Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 11

This is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, and after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE.

Chapter 11

Judi had vowed not to ask Ben any more about his daughter. Her brutal curiosity about the personal lives of others was a flaw she’d told herself she would work on when she left the city.

After their conversation, she’d managed to get the letter typed, despite almost forgetting how to, since she hadn’t typed more than a text since her high school business class. He’d thanked her for her help and then told her she could go home early. He had a headache, he’d said.

While she previously would have simply skipped out of the office, excited to head off to a club or a party, she found herself fighting mixed emotions. One of those emotions was depression over the fact she really had nowhere to go except back to her apartment. The other emotion was guilt. If it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t be dealing with these reoccurring headaches, and he’d probably be able to drive to his daughter’s birthday party.

She really hadn’t seen him coming that day on the road, but, well, she had sort of glided through the stop sign. She wouldn’t have glided if she had seen him buzzing down the road toward her, however. It wasn’t like he was completely innocent either. He had been driving much faster than he should have been.

Standing by her car, her thumb on the unlock button on the key fob, she sighed and hesitated. Ben had been nice enough to give her a job, which though part time, had helped her not have to be at Lonny’s as often. He seemed to be going through a rough patch, and like her was trying to keep himself clean and sober.

She didn’t want to go back to drinking and she had a feeling he didn’t either. Maybe she should make sure he was okay, lift some pressure from his shoulders a little.

He visibly jumped from where he was standing at the filing cabinets behind her desk when she walked back in. “I thought you were heading out.”

“I was, but I thought I should check on you.”

Ben eyed her with what she felt was suspicion, though she couldn’t be sure since he often looked suspicious, which she imagined was because he was a lawyer.

“Uh. Okay. Well, I’m fine.”

“You say you’re fine, but you’ve had a lot going on. I mean, you’ve got brain damage and —”

“Brain swelling, Judi. A concussion. Would you stop saying I have brain damage?”

“Right. Anyhow, you’ve got that and now you can’t go to your daughter’s birthday party. and I feel like that’s my fault even though I totally didn’t see you coming that day.”

“I’ve told you already that I’m not upset about the accident any — wait.” Ben’s brows dipped and he placed his hands on his hips. Judi wasn’t sure what that pose meant but she didn’t think it could be good. “Were you listening in to my conversation?”

Oh. Right. She wasn’t supposed to know about the party.

She grimaced, closing her eyes. “Well, not exactly.” She slowly opened one eye to spy on the angry expression his face was now featuring. “Okay, so here is the thing — when I transferred Mr. Phillipi, I accidentally hit the speaker button. Then I was afraid to push it back off in case it beeped, and you thought I was listening in, but then I realized I was actually listening in so I shut it off, but before I did I heard something about a party.”

His expression relaxed slightly, but the suspicion had returned. “And you assumed it was a party for Amelia?”

“Yeah, if Amelia is your daughter’s name.” She waited for him to respond, but he didn’t. He simply stood there looking at her as if he was waiting for her to continue. “Soooo…is it a party for her?”

Ben folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against her desk. “It is. But as you heard, I can’t attend it because of the concussion.”

“Right.” Judi took a deep breath and stepped toward him. “That’s why I was thinking that maybe I could drive you to the party.”

Ben held a hand up. “Judi, no. Thank you, but no.”

“Why not? I promise I’ll be careful and drive better than usual.”

“It’s a four-hour drive for one thing.”

“So? I drove all the way here from the city. I know how to drive long distances.”

Ben sighed and shook his head as he turned toward his office. “Listen, I appreciate the offer, but I already told Adam I couldn’t make it, so it’s fine.” He shut his briefcase, picked it up, and shut the light off on his way out. “I sent him a check for her gift, so she’ll have something from me.”

“But don’t you want to see her?”

She knew as soon as she asked it, she shouldn’t have. Ben’s expression darkened as he walked toward the front door. “It isn’t that I don’t want to see her. It’s that Angie doesn’t want me to see her. Angie doesn’t want anything to do with me.” He pushed the door open and waited for her to walk through, then turned and locked it after she stepped out onto the sidewalk. “In fact, Angie specifically asked me not to be there.”

“Oh.”

She didn’t know what else to say, other than, “I’m sorry. Again. I seem to have this compulsion to ask too many questions and stick my nose way too far into other people’s business.” She shrugged her shoulders in a quick motion.

Ben pushed a hand back through his hair and held it there for a few seconds. “I really do appreciate you wanting to help. I know you mean well.”

Judi nodded and told him she’d see him tomorrow. In her car, she sat for a few minutes before pulling out to start the 20-minute drive home. Ben had said he didn’t want her help and maybe he didn’t, but she felt like he needed it. He needed someone to light a fire under him and get his life back in order.

He was going to regret not getting to know his daughter. Judi wasn’t even sure she wanted a family someday, but Ben? He seemed like the kind of guy who would fit into that kind of life. What he needed was a push in the right direction and if there was anything she liked, it was pushing people around.

