Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s daughter chapter 31

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

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

***

Chapter 31

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

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

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

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

“Mrs. Tanner?”

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

“Yes?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A DNR?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cows,” he whispered. “Milking.”

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

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

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

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

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

“But, if —”

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Molly —”

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

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

“We need to talk.”

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

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

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

“Rest Alex.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To get stitches?”

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

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

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

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

“Okay, bud. You really need to —”

“I see babies.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Murphy shrugged. “If you say so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 30

As promised, here is another chapter, or part of one, for a special fiction Saturday. I know there are many of us who would love a distraction from the news right now.

To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE. I posted Chapter 29, yesterday.




Chapter 30

A sob choked out of Alex, bile rising into his throat.

“Oh, God, no.”

He fell to the ground next to Robert gently touching his shoulder, dragging in a ragged breath.

He leaned closer. “Robert, I’m going to get this tractor off you. You’re going to be okay.”

Robert swallowed hard and blinked his eyes. It was Alex’s first indication he was still alive.

The saturated ground must have given away under Robert, tipping the tractor into the ravine, onto its side, trapping him underneath it.

Robert tried to raise his hand, but it fell again to his side. “Alex. . .”

Alex shook his head. He had to get this tractor off Robert. He had to find out where the blood was coming from. He could tell by Robert’s labored breathing he wouldn’t last much longer if he couldn’t draw a deeper breath. The tractor was crushing his sternum and ribcage.

“Don’t talk. I’ll be right back. I need a lever or something to help me get this off you.”

Robert shook his head weakly. “Too . . .heavy.”

Alex reached for his phone in his back pocket.

It wasn’t there.

He ran to the truck, searching the front seat frantically. He cursed, remembering he’d left it at the house that morning. Running to the barn he ripped the door open and ran inside, looking for something he could wedge under the tractor to lift it.

He found a 2×4 and hooked it under his arm, dragging back to the tractor. Wedging it under the hood of the tractor, which was now embedded into the soil that had been softened by the recent rain, he pushed down on it, let up when he realized it wasn’t in the group deep enough and wedged it further down.

“Alex . . .”

He ignored Robert as he shoved the end of the 2×4 deeper into the ground. The wind had picked up and rain began to pelt his face. When he thought the board was wedged in deep enough, he pushed down, relieved as the tractor began to rise. He realized he wasn’t sure what he was going to do once he got the tractor up off the ground, if he even could, but it was a start.

The crack of the board under the weight of the tractor sounded like a gunshot.

Alex closed his eyes against the pain as the jagged end of the broken board ripped across his ribcage and sliced a gash into his flesh. He was afraid to open his eyes again and see that he had hurt Robert worse in his impatience.

He held his arm across his side and quickly crawled to Robert, leaning over so he could block his face from the rain.

“Are you okay?”                                            

“Alex, stop.” Robert’s voice was barely audible. “Listen . . . please.”

Alex started to stand again. “I’m going to go get help, Robert.”

Robert weakly grabbed Alex’s arm. “Listen to me.”

Alex leaned closer, tears stinging his eyes. “I don’t have time to —”

Robert’s words gasped out in short bursts as he tried to drag air into his lungs. “If I . . . don’t make it  . . .” He grimaced and dragged a breath in sharply. “I need you . . . and Jason to take care of Annie . . . and Molly.”

Alex shook his head. “Robert, you’re going to be fine. Don’t talk like that.”

Robert swallowed hard, gasping in a breath. “But if I don’t …”

 Alex shook his head again. “Not talking about it. You’re going to be fine.”

“Alex,” Robert grabbed his wrist tightly with all the strength he had left. “Please. Promise . . .”

Alex tightened his jaw, fighting back emotion. “I promise, Robert. I promise I’ll take care of Molly and Annie, but you’re going to be there to help me.”

The sound of a truck brought Alex’s head up. His heart rate increased at the sight of Molly pulling her truck in behind his.

“It’s Molly, she’ll —”

“No.”  Robert’s words came out in short gasps. “Don’t  . . . .let her  . . . see me like . . . this. Stop her.”

Alex ran full force up the hill as Molly started walking toward him. Her face fell as soon as she saw him.

“Alex! You’re bleeding! What happened?”

He grabbed her by the shoulders. “I’m fine, but I need you to go to the house. Okay? Call an ambulance on the way and then get Jason.”

“What’s going on?” Molly strained to look around him. “Where’s my dad?”

He cradled her face in his hands. “Molly, look at me.”

Panic flashed across her face as she gripped his upper arms. “Alex, is my dad under that tractor?”

“Molly —”

“Alex! Tell me!”

She tried to pull away. “Daddy!”

Alex tightened his hands on her face. “Molly! Look at me!”

Tears filled her eyes as she focused her gaze on his. Her eyes pleaded for him to tell her that her dad wasn’t under the tractor. He wished he could tell her that.

“Your dad is talking to me. That’s a good sign. I need you to call an ambulance and then I need you to call Jason and tell him to get down here. Then go back to the house and wait with your mom. Got it? Your dad doesn’t want you here, okay?” Her eyes darted away from his briefly, back toward the tractor. He moved closer to her, his hands still on her face. “Do you understand?”

Molly nodded slowly, taking a deep breath, choking back a sob. “Okay.”

“Go.”

As Molly ran toward her truck. Alex ran to the barn, searching for something to protect Robert from the rain. He found a tarp, pulling it across the tires of the tractor until it made a tent over the man who had taught him more about life than anyone else, other than his grandfather. Robert’s breaths were shallow, his eyes closed.

Alex shivered, his clothes soaked from the rain hitting him like ice pellets. Glancing at his ripped shirt he grimaced at the sight of dark red blood oozing from a deep gash across his ribs and upper abdomen. Searing pain pulsated through him as he propped the tarp up, the movement stretching the wound open further.

“You’re bleeding,” Robert said softly.

Alex shrugged a shoulder. “I’m fine.  No more talking. Save your air for breathing, okay?”

Robert’s eyelids closed as he nodded slowly.

It seemed like an eternity before Alex heard Jason’s truck pulled in next to his.

“Alex?! Dad?!”

Alex stepped around the tractor. “Down here!”

Jason stared at his father’s motionless form for a brief second before ripping the tarp back and propping his hands against the tractor’s mud covered back tire.

“Get on the other side!” He shouted at Alex to be heard over the rain. “Push when I tell you to!”

“What if the tractor falls again?” Alex shouted back.

“Just push!”

Metal and rocks sliced at Jason and Alex’s hands as they pushed until the tractor rolled back enough that it wasn’t laying on Robert anymore. Alex dragged a hand across his face to try to see through the rain, a sick ache clutching at his stomach at the way Robert’s legs were grotesquely twisted away from each other.

The blaring squeal of an ambulance siren drowned out Jason’s voice as he fell to the ground to speak to Robert. Alex didn’t need to know what Jason was saying. Whatever it was, it was between a father and son. He turned his face away, choking back emotion as he heard bits and pieces  between the blares of the siren.

“Jason . . .”

“Save your energy, Dad. We’ll talk at the hospital.”

“Jason.” Robert struggled to draw a breath in. “I love you.”

Jason’s voice broke as he spoke. “I love you too, Dad. You’re going to be fine, okay?”

Alex and Jason both stepped back as several local volunteer fire fighters pulled in behind the ambulance, jumping out of their trucks and rushing across the soaked field, two of them almost falling as their feet slipped in the mud. Tarps were expertly erected to protect them and Robert from the rain.

Alex recognized most of the men, many of whom Jason had introduced him to over the years; former classmates of Jason’s, local business owners who also served as volunteer fire fighters, even the mayor of Spencer.

After they examined Robert, assessing the extent of his injuries, several of the fire fighters and the EMTs gathered around him and Robert quickly, yet somehow still gently, from the ground to a backboard. From there they carried him toward the back of the ambulance, doing their best to shield him from the rain,

Molly’s truck pulled in behind Alex’s as the EMT’s reached the back of the ambulance, Annie rushing from the passenger side. Her hair, usually pulled up on top of her head, had fallen loose and was soaked, matted against her face.

One hand reached toward the ambulance, another holding her sweater closed. “Robert!”

Alex turned quickly and met her, his arms grasping her against his chest as she strained to reach the stretcher. She sobbed, clutching Alex’s arms, straining against him, her face streaked with tears and raindrops.

“Annie!” one of the EMTs shouted over the sound of the rain and the growl of the ambulance engine. “Robert’s asking for you. You can ride with us.”

Alex let Annie go and watched through the tears he’d been trying hard to hold back as she stumbled toward the back of the ambulance. He dragged a blood covered hand across his cheek to wipe tears and raindrops from his face and saw Molly as she turned away from the scene, her face pale, hand pressed against her mouth, and eyes wide.

He took a step, reached out for her, and then collapsed as blackness stretched across his vision.

***

Visions of her dad’s pale face against the white sheet of the stretcher in the back of the ambulance merged with visions of Alex lying unconscious at her feet, bleeding from his stomach and side. This morning she’d woke up simply looking forward to lunch with her best friend. The day had spiraled out of control very fast starting with Jessie and now here she was, 8 hours later, sitting next to her brother in his pickup, speeding toward the hospital behind two ambulances, one carrying her father, the other carrying the man she’d fallen in love with.

She’d used up most of her tears and now sat staring through the windshield with bloodshot eyes, feeling numb and emotionally spent.

“You okay?”                                                                                        

She glanced at Jason. “I don’t know. You?”

Her brother laughed softly. “Hardly.”

They drove in silence for a few more moments, the sound of tires on the pavement humming a rhythm.

Jason cleared his throat. “So, what did I walk in on today with you and Alex?”

Molly rolled her eyes and leaned her head against the window. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Did he screw it up already?”

Molly glared. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Jason shrugged. “It’s just Alex. He screws up stuff sometimes.”

“We just had to talk about something I’d heard,” Molly said with a sigh.

“About Jessie Landry?”

She lifted her head and looked at him with raised eyebrows. “How do you know about that?”

He shrugged again. “He told me about it.”

“What did he say?”

“He said he’d brought her back to the house, but told her he couldn’t sleep with her, and she left in a huff.”

“Do you believe him?”

Jason glanced at her, then back to the road. “Yeah, I do. She wasn’t there when I got home from being out with Ellie, and she wasn’t there in the morning. Plus, he was pretty annoyed when I harassed him about it.” A smile flicked across his mouth. “I didn’t know what stopped him then but now I have to wonder . . .” He glanced at her again. “Maybe it was not something, but someone.”

After a couple moments of silence, he glanced at her again. “Do you believe him?”

She sighed, watching houses and farms speed by the window. Alex had already told her it had been someone that had stopped him from sleeping with Jessie and that someone was her.

“Yeah,” she said softly. “I do.”

She tipped her head against the window again, looking out at the ambulance taillights fading in front of them. She closed her eyes briefly and rubbed them, wishing she was in the ambulance with Alex, hoping he was okay. Bradley Lester, one of the ambulance crew who she’d graduated with, had told her he thought it was blood loss that had knocked Alex unconscious, but they’d know more at the hospital.

A thought struck her.

“How did you know about me and Alex?”

The sun had dipped below the horizon and bright red streaked between streaks of yellow.

A slight smile tugged at Jason’s mouth. “I saw you two kissing outside the diner the other day.”

“Oh.”

Jason made a face. “It made me want to throw up.”

Molly laughed at her brother, knowing she shouldn’t, but saying it anyhow. “Not me.”

Jason stuck his tongue out and made a gagging noise. “Yuck.”

 They drove for a few more minutes in silence. They were almost to the hospital.

“Were you mad?”

He grinned. “Heck yeah. I almost punched Alex out. Instead I just shoved him across the diner.”

Molly looked at her brother with wide eyes. “Why did you do that?”

Jason flicked the turn signal for the hospital exit. “Because you’re my sister. Alex is my best friend, but he’s not great with relationships. I didn’t want you to be another casualty to his inability to commit.”

Molly thought about her conversation with Alex that night in the barn. He knew he’d made mistakes in the past. He wanted to change, he’s said, and she couldn’t help but believe him.

“I think he’s trying to change,” she said softly.

“Yeah. He is.” Jason stopped at a stoplight and looked at her. “And you’re the reason why.”

Molly blew out a long breath. “I don’t think I’m —“

“You are, Molly.” The light was still red, and he was still looking at her. “You’re worth any man changing for. Don’t ever doubt that.” He laughed softly as the light flicked to green. “He’s probably going to screw up things from time to time, but he told me he loves you and I believe him, even if it makes me nervous. I promised I’d help him change.”

He grinned as he turned the truck into the hospital driveway. “I also promised I’d beat him to a pulp if he hurts you.”

Molly punched her brother’s shoulder playfully. “Ah, having your brother promise to beat the crap out of someone for you. That’s sibling love right there.”

Jason pulled into the parking lot next to the emergency room entrance and shifted the truck into park. Molly’s mind raced from Alex to her Dad.

“They’re going to be okay, Mol.”

She nodded, blowing out a shaky breath.

“Did you call Ellie?” she asked as they made their way toward the emergency room.

Jason didn’t answer for a few moments. His eyebrows had dipped low, his eyes narrowed. “No. Not yet.”

She looked at him, confused. “Do you want me to call her? I think she’d want to know.”

He shook his head and chewed at the inside of his lip. “No. That’s fine. I’ll call her later. Things are just —” He let out a sigh. “Confusing right now.”

“Confusing how?”

 He shrugged. “Alex isn’t the only one who knows how to screw up a good thing.” He opened the hospital door for her. “Come on. Let’s find Dad and Alex and we can’t talk about my love life another time.”

Extra Fiction Thursday: Quarantined Chapter 11 and Epilogue

Welcome to the final chapter of Quarantined. To catch up with the story click HERE.


Chapter 11

John was laughing, holding one of the national newspapers that most people referred to as a “gossip rag.”

“Matt, have you seen this?”

John tossed the paper, front page up, onto Matt’s desk.

Normally Matt found himself seething with anger when he saw an inaccurate or misleading headline but this time he simply tipped his head back and laughed loudly.

“Ah, man, this press conference might be fun,” he said with a grin, tying his tie. “You think they’ll ask me about it?”

John tossed another gossip newspaper on the top of the desk and nodded. “I’d guess someone will. TMZ is covering it too.”

“TMZ? I’m not Jay-Z or Beyonce. Are you serious?”

Matt was laughing harder now as he snatched up the folder with his notes and walked briskly toward the office door. “Come on, let’s do this. Cassie, you want to watch this one? This one could be fun.”

Cassie glanced at the front page of the paper as she walked toward the door then stopped, took a few steps backward and looked at the paper again.

“Is that me? In a robe? Where was that photographer even at to get that photo?”

Her eyes were wide as she followed Matt down the hallway. “Matt, we need to install a fence and better security. That’s an invasion of privacy.”

