Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 13

As I’ve mentioned here before, I usually make changes to the final product from what I share here on the blog. I move chapters around, add parts, delete parts, fix typos (as best as I can), try to fill plot holes and simply tighten the writing before I kick it to Amazon or wherever I choose to publish it. I made changes from what I shared on the blog to both of my previous books, more to the second than the first one. I already know there are going to be a lot of changes to The Farmer’s Daughter before the final publication in the Fall of 2020 (you know, if the planet doesn’t catch fire by then with the way 2020 is going).

I also know that The Farmer’s Daughter is going to be one in a series, but I don’t know how long the series will be yet. It’s going to be at least three books so far, with a possible novella about Franny and Ned when they were younger. The first is, of course, The Farmer’s Daughter, the second will be The Librarian (which I sneak peaked here on the blog, but the final book will definitely change from what I shared as an excerpt here), and the third will be The Pastor’s Wife. I’m not sure where else I’ll go from there.

I don’t ever expect to be a successful or best-selling author. Honestly, I don’t care anymore. I used to. But . . . well, things change. Life changes and what we think is important in life changes. I’m just having fun now. I hope some of you are having fun reading what I’m writing and even if only a couple of people let me know they’re enjoying it, I’m okay with that. Anyhow, enough rambling, here is Chapter 13. It’s pretty long this week, but I decided not to break it into two parts.

You can catch up with the rest of the story HERE or at the link above.

Annie looked at herself in the mirror attached to the oak vanity in her bedroom and frowned. Then she wished she hadn’t frowned because when she frowned more wrinkles cut into the skin between her eyes and around her lips and even under her chin and down her throat.

She jutted her chin into the air, remembering how her mom had once advised her to lift her chin this way every day to help stretch the skin there, keeping it supple, smooth, and free of sagging. She hadn’t been consistent in the practice over the years, which must have been why wrinkles were beginning to form there and remind her of her age.

Touching her fingertips lightly on the slightly graying tips of her dark hair, Annie was transported to a time when her hair wasn’t beginning to show gray and lines didn’t crinkle at the corners of her eyes. A time when Robert Tanner had swept her off her feet by riding a horse up the hill to visit her after school each day.

Soft, warm kisses were exchanged underneath the apple tree and plans for the future were made while sipping lemonade and swinging on the front porch swing.

“How many children do you want?” Annie slid one leg up under her on the swing and turned toward Robert, anxious for his answer.

“I’ve never thought about it much, but I’d say at least two.”

Hair a mix of blond and brown fell over his forehead and he swept it back with his hand and smiled, looking at her to see if his answer had been the right one.

“A boy and a girl?”

“Sure.  Or just two boys to work the farm.”

Robert was still obsessed with the idea of being a farmer like his dad, but at least he wanted two children, just like her. She wanted one of each, though, or even two girls.

“Girls can work a farm just as well as boys,” she told him.

He’d grinned and stolen a kiss. “I’ll be happy whatever sex they are and how ever many they are, as long as I have them with you.”

Three weeks after graduation, Robert had begged their parents to let them get married.  His parents had told him: “If you think this is right, then you have our blessing.”

He approached Annie’s parents next. “Mr. and Mrs. Bentley, I know I’m only a poor farmer’s son but I love your daughter and I would do whatever I can to make sure she is taken care of, financially and otherwise.”

Her father, a machine operator for most of his life, who knew what it was to be poor and wanted more for his daughter, had refused. Repeatedly.

Her mother watched them together on the porch one night when they kissed good-bye with a fast burning passion and knew she needed to change her husband’s mind — and fast.

She turned toward her husband with wide eyes. “I have a feeling we’d better let those two get married or they may have to get married.”

Annie’s father, Leon, had looked at his wife with a bewildered expression.

“What are you saying, Eleanor?”

“I’m saying those two are about to burn up with desire for each other and I would rather they do so within the bonds of marriage.”

Leon had been shocked, embarrassed, and ready to grab Robert Tanner by the collar of his shirt and toss him in front of a combine, but he’d finally agreed with his wife. A wedding was set for the end of the summer.

Annie’s mom had been right. Three months after their wedding night, Annie was pregnant with Jason and at the age of 19 they were parents already. Molly came five years later after a couple of miscarriages that dashed the Tanners hopes of having a large family.

Those years had been tough years, of course, but Annie never regretted marrying Robert or having children at such a young age. She was grateful that Robert and God had been with her through it all. Annie pulled the pins from the bun she’d put on top of her head earlier in the day to keep the back of her neck cool. She let her long black hair fall around her shoulders and reached for the wrinkle cream she knew wasn’t really working but at least made her skin feel nice and soft.

She could hear how tired and sore Robert was even before she turned from her vanity mirror to look at him. His steps had faded to shuffles, each shuffle followed by a sharp intake of breath.

She exchanged the wrinkle cream for the pain ointment squirting it into her hand as she turned to face him.

She gestured toward the bed. “Sit on the edge over here so I can get this on your back.”

Robert grimaced as he lifted his shirt over his head and did as he was told. “Yes, ma’am.”

He winced, arching his back when cold lotion touched his skin. His muscles relaxed, though, when Annie’s hands pressed expertly in all the right spots, as if she could read his mind on where the pain was.

“Oh, that’s it. Right there,” he said, closing his eyes, enjoying the feel of her hands on his skin.

“You work too hard,” Annie said, her hands warm across his skin.

Robert laughed. “Is there such a thing as working too hard for a farmer? We don’t have a choice.”

Annie frowned as she rubbed the ointment into the skin on the back of his neck. “The news about Larry really shook me you know.”

Robert nodded, his eyes still closed. “Yeah. Me too.”

“Robert . . .” she slid her arms slowly down his shoulders and upper arms “You’d talk to me if . . . I mean, before you ever . . . if you ever get that down you’d —”

Robert turned quickly to face Annie, opening his eyes. “Annie. I’d never do that to you and the kids. Never. I’m not blaming Larry. I don’t know what was going through his mind that night, but I’m not doing that to you and the kids.”

He was startled to see moisture in Annie’s eyes as she studied his. “Sometimes when people are depressed,” her voice caught with emotion. “they do things they never thought they’d do.”

The skin on Robert’s palms were rough against her cheek but his touch was gentle as he cradled her face.  “Annie, I’ll never leave you that way. I promise. Do you hear me? I’ll never leave you that way.”

Annie nodded, tears spilling from her eyes, down her cheeks. Robert’s thumbs gently wiped the tears. He pressed his mouth against her forehead.

“I love you, Annie.”

“I love you too.”

She managed a smile and then closed her eyes to try to gather her emotions. His mouth warm and soft on hers was a pleasant surprise and she kept her eyes closed, reveling in a moment they found little time for anymore. She opened her eyes and smiled as he pulled away slightly, then flushed warm at the look of desire in his eyes, passion igniting where it often smoldered these days.

When his mouth was on hers again, his hands sank into her hair, pushing it back from her face. She leaned into him as the kiss deepened, hands against his chest, finding comfort in his bare skin as one hand slid down her back, resting in the small of it and the other roamed where the hands of long-time married men roam when they want to show their wives how much they still love and need them.


Molly’s breaths came out in short gasps as she pushed down on the pedals of the elliptical. How in the world did she let Liz talk her into this? Her muscles ached. Sweat pooled in places she didn’t even know she had places for it to pool. Her chest was constricting, but she was pretty sure she wasn’t going to die. Pretty sure anyhow. At least not yet. Thirty more minutes of this, though, and she would probably be leaving the gym in an ambulance.

 Liz, on the other hand, working out on the same equipment next to her, was smiling as she walked, watching some morning news show offering advice on “the latest fashions for the rest of your summer.”

Liz’s long dark hair was pulled back into a cute ponytail that bounced as she walked. Other parts of Liz were bouncing too but they were all the parts of a body that should bounce on a woman, unlike Molly who hated the way the extra weight on her bottom bounced as she lifted and lowered her legs.

