours old. “Really? Well, that’s new. What happened?”

Alex glared, milk dripping down his chin. He dragged the back of his hand across his mouth.

“What does that mean, Jase? You act like I’m some man-whore or something. It’s not like I’m bedding girls every night.”

Jason laughed and shook his head. “Not every night, no.”

“Actually, if you’ll remember, I haven’t brought a girl back here in almost two years. Maybe even longer.”

Jason rubbed his hand across the stubble on his chin. He probably shouldn’t push the issue any further, but with the way Alex had been acting around Molly, he needed to know if Alex was looking at her as another conquest.

“So, you’re not bringing them back to our place, maybe you’re — ”

“I’m not,” Alex snapped, shoving the last of the cereal into his mouth and gulping the remaining milk down.

“Okay. Okay.” Jason leaned back against the counter, crossed one leg over another. “Don’t be so touchy.”

The chair tipped back as Alex pushed himself back from the table and stood abruptly.

“I’m not the jerk you act like I am, Jason.” His jaw was tight. He turned and walked back toward the stairs. “I’m going to get a shower.

He knew he pushed Alex too far, but he also knew Alex had changed for the better over the last few years and he didn’t want to see all his hard work go down the drain. Alex had told him more than once over the years that he wanted to be a better man. He wanted to drink less and work harder and that’s what he’d been doing up until last night.

Jason rolled his eyes and shook his head, pouring the coffee down the drain. What was he even doing? Considering his own past history of lying he had no right to act like Alex’s moral guide.  He’d never developed the drinking the problem Alex had and he definitely hadn’t gone out with as many women as Alex, but he still wasn’t any better than Alex simply because he attended church and Alex didn’t.

He’d tried hard the last few years to forget that period of time in college, especially that one night, to redeem himself, and create a better version of himself by attending church, leading Bible studies, taking care of his family. The Bible said he didn’t need to work for his forgiveness, but he couldn’t shake the feeling he did.

It should matter more to him what God thought, but there was no denying that to him nothing mattered if Ellie didn’t forgive him for what he’d done.

What Ellie would think of him when she found out? Would she understand that Lauren Phillips had meant nothing to him? That his time with Lauren had been a distraction from his hurt, his loneliness, his confusion over why Ellie had wanted a break in their relationship?

He was going to have to find out soon what Ellie thought because he wanted that all on the table before they announced their engagement. There was a good chance when Ellie heard it all she would decide she didn’t want to be engaged anymore anyhow.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Now For Sale. The book that is.

I don’t have an excerpt from The Farmer’s Son this week because I am working on a section and haven’t quite finished it yet. I do however, want to remind blog readers that The Farmer’s Daughter is available for sale on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Ebooks are available on Smashwords, Barnes&Noble and Amazon. A print version is currently only on Amazon until I figure out how to design the back cover for B&N.

I would like to send a couple of free copies to readers who supported me while writing it so if you are interested please let me know in the comments and then send me an email at lisahoweler@gmail.com and I will send an ebook copy to you.

The first two chapters of The Farmer’s Daughter is available here on the blog. Excerpts from A New Beginning and Rekindle are also available.

To catch up on what I’ve shared with The Farmer’s Son, click HERE.

Book Review: ‘Til I Want No More by Robin W. Pearson

Book description:

When the man she loved years ago returns to town, one young woman’s complicated past rises again, threatening to expose her well-kept secrets.

If Maxine could put her finger on the moment when her life went into a tailspin, she would point back twenty years to the day her daddy died. She tells herself he’s the only person who ever really knew and loved her, and if he hadn’t left her behind, her future would’ve taken a different path. No absentee mother, no stepfather, no rebellious ripping and running during her teenage years. And no JD, who gave her wandering young heart a home, at least for a time.

But that’s over and done with. All grown-up now, Maxine has pledged her heart and ring finger to Theodore Charles, the man she’ll promise to love, honor, and obey in front of God and everybody. At least that’s what she’s telling anybody who will listen. The only folks buying it are the dog and the readers of her column, however. Her best friend and family aren’t having it―not even Celeste, the double bass–playing thirteen-year-old the community of Mount Laurel, North Carolina, believes is Maxine’s adopted sister. And apparently, neither is the newly returned JD, who seems intent on toppling Maxine’s reconstructed life. As her wedding day marches ever closer, Maxine confronts what it means to be really known and loved by examining what’s buried in her own heart and exposing truth that has never seen the light of day.

