On Stable Ground - Chapter 1

774K 675 101

Chapter 1

Luke 6:47-49  Everyone who comes to me, and hears my words, and does them, I will show you who he is like.  He is like a man building a house, who dug and went deep, and laid a foundation on the rock. When a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it was founded on the rock.  But he who hears, and doesn’t do, is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.

Julie stood on the platform waiting. Unable to contain her excitement, she arrived at the depot  half an hour early. After barely sleeping the night before and a full morning of chores, her day which normally passed quickly, dragged on for what seemed like an eternity. A train whistle sounded in the distance, signaling to Julie that her wait was almost over. Excited was not strong enough emotion to describe how Julie felt. Tonya was coming! Tonya! Her best friend and cousin was finally coming home for the summer! Three years ago Tonya’s parents moved to the city. Was it really only three years ago? It seemed like a lifetime to Julie. Tonya was finally coming home for a visit!

When Tonya left for the city, they were as close as two people could be. They were normally joined at the hip. Their parents use to joke that they were like peanut butter and jelly, where one was, the other would be also.

When Tonya’s  parents moved from the farm to New York City, it tore the girls apart. Julie remembered crying herself to sleep many nights after Tonya left. At first they tried to stay in contact with the phone calls and emails they shared. They tried to stay close, but over the weeks, months and then years of separation, the girls drifted apart and became busy with their own lives. When Tonya called two weeks ago asking to spend the summer on the family farm, Julie was enthusiastic for her cousin’s return.

Three years could do a lot to a person. Before Tonya left, they were gangly pre-teens with braces, fantasizing about falling in love. They dreamed of settling down and finding their prince charming for Tonya and the cowboy that would help Julie on her Daddy’s farm. Raise their children and live happily after ever staying as close as sisters or cousins could be. However, Julie had never been in love and as far as she was concerned, the only boy to try and woo her did nothing for her except give her a headache. Thinking about her carefree cousin, she wondered if Tonya had found love in the city?

As the whistle sounded again, Julie pulled herself back to the present.  The train was almost at the station and Tonya would be here soon. And as the first car of steel and windows began to pass, Julie stood on her tiptoes trying to look inside and gain the first peek of her cousin. There? No...too young. There? No...too old. There...yes, yes there was Tonya, and Julie began waving frantically, trying to catch her cousin’s attention. Seeing her, Tonya waved and stood up and headed for the train door. Julie bounced along the platform to meet Tonya, for she was finally home!

“Tonya!” Julie yelled as she watched her cousin step off the train. The girls ran to each other through the crowded platform and hugged, both feeling a sense of comfort at being in each other’s company once again.

Stepping back and looking at Tonya for the first time, Julie realized how much her cousin had changed. She was no longer scrawny and awkward, and she looked as if she just stepped out of a magazine shoot. Her auburn hair was curled and flowed down her back. She was wearing a yellow sundress that resembled one Julie had seen on the cover of Cosmo at the Piggly Wiggly a month ago. Tonya’s toes were manicured and she was wearing a pair of healed sandals. In one word, she was beautiful.

Julie was sure she had not changed as much as Tonya. Not to mention that she in no way resembled the model Tonya could be. Julie was cute, but not in a way to turn heads like Tonya was doing now. Two teenage boys that were loading their things into another vehicle could not take their eyes off her. Tonya had always turned heads, but Julie wondered if her skimpy sundress had anything to do with it as well.

Julie’s russet colored hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She was positive her denim shorts and t-shirt that said, “Live today like it’s your last” was not featured in any Cosmo. Her feet were not manicured, she was lucky when her toenails were painted and not chipped. Today they were adorned with her work boots that were covered in horse manure. She had already put in four hours of work before leaving the farm over an hour ago. And when she arrived back on the farm, she would put in at least three more hours. No, her cousin could be pampered and beautiful, but she was a country farm girl through and through.

The girls loaded Tonya’s luggage into the back of the truck and started the twenty minute drive to the farm. Julie did not expect all of the baggage Tonya brought, but she would load it without complaint, just happy to have her cousin home.

“I know I haven’t said it yet, but wow! You look amazing!” Julie said as she pulled the old Ford truck out of the train depot parking lot and headed through town to the farm.