A splattering of camera flashes and shutter clicks met Matt when he reached the end of the stairs of the capitol and stood in front of the members of the press, many of them shoving cellphones and microphones at him. Cassie and John stood behind him, listening to a variety of questions related to the current uncertain situation with a possible deadly virus moving across the country and what Matt intended to do about other pressing national security issues when the Senate was back in session.

Matt answered the questions and was preparing to wish the reporters a good day when a reporter called to him.

“Representative Grant, is it true that while you were supposed to be quarantined with your family you had another woman at your house, in your backyard? Neighbors say they saw you kissing her and leading her into your garage.”

Several cellphones and microphones were shoved back toward him.

Matt shot the reporter a surprised expression, one eyebrow raised. “I have no idea what you are referring to Patrick. Please enlighten me.”

Patrick O’Donnell held up the paper with the photograph of Cassie straddling Matt in their backyard on the lawn chair.

“That doesn’t look like a neighbor saw me. That looks like a photographer saw me.”

Patrick pressed him. “Then you don’t deny this is you in the photo?”

“No, I don’t.”

Smirks filtered across the press pool, pens moving feverishly across reporter notebooks.

“I also don’t deny that the woman in the photo is my wife, Cassie.”

A female reporter in the front of the group rolled her eyes and shoved her pen in her pocket, clearly uninterested in the story now that she knew he’d simply been with his wife.

“She dyed her hair to try something different with her appearance. And what you see there is the culmination of a wonderful at-home date night while I was in quarantine. It was a great make out session that we later moved to the privacy of our garage so we could have amazing married sex without waking our children. Yes. There really is such a thing as great married sex.”

Cassie gasped softly and clasped her hand over her mouth. John laughed and shook his head.

“Aw man…” he said.  “Looks like the old Matt has come back to us.”

Matt’s expression was a cross between angry and amused. “Any more questions?”

Laughter spread across the press pool. Patrick’s face flushed bright red as he joined in the laughter. “No, Senator. I think that answers my question.”

Matt cleared his throat, his eyes moving across them, his smile fading.­ “With that behind us, I have an announcement to make.”

The cameras that had been turning off clicked back on. Phones were shoved toward him to record his words. Pens will slid out of pockets again.

“This will be my last term as a senator from the great state of Ohio.”

Cassie gasped for the second time in only a few minutes. Her husband was apparently full of surprises today. He hadn’t told her he was going to tell a group of national reporters about their sex life and he hadn’t told her he had decided not to run for reelection. What had changed his mind? She looked at John and noticed he didn’t have the same surprised expression on his face that she did.

“Did you know?”

He nodded, a smile tugging at one side of his mouth. He looked slightly sheepish, rubbing his hand along the back of his neck. “You mean he didn’t talk to you yet? He said he was planning to. Um . . . Yeah.  Well, we’ve been talking about it, but I didn’t know he was going to announce it today.”

“What led to this decision?” a reporter asked.

“My heart,” Matt responded with a small smile, looking up and catching Cassie’s eye.

Matt answered a few more questions then stepped away from the podium and walked toward Cassie and John, reaching for Cassie’s hand. They didn’t speak until they were locked inside the elevator with John.

Matt spoke before Cassie could. “I know. I’m sorry. I should have told you I’d made this decision, but I can’t put our family through this anymore, Cassie. I can’t put you through this anymore.”

He slid his arms around her waist and pulled her gently against him. “I don’t know what our future holds, but I am thinking private practice again. John has agreed to be my paralegal and I’ll find something for Liam to do too, some way for him to use that PR degree of his.”

“Are we going back to Ohio?”

Matt nodded. “I really think that would be best at this point, yes.” He cupped her chin in his, searching her eyes. “What do you think? I know I should have asked you before I made the announcement, but what do you think?”

Cassie smiled. “I think Tyler is going to be upset leaving his friends, but I think you made the right decision. We will all adjust.”

Matt kissed her briefly as the doors to the elevator opened. Bright sunlight pouring in from the glass doors of the capitol building bounced light off the floor and chandeliers, prompting all three of them to reach for their sunglasses.

Matt paused and turned toward John. “I’m heading home for the afternoon, John. I’ll call later and we’ll discuss this more.”

John nodded. “Sounds good. Liam and I will get the releases together for you to look at.”

Matt slid his arm around Cassie’s waist as they walked nodding at a couple members of the press, a few senators and two congressmen as they walked toward the back parking lot toward their car.

Matt lifted his phone as it rang and smiled as he read the caller ID.

“Hey, Liam.”

“What was that? I thought we were going to draft a press release when I got in this afternoon.”

“I know. Sorry. The timing just felt right.”

Liam laughed. “Classic Matt response. Seriously, it was fine with me, I just didn’t expect you to announce it so quickly. I’ll work with John on a press release with more details this afternoon. And, hey, that whole thing with Cassie was hilarious.”

Matt laughed, his hand on the door to his car. “It was but at the same time it was concerning. I don’t like the idea of the press being able to access our property that way. I think stepping out of the limelight for the next few months should help alleviate some of that until we can get back to Ohio. Anyhow, things still getting better with you and Maddie?”

“We’ve barely left this bed all morning, does that answer your question?”

Matt winced and made a face. “Dude, as happy as I am that you and Maddie are getting things back on track, I did not need to know that.”

Liam burst into laughter. “I didn’t mean it that way.” Matt could hear Maddie laughing in the background. “We’re watching movies together. That’s all. For now, anyhow.”

“Ah man, I have to go. Too much information, Liam.”

Cassie slid into the passenger seat as Matt slid behind the steering wheel.

“So, what’s the verdict? Things still getting better over there?”

“I’d say so. They’ve been in bed all day.”

Cassie made the same face Matt had made a few moments earlier. “Oh, that’s what you meant by too much information. I mean I’m happy for them, but that’s more than I needed to know.”

“He said they’re watching movies.”

Cassie laughed, flipping back a strand of her now blond-streaked brown hair. “Yeah, sure that’s all they’re doing. But good. That means that both of the Grant brother’s marriages are on the right track then.”

Matt leaned toward his wife and cupped his hand against her face, sliding his thumb along her cheekbone. “Yes. That is exactly what that means.”

Epilogue

“Pregnant? Really?”

A smiled tugged at Matt’s mouth, even though he’d considered teasing his wife for a moment and pretending to be upset at whatever important news she said she had to tell him. This announcement, though, had genuinely brought a smile to his face. Yes, the children they had were exhausting. Yes, this news was definitely a shock and surprise. But also, yes, he loved his children, they were a blessing, and if God was giving them another blessing, he was more than ready to accept it.

Cassie caught her lower lip between her teeth then let it slide out again. “Are you upset?”

“Upset? Do I look upset?” He pulled Cassie gently against him and kissed her mouth gently. “This is wonderful news, Cassie.”

“Even now, with our future up in the air? With you getting ready to leave the Senate and rebuilding your law firm?”

“Even now, Cassie.” He looked at her with a furrowed brow. “I don’t know why you’re shaking. Were you that nervous to tell me?”

Cassie nodded, tears rimming her eyes even though a smile was pulling at her mouth. “I know it was silly, but yes, I was that nervous. Not just to tell you, but what it might mean for ”

Matt wiped at the tear that escaped the corner of her eye with the palm of his thumb. “We’ll make it work. I’m not worried about that.”

When his cellphone rang he let it go to voicemail, not even bothering to see who it was. Whoever it was could call back.

Cassie wiped at the tears on her cheeks. “I wonder what the kids will think.”

“Tyler might not be very happy, but I think the girls will love the idea of a baby to take care of.”

His cellphone rang again. Cassie nodded toward it. “Maybe you’d better take that. You’re not out of the Senate yet. It could be important.”

Matt shrugged. “Doubt it.” He reached for the phone anyhow, glancing at the caller ID.

It was coming out of Washington, that’s all he knew, and it was probably Senate business, but that business could wait.

He placed the phone down again and slid his arm back around Cassie, holding her close. “I don’t have time for spam right now. I’ll listen to it later. Right now my focus needs to be on this family and,” he smiled as he touched Cassie’s belly. “This new baby.”

***

Matt rubbed his hands across his eyes and yawned. He’d been ignoring his phone and emails all day. He and Cassie had talked about the new baby, told the children, had dinner, spent some time watching a movie and holding each other and now Cassie was asleep upstairs. He’d stumbled into his office to catch up on phone calls and see what he’d been missing. One voicemail was from John, asking him to call him back, another was a call from a member of the media, and the third was from Liam, asking him about his plans for Labor Day weekend.

He reached over to click off the desk lamp as the phone rang again. He lifted it, glancing at the caller ID and yawning again. 202 area code. Someone in Washington again. He rolled his eyes, ready for his day to be over, but he decided he had better take the call this time. This same number had called four times today already.

“Senator Grant?”

“Yes?”

“Hello. Glad I finally caught you. This is Alexander Marshall, Chief of Staff for the president. We noticed on the news that you’ve decided not to run for re-election this year.”

The White House? Really? Matt definitely new Alexander’s name but he needed to feel this conversation out; make sure it was actually him.

“Um, yeah. Hello, Mr. Marshall. Yes, I felt that I’d accomplished at least most of what I wanted to do here, for my constituents and that I should —”

“We understand, Matt, may I call you Matt? And I certainly would want you to call me Alexander.”

“Yes. Sure. Of course, you can call me Matt.”

He was beginning to think this really was Alexander Marshall. He certainly had the same New York accent as Alexander Marshall.

“We understand why you’re stepping down Matt, but to be blunt, we don’t think your job is done here in Washington yet. You’ve propelled a lot of the goals of our party forward in some very high-profile ways. Listen, Matt while we here at the White House, specifically the president, respect your decision to stay home with your family, we are willing to offer you a position on the president’s cabinet, which would keep you in Washington and close to your family while also still being able to serve your country, something we know is very important to you.”

Matt sat up straighter in his chair as Alexander continued speaking. His exhaustion was fading, adrenaline kicking in fast.

“As you know the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has stepped down and this is the position the president has personally asked us to approach you about and have you consider taking on. Would you be willing to at least consider this offer and get back to us by the end of the week with your answer?”

Matt’s mouth had gone dry. He shook his head as if to wake himself from the dream he was sure he was having. The president wanted him on his cabinet? Was this really happening?

“Uh, yes. Yes, of course I will consider it Mr. Marshall – um, Alexander.”

“Great. That’s great. I hope to hear by this week that you’ll be joining our team.”

As he hung up Matt felt a twinge of guilt. Had he just said he’d consider a job on the president’s cabinet, on the same day he’d promised his wife he’d consult everything with her from now on, especially if it affected the entire family? Indeed, he had.

 He let out a long breath. He had to talk to Cassie about this sooner rather than later. He couldn’t keep the news from her. They’d have to discuss it and make a decision.

Whatever that decision was, though, he knew they’d make it together – as a family.

Extra Thursday Fiction: Quarantined Chapters 8 & 9

A little update on Extra Fiction Thursday: after I finish this particular series, I will probably be retiring the extra fiction Thursday and returning to fiction only on Fridays. About today’s chapters: one of these chapters will feature some marital romance. For some readers of clean fiction this “romance” may seem a bit too suggestive, but I feel it’s important to this story to show that passion does and can exist within the bonds of marriage, even in a marriage where the couple has been married a long time. The scene will not include graphic sex, of course (sorry to disappoint those who like reading that. Ha!) but there will definitely be some suggestive sections that won’t be vague about what’sgoing to happen next.

The synopsis of the story: Liam and Maddie Grant are set to sign divorce papers 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. Now the couple is quarantined in their home and have to face the issues that split them apart and decide if they want to sign the divorce papers or stay together. Across the city, Liam’s brother United States Senator Matthew Grant is quarantined with his wife and children, as well, wondering if his marriage could end up on the same path as his brothers. Matthew also finds himself spending his time in quarantine reflecting on his time as senator and his upcoming re-election campaign.

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


Chapter 8

When the sounds of cartoons filtered through his dreams, Matt knew he had fallen asleep on the living room couch again. He’d been up late, thinking, praying, writing down thoughts he wanted to share with John and Liam when they got back into the office. He’d leaned his head back to think about some projects he knew needed tackling when the Senate was back in session again and then — well, he’d woken up here, in the corner of the sectional with children strewn around him eating cereal out of bowls, toys and comic books spread out on the carpet.

“Hey, Dad,” Tyler mumbled around a mouthful of corn flakes. “Sleep well?”

Matt squinted into the sunlight pouring through the window behind the TV, holding his hand up to block it as he struggled to sit up.

“Um, yeah,” he said hoarsely. “I think so. I don’t know. I don’t even remember falling asleep actually.”

He stood slowly, the pull in his upper back bringing a grimace.

“Where’s your mom?”

“She’s in the bathroom crying,” Lauren said cheerfully. “And her hair looks all funny.”

Matt rubbed his eyes with both hands, willing the heaviness of sleep to leave them. “What? Why is she crying?”

Tyler shrugged, his eyes glued to the cartoon on the TV. “Probably because her hair looks funny.”

“How does it look funny?”

Tyler shrugged, looking at the TV. “I don’t know. Lauren said it looked funny. I don’t want to know so I’m not going to look.”

Matt sighed and stepped over the toys and comic books on his way toward the stairs. “Guys, pick up this mess, okay? If your mom is already crying, she’s going to be crying more when she sees all this.”

Lauren was right. He could see Cassie through a small opening in the bathroom door, sitting on the floor by the tub, crying. Her hair was slicked down across her head, orange colored strands hanging down in front of her face.

“Cassie? What’s going on?”

“Oh! I thought you were still asleep.”

“I woke up and asked where you were. You okay? And what happened to your hair?”

Cassie held up an empty plastic bottle and box of hair dye. “This is what happened.”

“You’re dying your hair? Why?”

Fresh tears poured down Cassie’s cheeks. Her words flowed out of her fast, furious, mixed in between sobs. “I don’t know. Why not? I can’t leave the house to get my hair done and there are all these gray hairs sprouting up in the middle of my head and I wanted to do something to hide them because I don’t want to be old, Matt. But I am old. I’m old and I don’t know how I got here. I’m old and I have stretch marks and you deserve better than this old, run down, fat woman with gray hair who now has orange hair because she was trying to transform from brunette to auburn.”

Matt stared at his crying wife, bleary-eyed, wishing he’d grabbed a cup of coffee before he’d made the journey up the stairs. Liam had been right. It was obvious that even though Cassie had appeared “fine” she was absolutely “not fine.”

Guilt settled in his chest like a heavy stone at the bottom of a lake. Why hadn’t he asked before this if she was okay? If she was really okay?

He drew a deep breath to try to clear the cobwebs of sleep from his mind before he spoke. There were a few times a man shouldn’t speak. One was when they were drunk. Two was when their wife was drunk. Three was when either of them were half asleep. He knew there were many other times but right now he was half asleep and he was afraid to talk and say something wrong. He had to say something, though. He couldn’t simply leave his wife in the middle of the bathroom floor believing she was old, fat and — what else had she called herself? Oh right. Run down.

