Mary Jane reared back and let fly, kicking the daylights out of the bottom link on the three-point hitch. â€œOh, you bitch!â€ She kicked again. The 4 X 4 post holding up the 500-pound moldboard plow teetered and dropped. The plow toppled over, landing on the soft, damp morning grass with a heavy thud. There was no way her one hundred fifty pounds could wrestle the hefty farm implement back to upright.
|Farmer Boys and City Girls|
â€œArgh! Now what am I gonna do?â€ She took a wild swing in the cool October air. â€œI got five minutes to make it to my exhibition, and now I canâ€™t get the plow attached.â€ Taking a step back, she looked at her tractor. It was nothing fancy, just a sixty-year-old hunk of rusting metal. What possessed her to think she had something special to show off to the world? Why was she wasting a perfectly good weekend on this? She realized she must be crazy.
Looking around the fairgrounds, she noticed all the beautifully restored tractors. There was a multitude of brilliant colors: yellow and green John Deeres, orange and yellow Cases, fire-engine red Farmalls, dark orange Allis Chalmers, and brilliant blue Fords. The area was awash with the chugging sounds of vintage engines, crowds chatting, and bluegrass music, not to mention the occasional resounding crack of an engine backfiring. And the surrounding hills were clothed in vibrant fall shades nearly matching those of the tractors. The rich aroma of BBQ competed with exhaust fumes.
â€œNeed some help?â€ a male voice called from behind; it was laced with a thick Kentucky accent.
Mary Jane turned around. She was face to face with a dashingly handsome man. Well, as dashing as his torn green t-shirt, faded jeans, and work boots would allow. He carried a rag, and there was a rather large grease smear down his left cheek. His eyes were dazzling Ford blue.
â€œUhâ€¦â€ she stammered, surprised to see someone wearing a t-shirt in the chilly morning air.
He gestured. â€œNeed help with your plow?â€
â€œOh, yes. I canâ€™t get it attached.â€ She stared up at him, guessing he stood close to six feet tall. His hair was dark brown with a little bit of wave to it. He was of average build, maybe a little on the lanky side. What caught her eye was his right arm. His tanned forearm was quite disfigured and scarred. MJ guessed it was from a farming accident. He looked to be in his late 30s, maybe early 40s.
â€œWell, it goes on better when itâ€™s upright.â€
â€œYeah, Iâ€¦I know,â€ she replied sheepishly, knowing her temper tantrum was inexcusable.
He bent down, grabbed the plow by the hitch points, and with a loud grunt, hefted it back up.
Mary Jane quickly shoved the 4 X 4 post under it. â€œThanks.â€ She was amazed at his sheer strength.
â€œNo problem.â€ He went forward to the tractor, popped the foot brake, and returned to the plow. Using his strength, he pushed against the large rear wheel of the tractor to bring the linkage points back to the plow. Within thirty seconds it was attached.
â€œWow, thanks!â€ Mary Jane said, trying to keep her jaw from hanging open.
â€œWelcome,â€ he said with a polite nod and a broad smile. â€œIâ€™m Toby.â€ He tried to wipe the grease off his hands before offering one. â€œToby Farmer.â€
Mary Jane wasnâ€™t going to be discourteous to her knight in faded blue jeans. She readily took his hand. â€œMary Jane Ripley, but everyone just calls me MJ.â€
He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. â€œYou donâ€™t sound like youâ€™re from around here.â€
â€œUm, no. Actually I moved here from Chicago.â€ As her hand slid, she gestured to his face. â€œYou, uh, umm, haveâ€”â€
She pointed. â€œUh, grease. You got a big smear of grease on your face.â€
Toby laughed and wiped it off. â€œChicago? Whatâ€™s a pretty, big-city lady like you doinâ€™ out here in the Kentucky country?â€ He walked with her as she went around and prepared to climb into the hard metal pan seat of the tractor. As she put her back to him to step up, he liked what he saw. She was a good few inches shorter than he; her shoulder-length hair was medium brown with some blonde highlights. Her jeans conveniently hugged her hips, showing off all her lovely curves.
â€œI left to get away from it all.â€ She settled into the seat, giving the stick shift a wiggle to ensure it was in neutral. â€œI have an ex-husband there and I wanted to put some distance between us.â€
â€œOh,â€ Toby said softly. â€œWell, Iâ€™d say this is some distanceâ€¦But why the country?â€
â€œAlways loved animals. When I was younger, my parents wouldnâ€™t let me have any pets.â€
â€œThat ainâ€™t right.â€
â€œWe lived in a high-rise apartment. Mother wasnâ€™t going to deal with them.â€
â€œMmm. I guess I was just the opposite. I had all sorts of critters. But Ma drew the line when I brought home a baby coon.â€
â€œCoon? As in raccoon?â€
Toby smiled. â€œYeah, the little bugger got into the kitchen cabinets and made a huge mess of the place. There was chocolate sauce, ketchup, and flour all over the place!â€
â€œOops!â€ She giggled and flicked the key to the start position. â€œUh, hey, I gotta run. Iâ€™m supposed to be exhibiting this hunk of junk.â€
He stepped back and gave the tractor a looking over. â€œHmm, Iâ€™d say sheâ€™s a â€™53 Ferguson.â€
Mary Jane finally let her jaw drop. â€œYes! Howâ€™d you know?â€
â€œBeen on a tractor all my life. You get to know â€™em.â€
â€œHer nameâ€™s Fergie, and sheâ€™s been a real bitch lately.â€
Toby rested his hand on the weathered red hood. â€œSheâ€™s not the color sheâ€™s supposed to be.â€
â€œYeah, I know. According to what I saw on the internet, sheâ€™s supposed to be a darker gray.â€
â€œYup.â€ He pointed. â€œThereâ€™s a restored one over there.â€
â€œYeah, saw it. Drooled.â€ She pushed the button, the engine grumbled to life. â€œOh, at least you decided to start this morning!â€
He chuckled. â€œLemme guess, sheâ€™s a work in progress?â€
â€œCompletely.â€ MJ pushed her left foot on the clutch arm. â€œMy dream is to restore her.â€
â€œGood luck on that.â€
Giving the throttle a bump with her hand, she reached behind her left leg and threw the power takeoff, or PTO lever, which turned on the rear driveshaft used for running farm implements. Then she reached behind her right thigh and yanked up the draft lever. Gently lifting her foot off the clutch, she watched the three-point hitch raise the plow a foot into the air. â€œAh, maybe this will be a good morning after all.â€
The loudspeaker announced the parade of tractors from the 1940s and 50s.
