Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Son Prologue or beginning of chapter 1 or, yeah, I don’t know yet

For those of you who read The Farmer’s Daughter installents here, I know you are wondering what happened to Jason Tanner’s part of the story so this week I am starting back in the beginning, a bit, for any new readers. I will follow the story of Jason and Ellie and Robert and Annie (maybe even Molly and Alex a little) for the next few weeks, if I can figure out what I am doing with the story. The thing is, I want to start the book off with some excitement, but if I do that, I want it to be after Jason and Ellie had their issues (if you already know this story, you know what the issue is). At the same time, I don’t want to toss out all that background with their story so I’m trying to figure out if I should start at one point and go back or if that would be confusing. Anyhow, regardless, this is something I wrote up this week in case I decide to go with the whole “here is the story after Jason and Ellie talked about Lauren.” It’s very rough, will be rewritten at some point, but I’m still going to share it for my blog readers.

For anyone new, Fiction Friday is where I share a work in progress. Often this is the start of a future novel for me and it’s usually a first draft so there are often typos, plot holes, and it may not be the most polished piece of fiction ever. I share my work in progress on here for fun and to get feedback from my blog readers. I often change it before I put it up on Amazon or B&N to sell as ebooks. I’m less concerned about selling the books than in having fun with interacting with my blog readers.

Anyhow, enjoy reading Jason’s continuing story.

Prologue or beginning of Chapter 1

Smoke choked at his throat, burned his eyes, but he kept walking.

He had to.

The woman’s voice was full of panic. “Help me! I’m over here!”

“Don’t move, Mrs. Weatherly. I’m coming. Keep talking to me okay?”

A series of coughs to his right.

He changed direction, kept walking, slammed his arm off a door frame, glad the fire suit was padded. Air puffed into his mask from his oxygen tank, but the smoke was still stifling, and he wondered if it would overtake him before he could get to her.

He couldn’t hear her coughing anymore.

“Mrs. Weatherly?”

Nothing but the crackling of the flames licking up the wall, across the ceiling of the kitchen.

“Ann?”

His foot hit something solid, almost sent him sprawling. He regained his balance, crouched, felt the floor since he couldn’t see through the smoke and felt a back, then an arm.

“Ann, it’s me, Jason Tanner. Can you hear me?”

A soft cough from the direction of the body told him she was at least alive, but most likely overcome by the smoke to answer.

“I’m going to lift you and we’re going to get out of here, okay? Try to stay calm. You’ll be on my shoulders. It will be the easiest way for me to carry you.”

“John.”

“No, ma’am. It’s Jason. You’re going to be okay.”

“John . . .”

He found her arms, slid his hands under the trunk of her body and swung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. He couldn’t carry her through the back door. It was already engulfed in flames. He reached out to feel the wall and when he found it, he made his way along it until he felt the open doorway to the dining room.

If he hadn’t visited this home many times over the last year to deliver produce to Ann and John Weatherly from the country store on his way home, he wouldn’t have known that the kitchen led to the dining room, the dining room to the living room, a short hallway and then the front door. He winced when his hip slammed into the dining room table, or at least he thought it might be the table. The smoke was billowing from the kitchen now, filling the rest of the house. Above him he heard crackling, breaking wood, fire ripping across the ceiling, shredding the wooden beams between the floors.

“John . . .”

“We’ll be out soon, Mrs. Weatherly.”

But he wasn’t really sure of that. He had thought the living room was right in front of him, but now he was bumping against walls he didn’t remember being there. Had he turned wrong and ended up in the laundry room instead? Or maybe even a bathroom. He felt out with a gloved hand, touched a wall, then something hard, metal. It was the washer. He was in the laundry room. The laundry room that didn’t have a door or window. He had to turn around, and he worried he might hit Mrs. Weatherly’s head when he did. He slid her down from his shoulder, both worried and glad she was a thin, frail woman in her 70s. He cradled her in his arms like he would a child..

Smoke was coming from below and above him now. He knew the fire must be spreading across the top floor, and he wondered how long it would be before it fell down on him.

“Jason!”

Chief Cody Bracken’s voice boomed from somewhere to his right. He felt for the wall, moved forward a few steps and stopped when his foot kicked the edge of the doorway.

“Jason! Are you in there?!”

“I’m coming!”

His breath fogged up the shield of his helmet. He was even more blind than before, but now he at least had the sound of Cody’s voice to follow.

“Jason! The roof is about to collapse!”

Shuffling he tried to ignore the crackling and snapping above him. With the next step, a firm hand gripped the front of the turnout gear and yanked him forward into bright light and cool air.

“Guys! We got a patient!”

Mrs. Weatherly was lifted from his arms and he stumbled forward, pulling at the mask, falling to the ground in his hands and knees as he gulped fresh air into his lungs. Behind him he heard the snapping of wood and the shattering of glass, and he knew the top floor was caving in. Two hands snatched him under his arms and dragged him forward across the grass, further away from the burning house, as he continued to gag and gasp for air.

“Did Denny get out?!” he yelled as soon as he could breathe again.

He looked up, his vision blurry with sweat and smoke. Denny was guzzling water a few feet away by the fire truck, pouring it over his head and then drinking again. Two other firefighters, James Lantz and Duane Trenton, stood above Jason,breathing hard, wiping sweat and soot from their faces. Jason had a feeling they were the ones who had dragged him across the yard.

Cody hooked an arm under Jason’s, help to his feet. “No one is sure where Mr. Weatherly is. Denny was in looking for him, but the flames in the dining room pushed him back. Did you see him?”

Jason shook his head, taking the fresh water bottle Denny offered him. “I could barely see anything in there. Mrs. Weatherly was in the kitchen. If anyone else was in there I didn’t see them.”

He sucked the water down in one gulp, looked up at the firefighters still battling the flames, trying to save the house even though they all knew it was going to be a total loss.

“Breathe in.”

Brittany Manahan pressed an oxygen mask against his face and hooked the band behind his head. “Sit.”

Brittany, an EMT with the Spencer Valley Ambulance Company, wasn’t afraid to order the first responders around if it was for their own good.

Jason sat on the ground, legs up, propping his arm on his knees as he breathed deep, coughed, and breathed deep again.

He remembered Mrs. Weatherly’s pleading voice inside the house. “John.”

Oh God. No.

“Cody!” He pulled the oxygen mask off his nose. “John is still inside!”

He leapt to his feet but Cody pivoted, press his hands against his chest. “Slow down there, big guy. You aren’t going anywhere. The second floor’s collapsed. There’s nothing we can do.”

“She tried to tell me. Mrs. Weatherly. Ann. She — she couldn’t breathe and was passing out, but she was calling for John. I didn’t understand.

Cody shook his head. “You couldn’t have carried them both out. You had her and needed to get her out first. It wasn’t your fault. We’ll know more when the fire is out. Maybe John is at the store or somewhere else. Let’s not jump to conclusions.”

Jason nodded pressed the oxygen to his face again and breathed in deep, glancing to his right and watching the paramedics attending to Mrs. Weatherly, giving her oxygen as she laid prostrate on her back on the stretcher.

Part of him knew Cody was right. He couldn’t have carried both Mr. and Mrs. Weatherly out of that house, but if he had only stopped to listen, to understand what Mrs. Weatherly had been saying, he could have tried. He could have pushed forward only a few more feet. Maybe Mr. Weatherly had been on the floor near his wife. He pushed his hand through his hair, clutched at it and let out a long breath into the oxygen mask. Or maybe John Weatherly hadn’t even been home when the fire broke out. Maybe he’d pull into that driveway in his old blue 1970 Lincoln Continental and be perfectly healthy and alive.

Jason slumped back against the side of the fire truck, fought the emotion choking at his throat. Something deep in his gut told him John would not pull into the driveway, not today. Never again. He was inside that house, now almost down to the ground, flames shooting up from the rest of the first floor. Ann Weatherly hadn’t mistaken Jason for her husband. She’d been trying to tell Jason her husband was still in the house.

His jaw tightened as he heard the ambulance siren wail, saw the red lights swirling. It took him back nine months before, to that rainy day in the lower field, when it had been his dad being loaded into an ambulance.

He had felt emotion stuck in his throat that day in the lower field and head had swallowed it down hard, shoving the fear of losing his father tight inside the same hollow spot in his chest where he’d shoved his heartache over Ellie.

He hadn’t had time for emotion then, and he didn’t now.

He shoved his guilt over John Weatherly right against his shame from that night with Lauren Phillips, right against the grief he still felt over the loss of his grandfather, right against the hurt he’d caused Ellie.

Maybe one day all that hurt would crack his chest wide open for all the world to see, but right now he had to get back to the fire hall, take off his gear, clean up and get back to his full-time job at his family’s farm.