His knee groaned in protest as he kneeled next to her. To take the weight off of it he slid down on his butt and said cross legged. He didn’t think his wife was old but at that moment, with his aching knees and sore back, he certainly felt old.

“Cassie, hon’ where did you get the idea that you are old or run down?”

“It’s not an idea, it’s a fact.” She choked back a sob. “I don’t know why I was so stupid. I just thought if I could change my hair a little, maybe it would help me feel better, make me feel less…blah. I don’t know.”

He slid his arm around her shoulders, hugged her sideways against him.

“Oh, Cas. I love you. You feel blah because you’re stuck in this house with your preoccupied, self-centered husband with no outlet for your creativity and extrovert personality. There is nothing wrong with you. All this being forced to stay at home has been hard on all of us. I know it’s hard on me too, but we’ve needed this slow down, this wake-up call to what we’ve been missing out on while we were working so hard to . . . I don’t know. Work so hard.”

She sniffed, reaching for the toilet paper roll, ripping a piece off and blowing her nose.

“I just wanted to look nice for you,” she whispered.

He looked down at her, pushing the wet strands of hair from her face. “Cassie, you always look nice for me. I’m sorry it’s been so long since I told you that.”

“It’s okay.” She wiped her eyes. “You’ve been —”

“Being busy is no excuse,” Matt interrupted. “I should have been just as busy showing you and the kids how much I love you.”

He lifted a strand of her hair and studied it. “You know, I think I’ll like having a wife with red hair.”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s orange. My hair is going to be orange.”

Picking up the almost empty bottle of hair dye, Matt smiled. “Come on. Let’s finish squirting this in your hair, do whatever we’re supposed to do to let the color get in there, wash it out and see what happens. This could be a lot of fun and what we need right now is some fun. Okay?”

Shelaughed through the tears. “Okay. I guess.”

“I’ll help you finish this up and then why don’t I convince Tyler to watch the girls tonight in the downstairs den. They can have one of those frozen pizzas that came in the grocery delivery. I’ll whip up a delicious dinner for us and we can eat out on the patio, underneath the stars. What do you say? Let me pamper you tonight.”

“I say, ‘let’s hurry up and get this hair done so you can make me dinner and rub my feet tonight,’” Cassie said with a laugh.

Matt narrowed his eyes. “Wait a minute. When did I say I would rub your —”

“Well, you said pampering. I just thought I’d give you a suggestion on how.”

Matt smirked and shook his head. “Okay, lady, you win. I’ll rub your feet, but don’t expect me to feed you grapes.”

Cassie leaned over to kiss his cheek. “Oh, no, never grapes. But you can feed me chocolate covered strawberries.”

Matt laughed. “Yes, ma’am.”

***

It was yet another morning since the quarantine had started that Liam woke up disoriented, but this time there was a woman in his bed, and he was relieved to see that the woman was his wife.

After gently sliding himself away from Maddie, making sure her head shifted softly onto the pillow, he sat up, rubbing his hands over his face. Glancing behind him he looked at Maddie still asleep, her hair splayed out around her head on the pillow. He couldn’t stop the smile that tugged at his lips as he watched her sleep. They may not have been in love like they used to be, but she was still beautiful.

His eyes made a path from her closed eyes, down her nose, across her soft lips (slightly parted) her throat (exposed by how her head was tipped back slightly) continuing across her chest and stomach, hips and legs. He hadn’t taken the time to look at his wife in this way for a long time. He realized now that he’d certainly been missing out. He also now realized how much he wished his hands could take the same journey his eyes were taking; how he wished he could gather her close like he had so many times in their marriage and make all the bad years, all the hurts they’d inflicted on each other go away.

Liam forced himself to look away, walking toward the kitchen in search of a cup of coffee. He needed to clear his head. They were as good as divorced. Why was he thinking about her this way now? There was no turning back. They’d fallen apart. They weren’t seeing eye-to-eye, they’d hurt each other too many times and besides, the divorce was what she had wanted, what she still wanted.

Something Pastor Josh had said at their wedding popped into his mind as he filled a filter with coffee beans he had ground the night before.

“A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

It was from the Bible. Leviticus? No, maybe it was Ecclesiastes. Liam couldn’t remember. What he could remember was that Pastor Josh had said it while laying his hand over his and Maddie’s hands, which were intertwined as they stood at the front of the church, their friends and family looking on.

Pastor Josh looped the rope around their wrist and hands, binding them together. “These three strands of rope signify that today Liam and Maddie don’t only need each other in their marriage. They need to be unified with God to help them on the tough days and even on the easy days. Today Maddie and Liam make a covenant before all of you to face the trials marriage may bring with the help of God, the other person in their marriage; the only person who can truly bring them through.”

The Keurig breathed out a hushed whoosh, a comforting sound as he waited for the coffee to begin dripping into his cup. He leaned on the counter top, propping his chin on his elbow.

When had he and Maddie let go of that third strand? When had they let go of God and pushed him from their marriage? Maybe it wasn’t so much that they’d pushed God away but that they’d forgotten he was even there. After the last miscarriage Liam’s anger toward God had consumed him to the point he didn’t want to talk about God or to God.

He hadn’t spoken to God since they’d lowered that tiny box in the ground after the last miscarriage. He’d always been afraid what God might say back.

Why bother? he had often thought since the baby’s loss. God’s not there. If he was your little girl and all those other babies would be here today in your arms and not in a grave in the ground.

Lately, though, Liam had been aching for the days he had trusted God, no matter what, no matter how hard life had become. He had trusted God when his dad had been diagnosed with cancer, when his mom had been in that car accident and they thought she’d never wake up again. Each time, though, those outcomes had been good. His dad’s cancer had been cured by surgery and radiation. He’d been in remission for ten years now. His mom woke up and while it was a long road to recovery, she was doing well and most days it was as if the accident never happened.

It was when the outcomes had been bad that Liam had really struggled. He had believed then that God had abandoned him, had walked away from him during the trials. Maybe, though, during those trials God had actually been closer to him than any other time.

He let out a long breath. He hadn’t prayed — really prayed — in years. Almost all of his prayers in recent years had been quick utterances like “God, please let me get to this meeting on time” or “God, be with so-and-so in their difficult time.” He wasn’t even sure if he knew how to pray anymore.

“God,” he whispered, his hands on the counter, his eyes closed. “How do I trust you even when the outcome isn’t what I wanted? Show me. Please. And show me how to accept that Maddie doesn’t want this anymore, doesn’t want me,” his voice cracked with emotion. “anymore. Help me through this. I know I don’t deserve your help, but I’m asking for it anyhow.”

Liam swiped the back of his hand across his cheek to wipe away tears he hadn’t expected.

The isolation must be really getting to me. I’m a grown man standing in my kitchen crying.

He had to admit though, the tears, and the prayer, had been therapeutic.

Yes, he’d just prayed for the first time in maybe four years and yes, he might still not find the answers he was seeking, but he felt different, liberated somehow. Somehow, he felt that no matter what happened between him and Maddie, he was going to be okay and so was she.

He walked back toward the bedroom as the coffee brewed and leaned against the door frame. Maddie had curled up on her side, pulled the covers up around her shoulders.

Reddish blond strands were draped across her face and her mouth was about the only part of her visible. He laughed softly at the sight of her, looking almost like a child refusing to get out of bed and greet the day. She never was a morning person, unlike him.

He remembered well that first week they’d been married, after the honeymoon, and how he’d jumped out of bed, made her breakfast and carried it into the bedroom, proud of his efforts. She was buried under the covers, her head completely covered. He had lifted a corner of the comforter and saw her in a fetal position, her hair a mess, but her face beautiful and peaceful. That peaceful look changed when he asked her if she was ready for breakfast. Her beautiful face scrunched up and she somehow curled her body tighter into a fetal position and mumbled something about “sleep” “morning” and “five more minutes.”

She’d eventually woken up and eaten her breakfast half asleep but as the years passed the grumpy mornings and been a bit less romantic and a little more confrontational.

“I know I have to get up for work, Liam!” she shouted more than once, tossing a pillow across the room at him.

But he’d laughed at most of the confrontations, ducking the pillow and sometimes even tossing it back. There were some mornings he returned the pillow by walking it across the room, sitting on the edge of the bed, and trailing his finger tip from the bottom edge of her nightgown, down her leg, hoping she’d wake up and start both of their mornings off right.

The ringtone from his phone startled him from his thoughts and he lunged across the room and snatched it quickly from the bedside table so it wouldn’t wake Maddie. He walked into the living room before answering it.

“Liam”

“Yeah, Tony. Hey.”

He hadn’t expected to hear from his lawyer after being told signing the paperwork would have to wait for two weeks at the earliest.

“You guys hanging in there?”

“As best as can be expected under the circumstances.”

“I know that not being able to sign the paperwork has probably been weighing on you, so I wanted to let you know that we’ve decided that as long as everyone agrees to wear masks, we can sign the papers at the end of this week. Would that work?”

Liam swallowed hard and looked down the hallway. “Um..yeah. Let me ask Maddie if that works for her.”

Tony chuckled. “How’s that been working out?”

Liam winced then laughed softly. “It’s been interesting to say the least.”

“Well, not much longer, buddy. We’ll get these papers signed and get you into your own place as soon as your quarantine is over. Any word on your test yet?”

“No. Not yet. I’m going to be calling the doctor later today to find out what the delay is.”

“Okay, well, keep me updated. If Maddie agrees I’ll clear it with her attorney this afternoon.”

After thanking Tony and saying goodbye, Liam reached for the coffee mug, stirring in cream and sugar. Walking quietly down the hall he peaked into the spare room. The bed was empty and he could hear the shower in the bathroom at the end of the hall. He looked at the empty bed again, an ache spreading across chest as he remembered the feel of her against him the night before.

Back in the kitchen he started breakfast and sipped the coffee. He was plating eggs and bacon and putting another slice of toast in the toaster when he heard the bathroom door open and bare feet against the floor in the hallway.

He would miss the sound of Maddie’s feet in the hallway when the divorce was final.

He noticed a tremble in his hand as he set the mug on the counter. His heart was pounding faster, his breath quickening as he pictured himself signing the papers. He closed his eyes tight against the image, rubbing his hand through his hair as if he could rub it from his mind.

Dear God.

A cold chill slithered through his arms and legs at the same time a piercing ring squealed in his ears. Pain clutched at his chest and gnawing nausea swelled in the pit of his stomach. Touching a hand to his forehead he felt sweat beading there. He tried to draw in a deep breath but it caught there.  

What was going on?

Could it be the virus?

He straightened himself and held his hand out in front of him, his breaths quick, yet shallow. His hand shook violently. Clenching it into a fist he willed the shaking to stop.

His mind raced to make sense of what was happening as he stumbled back against the refrigerator, sliding down it to the cool, gray linoleum. He struggled to drag air into his lungs and blackness encroached across his vision. Even before his head hit the floor, he had completely lost consciousness.

Chapter 9

The children had been ushered upstairs into their parent’s bedroom with pizza, cookies, juice and child-appropriate movies. Matt was in the kitchen cooking dinner and Cassie didn’t have anything to do other than wait. She rubbed her hands together and then ran her hands down her arms, bouncing her foot as she sat in the recliner in the living room. She was too restless to sit and wait. She stepped into the dining room and pulled two candles out of a drawer in the bottom of the china cabinet, placing them in the center of the table.

 A rush of butterflies slid up from her toes and throughout her limbs as she lit the candles, but she couldn’t figure out why. She was simply having dinner with her husband. Her husband of 15-years. The one person, except her mother, who knew her better than anyone.

She had no reason to be nervous. She looked at her hands, saw they were trembling and closed them tight into a fist. Good grief, why was she so nervous? Maybe because this was the first date, so to speak, that she and Matt had had in probably three years. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, holding her hands against her chest.

And maybe because she needed to tell Matt something she’d wanted to tell him for a month now and she wasn’t sure how he’d respond when she did.

“Dinner is served,” Matt announced, entering the dining room with two plates full of food in his hands.

He laid the plates on the table at empty places next to wine glasses full of ginger ale and gestured for her to sit down.

“Nice touch on the candles,” he said with a smile as they sat.

Good grief, she was still shaking. “Well, I thought it would give us a romantic touch.”

Romance. Something they’d had here and there over the last few years, but not very often. And now here they were, able to be romantic and instead her stomach was in knots and her mind was racing.

Her anxiety faded slowly as she noticed Matt had pulled on a well-fitting blue polo shirt, a pair of snug blue jeans and had even shaven off his four-day stubble. She studied his masculine jawline as he sipped the ginger ale and her heart raced faster as she remembered how many times she’d kissed that jawline on her way to his mouth.

“You okay?” he asked after they’d discussed what movies the kids were watching, what snacks they’d given them, and were halfway through their meal.

“Yes, but I’m nervous,” she confessed. “And I don’t know why.”

She did know why. She simply couldn’t say why. Not yet anyhow.

“Maybe because we’ve barely been alone in months,” Matt said with a laugh.

Cassie winked. “More like years.”

Matt bit his lower lip, watching her as she cut her seasoned chicken into smaller pieces.

“Yeah. It has been years, hasn’t it?”

The warmth of his hand over hers brought her gaze to his. “Cassie, I’m sorry.”

His voice was soft.

Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Why? Dinner is wonderful. I wish I had known you could cook this well or I would have had you cooking more often.”

He shook his head. “No, not that. I’m sorry for everything. For dragging you into this crazy world of politics. For neglecting you and the kids. For focusing on my job so much I lost sight of your needs.”

“Matt, I’m okay, really I —”

“Are you really? Because you always say you’re fine, but I’m worried that you aren’t actually fine.”

Cassie let out a deep breath and smiled. “Well, no, I’m not totally fine. I’m nervous about all of this stuff going on on. I’m nervous about one of us getting sick. I’m nervous about . . .” She rubbed her fingers along the top of the table. “the election and what it will mean for our family if you win again.”

Matt laid his fork down and leaned back in his chair. “I’m worried about it too, to be honest. I’ve been trying to decide if I am doing the right thing running for re-election.” He propped his elbows on the table and pressed his fingers together, tapping the tips of them against his mouth.

“But,” he said finally. “I think, in the end, it’s the right thing to do. We’ve accomplished a lot in our six years here and I know there is more we can accomplish, even if we can’t pass laws. There are other initiatives my influence in the senate can help support and push forward.”

Cassie swallowed a piece of chicken and nodded. “Right. Those are good points.”

“You don’t feel the same, do you?”

“Oh, no, I do. It’s just . . . Well, all of this has put a lot of strain on our family.”

Matt nodded thoughtfully and took a bite of roasted potato. “It has, I know, but there have been good times too. I’m not traveling across the country when sessions are over. We are all here together in the city. That’s at least a couple good things.”

