Yesterday I gave you a sneak peek of today’s chapter of The Farmer’s Daughter, but as I was getting the post ready for today, I realized that sneak peek was actually for Saturday’s special fiction post. Whoops! Well, anyhow, it’s been one of those weeks!
To catch up on The Farmer’s Daughter’s previous chapters, find the link at the top of the page or click HERE.
The sun was bright, the breeze gentle Saturday morning when Molly packed blueberry muffins, fresh milk and cheese, and apple slices into a picnic basket, preparing for the drive up the hill to her grandparent’s home. Her grandmother lived alone there now with her cat Macy and a dozen or so chickens out back.
The four years Molly cared for her grandfather as he battled Alzheimers and heart failure had made Molly question God’s existence more than she liked to admit. It had been torture to watch her grandfather fade from sharp and full of life to a confused, weak, shell of his former self.
Almost as hard as watching her grandfather fade away was watching her grandmother’s grief gradually manifest itself into bitterness and anger over the last year. Molly wished she could walk into her grandmother’s house again and see the grandmother she’d known growing up – sweet, caring and excited about life.
Molly caught sight of Alex standing outside the barn, leaning back against the front of a tractor as she walked into the bright sunshine with the basket. One leg was crossed over the other and Molly’s breath caught when she saw him. Good grief, was it just her or he had suddenly become even more handsome over night?
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Where you headed off to?”
“Taking some goodies to Grandma,” Molly said, opening the door to the old farm truck her dad had fixed up for her.
“Where’s your little red hood?”
Molly laughed as she slid behind the steering wheel. “The wolf stole it.”
Alex walked to the truck and pushed the door closed behind Molly. The window was already rolled down, and he leaned on the edge of it, a whiff of his aftershave drifting toward Molly and sending a surge of unexpected pleasure coursing through her.
“Drive safe, Molly Bell,” he drawled in a fake Southern accent.
Molly tipped her head to one side, amused, but also bewildered by his behavior. “My middle name is Anne. And it’s just up the road, so I’m sure I’ll be fine, Alex.”
“Oh, is it?” Alex pushed his hand back through his hair, leaving it disheveled but somehow still attractive. “Well, then, drive safe, Molly Anne.”
Molly wasn’t sure what to make of Alex’s recent increased attention to her, but the way he said her name made her heartbeat faster. She watched him walk away, admiring how his jeans fit perfectly and his white T-shirt did nothing to hide the muscles underneath.
Molly had once thought of Alex as another brother and she was sure he had thought of her as a sister. The two of them had been joking and teasing each other since he started working on the farm five years ago, but recently the tone of their teasing had changed; exactly how Molly couldn’t explain, other than to say it was less childish and more edgy with flirting overtones.
How she viewed Alex was starting to change too. Her heart pounded faster when she was near him, her eyes lingered longer on his retreating form or his tanned biceps when he lifted hay into the cows’ trough, and the sound of his voice sent a buzz of excitement skittering through her limbs. If his hand grazed her skin while handing her something, she immediately felt a weakness in her knees that made her flush warm with embarrassment.
She shifted the truck into gear and shook her head, trying to shake the thoughts of Alex from her mind. She had other things to think about today. Alex Stone would have to wait.
Her grandmother’s house was a mile from her parents, nestled in between a grove of trees at the edge of the family’s farm, where her great-grandfather had built it almost 102 years ago, farming the land around it, That first farm, 150 acres large, had expanded over the years until it became the 400-acres the Tanners now farmed on. Molly drove past the sign designating the farm as a Century Farm in the state of Pennsylvania and turned into the dirt driveway, pulling the car up in front of the garage.
Behind the house was the barn where the Tanners now stored much of their equipment and some of their feed, a chicken coup, which Franny Tanner still visited each morning to collect eggs for her breakfast, a large oak tree with a swing hanging from one of its large branches, and further beyond the yard was the corn fields her father and uncle now harvested each year.
Molly’s grandmother, sitting on the front porch, rocked slowly in one of the rocking chairs her grandfather had built when he’d finally handed over the reins of the farm to his sons, not fully retiring, but finally relenting to working less and rocking more.
Franny looked up to watch Molly pull into the driveway, her heart softening at her second born grandchild. Her grandchildren were the highlights of her day, even on the days she resented their overuse of digital devices. Molly was different than her younger cousins, though. She wasn’t interested in cellphones or notepads or whatever they were called. She worked hard, cared for her family and took on the bulk of the responsibility at the family’s farm store. Franny was proud of her and she wished she could say it without feeling like she might completely fall apart emotionally.
Molly carried a basket with her and bent to kiss Franny on the cheek. “Hey, gran. I brought you some muffins I baked the other day.”
“Thank you, hon’. That’ll be a nice treat. Why don’t you make us a plate and we can sit out here and chat a bit? There’s some lemonade in the fridge.”
Molly set the basket down in the kitchen, poured the lemonade into two glasses she pulled out, and placed two muffins on plates.
Back outside, carrying the tray, she noticed her grandmother’s furrowed eyebrows and thin-lipped mouth, a clear sign something was bothering her.
“You okay, gran?” Molly asked, placing the tray down on the small table between the two rocking chairs.