This job was a volunteer gig.

The one he’d taken to take his mind off his guilt, his shame, his worries about his dad who was still recovering, but most of all off Ellie.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 37

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

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

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


Chapter 37

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Alex, I need to ask you a question.”

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

“Where are you in your relationship with God?”

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

 “I’m going to be honest, Robert.”

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir?”

“Are you sleeping with my daughter?”

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

“No sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dad!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, this is it, then, huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ginny feeling stagnant in her life.

Ben and his reluctance to meet his daughter.

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

It was all a bit overwhelming.

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

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

She’d have to think about everything else later.

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 37

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

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

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

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


“Mom?”

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

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

“I — Robert — your dad —”

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

She quickly pulled her mother into an embrace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I appreciate that but —”

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

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

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

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

***

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

“It’s okay, Mr. Tanner.”

 “You’re in the hospital.”

“You’ve been in a coma.”

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

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

“Don’t try to get up, sir.”

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

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

“Hey.”

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

 “Hey.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 36

We are winding down to the end of The Farmer’s Daughter. I’ve been sharing chapters here since April and I’m in the middle of edits, revisions, rewrites and all that jazz. I finished the book last week, but I am still reworking chapters and scenes and trying to decide what I need to add and remove.

As always, this is a work in progress and there could be typos, plot holes, etc. Please feel free to tell me about them in the comment section or by using the contact form. This is a chapter I will definitely be working on because I didn’t get the chance to read and edit again like I normally try to do before I post it.

You can catch up with the rest of the story HERE or at the link at the top of the page. If you are new here, you can read an excerpt of my novel A New Beginning here or an excerpt of Rekindle here.




Chapter 36

Annie ran her fingertips along the veins on the back of Robert’s hand. Up and down. Back down to his fingertips, sliding her hand under his and intertwining her fingers with his.

Lifting his hand, she pressed the back of it against her cheek, closed her eyes, and remembered their wedding night and so many nights afterwards when his hands had gently caressed her skin. She thought of the many times his hands had cradled her face, stroked her hair when she cried, clasped her hands as she prayed.

“I don’t know how to help her, Robert,” she’d whispered one night two weeks ago as they laid in bed. “She’s restless. I think she wants to see if there is a life for her off the farm, but this is all she’s ever known. Part of me wants to shove her out the door and say ‘go find what’s out there for you’ and part of me wants to hold on to her.”

He’d kissed her forehead and nodded. “I know. I feel the same way. I even hinted to her that it’s okay to leave if she wants to. I can’t imagine waking up and not seeing her at the breakfast table, but maybe she does need to explore a life away from here.”

Annie had sighed and intertwined her fingers with his, the same way she was now. “And then there is Jason and Ellie . . .”

Robert had laughed softly. “Annie, you can’t stay up all night worrying about our adult children. We can’t fix everything for them. They have to do some of it themselves.”

Annie had sighed and closed her eyes against the moonlight spilling in from the bedroom window. “I know,” she whispered. “I know. But what do you think happened between them that they’re not talking?”

Robert rubbed her arm gently and kissed her forehead one more time. “Go to bed, Annie.”

She wondered if these hands, laying here now, so still, would ever do those things again, touch her, comfort her. What would she do without him if he didn’t pull out of this? Never before had she so clearly understood the pain her mother-in-law had faced a year ago as she held her husband’s hand, begging God not to take him home.

“Not yet,” Franny had said, tears in her eyes. “Not yet, Lord.”

And now Annie was saying the same, praying for a man in the prime of his life, who had so many years ahead of him, who meant the world to her.

“Not yet, God, please. Not yet.”

She laid her head against Robert’s hand clutched in hers and closed her eyes, the tears falling freely. Her head jerked up fast seconds later at the garbled sound of choking.

At the sight of Robert’s body convulsing, his muscles tightening like a rope being yanked hard upwards, she cried out and stood from the bed, letting go of his hand. His body stiffened, then convulsed again.

“Oh God. No.”

 Two hands gripped her shoulders, pulled her back away from the bed, let her go. A nurse stepped around her swiftly; the nurse who a few moments ago had been on the other side of the room filling out paperwork. The young woman’s hand moved expertly, pushed a button then grabbed Robert by both arms, holding him down against the bed.

In minutes the room became a blur of blue and green, nurses and doctors, pushing past her, reaching, mashing buttons, leaning over her husband, calling out words and terms she didn’t understand.

She clutched her shirt at her chest, backed against the wall and stared in horror at it all. Wild beeps blistered her ears then a long beep that bore its way into her mind.

“Clear!”

Her heart raced at the word, bile rose in her throat, cold shivered through her.

“Oh God,” she whispered. She slammed her back against the wall, sliding down it, darkness drifting across her vision, her world falling apart around her.

“Oh God. God help him.”

***

They were in Alex’s truck for the drive to the hospital this time and Molly was looking at  a stack of country music CDs and a container of toothpicks in the console.  She flipped through the CDs and pulled out George Straight.

“Mind if I put this one in?”

He leaned back in the seat, draped one arm over the steering wheel, the other over the back of the seat as he settled into the groove of the 65 mph speed limit. “Not at all.”

It had been a month since Robert had fallen into the coma, a little less since Alex’s mom had visited. Molly hadn’t asked about their conversations and Alex hadn’t offered.

They had both spent their time working on the farm, at the country store, and discussing Walt and Hannah’s ideas with Jason when he’d come home from the hospital after spending almost a week staying at a nearby hospital with Annie. Jason had stayed home this time, promising Molly he would find time to work things out with Ellie, straighten out whatever he had broken.

Molly had made a promise of her own to Liz. When Robert came home, Molly would move into an apartment with Liz, to offer support and be there when the baby was born.

“If Dad comes home —” Molly had started.

“Not “if”, Molly,” Liz had said. “When.”

“Yes,” Molly said. “When.”

They were half an hour from the hospital now.

A smile tugged at the corner of Alex’s mouth as George’s smooth tone drifted from the speakers.

“What’s that smile for?”                                

He shook his head. “Just thinking about how this song makes me think of you.”

Warmth rushed through the center of her chest. “Really?”

He kept his eyes on the road, but he was smiling. “Sure. A goodbye kiss is all I need from you.” He glanced at her. “And a hello one for that matter.”

She looked out the front windshield, a shy smile crossing her face, unsure how to take him sharing with her that certain songs made him think of her.

“Did you listen to country before you came here?”

He shook his head, smiling. “No. Never. I used to go in my room and blast Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, or anything else that was loud and could block out my parents and later my thoughts.”

Molly stretched her legs out in front of her and settled back against the seat, enjoying learning more about him, the sound of his voice. “What made you start listening to country?”

“If you remember, I had to listen to it.” He grinned. “It’s all you guys every played in the barn. Eventually, though, it grew on me. The lyrics spoke to me about things I’d always wanted but never had and started wondering if I could have.”

Molly laughed. “Women in Daisy Dukes in the back of a pick-up with a keg of beer?”

Alex tipped his head back and laughed. “No. I’d had some of that before.” Red spread across his cheeks and he cleared his throat. “All that wasn’t what I really wanted or needed. It was the other kind of country songs that caught my attention. The ones about the land, small towns, good people, and,” he reached over and took her hand in his, brought it to his mouth and kissed the back of it. “A good woman.”

Molly’s heartrate increased, watching him as he watched the road, starting to believe that he truly meant what he was saying, which was both thrilling and terrifying.

Silence settled over them for a few moments, the sound of the tires on the highway the only sound. 

He broke the silence first. “You know something else?” He rubbed the top her hand with his thumb. “Your dad has been more of a father to me than my dad ever was.”

He looked in the side mirror, pulled into the other lane. His smile faded and a distant expression crossed his face. “When mom was here, she told me my dad has cancer.”

Molly’s eyebrow furrowed in concern, even though he didn’t exactly seem upset. His tone was neutral, more matter-of-fact than anything else.

“You okay?”

 “Oddly, yeah.” He pulled into the other lane, both hands on the wheel. “I mean I should be sad or worried, right? But I don’t feel anything. I’m not worried about him or sad or angry or . . .” He paused and looked at her again, frowning briefly, shrugging. “Well, anything. It’s normal for there to be some kind of drama with my dad. This is just another time I’m supposed to care, but don’t.”

Molly had never not cared about her dad, but in Alex’s case she could understand why he found it hard to care for the man who had essentially abandoned his wife and children. Still, finding out his father had cancer had to have been a shock.

 “I know.” Alex shook his head. “It’s not normal not to care when you find out your dad has cancer. I probably need some kind of therapy.”

Molly laid her hand against his upper arm. “Therapy may be in order someday, yes, but a brain can only process so much and you’ve had a lot happen in a short time. Cut yourself some slack.”