Cassie hadn’t expected to feel such crushing disappointment that Matt wanted to continue his re-election campaign. She knew he was excited about the chance to serve another term; they’d discussed it before. Somehow, though, she had hoped these last two weeks at home had shown him what he’d been missing out on for the sake of his job. She remembered what she had decided a couple of days ago, though. Matt needed more of her and that included more of her support. She’d support him, no matter what, knowing that they would be in it together.

Their conversation moved to less serious topics. The weather, the latest book by their favorite Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, and what movie they could watch later.

Cassie finished her last bite of chicken and stood. “I should wash up before the kids start running down here asking for snacks.”

He followed her to the kitchen. “Cassie, I’m sorry about the whole election conversation. Did I dismiss you too quickly? We can talk about this more. I didn’t mean to —”

“Matt, it’s fine. I’m not upset. I knew you wanted to run for re-election and I’m here to support you no matter what.”

He stood next to her and handed her his plate. “You don’t have to say you are okay with this if you’re not.”

“But I am okay with this. If you feel what this is right then —”

Matt placed his hands on her shoulders, still behind her. “Cassie, this isn’t just about what I think is right. This has to be what we both want.”

Cassie turned the water on in the sink and added dish soap. “It isn’t that I don’t want it, Matt. I’m just nervous. That’s all. With everything going on in the world, it’s just making me more nervous right now. When things settle down, I’ll feel calmer.”

She turned toward him, forcing a smile. “We’re in this together. It’s all going to be fine.”

He kissed her mouth quickly. “Let’s not talk about this right now, okay? This is a night to relax, not stress. We can talk about this some more tomorrow. I’ll help you wash the dishes and then we can pick out a movie.”

Cassie nodded and turned back to face the sink. “Now, that sounds like a plan. Just no Die Hard.”

“No Die Hard? But that’s a totally relaxing movie. And there’s even romance.”

Cassie rolled her eyes.

Matt laughed and stepped behind her, reaching over her shoulder and picking up the pre-rinse sprayer next to the faucet. He pulled it out, examining it. “Do we ever use this thing?”

“I do sometimes, but no, not a lot really.”

“How does it even wo —”

Matt pushed the small button on the back and a spray of water shot from it, striking Cassie in the face.

“Oh my gosh! Cassie! I’m so sorry!”

He snatched a dishtowel from the counter, patting her face dry as she sputtered.

She laughed as she took the towel and finished wiping her face. “Usually you point it toward the dirty dishes, Matt.”

He bit his lower lip, trying not to laugh. “I’m sorry,” he said, laughing. “I didn’t know that button worked so well.”

Cassie snatched the sprayer from him, pointed it toward him and pushed the button, soaking the front of his shirt. “You mean like that?”

Matt’s eyebrows raised, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Um..yeah. Like that.”

He reached for the sprayer, but Cassie leaned away from him. “Oh, no you don’t.”

“What?” he asked, feigning innocence. “I just thought I’d put it back for you.”

“Oh really? I think I can handle that.”

Matt wrapped his hand around Cassie’s as she attempted to lean over the counter and slide the sprayer back into its place.

“Matt. . .”

“Yes?”

They both began laughing as a small struggle ensued and more water sprayed up, covering them both.

“Ah, man, looks like you’re a little wet, Mrs. Grant,” Matt said, his eyes traveling down the shirt clinging to his wife’s chest. “Maybe you need to get out of those clothes and dry off.”

Cassie smirked, letting go of the sprayer. “Very sly, Mr. Grant. Very sly.”

Matt’s smile was broad as he cupped his hand against his wife’s face, tracing her bottom lip with the palm of his thumb. Cassie’s eyes drifted to her husband’s mouth and she hoped he was about to kiss her the way he used to kiss her, before the stress of life made their romantic moments rushed and infrequent.

The ringing of Matt’s cellphone startled them both, but Matt didn’t move away. “It can go to voicemail,” he said softly.

“That’s Liam’s ringtone isn’t it?”

Matt laughed softly as the theme song from Iron Man blared from across the kitchen. “Yeah, but he can’t wait.”

Cassie glanced at the phone as the ringing stopped but then started again almost immediately. “I don’t know. Maybe you’d better check on him, see if he and Maddie are okay? I can go get changed into something more comfortable, check on the kids, and then we can pick up where we left off when I get back.”

Matt sighed, his hand slipping from her face, down her arm and grazing her hip as he lowered it. “Yeah. Okay. But don’t take too long, okay? And bring me a dry shirt, will you?”

Cassie kissed his cheek softly. “No problem. Talk fast.”

“Liam, you have horrible timing,” Matt told his brother when he picked up the phone.

He walked onto the back patio and sat on a fold out lawn chair, leaning back.

Liam wasn’t laughing, though.

His voice was strained.

“Matt. I need to talk.”

“What’s going on? You don’t sound right.”

“I’m in the ER.”

Matt sat up on the edge of the lawn chair, his heart pounding.

“Are you having trouble breathing?”

“Yes, or I was. But it isn’t the virus.

“Then what —”

“Maddie found me on the floor in the kitchen this morning. I had blacked out and was bleeding from my head. She called an ambulance, but they wouldn’t let her ride with me. Something about new protocols with the virus.”

Matt’s eyebrows raised. “What in the world happened? You’re there alone?”

“Yeah and the doctor just left the exam room. All the tests are clear. And I’m negative for the virus. He said I had a panic attack. I’m just waiting to be discharged.”

“A panic attack? Why? What’s going on? Did something trigger it?”

Did Maddie try to kill you? No, Matt, don’t ask him that.

“I was thinking of signing divorce papers right before I hit the floor. Tony called this morning and said we could come in Friday to finalize the paperwork.”

Matt’s concern faded to amusement, though he didn’t want his brother to know that. Even though Liam couldn’t see him he hid a grin behind his hand instinctively.

 He cleared his throat, doing his best to sound sober and concerned. “Oh. Okay. Well, what do you think that means?”

Liam groaned into the phone. “Shut up, Matt. You know what it means.”

Matt smothered a laugh behind his hand. “Do I? Maybe you should tell me what it means.”

“Stop gloating. I know you’re enjoying my misery.”

“Enjoying your misery? I’m just glad that you’re taking time to think through this and work through your feelings, little bro.” He laughed softly. “But I would say that if you can’t handle thinking of signing divorce papers without hyperventilating, it might mean you don’t want this divorce.”

“Yeah, I got that, Matt.” Liam sighed. “But now what do I do? Maddie wants this divorce.”

“Does she?”

“Yeah. She’s the one who asked for it, so I know she wants it.”

Matt shrugged. “Maybe she thought you wanted it.”

During the silence from the other end of the phone Matt heard Cassie’s footsteps in the kitchen.

“I have to go,” Liam said finally. “I’ll call you back later, okay?”

Matt turned to watch Cassie open the patio door and walk toward him. “Okay, but a lot later.”

“Huh?”

“I said call back a lot later. The kids are upstairs watching movies. Cassie and I are downstairs. Alone.”

“Wha — Oh. I see. Well, good luck, big bro.”

“Thanks.” Cassie tied her dark blue robe closed at the front. “The same to you. How are you getting home? Maddie coming to get you?”

“No. I’m calling a taxi. Maddie managed to get my wallet to me before the ambulance pulled out. I can’t believe I’ve been here all day being tested. Anyhow, Maddie’s been texting me. I’m going to let her know I’m on my way home.”

The brothers said their goodbyes and Matt slide his finger over the end button and then flicking the silent mode before he laid it face down on the floor of the patio.

Cassie tossed Matt a white T-shirt and he caught it with one hand. “Is he okay? What did you mean about how he was getting home?”

“He’s in the ER.”

“Oh my gosh! What happened? Did the doctor confirm his diagnosis?”

“He’s negative. It’s not the virus. It’s the divorce. The doctor said he was having a panic attack”

Cassie sat on the edge of the lawn chair, next to him. “Oh wow. It’s finally hit him, hasn’t it?”

Matt nodded. “He doesn’t want this divorce.”

Cassie tipped her head back and sighed. “Yes! I’ve been hoping one of them would come to their senses.”

“Me too. I’ll give him a call later and see how it’s going. How are the kids?”

“They’re asleep.”

Matt laughed and shook his head. “Really? This early? You mean all it takes to get them to sleep is putting a movie on and tossing them into our bed? I wish we’d known that before.”

Matt pushed Cassie’s hair back from her neck, leaned forward and kissed the skin he exposed. He pulled back and looked at her with a smile. “Well, then, I guess we can pick up where we left off before my brother interrupted us.”

She focused on the warmth of his mouth against her skin, a contented smile pulling her mouth upward. Moving herself until she was sitting across his lap, one leg on each side of him, she slid her hands in his hair as he continued to kiss her neck, closing her eyes.

Both of his hands slid up her legs slowly, tenderly, toward her back as his mouth trailed along the nape of her neck. A rush of intoxicating desire exploded in his chest when his hands met bare skin where he thought he’d find cotton. He pulled back and looked at her with wide eyes.

“I do believe you’re not wearing anything underneath this robe, Mrs. Grant.”

“Oh, Mr. Grant how astute of you to notice. I see you haven’t lost all of your observational skills after all these years.”

A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as his hands continued the journey across her skin, up her back, across her front, pulling open the robe a little more as he pressed his lips to hers.

“Should we retire to the boudoir, my lady?” he asked hoarsely a few moments later, his body pulsating with a mounting need to feel her – all of her – against him.

His heart raced at her breath hot against his ear, her two-word answer sending him over the edge. “Yes, please.”

His heart sank at his next thought. “The kids are in our room. Asleep.”

“Oh.” She pushed her lower lip out.

He pulled her robe closed and jerked his head to one side. “Come on, follow me. I’ve got an idea.”

She stood slowly. “Matt. . .”

“Trust me.”

He tightened his hand around hers and tugged at her arm. When he opened the door to the garage she pulled back. “Matt. What in the wo—”

He turned toward her before she could say anything else, pulling her into the garage and covering her mouth with his. Sliding his hands down her back, he placed them on either side of her waist, lifting her onto the hood of the black BMW he’d bought when he’d landed that first big job as an attorney all those years ago.

He unhooked her robe, letting it fall open. She gasped as kissed her throat, her neck and then gently nibbled on her earlobe, his hands sliding down her bare back.

“We’re going to dent the hood of this car,” Cassie whispered against his ear.

“It’s just a car, Cassie,” Matt answered, sliding his arms behind her and pulling her against him. “Being with you is much more important than a car.”

Closing her eyes, lost in the caresses of her husband’s mouth and hands Cassie forgot about what she’d been nervous about before. She knew she’d have to talk to him eventually, but it could wait. She slid her hands up his now bare back. Oh, yes. It could wait.

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 23 Part II

I shared part one of this chapter yesterday on the blog. I apologize ahead of time for the cliff hanger.

____

Freshly showered and her hair piled back on her head ready to clean the cows’ stalls, Molly walked to the barn with trepidation. She had no idea how to act in front of Alex after their encounter a couple of hours earlier. She needed to find a way to get him alone and find out what he’d been up to.

What am I going to ask him? Hey, were you about to kiss me in there or am I just having some sort of out of body experience?

She looked inside the barn for Alex, but didn’t see him.

“Molly, hey.”

Molly inwardly groaned.

Jason.

The brother with the worst timing ever. Similar to the mother with the worst time ever.

She could tell by her brother’s tone she was being given some kind of additional chore.

“Dad needs you and Alex to help us pick up some extra feed at Henderson’s.”

“Where are Tyler and Blake?”

“They’re down at the lower barn moving the cows back inside. So, you and Alex are up. Come on. Dad’s waiting in the truck and here comes Alex.”

Molly looked up to see Alex walking toward a truck she didn’t recognize.

Jason opened the front passenger side door of the large white pick-up. “Shotgun!”

Molly scowled. “What are you, 12?”

Her brother turned and stuck his tongue out at her as he hopped in the front seat. Alex shot her a lopsided grin and opened the back door of the extended cab of the truck. “Looks like it’s you and me in the back, my lady.

Molly quickly pulled her eyes from his, warmth rushing through her.

“Whose truck is this?” she asked, not moving.

Her dad leaned his head out of the driver-side window. “Jason Porter’s. He loaned it to me while my truck is being worked on at Bert’s. Can we end the 20- question and answer session now and just hop in so we can get this feed picked up and get back before milking?”

Alex propped an arm on the inside of the door and motioned inside with his other hand. “Shall we?”

Molly kept her eyes on him as she climbed into the cab and slid in. When he walked around to the other side and slid in next to her she quickly moved her gaze toward the front of the truck, her heart racing, wishing she could have talked to him before they’d left. She could feel him looking at her and when she glanced at him she saw his foot propped on the bottom of the door, his knee up and his arm casually laying across it while he watched her with a small smile.

She needed to distract herself.

She asked her dad how much feed he had bought, if it was new for the cows, and about some of the neighbors. Anything to take her mind off the way Alex was watching her. After the 20-minute drive to Henderson’s Hardware, listening to her dad talk about farming, they found their delivery and loaded it into the bed of the truck.

With almost all of it loaded, Jason started loading the last seven large bags himself, carrying two bags at a time, one on each shoulder. “I’ll put these extras in the back of cab.”

Robert walked back to the front door of the store to pay the invoice as Molly dragged her hand across her forehead, wiping at perspiration from the heavy lifting.

She glanced at Alex, leaning against the back of the truck, his hat pulled low on his head, his arms folded across his chest, the pose similar to how he’d been standing in the laundry room.     

“You okay?” he asked.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re something else you know that?”

“What do you mean?”

“You work as hard as any man I’ve ever met.”

Molly smirked. “Well, that wasn’t sexist at all.”

He swallowed a laugh and then stepped toward her, lowering his voice. “Hey, we need to talk about earlier. Can we —”

“Invoice paid. Let’s head on out, guys.”

Molly tipped her head to look at the ground and followed her dad. Oh my gosh. My whole family has horrible timing.

Walking to the passenger side of the truck and opening the door she glared at the feed bags piled in the backseat of the cab. She looked at the front of the truck and noticed there were only bucket seats, nowhere else to fit another person.

“Um, Jase? Where are Alex and I supposed to sit?”

Jason rubbed his hand across his unshaven chin and jawline. “Oh. Yeah. I guess I forgot we had to fit two people back there too.” He shoved the feed bags as far as they would go against the truck door. “It will be a tight fit, but I think you two can manage.”

Molly had barely gotten her heart under control from the ride to the store. Now it was racing again at the thought of having to sit even closer to Alex for the 20-minute ride home.

Her breath caught at the wink he gave her as he leaned on the open door. “Come on, Mol. I think we can manage. You first.”

Once Alex was inside, the door closed behind him, Molly couldn’t think of anything beyond the feeling of his side pressed into hers  — she closed her eyes and drew in a breath slowly — the warm, solid, utterly masculine side of his body.