***

Ben woke with a start. What time was it? The sun told him it was way past when he normally woke up. He fumbled for his alarm clock, squinted at it and groaned. 8:45. He should have been up an hour and a half ago. It was Judi’s day off and he should have been in to answer phones and — Wait. No. He rubbed a hand through his hair.

It wasn’t Friday. He’d already worked through Judi’s day off.

He fell back on the bed and squeezed his eyes shut against the sunlight. It was Saturday. He didn’t have to answer any phones, meet any clients, or even go anywhere. He pulled his feet up onto the bed and slid them under the covers, ready to go back to bed and ignore the buzz in his head from the sleep still lingering there.

Ten minutes later, though, he was woken up again with a crisp knock on his front door. He peeked an eye open and closed it again. Whoever it was would get the message and go away when he didn’t respond.

Two minutes later, there was another knock.

No way. He was not climbing out of his bed. The headache he’d had the night before had faded to a dull ache, but he still felt like he could sleep for another eight hours.

Four solid, louder knocks later, he finally crawled out of the bed and stumbled through the doorway of his bedroom, through the living room and to the front door. He propped his head against the wall next to the door and took a deep breath to try wake himself up before he opened the door.

When he opened it he wanted to close it again, but Judi was too quick. She breezed past him with two cups of coffee in a holder and a brown paper bag.

“Good morning!” she chirped cheerfully while he stood watching her with half open eyes.

“Yes. It’s morning. Good? Well, it was good before you woke me up.”

She sat the coffees and bag on the table and turned toward him. “Ooh. I thought you were a morning person. I guess not.”

He closed the door and staggered toward the kitchen table, flopping down into a chair and resting his head on the top of the table. “What are you doing here?” He lifted his head quickly. “Not only what are you doing here, but how did you find me?”

Judi popped the lid off her coffee and poured in creamer she pulled from the bag. She stirred it with a small stir stick. “Seriously? Burkett isn’t much bigger than Spencer. I asked around.” She sipped the coffee. “So what day is that birthday party?”

Ben rubbed a hand across his face. “Today. Why?”

“What time?”

“3 p.m. Why?”

Judi pulled a donut from the bag and bit into it. “Because deep down you want to be there and you want me to drive you.” She spoke around a mouthful of donut.

“No. Deep down I want for you to get out of my apartment so I can go back to sleep.”

Judi pulled the coffee from the carrier and set it down in front of him. “I’m going to drive you down to your daughter’s party.”

“I already told you I’m not going.”

“It’s 9:30. If you hurry up and get dressed, we can totally make it.”

Ben took the lid off the coffee and stood. He walked to the refrigerator and reached in for a bottle of creamer. “No way. I am not going anywhere with you. You’re a horrible driver.”

“Excuse me?” Judi scoffed, brushing donut crumbs off her hands. “I am not a horrible driver. That was a total accident, you know that.”

“Judi.” Ben poured the creamer in the coffee and sat back down at the table. “Go home.”

“Aren’t you going to stir that?”

Ben propped his chin on his hand and sipped the coffee. “I’m too tired to stir.”

Judi placed her hands on her hips. “You could have died in that accident you know.”

He quirked an eyebrow as he looked up at her. “I don’t know about that, but the doctor did say I could be learning to walk and talk again right now.” He sat back in the chair and folded his arms across his chest. “Thanks to you.”

“Didn’t you also say something about that doctor saying this was your second chance at life?”

Ben reached for the donut and broke it in half. “It’s strange you can remember all the things the doctor told me when you can’t remember to bring me files that I ask for or to finish typing up letters I need to send out.”

Judi sat at the table across from him. “Ben, you’re going to regret not getting to know your daughter.”

Ben shoved the half of donut in his mouth and stood, walking back toward the counter. “Go home, Judi.” He reached for a cup in a cupboard by the fridge and poured himself a glass of milk. “Thanks for the coffee and donuts, but, seriously, go home.”

“You need to go see your little girl. Don’t throw this opportunity away.”

“Judi!” Ben turned with the glass of milk in his hand. “This isn’t any of your business. I am asking you to —

“I want to help you, Ben. When I stopped drinking, I said I wanted to be a better person and this is one way I can be a better person. I can help you get your life back on track. My life is a disaster. I don’t have any friends left. My sister treats me like a lost puppy or one of her preschool students. My parents call me several times a day to make sure I haven’t fallen off the wagon. I’m pretty sure my sponsor thinks I’m already back on the bottle.”

Ben held a hand up. “I’m sorry your life is so messed up, but my life is fine, and I want to leave it that way.”

Judi huffed out an exasperated sigh. “But your life isn’t fine! You don’t have anything to do with the little girl you helped bring into the world and one day you’re going to regret it. I don’t want to live with regrets anymore. Do you?” She stood and stepped toward him. “You have a second chance to make things right, even if it is just —”

“Angie doesn’t want me involved in her life or our daughter’s life.” Ben hated how sharp his voice came out. He knew Judi was only trying to help and she was right, he didn’t want to have anymore regrets, but still  — He softened his voice. “I can’t just force myself into a situation she’s told me she doesn’t want me involved in.” He stepped back to the table and sat down and drank the rest of the milk. “Thank you for trying to help. Really. But I need to respect Angie’s wishes.”