A Christian fiction novel with a poignant story of romance, a search for truth, and a journey to redemption. For fans of Chris Fabry, Lauren Denton, and Charles Martin.

Book review:

After reading A Long Time Comin’ last year, I had been anticipating Robin’s new book and it did not disappoint. Robin is a wonderful writer who pulls you right into her character’s world. This story is a story of forgiveness, not only for others but accepting God’s forgiveness and love for ourselves.

I enjoyed the story of Maxine.

Maxine, a columnist for a small Christian magazine, is supposed to be getting married, but she has a big secret and, at first, I found it insanely naive and selfish of her to believe she was going to marry her Theodore without him one day finding out a very, very big secret from her past. If she didn’t feel comfortable sharing this with him before they were married, then I couldn’t figure out how she thought she was going to have a strong marriage. The marriage was going to be built on a foundation of lies. But, of course, that’s the point of Maxine’s journey – learning to unravel the lies and pain and face them.

Maxine works through some of her internal struggle through the columns she writes for the magazine and as a writer myself I was amazed by how Robin managed to write several columns by Maxine in addition to the story. That requires a great deal of talent, in my humble opinion. Of course, a great deal of talent is indeed what Robin possesses.

Robin wonderfully described Maxine’s predicament and her reluctance to deal with it. The fact I feel so strongly about Maxine’s faults, for lack of a better word, is probably because, again, I see so much of myself in her. Feeling so strong about a character is a testament to what a strong writer Robin is. She really pulled me into Maxine’s journey.

I think Robin wrote Maxine as stubborn for a reason and it isn’t as if Maxine doesn’t redeem herself or that her character doesn’t develop throughout the book. She does both of these things, but not in a cookie-cutter way, which is much more realistic than many books in this genre.

Her character growth is messy, complex, and doesn’t have a cute little bow on it.

That’s real life and that’s what Robin writes so well.

I definitely recommend this book for its messages of forgiveness, redemption, and healing. I can’t wait to see what else Robin writes!Thank you for your review.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Son Chapter 3 Part 1

I was too wrapped this past week with last minute changes and corrections to The Farmer’s Daughter before publishing it next week to sit down and work on The Farmer’s Son much this week. Hopefully, I’ll have more time this upcoming week. I did have this short part I could share.

To catch up on the rest of the story, click HERE. If you were a reader of The Farmer’s Daughter on here , I’m offering a limited amount of ebooks for free. Let me know in the comments or via the contact form if you are interested.


The day Jason came into the store after he came back from college, Ellie couldn’t take his eyes off of him.

Had he been working out? Even more than before he left for college?

She shouldn’t be looking at him, right? Was she lusting? They’d just talked about this at Bible study.

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes briefly, then opened them again to take in the full view of him.

She wasn’t lusting. She was simply . . .she pulled her lip between her front teeth, then released it again . . . admiring God’s handiwork.

She’d seen Jason over Christmas break a few months before, but his biceps seemed even larger, even more well-toned now. There were light brown whiskers along his jawline and that coupled with the faded blue jeans, a nicely fitting gray T-shirt and a blue and white checkered flannel shirt gave him a rugged, should-be-on-the-front-of-GQ vibe.

Standing across the store, close to the new display of spring flowers, he was talking to his Uncle Walt, one hand on his hip as he gestured with the other.

Ellie was mesmerized.

She felt like she was in high school again, wishing he’d look her way, flash her one of his drop-dead gorgeous smiles.

A customer had stepped to the counter, stepping into her line of sight, blocking her view temporarily.

After the customer left, Jason was gone. Disappointment settled like a hard rock in the center of Ellie’s chest. It really was like high school again.

“Hey.”

She’d gasped and turned, almost slamming into him as he stepped from the back office area.

“Sorry.”

He’d smiled. That smile. The smile she’d wanted to see.

He leaned one side against the doorframe, crossed his arms across his chest, “Didn’t mean to startle you, but didn’t want to miss the chance to say ‘hello’ either.”