She shifted slightly so she was facing the front of the truck. No matter how much she shifted, though, his thigh was still pressed tightly against hers.

Alex’s hand shot up behind her to catch a bag of seed that slid toward her when her dad pulled out of the parking lot. He held it in place on top of the other bags and stretched his other hand in front of her to steady the bottom of the pile. Now she was not only pressed up against him but trapped between his arms, possibly for the duration of the drive.

He looked down at her with the cocky grin she’d once thought was obnoxious but had somehow become endearing to her recently. “That was close. You could have been crushed by that bag of feed.” His eyes sparkled with amusement. “And sorry. I’m probably smelling pretty bad right now.”

Smelling bad? Uh, no. He was smelling amazing despite the warm day and the fact they’d just been lifting heavy seed bags into the truck for the last half hour.

Molly shook her head, looking up at him, his face now inches from hers as he leaned against her to hold the bags in place.  “You aren’t.” Her voice faded to a whisper. “At all.”

He kept his eyes on her for several seconds, one hand holding the top of the feed in place, the other the bottom and when he moved his thumb it grazed her side through her shirt. She drew her breath in sharply and held it. He dipped his head until his mouth was close to her ear, out of sight of Jason and her dad.

She closed her eyes at the feel of his breath warm against her skin.

“We need to talk about earlier.”

She nodded.

“Can we meet somewhere later?”

She nodded again.

“Is it bad I want to finish what I started earlier and kiss you right now?”

Molly glanced at the front seat out of the corner of her eye, grateful that the country music station was blaring so loudly from the speakers.

She shook her head slowly, gasping softly when she felt his mouth on her earlobe and his hand lightly touch her side.

“Sorry,” he whispered. “I couldn’t resist. Your ear was right there. Waiting to be kissed.”

Fifteen more minutes. Just fifteen more minutes and I can get out of this truck, clear my head, and make sense of all this.

Jason turned down the radio. “You two okay back there? Enough room?”

Alex lifted his head from where he’d lowered it to kiss her ear, his eyes on hers as a playful smile tilted his mouth upwards. “Yep. Little bit cramped but we’re doing just fine.”

Jason turned part way to look back at them. “Are you two whispering about something?”

Molly smothered a smile behind her hand. She knew she couldn’t answer without laughing and was grateful when Alex answered for them.

“Yes, actually. I was just telling Molly about how much you snore at night and she was just telling me she knows all about it. She was completely sleep deprived as a child thanks to your freight train impersonation.”

Jason scoffed. “Whatever. You should tell her what a pig you are to live with.  Which reminds me, it’s your turn to wash the dishes and don’t wait a week like last time.”

“As long as you didn’t eat those disgusting tuna fish sandwiches again and leave the bowl in the sink.”

Molly looked toward the front of the truck, at the back of Jason’s head after he turned toward the front again. “You know, Jason, you wouldn’t have to put up with Alex as a roommate if you would just propose to Ellie already.”

Jason groaned to cover the nervous butterflies in his stomach. He and Ellie had agreed to tell their families about their engagement in a couple of weeks at the annual firemen’s fundraiser, which was the only barn dance in the area. Alex had agreed he wouldn’t tell anyone until the official announcement.

“Seriously?! What is with everyone lately?”

“We just want to see you happy, buddy.” Alex winked. “And I just want to sleep without hearing your snoring. Let Ellie deal with it.”

Jason turned to look at him. “You know I’m kicking you out when I get married, right?”

“Did you hear that, Dad?” Molly laughed. “There is hope, yet. He just said when he gets married.”

Robert playfully punched his son in the arm. “Hallelujah!”

Jason shook his head, laughing at what the good-natured ribbing.

Molly looked at Alex again, lowering her voice. “Jason’s right, though. He’ll probably move Ellie in with him. Where will you go then?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “Haven’t thought that far ahead. Never do. Planning makes my head hurt.”

He leaned his head close to hers again, his lips grazing her ear as he spoke. “Wherever it is, though, it won’t be far away from you.”

The truck swerved abruptly, and Molly fell against Alex, her hand falling on his knee to steady herself.

“Whoa!” Robert called from the front. “That was a huge deer! Everyone okay?”

Alex smiled at Molly, who realized her hand was still on his knee. “All good back here.”

Molly pulled her hand away quickly and propped it on her own knee, her cheeks flushed bright pink. She focused her gaze out the windshield, but she could see Alex watching her with a Cheshire Cat grin out of the corner of her eye.

Her heart beat faster with every mile that passed. Alex kept quiet for the rest of the ride, but his smile had faded and his hand slipped off the lower part of the seed bag pile more than once to graze her side. She was trying to control her emotions, but her thoughts were jumbled. There was also an insane urge pulsating through her to push him up against the inside of the truck door and press her mouth to his, ending this insane cat and mouse game he’d started. She was definite a move like that wouldn’t go over very well with her dad and brother, though.

Robert parked the truck next to the barn, near the back door. “Okay, kids, let’s get these unloaded and then everyone can head in for some lunch.”

Fifteen minutes later, when the feed was unloaded and stacked in the barn, Molly headed toward her truck.

“I’m going to sit up on the hill and read a book while I eat lunch,” she called over her shoulder. “See you guys later.”

“And I’ve got to run to town for some errands,” Alex called over his shoulder, walking toward his own truck. “Be back in a bit.”

Robert waved toward them on his way to the house, Jason falling in step next to him “Sounds good.” He patted Jason on the shoulder. “I guess it’s just you and me eating Mom’s friend chicken for lunch.”

Jason pumped his fist in the air. “Yes! More for me!”  

. “Just save some for your poor, starving father, big boy.”

Extra Thursday Fiction: Quarantined Novella Chapter 3

This is a Novella in Progress: Quarantined. To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE.


Chapter 3

“It’s going to be okay, Maddie. We’ll try again.”

Liam’s voice had been warm, comforting, reassuring. His arms around her made her feel like her world wasn’t crumbling under her feet when she knew it actually was. He gave her hope, hope that one day they’d carry a pregnancy to term and they’d have a child of their own. But that had been four years ago, after their fourth miscarriage, and now, with a divorce looming like a dark specter on the horizon, Maddie had lost all hope of ever having children. She was 32, almost 33. Soon she’d be too old for children. The mere thought of dating again, of finding someone she wanted to have children with, exhausted her.

Liam had been the only one she’d ever wanted to have children with.

Walking slowly around the culdesac, her head down, she knew that Liam was still the only one she wanted to have children with. Despite all the anger, all the hurt, all the ways he’d rejected her over the years, she wanted nothing more than for him to want her again. She knew that wasn’t going to happen, though. He’d barely flinched when she’d told him she wanted a divorce six months ago.

“Fine,” he’d said, jaw tight, looking away from her. “If that’s what you want, I’ll call Pete in the morning and he can start drawing up the paperwork.”

“It is what I want,” she’d responded.

It had been a lie. She hadn’t wanted a divorce. She’d wanted to shake him out of his complacency, to force him into realizing how much he’d neglected her for the past four years. Her plan had failed miserably. Instead of begging her to stay, he’d practically packed her bags. He’d called his lawyer, suggested a lawyer for her, and told her they would need to decide who got what in terms of possessions, property, money.

“Of course, you can have the house and I’ll provide alimony for you if you wish,” he’d told her, a stoic expression on his face, his voice practically monotone. “And I’m sure the process will be easier since . . .” He’d glanced up at her then, looking at her for a few moments. He’d swallowed hard and cleared his throat. “Since there aren’t any children involved.”

That’s right, Liam, she had wanted to scream. There aren’t any children involved because you practically abandoned me for your career after my last miscarriage. You pushed me off for years when I asked when we could start trying again. You replaced me with conference calls and press conferences and political prestige within your brother’s crooked political circle of influence.

Maddie kicked at a rock on the sidewalk and felt tears clutching at her throat. “You replaced me, Liam,” she whispered as she walked. “The girl you said you’d always love because I’m the only one who ever made you feel like you were loved unconditionally.”

The tears came suddenly, and she wiped at them furiously, afraid someone would see her and think she knew something they all didn’t because of who she was married to. She dreaded going back to the house, back to the husband who was shut up inside; not only inside the house, but inside himself.

Still, she couldn’t walk out here all day. She was actually tired. It had been a long week and she was feeling run down. She needed to rest, to keep her strength up in case she really did catch something from Liam. She walked slowly back to the house, making sure to wipe the tears from her face before she went back inside. The last thing she needed was Liam seeing her tears and asking her what was wrong, pretending he cared, when she knew he didn’t and hadn’t for a very long time.

It was quiet back inside the house. She breathed a sigh of relief and tossed her coat onto the couch. Finally, some peace and quiet. Liam had probably locked himself in his office to start working on press releases with John and Matt. She glanced at the office door as she sat down and saw it was open. She couldn’t hear Liam talking or typing away on his computer.

She groaned softly as she stood, a sharp pain shooting down her upper back. She stood and waited for the pain to subside, knowing it was stress-induced. She hunched her shoulders and clenched her jaw when she was angry or upset and she knew it was putting a strain on her back. She walked gingerly down the hallway toward Liam’s office and out of the corner of her eye she saw him in the spare room, asleep on his back, a pillow hugged to his chest. She paused and leaned against the doorway.

She remembered her friend Annie telling her how peaceful her children looked asleep, how easy it was to forget their misdeeds from that day when she saw them vulnerable and relaxed in their bed.

Liam looked peaceful.

Vulnerable even.

The lines she was so used to seeing stretch across his forehead were smooth, barely noticeable. His mouth was slightly open, but he wasn’t snoring, something he’d never done, and she was grateful for. His eyelashes had always been unusually long for a man, but not too long to be unbecoming. Strands of dark brown hair laid across his forehead, the rest of it swept back due to his supine position.

A small smile pulled at Maddie’s mouth. Memories pushed their way into her thoughts. Hands clutching, mouths touching, soft gasps, clothes on the floor, giggling, and then a loud crash as the boards that held the bed up at their first apartment broke and sent the bed, and them, crashing down. They’d laid there for a few moments, the bed at an angle, their heads down, their feet up, startled expressions on their faces, their naked bodies intertwined. Then they’d burst into laughter, laughing even as they dragged themselves from the wreckage of the bed.

His eyes flashed with a mischievous glint. “The couch doesn’t have wooden slats.”

He grinned.

She smiled.

He’d taken her hand and they’d rushed to the room that served both as a kitchen and a living room and resumed their undressed rendezvous.

He sure knew how to touch her back then. How to caress her, where to kiss her, how to hold her and just what to say to make her feel safe and loved. That first year of marriage. It all seemed like a lifetime ago. She touched her fingers to her throat, realizing her heart was pounding fast and she’d flushed warm at the memories. Her gaze drifted over his form on the bed, his strong shoulders, long legs, perfectly shaped mouth. She couldn’t deny he still did something to her insides; that he still lit a fire of passion within her that made her head feel a little funny, her stomach flip flop.

Her eyelids were even heavier now. She yawned, walking back to the couch for a much-needed nap and maybe later a Cary Grant movie and a cup of hot chocolate.

***

The smell of bacon and brewing coffee woke him. Sunlight poured across the bedroom floor and Liam squinted in the light, disoriented.

What time was it? He looked down at his wrinkled T-shirt and sweatpants. Had he slept all yesterday afternoon and night here? He snatched his phone from the bedside table. 8:30 a.m., Thursday.

He dragged his hand through his hair and across the back of his neck, stiff from laying in the same position for so long. He inhaled deeply to try to wake himself up and smelled the bacon again. And coffee.

Who was making breakfast?

Who else would be making breakfast, Liam? he thought, walking groggily down the hallway. You and Maddie are the only ones here, idiot.

Maddie was standing at the stove with her back to him, flipping an over-easy egg. She hated over-easy eggs. It must be for him and for that he was grateful at least.

“Hey,” she said turning to face him, spatula in her hand.

“Hey.”

“I made you some coffee and bacon. Your eggs are almost done.”

“You didn’t have to do that. Thanks.”

She shrugged, pouring herself a glass of orange juice. He had thought she would still be mad this morning but instead she seemed indifferent about it all. She slid the plate across the breakfast bar to him and carried her plate with her to the kitchen table.

“I guess I figured we should have a good breakfast before we get too sick to eat,” she said sullenly, taking a bite of bacon.

He sipped his coffee. Two spoonfuls of sugar and vanilla bean creamer. She knew how he liked it, that was for sure. Guilt dug at his chest as he dug into the eggs. He needed to tell her the truth; that he didn’t even know if he really had the virus. Maybe he’d wait until their breakfast was done at least, so he didn’t have to dodge the flying frying pan while he tried to finish his cup of coffee.

“Have you heard anything from Matt?” she asked.

He nodded. “Yeah. He and John have been busy putting out fires, but they’re both finally in quarantine too.”

“You’re his press secretary. Shouldn’t you be in on putting out the fire?”

He shrugged. “Yeah, but John’s my assistant so he can handle it. I’m sure Matt will be calling again soon, pulling his hair out or going stir crazy from being stuck in the house all day. One or the other.”

She nodded and finished her toast.

“Have you talked to your parents?” he asked.

She didn’t look at him. She studied her plate of food. “Yeah. They’re fine. Mom is having a hard time keeping Dad from going in and out of stores for supplies and stopping to help everyone he knows, but they’re locked in now, trying to stay well. They’re worried about me, of course.”

Oh, crud. He had to tell her the truth so she could tell her parents there was a chance she might not catch the virus. There was a good possibility she might kill him, but he had to tell her.

“Maddie, listen. . .” She turned her head to look at him. He looked into wide green eyes and cleared his throat. She cocked an eyebrow. A cocked eyebrow meant she was ready for a fight. This was going to be rough.

“There’s a possibility I don’t have the virus.”

Her eyebrows sank into a scowl immediately and she pursed her lips, looking at him for several moments before she spoke, her tone cold.

 “I’m sorry?”

“The doctor who took the test said he’d have the results in a few days but that there was a chance I didn’t have it.”

“You told me you had the virus, Liam. Had it. Not might have it. You yelled it at me, in fact.”

“Yeah, I know, it’s just —”

“It’s just, what? You told me it was positive. Are you telling me now that you lied to me?”

“Yes, but listen … I just didn’t want to talk about it. I know I should have cleared it up, but I needed you to stay in the house and I figured you wouldn’t listen to me if I said I might have it. If you’d left and someone found out it could have been bad for Matt. The doctor wrote the case down as ‘probable’ and right not ‘probable’ is as good as positive.”

Maddie’s eyes were ablaze with fury now, crimson spreading up her cheekbones. “I have been sitting here waiting to feel sick, looking up ways to deal with the coughing and the fever if one of us gets it and you still don’t know if you really have it? Holy crap, Liam. Really?”

“I was still exposed. This is still the right thing to do.”

“That’s not the point. The point is you lied to me. Again.”