Judi sat down with a heavy sigh and picked up the cup of coffee. “I thought you had some fight in you Ben Oliver.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Apparently, that’s not the case.”

Ben wasn’t about to tell Judi that he’d already had another phone call from Adam, asking him if he would reconsider coming to the party. Luckily the call had gone to his voicemail, and he hadn’t had to tell the man, again, he wasn’t going to come.

There had been something in Adam’s voice though. Something that made Ben think maybe he should take Judi up on her offer. A sudden thought made Ben’s stomach tighten. What if that “something” was related to Amelia. What if she was sick? Maybe Adam and Leona wanted to talk to him about that. Or what if it was Angie? Could something be wrong with Angie?

He raked a hand through his hair and growled softly. “Fine. I’ll go.”

Judi looked up from her coffee, startled. “Really?”

Ben shook his head as he walked toward his bedroom. “Yes, really. I’ll take a shower, get dressed and we’ll go.”

He couldn’t believe he was doing this and Judi’s squeal from his kitchen sent an annoyed shiver crawling up his spine. He had no idea how Angie was going to react to this visit, but he had a feeling it wasn’t going to be positive.

Fiction Friday: Some thoughts about when I know a story is starting to click

The best part of writing a fiction story is when the characters start to come to life in my mind. When that happens, I start to daydream about them— including their interactions, personalities, and conversations they might have with other characters. The magic really happens later on the page as I start to write it all down and the character starts to tell me their story from their point of view.

The daydreaming phase has started with Mercy’s Shore, book four in the Spencer Valley series, when I thought it might never come. This week I started to get to know Ben Oliver, the main character, better Now that we are getting a feel for each other, I’ll be able to tell his story.

It will take me a few more chapters before I really know Ben, obviously, but he’s starting to give me a peek at who he is, which he also did when I started to write a character biography for him a month or so ago.

Only through his actions, conversations, and interactions with those around him will I really find out who he is, though, and that will require me to just write.

As I write scenes begin to piece themselves together, other characters begin to show themselves, and conversations evolve from one piece of dialogue to the next as I imagine what one person would say and what the logical, or more interestingly, the more illogical response will be.

Before I know it, I’ll have Ben’s full story down on the page.

Now I just have to get to know Judi even better than I did in Harvesting Hope and add her story to the mix. Or maybe I’ll just stick with Ben telling the story. I plan to make that decision this weekend, but I have a feeling that Judi is the kind of person who isn’t going to let someone else tell her story. Not again that is. Ellie told it for the most part in Harvesting Hope. Now it’s Judi’s turn to speak out.

Now a little update for my blog readers on future plans for the Spencer Valley Chronicles:

As it stands now, I have (possible) plans for at least one more full-length novel and three novellas.

One novella will focus on the story of Molly’s grandparents Ned and Franny Tanner and will be historical in nature as we go back to when they first met.

Another novella will focus on the origin story of Robert and Annie, Molly’s parents.

A third novella will focus on Ginny and Stan Jefferies’ (you will learn more about them in Beauty From Ashes if you didn’t read the chapters on here) daughter Olivia and . . .well, you’ll have to wait to find out.

The full-length novel will feature Alex from The Farmer’s Daughter as the main character as he works through issues with his father, who, if you remember from The Farmer’s Daughter (spoiler if you have not read that) had been diagnosed with cancer.

I won’t give a time frame for when all these books and novellas will come out since I do have a couple of stand-alone books I am interested in writing in between.

I had considered writing a book about Spencer’s newspaper editor, Liam Finley, and I may still do that but I don’t know if I will include that book as part of the Spencer Valley Chronicles, or make it a separate, stand-alone novel. That story is starting to capture my attention more and more, probably because of my own background in newspapers and my current connection to them as well.

If you’ve been following along with these stories, what storyline most intrigues you? And are there stories of other characters you would like to see expanded on as well?

Tell Me More About . . . Robin W. Pearson, author

Tell Me More About . . . is a feature which focuses on every day people from a variety of walks of life who impact the world around them in big or small ways.

Robin W. Pearson is one my favorite authors and she’s only written two books. Robin, if you are reading this, I’m not only saying this about you to flatter you. I love the way you weave a story. I’m very serious.

Her debut book, A Long Time Comin’ is award winning (the Christy Award which is one of the top literary awards in Christian fiction) and she released ‘Til I Want No More earlier this year and showed she’s not a one-hit writer. She’s just finished the manuscript for her third book and I am so excited to find out what it is all about I’ve been stalking her social media for when she shares that news. Okay, I’m not really stalking her social media. I am occassionally checking in for when she makes that announcement. Anyhow, let’s get on to telling you, my readers, more about Robin.

Thank you, Robin, for agreeing to take part in this feature.

First, tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from originally? Tell us about your family, your interests and your hobbies, any jobs you had before you were an author. 