â€œOh, thatâ€™s me!â€ MJ said. â€œDo you have a tractor here?â€
â€œArenâ€™t you going to show yours too?â€
Toby gestured over his shoulder. â€œMineâ€™s a weeeee bit older.â€
â€œHow much older?â€
She shifted into first gear and slowly let out the clutch. The tractor bucked and the engine coughed a couple of times before moving off at a leisurely three miles per hour. â€œAnd what do you have?â€
Toby easily kept pace with her. â€œMy gal is a Case L.â€
â€œCome by after you get done, Iâ€™ll introduce you to Mable.â€ He stopped, letting her pass.
MJ turned and smiled over her shoulder as she headed to the exhibit area. â€œOkay!â€
The arena set aside to exhibit tractors was about the size of a football field. MJ wafted her hand in front of her face. The old tractor ahead of her was belching out acrid blue smoke from its smokestack. She coughed once and tried to slow down some. Glancing back, she saw another tractor not far behind. She was stuck. A dozen tractors were chugging around at turtle speed.
Now she really hated the idea of showing her tractor. As she looked at the others, noticing they were in near factory-mint restored condition, MJ realized this looked bad. And then to add insult, Fergieâ€™s engine died.
â€œHey! Move on!â€ the exhibitor behind called.
MJ pivoted in her seat. â€œSorry, she died.â€
He steered his tractor around and kept going. She tried several times to start the engine but with no luck. All MJ could do was sit there and look stupid as tractor after tractor passed her. She put her face in her hands.
The clanking of metal got her attention. Looking up, she saw Toby had come from out of nowhere and sprang into action. With a wrench in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other, he was feverishly working on the engine. â€œCan you fix her?â€ MJ asked, hopping down and going around to him.
â€œMaybe,â€ he replied, keeping his concentration focused on the job at hand. â€œThese old engines are temperamental.â€
â€œTell me about it!â€
â€œMy papaw had a similar tractor, and he was always complaininâ€™ about the fuel system or the points.â€ He worked the line loose from the fuel filter to the carburetor. Gasoline dribbled out followed by some gunky brown chunks. â€œYup, same problem.â€ Toby bled the line for a few moments before reconnecting it. Then he took the rag from his back pocket and wiped any spilled gas from the engine. â€œOkay, give her a try.â€
MJ scrambled into the seat and fired up the engine. It spat, coughed, and finally came to life.
â€œI suggest you take what good fortune you have and get her back to where you had her.â€
â€œIâ€™ll try!â€ She slipped it into gear and gently eased out the clutch. The engine sputtered momentarily and then gained strength. â€œCome on, Fergie, you can do it! Please, get me back to the display area.â€
The tractor slowly left the exhibition arena, MJ careful to keep it running. Some of the crowd applauded Tobyâ€™s valiant efforts to repair the tractor on the fly. Toby followed along, happily enjoying the view of MJâ€™s backside wobbling in the pan seat.
Back in the display area, MJ parked Fergie and shut down the engine. She rested her elbows on the steering wheel and leaned forward, putting her face in her hands. â€œI canâ€™t believe youâ€™d pull something like that.â€
â€œItâ€™s just a tractor, weâ€™ll get her fixed,â€ Toby said as he approached.
â€œOh, my God, you heard that?â€
â€œYeah. Itâ€™s cool. I have words with Mable on occasion.â€
â€œI bet yours doesnâ€™t give you as much grief as Fergie gives me.â€
â€œNot often. But Iâ€™m also used to working on her.â€ He pulled the hood forward and looked at the engine. â€œHow long have you had her?â€
â€œAbout five monthsâ€¦Five months too long.â€
Toby went to work checking the oil, transmission/hydraulic fluid, the belt, and the distributor. â€œWhy do you say that?â€
â€œBecause sheâ€™s become just another money pit.â€
â€œAntiques tend to do that.â€
â€œAs if I donâ€™t have enough problems at home.â€
â€œI live in Laurel County.â€ She climbed down and hovered around him while he checked engine components. â€œHave a thirty-acre farm there.â€
â€œNice county.â€ He didnâ€™t say much for a few minutes as he continued to work. â€œJust you running the farm?â€
â€œWell, when I bought the place, the previous owner had a land-lease agreement with a cattle farmer. He had fifteen head on the land.â€ She leaned against a back tire. â€œSo I wake up every morning to fifteen white-faced black angus staring at me.â€
â€œNot a bad thing to wake up to.â€
â€œI figured I better keep the agreement; I donâ€™t think I can manage thirty acres myself. The cattle do a good job of keeping the majority of the fields down.â€
â€œYeah, canâ€™t see you doinâ€™ an awful lot of farming with this little girl.â€
â€œAnd I also bought a house that seems intent on falling down around me. Inspection or not, I think I got screwed on that deal.â€
â€œGot a good handyman?â€
â€œI wish. Try finding someone to do work around here.â€
Toby nodded. â€œFolks in these parts arenâ€™t too keen on doinâ€™ an honest daysâ€™ labor. Time and government benefits have made â€™em lazy.â€
â€œIs that what it is?â€ She folded her arms. â€œHappen to know of anyone that does wanna work?â€
â€œI got the farm for the most part, but my brother, Nate, does some handiwork.â€
â€œAnd where does he live?â€
â€œWith me.â€ He closed the hood and wiped his hands. â€œWe got two hundred acres over in Clay County.â€
â€œWow! And you run it all?â€
â€œFor the most part. My youngest brother, Dewey, ainâ€™t any help. So me and Nate handle most if it and hire day labor when we need to.â€ He motioned to her. â€œGive it a try now.â€
MJ climbed up and started the engine. Blue smoke belched from the tailpipe and the engine grumbled. Toby went around to the right side. She couldnâ€™t tell what he was doing, but all of a sudden the engine started running much better. â€œWhatâ€™d you do?â€
â€œAdjusted the flow on the carburetorâ€¦You might wanna get that looked at.â€
â€œBy whom? I hardly know a soul in the county, let alone the state.â€
â€œHow long have you lived there?â€
â€œNot quite a year.â€
â€œMmmâ€¦Maybe I can be of help.â€
â€œYouâ€™d work on her?â€
He held his hands out, greasy palms up. â€œWell, I have been.â€
She shut off the engine. â€œIâ€™d like that.â€ Hopping down, she stood in front of him. â€œHow about I buy you lunch?â€
â€œNever had a woman buy me lunch before.â€ Toby wiped his hands.