Molly glanced to her right and caught sight of town librarian Ginny Jefferies, brilliant green eyes focused straight ahead, a determined expression on her face as she pedaled ferociously on a stationary bike. Molly couldn’t help wonder why she was at the gym. Tall and slender, Ginny seemed in better shape than most women her age, which Molly guessed to be between 50 and 55.

Maybe Ginny had gained a little weight in her belly and hips that only she could see, but it didn’t seem to Molly like she’d gained enough to be pedaling with so much drive. Then again, not everyone worked out to lose weight. Some wanted to maintain their weight or – Molly looked at Ginny’s scowl and tight jaw – simply get their frustrations out.

“How you doing?” Liz asked, barely out of breath.

“Just fine,” Molly gasped out.

“Pace yourself,” Liz offered. “You haven’t worked out in — how long has it been?”

Never, thought Molly.

“A while,” she gasped out loud.

Glancing in front of her, slightly to the left, she watched a barrel-chested man lift weights, his muscles rippling and straining with each curl. His workout tank was stretched tight against his bulging pecks and rippled six pack.

He was huge.

Too huge.

Molly didn’t like men whose muscles were so big they had to turn sideways to fit through a door. Jason was almost there, but not yet, thankfully. Alex wasn’t anywhere near that muscular. Sure, he definitely had well-toned biceps and his chest and back were sculpted in the image of near-pure masculine perfection as if they had been hand carved by an expert stone carver  —

Molly shook her head. Where had that come from? One minute she was wondering if this workout was going to kill her and the next moment she was remembering that day last week when Alex took his shirt off while lifting hay bales in the barn and she’d been unable to look away. She definitely needed to take a break and drink some water. She was beginning to lose her mind.

Snapping the top of the plastic bottle, Molly sat on a chair behind Liz and sucked half the bottle down. The water tasted more amazing than water had ever tasted to her before. In front of her, Liz’s tiny bottom was practically at Molly’s face level. Molly rolled her eyes, internally grumbling about how Liz had never struggled with her weight in the entire time they’d known each other.

Reflections of sunlight bounced across the gym equipment as the front door opened and someone walked in. Molly was too tired to see who it was. She tipped her head back and closed her eyes, wiping her face with the towel the man at the front desk had handed her when she’d signed in.

“What did Liz do, talk you into torturing yourself too?”

She opened her eyes and jerked her head up at the sound of Alex’s voice, her heart pounding. What was he doing here? Standing with the gym equipment as a backdrop, wearing a pair of dark sunglasses, a faded pair of jeans, a faded-white cowboy hat pulled down low on his head, and a black t-shirt that fit him amazingly he looked like he was on his way to a magazine shoot. He was insanely gorgeous, if she did say so herself and she was mortified that he was seeing her while rivulets of sweat traveled down her skin and onto her clothes.

 She didn’t want Alex to see her this way, even though he’d probably seen her just about as fat and sweaty as she was now when they were working in the barn together on those hot summer days. She stood and self-consciously pulled at her workout t-shirt as if she could pull it down enough to hide her bulbous bottom and thighs.

“Yeah, I guess,” she answered weakly, looking quickly at the floor. “It has been a bit torturous.”

She couldn’t see his eyes when she raised her gaze, but she felt him looking at her through the sunglasses. He propped his hands on his hips. “So, is this going to be a normal thing from now on? You working out?”

Molly shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. It’s a good thing to get in better shape . . . I guess.”

Liz stepped off the elliptical, snatched her towel from the chair next to Molly’s and smiled. “Hey, Alex. I don’t usually see you here. What’s up? Here to work out?”

Alex snorted. “Yeah right. The only time you’ll see me exercising is if I’m running from something. Jason left his sunglasses here this morning after his workout. I was heading to the hardware store, so I told him I’d swing in and grab them.”

He looked back at Molly, slid his sunglasses off and hooked them in his shirt’s front pocket. “So, what? You’re doing this so you’ll look like a twig like Liz?”

“Hey!” Liz cried. “Unless saying I look like a twig is compliment, I take offense to that.”

Alex smiled sheepishly, a soft pink shading his chiseled cheekbones. “Sorry, Liz. You look great. Really. It’s just. . . well, not every woman has to look the same.”

Molly swallowed hard as Alex’s gaze returned to hers’. Her breath caught at the tone of his voice when he spoke, soft and tender. “I think you look fine already, Molly Tanner.”

He reached over and pushed a strand of hair that had fallen from her ponytail behind her ear, his expression serious, his fingertips grazing her cheek. Molly’s skin buzzed where his skin touched hers. She could barely speak, suddenly flustered.

“Well, it’s – it’s not all about looking different. Sometimes it’s just about feeling better.”

Alex laughed, the sunlight catching his sparkling blue eyes. “Do you feel better? You don’t look like you feel better. You look exhausted.”

Molly smiled weakly. “Well, I will feel better . . . eventually.”

Alex’s grin faded into a more somber expression. “Then keep it up, by all means.” He took a step closer to Molly and the intensity in his expression startled her as much as his earlier comment.

 “Just do it for yourself, okay?” he said softly. “Not for anyone else.”

Molly nodded, still trying to figure out why his tone had faded from teasing to serious. “Okay.”

Alex smiled again his eyes focusing on hers for a few seconds before he turned toward the front desk. “See you ladies later. I’d better get Jason’s sunglasses back to him before he goes blind in this sunlight.”

Molly’s heart was pounding and she knew it wasn’t only from the workout. Liz stood between her and her view of Alex.

“What was that?” Liz mouthed the words with wide eyes.

Molly shook her head and shrugged at the same time. “I have no idea,” she mouthed back.

And she truly had no idea. What alternate universe was she in right now?

“See you at the barn, Molly,” Alex called as he opened the front door. He slid his sunglasses back on, flashed a grin and waved quickly before walking onto the sidewalk. Molly’s eyes followed him as he walked toward his truck, losing sight of him when a delivery truck paused at the red light and blocked her view.

“Molly!” Liz practically screamed her name, though at a lower volume than an actual scream. “What. Was. That?!”

Molly rolled her eyes. “Oh, Liz. You know Alex. He’s just a huge . . .flirt, or goof, or however you want to say it.”

She turned to pick up her water bottle. Alex was a flirt. But why was he flirting with her?

Liz grabbed Molly by her shoulders as she turned back around. “Molly Tanner! That man is hitting on you! I heard him. He said you look fine. Like fine fine.”

“Liz . . .”

Liz waved her hand at Molly then held it a few inches from her face. “No. Not this time. You can’t explain what just happened away. Alex Stone was trying to tell you something.” She winked. “Like, for one, that he likes you just the way you are.”

Molly laughed at her friend, but had to admit the exchange had been . . . how would she even describe it? Odd? Strange? Tantalizingly awesome?

“Liz, I’m sure it was nothing. Alex is just super friendly and a big joker. I think he was just —”

“He was clearly hitting on you, Molly,” Ginny Jefferies interrupted as she walked by, water bottle in one hand and towel the other. She didn’t look back, opening the water bottle and drinking it as she walked to the front counter to sign out.

“See?” Liz said. “Even Ginny can see it and she’s — well, experienced and full of wisdom.”

Ginny laughed as she turned to face Liz and Molly, patting the back of her shoulder length, dirty-blond hair. “Good save, Liz. I was pretty sure you were going to say ‘old.’”

Liz laughed. “No, actually. I might have thought it, but I wasn’t going to say it.”

Ginny smiled and looked at Molly. “Molly, he’s hitting on you. From the limited amount I know about him, I don’t know if that’s a good thing, so — and let me get all motherly here for a moment — just be careful, okay?”

Molly nodded. “Thanks, Ginny. I appreciate it.”

Molly knew Ginny and her mom were around the same age and Ginny had daughters of her own. Her opinion may have been tainted by maternal tunnel vision, but she meant well.

“What do you know about Ginny?” she asked Liz when Ginny had left. “She seems so, ‘put together’ for lack of a better word. Most of the time anyhow. Lately, though, something seems off. She seems sad, or melancholy, or … I don’t know how to explain it.”