I’m a hugger by birth, though that may have something to do with being born, raised, and educated in North Carolina. After graduating from college, I took my hugs on the road when Hubby and I settled in Massachusetts. There, I started as an admin for Houghton Mifflin Company and worked my way up to an editor before we relocated, grew our family with a few dogs and more than a few little people, and I began freelancing as a writer and editor. A few years ago, Hubby and I returned to our home state, but I’d have to use both hands to count the number of times we’ve moved up, down, ad around the East Coast.  

As a wife, writer, and a homeschooling mama of seven, I don’t have much time for my “interests and hobbies.” In a perfect world, I would read as much as I wanted, do Sudoku puzzles and crosswords, watch crime dramas, eat Chinese and Mexican food (on separate plates, mind you), and stay up late and sleep in.  

You’ve had two fiction books published in the last couple of years. Tell us what inspired you to start writing fiction? If you don’t mind, please also share what inspired your first book A Long Time Comin’ and your second book, ‘Til I Want No More. 

My family inspired me to write—the people I came from and the ones who came from me. I wanted to preserve our traditions and stories and pass them along, and one day this fictional character popped into my mind—Granny B. She took a seat on her front porch with her bushel of butter beans and commenced to telling me her story about her children and her life in Spring Hope. There was nothing I could do but write it all down, and that became my debut, A Long Time Comin’.  

A different season of life and the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau inspired ‘Til I Want No More, my second novel. Like Jacob, my main character Maxine Owens is carrying around a life-sized burden she’s run from for years. But one day, her “Esau” showed up.  

I want to use my work—both my fiction and my devotionals—to show what real faith looks like in real life and in real time.  

What advice would you give to other writers who hope to someday write a full book or simply enjoy writing in general?

Throw away your laptop and find a job as a calculus teacher. Totally less stressful. If that’s not an option then… 

  • pray and seek God for your purpose and stay true to it,  
  • don’t keep track of the rejection letters or mount the commendations on your wall,  
  • take lots of notes, and write down your ideas, no matter how strange, inconsequential, or random, 
  • write regularly, 
  • write your own story, not someone else’s. 


What hobbies do you have outside of writing? If you don’t have time for hobbies, what hobbies do you wish you had?
 

I wish I loved to exercise, but I’m persnickety enough to make myself do what I don’t want to do…sometimes. And as much as I love food, I should be able to grow it. We started a container garden, so we’ll see how that goes. Also, I think as a homeschooling mama, I should be able sew or regularly engage in some type of craft-related, useful activity, but…alas, no. While I am creative and imaginative, these fingers were made for typing, playing the piano and board games, and pressing the buttons on my remote.  



What has been the best part of being an author? 

Doing what I love amidst the people I love where I love to be. It’s a gift from the Lord. And there’s nothing like hearing from a reader that something I wrote impacted or inspired them. So grateful! 

What advice would you offer to the younger version of yourself?
“Don’t let acceptance (or lack of it) make or break you. Believe what God says about you and to you. Remember He made you exactly the way you are, fearfully and wonderfully, despite anything else you see, read, or hear. Now, quit your whining.”

Please let us know about any future projects you may have coming up and where readers can find out more about you, your books, and future projects?

I’ve recently submitted my third manuscript to my publisher, so right now I’m checking my e-mail thirty times an hour for word from my editor and resisting the urge to pepper her with “So, what do you think?” emails. This next book is set for release in Spring 2022. Currently, you can read my first and second books wherever books are sold and on the shelf of your local library. Readers can learn more about who gives me gray hair and what makes me sing at RobinWPearson.com, in my Robin’s Nest newsletter, or find me on social media using @robinwpearson.  

Flash Fiction: Strike It Rich

I am still working on this one, but still thought I’d share it for fun.

It was rejected for a flash Fiction magazine but I was given some pointers to improve it. I may share it again when I touch it up.

Strike it Rich

“Holton Fields, you can’t be serious.” Her voice grated on his nerves like a baby rabbit stuck in a garden fence. “Put that contraption down and get back in this camper.”

But he wasn’t going to put that contraption, as Lulabelle called it, down. No siree, he was not. That contraption was the key to his fortune, and he aimed to use it tomorrow up there in those hills right in front of him.

“Why do you think I brought you all the way out here to Wyoming, woman? Just to sight-see? No. I’m here to make us some money. Just like Charlie Steen.”

Lulabelle propped a hand on her hip and tipped her head. “What crazy stories you been listening to?” Wearing a pair of thigh high denim jeans and a sleeveless red and white checkered shirt tied above her belly button, she looked like a movie start to him. If he hadn’t been so annoyed with her, Holton would have been turned on.

Now her arms were tight across her chest. “And who is this Steen fellow anyhow?”

“That guy I read about in the paper. I told you. He’s rich now. Made all that money when he found the uranium over there in Utah.”

Lulabelle rolled her eyes. “Uranium sounds like a disease.”

Holton slapped his hand to his forehead. “It’s a metal, Lulabelle. An expensive metal that Steen made a bunch of money from and now I’m going to do the same thing.” He shook his head and twisted the knobs on the machine he’d bought from George Kissinger before he left.