Looking up at the exit sign for the hospital, Alex blew out a breath. “Yeah. I’ll try. One good thing is that they caught it early from what Sam said. The doctors are optimistic that he’ll beat it.”

Molly moved closer as he pulled into a parking space, kissing his cheek as he pushed the truck into park. “I’ll be here if you need me, okay?”

He smiled and kissed her briefly on the mouth. “I know. Thank you.” He tilted his head toward the door. “Come on. Enough about my dad. Let’s head in and check on yours.”

Molly walked into the hospital, hopeful her mom would tell her good news but when she saw her mom sitting on the floor in the hallway, her legs hugged to her chest, her forehead on her knees, she knew that wasn’t going to happen.

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.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 34

This week’s chapter is a little bit longer. The chapters in the final book will probably be longer than what I usually post here, which will reduce the number of chapters in the final book. Also, for those who have been following this story for awhile, you might be wondering what will happen with Jason and Ellie. I haven’t forgot that I need to finish that part of the story and will add it as a separate part at some point in the future. Honestly, I’ve been so focused on finishing the storyline with Robert, Alex, and Molly, that I haven’t gone back to decide what will happen with Jason and Ellie. I’ll keep you updated, in other words.

To catch up with the rest of this story click HERE or find the link at the top of the page.

To pick up a copy of my other books see the link at the top of the page under “Books for Sale.”


Chapter 34

Cecily Madigan Burke stepped inside the Tanner’s farmhouse with two swift, long steps, paused in the living room, and slowly slid her sunglasses off, taking it all in.

Alex could only imagine what she was thinking as she looked around at the walls covered in family photos, at the comfortable couches and chairs, the woodstove, and the cozy farmhouse kitchen. It was nothing like her three story, 10-bedroom mansion in the Baltimore suburbs. Unlike the Tanner’s house, nothing about where she lived felt like a home.

“Mom.” He snapped his fingers in front of her face. “What are you doing here?

She huffed a breath out and propped a hand on her hip. “What am I doing here? I had to hear about my own son being injured from his best friend instead of him and he asks what I’m doing here?”

“Mom, I’m fine —”

“You’re fine? Really? You don’t look fine. You’re all bandaged up and bruised. You wouldn’t answer my phone calls, so I finally called Jason.”

In one quick movement Cecily swung around to look at Molly who was still standing in the doorway with a stunned expression.

Cecily tipped her head to one side, lips pursed, and stuck her hand out. “Hello. I’m Cecily, Alex’s mom. Apparently, my son isn’t going to introduce us.”

Alex sighed and shoved one hand in his front jean pocket and gestured between his mom and Molly with the other. “Mom, this is Molly. Molly, this is mom.”

He tipped his head at his mom and raised an eyebrow as Molly took her hand. “Happy?”

“Nice to meet you,” Molly said quickly, apparently still trying to recover from Cecily’s sudden appearance.

Cecily let her hand drop, pursed her lips, and studied Molly, looking her up and down. “Ah, yes. Jason’s sister. Alex has mentioned you.”

Alex noticed his mom didn’t tell Molly it was nice to meet her too.

“Molly’s my girlfriend, Mom.”

Cecily looked Molly up and down again, slower this time, her cheeks sucked in slightly. “Oh. Well, okay. That’s different. You usually date tall, leggy blonds.”

Alex rubbed a hand across his eyes, closed them, and pinched his nose between his finger and thumb. “Mom, how did you find me?”

Cecily slid her jacket off and sat on the couch, crossing one leg over the other. “I know how to use the internet, Alex. I’m not a total moron. I just punched in the Tanner’s address, told Harold to put the directions into the Jags GPS, and here I am.”

Harold? Really? Apparently his mom had claimed his stepdad’s assistant as her own.

Alex scoffed. “You drove here alone? You?”

Cecily raised an eyebrow and narrowed her eyes. “Yes, Alex. All by my little ole’ self. Now, are you going to tell me what happened?” She glanced at Molly. “Or am I going to have to ask Molly here what happened?”

Alex tried to suck in the exasperated breath quietly but failed. “I got hurt trying to lift a tractor off Robert. He’s in critical condition. I’m fine. Just a few stitches.”

For the first time, Cecily’s tense demeanor faded. Her eyebrows lifted and her mouth fell open slightly. “A tractor fell on Robert? Are you serious?”

She swung her head to look at Molly. “Is your father okay?”

Molly looked startled at having the attention turned to her so quickly. She glanced at Alex then back to Cecily. “Oh. Well.” She started to stammer. Watching his mother unnerve someone wasn’t a new thing for Alex, but he didn’t like that Molly was his mother’s target this time.

“I – I’m not sure,” Molly choked out. “He had surgery yesterday for a broken leg and cracked pelvis and, um, well, during surgery he had a small stroke so he’s in a coma right now.”

Cecily looked genuinely concerned and that surprised Alex. “Oh my. I had no idea.” She smoothed her hand across her pleated pants and cleared her throat. “I’m so sorry. Alex speaks very highly of your father. Much more highly than he does of his own father but then, I can’t blame him for that, of course.”

Alex exchanged a look with Molly and rolled his eyes.

“Can I get you something to drink or eat, Mrs. Burke?” Molly asked.

“Call me Cecily, please. I’ve never been good at being a Mrs. Not with Alex’s dad and not now. And I’d love a glass of water with a splash of lemon if you have it.”

Molly smiled as Alex flashed a look of annoyance at his mom behind her back. “We definitely have that. I love a splash of lemon in my water myself.”

Cecily watched Molly walk into the kitchen and then looked at Alex. “You ignored my calls.”

“I had a lot going on.”

“You ignored Sam’s calls too.”

“Like I said —”

His mom waved her hand dismissively. “I know. You had a lot going on.” She leaned back on the couch. “Did you ever call Sam back?”

“No. I’ll call him later.”

She cocked an eyebrow. He hated when she cocked an eyebrow. “So, you don’t have any idea what’s going on?”

Alex shook his head. “No. Is something going on?”

Cecily accepted the glass of water from Molly and took a sip. “That’s good water. Very fresh. Thank you, dear.”

Molly stepped toward the door. “Listen, I’m going to head out to the barn to check on Uncle Walt. You catch up with your mom, okay? So nice to meet you, Mrs. —”

Cecily raised her hand and shook her head. “Again, please, Cecily is fine.”

“Nice to meet you, Cecily,” Molly said.

Alex looked over his mom’s head and mouthed, “Don’t leave me.”

 “Good luck,” she mouthed back with raised eyebrows.

Cecily sat on the couch patting the cushion next to her as the front door closed. “Sit, Alex. We need to talk.”

***

Alex looked sore and beat down as he walked toward the barn from the house. Molly had watched his mom drive away in her silver Jaguar about ten minutes earlier and she wondered if it was his side that was making him walk slowly, or the conversation with Cecily.

“You okay?”

He nodded. “Yep.”

He kept walking toward the stalls, pushing his hands back through his hair and clutching it there for a moment before he reached for a shovel.

“Maybe you should just rest today.”

“Too much work to be done.”

“Uncle Walt and Hannah are here. Troy too.”

He shook his head as he reached for a shovel. “I need to keep my mind off things. This will help.”

She didn’t want to push for information about what all he needed to keep his mind off of. Was it just her dad or was it whatever his mom had talked to him about?

 She knew he’d share when he was ready.

Or he wouldn’t.

 It was up to him.

“Is your mom driving back to Baltimore already? I could have made up the spare room for her.”

Alex pushed the shovel gently between the cow’s hooves, scooping manure and hay. “Actually, she’s going to stay overnight at that bed and breakfast in town. I forgot the name.”

“The Lavender Inn?”

“Yeah. That one. I’m not sure it will be up to her standard of living, but I’m sure she’ll whip them into shape in no time.”

Molly stuffed her hands deep into her coat pocket. “I’m going to head out to the store, see if they need anything there.” She kicked at the dirt with the tip of her boot. “Do you need anything?”

He shook his head. “Nope.”

She turned, leaving him in the barn, working and clearly not interested in talking about his mother’s visit.

On her way to the store she called Liz to update her. After she’d filled her in on her dad and Alex’s condition, she decided to tell her about Alex’s morphine-induced rambling.

“Whoa.” Liz blew out a long whistle. “That’s a Hallmark movie moment right there.”

 “I’m starting to think he was pranking me,” Molly responded. “Maybe he wasn’t as out of it as I thought.”

Liz laughed. “I doubt it. Has he said anything since then?”

“No. I don’t think he remembers anything after those painkillers kicked in.”

Molly heard her friend sigh on the other end of the phone. “Molly, why don’t you think Alex could really feel that way about you?”