Warmth spread from her chest to the top of her head, and she giggled.

Good grief. This was ridiculous.

She’d dated Jason from her senior year of high school up until two years ago. It wasn’t like he was someone she didn’t know. She knew him. Very well. And she wanted to know him very well again.

They’d started chatting until another customer came and then he’d left, saying he’d stop by again the next day.

He did stop by the next day.

And the day after that until he finally asked if she’d like to go to the movies.

She’d agreed and their relationship was on again, almost as if they hadn’t taken that two-year break starting at the beginning of his junior year of college.

“You all there, kid?”

“Hmm?”

Ellie looked up from the cow’s udder she’d been cleaning, pulled out of her memories.

Her dad grinned.

“I told you Patrick will be here soon, so you don’t have to help if you have somewhere to be.”

“Oh. No. It’s no problem. My mind just wandered a little.”

“To anywhere important?”

Ellie laughed softly. “Just  . . . life stuff, I guess you’d say.”

Thomas Lambert nodded at his daughter, but his brow furrowed as he looked at her. “Hey, are — uh — things okay with you and Jason?”

Ellie stood and faced him. “They’re fine. Why?”

“No reason. I mean, you’ve just seemed quiet since you came back from your date with him the other night.”

Ellie wiped her hands and stepped around to reach for the milking attachment. “Actually, it was a nice date. I think I’ve just been working a lot of hours between the two jobs lately, plus trying to keep up with the ladies Bible study I’ve been teaching. I’m probably spreading myself a little thin.”

Her dad started preparing a cow across the aisle for milking. “At least you’re recognizing it this time. You’ve always pushed yourself a little too hard.”

“Someone has to since Judi never does,” she mumbled and immediately regretted it.

She couldn’t advise the ladies in her study to speak in love if she didn’t do it herself.

Her dad sighed as he worked. “Ellie, hon’, you need to let your bitterness against Judi go. It’s going to eat you up inside.”

Ellie nodded and kicked at the ground with the tip of her boot. She knew he was right, and she’d tried many times to let it go. She needed to keep trying.

She was grateful when a truck pulled up in front of the barn, interrupting their conversation. Patrick was the high school student her dad had recently hired and this wasn’t his truck, but she could see him in the passenger side. She tipped her head to see around the glare of the sun, curious who was behind the wheel. When she spotted the driver, her heart sank.

Oh. Perfect. Just perfect.

The driver stepped out of the car and touched a hand to the brim of his baseball cap. “Mornin’ Ellie. Thought you’d be at the school already.”

Did all the Tanner men have that same smile, same rugged jawline, sparkling green eyes, and naturally flirtatious charm?

It seemed so.

“Brad.” Her dad stepped into the sunlight and reached out, taking Bradley Tanner’s hand. “What brings you out today?”

Bradley jerked his head toward Patrick. “Pat’s truck broke down and I spotted him up the road here, so I gave him a lift.”

Thomas nodded. “Thanks, Brad appreciate it. How is it going? Back for a visit?”

“It’s going good. Back working at the farm.”

“Permanently?”

“Yep.”

Ellie laughed softly. “Discovered city life wasn’t for you, huh?”

Bradley grinned, slid his hands into his front pockets. “The city couldn’t handle me.”

Ellie had already turned toward her car, so she knew he couldn’t see her when she rolled her eyes. She waved over her shoulder. “See you boys later. I’ve got a shift at the store.”

“So, I’ll see you later?”

She glanced at Bradley as she slid behind the steering wheel and cocked an eyebrow.

“I’ll be there later with some deliveries,” he said, with a grin she knew too well. “I’ll see you there.”

She shut the door with a curt nod and a forced smile, started the car and pulled away quickly.

Bradley Tanner.

Jason’s cousin.

Back in Spencer Valley for good.

“Just great,” she grumbled as she hit the dirt road leading to town. “Just what I need.”

Fiction Friday: The Secrets We Hold

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

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

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



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

Not exactly lied.

Simply left some details unspoken.

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

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

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

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

“It was my fault,” she’d told Molly.

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

And now her life would never be the same.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 37

We are here. The last chapter of The Farmer’s Daughter.

Of course, I do still have to finish Jason’s story for regular readers and I will get there! Eventually. Ha!