“It’s a waste of time, Fields,” George had told him. “It’s all wishful thinking. A pipe dream. There ain’t no way to strike it rich looking for that stuff. Steen got lucky. That’s all.”

Holton ignored him though. He was going to find uranium. He’d been studying how to do it. Read all the books he could find at the library. Read all the articles in the paper about that Steen fellow. He’d even talked to a professor at the local college.

All he’d needed was that Geiger machine and George had sold him that. He’d cashed in his life savings, bought the camper and took off for Wyoming. The land there was ripe for picking. That’s what it’d said in the newspaper.

“How you going to use that thing anyhow?” Lulabelle was looking over his shoulder now.

“I’m going to go up in those mountains and do some digging, and this machine will tell me when I strike it rich.”

His wife pursed her lips together and played with a dark curl draped across her shoulder. She looked past him at the mountains. “Those mountains don’t look safe to me. I don’t think you should go. You might fall down a hole and break your neck, and then what will I do? I’ll be all alone. All alone in this camper with no way to get home to my mama.”

Why did women always go to the worst-case scenarios? Break his neck. Good grief. What Lulabelle needed was for him to paint her a positive picture.

“Now come on Lulabelle, baby.” He hoisted the machine against his shoulder and turned to face her. “Don’t think that way. I’m out here for you. I promised you the moon when we got married, didn’t I? Told you I’d find a way to give you everything you wanted. Don’t you want to be living high on the hog like those Rockefellers? Don’t you want a fancy house on the river? A fancy car to drive and a mink coat to wear? I’m going to go up there tomorrow so I can give you all that and more.”

Both hands dropped to her hips and her eyebrows dipped down. “I’m allergic to mink, Holton. It makes me break out in hives. All over my body. You know that. Or you would if you ever paid attention to anything other than all these hairbrained ideas of yours.”

Hairbrained ideas. That’s gratitude for you. Didn’t that door-to-door book salesman thing do okay? Before he’d left the books out in the rain and had to pay the company back all the money he’d made?

Fine.

So that idea didn’t work, but what about buying those hens and selling eggs? That worked for a few months.

Until that he’d left the door open, and the coyotes ate them all.

“Yeah, well, you might be right.” He set the machine in the back of his pickup. “I made some bad decisions over the years. This ain’t one of them, though. I’m going to find uranium and buy you a genuine diamond. It’s what you deserve, Lulabelle. It’s what you deserve after all these years of putting up with me and my crazy ideas.”

Lulabelle sighed and shook her head. “Holton Alexander. When you gonna realize that I don’t want anything in this world except you?”

He squinted at her, studied her face. She’d never said anything like that before. Did she really only want him?

Even now, 40-years after that conversation in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, he couldn’t believe it, but it was true. She really had only wanted him.

He’d never found the uranium, even though he’d tried for two weeks straight. He’d never bought her that mink coat. Good thing, since he never forgot again that she was allergic to mink. Who ever heard of anyone being allergic to mink? He shrugged and laughed.

He’d never built her a fancy house or drove her around in one of those pink Rolls-Royce cars either.

None of that mattered to either of them now.

Love had made them richer than any of those men who went looking for their fortunes in the hills.

“Grandpa?” A little voice pulled him from his thoughts. “Tell me again about driving to Wyoming in a camper and seeing those coyotes and Buffalo and how grandma fell in love with you again.”

Creatively Thinking: When You’re Okay Not Writing Deep and Praiseworthy books

I was so excited a couple of weeks ago when Robin W. Pearson won a Christy Award for her book A Long Time Comin’.

It was such a well-deserved award for a book I loved.

She worked on this book for years and years – I believe she said 20-years in one interview.

Amanda Dykes, another Christy Award winner also worked on her book, Whose Waves These Are for about eight years.

After listening to an interview with these women, I started to think, “Should I be working on my books for years and years and years, polishing them and using beautiful, detailed descriptions and literary writing like these ladies did? Maybe I’d be a more accomplished writer and person if I did. “

Maybe, I thought.

Probably, I thought.

My books would probably be better, I thought.

But then I thought: There is a place for every type of book. Readers love deep, thoughtful, densely written books, but they also enjoy lighter reads that aren’t as deep. Or at least I do. There are seasons in my life when I need something lighter. There are seasons in my life when I can handle something deeper. Ebs and flows. So there needs to be writers who can offer light and there needs to be authors who can offer deep.

Of course, there are those authors who offer a mix of both, which I feel Robin does very well.

Will my books change anyone’s life?

Maybe, but probably not. Will they offer a distraction when they need it the most?

Yeah, I hope so.

Sometimes something light that takes our mind off of things is just as welcome as something that leaves an imprint on our soul.

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 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.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 16

The chapter is long this week but I’m throwing it up anyhow. Not a ton of people read my fiction or comment so who is going to care? No one. *wink* Sometimes it’s depressing writing into a void and sometimes it is very, very liberating.

Seriously, hope everyone is doing well and to find previous chapters from this story you can click HERE or at the top of the page where I also have links to excerpts from my books that are on sale on Kindle.