Molly paused at a four way stop, empty fields on either side of her and a red, paint-chipped barn in front of her. Her chest constricted. She didn’t want to answer the question.

“Molly?”

“Yeah.”

“I knew you were still there. You hadn’t had time to hit that dead spot yet,” Liz said. “Listen, I’m going to tell you something that you would tell me if the situation was switched. You need to start believing Alex really loves you. I’m your best friend and I know you think that you aren’t pretty enough or good enough or whatever enough for a good-looking guy to be in love with you, but you are, Mol. You’re way too focused on your weight and it’s obvious Alex isn’t. He loves you for you.”

Molly pulled her lower lip between her teeth and left it there while she turned toward the main road into Spencer. All the doubt about anyone loving her even though she wasn’t a size four wasn’t going to disappear with a simple pep talk from Liz, but she knew her friend meant well, and she knew she needed to work on believing that Alex truly loved her, despite the flaws she saw in herself.

“You know,” she said finally. “I have a feeling that I’ll be saying something similar to you one day, Liz. Like how you seem to think you’re not worthy of happiness because of your past mistakes or —”

Liz hissed out a few breaths to mimic static. “What’s that? Molly, you still there? I think I’m losing you. Did you hit that dead spot?”

“Very funny, Liz. I am actually almost at that dip. I’ll call you later and we will finish this conversation.”

Molly shook her head as she pushed off on the phone and laid it in the seat next to her. Liz was right. She needed to accept that Alex really loved her, but she had doubted her worth for so long she didn’t know how to break out of the pattern. It was something she couldn’t do alone, she knew that. It was also something that wouldn’t come over night, no matter how much she wanted it to.

Her thoughts drifted from Alex to her dad as she hit the main road to head to the store.

Jason had texted her while she’d been in the shower. There was no change in her dad’s condition, and she couldn’t help wonder if there ever would be. Would he ever come home and if he did, would he be the same man he’d been before the accident?

***

Alex had been looking forward to another night with Molly, but she’d chosen to spend the night with her grandmother, who was having a tough time after losing her husband only a year and a half ago and now her son being in critical condition.

He knew it was the right thing for her to do, not only so she could be with Franny, but to remove the temptation that would come if they were alone again. With her trying to distract herself from worrying about her dad and him trying not to think about his dad or how his mom was staying at an inn 15 minutes down the road, they were both in dangerously vulnerable emotional spaces in their minds. That vulnerable mental status could very well lead to a vulnerable physical status and he had committed to Molly, and himself, to not rushing things.

Now, instead of watching a movie with Molly, he was standing outside The Lavender Inn, scowling at the front door, dreading having another conversation with his mother and regretting he’d agreed to her request to take her he’d take her to dinner before she left for Baltimore in the morning.

At this point he wished he hadn’t decided to give up alcohol. He could certainly use a belt of something strong before he faced her again. He let out a long breath and took a step toward the front door, which opened quickly before he got there.

“There you are.” His mother swept past him wearing a puffy silver jacket, a pair of blue slacks, and pink high heels. “Does this town have any good restaurants or should we just swing by a convenience store and buy some packaged meat and cheese?”

Alex recognized the sweet smell that overtook his senses as his mom passed. It clearly wasn’t her perfume. She’d been drinking and by the way she was listing toward the left he had a feeling she’d worked her way through the mini-bar over the last several hours since she’d left the farm.

He pressed his hand against the truck door as she tried to open it. “I don’t think you’re in any shape to go out, Mom.”

She turned to look at him, scowling. “We’re going. We have a lot of things to talk about.”

“Like?”

Anger flashed in her eyes. “Like how you never talk to me.” She stepped toward him, speaking through clenched teeth. “Like how you blame me for your father leaving us.”

Alex rolled his eyes. He didn’t have the emotional reserve for this conversation after the week he’d had.

He grabbed his mother under her elbow and turned her toward the inn. “You’re drunk. Come on. You’re going back inside.”

She wrenched her arm out of his hand. “You!” She pointed at him and staggered backward. “You act like I’m – I’m too stupid to know that you and Sam hate me. You always hated me. After all I did for you!”

Alex put his hands on his hips and bit the inside of his lip to keep himself from causing any more of a scene than his mother already was. Thankfully no one was outside to see her. “We don’t hate you.” He grabbed her arm gently and pushed her toward the front door of the inn. “Come on. Let’s get you back to your room so you can rest. You need to sleep this off.”

She swung to face him, her face smeared with tears and mascara. “I did not drive your father away. I was never good enough for him. I wasn’t pretty enough. I was never skinny enough. I- I – I wasn’t strong enough or something and that’s why he left us for that woman and —”

Alex placed his hands on his mom’s upper arms and turned her toward him. “Dad left you because of his problems, Mom. It wasn’t something you did. Now come on. I’m taking you back to your room.”

Cecily nodded slowly, closing her eyes as the tears rolled down her cheeks. She slumped against Alex as he hooked an arm around her waist and led her back into the inn.

She fumbled in her purse for her key when they reached her room, swaying too much to slide it into the lock. Alex pushed it in for her and helped her into the dark room.

When she collapsed onto the bed, still crying, he saw for the first time his mother for what she was, maybe what she’d always been: a lost, confused, and betrayed woman who used her internal pain to lash out at others. He should have felt more compassion for her in that moment, but his emotional well was dry, especially for the woman who had never really been a mother to him.

He sat on the chair across from her as she sniffled and pulled the comforter up around her shoulders, not even bothering to slip off her designer boots. Leaning back, he watched her a few moments, until her sobbing quieted and her breathing fell into a rhythmic pattern.

He didn’t know how to feel about this latest breakdown. Mostly he felt annoyance, bordering on anger. He’d seen so many of these shows over the years, most of them fueled by too much alcohol, that he’d grown numb to them. Was it all an act this time too? Like all her other performances? A ploy for sympathy? Simply an opportunity to paint herself the victim again?

He didn’t know. Maybe this time there was sincerity in her tears. Sadly, he didn’t really care if there was.

Maybe there was some legit guilt on her part. He probably should have said even more, comforted her more, but he truly didn’t have it in him. He didn’t feel the compassion he knew he should feel for a woman who was obviously in search of reassurance that she wasn’t as bad as she thought she was. The problem was, he couldn’t lie and tell her she’d been an amazing mother. He couldn’t summon the tenderness a son should have for his mother. It simply wasn’t there. It had been drowned out by resentment and bitterness he knew he’d have to address one day.

As he left the room and the inn, climbing back into his truck, he knew one thing. He’d rather be cuddled up with Molly, instead of driving home on a cold autumn night, alone, thinking about how dysfunctional his family had been his whole life.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 33

Thank to you 21:25 books for the review of A New Beginning on her blog and then for her interview with me the following day.

This week there was a lot of thinking about this current book and what I want to happen and how I want it to end so that it will leave the door open for a continuing story of Molly and Alex, Liz, Ginny, Jason and Ellie, etc. I fall asleep dreaming about my characters and hoping by morning they will tell me which direction it all needs to go. The picture is definitely clearing up but I am already able to tell that there are some gaps in the story that still need to be filled in during revisions.

If you want to catch up with the rest of the story, you can do so HERE or by clicking the link at the top of the page.

As always, this is a novel in progress so there are bound to be typos, plot holes, etc. and you are welcome to let me know about them via the contact form or in the comments.


Molly closed her eyes against the darkness, the thrumming of tires on asphalt lulling her into a much needed sleep. When she woke up, Alex was parking the truck in the driveway and she was staring at the darkened windows of her parents’ house, a painful reminder that they weren’t there and her dad was in a coma at a hospital four hours away.

She wished she hadn’t agreed that she and Alex should come home and get some rest while Jason and her mom crashed at a hotel down the street from the hospital. Her world was upside down and she didn’t know if it would ever be right side up again.

“You going to be okay alone?”

She shook her head, still looking at the house.

Wiping her fingertips across the damp skin under her eyes she looked at him, his face barely lit by the light from the light pole next to the barn. “I really don’t think I can be here without them.”

She looked at the house again. “I’d stay with Liz but she’s still at her parents. I could crash at grandma’s, I guess.”

“You could, but I don’t know if the best thing for a woman Franny’s age is someone pounding on her door at midnight.”

Molly laughed softly. “Yeah. You’re probably right.”

“You want me to stay?” He shrugged a shoulder. “I can sleep on the couch.”

She knew she should say ‘no’. The idea of being alone with him when she felt so vulnerable scared her, but the idea of being in her parents’ house without them, alone with the thoughts that her dad might not ever come back here again, absolutely terrified her.

“Yes.”

She thought he might hesitate, but instead he jumped out, briskly walked to her side of the truck, and opened the door for her.