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


Chapter 37

“I told you that you weren’t going to die, old man.”

Alex propped his foot against the bottom of the hospital bed, leaned back in the chair across from Robert’s bed, and looked at his employer with a smug expression.

Robert took a sip of his coffee and smiled. “Who you calling old man? I could outwork you any day.”

Alex grinned. “You’ll have to get better soon so you can prove that claim.”

Robert still looked like hell, two weeks after he’d come out of the coma and moved to a rehab facility closer to Spencer, but he was awake and alive and that was enough to make Alex feel better.

Shifting slightly, Robert grimaced as he pushed himself up more into a sitting position. Alex stretched his legs out further and folded his hands across his stomach. The brief silence that followed unnerved him. Why did he feel like there was a serious conversation coming?

“Alex, I need to ask you a question.”

Alex’s muscles tightened. He had been here twice now since Robert woke up and so far, they hadn’t spoken once about his relationship with Molly. Somehow, he felt that was about to change.

“Where are you in your relationship with God?”

The question was as bad as Alex had been worried it would be. It wasn’t about Molly, yet he knew it was at the same time.

 “I’m going to be honest, Robert.”

Robert folded his arms across his chest, nodded. “I prefer honesty.”

“Honestly, I never really believed in him. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that since I’ve come to work on your farm and fallen in love with Molly that I’m suddenly converted and planning to sign up to the mission field.”  Alex leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. “But, something is changing in how I think about faith – and I guess I’d say God. I’ve watched some things happen that I can’t explain away. One of them is you sitting here talking to me. I’ve also had conversations with Molly that really got me thinking. There is still a lot about the Bible that I don’t understand but – I’m studying it some and I’m more open to learning about God more than I’ve been before.”

Robert rubbed his hand along his chin, his previously unreadable expression relaxing into a comfortable smile.  “That was a good, honest answer.” He folded his arms across his chest. “Unfortunately, I have another hard question.”

Alex’s mouth went dry. Nothing could be worse than the God question, right?

“Yes, sir?”

“Are you sleeping with my daughter?”

Alex gulped. Actually gulped. Something he thought people only did in books or movies. This was definitely harder than the God question, but he was glad he could give an answer that wouldn’t get him shoved out of the window behind him and to the pavement six stories below.

“No sir.”

Robert cocked an eyebrow. “Are you just telling me that because you know I can’t get out of this bed yet to whip you?”

Alex laughed softly. He listened to footsteps in the hallway and hoped it was Molly coming to rescue him. “No, sir, because I know you can send Jason after me instead.”

“That’s true.” Robert smiled. “So, you are being honest with me.”

“Robert, I respect Molly too much to rush into a physical relationship with her. I know how she feels. I know how your family feels. I can’t say it isn’t because I don’t —” flushing bright red along ears. “I mean, it’s not —” He rubbed his hand across the back of his neck, sat back in the chair and broke eye contact with Robert. Why hadn’t he started over explaining himself. He’d answered the question. He should have left it at that. “I just respect her and you, sir. That’s all.”

Robert laughed as the door opened and Molly and Annie walked in.

Molly looked between the two men, her smile fading. “Uh-oh. Alex looks uncomfortable. Dad looks slightly delighted. This isn’t one of those conversations that dads and boyfriends have where the Dad says, ‘I don’t want you to see my daughter anymore is it?’”

Robert smiled. “No, it isn’t. You’re a grown woman. I can’t tell you who to date.” He winked at Alex. “It was just one of those conversations where I tell Alex if he hurts my little girl, I’ll have Jason throw him through the wood shredder.”

“Dad!”

Robert laughed weakly, coughed, and held his side. “Sorry. I just wanted to see the look on your faces.”

“Well, now you did, so that’s enough of that,” Annie said straightening Robert’s blankets and smiling. “It’s time for you to get some rest before your next rehab session and it’s time for Alex and Molly to get back to the farm.”

Robert held his hand up. “I know. I know.” He looked at the doorway as Jason walked in. “First, though, I need to talk to all of you about something.”

Jason and Alex leaned back against the table across the room, posing almost identical to each other, arms folded across their chests, one leg crossed over the other.