The board says they are going to need at least half of the loan paid off by the end of the summer for the bank not to foreclose.”

Bill Eberlin’s words were like a kick in the chest to the Tanner siblings and their spouses.

Half of the more than $50,000 loan paid off in less than three months? With the way the milk market was and the fact the corn was barely growing Robert knew the task was virtually impossible. He slid his hand over Annie’s as she sat in the chair next to him and clutched it tight. She smiled at him, but he saw the worry in her eyes.

The men of the family had kept their word and brought Annie, Hannah, and Lauren into the loop, to be sure the women were aware the full extent of the trouble the family’s business was in. Now they were sitting with him, Walt, and Bert in the sparsely decorated conference room at the Spencer Valley Savings and Loan, trying to find a way to save a business that not only supported them but several other families.

“By the end of the summer?” Bert shook his head. “I just don’t see how that’s possible. Will they accept installments of some kind?”

Bill drummed his fingers on the top of his desk. “They might would have if payments had been made before this ‘come to Jesus’ talk, so to speak. The members of the board are nervous, afraid they won’t get their money back. I think they believe setting a deadline will push you to get this loan paid and show you how important paying this loan back is to them.”

Robert rubbed his hand across his face. “I shouldn’t have dragged my feet on getting this taken care of.”

Walt leaned forward on his elbows on the table.

“You weren’t the only one who should have done something,” he said. “We were overly confident that we could take care of this with last year’s milk prices. The last quarter was much worse than any of us imagined.”

“There is plenty of blame to go around,” Hannah said. “But placing blame isn’t going to help us right now. The best we can hope for is a good growing season and stellar sales at the farm store.”

She leaned back in the plush chair with maroon cushions, arms folded across her chest, a determined expression furrowing her eyebrows.

“It’s not hopeless by any means,” she continued. “Our family has a good thing going, a good business. I know the market isn’t great and the growing season has been garbage this year, but the farm store may be just what will keep the business afloat. Molly and I were talking the other day about some ideas for expanding our inventory, adding home décor and expanding the greenhouse.”

Robert admired his sister’s optimism, but spending more money wasn’t what the family needed to do right now.

“Expansion means investing more money and more money isn’t what we have right now,” he said softly.

“I agree with Hannah.”

Walt’s wife, Lauren, was what Robert called pleasantly plump. She wore her light brown hair shoulder length most of the time, curling the edges toward her face, framing her attractive smile and bright blue eyes. She was soft spoken like her husband and thoughtful like Robert, rarely speaking before she had considered all the options of how her words would be received. Her sudden endorsement of Hannah was an unusual step for her.

She shifted slightly in her seat as she realized all eyes were on her now.

“It’s just, I think we can find a way to expand some of what we offer at the farm store and combining that with any income we receive from the milk and produce, we could reach the end of the summer deadline, or at least part of it. Maybe with a show of good faith the board will work with us.”

She glanced at Walt who smiled at her. Their eyes locked as she continued.

“If God is for us, who shall be against us? If we lose the business then, well, God has another plan for this family.”

A brief silence settled over the room. Lauren didn’t speak often but Annie, for one, was glad she had this time. She had a feeling the rest of the family agreed by the way they were nodding their heads.

 Bill, clearing his throat, was the first to speak.

“So, sounds like we have a plan all at least. I’m going to keep talking to the board, keep fighting for them to let you amend the contract, and extend the deadline a little longer and you all get everyone in your circle on board and let me know how it goes.”

Walt laughed softly. “I guess that means we need to let our kids and staff know what’s going on.”

Robert winced. “Ooh boy. That’s not going to be fun.”

“No,” Annie agreed. “But it’s necessary.”

***

Molly had invited Alex to church more times than he could count. He’d always declined. He knew he wasn’t cut out for church. He’d never been a church person. Good people went to church and while he’d never been the worst person in the world, he’d never really been a good person.

In high school, he’d been a troublemaker, mostly pranks and petty theft and underage drinking. He wasn’t sure where he would have ended up if his grandfather hadn’t bailed him out of jail and put him to work at his car business after his last run-in with the law – stealing a truck from a local used car lot and driving it across the city until he crashed it into a telephone pole when the tire blew.

During college it had been all-night drinking at fraternity parties, but luckily he’d kept himself out of trouble long enough to finish his degree, even though he had had no idea if he even wanted to use degree. He’d tried working computer programming for a full year before he hit rock bottom and Jason picked him up and told him: “Boy, I’m going to sweat that rebellious spirit out of you.”

Alex had sweated a lot over the years, but he wasn’t sure he’d sweated anything out of himself except laziness. He’d sweated while working in the fields, cutting down the hay, bailing it, building barns, spreading manure, shoveling manure, milking cows, feeding cows, running errands, and hauling vegetables and other products to the farm store. He’d learned more about farming, construction, operating a business, and planting produce in the last five years than he’d ever learned about computers during college.