“Come on, then. We can do this.” He took her hand in his. “Together.”

Flicking on the lights in the house, they stood in the doorway frozen, as if they were both afraid to take a step inside.

He let out a breath. “Wow. I don’t like this at all.”

“Too quiet.”

“Much too quiet.”

They stood there for a few seconds longer and then he walked inside, snatched up the remote and turned on the TV. “That’s better. It’s not as quiet now.”

Molly laughed, wiping tears from her cheeks. “That works.” She stepped inside and tossed her jacket on the back of the couch, pushing the door closed behind her. “How about a snack and movie?”

She’d almost said, ‘before bed’, but that would have sounded wrong. So wrong. She was glad she hadn’t said it.

Alex flopped on the couch and propped his feet on the coffee table. “Absolutely.”

Molly looked at him with a mocking expression of disapproval.

“Do you seriously have your dirty boots on my mom’s coffee table?”

“Oh, crud.” He slid his feet back down again. He winced. “Don’t tell Annie.”

Molly laughed as she turned to walk back into the kitchen.

When they were sitting together on the couch a half an hour later, watching an old Humphry Bogart movie she’d suggested, a bowl of popcorn on her lap, she was definitely aware of how close he was, how warm his arm was against hers, but she was also bone tired.

She was thankful she was bone tired. Even if he had made a move, she wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it. As her eyelids grew heavy, she thought about their conversation on the way to the hospital and what he’d said when she’d been worried about paying off the loan.

“We’ll figure it out.”

She’d liked the way he’d said it, how it showed that he saw himself as part of the family. Five years ago, he’d walked into the barn for the first time, clean shaven, quiet and withdrawn. He’d had walls up she didn’t think would ever come down. They weren’t completely down, but they were falling piece by piece and she was grateful she was beginning to see sides of him she’d previously only seen glimpses of.  

Leaning her head against his shoulder she closed her eyes, drifting to sleep, the voices of Humphrey and Lauren Bacall fading in and out between images of the cows in the field, her dad laughing from the back of the tractor, and Alex’s smile the day he’d kissed her at the overlook.

***

Alex woke to the sound of the shower running upstairs and a cow mooing in the pasture behind the farmhouse. Sunlight poured in through the front windows and the small window in the front door. He grabbed at his side as he sat up, wincing in pain. He knew he had a bag of painkillers in the truck, but he was leery of taking them again considering the crazy trip they’d sent him on a couple of days before. He’d ask Molly if she had any Tylenol or Ibuprofen when she came down instead.

He kept his hand against his side as he limped toward the kitchen, hoping Molly wouldn’t mind if he made himself some coffee. In the kitchen, he found the coffee already brewing and a plate of eggs and bacon on the counter with a note next to it.

Eat. Don’t argue. You can have the shower next.

How had she woken up without him even knowing, brewing coffee and cooking breakfast to boot? He’d either been extremely tired or she’d been extremely quiet. Either way, he was grateful for the coffee and the food. It would help give him fuel for the day he had planned. He’d be late to the barn, but he had chores to do to keep his mind busy and make sure Walt and Hannah didn’t have too much extra work on them. There was a full staff willing to help, he knew that , but after five years of being Robert and Jason’s right hand man he didn’t want to let them down now when they needed him the most.

Sipping coffee hot and black a few moments later, he was suddenly struck with how domesticated this all felt. The woman he loved was upstairs in the shower and she’d made him breakfast. He was getting ready to start his workday and he wouldn’t be surprised if she followed him to the barn to work with him.

Was this how Robert and Annie felt? Like a team? Two people working toward the same goals – putting food on their table but also the tables of their employees and consumers.

He added cream and sugar to the coffee, sipping it as he wandered into the living room and looked at the photos on the wall, photos he’d seen before, but never really studied close.

There was Jason and his dad standing next to a cow with a number clipped on its’ ear and a ribbon around its’ neck. Jason was probably 12 and Alex guessed the competition to be related to 4-H. The next photo was Molly riding a bike on the dirt road outside the house, her dad behind her, balancing the bike with his hand. Her grin was mesmerizing, her beautiful curls trailing behind her, blowing in the wind. She was probably seven or eight

His eyes moved across the images, the moments and memories that made up a life of the family he’d fallen in love with. His gaze stopped at Robert and Annie’s wedding photo. He’d already been told they had married right after high school and Jason had been born a few months after Annie turned nineteen. He couldn’t imagine starting a family at such a young age.

 He could barely imagine starting one now at his age. Still, there were those images he’d had in his mind that night in the barn when he was kissing Molly. Those images of Molly holding a baby on her hip. Some part of him must have been able to imagine his future with children in it. His children. His and Molly’s children.

Seeing those visions that night had been one of the most surreal moments of his life. He had never experienced such a visceral moment with a woman and the experience had completely terrified him.

He didn’t intend to ever tell anyone what he’d seen so clearly in his mind’s eye..

Rubbing his hand across his face and the back of his neck, he hoped the coffee kicked in soon. In that brief moment as he sipped his coffee and heard the bathroom door open he pictured himself in the emergency room, hooked up to an IV, Molly next to him, her head bent down close to his. He almost choked on his coffee as the moment rushed back in sickening clarity.

He had told her about the visions. He remembered it now.

He shook his head, rubbed his hand across his mouth, down his chin.

No.

He must have dreamt it.

That painkiller had hit him hard.

He hadn’t known what was real and what wasn’t that night and he still wasn’t sure. He took a deep breath and let it out again.

Yes, it had been a dream. It had to have been.

 He hadn’t said anything to her. Right?

Molly stepped off the bottom step, her hair damp, her skin glowing, wearing a pair of jeans that fit her curvy figure perfectly and a clean, crisp flannel shirt that he knew meant she planned to head to the barn. He looked at her over the edge of the mug and tried to decide if he really had told Molly about seeing her with that baby on her hip, her parents in the backyard pushing a child on a tire swing and Ellie pregnant in the front yard, holding an apple pie. He was sure it would all come back to him over the next few days and until then he decided not to bring it up. It was too mortifying, too frightening to think that he might also have told her he knew he was going to marry her one day.

The key word was “one day.” What if she’d thought ‘one day’ meant today’?

She tilted her head to one side, narrowed her eyes. “You okay?”

“Hum?” He realized he was still staring at her, both hands cupped around the mug of coffee. He lowered the mug and smiled. “Oh yeah. I’m great. Thanks for breakfast and the coffee.” He gestured toward her. “Are you thinking of heading to the barn? I was going there myself after I clean up.”

“Yeah. I want to see if Uncle Walt needs any help.  Speaking of help, when you’re done washing up, I’ll help those bandages. The doctor said to change them once a day, remember?”

He shrugged. He hadn’t had time since he’d left the hospital. “I can handle it.”

A half an hour later, though, he was sitting in the living room shirtless embarrassed to admit to Molly he couldn’t get the bandage tapped to his back so it would cover the stitches which stretched from his stomach to around his side.

“It looks better than it did a couple of days ago,” she said after she’d pulled the old bandage off. “Did I tell you I almost passed out when they started to clean it out?”

He grinned. “No, you didn’t tell me that. A strong farm girl like you couldn’t handle the sight of blood?”

She didn’t smile when she lifted her head to look at him. “Not yours. No.”

He lifted his arm as she taped the bandage to his skin with the medical tape. Her damp curls grazed his cheek as she worked, and he breathed in deep the smell of her shampoo.

Was it wrong to kiss a woman when her dad was in critical condition in a hospital four hours away? He wasn’t sure but before he gave himself time to think about it, he kissed her cheek softly, hoping she’d turn her head so he could kiss her mouth next. She did and the kiss was sweet and long and enough to make him forget the events of the last few days, at least temporarily.

When she pulled her mouth away slowly several moments later her hands were in his hair, his hands were on her hips, he had pulled her against him, and they were both breathless. She slowly let his hair slide through her fingers as her hands fell to his bare shoulders and she leaned back to look at him.

“I’m going to tape the rest of this up and go check on Uncle Walt,” she said softly. “Because if I keep kissing you, we’re going to get into trouble.”

He smiled and nodded. “Understand.”

And truly, he did understand.

He tried to calm his racing heart as she finished with the bandage and then stepped away from him, turning to walk toward the front door.

“See you in the barn,” she called over her shoulder as he buttoned his shirt.

When she opened the door, though, she started and stepped back surprised to see an attractive blond woman in her mid-50s, wearing a pair of sunglasses, and a light pink suit coat and pants, standing there with her arms folded across her chest and dark red lips pursed together.

Alex, standing and buttoning his shirt, looked at the woman in surprise. “Mom?”