She grabbed his hand and tugged him along. â€œThereâ€™s always a first.â€
â€œUh, hey, you wanna meet Mable? Sheâ€™s on the way.
â€œSure.â€ MJ let Toby take the lead as they maneuvered through row upon row of tractors, riding lawnmowers, and farm implements. He stopped at the end of one row. A heavy-framed dark gray tractor was parked, the sun shining off the deep, glossy paint. â€œMeet Mable.â€
â€œOh, sheâ€™s lovely!â€
â€œTook me three years to restore her.â€
â€œWell, I had to work and save up moneyâ€¦And I had nearly a year where I didnâ€™t work on her at all.â€
â€œWhy was that?â€
He ran his hand over the hood and gazed into the distance for a few moments, collecting his thoughts. â€œHad some problemsâ€¦Life took a different path for a while.â€ Toby shook his head slightly. â€œYou know, I had to hunt high and low for some of the parts, even digging through junkyards to find a few.â€
MJ leaned over and admired the large, colorful decal of a bald eagle standing on a globe. â€œI bet you found this on one of the tractor parts websites.â€
â€œLuckily, yes. One place had all the decals I needed. Still cost me a pretty penny.â€
â€œBut sheâ€™s worth it.â€
He took out a cloth and rubbed a bit of dirt from the rear tire hub. â€œShe sure is.â€
There was decidedly more that was finger lickinâ€™ good as MJ tore into a pulled pork sandwich. She was starved and didnâ€™t realize it. Barbecue sauce dribbled between her fingers and she frantically licked them trying not to get sauce everywhere. Toby watched her with amusement. He held up a pork rib. â€œPerhaps you shouldâ€™ve gotten something with a handle!â€
She set down the sandwich, licked her fingers a bit more, and then finally grabbed a napkin. They were sitting on straw bales under the warm afternoon sun. A stage was a few yards away and a bluegrass band plucked out some earthy tunes. MJ looked to her right. There was a tall flagpole with the American flag wafting gently in the breeze. Below it, a lovely restored red and white International tractor. It was a little bigger than Fergie, but not by much. What made a lump rise in MJâ€™s throat was seeing a For Sale sign tied to the front bumper. â€œSo sad,â€ she said softly.
â€œWhat?â€ Toby replied.
â€œA tractor for sale.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s so sad about that?â€
â€œDoes it mean that person is giving up on farming?â€
â€œNo, not necessarily. Maybe they have a couple and restored one in order to sell.â€ He bit off a hunk of meat. â€œI sold one last year. A real nice little Farmall. Got a good enough price it helped keep us goinâ€™ most of the winter.â€
â€œFarmingâ€™s that hard, huh?â€
â€œDonâ€™t you know?â€ He cocked his head.
â€œWell, Iâ€™d like to think of myself as a farmer, but in truth, I have a job.â€
Toby decided to dismiss her insinuation that farming wasnâ€™t a job. â€œWork in town?â€
â€œNo, I actually work in Chicago.â€
â€œHeck of a commute.â€
â€œOh, that work from home computer stuff?â€
â€œYeah.â€ She took a drink of sweet tea. â€œIâ€™m a graphic designer for an advertising firm.â€
â€œIâ€™ve done some paintings besides what I do for work. My hopes are one day to sell some.â€
â€œSo what do you paint?â€
â€œI did oil paintings of a couple Chicago cityscapes. Now that I live in the country, I wanna paint scenery.â€
Toby finished a rib, wiped his hands, and took a swig of Mountain Dew. â€œPlenty of scenery around here.â€ He paused, looking to the west, over the hills. â€œUh oh.â€
He stood. â€œWe better make tracks, gonna get mighty wet here in a minute.â€
Toby pointed to a dark mass of clouds surging toward them. â€œHere comes the rain!â€
â€œYou sure?â€ She got up, juggling her lunch tray and drink.
â€œYup. Come on.â€ He headed for the exhibit area, making a beeline for a beat-up old red Ford F-150 truck. It had a white low camper shell on the back.
They were twenty feet away when MJ saw a wall of white approaching. â€œRain?!â€
The noise of pounding rain drops was nearly deafening. The heavens opened up and dumped thousands of gallons onto the fairgrounds, sending everyone running for cover. Lightning crackled and thunder boomed over the clatter of rain.
Toby got to the truck and yanked open the door of the camper shell. Before he could get the tailgate down, the rain washed over them.
MJ squealed, trying to cover her head. â€œOh, my God!â€
He helped her into the back, quickly scrambling in. â€œWhew!â€
The roar of the rain lashed down on the fiberglass camper shell. It was several minutes before the rain lessened and they could actually hear one another. He found a towel and offered it to her.
â€œI canâ€™t believe it rained that hard.â€ MJ looked out the window.