Liz waved her hand in front of Molly’s face, bringing her gaze back from watching Ginny walk down the sidewalk to Liz’s wide-eyed expression. “Don’t change the subject, Molly. What are you going to do about Alex?”

“I’m not going to do anything about Alex. I’m going to go home, take a shower, head to work at the farm store and later I’m going to go work with him in the barn like I always do.”

Liz sighed. “Molly. Molly. What am I going do with you?”

Molly smiled. “You’re going to buy me a cup of coffee before I head home. That’s what you’re going to do.”

Liz rolled her eyes. “Fine. But if I do that then you’re going to consider that Alex Stone may actually be interested in you as more than simply someone who can help him hook up the cows for the milking each day.”

She looked at Liz as they walked.

“Well, if you insist on making me talk about Alex, I’m going to make you talk about Matt. Are you going to go out with him again or what?”

Liz opened the door to the coffee shop and sighed. “I’m just friends with Matt. It’s not like that. He’s easy to talk to and I like hanging out with him but — he’s Matt. I just always think of him as a brother more than a boyfriend. Maybe because he is friends with Jason and I just remember him as that weird military obsessed guy from high school.”

“He’s a nice guy, Liz.”

“Yeah, I know, but he’s also a cop. I don’t know if I can date a cop. I mean, what if I develop more feelings for him and then I’ll just worry about him out there on the streets . . .”

Molly snickered. “On the streets of Spencer? Where what — he might get punched by a drunk guy down at Mooneys or get kicked by a cow?”

Liz turned from the list of coffee flavors behind the counter and tipped her head at Molly. “Molly, you really are naïve about what happens in this county aren’t you?”

Molly shrugged. “Probably, but I prefer being clueless.”

Liz ordered herself an herbal tea with honey and a dark chocolate mocha for Molly.

“I’ll make you a deal,” she said handing Molly’s coffee to her. “You agree  to talk to Alex about the firemen’s appreciation banquet and I’ll consider going out with Matt again. Deal?”

“Liz . . .”

“Molly . . .”

Molly rolled her eyes. “Fine. I’ll talk to him. But do more than consider going out with Matt. Just go out with him already.”

Liz finally agreed, but on her way back to her car she knew she couldn’t keep her promise to Molly. She couldn’t tell Molly the real reason she didn’t want to go out with Matt. It had nothing to do with him being someone she’d known in high school or even with him being a police officer. It had everything to do with the mistake she’d made and didn’t want Matt, or even Molly, to know about.

And Molly knew she couldn’t really talk to Alex about going to the firemen’s banquet. She didn’t want to risk the relationship they had – an easy-going, teasing friendship that she knew might evaporate if she made it look like she was interested in him in way other than a friend and co-worker.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 12

I worked on this book this week, finally feeling creative after shutting off the news and social media. I probably wrote 1,000 words Tuesday night, saved and shut off my computer, only to discover that the computer, which saves to Microsoft OneDrive, had not saved any and I mean ANY of my changes that I had worked on for hours that evening.

I had been saving for hours and all of it was gone when I opened it up right before bed to add something. I normally email a copy to myself but it didn’t matter because none of the changes had saved so the emailed copy didn’t have any of the changes or additions either. I have no idea why it happened but now I am working on rewriting entire chapters, fixing errors and rewriting rewrites.

Some days I just want to give up on this silly writing thing but then I remember that no one really reads my stories or books anyhow so this whole writing thing is really just a hobby and I should not be upset by a hobby. Ha! A hobby is for fun so I had fun going back and rewriting all that I had lost and I will be rewriting much of it again in the future when it is all complete.

Anyhow, to catch up with the story, you can click HERE or at the top of the page. This is a work in progress and as always there could be errors, typos, plot holes, etc. that I will hopefully fix in the final draft. My other works of fiction are linked to at the top of the page as well and both of my books are currently on Kindle Unlimited: A Story to Tell and A New Beginning.

The serene scene of cows grazing in a field bright with golden sunlight was in stark contrast to the direct view Molly had of a grieving Alice Stanton. Alice’s hands were pressed to her face, the tears she’d fought to hold back for much of the day spilling down her cheeks and through her fingers.

 Alice, a small woman with long dark brown hair streaked with graying highlights that fell to the  middle of her back, was known by many in town as usually being upbeat and optimistic in situations others found too overwhelming. Today, though, Alice was the one overwhelmed.

Her cheeks were splotched red from crying and her usual upbeat demeanor had crumbled under the pressure of her family’s financial strain. Her body trembled with each sob and it was all making  Molly feel awkward, unsure how to respond to Alice’s tears. But then Molly did what she’d want someone to do for her if she was in the same situation: she pulled Alice into a hug and let Alice cry on her shoulder while stroking Alice’s hair.

The Stanton’s farm had fallen on hard times three years ago and instead of trying to survive another year they had given up, like so many other farmers, filing for bankruptcy and choosing to sell off their animals, equipment and land.

“Oh, Molly,” Alice said as she lifted her face and tried to dry her eyes with an already soaked, crumpled tissue. “I can’t believe this is really happening to us.”

Molly looked across the Stanton’s field at the tractors and farm equipment lined up in rows, people walking around the items, looking at them thoughtfully, studying them, discussing their worth. Behind the farm equipment were rolling hills, fields filled with cows that were also being bid on, and beyond those fields, other farms dotting the landscape, some of those farms on the verge of bankruptcy as well.

“That’s our life for the last 30 years,” Alice said in disbelief, looking out at the large crowd and the auctioneer setting up his booth. She gestured at the scene with one quick movement of her hand that she returned to the cross necklace, clutching it tightly. “There it all is – set up for strangers and neighbors to pick through and pick apart. It’s so surreal.”

Fresh tears spilled down Alice’s face and Molly felt the sting of tears in her own eyes.

“What will you and Jim do?”

Alice shook her head. “I don’t know for sure yet. I picked up a job at the bank and Jim has an interview at the meat packing plant next week. Isn’t that ironic? He couldn’t afford to produce milk and meat himself so now he’ll have to work packing some factory farm’s meat.”

The auctioneer started the bidding on the Stanton’s hay baler, rattling off its attributes and suggested prices in a quick paced tone, almost too fast for Molly to keep up with. The men standing in front of the auctioneer trailer were a mix of mostly men, some well-dressed while others had obviously driven straight from the barn to the auction.

The well-dressed were usually from the corporate farms, having driven two or more hours. Molly looked at them like vultures come to feed on dying carcasses of the small family farms. She knew she shouldn’t think that way. They had their place in the world too, but Molly agreed with her dad and other small farmers who worried about the loss of quality and safety in corporate farming. Then there was the questionable care of the animals and the reduced profits for small farming operations when the bigger farms moved in. Molly didn’t know how it all worked really, but small farms were all she’d ever known and she felt a fierce loyalty to them.

Molly knew from past auctions that many of the farmers from the family farms didn’t want to bid, not because they couldn’t use the equipment, but because they didn’t want to see their neighbors go out of business. And in some cases, the bidding farmers wondered if they might be next and if they should waste money on equipment they’d soon be selling themselves.

“This was a four-generation farm,” Alice said softly, watching the auctioneer. “Jim’s grandfather took it over from his father, who died very young from tuberculosis. This was all Jim ever wanted to do, from the time he learned to walk, pretty much. If this is this hard on me I can’t imagine how devastated he has to feel about all of this. He won’t even talk to me about it. He’s so matter-of-fact about the bills and how we are too far in debt.”

Alice found another tissue in her jeans pocket and wiped the tears from her cheeks.

“I just wish he would talk to me about how he is feeling,” she said, blowing her nose. “I worry about what holding it all in is doing to his health.”

Molly’s chest constricted. She understood Alice’s worry for Jim. Molly had the same worries about her father who rarely spoke about how situations his family had faced or were facing him made him feel.

Alice lowered her voice and leaned closer to Molly. “Did you hear about Larry Jenson?”