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 32

I posted Chapter 31 yesterday, if you are interested. To catch up with the other chapters click HERE or the top of the page. Also, if the chapter shows up twice here somehow, I apologize. WordPress was giving me a fit last night when I scheduled it.


Chapter 32

They’d been on the road for 90 minutes.

She was restless.

He could tell by how she kept shifting to try to find a more comfortable position and the way her face kept scrunching up like she was thinking deeply.

He knew what she was thinking about, worrying about.

Her father.

The farm.

Hopefully not him.

He pulled off the exit onto the highway. “What’s keeping you awake?”

“Your driving.”

He laughed. “Thanks a lot. I thought I was doing pretty good.”

A tractor trailer roared by them, followed closely by a red convertible with the top down. A man about 50 and a young girl were in the front seat, the wind whipping their hair back.

Molly shuddered and hugged her arms to her. “It is way too cold to have the top down.”

Alex leaned back and propped his wrists on the steering wheel. “So, are you going to keep changing the subject or are you going to tell me what’s really bothering you? Is it your dad? Have you heard anything?”

Molly wrapped her coat around the front of her like it was a blanket and slid down in the seat. “That’s part of it, yes. She called while you were getting dressed. He’s in surgery and the doctor said it could take a few hours. She’s going to call when she knows more.”

He changed lanes, passing a small sedan. He rubbed his unshaven jawline with his chin, trying to keep his thoughts from jumping to the worst when it came to Robert. He probably shouldn’t bring it up, but he was starting to wonder if their conversation in the barn before the accident was bothering her too.

 “Listen, maybe this isn’t the time, but about Jessie —”

She waved at him dismissively. “Jason and I talked. He said you told him about Jessie.”

He glanced at her. “And?”

“And what?”

“And do you believe me?”

She looked at him, catching his eye as he glanced at her then back at the road.

“Yeah. I do.”

“I meant what I said, Molly. All of it. About how long I loved you, how you were the only person I could think of that night.”

He reached over and took her hand in his and she smiled but then nodded toward the steering wheel. “Two hands on the wheel, Stone. This family has enough going on without us driving into another car.”

She reached for her bag as he grinned and put his hand back on the wheel.

“Hey,” she said, sliding his phone out of her purse. “I almost forgot. Jason grabbed your phone when he went to get your clothes. He said you had a couple of missed calls and might want to check them.” She laid it on the seat, but he kept driving, ignoring the phone.

“You don’t want to check your messages?”

He shook his head. “Nope. Doubt it’s anyone I want to talk to.”

“What if it’s your mom or dad? Maybe you’d —”

“I’ll check it later. I’ve got enough on my mind right now. I just want to check on Robert.”

His tone, while not hard, indicated he didn’t want to discuss it further.

Molly shrugged. “Okay, but maybe you should tell your mom you were in the hospital at least?”

He shook his head. “Mom’s not maternal. You know that.” He smirked at her. “I’ve told you a few of those stories.”

She tipped her head forward to capture her hair into her hands and pull it into a ponytail. “Yeah, you have. If you don’t want to call her right now, I understand.” She sighed and sat back against the seat. “I guess all this means we won’t hit that deadline to pay that loan off. We’re not even going to hit the extended one that Bill was able to get for us.”

“We’ll figure something out,” he told her, shifting lanes again. “That farm has been in your family for how many years again?”

She tipped her head, her eyebrows furrowed as she thought about it. “Wow. Good question. I’m not sure really. I mean, the main farm was founded by my great-great grandfather. His brother ran it for a while with my great-grandfather. Then Grandpa’s dad passed it on to him. Grandpa expanded it in the ‘60s and again about 15 years ago.”

Alex whistled. “So, it’s been in your family like 200 years or something.”

Molly nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”

 “That’s amazing. Do you guys know how amazing that is? I mean, I don’t know anything about my family. We don’t have anything in our family that’s been passed down from generation to generation like that. I don’t even know much about my family beyond my maternal grandfather.”

“Honestly, it’s something I’ve taken for granted all these years,” Molly said softly. “Lately, I’ve been wondering if I’ll ever find a life beyond the farm. I keep wondering if this is all I’m meant to do — milking cows and shoveling their poop. It’s weird, before I learned we could lose it, I wanted to walk away from it all.”

Alex shifted gears as he passed a slower moving car. “Do you still want to?”

She slid her hand along the inside edge of the door. “Sometimes.” She looked out the window at farmland fading into more towns with large buildings and housing developments. “But I can’t leave my family, especially now when they need my help the most.”

She pushed her hand back through her hair and propped her arm against the window.

“What about you? I can’t imagine that you ever thought you’d still be working on a farm. Have you ever thought about leaving?”

Alex winced. “Ouch. That’s a loaded question.”

He looked over at her, at her questioning expression, and cleared his throat. “Honestly, yes, I have thought about it. I thought about it after I was here for two years. I thought about it again after I was here for three. Then one day I realized I was in love with the farm. I realized I loved waking up in the morning and smelling freshly cut hay and watching the sun rise while we milked the cows. I even loved milking the cows, despite the fact they totally freaked me out when I first started. I loved knowing we were growing food for the world to eat and for the first time in my life I loved hard work.”

She watched him with a smile as he pulled the truck off the highway, parking at a rest stop. He shifted the truck into park, laid his arm across the back of the seat, and looked at her for a few moments before he spoke again. He trailed the back of his index finger along her jawline.

 “I also looked over one day and saw how beautiful you’d become. Soon, the love of farming wasn’t the only thing keeping me here.”

He tucked a strand of hair that fallen out of her ponytail behind her ear. “I didn’t know if I’d ever get the courage to tell you how I felt, but just being around you was enough.” He slid closer. “For a while anyhow.”

He kissed her mouth briefly, then jerked his head toward the driver’s side. “It’s your turn to drive and my turn to rest. I’m not sure but I think that painkiller messed me up.” He made a face. “I’m rambling way too much about my feelings.”

She tipped her head back and laughed.

“Not as much as last night,” she whispered after he’d climbed out on his way to the passenger side.

***

Alex scrolled through the missed calls on his phone. Three from Sam, two from his mom, a voicemail from his mom, and two voicemails from Sam.

He listened to Sam’s first. “Alex. Where are you? I need to talk to you. Call me when you get a chance.”

His Mom: “So, you’re ignoring your mother now, are you? Well, that’s not very nice Alex. I’ve been trying to reach you all week. It would be nice if you’d return a call.”

Sam again.

“Alex. Seriously. Pick up. Don’t ignore me. I need you to call me. It’s about Dad. Call me when you get this.”

Alex slid his finger over the delete button. How many times in the last five years had he received similar messages? And when he’d called his brother had told Alex his dad had moved another woman in, or was selling company stocks, or wanted Alex to come work for him. It was never an emergency but somehow Sam always seemed to think it was.

As for his Mom, she craved attention she’d never earned.

He tossed the phone on the seat of the truck and yawned. He and Molly had spent the day waiting for Robert to come out of surgery. They’d hoped for good news, but had receive a mix of bad and good news. The good news was that Robert’s pelvis had a handful of screws in it, but doctor’s expected him to be able to walk again, hopefully within the next six months. The bad news was that Robert had had a small stroke during surgery and hadn’t woken up yet.

Alex had left Molly, Jason and Annie to have some private time with Robert. He’d told them he planned to take a nap in the truck and he had, for about two hours. Now he was awake, watching the sun set between two tall buildings in the distance. There was a time when being in the city had invigorated him and sent a chill of anticipation shivering through him. There was always something happening in a city.

Now, though, after living five years in almost completely wide-open spaces, the buildings, parking lots, and loud noises made him feeling like the world was closing in on him. He stretched the full length of his body across the front seat and closed his eyes, wishing sleep would come again. If he slept, he didn’t have to think about Robert hooked up to all those wires and tubes in that hospital room. If he slept, he didn’t have to think about the possibility of losing the only man besides his grandfather who had shown him what a real man should be. He laid his arm across his eyes and let out a long breath.

He remembered that one morning he’d stumbled into the barn after a night of drinking. His eyes had been blood shot and his head felt like a bowling ball. Despite trying his best to hide it, he was – completing tasks slower than molasses. Robert had seen right through him. Unlike most employers who might have lectured him and told him to get his act together, Robert had asked him first if he was okay.

Alex had nodded but then clutched at his head when pain seared through it.

“Looks like you have a hangover,” Robert said, wrapping a rope around his hand to hang up in the barn.

“Yeah.”

“You’re not good to anyone in this shape. You were supposed to be on the tractor today and I can’t have you out there without a clear head.”

Robert had jerked his head back toward Alex’s truck, the rope wrapped up tight around his hand now. “Head back to the house and sleep it off. If you feel better this afternoon come back. If not, I’ll see you in the morning.”