“Walt called me this morning,” Robert started. “He said he was holding a check to cover the remainder of our loan and then some. It was made out to Tanner Enterprises and dropped off by some sort of delivery service. He wants to know what we want to do with it.” Robert moved his gaze to Alex. “It’s from someone named Cecily Burke.”

Alex’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “How would my mom have known anything about the loan?”

Molly coughed softly and held up her hand. “Well, that’s because I blabbed it without thinking the day she left. She wanted me to ask mom if she could help but with everything else going on, I never thought about it again. I didn’t tell her the amount, though.”

“Maybe the bank told her the amount,” Jason suggested.

Robert shrugged. “I don’t know but what I do know is I don’t feel right taking her money to try to fix the problem I created.” He rubbed his chin for a few moments and sighed. “But I don’t want to reject her either. I don’t think this was only to help out Tanner Enterprises.” He caught Alex’s gaze. “I think she wanted someone else to know she cares.”

Alex shifted uncomfortably, shoved his hands in his front jean pockets and stared at the tip of his work boots.

“It’s a very nice gesture,” Annie said. “Why don’t we take a couple of days and talk it over. In the meantime, I’d like to get ahold of your mother, Alex, and thank her for her offer to help.”

Alex nodded, even though he didn’t really relish the idea of his two worlds colliding.

“Now, we are all going to head home, Robert is going to rest and,” Annie looped her arm through her son’s. “I’m going to ride with Jason and he’s going to tell me what’s been going on with him and Ellie.”

Jason’s eyebrows darted upwards. “Uh, we are? I don’t remember agreeing to this.”

Annie winked. “I’m your mother. Of course, you agree.”

Jason looked over his shoulder at Alex with a pleading expression as his mother dragged him toward the door, but Alex simply shrugged. He knew he couldn’t save his friend from a conversation that was certain to be about why Jason’s relationship with Ellie had dissolved.

In his truck ten minutes later, he looked at Molly curled up against the passenger side door, yawning, hair pulled back from her face in a ponytail, looking beautiful. They hadn’t had a lot of time alone lately. He wanted to remedy that. And soon. It had been far too long since he’d held her close, touched her soft curls, kissed her mouth. The moment he pulled his truck into the Tanner’s drive to drop her off, he planned to do all of those things and at this point, he didn’t care who interrupted them.

***

She felt the rhythm of his heart under her cheek, the warmth of his arms around her, the smell of aftershave and hay sweet. It didn’t even matter to her that the cold of winter was creeping in through her coat, nipping at her cheeks and nose.

Molly still couldn’t figure out what Alex saw in her; why someone so beautiful and charming seemed to want her. But she was accepting it as much as she could, day by day, sometimes pinching herself when they were at a movie or out to lunch or nights like this when he was holding her close under the stars.

They’d actually been going on dates, something she’d rarely done since Ben. Movies, bowling, even karaoke one night where they’d both just watched others and agreed neither of them would ever see each other on that stage.

Their relationship in the barn hadn’t changed much, other than him yanking her behind a wall or door to kiss her every other day. They still joked and shot one-liner insults at each other throughout the day. One difference was Molly no longer felt comfortable competing in burping contests, wondering if her winning the loudest burp might be a turn off for Alex in the long run. Another difference was Alex no longer allowed her self-depreciating comments when he was around.

“Why do you say those things about yourself?” He asked one day after milking. He’d taken her hand and was pulling her through the barn door, leading her to the back of the barn. “You’re none of the things you say you are.” He backed her slowly against the outside wall of the barn, propped a hand on either side of her head. “You’re beautiful, Molly. I know that and I’m pretty sure God knows that.”

She’d tried to respond but his mouth on her’s had stopped her and she let herself focus only on his kiss, ignoring the doubt. “I love you, Molly,” he’d whispered against her ear a few moments later. “Every single, beautiful,” a wry smile crossed his lips as he trailed his finger down her throat. “Inch of you.” He laughed softly. “I’d better stop that while we’re out here where anyone could see us, I suppose.”

Molly had laughingly agreed, and they’d returned to work.

Now they were together again, and he said similar things. Sometimes she wondered if he’d ever get sick of trying to convince her how much he loved her.

“So, this is it, then, huh?”