Her grandmother’s familiar smile quickly returned but Molly could tell it was forced.
“Of course, honey.”
Her answer was curt, and Molly knew she’d been thinking about something that made her sad.
“So, how is it going on the farm?” Franny asked.
“Good. Dad and Alex are working on the tractor. It broke down, but they think they can fix it. We’re baking the rest of the cakes for the rummage sale. Hopefully, they will be fresh enough for Mavis –“
“That Mavis. Always worried about things being fresh. I guess that’s why she’s been married three times.”
Molly tried not to laugh.
“Grandma, that’s not nice.”
“But it’s true.”
Franny looked Molly up and down as Molly stood and leaned against the porch railing. Molly’s curves were still there, but she had definitely been gaining weight over the years. Franny had been in such a fog after Ned died, she was only now starting to notice changes in those around her.
“What happened to you anyhow?” Franny said disapprovingly before she even thought about her words. “You used to be so skinny.”
Molly looked at the ground quickly. Franny saw the pain in her granddaughter’s face and felt immediate guilt. Why did she keep blurting awful things at people? It was as if her brain and mouth had become disconnected and she didn’t know how to reconnect it. She remembered thinking as a teenager and young adult that old people could be so rude. Her mother had told her it wasn’t that they were rude, they just weren’t afraid to say what they thought anymore.
Was that it? Did she really think her precious granddaughter who had done so much to help her and Ned when he was sick needed to be reminded that she’d gained weight? Did she really not care that she had just hurt her granddaughter’s feelings? She knew that wasn’t true. A sharp twinge of remorse twisted deep inside her.
“Well, life happens, Grandma,” Molly said with a shrug. “Some people just gain weight.”
Franny looked at a butterfly on the bush in front of the house, shame overwhelming her. She swallowed hard.
“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I didn’t mean that to come out like that – I just wasn’t thinking about . . . about how it sounded.”
Franny realized she sounded like that upstart pastor who had visited her the other day now. He had stuttered and fallen over his words like a drunk man walking home from the bar and now she was doing the same thing.
Molly sighed. “It’s okay, Gram. You’re right. I have gained weight. I need to work on it and lose it again. I’ve joined the new gym in town. Liz asked me to join with her. I thought I’d see if I can get back into shape.”
Franny knew it wasn’t okay. Her granddaughter was too nice to say so. She wished she hadn’t said anything.
“Well, that will be nice,” she said, even though she didn’t think Molly really need to join a gym.
She was just going through a phase. The weight would come off eventually. Franny was sure of it.
Molly walked toward the front door, smiling again, but Franny knew she was still hurt, and the smile was an attempt to cover it.
“Hey, how about I get the paper and we read the funny pages?” Molly asked.
Franny reached out and touched Molly’s hand, trying to say again how sorry she was for the hurtful question. She smiled. “I’d enjoy that, yes. Make sure to read me Beetle Bailey. He’s my favorite.”
Franny felt like crying when Molly went into the house for the newspaper, but she couldn’t let herself cry. If she did, she might never stop. She simply had to be better about letting her thoughts fly free and she had to learn how to be nice again.
Molly carried the tray from the front porch to the kitchen, her eyes wandering to the stairwell, her mind wandering to memories of when she’d come here every day to help care for her grandfather when the dementia had become worse.
“Hannah? Is that you?” he had asked two years ago as she straightened his blankets and pulled them around him in his chair in his room.
“No, Grandpa. It’s Molly.”
Her grandfather was silent as he slid his fingers across the edge of the blanket, his eyebrows furrowing.
“Do I know a Molly?” he asked looking up at her, his blue eyes clouded in confusion.
“Yes, you do,” Molly said, telling him for the third time that day. “I’m your granddaughter. Your son Robert’s daughter.”
“Oh, I see.” Her grandfather still looked confused but forced a smile.
“I bought you some lunch, Grandpa,” she said, turning to the tray she had carried in.
“I don’t want lunch.”
“It’s your favorite. Baked beans and ham.”
“I don’t like baked beans.”
“You actually do.”
“I don’t like it and I don’t want it!” he shouted.
Molly sighed and sat on the chair across from him. She glanced at the CD player on the dresser next to the bed.
“How about some music?” she asked, remembering how music had calmed him in the past.
Pushing play, she began to sing when the words began after a short musical interlude.
“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul”
She watched her grandfather’s face, as she sang. At first, he stared at her as he often did. His eyes looking at her, yet through her. Then slowly he began to repeat the words, his expression fading from confusion to peace.
“It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul”
Molly sang with him.
“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul
It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul”
“I like that song,” he said with a smile as the song ended. “I used to sing that song with my granddaughter.”
“You still sing that song with her, Grandpa.”
He looked at her, a slight smile tugging at his mouth.
“Oh, Molly,” he said softly, tears in his eyes as he patted her hand. “Is that you?”
Molly clasped her hand over his, watching tears spill down his cheeks. “It is, Grandpa.”
“I love you, Molly girl,” he whispered, leaning up to kiss her cheek.
Molly fought back the tears and returned the kiss.
“I love you too, Grandpa.”