More than anger, Alex heard disappointment in Robert’s voice. He’d left without argument, too embarrassed to even try to defend himself. After a few hours of sleep and some food he’d wandered back to the barn and found Robert underneath one of the farm’s trucks, changing the oil.

He stood next to the struck, shifting his feet, his hands in his front jean pockets.

“Feeling better?” Robert had asked.

“Yeah.”

Sliding out from under the truck and standing, Robert wiped his hands on a rag, looking at Alex, appearing to be thinking about what to say next.

“You’re a good, kid, Alex,” he’d finally said. “Polite. Hard worker. I think you’ve got a really bright future doing pretty much whatever you want to do. I know I’m not your dad and maybe I shouldn’t be saying anything, but I hate to see you throw it all away because of alcohol.”

Alex kicked at the dirt with his shoe, looking at the ground. “Yes, sir.”

“I hope you know that I don’t mean to be lecturing you, or telling you what to do,” Robert had continued. “It’s just that I’ve come to care about you and don’t want to see you get hurt.”

The softness in Robert’s voice had startled Alex. His own dad had never talked to him that way. Michael Stone’s idea of a pep talk was to tell Alex to “grow up” or “be a man.” Rather than being concerned about Alex, he was normally concerned about his own reputation or the reputation of his business.

Robert hadn’t only shown Alex what it meant to be good father by how he treated him but also in how he treated his own children. His example of how to be a good husband also fascinated Alex. How he treated Annie was worlds apart from how Alex’s father had treated his Alex’s mother, or any of the women in his life actually.

Alex had walked into the farmhouse one day to tell Robert he’d figured out an issue with the feeder and wished a few moments later he had knocked. He had interrupted a tender moment between Annie and Robert. Thankfully it wasn’t too racy, but it had been enough to make him try to back out slowly so he wouldn’t be seen.

Robert had been standing behind Annie while she cooked lunch, kissing her neck.

“Marrying you was the best thing I ever did, Annie Tanner,” Robert had said softly.

She had laughed and looked over her shoulder at Robert. “Are you saying this because I’m making you homemade chocolate pudding for dinner tonight?”

“No, ma’am. I think that even when you don’t feed me my favorite dessert.”

Alex had started to back away, trying to escape before they saw him, but he ran into the table by the couch and almost knocked over a lamp. The sound of the lamp rattling back into place as Alex caught it and placed it upright gave Alex away and he smiled sheepishly as the couple turned to look at him. Even though he hadn’t seen anything he shouldn’t have, he felt like he had been spying on an intimate moment.

The pair had laughed at him when he stuttered out an apology, assuring him they’d only been chatting. They might have only been chatting, but the fact they did so like a newly married couple, despite being married almost 30 years, made Alex realize not all marriages were like his parents had been — loveless and full of deceit and bitterness.

Rain splattered the windshield in the truck and Alex watched droplets slide down the glass and pool at the bottom.

In the hospital room, Molly, Jason, and Annie had prayed for Robert while he watched uneasily from the other side of the room. At one point Molly had reached for his hand and he’d let her pull him into the circle as they prayed. He closed his eyes, but he didn’t feel comfortable. He didn’t know how to pray or even if he believed there was someone out there or up there to pray to.

Letting out a long breath, he felt emotion catch in his throat. He hadn’t expected that.

“God,” he whispered. “If you’re there, please don’t let Robert die. Don’t take Molly and Jason’s dad from them. Don’t do this to Franny and Annie. They’ve all lost so much already.”

He dragged the back of his hands across his eyes and shook his head.

Well, he’d prayed. He didn’t feel much different, though. It certainly wasn’t like in the movies.

 In fact, he felt a little stupid talking to himself.

He closed his eyes again and let sleep overtake him, hopeful that when he woke up there’d be good news about Robert.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter, Chapter 29

Anyone else ready for an escape from reality?

Some of you probably won’t be happy with me today because I’m going to leave you on a cliffhanger. However, I will post Chapter 30 tomorrow so you’re not left hanging for too long.

I’ve been posting these chapters since April. I can’t believe it, but I have. I’ve been working on this particular story for a couple of years now, off and on anyhow.
As always, there will probably be typos, missing words, etc. as this is a novel in progress. If you find some of these typos, etc., please feel free to let me know in the comments or via the contact form so I can fix them. I’ve seen some really dumb mistakes on my chapters long after they were published here and I’m always amazed someone didn’t say something about them so I could fix them. Ha!

If you would like to catch up to the rest of the story you can do so HERE or at the link at the top of the page. Or, you can wait until February 2021 when I publish it on Kindle (after rewrites, editing, etc.).


Chapter 29

“No, Mom, I won’t hear of it.”

Robert held his hand out toward his mom and shook his head. “We are not selling this property or this house to cover that loan. This house has been in our family for generations. I appreciate the offer, but that’s not the answer.”

Franny sighed and slid her glasses off, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Robert, we can’t hold on to all this property forever and if it will help save the rest of the business then we need to consider it.”

“Mom. No. I’m not allowing —”

“There is no allowing anything on your part. This house and property are in my name and my name alone. I will make the final decision, not you.”

Robert sat in the recliner that had been his father’s and propped his elbows on his knees, looking at his mother. Her jawline had that familiar set of a woman who was not to be deterred. Her eyes were flashing with determination and her lips were pressed firmly together. Worst of all was her unwavering gaze that told him she’d made up her mind.

She wanted to move into an apartment close to Betty and Frank. It would be less upkeep and the sale of the house and property would go to help pay off the loan. Robert appreciated her offer, but at this point, the deadline to pay off the loan was closing in and the sale would take longer than they had. Thankfully, they’d be able to pay off a large portion of it with the proceeds combined from the sale of the corn, the milk sales, and profits from the farm store over the last month.

“Mom, I know it’s up to you. The decision is yours, but at this point, the sale would take a while and it wouldn’t be in time to go toward the loan.”

 Franny sighed. “Well, I guess I can hang on to the house for a bit longer. Who knows, maybe I can give it to Molly to live in when she gets married. “

Robert raised an eyebrow and narrowed his eyes. “Married? Have you heard something I haven’t?”

Franny laughed softly and leaned back against the couch. “Don’t get all flustered now. I haven’t heard a thing. I’m just thinking about her future. I’m sure she’ll get married someday.”

“To Alex?”

“I don’t know who. I’m just saying, our Molly is a good catch for any man, and she might want to stay close to her family. We don’t know.”

“Or she could want to leave the farm, see what else is out there for her,” Robert countered.

“True. That’s all up to Molly, but just in case she wants to stay close to her family, raise her children here, then —”

“Children?” Robert scoffed. “Mom, let’s slow down a bit okay? I haven’t even wrapped my head around her kissing my farmhand let alone let my mind go to her being married or having children.”

Franny chuckled. “Good grief, Robert. You need to get with the program and realize Molly isn’t a little girl anymore. She’s a grown woman with her own path to carve out in life.”

“I know that mom, but I think you would agree that even though she’s a grown woman, she will always be my little girl.”

Franny tilted her head and smiled. She leaned forward and covered her son’s rough, hard-worked hands with her much smaller ones. “Just like you will always be my sweet boy.”

A grin tugged Robert’s mouth upward. “Thanks, Mom. I love you too.”

***

Molly had been avoiding Alex all day and she knew he could tell. He’d tried more than once to reach for her hand and she’d pulled away each time, reaching for a shovel or a bucket or anything so she wouldn’t feel his skin against hers and lose control of her senses every time he was around. She couldn’t miss his looks of confusion, the way he’d looked at her with narrowed eyes from the main barn doorway on his way to the lower barn as if trying to figure out why she’d turned so cold in such a short time. 

Several times during the day she snuck looks at him, trying to decide if he was the type of person who would have confessed his love for a woman only a couple of weeks after taking another woman he barely knew home from the bar and sleeping with her. There was part of her who couldn’t imagine it, but part of her that thought it was possible, not because he was a horrible person, but because she knew Alex used things like alcohol and women to distract himself from the difficulties in life. 

She knew he had strained relationships with both of his parents. Maybe he’d been trying not to think about that. Still, if he had loved her for years as he said, then why would he have taken Jessie home instead of telling her how he felt? Why had it taken him so long to tell her anyhow? Alex Stone wasn’t someone who was afraid of women and there was no way he was afraid of her. There was nothing special or intimidating about her. She wasn’t beautiful and tall and leggy like Jessie Landry. She was just Molly. Boring, fat, plain, and forgettable Molly Tanner.

She swallowed hard, walking toward the chicken coop, shaking her head at the tears stinging her eyes. A few nights ago, she was overcome with emotion by the words Alex spoke, and by the way, he held her tenderly. Now she was wondering if that had all been an act, even though she truly couldn’t comprehend it had been. She drew in a deep breath, held it for a moment, and silently prayed for God to reveal the truth to her and stop her racing mind.