The Tanner family had influenced him in almost every aspect of his life, but so far he hadn’t agreed to attend church with any of them. He’d watched them live their faith out every day and that was enough for him. The idea of sitting in a church wasn’t one he relished. Sitting in a hard pew, wearing a stiff shirt and tie and shoes too tight on his feet while a man stood in the pulpit and told him all he’d done wrong with his life did not sound like his idea of fun.

Molly had talked to him about church this morning in the barn, about how a friend of the family was singing a solo, about how the music always made her feel relaxed and at peace. He’d listened to her while hooking the cows into their stall, trying not to laugh at the excited way she talked about a place that seemed so boring to him. Listening to her talk about church, though, didn’t make it sound so bad. Sitting next to her, even on a hard pew, didn’t sound so bad either. Still, he wasn’t interested in tagging along.

“You sure you don’t want to go?” Molly asked as he climbed into his truck.

“Yep, but have fun,” he said with a smile, touching his finger to the edge of his cowboy hat.

He pulled the truck out of the drive and looked in his rearview mirror at Molly walking back toward the farmhouse, wondering if it was wrong to admire the appearance of a pretty Christian girl on a Sunday morning.

Ten minutes later he pulled into the Bradley farm to pick up extra fencing they’d offered Robert the week before to help fix a space of broken fence in the lower pasture.

The Bradley’s 7-year old son Daniel sat on an old rusting milk can by the barn door.

“Hey there, Mr. Stone.”

Alex paused, narrowed his eyes and tipped his head back so he was looking down his nose at the little boy.

“Daniel. Little dude. What did I tell you about calling me Mr. Stone?”

Daniel grinned, a piece of sweet grass in the corner of one mouth. “You said don’t call you that. It makes you feel old.”

“That’s right,” Alex laughed, holding his hand out for a high five. Daniel returned the high five and jumped off the milk can.

“Come on Alex,” Daniel said with a mature jerk of his head.
“Dad said to show you to the fencing back here.”

Alex followed Daniel, amazed, as always at his maturity at such a young age. The first time he’d met him a year ago he’d walked up to Alex and Robert, stuck out his hand and announced “Welcome to our farm. Follow me and I’ll show you the milking room.”

Four-feet tall, dark brown hair and freckles spread across his cheeks and nose, Alex always thought he looked like he walked out of one of those books by that writer his teacher made him read in sixth grade. The Farmer Boy or something.

“Fencing is there, wire is there and Dad says you can have the nails that went with it too.”

Alex nodded and reached for the fence posts and the barbed wire. “Thanks, bud. How’s farmin’ life treatin’ you?”

“Treatin’ me just fine,” Daniel said, leaning back against the wall of the barn, one foot crossing the other, hands in his pocket. “We had a calf last night. ‘Nother bull. Gotta sell it in a few weeks. Can’t give us milk and we already got a bull.”

Alex chuckled as he stacked the posts. As usual, Daniel was giving the run down like he was the parent, instead of the child.

“Were you there for the birth?” Alex asked.

“Yup. It was gross.”

Alex laughed. “But pretty cool to see new life come into the world, right?”

Daniel shrugged and spit the rest of the grass at the ground. “Yeah. Guess so.”

Alex heard Patrick Bradley’s voice boom across the yard to the barn.

“Daniel! Come on up to the house. It’s time to get ready for church.”

“Be right there, Dad! Just helping Alex get the fencin’.”

“Hey, Alex!”

“Hey, Patrick!” Alex shouted back.

He looked at Daniel and nodded toward the house. “Go on and get ready for church. I can finish here. Thanks for showing me where it was.”

Daniel shoved his hands in his overall pockets and turned toward the house then back to Alex again. “Don’t you go to church, Alex?”

Alex shook his head, tossing the last of the posts in the pile. “Nope.”

“Why not? Don’t you believe in God?”

Alex shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“So why don’t you wanna go to church?”

Alex lifted some of the posts and started walking toward his truck. “Just not my thing, kid. You go with your family and enjoy it, though, okay?”

Daniel walked behind him, furrowed eyebrows highlighting a thoughtful expression as he rubbed his chin. “I guess it’s okay if you don’t go to church. Mama says God’s not in the buildin’. He’s all around us so you could just talk to God no matter where you are, right?”

Alex tossed the posts into the back of the pick-up, turned and looked down at Daniel, ruffling his hair. “You know what, Daniel Bradley? You’re one smart kid.”

Daniel grinned, one of his bottom front teeth missing. “My mama tells me that all the time.”

“Well, she’s right. Now, head on in and get ready like your dad said. I’ll see you another day, okay?”

Alex watched Daniel run to the house and laughed to himself. If he’d been as smart at 29 as that kid was at seven he had a feeling he wouldn’t have had made as many mistakes as he had in life.

After breakfast in town, Alex headed back to the farm, windows down in the truck, music turned up. He glanced at the Tanner’s church on his way by, slowing down when he noticed Molly out front talking to someone hidden by a tree. Her reddish-brown curls spilled down her back, loose, unlike when she worked in the barn and secured it in a ponytail or under a baseball cap. She was wearing a light pink shirt that highlighted her curves and a flowing black skirt.