“Again? What are you even talking about?”

She turned away from him, standing up from the table, and walking to the window. She crossed her arms tight across her chest, her back to him. “Why did you want this divorce?” she asked, her voice strained.

“What?”

“I said why —”

“I heard what you said, Maddie. I’m not the one who asked for this divorce. You are. Remember?”

“Only because I knew you wanted it.”

“You knew I wanted it? You never even asked me what I wanted. You never ask me what I want.”

“I could tell by how you acted that you didn’t want to be married anymore.”

He pushed his plate and mug away from him. He couldn’t even believe what he was hearing.  Standing from the breakfast bar, he faced her with his hands on his hips.

“Okay. Yeah. Whatever. You know what? Just go ahead and make decisions for me, like you always do, Maddie.”

She turned to face him, her arms falling to her side. “What are you even talking about?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

There went that eyebrow again. “No, actually, I don’t.” She gestured in front of her as if she was conducting a magic trick. “Enlighten me.”

That was it. He’d had enough of her acting like he was the one guilty for the collapse of their marriage.

“Like how you decided we weren’t going to try for any more children, for one.”

She was talking through clenched teeth now. “I did not decide that, Liam. You decided that by running off to run Matt’s campaign and never being home.”

“You pushed me away, Maddie. You acted like you were the only one who’d lost those babies.”

Maddie looked stunned. Her face flushed an even darker red, her eyes swimming with tears.

“I needed you, Liam! I needed you to hold me and tell me it was going to be okay and —”

 “I did hold you. I did tell you it would be okay.”

“At first yes, but it was like after a while my grieving just pissed you off.”

He carried his empty breakfast plate and coffee mug to the sink. “We needed to move on, Maddie. We couldn’t wallow in our misery forever.”

He grabbed the pan from the stove next, turning to place it in the sink too.

“Our misery?” Maddie shook her head in disbelief. “I was the one who carried those babies, who lost those babies, whose body failed her, who —”

Liam’s blood boiled. He slammed the pan down on the countertop by the stove and swung to face Maddie. “They were my babies too dammit.”

Maddie stepped back, hugging her arms tight around her, gulping back a sob.

“Yes, it was our misery. It wasn’t all about you,” he continued, his voice shaking with anger. “We made those babies together and we lost them together and I stopped trying to comfort you because nothing I did helped you. I could never do anything right and —”  Liam cursed again, furious at the emotion choking his words, the tears burning his eyes. “I couldn’t fix you, Maddie. I couldn’t make it right. And eventually I couldn’t fix us, and I gave up trying because I didn’t think you wanted me to fix us.”

Maddie dragged her hand across her face and turned to walk back into the living room, bone chilling exhaustion rushing over her. How could he say that? That she didn’t want him to fix them? That she didn’t want to fix this marriage? He was the one who — she shook her head, sitting on the couch, tears rolling down her face. She curled up in a ball, facing the back of the couch, pulling her mother’s quilt off the back and draping it over her.

“That’s what you always do, isn’t it?” he snapped, walking into the living room. “Just walk away and never deal with anything.”

She flung the quilt off her and sat up. “I never deal with anything? And what have you been doing to deal with things? Burying yourself in your work instead of dealing with your life at home, with your marriage that was falling apart, was dealing with things? You could have fooled me. Flirting with staffers and reporters instead of coming home and facing the disaster that was our relationship. Was that how you dealt with things too?”

Liam made a face and scowled at her. “Flirting with who?”

“You know who. Wendy. That little redhead from channel 12.”

Liam scoffed. “Wendy? I never flirted with her. She’s not my type.”

“I guess all those female staffers in your brother’s office that you wink at aren’t your type either.”

“That I wink at? I don’t wink at those women and no, they aren’t my type either. Most of them are airheads.”

“Then who is your type? Because it definitely isn’t me or I wouldn’t,” Maddie’s voice cracked and tears filled her eyes again. “be home alone every night in our bed.”

Liam placed his hands on his hips and tipped his head. “Come on, Maddie – it’s not like I haven’t been alone too. And I have been for a long time.”

 He tossed his hands out in front of him then clenched them into fists and pressed them against his mouth. “You know what? I’m just done talking about this. We are getting nowhere. I’m going into my office to get some work done.”

The slamming of the door reverberated in her ears.

“Now who’s walking away from his problems?” she snapped under her breath, falling back onto the couch and pulling the quilt over her again.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 17

I have to admit that sometimes my stomach tightens when I write certain scenes I know will be uncomfortable for my characters.

I know. That’s weird.

“They’re fictional characters, Lisa.”

That’s what you’re thinking, but to me they are real. At least in my head so when I have to write —wait. I know what you are thinking again: “When you have to write something? You don’t have to write anything. You’re the writer. You can write whatever you want.” Oh, how I wish that was true. See, I write by the seat of my pants. My characters tell me their stories and I transcribe what they tell me, but sometimes they tell me to transcribe something I don’t like. This week’s chapter won’t be too rough but a couple upcoming chapters are causing me some stress and to yell: “No. No! Don’t do that! You idiot!”

Maybe that’s why I had been putting off writing them until this week. This week it had to be written though because the scenes were playing over and over in my mind. When that happens I have to write them down before my creative brain will stop bugging me. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this week’s chapter and brace yourself for the next few chapters. We might all be going on an emotional roller coaster.

If you want to catch up on the story you can find the link at the top of the page or HERE. And you can find the link to my books on Kindle on Amazon.

Molly’s stomach tightened at the sight of Ben Oliver standing with his parents in one corner of the church lobby before the service.

What was he doing here? She hadn’t realized he even attended any church anymore.

They had attended youth group together as teens but in their senior year Ben had started attending church less and less until he didn’t attend at all. The way he had talked about Angie that day at the store had told her all she needed to know about his Christian walk and where he was in it. She had no idea what his relationship with God was now and there were times she didn’t feel like she cared.

People can change, she reminded herself as she watched him laugh with the pastor, shaking Pastor Joe’s hand. Ben had the same charming smile, the same bright green eyes, the same dark hair swept back off his forehead, and the same chiseled jaw she remembered from high school. He looked older, yes, but no less handsome.

She lowered her gaze as she walked past him, hoping he wouldn’t see her. She followed parents into the sanctuary, joining them next to Jason and Ellie in the pew they had occupied for most of her life. She inwardly cringed when Ben sat with his family four rows in front of theirs, realizing she’d have to stare at the back of his head for the entire service and smell his familiar cologne even from four rows back.

She closed her eyes, willing away the memories of his lips on hers so many times when they were teenagers, his arms around her, his palm pressed gently against the side of her face. All of that tenderness seemed a lifetime ago. She didn’t know Ben now and in many ways, she hadn’t really known him then either, not the real Ben. The real Ben had shown himself in the way he’d broken up with her, in the way he’d spoken about her that day with his friends.

She did her best to focus on the hymns  being sung, her friend Mary’s singing at the front of the church, and Pastor Joe’s sermon, relieved when the last hymn was song and she could head toward the back of the church and toward the exit.

“Meet you at home,” she told her Mom. “These shoes are killing my feet.”

It wasn’t a lie; the straps of the black dress shoes she’d picked out that morning were digging into the tops and backs of her feet. She was much more comfortable in a pair of work boots or sneakers. It wasn’t only the shoes she wanted to leave behind, however. She also wanted to travel as far as she could from Ben and the painful memories he brought with him.

 A hand touched her elbow as she reached for the door and her heartrate quickened at the sound of the voice close to her ear.

“Hey, Molly.”

More than anything she wanted to keep walking through those doors, but instead she paused and turned to face him.

“Oh, Ben. Hey there. I didn’t know you were here today.”

His hand was still on her elbow. “I’m hoping to get back into regular church attendance now that I’m back in town.”

Time for me to find a new church then.

“Oh. Okay,” Molly said out loud. “Well, that’s nice. Will you excuse me? These shoes are killing my feet.”

Ben laughed softly, dropping his hand from her elbow – finally. “Yeah, those shoes don’t exactly look like something I remember you wearing when we were younger.”

What is that supposed to mean?

Molly forced a smile. “Well, people change and so do their taste in shoes. These straps just happen to be a bit tight.”

Ben laughed softly. “Of course, people change. I didn’t mean to offend you.” He followed her through the large wood doors into the bright sunlight. “Molly, can we talk for a minute?”

The softened tone of Ben’s voice caught her attention and she looked at him as they walked, noting his serious expression. She really didn’t want to talk to him but the sincerity in his voice had changed her mind.

“Yeah. Okay.”

Ben paused by the bench in the courtyard and gestured toward it. Molly sat next to him with apprehension, remembering a similar moment eight years before, her chest constricting as she looked at Ben and her mind transported her back to that night on her parents’ porch. The memories were less painful than they’d once been, but they were still painful.

“So, this is awkward for me, and I’m sure it is for you,” Ben started, one elbow propped on the back of the bench, his body twisted slightly toward her. He dropped his gaze, looking at the ground as he continued. “I should have had this talk with you years ago, Molly. I know that. I was ashamed, though. Ashamed of how I treated you, how I acted, who I was back then. To be honest, there were years I didn’t even think about how I had treated you or the things I did at the time. I was completely self-focused, completely arrogant.”

He looked back at her and Molly’s breath caught at the genuine soft expression, at his green eyes shimmering slightly in the sunlight. “But when I hit rock bottom and woke up, there you were, at the forefront of my mind. Molly Tanner. The one person who loved me even when I was unlovable and I threw it – and her – away for a cheap fling with a girl who had eyes for every boy in the county. I’m sorry, Molly. I’m sorry for how I treated you and how I broke it off with you. I’m sorry if I hurt you. I’m sorry it took me so long to say I’m sorry.”

Molly sat for a few moments, unsure how to respond. She didn’t want to say, “Hey, no hard feelings. No problem,” because there were hard feelings. She’d held on to that hurt for years and only recently had started to let it go, if even a little. Still, she saw an earnest effort in Ben to apologize, to make amends to ask for forgiveness for how he’d hurt her.

The cynical side of her wondered if his request for forgiveness was for her benefit or his own, though. Had he really changed?

Ben didn’t want for her to respond, reaching out to lay his hand gently on her arm. “I understand if you can’t forgive me right now but maybe in the future you’ll be able to and know that I am truly sorry for who I was back then.”

Molly let out the breath she realized she’d been holding. She nodded slowly, the words he’d said to his friends all those years ago still in her mind, even as she tried to ignore them.

“We were young, Ben,” she said finally. “Kids make mistakes. People grow and mature. And, yes, people do change.” She laid her hand over his. “Thank you for apologizing to me. I’m sure it was hard to do.”

Ben smiled, that familiar beautiful smile that used to make Molly’s heart race but today only made her smile back and feel a sense of peace.

“It was hard,” Ben said. “But it’s been the one thing on my mind since I got back to town. The one thing I knew I needed to do even if you had moved on because I knew I hadn’t. I was still holding on to the guilt over how I had treated you, the girl who used to be my best friend.”

He rubbed the palm of his thumb against the top of her hand has he held it. “We had some good times, didn’t we? Before I became the worst boyfriend on the planet.”

Molly laughed softly. “Well, not the worst . . .”

Ben grinned. “But pretty darn close.”

Molly bit her lower lip and lowered her gaze, still smiling. “I plead the fifth.”

“Remember that time we were on that haunted hayride?” he asked. “That guy jumped out at us from the dark with a chainsaw and you almost ended up on my lap.”

Molly laughed and shook her head. “I think it was you who almost ended up on my lap.”

“Um, no. That does not sound manly at all. It had to be the other way around.”

Molly was very aware that his hand was still on hers, his thumb still making circular motions on her skin.

“Maybe we both were afraid and jumped at each other then,” she laughed.

She gently pulled her hand away, pushing her hair back from her face.

“I miss those days,” he said softly, moving his hand to his knee and tilting his head slightly as he looked at her. “They were innocent times in so many ways.”

Molly watched her parents and brother and Ellie leave the church, get into their cars, drive away and wave at her and Ben on the way by. She knew lunch would be ready soon.

“One thing I always wondered,” she started as they stood from the bench. “Why did you even bother to take me out that night you broke up with me? You could have just broken it off before the date.”

Ben winced, rubbing his hand across the back of his neck. “Ugh. That night. I hate remembering that night. I almost chickened out. I think deep down I knew what I was doing was wrong. Part of me wanted one more night together and part of me wanted to get it over with. I thought I loved Angie, you know I didn’t even know what love really was. What I had for Angie was lust. That lust caused her and me, and you, a lot of pain.”

Ben nodded his head toward the parking lot. “Let me walk you to your car. I’m sure your mom still cooks those amazing Sunday dinners.”

“Yes, she does.”

Ben cleared his throat as they walked. “Maybe this is oversharing, or maybe I’m confessing too much, but I came back here to try to get my life back on track after I was fired from my last job. I’d started drinking to drown out all my guilt, not just over you, but over a lot of things. Angie got pregnant a couple of years ago. I wanted her to get an abortion, she wanted to keep the baby. I didn’t want to be a father. I was too young. I left her to raise the baby on her own.”

Molly wasn’t sure what to say. Should she congratulate him on being a father or comfort him for his mistake in walking away? Part of her also wanted to punch him for suggesting the abortion.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly as they approached her truck. “That must have been very hard for you.”

He shrugged. “Not at the time. It was a relief. I was glad to be set free from the burden of raising a child. I was finishing my law degree while working at the firm in Boston and now with Angie gone, I was free to date other women, find a new kind of excitement. My whole life was in front of me. Or so I thought. Depression hit me hard after she left. The realization of who I had become hit me like a freight train, but I kept trying to ignore it, tell myself I wasn’t really as bad as I thought I was.”

They paused at the truck and Ben laughed, patting the rusting hood. “I can’t believe you’re still driving this old thing.”

Molly scowled. “I thought men liked classic cars, but you’re the second man to make fun of me for still driving this truck.”

Ben grinned. “Well, classic is one thing, but a piece of junk is another.”

“You know this was my grandfather’s truck, Ben.”

Ben nodded and laid his hand on her shoulder. “I know. I’m sorry for teasing. I was sorry to hear he’d passed away. My mom told me. I wish I had snapped out of my selfish behavior long enough to come back for the funeral.”

He closed the door behind Molly after she slid behind the steering wheel.

“So where is Angie now?” she asked. “Did she keep the baby?”

Red flushed along Ben’s cheekbones. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his dress pants and nodded. “Yeah. She kept the baby. It was a girl. Amelia. Angie wrote me a letter about a year ago, sent me a photo. They, uh,” he kicked at the asphalt with the tip of his dress shoe. “Live about four hours from here, close to where Angie’s parents moved about two years ago.”

“Do you think you’ll go see them?”