â€œOh, this is normal. Summerâ€™s full of violent storms. Kinda late for fall, but you never know in these parts.â€
Wiping her face, MJ finally got a look around. She was sitting on an old mattress. A sleeping bag was rolled up toward the forward part of the truck bed; clothes were stuffed in a tattered gym bag. A well-worn Bible was tucked next to a pillow. Looking at Toby, he seemed a bit embarrassed.
â€œUh, is this where youâ€™ve been staying?â€
â€œYeah,â€ he replied sheepishly, grabbing a pair of dark blue boxer underwear and shoving them in the bag.
â€œYou didnâ€™t get a hotel room?â€
â€œNaw, I canâ€™t afford it.â€
â€œIf moneyâ€™s that tight, whyâ€™d you come?â€
â€œItâ€™s something I loveâ€¦Something that gives me joy in an otherwise dull existence.â€
MJ realized it might not be something he wanted to talk about. â€œSo, tell me about Mable.â€ She watched Tobyâ€™s face light up.
â€œWell, my papaw got her when he was just out of high school. He worked her hard on the farm up â€™til she blew a transmission and was too expensive to repair. Then he bought a used John Deere and ran it â€™til it dropped. Then my pa took over the farm and got an International. We had that quite a few years. I found Mable in a ruined barn back on the property. She was in a sorry state. Covered in old rotted hay and being used by a family of mice for a nest.â€
â€œI took pity on the poor girl and spent all the money I earned from working at a filling station to fix her up.â€
â€œThat was my mamawâ€™s name. Papaw named her and I didnâ€™t have the heart to change it.â€
Toby shifted slightly on the firm mattress. â€œI never knew her. But Pa said she was one tough woman.â€ He looked out the window, the rain showed no sign of stopping. â€œI think weâ€™re gonna be stuck here for a while.â€
â€œThatâ€™s okay.â€ MJ played her finger on the stained material. â€œItâ€™s nice to finally meet someone and have a conversation.â€
â€œAre you that lonely?â€
â€œKind of. Itâ€™s not like I live in the city anymore and can call up a friend and meet them for coffee.â€
â€œCountry livinâ€™ does require some gettinâ€™ used to.â€
â€œThe cows are lousy conversationalists.â€
Toby chuckled. â€œCanâ€™t say they know much.â€
â€œNo, not at all.â€ She looked at him as he sat cramped in the camper. Somehow she found him to be absolutely beautiful. There was a rugged handsomeness coupled with something she couldnâ€™t quite put her finger on. Deep in the back of her mind, she thought innocence. No, Toby wasnâ€™t innocent. He was a red-blooded American farmer who lived every day by good fortune and the few dollars he made. His life was hard, far harder than hers would ever be.
MJ flashed her exhibitorâ€™s badge at the parking attendant. It was Sunday, the last day of the tractor rally. She was sad to see it all end, but at least sheâ€™d met someone who held her interest. Her evening with Toby had been quite pleasant. They talked about tractors, farming, and even a little politics, which MJ quickly realized Toby didnâ€™t care too much for the current regime. She liked him. He was a good Southern gentleman. As the rain finally ended and MJ was getting ready to head back to her hotel, she wished he wouldâ€™ve kissed her. There was definitely something about that farm boy that she liked.
Pulling up near Fergie, MJ scanned the area. Where was he? His pickup and tractor were gone. She blinked a couple of times thinking it was a mistake. No, Toby was really gone. Had she said or done something to offend him? Her mind spun into high gear. She couldnâ€™t think of a single thing that she couldâ€™ve said that would make him leave. Was there something else to it?
She got out of the truck and stood looking at it. MJ bought the later model Dodge 2500 before leaving Chicago. It was metallic silver and possessed a few minor scratches and dents. The mileage and price were good, so she used it to pack up her belongings and move south. So far, it had served her well. The neighbor she bought Fergie from loaned her a flatbed trailer in which she could haul the little tractor to the show.
A stiff breeze blew across the fairgrounds. MJ shivered. She reached in the truck, grabbing a jacket, and also her camera. With all the beautiful tractors, she wanted to take some more pictures in hopes of doing paintings from them. Living in the city, sheâ€™d noticed her paintings were linear. Everything was a straight line, a cube, or a rectangle. The country presented its share of challenges. Trees did not grow straight, leaves and flowers were not square, and wildlife tended to move at the most inopportune moments. The country seemed soft and rounded compared to the rigidity of the city.
As she went over to take the tarp off Fergie, MJ thought she saw Tobyâ€™s pickup. She strained to see into the parking lot. The truck parked far to the rear. Was it Toby? If it was, why was he not parking with the other exhibitors? MJ climbed onto one of Fergieâ€™s narrow running boards and stood tall. She watched as an older overweight man in coveralls got out, carrying a white Styrofoam cooler. No, not Tobyâ€”quite far from it. Her heart sank.
The hours seemed to drag on. MJ decided sheâ€™d call it a day. Storms were moving in, and she wanted to get home before it got interesting. It was 2 p.m. when she hitched up the trailer and loaded Fergie. The drive home was a long one. She couldnâ€™t get Toby out of her head.
Then panic set in.
After such a wonderful, if not somewhat unplanned evening, MJ had failed to get Tobyâ€™s phone number. How would she find him? He lived in another county. Granted, the counties were small and rather sparsely populated in comparison to Chicago, but there were a lot of miles, roads, and farms out there. She wasnâ€™t even sure if she acquired a Clay County phonebook that she could find him. Experience taught her not everyone wanted his or her name plastered all over a public place.
Tuesday morning rolled around and the weather cleared. MJ decided to venture into London. It was the nearest â€œcityâ€ in Laurel County, and was one of the only places she could get a Starbuckâ€™s coffee. Sheâ€™d also heard about a livestock auction that took place just south of downtown. While she wasnâ€™t interested in buying any sort of livestock, sheâ€™d been informed that a flea market usually accompanied it and plenty of antiques could be found there.