Molly shook her head.

“He couldn’t take the pressure,” Alice whispered tearfully. “He felt like he’d let his family down when the farm failed last year. His wife found him two nights ago in the barn, a bottle of pills in his hand, an empty glass that smelled like whiskey next to his body. The coroner told his wife he’ll most likely rule it a suicide but he’s waiting for the toxicology report.”

Molly gasped. “Oh my gosh! His wife and family must be devastated.”

Alice nodded. “She is and I think that’s one thing I’m worried about with Jim. If he won’t talk to me about how all this making him feel, maybe he won’t talk to me if he’s thinking of . . .” Alice shook her head, closing her eyes briefly. “I can’t even bare to think about it.”

Molly laid a hand on her shoulder. “You won’t have to,” she said, hoping she was right. “Just keep an eye on Jim and be there for him. When he’s ready to talk he will. I’m sure he’s just keeping quiet now to make sure he can get what needs to be done done.”

Alice turned her head, wiping the tears from her face. “I’m going to go make sure they have enough hot dogs and snacks for the bidders. If I cry anymore my eyeballs will fall right out.”

Molly watched Alice walk back toward the barn and bit her lower lip, wondering when the day would come when her family auctioned their life away. She turned and watched her dad walking with other farmers, studying equipment, contemplating about quality and price. Jason and Alex stood at the back of the crowd talking to a small group of younger farmers and Molly recognized one of them as Jason’s former classmate Jeremy McCarty. The McCarty’s had been farming their land with a head of 250 dairy cows for three generations, but Jason had said the family was considering selling out and moving to Kansas within the year.

“This is a fine harvester,” the auctioneer said. “Three years old. Great paint job still. Well taken care of. Let’s start the bidding at nineteen. Nineteen thousand. Nineteencanigetnineteen? Nineteennineteennineteen – Nineteen in the back. Can I get twenty-twenty-twenty? Twentytwentytwenty – twenty-one. Twenty two thousand-twenty-twothoussandtwentythreecanigettwentythreeandtwentytwentytwenty -three! Twenty-three!”

The bidding went on like that for the rest of the afternoon while Molly served buyers hot dogs and soda and agreed with other farmers that the day was one of sadness; the end of an era. This was the first auction Molly had been to, but she knew there had been others in recent months and she knew there would be more. The faces of many of the farmers who walked by were etched in worry, eyelids drooping from late nights of crunching numbers.

“Sold off half the herd last month,” one farmer said to another, standing in the doorway of the barn where a makeshift concession stand had been set up. “If we can save some money this year, I’m hoping to bring some more cows back.”

“I saw the most recent reports from the dairy bureau,” the other farmer said. “The numbers don’t look encouraging.”

Both farmers shook their heads.

“This is all I’ve ever done,” the first farmer said. “It was all my dad and his dad ever did. I can’t imagine what I’ll do with myself if I have to finally pack it in.”

His friend laughed, clapped him on the back.

“How about finally retire and take Eloise on that cruise she’s always wanted?”

“I get sea sick, but even if I did go, what will I do with myself after we get back?”

The farmers stood, hands shoved in their overall pockets, silent for a few moments, and looked out over the field full of farm equipment, buyers and curious onlookers weaving around each other.

“Welp, best get back to the barn and milk what’s left of my cows.”

“Yep,” the other farmer nodded, still looking out at the auction. “Need to get back and make sure mine are all in the barn for the night.”

The two men parted ways, heads both down, deep in thought as Molly watched them. She sat on the stool behind the table and felt a strange heaviness in her chest. The idea that these men, so much like her father, could no longer live the lives they had hoped to broke her heart and made her world feel upside down.

She sat down on the stool behind the table, opened a bottle of water and watched the trucks pull in and out of the Stanton’s side yard where a makeshift parking lot had been set up.

She had been considering walking away from farming, seeing what the world was like beyond her parent’s corn fields, but at the same time she dreaded the possibility that in the near future she wouldn’t even have a choice if she wanted to be involved in farming or not.

“Whatchya thinking about?”

Molly startled at the sound of the voice to the right of her. She looked over to see Alex grinning, his black cowboy hat tipped low on his head, a black sleeveless shirt revealing his tanned muscular biceps. She wasn’t sure when he started wearing that hat, but every time she saw him in it, it flipped her stomach upside down.

Alex had come to their farm a city slicker, but he should have been born a country boy as fast as he had adapted to life on the farm.

She shrugged as an answer to his question, then thought for a moment about how to answer.

“Alice was just telling me about Larry Jenson, this local farmer . . .”

Alex cracked open a Pepsi and sat on a stool next to her.

“The one who offed himself? Yeah. Jason was telling me about that.”

Molly’s eyebrows darted up, and Alex knew he’d said something wrong.

“Offed himself? Really? That wasn’t very sensitive, Alex.”

“Oh. Sorry. I mean —”

Molly sighed. “It’s okay. You can’t help being insensitive. You’re a man.”


“Anyhow, it’s just — I mean, Mr. Jenson had to be really down to do that, you know? What if —”

“Molly, your dad would never do that, if that’s what you’re thinking, and neither would Walt. You know that.”

“I don’t know. Do I? If things got bad enough and —”

Alex shook his head. “Not going to happen. No more thinking that way, okay? Your family has a good thing going. They’ve got the farm store, the rain has finally let up, there should be a good crop this year. Everything is going to be okay.”

He looked over at her, reached out and laid his hand against her shoulder. “No more worrying, okay?”

His hand on her skin flustered her for a moment, but she managed to nod as she looked at him.

“Okay. I’ll try.”

She pulled her eyes from his, her heart pounding.

She watched the farmers walking by the open barn door, cars pulling in and out of the field that was serving as a makeshift parking lot.

Alex watched too.

After a few moments of silence, he looked at her again.

“So, if you’re done worrying, I’m heading back to see how much equipment your dad is going to make me haul out of here when he’s done bidding.”

Alex’s grin as he stood to leave not only lifted her heavy mood, it made her feel almost giddy. She leaned forward on the stool, propped her elbow on the table, her chin on her hand and welcomed the distraction of watching him walk away. Now one wore a pair of jeans as well as Alex Stone.

Alex tried to push Molly’s worries from his mind as he walked toward Robert and Jason. He whole heartedly believed that Robert Tanner would never leave his family, in any way, no matter how tough it got, at least not on purpose. Still, Molly’s concerns were contagious.

He had been noticing how tired Robert had been looking lately, but he wasn’t about to mention it to Molly or Jason. Alex had tried to step up more, offering to take on jobs Robert would normally do, hoping it would encourage Robert to slow down. Instead, Robert had replaced the jobs with different jobs, never slowing down, always on full-speed. Alex had acted confident with Molly, but inside he worried like she did that all the pressure of running a large farming business would finally break the man he’d come to think of as a father figure.


“So, when were you going to tell me about the financial trouble the business is in?”

Robert’s back was to his sister but he didn’t have to see her to know that Hannah was standing with her arms folded across her chest, her leg cocked to one side, and a tight scowl pursing her mouth into an angry frown. He inwardly groaned and titled his eyes toward the heavens, silently praying for an interruption.

He and Bert, her husband, had talked last night about telling her about the issue with the loan so he knew this moment was coming. Bert had even called an hour ago to warm him she was on the warpath. Bert had already had his hide chewed and it hadn’t been pretty. Robert knew he was next.

He had hoped she would find Walt first, but Walt told him last night he’d be an hour away today, picking up supplies for the farm store at a partner farm. Walt had a way of avoiding conflicts by making himself hard to find. 


Robert cleared his throat before turning away from the tractor he’d been preparing to climb into. It was obvious it was time to face the music with yet another woman in his life.

He turned and saw his youngest sibling standing in the exact way and with the same expression he had pictured in his mind. “Good morning to you too, Hannah.”

“Robert, I can’t even believe that you and Walter and Bert kept this from me. I had every right to know what was going on. I’m a full partner in this business.”