“I don’t know, really. I don’t know if Angie would even want me to. I wasn’t even paying child support, but she didn’t ask for it either. I never answered the letter. I’m pretty much a deadbeat dad.” He shook his head, tears rimming his eyes. “I never imagined myself that way, you know? My parents were amazing parents. I always wanted to be a good dad, like my dad has always been. Then — I became who I never thought I would be — selfish, arrogant, and a complete idiot.”

Compassion overwhelmed Molly, pushing back her awkward feelings toward Ben. She reached through the window and held her hand out and Ben took it, looking at her.

“As long as you’re still breathing there is still a chance to change things, Ben,” she said softly.

He nodded and swallowed emotion. “Thanks, Molly. I appreciate that.” He squeezed her hand briefly before letting it go.

“Hey, how about you?” he asked. “I know we were joking a bit at the rummage sale that day, but are you really dating that guy who works for your dad?”

 “No, Ben,” Molly sighed. “I’m really not.”

Ben smirked. “But you have feelings for him?”

Molly started the truck and smiled. She was not about to talk about her love life with her old high school boyfriend, especially her old boyfriend who dumped her for someone he had called “hotter” at the time.

 “He’s a good friend,” she said. “That’s all. It was good to talk to you, Ben.”

“You too. I hope we can do it again soon, but without the awkward conversation about what a jerk I was.”

“Sounds good.”

Molly smiled as she pulled out of the parking lot and turned toward Main Street to head out of town and back to the farm.

She let out a long breath as she drove, shaking her head as if to shake off the surreal. Had Ben Oliver really just apologized to her, ending years of overthinking and over analyzing the event she had once seen as life-changing and romance ending? It was something she’d never thought would happen and now that it had she laughed to herself realizing she would probably end up analyzing what the apology meant to how she had perceived herself all these years. No analyzing today, though. Today she only wanted to live in the moment, a moment of peace and kindness that had soothed once raw wounds.

***

“Yeah, I’ll let you know when we get home, but so far she seems fine. Okay, Mom, talk to you later.”

Jason tapped end call on his cellphone and turned to see the nurse wheeling his grandmother toward him through the opstistrics door to the main lobby.

“I told her I could walk on my own,” Franny informed him. “I’m not an invalid yet but she said it’s hospital policy.”

“Just to your car, Mrs. Tanner,” the nurse said with a smile. She looked at Jason. “You can take it from here if you want and just bring the chair back to the valets at the front.”

“I’m sure you’ll be glad to  have her off your hands,” Jason said with a  wink.

The nurse laughed and shook her head. “Not at all. Your grandmother is a breath of fresh air. I love her spunk.”

Franny snorted. “Spunk. Is that what they’re calling cantankerous these days?”

Jason rolled his eyes. “I think someone needs some lunch. Maybe that will put her in a better mood.”

He leaned down next to Franny’s chair, one knee down, the other up. “Seriously, Grandma. You okay? I don’t want us to go until you’re sure you’re okay.”

“I’m feeling fine,” Franny sighed. She smiled and touched Jason’s arm gently. “My vision is still a little blurry, but I’m already seeing better than before. Thank you for your concern though. We’re not that far away from the hospital that if there is an issue we can’t come back.”

Jason nodded and stood. “Okay. Then we will head on home. Molly is going to hang out with you this afternoon to make sure you’re doing okay.”

“This is Bridget by the way, Jason,” Franny said tilting her head to look up at the nurse. “I already told her about you. My strong, smart, very handsome grandson who is helping his family run the farm. But don’t worry, I also told her that you are taken since you are going to be proposing to that lovely girlfriend of yours soon.”

Jason’s cheeks flushed red and he shook his head. “Grandma. . . .”

Franny smiled at Bridget. “Look at how he embarrassed he is that his old grandma is bragging about him.”

Bridget, with a pretty round face and bright green eyes, and probably about ten years younger than Jason watched him admiringly, smiling. “Good luck with the proposal,” she said with a wink.

Jason’s face and ears flushed even redder as he laughed and then cleared his throat. “Thanks. Okay, Grandma, it really is time to get you out of here.”

 Back in his parents’ car, which he borrowed so his grandmother could get in and out of it, Jason started it and braced himself for his grandmother continuing the conversation she’d been having in the lobby with the nurse.

“Well, Jason…”

Here it was.

“I went to my appointment, I got my answers and I’ve even had my surgery, so now —”

“I know, Grandma and I’m excited. I’m hoping the surgery was a success.”

“I believe it will be. Now, with that settled, it’s time for you to hold up your end of the bargain.”

Jason laughed softly, shaking his head. “Grandma . . .”

“Jason . . .”

“I know, Grandma. It’s time to propose to Ellie, but listen, I’m working on a plan for how to do it, okay? It needs to be big, right? I mean, it’s been this many years I really need to do something special.”

Franny rolled her eyes. “Oh, Jason, good Lord. Just jump.”

“What?”

“Just get on the stick. Whatever the saying is these days that means – get your caboose in gear and propose to that girl before you’re both old and gray.”

Jason slid the car back into park and bit his lower lip. He looked at his grandmother, short dark, curly hair with gray streaks, her sweet round race and eyes full of anticipation and sighed.

“Grandma, I . . .listen, it’s just —”

A frown creased Franny’s forehead. “Oh my. Did you and Ellie break up?”

“What? No. No. That’s not it.”

“You don’t love her like you thought you did?”

“No. That’s not it either, Grandma.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

Jason stared at his grandmother, the woman who had helped raise him, taught him what it meant to work hard, push through tough times, and more than any of that, taught him what it meant to be a good Christian. He could not share with her what was keeping him from proposing to Ellie.

“Nothing,” he lied. “Nothing’s wrong.”

Franny wasn’t buying it. “Something is wrong, Jason. Something has happened. What is it?”

Jason shifted the car into gear again. “Nothing, Grandma. Never mind.”

Franny laid her hand over his. “Park this car, Jason and tell me what’s on your mind. You know I won’t love you any less.”

Jason shifted the gear into park again and pressed his forehead against the top of the steering wheel.

“I screwed up in college, Grandma. I wasn’t someone who would have made you proud.”

“Drinking?” Franny asked. “Parties?”

Jason raised his head to look at his grandmother. She was way too much like his mom; some kind of Jedi mind reader.

He nodded, determined not to tell her the rest, though. “Yeah.”

“I had a feeling,” she said with a sigh.

“You did?”

“You were different when you came back from college. Something seemed off. You seemed sadder somehow. I never knew how to talk about it with you. Then your grandpa got sick and, well, I guess I was sadder too. I’m sorry I never asked you if you were okay.”

Jason swallowed hard. “I would have told you I was okay even if you’d asked. You know that. I was embarrassed. And I’ve never told Ellie about what an idiot I was back then.”

Franny squeezed his hand. “Tell her, honey. She loves you. She will understand. I know I do. You were young. You made some mistakes but you’re still my sweet grandson.”

Jason knew his grandmother meant well but she didn’t know everything and he wondered if she would understand or think he was still her sweet grandson if she did. He also wasn’t so sure Ellie would understand. Not about the one-night stand for one, but especially not about why he hadn’t told her about it after all these years.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 15

After taking a break last week I’m back this week with Chapter 15. Things might start to pick up this week with Alex and Molly, but you will have to see.

You can find the link to the rest of the story so far HERE, or at the top of the page.


Molly looked at the scale and growled. She’d lost five pounds. Five lousy pounds in three weeks. After eating tasteless food, drinking so much water with lemon she was floating away, and working out until her brain had practically melted, she’d only lost five pounds.

She sat on her bed then flopped back on it hard, laying on her back and staring at the ceiling. Why had she suddenly become so obsessed with weight loss anyhow? Was it her increasing attraction to Alex? The weird way he was now acting toward her? The sudden reappearance of Ben? Her strong urge to leave the farm and find out if there was something out there for her?

She knew deep down that it was all of those things.

Everything in her life during this season was making her want to lose weight and fast. She was tired of being boring, fat Molly. She was tired of looking in the mirror and crying. She was tired of being winded when she finished working in the barn. Then again, she’d always been winded after working in the barn, even before she’d gained the weight, so maybe losing weight wouldn’t solve that problem.

She rolled on her side and looked out her window. She needed to get back to the barn and clean out the stalls before the cows came in from the field for milking. She needed to get back to the routine and mundane.

Again.

Same old, same old.

Just like at the farm store.

Except it wasn’t really the same old, same old at the barn recently. Her relationship with Alex was changing, though she couldn’t exactly say how, and that had changed the dynamic in the barn, not in a bad way exactly; just different. She didn’t know what she thought about that change. She didn’t have time to think about it now, though. There was work to do. She’d have to think about Alex later.

Inside the barn Alex was shoveling old hay out of the hayloft to make room for fresh hay. Wearing a white, sleeveless shirt and stained blue jeans he paused in between throws to wipe sweat off his forehead and wave at Molly as she walked in. Molly waved at him without much enthusiasm, even as she admired how good his shirt looked on him.

Jason was holding a plate of cookies, choosing one off the top and passing the plate toward Molly.

“Hey, Aunt Hannah dropped off some cookies. Grandma’s recipe. Have one.”

“No, thank you.”

Molly kept walking, reaching for the shovel.

“What’s with you lately anyhow?” Jason asked, following her and pushing the plate toward her. “Eat a cookie, Molly. You’re always eating that salad crap. You’re becoming like Liz.”

Molly glared over her shoulder at her brother and pushed the shovel into the pile of manure.

“It wouldn’t be so bad to be like Liz,” she mumbled. “Pretty and cute and skinny.”

“Whatever,” Jason said, rolling his eyes. “Just eat a cookie already.”

Anger seethed through Molly. Why was her brother so clueless? “I don’t want a cookie, Jason. Fat girl doesn’t want a cookie. Okay? Why don’t you just shut up already?”

Jason swallowed the bite of cookie, watching his sister with wide eyes. “I didn’t call you fat. What’s your problem? I wasn’t serious, I was just —”

“Just stating the obvious, I know. The obvious that your sister is always going to be fat and therefore she shouldn’t even try to lose the weight, right? I get it. I’m fat and I’ll always be fat.”

Jason swallowed hard and looked up at Alex for help. Alex’s surprised expression and somewhat blank stare wasn’t any help at all.

Tears hovered on the edge of Molly’s eyes when she tossed the shovel into the manure pile and stomped by Jason, brushing her hand across her face quickly.

“I’m going for a drive,” she snapped walking toward the open barn door.

“Molly, I didn’t mean anything,” Jason called after her. “I’m sorry. You’re not fat, okay?”

Alex climbed down from the hayloft and patted his friend’s shoulder. “I’ll  go check on her. She’ll be okay.”

Jason sat on a haybale and tossed the remainder of the cookie into a pile of hay, leaning his arms on his knees. “Yeah. Okay.”

Alex left him with his chin in his hand, looking at the floor with furrowed eyebrows and a creased forehead, an expression mixed with concern and confusion on his face.

Alex caught up to Molly as she flung the door to her truck open. He reached out quickly and wrapped his hand around hers, snatching the keys from her hand.

“Hey, lady, you look a little too stressed to be driving. Let me, okay?”

Molly brushed her hand across her face again. She didn’t not need Alex to drive her anywhere. Especially when she was feeling fat, ugly, out of shape and her face was splotchy from crying.

“I’m fine,” she snapped. “Give me my keys.”

Alex held the keys out away from her as she reached for them. “Now, now. Calm down. I want to take you somewhere.”

He stepped back and opened the driver’s side door. “Let me drive.”

Molly stood outside the truck with her arms tightly folded across her chest.  “Get in,” Alex said, jerking his head toward the passenger side and turning the key in the ignition. “Let’s see what this piece of junk can do.”

Molly folded her arms across her chest, stomped to the passenger side and slid in, furious, sad, and annoyed all at the same time. Alex revved the engine, grinning. “Let’s hope the engine doesn’t fall out before we get out of the drive.”

Molly scowled at him. “Don’t make fun of this truck,” she snapped. “It was my grandpa’s truck and it’s all I have left of him.”

Alex’s grin faded and he nodded. “I know. I’m sorry. I’ll take good care of it.”

The farm faded out of view, replaced by open fields, then wooded areas, groves of trees and open spaces, places where deer wandered into on cool summer mornings and where her grandfather used to set up a deer stand when he was able to hunt.

When Alex pulled into a space between a grove of maple trees she knew exactly where she was. The farthest end of her family’s property, where, when you got out of your car and walked toward rolling hills at eye level, you could overlook the entire farm and some of the additional land the Tanner’s had purchased over the years.

She hadn’t been here since her grandfather had died. It had always been too painful.

Alex shut the truck engine off and opened the door. “Come on. Follow me.”

Molly slumped down in the seat for a moment, fighting back emotions. She didn’t want to follow him and be reminded of all she’d lost when she lost her grandfather. She finally pushed open the door, listening to the familiar squeak, knowing she should oil it but finding it comforting somehow since it’d always made that noise when she wrote in it with her grandfather.

Alex sat on a tree that had fallen over since Molly had been there last. He patted the tree next to her and she sat next to him, feeling anxious, awkward, and like she’d rather crawl inside a hole than be here with him so close to her and her feeling so disgusted with her physical appearance.

Alex took a deep breath and let it out again. He hadn’t felt nervous until now, sitting alone with Molly practically in the middle of nowhere. He’d driven her here so he could tell her she wasn’t fat, she was beautiful and smart and worth so much more than what she thought she was. But now, he found himself struggling to share with Molly his true feelings, not the joking, teasing feelings they usually shared with each other.

He let out a slow breath. “Your grandpa took me up here once right before sunset a year or so after I started working here,” he started. “He told me the history of this farm, about his struggles, about his dream of passing it down to his children and grandchildren. He gave me a little history of his family, his children, his grandchildren, even you and Jason. He was proud of all of you, Molly. Very proud.”

“Talking to him gave me a whole new perspective about working here. It made me see it as more than a job, but as a way of living – taking care of the land, taking care of the livestock and taking care of family. You know I didn’t have a great family life growing up. It was everyone for themselves. We weren’t really a team like your family is. I think that’s why I’ve fallen in love with his place.”

 And with you, he wanted to add, but didn’t.

“Because your family has accepted me as part of the team. Your family loves you as you are, Molly. They wouldn’t love you anymore if you lost all that weight you think you need to lose to be good enough.”

Tell her you love her the way she is too, Alex. Dang it already. Just tell her.

Alex clearly saw light pink spread along Molly’s cheeks as she looked down at the ground and kicked at the dirt with her mud-covered boot. God, how he wanted to kiss that cheek, kiss that pink away, and tell her she didn’t need to be embarrassed, tell her she was beautiful just the way she was.

“Thank you, Alex. That means a lot. It really does.”

He heard the emotion in her voice, catching in her throat.

He needed to kiss her. Right now. The sun was setting, casting a pink and purple hue across them. There was a light breeze, the smell of summer heavy in the air. It was the perfect moment. He watched her looking at the ground, sitting on the tree, a tear slipping down her cheek and he wanted to kiss that tear away then kiss her mouth and make her forget about everything that was making her cry.