She pulled into the parking lot and was stopped dead with a tangle of cars and trucks attempting to navigate the narrow rows. There were trucks pulling long stock trailers trying to back into the loading dock of the auction building. And strewn between the chaos was a flea market. MJ shook her head in disbelief of the apparent randomness, yet the patrons and sellers seemed blind to the goings-on. Cows lowed, roosters crowed, and hunting dogs howled. Somewhere in the mess she could hear a banjo being played.
Careful driving and patience finally resulted in a parking spot near the white painted building. It was a massive structure covered with a rusty tin roof, and had seen many years of use. MJ hopped out, grabbed her purse, and locked the truck. It seemed a bit inundating. A middle-aged man dressed in jeans and a red flannel shirt wandered by carrying a shotgun over his shoulder. She wasnâ€™t quite sure what to think. Firearms were strictly forbidden in Chicago. Here, they carried them around like a set of car keys.
MJ wandered to the flea market area. Tables were set up on either side of the twisting parking lot; cars and trucks wove their way around. She looked at what was being sold: mostly old clothes and rusty junk, much of it she didnâ€™t even recognize. Occasionally sheâ€™d find a vintage Mason jar filled with colorful marbles, a cast-iron skillet, or parts for oil lamps. And the people who were there selling looked as sad as the possessions they were desperately trying to part with in order to make a few bucks. The economy had not been kind to the countryfolk.
As she made her way around, the crowd got thicker. Toward the north end of the parking lot were quite a few spaces set up for selling animals. MJ saw a wide variety of chickens, ducks, rabbits, turkeys, guinea fowl, and even a peacock that was restrained in a feed sack, its head poking out through a hole. She wondered what fate most of the animals would haveâ€”the frying pan? This was, after all, an agricultural community, and most animals werenâ€™t pets. When times got tough, the farm rooster would find his way into the pot for supper. It was a rude awakening for MJ, who all her life saw meat from a grocery store come in tidy little Styrofoam trays with clear wrap over the top. And she still bought her meat that way. She shook her head. Would she ever truly become a farmer? Or was she just a city girl who wanted to think she could be a farmer?
Stopping at a busy table filled with fresh produce, MJ squeezed her way in. She saw some delicious-looking corn. Just as she was reaching to take some, a scarred arm reached over the top of hers. Could it be? MJ leaned forward and peered around the large gentleman that stood next to her. There was Toby, dressed in jeans and a faded tan t-shirt. He wore a tattered red Case baseball cap and dark sunglasses.
â€œToby?â€ she said tentatively.
He turned his head, making eye contact with her. â€œMJ?â€
â€œHi,â€ he replied, a bit caught off guard. â€œWhat are you doing here?â€
â€œI was about to ask the same of you. Donâ€™t you live in Clay County?â€
â€œI had to come over to the Case dealer to pick up some parts for Mable.â€ He pointed to the west where a sign across the street read Case IH. â€œThe parts store in Manchester isnâ€™t helpful. So I come here to get what I need. And I like coming to the auction.â€ Toby picked up an ear of corn. â€œFresh!â€
â€œYeah.â€ She wasnâ€™t sure how to respond. â€œI thought Iâ€™d see what was here.â€
He selected a dozen ears of corn, handed them over to the seller, and took out his wallet. â€œItâ€™s a great place. Good bargains, decent stock, and always friendly faces.â€
MJ didnâ€™t respond. Sheâ€™d found everyone rather sad looking. How could Toby think this was a friendly place? Sure, sheâ€™d heard a few outbursts of laughter, but for the most part, they talked in rather hushed tones. Men of all ages carried a variety of rifles, shotguns, and handguns. They formed tight groups while they talked and traded. This was a very different world than what MJ was used to. She felt like an outsider looking in on a private world.
Toby paid for his purchase and tucked his wallet back in his pocket. â€œHey, you wanna get a drink?â€
â€œSure, Iâ€™d like that.â€ She felt her heart beat faster. Drinks with a handsome guy; what could be better?
â€œWere you gonna buy some corn?â€
She looked at the table. Hands, money, and produce were going everywhere. It seemed like a bother at the moment. MJ wanted that drink, the corn could wait. â€œNaw, Iâ€™ll get some later.â€
He wagged a grease-stained finger. â€œMight not be any later.â€
â€œIâ€™ll take my chances.â€
â€œAll right. I need to drop this in my truck. Itâ€™s over there.â€
â€œIâ€™ll follow you.â€ She happily tagged along as he elbowed his way through the crowd. His truck was parked in the lot across a narrow cement bridge. MJ looked down and saw cattails, minnows, and even a crayfish in the tiny stream that cut through the auction lot.
He led the way to his truck and dumped the bag of corn in the bed, closing the camper hatch. â€œRight, letâ€™s go get that drink.â€
MJ surveyed the area. â€œUh, where?â€
â€œBig Poppyâ€™s. Used to be called The Dairy Dawg. They make a good root beer float.â€
â€œOh.â€ She felt her hopes fade and had to remind herself this was not Chicago. When someone in the city said they wanted to go out for drinks, it usually meant getting dressed up, going to a nice bar or restaurant, and partaking of alcoholic beverages. Evidently going out for drinks had a whole different meaning in Kentucky. She liked Toby a lot, but could she get past his country boy persona? Was there more to him than the faded jeans and dirty fingernails?
Toby carried a tray to the table. He set it down, and then slid onto the rickety old white fiberglass and metal seat. A few dark clouds passed over, looking threatening, but not producing rain. The traffic on the road nearby was noisy. A gentle breeze blew, and the day was surprisingly warm despite being fall.