“Thanks.” Tonya said looking out the window at the passing sights, “Not much has changed around here I see.” Julie was not sure if she was talking about the town or her and hoped she was talking about the town. Even though she knew she was not glamorous and felt like the ugly duckling next to a beautiful swan, she didn’t need to be reminded of it.

Julie watched as Tonya pulled her iPhone out of her Gucci purse and started to dial, then said, “There’s no signal?”

Snickering under her breath, Julie said, “Uh, no. I think we have one provider that reaches town, but none reach the farm.”

“What? How am I supposed to keep in touch with the real world?”

Julie wasn’t sure if she should be offended or not. Tonya grew up here, she should know how isolated they were. Besides, Nana would help bring her back to reality really quick. “Well, I’m sure you can call your parents to let them know you made it when we get back to the farm.”

As they drove by the various farms and buildings, Julie tried to bring back some of their childhood memories. The church where they grew up, and where the family still attended. Tonya breaking her arm when she fell out of Heath’s tire swing. Heath, now there were some changes! Heath use to be the boy next door and the boy they both had a crush on. But, something over the past few years changed in him and they were no longer close.

When Heath’s grandfather was still alive, they only owned the farm to the north. Now that Heath’s dad, Tom, took over, they expanded and now own the farm to the north, west and south of her family’s farm. Julie wasn’t sure if the changes in Heath were due to his family’s farm expansion, but after his grandfather passed away, Heath began his wild streak. Often acting like he was entitled because of his family status in the community.

Julie was telling Tonya about the Mitchell farm as she looked out of the truck window to see Heath racing fast towards them on Jazz, his stallion. Without warning, Julie slammed on the truck’s brakes and threw it into park, she jumped out before the truck had a chance to come to a complete stop. Tonya just stared trying to figure out what happened.

“Heath Mitchell, how dare you?!?!” She yelled as she crossed the dirt road to the barbed wire fence that Heath and Jazz were quickly approaching.

“Well, look who it is. Sunshine of my life!” Heath said sarcastically as Jazz stuttered to a stop at the fence.

Julie was visibly upset at Heath, if the barbed wire had not been there to slow her progress, she was sure she would have pulled Heath from the saddle and throttled him like she wanted. “Heath you know what Doc Fisher said about keeping Jazz off his leg until the tendon was healed. And here you’re running him like the farm is on fire! Well, I don’t see smoke, so what’s the hurry?”

“Well, darlin’,” He took a long breath to emphasize his point. “This here,” he said as he leaned forward and patted Jazz’s neck, “is my horse, and I’ll do with it as I please.”

Even Julie had to admit that Heath looked good sitting in his saddle, but that did not excuse him from putting the animal in danger. His reckless behavior caused Julie to see red, and like a bull being taunted, she was not going to stop!

“And what happens when you finally maime Jazz? What then? Let me tell you NOW Heath Mitchell, this will be the only horse you buy from me! And I regret letting your Daddy talk me into it!”

Julie climbed through the fence and was leaning down to check Jazz’s leg when Tonya got out of the truck and said, “Jules, what are you doing?”

Heath looked over at Tonya and got a big grin on his face, “Well lookie what we have here, the prodigal granddaughter returns.”

“Well, Heath Michell. Is that you?” Tonya said in her best southern accent, the one she had worked for three years to hide.

Julie rolled her eyes and almost had to control her gag reflex. Luckily neither Tonya or Heath noticed her reaction.

“In the flesh darlin’,” he said as he winked and gave his million dollar smile.

Heath was known all through the county for being a charmer. And he did not have to work hard to get any girl he wanted. Well, any girl except for one. He had always had a thing for Julie and thought he might have her one day, even expand his father’s farm through a union with her.

He decided last year he was going to woo Julie, he even tried to let her know how he felt by trying to “court” her after her father, Charlie refused to sell their farm to his dad. He figured he would get the farm one way or another and if it worked out, he would get it when Julie and he eventually married. But, Julie was not taken in by his charm. She grew up with him and knew exactly how Heath had changed and now played the field, dropping a girl as soon as he got what he wanted.

He was patiently waiting her out, but sometime around the time his grandfather died, Julie became unattainable, he didn’t understand why she would not want him. Girls were throwing themselves at him, and while he waited for Julie to come to her senses, why not have a little fun?