Warmth against the back of her neck a few moments later as she collected the eggs sent a shiver of panic rushing through her. She could smell his aftershave and it was clouding her thoughts. Why did he have to stand so close?

She snatched up the eggs and quickly moved to the next nesting box to move away from him.

He moved with her, stepping even closer until his front was almost touching her back. “Hey, you’ve been avoiding me all day. What’s going on?”

She didn’t turn around. She knew if she looked at him, she’d burst into the tears she’d been fighting back all day.

“Nothing’s going on. I’m fine.”

He laughed softly. “Yeah, um, I know ‘I’m fine’ is code for ‘something is wrong’ in women speak.”

He touched her arm gently and for a brief second, she pictured herself leaning back into him so he could hold her. “Molly, talk to me.”

She slid past him and carried the basket of eggs out of the chicken coup, walking back toward the barn without answering him. She could hear his footsteps quickening behind her. Where did she think she was going to go that he wasn’t going to follow? The bathroom was the only option, and she was fairly certain he would block her way if she tried to get to the house. 

His hand caught hers as she stepped inside the feed room door. Trying to pull loose she moved toward the middle of the room, but he pulled her gently back toward him until she was facing him.

His voice was firm. “Talk to me. I need to know why we’ve gone from making out one day to you not even acknowledging I’m alive the next. What happened between a few days ago and today?”

His hand gripped hers tightly. She closed her eyes, praying the tears would disappear. 

When she opened her eyes, she was staring straight into a pair of captivating blue eyes clouded with genuine concern and confusion. At that moment she couldn’t imagine Alex would ever lie to her and that fact terrified her because she knew she was about to ask him a question she didn’t want to know the answer to.

She asked it quickly and bluntly before she chickened out and ran for the house. 

“Did you sleep with Jessie Landry?”

Alex’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. “No. Why would you even ask that?”

“Because Jessie says you did.”

He released his grip on her hand. “And you believe her?”

She chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment and shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t really, no. I’ve known Jessie for years and I can’t remember her ever being a very honest person.”

He stepped back from her, hands on his hips, turning to look at the field across the road. Panic began to surge through her. He’d already denied it but now he had withdrawn, and she wondered if that meant there was some truth to Jessie’s story. When he turned back toward her, his expression was serious.

“I didn’t sleep with her, but I did bring her back to my place that night.” He walked toward her until he was standing a few inches in front of her, his eyes glistening as he spoke. “I took her home because I wanted to take my mind off you because I didn’t think I was good enough for you, Molly. I still don’t. I saw you with Ben that day outside the church and I thought something was going on between you. I figured it was because he was better than me. I went to the bar a couple of nights later, Jessie was hanging all over me and I didn’t want to think about how I wasn’t good enough for you anymore so I brought her back home.” He looked at the barn floor, shaking his head. “The entire time she was there, though, all I could think about was you.”

Warmth spread through Molly’s chest and her face flushed. 

He swallowed hard and brought his gaze back to hers again. “That’s the truth. I don’t expect you to believe me because you know my past, you know I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I promise you that this was not one of them. I never should have taken her home. I never should have gotten drunk that night. I kissed Jessie, I almost slept with her, but I didn’t.” He pushed his hand through his hair, laughing softly. “She definitely was not happy about that, but I couldn’t help it. It was you I wanted. Not her.”

“I meant what I said Molly. I’m in love with this farm, I’m in love with this family and more importantly, I’m in love with you. Do you really think I lied about that? That I could lie about that?”

She opened her mouth and closed it again, unsure how to answer. Did she really think he’d lied? She couldn’t even imagine he had, yet she was afraid to fully trust he hadn’t. Fully trusting meant opening her chest and letting her heart be exposed in a way she hadn’t allowed since she dated Ben.

“Molly?”

The hurt in his eyes shot daggers through her heart and she wanted to tell him she believed him, she trusted him, she loved him as much as he said he loved her but she couldn’t seem to move beyond her fear.

She reached out and laid her hand against his upper arm. “Alex, I —”

The back door to the feed room swung open and Jason filled the opening as he guzzled soda from a can and burped loudly. “Oops did I interrupt some kind of lover’s spat?”

She thought her head was going to explode.

She didn’t even know her brother had a clue about her and Alex’s relationship and at this point, she didn’t even care. 

She swung to face him. “Excuse me?”

Jason stepped into a square of light on the barn floor made from an opening above the door. “You heard me.” He winked and pointed to her then to Alex and back to her again. “I know all about you two.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “What — how — I mean just seriously, what is wrong with my family? You all have the worst timing on the planet and act like I can’t have a life of my own.”

Jason’s eyes widened and he blinked at her innocently. “What do you mean? I didn’t say you couldn’t have your own life, I just —”

“Interrupted me,” Molly snapped. “Interrupted me again. Like everyone else in this family has done every time Alex and I are together. I’m sick of all of you sticking your nose in my business.”

Jason looked at Alex who raised his arms slightly from his side and shrugged. Jason looked back at his sister and sighed. “I just can’t win with women right now, can I?”

Molly folded her arms across her chest her cheeks bright red. “Apparently not. Now get lost. This is a private conversation.”

It was Jason’s turn to roll his eyes. “Fine, I’ll leave but I needed to ask Alex if he can run down and check on dad first.”

Molly cocked a leg to one side, folded her arms across her chest, and glared at her brother. “Why?”

“Because Dad has been down in the field by the lower barn for two hours. It shouldn’t take him two hours to plant rye in that area and I wanted to know if Alex would go see if the tractor broke down again. Dad didn’t take his phone with him.”

Molly was certain her blood pressure was at a dangerous level at this point. “Why can’t you do it?”

“Because Uncle Walt is on his way over with Troy and we’ve got to move those heifers up to the upper barn before the storm moves in.”

Alex stepped between the siblings and held a hand toward each of them. “Hey, guys, truce, okay? I’ll head down and check on Robert.” He turned toward Molly, his back facing Jason. “Can we finish this discussion when I get back? I want to talk this out, okay?”

Molly nodded, touching his arm gently. “Yes. I want to too.”

For the first time since they’d started talking a small smile tugged at Alex’s mouth. “Good,” he said softly.

Jason groaned. “Gross. I don’t need to see you two swoon over each other. I’m going to go wait outside for Uncle Walt.”

Alex laughed softly as Molly stuck her tongue out at Jason’s back. 

He stepped toward her, leaned in, and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be right back, okay?”

She nodded. “Okay.”

“We’ll talk?” he asked softly, cupping his hand against her face.

A faint smile tugged at her mouth. “We will.”

Molly watched Alex climb into his truck from the feed room’s doorway. On the horizon behind him, dark clouds were inching toward the farm, threatening to pound the ground with rain for the third time that week. She pushed her hand back through her hair, anxious to continue their conversation but feeling relieved that they had at least broached the issue instead of letting it fester.

***

As he drove toward the lower field, Alex’s mind was filled with what else he wanted to tell Molly when he got back to the barn. He wished their conversation hadn’t been interrupted — again. Did she believe him? What had she been about to say? He knew Jason hadn’t meant to interrupt their conversation but part of him wanted to tell his friend off – from a distance where Jason couldn’t shove him again, of course. Alex’s chest and back were still aching from the encounter a few days before.

He should have known Molly would eventually find out about Jessie, but at the same time, she’d told him she already knew about his past and still loved him. The memory of her words gave him hope that she’d been about to tell him she believed him and understood why he hadn’t told her about Jessie before. And then there had been the way she had touched his arm before he left, telling him she wanted to talk more. That was a good sign, right? It had to be. 

He drove slowly over the small dirt road that connected the upper and lower fields of the Tanner’s farm, his mind focused completely on Molly until he came up over the hill and looking down saw the underside of Robert’s tractor facing toward him instead of the cab. That definitely wasn’t normal. Was Robert trying to fix it? If he was, how did he get it up on its’ side? Alex’s chest tightened. Robert couldn’t have pushed it over on his own.

He quickly scanned the grassy area around the overturned tractor for Robert, terror gripping him when he didn’t see him.

“Please let him be in the barn,” he prayed, gunning the accelerator. 

The moment he slammed his foot on the brake and threw the truck into park he knew Robert wasn’t in the smaller storage barn. His chest constricted as he shoved the truck door open. 

He could already see Robert’s body pinned underneath the 1960 Ford tractor that had originally been Ned’s. 

Oh, God

He started running.

“Robert! Robert! Talk to me!”

Robert’s torso and legs were under the main part of the tractor, his pale face visible, glazed eyes looking up at the darkening sky.

Dark red pooled around his upper body.