MJ watched him. â€œWhere were you Sunday?â€
â€œThe tractor rally. I got there Sunday morning and you were gone.â€
â€œOh, sorry.â€ He handed over her drink. â€œGot a call late that night. Uh, family matters.â€
The way he talked led MJ to divert the conversation. â€œI thought I scared you off.â€
â€œNo.â€ Toby took a sip of his root beer float. â€œToo bad this place will be shuttinâ€™ down for the winter soon.â€
He played his finger around the edge of the cup. â€œLook, MJ, Iâ€™m not too good about conversing with the female of the species.â€
â€œYou didnâ€™t have a problem the other night.â€
â€œWe was talkinâ€™ about tractors and stuffâ€”things I know.â€
â€œSo, uh, things are different.â€
She folded her arms. â€œHow different?â€
â€œI seen the way you look at me. You like me, donâ€™t you?â€
â€œIs there a problem with that?â€
Toby was silent a few moments. â€œNo.â€
â€œThen whatâ€™s the deal?â€
â€œI ainâ€™t had many girlfriends.â€ He pointed to his scarred arm. â€œMost see this and it scares â€™em off.â€
â€œDoesnâ€™t bother me, and Iâ€™m sure thereâ€™s a story behind it.â€ MJ sensed he was uncomfortable. The last thing she wanted to do was drive him away. â€œFriends?â€
â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œHow about we just be friends and see where it takes us?â€
He pondered her words. â€œAll right.â€
MJ took out her cell phone. â€œYou said your brother is a handyman?â€
â€œWell, can I get a number for you guys so I can call him? I need to have the roof fixed.â€
Toby slowly told her the number while MJ entered it into her phone. â€œThanks,â€ she replied. â€œI really need some help.â€
â€œHeâ€™ll do you right.â€
She almost wanted to snicker at Tobyâ€™s choice of words. Were countryfolk that naÃ¯ve? She looked at him, wishing that he would do her right. Itâ€™d been a long time since sheâ€™d been with a man, and there was an undeniable ache between her legs. So far, Toby Farmer had been the only man to elicit a response like that, and just her luck, he wanted to be friends.
He pulled a wristwatch out of a pocket. The band was broken on one side. â€œHey, I hate to run, but I told the preacher Iâ€™d be around in the afternoon to work on his lawnmower.â€
â€œOh, well, duty calls.â€
â€œSorry.â€ He got up and grabbed his drink. â€œThat numberâ€™s our home one. Give Nate a call. I donâ€™t think he has any plans this week.â€
â€œWould you like to come over for dinner one night? I make a mean deep-dish pizza.â€
â€œMmm, that sounds mighty fine.â€
â€œHow about Friday night?â€
â€œIâ€™ll call Nate, and heâ€™ll have my phone number and address.â€
â€œAll right.â€ He turned to leave. â€œIâ€™ll see you Friday.â€
MJ smiled to herself as she watched him walk off. It might take time, but eventually Toby Farmer would come around.
Wednesday morning brought the rumble of a pickup down MJâ€™s gravel drive. Sheâ€™d just gotten up and was in the kitchen making coffee. The tan late model Ford truck stopped in front of the house. After several moments, a man got out. MJ knew it was Nate. The family resemblance was unquestionable. He stood perhaps an inch or two shorter than Toby, had the same color hairâ€”except a little longer, and his physical frame was similar yet more compact. He wore faded jeans, a blue flannel shirt, and a brown ball cap. Even at a distance, she could tell his eyes were the same fabulous blue as Tobyâ€™s.
She wandered onto the porch wearing a white ankle-length silk bathrobe over her pink slinky sleep shorts and t-shirt. A cup of coffee resided in her right hand. â€œNate Farmer?â€
â€œYes, Maâ€™am,â€ he replied, tipping his hand to his cap. â€œHere to get â€™er done.â€
MJ felt the ache between her legs. Two ruggedly handsome brothers? What were the chances of that?
Nate looked up toward the roof. â€œYup, needs help.â€
â€œDefinitely.â€ She tried to fight the sensations that jolted through her body. â€œAnd I hear more rain is on the way for the weekend.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry, Iâ€™ll have it done by Friday afternoon, maybe sooner.â€
â€œGreat, thanks.â€ She returned to the kitchen and finished making breakfast. Toby and Nate. Toby and Nate. MJ couldnâ€™t get them out of her head.
After breakfast, MJ decided to get a shower. She could hear Nate up on the roof working, and felt a little strange at opting to bathe with a stranger around. Still, she couldnâ€™t help herself. The ache nagged. She wanted release.
The hot shower felt good. MJ let the water run all over. Tingles of pleasure wormed their way through her body. She slid her hands around, first caressing her breasts, giving each nipple a little squeeze, then working down her abdomen until they reached her curly mound. Her right hand slid between her legs, index finger stroking and feeling. Tension began to build. Lovely, gorgeous tension. She closed her eyes and saw Toby and Nate. Who was going to pleasure her?
Each man stood ready. MJ tried to envision what they would look like naked. Tanned skin, muscles, and blue, beautiful blue eyes. Her heart swung more to Toby. Physically flawed yet downright manly, MJ wanted him in the worst way. But it seemed that she wasnâ€™t going to achieve her goal. Toby kept a distance between them; something she didnâ€™t understand.
Nate, on the other hand, appeared quite likeable. He was polite and friendly in his interactions with MJ. She found him equally attractive, perhaps a bit more since he bore no wicked scars. Opening her eyes for a moment, MJ stared at the shower wall. â€œWhich one?â€ She listened to the noise from the roof. Toby or Nate? Toby or Nate?
Making her decision, she closed her eyes again. She could see Tobyâ€™s hand and disfigured arm reaching toward her. It didnâ€™t scare her. MJ saw past his defect, only wanting the pleasure he desired to give. Her finger moved in time to what she envisioned Toby would do. She moaned loudly, feeling the tension building. MJ longed to feel his touch, his lips on hers, his body moving against her. More, more, more. Faster, harder. Delirious tension twisted in her body.
A moment later, she climaxed. MJ wanted to cry out, but stifled it, fearing Nate might hear. Her body twitched and spasmed; glorious endorphins flooded over her like hot shower water. She bent down, resting her hands on her knees. Release, finally.