She was doing that thing now where she pointed one finger down at the ground at the end of every sentence and emphasized every other word.

“Hannah, I know. It was wrong. I just – we just —”

“Didn’t want me to know because you thought you could fix it on your own? Because I’m a woman? What?” She placed both her hands on her hips, her nostrils flared.

“You know that’s not why.”

Hannah’s light brown hair, now streaked with blond highlights from exposure to the sun, was pulled back in a tight ponytail, and her brown eyes were flashing with fury.

Robert was a mild-mannered man who often spoke softly and was rarely angered. He remained calm when others weren’t and normally Hannah admired this quality but today she wanted to see some actual emotion from him, to see a response behind his normal calm, closed off demeanor.

“No, Hannah, that wasn’t it at all.”

“You need to be honest with me this time, Robert. Don’t keep hiding things from me.”

With a heavy sigh Robert sat on a square bale of hay near the barn door and leaned forward slightly, arms propped on his knees. “Walt and I wanted to protect you because of how hard Dad’s death was on you. We planned to pay things off at the end of this summer with the corn harvest, but as you know, that’s not going as planned. We were going to talk to you once we had the money to take care of the shortfall. Until then we tried to shield you so you wouldn’t have to face anymore stress. You’ve been the main one caring for Mom, we saw how hard you tried to act like Dad’s death didn’t affect you, but Hannah . . .”

He looked at up at her from where he was sitting, saw her mouth was still pressed into a thin line. “Walt and I know it almost destroyed you. We didn’t want that to happen again. We didn’t want to see you hurt and worried again. We thought we could handle it. We were wrong. I’m sorry.”

Hannah’s shoulders had already started to relax as she listened to her brother and her face was less pinched than before. She sat next to him on the hay bale, not sure whether to yell or cry. The emotions she had been shoving inside for the last year chose for her.

Robert reached over and squeezed her hand as tears rolled down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Hannah.”

She nodded and accepted the wadded up handkerchief he handed her, blowing her nose into it and wiping her eyes.

“I know you didn’t mean to keep me out of the loop. It’s just — I always feel like I’m the last to know everything. I was the last to know that Daddy was sick. No one wanted to tell me when the doctors said his heart was in worse shape than they thought. And now here we are, possibly losing our livelihood and I’m in the dark again.”

Robert shook his head. “We’re not going to lose the business, Hannah. It’s going to be fine. Walt and I,” he took her hand again. “and you, will go over tomorrow and talk to Bill and we will work out a plan, like we should have in the beginning.”

Hannah nodded, sniffing and blowing her nose again. “Okay.”

She looked at her brother, tears glistening in her eyes. Seeing her in such a tender moment, so vulnerable and emotional, was unnerving to Robert. Hannah was always the strong one, the determined one, the one who seemed to have it all together, even though she was the baby of the family. Even at their dad’s funeral she’d been composed, strong, and had only cried once, briefly, in front of everyone else.

He knew from what Bert had told him, though, that the tears had flowed, hard and fast at home, locked in her room at night or in the bathroom when she thought no one could hear her or see her. Robert didn’t know why his sister had always fought so hard to hide her emotions but he was glad to see a part of that wall breaking down now, even if it did make him uncomfortable.

“We need to talk about Mom,” she said finally, after a few more moments of tears and blowing her nose.

“She’s still pretty down, isn’t she?”

Hannah nodded. “I’m worried about her, Robert. She has little interest in anything anymore. I can’t get her to go to church. She complains all the time.”

Robert knew all of this already. He’d listened to his mom complain about a variety of people and situations in recent months. He’d also listened to her refusals to attend church with him and Annie, instead saying she didn’t feel well and would rather read her Bible at home.

“I’m not ready to lose Mom too.” Hannah choked out the words. “But I think she’s just given up since Daddy died.”

Robert slid his arm around Hannah’s shoulders and pulled her gently against him. “I’ll go talk to her. All we can do right now is love her through this.”

Hannah nodded against his shoulder and blew her nose again.

 She looked at the soggy handkerchief crumpled in her hand. “Is the handkerchief you always have shoved in your pocket and blow your nose on all day?”

Robert sighed. “Yes. It is, but I haven’t used it yet today.”

Hannah wiped her eyes with the corner of the handkerchief. “Oh. Thank God. Men are so gross.”

Robert shook his head. Some things never changed.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 8

Catch up on Molly’s story HERE. As always, this is a story in progress and there very well could be some typos, plot holes and errors.

An update on A New Beginning that I put up on Kindle this week. I have temporarily removed it to fix some errors and issues and hope to have it back up for sale on Monday. A Story to Tell, the first story about Blanche is currently available on Kindle Unlimited (free for members of Kindle Unlimited on Amazon) and will be on sale for $.99 next week for those who don’t have Kindle Unlimited.

“Hey, Molly, guess who I saw in town this morning.”

“No idea.”

“Ben Oliver.”

Molly’s muscles tensed at the name.

It was a name she didn’t like hearing and had hoped she’d never hear again.

She kneeled next to Daisy the cow and prepped her for a milking session. “Oh yeah? Where did you see him?”

“At the gym.”

“Ah. I see.”

Molly hoped Jason would drop the subject. She didn’t want to think about Ben, let alone talk about him, especially in front of Alex.

“Who’s Ben Oliver?” Alex asked, preparing another cow in the stall across from her.

Molly inwardly groaned. Shut up, Alex.

“Molly’s old boyfriend.”

Shut up, Jason.

Alex’s head popped up over the back of a cow. “Boyfriend? Oh yeah?” He grinned. “Do share.”

Jason leaned against a beam, arms folded across his chest, grinning.

“Yep. They were pretty hot and heavy before he left for college in Boston or somewhere.”

Molly’s heart pounded faster. She was furious at Jason for teasing her about Ben, but how would Jason know how much Ben had hurt her the night he’d broke it off with her? Molly had a feeling if he had known not only would he not have been teasing her, but he probably would have punched Ben in the face.

She didn’t know if she would call anything about her and Ben’s relationship ‘hot and heavy.’ They’d only dated a couple of years as two young, inexperienced high school students. He’d been her first major crush, her first kiss and then her first heartbreak.

They’d broken things off when Ben had left for college. Actually, no. Ben had broken things off but if he hadn’t, Molly would have. Especially after what he’d said to his friends when he thought she wasn’t listening.

“He’s a lawyer now,” Jason told Alex. “I don’t know why he’s back here. He can’t be thinking of opening a law office here. There’s definitely less money here than in a big city.”

Alex shrugged. “You never know. There’s probably more legal possibilities in a small town like this than most of us realize. Real estate transactions, divorces, custody battles —”

“Maybe he can represent all those drunk drivers we read about in the Spencer Chronicle,” Jason said with a snort.

Jason stepped away from the beam and reached for a pitchfork. “I still say he’d make more money in a bigger city.”

Alex adjusted the milking machine on one of the cows. “Who knows, though. Maybe he didn’t come back for money.”

He looked at Molly and winked. She saw the wink out of the corner of her eye and ignored it. “Maybe he came back so he can win Molly back.”

Jason shoved the pitchfork into a pile of hay, lifted it and tossed some inside one of the cow’s stalls.

 “Hear that, Molly?” he asked. “Maybe you’ll be the wife of a rich lawyer one day.”

Molly inwardly cringed. She finished hooking up the last of the cows and walked back toward the feed room. “Hey, Alex, keep an eye on the girls. I’m going to get some feed. I’ll be back.”

Alex sipped from a bottle of water as Molly walked past him, noticing the tension in her face. He tried to read the expression, wondering if it was anger, longing, or something else. He vaguely remembered hearing about this Ben guy before. That had been a couple of years ago. From what he’d gathered, Ben had been a high school boyfriend of Molly’s, but their relationship hadn’t been serious. Now he wondered what had happened between the two to make Molly so uncomfortable at the mention of his name.

“So, were they serious?” Alex asked when Molly was out of earshot as he grabbed another rag to wipe the next cow’s udder.