 Molly smiled and nodded to the person she was talking to. When Alex slowed down and pulled his truck into a parking spot further down the street, he could see through his side mirror that the other person was Ben.

Ben motioned toward a bench in front of the church and sat down. Molly sat next to him as he spoke. At first her expression was serious, then a smile crossed her mouth. She nodded again, speaking to Ben and reached across and laid her hand on his.

What are you even doing, Alex? You’re looking like a stalker right now.

He rolled his eyes. No. You don’t look like one. You’re being one right now.

Molly smiled and laughed again.

Ben smiled and laughed too.

They seemed to be enjoying themselves. Alex noticed the way Ben was sitting close to Molly, touching her arm lightly as they spoke, the way she wasn’t moving away from him, instead watching him intently, clearly engaged in the conversation and maybe also engaged in admiring him.

Jealousy hit Alex hard in the center of the chest. Jealousy and another feeling he couldn’t exactly put his finger on. Maybe disappointment mixed with anger, mixed with a hard realization that he’d been a fool thinking he’d ever be good enough for someone like Molly. Uninterested in sitting and watching their happy reunion any longer, he shifted the truck into gear and gently pulled onto the road, back toward the farm, cursing under his breath.


***

Jason Tanner pulled his dirty shirt and jeans off and tossed them toward the laundry basket on his way to the bathroom for a shower. It had been a long day, a long week, and that whole thing with Molly a few days before hadn’t helped his mood at all either. He had no idea what nerve he had touched when he offered his sister a cookie but it had left him bewildered and annoyed. He’d been so annoyed he hadn’t even addressed it with her yet, choosing instead not to poke an angry bear.

Women were so confusing. How did offering someone a cookie translate to “You’re fat.”? And how was he supposed to know that Molly was upset about her weight? He knew she’d been working out with Liz and eating a lot of grass-like foods, but he thought it was because she wanted to get healthier, not because she thought she was fat. She never seemed to let it bother her before. She was funny, confident, joked around in the barn and at work at the farm store. She never seemed down or depressed. At least that he’d noticed.

Of course, he was a guy and it had been pointed out to him more than once by El, Molly and a few other women in his life, that he was a bit oblivious at times.

Molly wasn’t fat anyhow. Sure, she’d gained weight over the years, but she looked fine. What was she so worried about anyhow?

He turned the shower on, washing the dirt, grime and sweat from the day away. Today had been tough and pretty weird but that day earlier in the week with Grandma had been even weirder. Had he actually struck a deal with his grandmother to propose to El? He knew his grandmother would hold up her end of the deal too; anything to get him to follow through on his end.

He didn’t know why he was so worried about it anyhow. He’d wanted to propose to Ellie for a couple of years. He could just never seem to get his courage up and then life, and their relationship, would continue on and he’d push it to the side again. He liked the way things were between them now; date nights, road trips to antique stores, church on Sunday, long walks in the woods behind her parents’ house, movie nights.

Of course, there was that one downside that Alex had harassed him about. The whole ‘waiting for marriage’ thing. He definitely struggled with that one, not so much in respecting Ellie’s wishes, because he did respect them, but with the waiting. Like Ellie, he’d been brought up to wait for physical connection beyond kissing until marriage, but there was no denying it, waiting was hard. Very hard. Especially since every time he was near Ellie a barely controlled desire roared inside him and he often had to step back before he tried to push their kisses further.

They’d come close to going all the way more than once but one of them had always stopped it, reminding each other they wanted to save that special moment for their wedding night. Then they’d have the familiar long talk about making sure they had enough money in the bank before they got married, so they could pay for the wedding (since both their parents were farmers and strapped for money) and since they wanted to be able to buy their own house and be financially secure when they were married.

It wasn’t that Jason had never “been with”, for lack of a better term, another woman. He had. Once. In college. With someone he hadn’t cared about. He had met her at a party and thought he wanted to be someone different than he’d been at home. It wasn’t a pleasant memory for him and he’d tried to push it out of his mind for years. The memory carried with it an overwhelming guilt that  he’d sacrificed his personal morals for an experience that was rushed and impersonal.

He and Ellie hadn’t been dating at the time and though he hated that it sounded like an excuse, Jason had been restless, lonely, lost. He felt like that night was his rock bottom moment; a wake up call to what kind of man he really wanted to be.

He’d never told Ellie, but, of course, she’d never asked either.

Jason shut the shower off and reached for a towel, rubbing it against his face, water dripping onto the floor. Maybe that was why he hadn’t proposed to her yet. He hadn’t been honest with her and deep down he knew he needed to be open and completely honest with her if they were going to get married, letting her decide for herself if she still wanted to be with him, to start a life with him, despite the fact he’d withheld part of his past from her.

He groaned into the towel. He had to bite the bullet, no matter what, though, not just because of the deal with his grandmother, but because he needed to know if Ellie would accept him despite his failings. God, he hoped she would because he couldn’t imagine his life without her.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 5

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 –“

Franny snorted.

“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.”