Catching her breath, MJ picked up the bar of soap. She kept wondering what magical spell these two brothers held over her. Why them? And why now?
The sound of the pneumatic nail gun was enough to drive MJ insane. It was Thursday, and Nate had been working on the roof two solid days. She had to admit, he was a hard worker who took pride in his job. Shingles had to be removed, wood and gutters replaced, and more shingles nailed back down. By the time he was done, sheâ€™d just about have a new roof.
She turned off the computer. With all the racket, she couldnâ€™t concentrate on work. The advertising agency needed a design completed by Monday. MJ figured sheâ€™d spend part of the weekend getting it finished. It wasnâ€™t difficult work; it just required a clear mind and along with some peace and quiet to accomplish.
Going downstairs, she went to the kitchen. It was late in the afternoon, and she was hungry and thirsty. MJ made a turkey sandwich and poured two glasses of sweet tea, figuring sheâ€™d be hospitable and offer one to Nate. Opening the door, she realized all was quiet. The ladder next to the porch rattled and Nate climbed down. He skipped the last two rungs, dropping to the ground. â€œAll done!â€ He tromped up the steps and onto the porch.
â€œSome tea?â€ MJ said, trying to bite her tongue. Nate was wearing a gray sleeveless shirt that showed off all his muscles. His skin was tanned, and he had a small tattoo of a lionâ€™s head on his right shoulder. The faded jeans he wore clung close to his body, outlining everything she wished she hadnâ€™t seen. Nate evidently had plenty to offer in the manhood department. The ache returned to her body. She looked at his left hand and noticed no ring. MJ didnâ€™t recall Toby saying anything about Nate being attached.
â€œThanks,â€ he said, taking the glass. â€œTobes said youâ€™re from Chicago?â€
â€œYeah. But I needed to get away from it all.â€
â€œSo you moved to Kentucky?â€
â€œI thought it was pretty here.â€
â€œGot that right. No place as pretty.â€
MJ was going out of her mind. What was it about these two brothers? Her body screamed for him. Despite her longing for Toby, she wanted Nate, and she wanted him bad. Perhaps all the months without the affections of a man had driven her to this. Nothing in her mind was making sense at this moment. She only knew what she needed. â€œYou wanna come inside for a bit?â€
â€œUh, sure, if youâ€™re okay with that.â€
â€œI wouldnâ€™t have asked if I wasnâ€™t.â€ She opened the door and held it as Nate went in. MJ loved the jeans he wore; they fit snugly, outlining his rounded, muscular behind.
â€œNice house,â€ he said, looking around. The place was decorated in a hodgepodge of antiques and modern furniture. Some of the paint on the walls and trim was peeling. A large bank of windows lit the entryway; they were covered with lacy off-white curtains.
â€œIt will be, if I can get everything fixed.â€ Closing the door, she went past him, leading the way to the living room. She hoped heâ€™d be taking notice of the jeans she wore. Granted she bought them at the local Walmart, but they were skinny jeans designed with a womanly figure in mind. MJ felt they showed off all her assets.
â€œI can certainly help with that,â€ Nate replied.
MJ stopped in the narrow hallway. She turned and gave Nate her best sultry look. The ache had grown to a near painful throbbing, and she wanted it satisfied. â€œIâ€™d like your help,â€ she whispered.
Nate nearly dropped his glass of tea. â€œHuh?â€
She let her left hand slide down the front of her jeans, resting near her hip, fingers curled slightly between her legs. â€œMy basement has a leak. Can you fix it?â€
He licked his lips and swallowed hard. Taking a step closer, he shifted the tea to his left hand. His right hand touched her left arm, gently tracing down until it rested atop her hand. â€œYou want it fixed?â€
She uttered a little gasp. â€œYes.â€ MJ took his hand and led him to the living room. Nate found a table and set down his glass. With it out of his way, he firmly grasped her hand and spun her around until she faced him. He stepped in closer, his head bending over hers, his breath hot on her forehead. His left hand took her right, bringing it between them, pressing against his crotch.
MJ let out a louder gasp as she felt the firmness of his arousal. She got a whiff of his sweatâ€”manly, earthy, and with a hint of roofing tar.
â€œIâ€™m not too good on plumbing, but I think I can fix your leak.â€ He caught her lips, kissing her hard. MJ reciprocated. With lips locked, Nate worked to get into her jeans. She had the same idea and was frantically trying to get the top button undone on his jeans.
A heated wrestling match ensued as each tried to get into the otherâ€™s pants. Nate proved victorious. He had the zipper down and a hand inside her underwear, fingers diving between her legs. MJ moaned as he touched her, giving gentle strokes with his finger. She kissed him voraciously, her hands still fighting to get into his jeans.
Nate drew away. With his free hand, he popped the button on his jeans and tugged down the zipper. â€œHmm, Iâ€™d say you got a real wet basement.â€ His finger wiggled more.
â€œFuck,â€ she moaned and shoved her hand into his jeans. Getting inside the fly of his underwear, MJ wasnâ€™t disappointed. He was hot and hard; just what she wanted. She attacked his lips again, forcing her tongue into his mouth. Nate opened wide and gave her some of his own tongue. She tasted of sweet tea. Delicious. Nate wondered how the rest of her would taste.
Keeping his hand firmly in place between her legs, he remained lip-locked with MJ. He gently guided her to the sofa, helping her sit. Nate knelt on the floor in front of her. He took his lips away and slid his hand out. Grasping the waistband of her jeans and panties, he began to work them down. MJ didnâ€™t argue, she lifted her hips.
Once her jeans were down to her ankles, Nate moved back in. He rested his forearms on her thighs, took his fingers, and parted her hot, wet folds. MJ watched as he leaned in and nuzzled her with his nose, moving her curly hair apart. He used his tongue to stroke and massage. MJ felt herself getting a whole lot wetter. She decided it was time to lose her shirt and bra.
â€œOh God, I really got a leaky basement now,â€ she said between gasps of pleasure.