Jason tossed more hay into the stalls. “Who?”

Alex looked over the top of the cow. “What do you mean who? Molly and this Ben guy.”

Jason shrugged and stooped to lift another pitchfork full of hay. “Yeah. I think so. For a while anyhow. I can’t really remember why they stopped dating. I guess because Ben went so far away for college. I always felt bad they broke up. I thought they were a good fit, you know?”

Alex’s eyes narrowed as he looked toward the back of the barn. “Yeah. Uh-huh. I guess.”

He wondered how Molly and this Ben were a good fit. What made anyone a good fit anyhow? If they liked the same things, maybe. Had the same interests. Shared the same faith.

Did Ben and Molly share the same faith? Did Molly miss Ben and if she did then why had her expression been so vague and not more joyful at the mention of his name?

He mentally scolded himself for all the questions he was asking himself. He’d never asked so many questions in his life. Alex Stone, what are you doing right now? This is none of your business. You have no claim on Molly because you can’t even tell Molly how you feel about her, you coward.

 Alex finished hooking up the cows in his row to the milking machine and stretched his arms out to the side, yawning.

“Out late again last night?” Jason asked. “I didn’t see you when I got back from Ellie’s.”

“Actually, no. I couldn’t sleep. Took a drive, sat and looked at the moon for a while and came home.”

Alex wasn’t about to tell Jason he’d sat and looked at the moon and thought about Molly part of that time. He’d also thought about his past, stupid decisions he’d made over the years, what his future might hold, and wondered what his dad was up to since he barely heard from him anymore.

He unhooked the machine from the first cow in his row, changing the topic. “So, when are you going to ask Ellie to marry you anyhow?

Jason rolled his eyes. “You sound like my mom.”


“I don’t know. I like how it is now. Things are good.”

“Yeah, but don’t you Christians believe in waiting until marriage?”

Jason looked at Alex and laughed. “Not all of our lives revolve around that, dude.”

Alex grinned. “Yeah, but still. Don’t you want to —”

“Hey,” Jason said, holding his hand up toward Alex. “I’m not talking about this with you.”

“Maybe that’s why you’re so uptight sometimes. Maybe you would be less stressed if you and Ellie —”

Jason gently shoved Alex in the arm. “I said I’m not talking about that with you, got it?” He smiled and propped the pitchfork against a wall. “Seriously, though, I have considered proposing to Ellie. And not just for that reason. I really . . .”

Alex wanted to laugh at the red flushing along Jason’s cheeks but with Jason being twice his size he was afraid of ending up with a broken nose.

“I can see myself growing old with her.” Jason finished his sentence after he cleared his throat and looked away, clearly embarrassed by the tenderness he’d just revealed.

Alex patted him on the shoulder. “Then you’re going to have to pull that trigger soon, buddy. Ellie’s not going to wait forever, you know.”

Jason unhooked some more of the cows. “What about you?”

Alex frowned. “What about me?”

“You think you’ll ever settle down?”

Now it was Alex’s turn to flush red. He turned his face quickly away from his friend, bending down to unhook the milking equipment from Daisy, his favorite Jersey. “Eh, who knows. Not something I think about too much.”

Alex wasn’t lying. He really hadn’t thought about settling down. Not in the same way Jason was thinking about it anyhow. What Alex had been thinking about lately was how much he’d fallen in love with farming, with waking up each morning knowing he would be doing something that mattered; something that would provide food for families across the country. He rubbed Daisy’s ears and let her nuzzle his hand.

He’d fallen in love with the smell of fresh cut hay, of cows mooing in the distance, with barn cats, and even with the sweet smell of manure when it was spread in the spring.

As for finding a woman to marry, Alex wasn’t sure yet. He’d never thought about himself married but if he did ever marry he knew he wanted to marry someone just like Molly Tanner, the girl who wasn’t afraid to compete with him in a burping competition or make a hilarious fart joke like one of the guys. Molly was real and if he ever did marry that was what he wanted in a wife – authenticity, kindness and devotion. He had a good feeling he would find all those things in Molly because he already saw them in her.

He chuckled softly. What was he doing even thinking about Molly and marriage in the same vein? Alex Stone and marriage were two things that didn’t go together.

“What’s so funny?” Jason asked.

“Nothing,” Alex said quickly. “Nothing at all.”


Molly slammed the lever to the feed machine up hard and kicked a metal bucket across the barn floor. Why did Jason have to bring up Ben anyhow?

She still remembered well the night Ben broke up with her. They’d gone to the movies, had lunch at a café in town and he had driven her home and walked her to her front porch. She’d expected a kiss before he headed home to finish packing for college, but instead he’d motioned toward the porch swing.

“Hey, Mols, can I talk to you for a minute?”

There was a cool breeze blowing, golden sunlight was pouring across the fields, and a heifer mooed softly in the barn. One of the barn cats rubbed against her shin and she reached down and stroked its head and back.


They sat next to each other, but Molly noticed Ben sat back slightly away from her, instead of pulling her close like he usually did. When he sighed, turning toward her, taking her hands in his, she knew something was wrong.

“This isn’t an easy thing for me to talk to you about, Mols,” he said softly. “But I’m — I mean, it’s just. . .”

He paused, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The rest of what he had to say came out quickly and abruptly.

“You know I’ve been working a lot with Angie at the ice cream shop on the weekends?”

Of course, she knew he’d been working with Angie. Angie Phillippi. Skinny. Blond. Long legs. Perfect. All the things Molly wasn’t.

She was starting to feel uneasy. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, so, yeah. We — Angie and I — we’ve grown close this summer and, the thing is, I think we’ve fallen for each other.”


Molly swallowed hard, a heavy lump forming in the center of her chest.

“Molly you know how much I care about you, but,” Ben shifted nervously on the swing. “I feel different when I am with Angie. I feel — I don’t know. I feel like she really gets me. We’re into the same things. We laugh at each other’s jokes. . .”

I laugh at your jokes, Molly thought.

“She’s . . . I don’t know. She’s someone I can’t imagine not being in my life and it’s not fair to you to keep stringing you along when I know I want to be with Angie.”

I can’t imagine you not being in my life, Molly thought.

Molly nodded slowly, pulling her hands from Ben’s grip. “Oh.”

She wished she could say more than “Oh,” but she seemed to be at a loss for words.

“I’m sorry, Molly. I really am.”

Molly forced a smile.

“It’s okay,” she finally managed to say, pushing the buzzing feeling in her chest – the one that signaled her emotions were about to override her brain – deep down because she was not, no, she was not going to cry in front of Ben Oliver, her first ever crush and boyfriend. “You can’t help how you feel.”

Her voice sounded far away, like someone else’s. What was she even saying? She didn’t believe any of the words flying out of her mouth, but she had to say them to hurry this conservation along, to end it quickly before she sobbed in Ben’s face and made a fool of herself.

Ben sat back slightly, his shoulders relaxing. “I am so relieved you understand. I never wanted to hurt you. I just knew I had to be honest with you, though, and with myself.”

He leaned forward and took her hands in his again. His dark brown eyes focused on hers. “I will always remember our time together, okay? And you’ll always be special to me.”

Molly suddenly felt like a first grader being talked to by their teacher.

“If I’m so special, then why are you breaking up with me?” she wanted to ask, but she didn’t, because she didn’t really want to hear the reason again.

Instead, she told him that she was okay, that she was happy for him, that this was for the best. She was glad he had told her now, instead of waiting until after he left for college, she assured him.

Of course, they’d still be friends.

Of course, she’d write him at college.

Of course, she’d always remember the good times.

Yes. Good luck at college.

She reassured him again she’d be fine and then he’d left with a gentle, brief kiss on her cheek. After he’d left, and she walked into the house, she answered her parents concerned expressions by telling them she and Ben were taking a break while he went to college and that was fine with her. Then she lied again, telling them she was relieved because she had felt herself drifting away from Ben for a few months now. He’d be away at college, going to law school, and she’d be at the community college, pursuing a degree in English, or writing, or something similar. There hadn’t been a future for them anyhow, right?

