Hi all, I’m so sorry I missed updating this story 2 weeks ago. Life got the better of me, but my head is in a better place now. I hope you enjoy today’s chapter!
Need to catch up? Chapter 1 is here.
Sunlight streamed in through the southern window in Ellie’s bedroom. She’d been awake for a couple hours, but she hadn’t moved from her bed yet. She hadn’t wanted to face the reality of what she’d experienced yesterday, and staying in bed helped it feel more like a dream. Thankfully, it was her day off from the store so she didn’t have to feel guilty.
Well, not guilty in that particular area of her life. She should be outside doing chores, milking the goats and gathering eggs, helping her mom prepare their small farm for winter, but she just couldn’t bring herself to care. The goats would be pissed at her when she finally went downstairs, but right now, Ellie ignored the little voice in her head telling her to get up.
Gwendolyn popped her head in around ten. Ellie didn’t even have the energy to get mad about her mom not knocking. She just lay with her back to the door and didn’t move.
“I milked the goats,” Gwendolyn said. “They were less than pleased. You feeling okay, El?”
“Sure. I’m okay,” Ellie said to the wall. “Thanks for milking the goats.”
Her mom came all the way into the room. Ellie glanced over her shoulder. Gwendolyn’s slender form leaned against the doorframe, her strong arms wrapped around her middle. She wore faded blue jeans and a long-sleeved button-up shirt, a light blue checked pattern. Her straw-colored hair was pulled back in a low ponytail at the base of her skull and the long strand fell in a pin-straight rope over her right shoulder.
“I’m worried about you, honey,” Gwendolyn said. “I’ve been worried. I know things have been hard for you since Harmon—”
“I said I’m fine.” Ellie pulled her covers over her head. She stayed that way until Gwendolyn sighed and shut the door behind her as she left.
Ellie pushed the covers down, rolled onto her back, and stared at the ceiling. If Ellie was being honest, she was worried about herself too. Not that she’d ever admit it out loud. Least of all to her worrywart mother.
She didn’t know what she needed. The late nights were catching up to her, and even though her friends were on board with helping, she was feeling the time pressure. Her breakdown last night was proof of that.
Adam would be home in twelve days. That didn’t give them a lot of time to find the damn treasure. And even with Adrianna’s skills, Ellie wasn’t sure they would find it in time. Hell, she didn’t even know if it was really real. For all she knew, it was a morphine-dreamt fiction. But she needed to either find it or give up the hunt, and she didn’t know which choice was the right one. Giving up felt like a copout, but she couldn’t sustain going out every night anymore.
Ellie kicked her covers off, and was greeted immediately by the chill of early winter. The comforter landed with a soft thwump on the floor. She sat up and scrubbed at her face with the palms of her hands. Willing herself out of bed, she padded barefoot down the stairs into the kitchen where Gwendolyn was getting her mid-morning tea ready.
“Make two?” Ellie asked, the closest she’d come to an apology.
Gwendolyn pulled a second teacup from the cupboard. Tea in this house was served in real teacups with real saucers. Mugs were reserved for coffee and cocoa only. Ellie loved the soft floral patterns on the china and the silver rims, and how fancy she felt when she drank from them. She used to think she’d outgrow the feeling, but it never got old.
Ellie pawed through the stack of mail on the counter. Several bills stamped with SECOND NOTICE or FINAL NOTICE were mixed in. Ellie braved a glance at her mom, but Gwendolyn studiously avoided her eye as she measured out loose tea leaves.
Ellie knew better than to ask. Asking always led to an argument, so she quietly slipped the bills into the pocket of her hoodie. She had some savings. She’d scrape together enough money to pay the electric and the car insurance and whatever else was in the pile. There was always the option of picking up a shift at the bar with Rory if the amounts were too high.
When the tea was done, Ellie sighed in appreciation as she took the cup from her mom. Together, they made their way to the living room.
“Adam is coming home soon,” Ellie said, breaking the silence. “Mrs. Innis told me he’s gonna sell the house.”
“Adam was never one for farming. He had his eyes on fancy doctoring from the time we were in middle school.”
“I know,” Ellie said. She sighed. “I just can’t image the place without…”
“I know you won’t want to hear this, but… that corporation, what are they called… AgriCorn? I’ve heard they’re looking to expand into the area. I’m sorry, El.”