He reached out and gently laid his hand over hers. “Molly . . .”

The buzz of his cellphone startled him, and he dug quickly in his pocket to silence it, but it was too late. It had already ruined the moment.

“That’s probably, Jason,” Molly said, standing and stepping toward the truck. “He’ll need help getting the cows back in. We’d better head down. I’ve still got to shovel the stalls out.”

“Yeah.” He looked at the phone. “It is him.”

Dang it all to hell, Jason, he grumbled to himself. You’ve got the worse timing.

Following her to the truck his heart pounding with a mix of adrenaline from almost kissing her and disappointment that he hadn’t actually done it, he wondered how she would have reacted if he had taken her face in his hands like he wanted to and kissed her softly, finally tasting the sweet red lips he stared at so often.

“Where are you?” Jason asked when he returned the call while they drove down the dirt road.

“Just up on the hill looking at the farm. We’re on our way back.”

He wondered what Jason would say if he knew he’d almost kissed his sister on top of that hill. Maybe he wouldn’t say anything. Maybe he’d simply grab Alex around the throat and throttle him until he lost air. He wasn’t sure, but he was glad he didn’t have to find out. Not yet anyhow.

“I miss Ned, you know,” he said as they drove. “He was a good guy. Reminded me of my own grandfather.”

“Is your grandfather still alive?”

“No. Both of mine are gone actually. One to lung cancer right after I graduated college. The other committed suicide before I was born.

Molly winced. “Ow. That must have been awful for – your mom or your dad?”

“My dad. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why he was such an awful dad, you know? He really didn’t have his dad long enough to teach him how to be one.”

“I can see how that would happen. What about your other grandfather? Did you know him well?”

“Very. He’s the grandfather who literally dragged me out of a jail cell by my ear when I was 18 and told me I wasn’t going to ruin my life. He made me work at  his garage that whole summer and the next year and then insisted I go to college. If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably still be in a jail cell somewhere.”

He pulled his shirt collar down with one hand, revealing the tattoo. “I got this in his memory, so I’d never forget what he did for me, how much he wanted me to succeed.”

I wish I could look at with pride, knowing I’ve lived up to what he wanted for me, instead of in shame, he thought as he let go of the collar.

Molly smiled, watching him, grateful he was showing her a tender side she’d hadn’t seen very often before, a side usually covered up with jokes and laughter and gentle teasing.

“How did you end up in jail anyhow?” she asked.

Alex laughed and shook his head as he shifted gears. The truck groaned a protest. “Punched a guy at a football game because he tried to get with a girl I liked. I was such a loser back then.”

He decided to leave off that he’d also been drunk at the time and the stunt had landed him in jail because it was his second offense, his second time getting in a drunken fight in less than six months. His third offense had been breaking and entering at his dad’s business, stealing a car and taking it for a joy ride. His grandfather had bailed him out each time, the last time with a strict warning that it was the last time he’d help him. The next time he’d leave him in the jail cell and to face the consequences.

“We all do stupid things when we’re young,” Molly said.

Alex scoffed. “I bet you’ve never done anything stupid.”

Molly looked out the windshield at the farm now coming into view. She thought about telling Alex about how she was being stupid now, falling for him when he was completely out of her league. She could tell him how she was stupidly wishing he’d pull this truck over and kiss her until she didn’t have to think about the farm anymore, or her weight, or wonder how he really felt about her.

“Dating Ben was stupid,” she said finally. “Making out with a guy I met at community college behind the bleachers was pretty stupid too.”

Alex’s eyebrows raised. “I’m sorry? What?! Are you serious?”

Molly laughed and dropped her face into her hands. “Yes. Ugh. It was such a weak moment. I was lonely and Ben had dropped me a year before and the guy was interested in me and guys aren’t usually interested in me so . . .”

I’m interested in you. Very.

Alex shrugged and cleared his throat. “Well, that is a bit of interesting information I didn’t know before. The making out session aside, you were very young and from what it sounds like to me, Ben was very stupid when he walked away from you.”

Molly tipped her head to the side and raised an eyebrow. “How did you know Ben walked away?”

Alex cleared his throat, pulling into the driveway for the farm. “It’s just . . . uh . . . the impression I got one day when I  . . uh. . .” he laughed softly. “Well, I overheard your parents one day in the barn. I wasn’t eavesdropping. Exactly anyhow. I was just getting feed and they were talking and —”

Molly wasn’t sure how she felt about her parents talking about her relationship with Ben, in private, let alone where other people might overhear them. “What were they saying?”

“Just that  — Listen, it wasn’t anything bad. They just . . .” he glanced at her, trying to gauge her annoyance level on a scale of one to ten. She looked to be about a four, so he plowed ahead. “They were just worried about you because they felt Ben hurt you more back then than you let on. I stepped away when I heard what they were talking about. It wasn’t right for me to be listening in.”

Molly chewed on her bottom lip. “Oh. Well, that was sweet of them really.” She shrugged. “But I’m okay. That was so long ago.”

She was not okay, but she was not about to tell Alex she was not okay.

 She felt a sudden urge to jump out of the truck and run. She didn’t want to talk about Ben at all, let alone with Alex. And did she really just tell him about the guy she kissed from community college? The only other person who knew about that was Liz.

Alex’s hand around her wrist was firm, yet gentle. “Hey.”

She turned to look at him, the door to the passenger side open and her ready to climb out and head to the barn to finish her work.

His blue eyes were brighter than she’d ever remembered them being, or maybe she simply hadn’t looked at them as closely as she was now. Were those flecks of green always there?

“I know you said the truck is all you have left of your grandpa,” he said. “But it isn’t true. Your grandpa taught you a lot so what’s left of him is still inside you. Just like what my grandpa taught me is still inside me.”

 He laughed and shook his head. “Of course, I haven’t always listened to it, but it’s there.”

A smile tugged at Molly’s mouth. She moved her other hand to cover Alex’s, feeling a rush of energy when her skin touched his.

“Thank you, Alex,” she whispered, her hand lingering on his..\ “That really means a lot.”

Kiss her, Alex. For God sake, just kiss her already

Her eyes focused on his for a few seconds longer and then her hand slipped from his, her skin soft against his rough palm.

“You’re welcome,” he whispered.

Molly closed the door to the truck and walked back to the barn, Alex watching her until she disappeared inside. He leaned back and chewed at the nail on his thumb, a habit he’d recently picked up, thinking, silently cursing himself for chickening out, for keeping silent when he should have told Molly how he really felt about her. He climbed out of the truck, heading back to the barn, knowing that conversation would now have to wait for another day.

Serial Fiction: Rekindle Parts 3 & 4

I’m sharing parts three and four of Rekindle today. To read the first two parts, click HERE.



With the children in bed, it was just Matt and Cassie alone in the living room. Alone. Together. With a canyon of silence between them.

Matt slumped further down on the couch, drumming his fingers on the cushion. He had no idea what to do with himself without hearings to plan for, committee meetings to gather research for or statements to draft for the press with his brother. He should probably be on the phone with John and Liam, preparing their plan of action for when they got back into the office in the next week or so. He looked at his phone on the end of the couch but didn’t feel any motivation to reach for it.  In fact, he didn’t feel any motivation at all to deal with his job, especially the press.

He’d already drafted a statement with John. There really wasn’t anything else to say. For now anyhow. He was sure in the next day or so he’d be getting calls from other congressmen and congresswomen looking to set up virtual meetings to draft various bills or establish plans of action for the current situation, but for now his phone had gone silent and he should enjoy the silence while he could. He would have enjoyed it, if it just wasn’t so weird.

He felt his forehead. Maybe he was coming down with that virus after all. He’d been going full bore at his job for two years straight now, but today he’d finally hit some kind of wall. He wasn’t even motivated to reach for the remote and watch television.

He looked over at Cassie sitting sideways on a chair, her legs hanging over the arm of it, her head bent over a book. She was wearing a pair of hot pink short-shorts, a loose fitting white t-shirt and her hair was falling out of a messy bun she’d piled on top of her head. Her long legs were as shapely and attractive as the first day he’d met her. His eyes followed the length of them from her bare toes to the edge of her shorts and remembered the many times his hand had traveled that path over the years.

Desire swelled in his chest as he thought about the night they’d celebrated his congressional win. She’d worn that black skirt with the slit in the side, the slit that went from her knee to the middle of her thigh. Only she hadn’t even known the skirt had that slit until she was at his victory speech and he’d laughed later in the back of Liam’s car when he had watched her try to hold the pieces together, her cheeks flushed pink. Cassie always was fairly modest in how she dressed and he knew she never would have worn the dress if she hadn’t been rushed. The election results came in earlier than expected and she’d snatched the skirt out of her closet, the skirt she’d purchased a few days before but hadn’t had a chance to try on. She knew Matt’s acceptance speech was going to be closely watched by many since he had run against a long-time congressman who had been thrown in the middle of a scandal the year before.

“I can’t believe I wore this skirt to your acceptance speech,” she hissed. “I can imagine what the press will be saying tomorrow.”

“That your gorgeous?”

“Or that I’m a floozy.”

Matt tipped his head all the way back and laughed. “A floozy? What happened right there? Did we just teleport back to the 40s?”

Cassie punched Matt in the upper arm, giggling. “Shut up.”

Back at the house, the children staying with Cassie’s parents, Matt had stood behind Cassie as she unhooked her necklace and took her earrings out.

“For what it’s worth,” he said, stepping closer, reaching out to touch the edge of the skirt. “I really like this skirt.”

“Oh, you do, do you?”

His finger found the slit and slipped inside, touching the skin there, on her upper thigh.

His mouth touched her bare neck, his voice husky as he spoke. “All I wanted to do was get back here with you. No kids. All alone. Finally.”

She turned, smiling, pushing her hands into his hair. “And what can we do here, all alone?”

He didn’t need words to answer her question. His mouth found hers while he gently pushed her back toward the bed, lowering her to it.

“You okay over there?”

 Cassie’s voice interrupted the memory of his hand traveling under that skirt, up that leg, that night.

“Huh? Oh yeah. Good. I’m good.”

“You miss work, don’t you?”

“Um. No. Actually. I don’t. And that weirds me out a little.”

“Oh.”

She shrugged and turned back to her book. “This break is probably just showing you how burned out you are.”

“I’m not burned out. Am I?”

Cassie was back into her book. “Mmm. If you say so.”

Matt sat up straighter and leaned forward on his knees toward Cassie.

“We haven’t spent a lot of time together lately, have we?

She glanced up from the book, one eyebrow cocked.

“No. Not really, but you’ve been busy. I understand.”

“Do you want to spend more time together? I mean, maybe you’re bored with me? Our life here together?”

Cassie laughed. “Matt, where is this all coming from?” she closed the book. “Is this because of Liam and Maddie?

Matthew shrugged. “Yeah. Maybe. It’s got me thinking a lot, I guess.”

“So? What’s the verdict? Are Liam and Maddie getting a divorce?”

Matt sighed. “I don’t know. I mean, they’ve been meeting with a divorce attorney. The only reason they missed the last meeting was because of this whole debacle.”

He looked at Cassie, watched her watching him and wondered again if Cassie would ever want to divorce him. If she did, he wouldn’t blame her. He’d dragged her into this crazy political world, under a never-satisfied microscope of public scrutiny. The same with the kids. What had he been thinking? Of his constituents? The future of the country? Or had it really just been of himself and his own desire to reach a certain level of success?

“And now they are stuck together in that house,” Maddie said with a shake of her head. “Wow. That has to be super awkward.”

“Yeah. It is. Liam said Maddie accused him of cheating on her.”

Cassie’s eyes widened. “No way.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, did he?”

“Cassie! You know Liam wouldn’t do something like that.”

“I don’t think he would, no, but . . .”

“But what? Men do those things because we’re all jerks, is that what you mean?”

“I’m not saying that but long hours, all those pretty women around, he and Maddie so distant after the miscarriages, especially after the last one.”

Matt was feeling uncomfortable with his wife’s line of thinking. He stood and walked toward the kitchen for a glass of juice. His wife really thought his little brother could cheat on his wife? If she thought that then what did she think of him? He’d been working long hours too. Around a lot of pretty women, many of them more than willing to sleep with a congressman to work their way up the ladder in their careers. Was Cassie drawing a line between the possibility that Liam had cheated to the possibility he had too?

He poured the juice and heard her footsteps behind him. “I’m sorry, Matt. I really can’t see Liam doing that, no. Your brother has just been under a lot of pressure and —”

“Being under pressure doesn’t lean to affairs every time, okay?”

Cassie raised her eyes brows and held up her hands. “Okay. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight. I was just trying to enjoy a quiet night for once with a book. I’ll leave you alone.”

Matt turned toward her. “Cassie, I didn’t mean to start a fight either. I just —”

“It’s fine.” Cassie walked to him and kissed his cheek. She stepped back and looked him in the eyes. “You just need to unwind. You’ve been put through the ringer by the media, other members of congress, and now Liam’s drama. I don’t blame you for being tense. Why don’t you go watch one of your favorite shows. I’m going to turn in early.”

“You don’t need to turn in early.”

Her mind had been made up though. She was weary of discussing Liam and politics and viruses and . . . life, quite frankly.

“I really do need to,” she said softly, already at the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. “See you in the morning, Matt.”

Matt finished his juice and shuffled back to the living room. Watch one of his favorite shows? He didn’t even have any favorite shows. Not current ones anyhow. He never had time to watch television anymore. He sat on the couch and slumped in the corner of it again, even further down this time than before.

He didn’t have time for anything anymore other than political fights and trying to put out fires. He pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. Dang it. What had he been thinking dragging his family through all of this? Just, seriously, what had he been thinking?

***

Cassie climbed under the covers and flopped on her back to stare at the ceiling, barely lit by the moonlight outside.

What was with all of Matt’s weird questions tonight? The situation with Liam and Maddie must be rattling him even more than she realized. She fluffed up her pillow, hugged it and tried to get more comfortable. It wasn’t working, though. Her mind was racing too much.

She was thinking about viruses and if her family was safe and Liam and Maddie and how to get groceries if they had to shelter in place and the media and what they’d be saying for the rest of the week with Matt and his staff having still worked for a week after they knew they’d been exposed to a contagious virus. She squeezed her eyes shut, took in a deep breath and held it for several seconds before letting it out again. She had to calm down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. I am.”

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

From the moment he’d announced to the day he won the seat, the lives of the Grant family had been a whirlwind. After the election, the moving began, the children were enrolled in new schools; every effort was made to ensure that the children and Cassie would see Matt as much as possible, despite his job.

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

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

If things slow down, Cassie thought, panic suddenly gripping her, like a heavy weight in the center of  her chest. If Matt gets reelected we could have another two years of this and maybe even another two after that. . .

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

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

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