She hadn’t told Jason because he’d been away at college, hanging out with Alex and earning a degree he’d use when he came back to the farm.

Her parents had said they understood, asked if she was going to be okay, and each gave her hugs.

“Yep. I’m good.”

She had smiled broadly and walked up the stairs to her room. Behind the closed door she blasted Garth Brooks from her stereo, sat at on her bed, laid there on her side for a few moments starring at the blank wall of  her bedroom and then cried until her throat and chest burned.

As if Ben’s breaking up with her to date Angie hadn’t been enough, Molly was in the convenience store a week later when she heard Ben’s voice from another aisle.

“Yeah, I know it is weird,” he was saying. “But it was time. Molly’s a nice girl, but Angie. Dang. Angie. She’s hot. She’s got legs that go for miles. And she’s so slender she just fits against me perfectly, you know?”

One of Ben’s friends laughed a laugh Molly could only think to describe as a dirty laugh. “Fits against you? Dude, how far have things gone with Angie?”

Ben joined the laughter. “That’s personal, man. All I can say is she has way more experience than Molly Tanner ever did or ever will.”

Molly’s sob had caught in her throat as she sat the soda and chips she’d been holding onto the counter and darted outside. Tears streaked her face all the way back to the farm, her hands tightly gripping the steering wheel of her grandfather’s old pickup. At church the pastor always acted like God cared more about what a person looked like inside, but Molly knew that wasn’t what Ben cared about. Somehow, it seemed to matter more at that moment what Ben cared about.

As she drove, she vowed to never again let herself fall for someone like she had fallen for Ben. She’d never let those walls down again, let any man see the deepest parts of her. She was going to keep her distance from men from now on, keep herself from feeling the pain she felt now.

She vowed that one day she’d lose weight and make Ben Oliver regret he’d walked away from her all those years ago. Watching the feed fill the wheelbarrow, Molly felt self-focused anger rage through her. Ben wasn’t going to regret he’d left her if he saw her now. She’d never lost that weight and had maybe gained more. What she hadn’t gained was more experience at whatever she should have had experience at, at whatever experience Angie had had. She was still the same, fat Molly and there was no way Ben would ever regret he had broken up with her

Fiction Thursday: A New Beginning Chapter 29

Ya’ll ended up with an extra chapter last week. Don’t expect another extra chapter this week. *wink*

As always, this is a first draft of the story and also as always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle. You do not need to read A Story to Tell to follow A New Beginning.

Also, this is a work in progress so there are bound to be words missing or other typos. Maybe even plot holes. Feel free to tell me about them in the comments. To follow the story from the beginning, find the link HERE or at the top of the page. This book will be published in full later this spring on Kindle and other sites.

Let me know what you think should happen next and what you think of the story so far in the comments.

Chapter 29

I knocked softly on Judson’s door the next morning and waited nervously on the porch. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t asked him how his father was recovering from the surgery and if they’d been able to work through any of their issues. It seemed like I would be forever self-focused. I’d had an entire 20-minute car ride the night before to focus on someone other than myself and I hadn’t even bothered.

Daddy had taken Jackson to school that morning on his way to work and I had taken the day off after Edith called late the night before to tell me Lily’s baby had been born. It was a boy and Edith asked me to travel with her and Jimmy to pick him up that afternoon. It was a nice morning for a walk from our house to the Worley’s and I needed it. It had given me time to think about everything that had happened the night before, though my mind was still spinning from it all.

I knocked again but when there was no sound inside, I decided he must have gone to work. As I started back down the steps to walk home, I heard the door open behind me.

A groggy voice greeted me. “Hey.”

I turned to see Judson standing in the doorway in a white undershirt and his jeans from the night before, blood dried near the knee. Part of his cheek was swollen and dark blue, almost purple, the eye barely open. I could see the edge of the cut above his eye on the other side under the bandage Mama had placed there. His hair was disheveled and he was unshaven and for some reason the combination made my stomach feel funny in the middle – funny in a good way. I had the same sudden urge I’d had the night before to kiss away all the pain.

“I’m so sorry to wake you.” I felt my knees tremble as I spoke. Why were my knees trembling? I’d spoke to Judson many times before. Today wasn’t any different. Was it?

“I just realized that I’d forgotten last night to ask you how your dad was,” I continued, hoping I didn’t sound as awkward as I felt.

Judson laughed softly and leaned against the door frame, blinking in the bright sunlight. “It’s okay. You were a little preoccupied.” He jerked his head toward the kitchen. “Come on in and we can talk while I make myself some coffee.”

He looked down at himself and rubbed his hand across his chin as I stepped inside. “And after I wash up and shave. I have to head into the job site later. Uncle James gave me the morning off when he heard what happened.”

You don’t need to shave, I thought to myself. You look fine the way you are. Boy do you look fine.

“Did he hear what happened from you?” I asked out loud as I walked past him inside.

Judson grinned. “Not me. Thomas. You know how newspaper men are. They like to spread the news.” He gestured toward the chair across from the couch. “Sit if you like. Excuse the mess. I fell asleep on the couch last night.”

I moved a book aside and sat in the chair, looking at the tangled mess of blankets on the couch, as Judson disappeared down the hallway toward the bathroom. I looked at the book, laying on the floor where I had placed it, John Steinbeck emblazoned on the front. I picked it up, flipping pages as the sound of running water filtered through the bathroom door down the hallway. I had to do something to distract myself from the thought that Judson was just beyond that door, not wearing a stitch of clothing.

We have only one story,” I read to myself. “All novels, all poetry, are built on the never ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.”

Standing, I carried the book to the bookcases along the wall in the dining room, sitting where other people placed china cabinets. I trailed my fingers along the binding of the books, reading the names of the authors, Orwell, Tolkien, Shakespeare, Golding, Fleming, Lewis — as in C.S. Lewis. Good grief, no wonder Judson got along so well with my father.

I touched the edge of the bookcase in front of me, rubbing my hand down the smooth side, knowing Judson had most likely built it and much of the rest of the furniture in the house. My eyes focused on a picture over the mantle above the fireplace. A woman stood in black and white against a backdrop of ivy, her dark hair and dark eyes captivating against pale skin, her head tipped back in an obvious laugh. I guessed by her clothes that the photo was taken some time in the 1930s.

A couple stared out at me from another photo, the woman looking similar to the woman in the larger photo, but older, the man looking almost exactly like Judson but older, his hair thinning slightly, his arms wrapped tightly around the woman. I wondered if they were Judson’s parents. Two small boys were posed against a tobacco barn in another photo. Both boys were wearing denim overalls, shirtless, the youngest missing his front teeth, his hair standing in several directions on top of his head. Looking closer I realized the oldest was the Judson I remembered from our childhood, freckles spread across his nose. Judson walked out of the bathroom, rubbing a towel across his wet hair, as I studied the photograph with a small smile, remembering how obnoxious he’d been back then.

“That’s me and my brother,” he said, standing behind me. A sweet smell of aftershave and shampoo washed over me. “I’m sure you can see I’m the better looking one.”

I winked and walked over to the couch, starting to fold the blankets. “Uh-huh. I see that.”

“You don’t have to clean up after me, you know,” Judson laughed from the kitchen, pouring water into the coffee pot. “Like Hank said last night, I’m a big boy.”

He sat down on the couch a few moments later and patted the cushion next to him as I laid the folded blanket across the back. “Come sit down while the coffee brews and I’ll tell you about my visit down South.”

I winced as I saw the bruises and cuts up closer. “You look worse today than last night.”

He laughed. “Well, gee thanks and I was just going to say you look much better this morning.” He reached over and pushed a strand of hair that had fallen out of my bun behind my ear like he had the day in the barn. “No problems last night?”

I leaned back against the arm of the couch. “None. Now tell me how your dad is.”

Judson propped his arm across the back of the couch. “He’s recovering but it’s going to take a bit. His heart might be weak for a long time, maybe forever but he’s better than he was.”