Ellie squeezed her eyes shut. This area was all family farms. For now, at least. The face of farming had been changing for a while, and it was only a matter of time before the big companies came here. Having a corporation come in, though, would change more than Ellie had the heart for. Especially if it changed Harmon’s land.
“I wish I could buy his farm instead,” Ellie whispered.
Her heart panged at naming her desire out loud. Rory and Adrianna had assumed she’d want the place, but saying it, unprompted, was terrifying. She had little savings, and she’d have even less once she paid for the overdue bills her mom couldn’t afford. She had no prospects to make more money except the occasional shift at the bar, but that could never be a regular thing with everything else she had going on. There was no way buying Harmon’s farm would ever happen, but that didn’t stop her from wanting it with all her being.
“Oh, honey, I know. If I could buy that land for you, I would in a heartbeat, but…” Gwendolyn trailed off.
“I know. We’re barely making ends meet here.”
Gwendolyn’s fingers tightened around her teacup.
“We’re doing fine this year,” Gwendolyn lied. They never talked about their money troubles. Ellie thought that maybe her mom still wanted to protect her from the realities of living in a poverty area. From the realities of being a farmer. But Ellie picked up enough of the bills that she wondered why her mom bothered.
“The harvest was good,” Gwendolyn continued. “The hens have been laying up a storm. Orders for pickles came in over the summer, and those are almost ready to deliver now. And I already have preorders for pies for Thanksgiving, which, I was going to ask for your help on.”
“Yeah, ‘course I’ll help.”
Gwendolyn looked at her for a long moment, her cornflower blue eyes sad and haunted. Ellie opened her mouth to say something, anything to break the silence, but Gwendolyn spoke first.
“I wish I could take your pain from you, Ellie, but grief is a funny thing. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s been too long and you should be over it by now. There’s no time limit.”
“How—” Ellie’s voice cracked at the unexpected subject change. “How did you get over Dad?”
Gwendolyn’s eyes grew sadder and more distant. Ellie knew she didn’t like talking about her dad, but Ellie really wanted to know. Needed to know.
She didn’t remember her dad very well. There were some fuzzy memories of being swooped around in the air. A long, soft beard. The smell of pipe tobacco. Warmth. Love.
And she remembered having to be very quiet in the house when he got sick. Ellie still wasn’t sure what he was sick with, but she suspected infection after a farming accident based on whispers around town at various times. No one ever told her the story because everyone assumed she knew. And she was too afraid to ask.
After that, there was a gloom in the farmhouse that never really seemed to dissipate. Her mom tried her best, but Ellie wasn’t sure she’d ever really gotten over his death.
“It was hard, especially at first,” Gwendolyn said. “I never felt like I had the space to grieve with having to take care of you and the farm. Not that I’d change any of it. You were my reason to go on. And once you got older, I’d spent so many years ignoring those feelings that they’d just become familiar.
“You and me, we’re so like.” Gwendolyn smiled at her, sad and understanding. “I know you’ve been out at his farm almost every night since he died. I haven’t asked about it because you’re an adult and that’s your business, but I’d hoped it was you doing what you needed to do to heal and move on.”
“I don’t want to move on,” Ellie said, tears spilling onto her cheeks. Damn, she’d cried more in the past three days than she had in years.
“Oh, Ellie.” Gwendolyn’s eyes filled with tears in sympathy. “Moving on isn’t a betrayal of his memory. It just means that you’re still here. Still young and alive, and you have so much life ahead of you. You can honor him without getting stuck.”
“It just hurts so much,” Ellie whispered.
Gwendolyn set her cup down and gestured for Ellie to join her on the couch. Ellie all but crawled into her mom’s lap, something she hadn’t done since she was single-digits.
“I know,” Gwendolyn said. “The only thing that makes it better is time. And new memories. Go out with your friends. Laugh. Do something reckless, but nothing I wouldn’t do.”
Ellie let out a small laugh. She couldn’t imagine her mom doing anything reckless ever, but then again, she had to have been young once, too.
Ellie hadn’t realized just how much she’d pulled away from everyone these past three months. She’d been drowning, but didn’t know it until everyone was still there to grab her hand and pull her back up to the surface where she could breathe again.
Chapter 4 Chapter 6