She looked up at him  and smiled. “It? In what way? Are you saying goodbye forever simply because I’m moving in with Liz?”

Alex laughed. “I mean, so this is it for today. I have to leave you here with that crazy friend of yours and drive back to the farm alone.”

“I heard that, Alex!” Liz called from inside the apartment where she was unpacking Molly’s clothes.

He pulled the apartment door closed. “And now you can’t hear anything.”

“Yes,” Molly said looping her arms around his neck. “But I’ll see you in the morning and I appreciate you helping me move the last couple of days.”

“You’re welcome.” He kissed her softly, drew back, then kissed her again, and she lost track of where they were as the kiss intensified and he pulled her against him.

The opening of the door startled them both, brought them back to their surroundings.

“Are you going to stand out there making out all night or are you going to come in and unpack?”

Alex sighed and pressed his forehead against Molly’s. “Are you sure this was a good idea?”

Molly smiled. “I’m sure. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Night-night, Alex.” Liz gave him a quick wave and wink.

“Night, Liz,” he mumbled as he walked back to his truck.

Molly watched him drive away, rubbing her hands across her arms against the cold of the night. So much had changed in the last few months, but also in the last year. Her father was home, still recovering, she and Alex were getting closer every day, the country store was expanding, and Cecily’s check was helping keep the farm and business afloat for a little longer. Still, there seemed to be so many loose ends for her to worry about.

 As she walked back into the house and started to unpack, she wondered what had happened between Jason and Ellie. She hoped they’d be able to work it out and get back together.

She thought about Liz, seven months pregnant, still feeling guilty about how she’d gotten to this point in her life, avoiding Matt, though he seemed to care about her.

Ginny feeling stagnant in her life.

Ben and his reluctance to meet his daughter.

Alex’s reluctance to speak to his parents or about his father’s diagnosis. 

It was all a bit overwhelming.

She couldn’t figure it all out right now, though.

She had unpacking to do, a country store to help run, and a new relationship to enjoy.

She’d have to think about everything else later.

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 37

After beginning the tweaking process for the final draft of The Farmer’s Daughter (still rewriting, etc.), I now know it will not be a full 37 chapters. That seems like too many chapters to me somehow, but I guess it doesn’t matter if those chapters are short. Who knows!

I have ideas rolling around in my head for the next installment in the Tanner family’s saga, mainly about Jason, which I know some of you wanted to know the outcome of.

I posted Chapter 36 of the story yesterday and you can catch up on anything you missed HERE.

For those who have been reading along, how do you think the book should end? I have ideas, have already written an ending, but I’m not sure I’ll keep it or not. I want it to lead into the other books, but I’m not really sure how to do that yet. Let me know of ideas on how to, or of some good book series you’ve read that do so!


“Mom?”

Annie’s eyes were red-rimmed, her face streaked with tears. Alex had never seen Annie in such rough shape, and it rattled him. She was trembling as he helped her to her feet.

“What happened?” He heard the fear in Molly’s voice.

“I — Robert — your dad —”

Annie shook her head. She couldn’t seem to form words. Alex wanted to shake her out of it and hug her at the same time. Thankfully Molly was there so he didn’t have to figure out how to handle the situation his own.

She quickly pulled her mother into an embrace.

“Your dad was having a seizure and they rushed me out. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Alex looked at the closed hospital room door, turning his gaze away from the heart wrenching scene in the hallway. His limbs had gone cold and his chest was constricting with panic. He listened to the sound of Annie crying and silently cursed the direction this was all taking. Robert was supposed to be getting better, not worse.

He leaned back against the hallway wall and slid his hands in his pockets, unsure what he could do to help comfort the women holding each other in front of him. He wasn’t good at comforting. He never had been.

It seemed like hours before the hospital room door opened, but really it had only been fifteen minutes since he and Molly had arrived.

A disheveled looking doctor with graying hair stepped out of the room and dragged a hand across the back of his neck. “Mrs. Tanner?”

Annie had pulled out of Molly’s arms. She nodded weakly.

“Your husband has had a scare, but he’s stable now. We think he had a reaction to one of the medications we were using to keep his blood from clotting. We’ve stopped that medication and will see how he is in a couple of hours. For now, though, he’s not seizing, and his breathing and heart rate are normal. The only not so good news is that although his brain waves are normal, we won’t know for sure how the stroke affected him cognitively until he comes out of the coma.”