“What are you doing to irritate Jules?” Tonya asked innocently. As she leaned up against the fence with her sundress waving in the breeze. Heath was looking her up and down approving of her changes. Thinking that if he couldn’t have Julie, maybe Tonya might do, at least for a little while.

“He’s doing his best to kill this horse.” Julie said as she glared at Heath. “Even after Doc Fisher warned him not to work him hard until he was fully healed! Fully healed Heath, not partially, not mostly, FULLY!”

He could see the anger in Julie’s eyes and knew that there was a fine line between anger and passion and he liked what he saw. He lifted one corner of his mouth knowing that this was the closest Julie had been to him in weeks and liked the feel of her heat radiating towards him. Yeah, he could stand anger from a woman as long as it was Julie dishing it out at him.

“Well, you should know how to treat a beautiful animal, Heath. I expected you to know how to handle a sweet creature like this.” Tonya was batting her eyes, pulling out all the stops. Flirting with cute boys was a hobby she had acquired since moving to New York, and she thought Heath was by far the cutest boy she had seen in a while.

Heath looked at Tonya wondering if Julie’s anger would be tempted with jealousy?

“I do know how to treat a beautiful animal Tonya. Not that Julie knows that, but maybe you would like to meet with me later today and I can show you how sweet I can be.”

Tonya giggled, “Can’t, first day back and all,” then she flicked her hair over he shoulder and said, “maybe a rain check?”

Julie just glared up at him, “Heath, Jazz has a pulled tendon from your last reckless ride! He should be resting and grazing, nothing more!” Julie patting the stallion on the leg. “Heath, this is serious. You could lame him.” Julie looked up at Heath noticing the lack of concern on his face, that little smirk he loved to give her, lifting the corner of his mouth. She had come to hate that look. It was condescending, know-it-all and trying to tell her he always got what he wanted.

“Well Julie,” He said leaning down and crossing his arms on the horn of the saddle to get close to Julie, “you know I would do anything to get your attention. . . good or bad.”

“Oh Heath, you know better than to get on Jules’ bad side!” Tonya said giving him a big smile and egging them both on. She had not realized until this moment how much she missed being home. Julie and Heath always knew what buttons to push for each other to get the reaction they wanted.

Wanting to get away from Heath as quickly as possible, Julie started walking back to the fence to climb back through. “Please do the right thing and let Jazz rest.” Julie said.

“Julie, you know me.” Heath said, “I always get what I want and I’ll do as I please.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m calling Doc to get back out here and check Jazz out. I’m sure your Daddy won’t mind paying his bill.” Julie said over her shoulder as she got back in the truck. “Come on Tonya, Nana’s waiting to see you.”

Tonya came back to the truck, waving bye to Heath as she crossed the road. Climbing into the truck she said, “That was fun! Now you want to tell me what that was all about?”

“Heath’s a spoiled brat who always gets what he wants. Jazz was one of the stallions daddy bred and sold to Mr. Mitchell two years ago. Doc was at our farm when Jazz threw Heath last week and pulled a tendon in the process. I sometimes help Doc on his calls, so he asked me to go with him.” Everyone knew that Julie wanted to be a vet one day. “Heath doesn’t care about anything but himself. You might want to learn that early.” Julie said as she looked over at her cousin. “He’s changed a lot since you left, and not for the good.”

Julie turned the truck onto the dirt drive to the farmhouse. The farm had been in the Croft family for four generations. Julie’s dad, Charlie was now the head of the family, but everyone knew Nana, Jewel, was the head of the house. She ran it and everyone who entered.

As Julie drove past the barn, she tapped the horn when she saw her dad walking out of the barn towards the house. He waved and quickly moved towards them. Charlie was a strong man, who had seen a lot in his forty-five years. Sure his hair was a little grayer and his smile was a little wrinkled, his tan was dark from working out in the sun, and he wore his old stetson and faded Levi’s, everyone knew that was Charlie, but what made him daddy in Julie’s eyes was what was on the inside. He was honest as the day was long and he was fair, fair to everyone, even when they didn’t deserve it. He prided himself on hard work and integrity, and worked to instill those traits into his daughter as well.

As the truck approached the farmhouse, Julie parked under one of the hundred year old oak trees on the side of the house. Seeing Nana she smiled, some things never change, and Nana was one of them. She was standing on the porch wiping her hands on her apron. Knowing Nana the way Julie did, she could guarantee lunch was done, on the table and Tonya’s favorite cookies were fresh out of the oven.