“Did you two work anything out?”

“No big make up scene, no, but we were at least able to be civil to each other.”

“Well, that’s a start at least.” I pointed toward the photograph on the wall. “Is that him in that photograph?”

Judson nodded. “Yep. That’s him and my mom a few years ago. And that’s my mom in high school in the other photograph. My dad took the photo. It’s one of my favorites so I asked if I could have a copy of it. Dad had it by his hospital bed after the surgery too, but told Mom it paled in comparison to having her there in person. Dad wasn’t always the best with me, but he is definitely much better at being a husband.”

He stood and walked into the kitchen toward the coffee pot. “Hey,” he said over his shoulder. “What did Thomas mean when he said he hoped things would be less complicated with me now?”

Ugh. Thomas. I had hoped Judson would forget about that.

“Oh, who knows,” I said with a wave of my hand, hoping to change the subject. “It’s Thomas.”

“Yeah. Thomas. The guy you went out with while I was gone.”

I laughed. “Yeah. I wasn’t exactly the person he had on his mind that night. I told you he’s dating Midge Flannery, right?”

“Isn’t her dad the pastor at the Methodist Church?”


“And she’s dating Thomas? Seriously?”

“Yeah. I know, but Thomas said maybe she’ll help him turn over a new leaf. Let’s just hope it’s not the other way around.”

Judson laughed from the kitchen. I could see him through the doorway, adding creamer and sugar to his coffee. I tried not to stare at him as he moved between the refrigerator and the counter, but I was like a deer caught in headlights, my gaze drifting over his broad shoulders and finely toned arms.

“Did you want a cup of coffee?”

“What?” I looked away as he glanced at me “Oh. No. Um… actually, you know what? I’m not really a coffee fan.”

“Oh. How about a glass of juice instead?”

“I’d much more prefer that. Yes.”

My gaze fell on the bruises on Judson’s cheek as he leaned over to place the juice on the coffee table in front of me a few moments later, my heart aching. He was in pain because of me and I didn’t like it. He sat next to me, sipping the coffee.

“It doesn’t hurt as bad as it looks,” he said, as if reading my mind.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“What are you sorry for?”

“For Hank. For causing you to be in pain, for —”

Judson laughed, interrupting me. “You didn’t cause me any pain. I’m the one who inserted myself into that situation. I could have handled it a lot better than I did. I didn’t have to keep letting him egg me on. All I had to do was take you by the arm and lead you to my truck, but like I said last night – I wanted him to pay.”

He rubbed his chin, wincing slightly. “I’m not proud of myself but I guess I wanted him to feel what it’s like to be on the other end of a beating. The only problem is that verse in the Bible: ‘Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.’ I guess I didn’t trust the Lord to bestow vengeance on Hank in the way I wanted and took it upon myself. I shouldn’t have done that. Of course, it didn’t help that Emmy she filled me in on what else Hank had done to you.”

He looked at me and I saw regret in his eyes. I felt warmth rush into my face. I knew Emmy had told him about Hank cheating on me and I couldn’t decide if it made me angry or not that she had. I had realized long ago that Hank’s choosing another woman over me had made me feel unworthy and incapable of being truly loved by another man. It had made my insides ache with embarrassment.

Telling Emmy and Edith, and then much later Mama and Daddy, had been humiliating, even though they all insisted the issue was his, not mine. Knowing that Judson now knew I hadn’t been  — dare I even think it — woman enough for my husband, was like having a deep secret exposed to the light. It was a secret I somehow felt would make Judson look at me like Hank once had, not only as someone who wasn’t pretty enough, but also someone who couldn’t fulfill her husband’s physical or emotional needs.

I lowered my eyes, picking at a thread on the bottom of my shirt.

“She told you that?”

“Yeah, I hope it doesn’t upset you, but it sort of slipped out when she was in one of her ranting modes a couple weeks ago.” He rubbed his hand across his chin and winced. “You know how she gets.”

I laughed softly, my eyes still on my shirt. “Oh, I do.”

Judson took a sip of his coffee. “I called to update her on my dad and she told me Hank had been in town. She said after all he’d done to you, he had better not try to see you. After cheating on you and smacking you around, he was worthless, she said, and she didn’t want him near you or Jackson. I think if she’d had a gun in her hand she would have gone after him like your dad did all those years ago.”

I tipped my head at Judson, narrowing my eyes. “So, you already knew Hank had been in town when you acted indignant last night that I didn’t tell you.”

Judson placed the coffee mug on the corner of the coffee table, laying his arm over the back of the couch and grinned.

“Yeah. Just trying to make you feel like a heel for not telling me.”

His grin faded into a more serious expression and his voice lowered to a soothing, comforting tone. “Listen, I’m sorry he did that to you. I can’t imagine any man tossing you aside for someone else. You’re worth much more than that.”

I bit my lower lip, tears stinging my eyes. I shook my head to shake them away and push down the emotion. “It’s fine. That was a long time ago.”

I cleared my throat and blinked the tears away, looking up at him. “For what it’s worth, I appreciate what you did for me last night.”

I reached over and laid my hand over his, but immediately felt awkward being so intimate and pulled my hand back, laying it in my lap.

He looked at me and his smile sent my heart pounding hard in my chest. Looking into his blue eyes, I was transported back to that night at the lake, his lips against mine, his arms around me when I’d started to run away.

He reached down and enclosed his hand around mine. He rubbed the top of it with his thumb, then lifted it, his mouth grazing the palm. His voice was barely a whisper. “For what it’s worth, I would do it again.”

The way he was speaking, his gaze never wavering from mine, made me consider jumping away before he moved any closer, but I didn’t need to worry about it. A knock on the front door startled us both and I pulled my hand quickly from his, not sure if I was relieved or disappointed.

“I guess I should get that,” he said with a sigh.

I recognized Marion’s voice as he opened the door. “Oh Judson! You look awful!”

“Well, Mrs. Hakes, thank you,” Judson laughed. “This is the second time today someone has told me that. You, however, look lovely.”

Stepping inside Marion laid her hand against the side of Judson’s face, tears in her eyes. “I’m so sorry for what Hank did to you. I just stopped at Alan and Janie’s to check on Blanche this morning and they told me what had happened. I’m so sorry for what he did to you. If I had known he was back in town, I would have warned Blanche.”

Judson took Marion’s hands in his and looked her in the eye. “Mrs. Hakes, you have nothing to apologize for.”

“He’s my son . . .”

“He’s not your responsibility anymore, ma’am,” Judson said firmly. “He’s a grown man.”

Marion nodded, a tear slipping down her cheek as Judson hugged her gently. “And besides. I’m fine. I’m sore but I’m in better shape than I could be.”

Marion walked over to me and sat down, taking my hand. “Hank called me this morning and said he’s leaving for bootcamp. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about him again anytime soon.”

Edith and Jimmy appeared in the doorway as Marion spoke, concern etched on both their faces. It was like a full-on family reunion at this point and I realized my family had some of the worst timing of anyone I’d ever met.

“Judson!” Edith cried, rushing toward Judson. “Oh, you look just awful! Are you okay? We stopped to pick up Blanche and Mama said she had come to check on you and filled us in.”

“I’m fine,” Judson said again. “Really. All of your concern is certainly appreciated. Although, can you all stop saying how awful I look? I’m starting to get depressed.”

Jimmy stepped inside the door, standing behind Edith. “Please tell me you nailed him good,” he said, then catching Marion’s eye he cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Mrs. Hakes. I mean —”

Marion laughed as she wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. “It’s perfectly fine, Jimmy. A good beating is what Hank needed.”

After a few more moments of conversation, Marion said she would leave Judson alone to get ready for work and I followed Edith and Jimmy to their car, hugging Judson quickly before I left. He stood on the porch, leaning against the porch column as he watched us drive away. I looked back at him, knowing we would eventually need to talk about all the tender moments between us, the kisses and the gentle touches that were waking my soul to the possibility of love. And I knew I would eventually have to decide what all those moments meant for the walls I had built around me.