Annie pressed her hand to her mouth, tears flowing freely.

“So, this wasn’t another stroke?” Molly asked.

The doctor shook his head. “No. Thankfully, not.” He gestured toward the door. “You’re welcome to go back in. I’ll be back to check on him before I leave for the day.”

Annie nodded, her face streaked with tears. “Thank you.”

The doctor nodded in return, his smile slight, revealing exhaustion.

Alex waited until Molly and Annie walked inside and then followed them, sitting on the other side of the room as they approached the bed. Annie slid her hand under one of Robert’s  and Molly held the other. A half an hour later, after the women talked, cried, and talked some more, Alex decided they needed a break. He stood, laying his hand against Molly’s back.

“You two need some lunch. Go. I’ll stay with Robert.”

“I appreciate that but —”

He interrupted Annie. “Go. You’ll be no good to him if you collapse.”

She nodded, a faint smile crossing her worn expression. Her hand against his face was warm. “Thank you, Alex. I’m so glad you’re here.”

She hugged him briefly before she and Molly walked into the hallway. Her tenderness toward him was something foreign to him in some ways, after growing up in a family that rarely showed affection, but it was also familiar in that it was how Annie had always shown him love.

Alex pulled the chair closer to the bed, sitting and leaning back. He stretched his legs out in front of him, pulling his hat down across his face, and folding his hands across his stomach. He didn’t feel like praying again. He wasn’t sure prayers worked. Instead, he was going to take the time to at least try to calm his racing thoughts and hope that Robert would pull through all of this and be the same, good man he’d been before.

***

The sound of choking, coughing, and gagging woke Alex. He hadn’t expected to fall asleep in the chair, but he also hadn’t expected to wake up to find three nurses around the bed, leaning over Robert, comforting him.

“It’s okay, Mr. Tanner.”

 “You’re in the hospital.”

“You’ve been in a coma.”

“You might feel funny because we’ve had you on some medicine.”

“Your throat might be sore because we had you intubated part of the time.”

“Don’t try to get up, sir.”

Alex stood, looking over one of the nurse’s shoulders so Robert could see him. Robert’s body stilled, his breathing slowing.  The nurse stepped aside so Alex could stand closer to the bed.

He looked down into glazed eyes not sure if they were seeing anything or not.

“Hey.”

Robert swallowed hard, closed his eyes briefly, opened them again.

 “Hey.”

Robert’s voice was raw, barely above a whisper.

Emotion clutched at Alex’s throat and moisture spread across his eyes.

“You would pick a time when Annie isn’t here to wake up, wouldn’t you?”

A faint smile tilted one corner of Robert’s mouth upward.

“You —” He swallowed hard. Tried again. “You  . . .take  . . care of . . .” His voice was halting. “My girls?”

“As much as they would let me, sir. You have some stubborn, independent women in your life.”

The faint smile again, eyes drifting closed again. “Take care of Annie and Molly.”

Alex scoffed. “You’re going to take care of them. You’re awake. That’s a good sign.”

Robert closed his eyes and then opened them again. Alex could tell he was fighting to keep them open.

“I’ll take care of Annie,” he whispered, reaching out and grasping Alex’s forearm. His grasp was stronger than Alex expected. “You take care of Molly.”

As emotion threatened to spill over, Alex knew he had to pull his gaze away, get one of the nurse’s attention, break the moment. “His wife and daughter are in the cafeteria – they need to know he’s awake. Can you stay with him while I —”

“I’ll find them,” the nurse said. “I’m sure he’d rather have his son here with him.”

Alex shook his head. “No, I’m not his son. I’m just —”

“Like a son.” Alex looked back at Robert saw him watching him, felt his hand squeezing his forearm. He managed a slight nod of his head. “Like a son.”

Alex pinched the bridge of his nose between his finger and thumb and closed his eyes tight against the tears. He fought the emotion hard, but a tear managed to slip through, down his cheek and dripped on to his coat sleeve.

He glanced at Robert, saw his eyes were still open, still watching him, his smile faint but widening.

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.