Julie and Tonya got out of the truck and Tonya took off running for the front steps and Nana. Everyone loved Jewel, she was the grandma to everyone in town. She organized the woman's bazaar at church every spring, the live nativity scene downtown at Christmas and twice a year she organized packages for soldiers overseas. That project started when Julie’s Uncle Jimmy was fighting in Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom. After Jimmy was killed in a firefight, the project became even more important to Jewel. The attic had been turned into headquarters for the Shoebox for Soldiers project and was adopted by every church in the county. Grandma said that she wanted to do it for Jimmy, because what if it was him over there and he just needed someone from home to care about him! Julie didn’t mind helping Nana, but she worried that her grandmother was spreading herself too thin, so she tried to help out whenever she could. She was glad Tonya was here to keep an eye on Nana while Julie was in the field.

Nana took Tonya in her arms and hugged her tight. In that one hug, Tonya knew she was home. Julie brought Tonya’s suitcases from the truck and Charlie took two of them from Julie when they met on the steps.

“Well, how is my baby sister’s daughter?” Charlie asked as Jewel released Tonya. Charlie sat down the luggage and gave his niece a hug.

“Tired.” Tonya replied as she was enveloped into his warm hug.

“Well, let’s get in the house and have lunch and you can settle into your room.” Nana said taking Tonya’s hand and leading her inside. Charlie and Julie took Tonya’s suitcases in and carried them up the stairs for her. She would be staying in the same room her mother grew up in, the same room she always used when she stayed with Nana and Julie.

Nana had made some of her specialties for lunch, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, fresh green beans, squash she had just picked out of her garden this morning and chocolate chip cookies still warm from the oven for dessert.

Working on a farm was not for the weak of heart, a person used a lot of calories and it was not uncommon to have a large midday meal to help sustain the body for the rest of the day. In the Croft family, mealtime was a family affair. Everyone on the farm gathered around the large table for all meals. Next week, when Charlie hired the extra farmhand to help bring in the summer crops, he would join the family at the table as well.

Starving from their morning work in the field and barn, everyone settled around the large oak table and started piling food on their plates. Everyone except for Tonya. She put a little squash and a little green beans and poured herself a glass of diet soda. Seeing that her granddaughter did not have enough food to feed a bird, Jewel reached for the chicken and passed it to Tonya.

“No thank you, Nana, I don’t eat meat.” Tonya put the plate back on the table and looked up at everyone staring at her.

Charlie was the first to speak, “Little Bit,” he had called Tonya her nickname that he gave her when she was born, “This is a farm, we do two things to animals, feed them, then eat them!”

“Well, I don’t eat meat. I also don’t eat dairy.” Tonya’s smiled sweetly at her uncle and Nana.

“Well, we will figure out what you like and try to have that for meals. Just let me know what you want.” Jewel said patting her hand. “Meanwhile, eat what you can.”

“Thanks, Nana,” Tonya took a bite of green beans, “Mmm, I have missed these!”

“What made you become a vegetarian? Or are you a vegan?” Julie looking puzzled at her cousin. She wasn’t upset, or shocked, but this was the first time Nana had ever served someone a meal that part of it was refused. And she was known for her fried chicken, so this did shock Julie.

“I just don’t think we should be cruel to animals, don’t you agree Jules?” Tonya gave Julie a mock look of pity, daring her to challenge. “I mean after your show today about not being cruel to animals, I figured of all people, you would understand.”

Nana and Charlie looked over at Julie who had been rather quiet since Tonya arrived. Julie was a wonderful daughter and granddaughter, she knew what she wanted in life and she loved God and her family more than anything else. When Julie and Tonya were kids, everyone knew Tonya was the more outgoing and outspoken. Julie was more caring and loving. If the two were in trouble, it was Tonya’s idea to do it and Julie was the one that tagged along; to either make peace afterwards or be the voice of reason to keep Tonya out of more trouble.

“Oh I understand that.” Julie said, “But I also know God created animals for a purpose. Some help us work, some for companionship, and others for our nourishment. So Tonya I feel that working a horse with a bad leg as hard as Heath did is wrong. Eating a chicken leg to help me get through the afternoon working on a farm, I can live with.” Julie took a bite of her chicken and smiled.