Nate looked up at her with devilish eyes. â€œItâ€™s gonna get a whole lot wetter.â€ He cupped his lips and sucked, flicking with his tongue. She threw back her head and cried out. He pressed more firmly, his tongue finding its way inside her. MJ tasted wonderful. He took a deep breath and inhaled her scent, finding it intoxicating. The discomfort in his jeans was nearing critical. Nate slid one hand away and put it between his legs, trying to free the engorged and encumbered body part.
It took him a minute, but all the while, he kept his lips sealed against her, his tongue flicking and stroking. MJ writhed under him, her body building delicious tension. Once Nate was comfortable, he took the opportunity to give himself a few firm strokes. He wanted something else, something more, but didnâ€™t know if she was game.
Taking his mouth away, Nate slowly rose; his prominent erection coming into MJâ€™s view. She gasped. He flipped his shirt off and worked his jeans and underwear down, letting them fall around his ankles. â€œI brought my pipe wrench to fix the leak.â€ He grinned widely, grasping hold of himself.
â€œYes, you did.â€ She sat forward, bringing her head closer. MJ could feel his heat even before her lips touched. She opened wide and let her mouth close around him. Nate hissed and groaned. He watched with a building fervor as MJ licked and sucked away.
â€œOh, fuck yeah,â€ he said, gasping. When he could stand it no longer, he nudged her away, kicked off his boots, and stepped out of his jeans. Nate bent down and found his wallet. MJ observed with amusement as he whipped out a condom and quickly put it on. â€œI donâ€™t like my tool to rust.â€ He grasped her hands, stood her up, and then put his hand between her legs, a finger probing deeply into her. â€œAnd your basement is mighty wet.â€
Spinning her around, he gave her a little push, bending her over with her hands resting on the sofa cushions. MJ looked back at him. â€œThe basement, not the back door.â€
He chuckled and smacked her on the behind. â€œI only like the basement.â€ Nate grasped himself and held against her. With gentle wiggling, he found that MJ took nearly his entire length. He ran one hand down her right buttock, letting out a sigh. â€œShit, you got a nice ass.â€
â€œLots of roller skating when I was young.â€
He slid both hands around her front, caressing her ample breasts. â€œAnd what about these?â€
â€œMmm, good genes.â€ Nate let his hands wander to her hips, holding them rather firmly. He started making slow, gentle strokes. There was no question that MJ was wet for him.
She moaned and pushed herself back, wanting everything he had.
â€œYou like this, huh?â€ Nate hastened his strokes.
He happily obliged. She gasped and moaned even louder, playing with her breasts. Nate slid a hand between her legs and added to her pleasure. MJ cried out. This only spurred him on. He thrust forcefully, not giving much consideration that he could be hurting her. MJ responded with more gasps and moans. Even though it had been a while, something about this rugged country boy made her want it rough.
A flood of emotions washed over her as he pumped away. She closed her eyes; the sight of her ex-husband filled her mind. MJ had to tell herself that he was gone. He would no longer lie and cheat on her, or make up false rumors. Bradley was history. This was a different man having his way with her, and she liked it.
Strangely, it felt liberating. She still had feelings for Toby, but for right now her needs were being met by his younger brother. MJ needed to be with a man who could cool the passion that burned inside her. She needed someone for sex and nothing more. Her basic primal instinct hungered for male company, and now she was getting it. The whole situation seemed quite absurd, yet she wasnâ€™t complaining.
Nate grunted and groaned. He thrust powerfully, his body slamming against hers as he reveled in his sex. As he neared climax, he reached up, grabbed a handful of her hair, and pulled her head back slightly. He arched his back, leaning over so his head was near her ear. â€œGod, youâ€™re a good fuck,â€ he whispered before thrusting deeply one more time and then came.
All in the same moment, MJ felt powerless and empowered. Sheâ€™d shed the heavy mantle of her disappointing marriage and conquered her fears about being with another man. Yet Nate was a powerful man in his own right. She almost couldnâ€™t believe that sheâ€™d let a man have his way with her after knowing him less than a week. Somehow it felt good even though there was no orgasm in it for her. Just having a man inside her again felt good.
â€œDid I fix the leaky basement?â€ Nate teased as he withdrew.
MJ stood up, but didnâ€™t turn to face him right away. â€œYeah, I think you got it.â€
â€œGood, good.â€ He slid off the condom. â€œUh, where can I deposit this?â€
She pointed. â€œThe kitchenâ€™s that way.â€
â€œThanks.â€ Nate disappeared around the corner. MJ heard the sound of the garbage can lid shutting. He returned, still quite aroused. â€œIâ€™ll be nice and not charge you for repairing the leak.â€ He chuckled at his own joke, then grabbed his jeans and started to dress.
â€œIâ€™d hope not.â€
He pulled up his jeans, tugged the zipper, and stood looking at her. â€œYou like Toby, donâ€™t you?â€
MJ decided she better get dressed as well. â€œUmmâ€¦â€
â€œHey, Iâ€™m cool with that. Tobes is a good guy. Just donâ€™t expect him to put out.â€
â€œYears ago, when we were young pups, he fell in love with the Bible.â€ Nate sat down on the sofa. â€œHeâ€™d spend hours readinâ€™ and learninâ€™ all he couldâ€¦Well, it mustâ€™ve had a big impression on him, â€™cause about high school age, he said he wasnâ€™t gonna be with a woman â€™til he got married.â€
She sat next to him. â€œI had no idea.â€
â€œYou wonâ€™t hear him cussinâ€™, see him drinkinâ€™, smokinâ€™, or find him in some womanâ€™s bedâ€¦But you will find him in church on Sunday.â€
â€œIs that where he was?â€
Nate squirmed a bit; he was feeling the discomfort in his jeans. â€œWhat?â€
â€œHe wasnâ€™t at the tractor rally Sunday. And when I saw him Tuesday, he said it was family matters.â€
â€œOh, no, it really was family mattersâ€¦Dewey, our little brother, got himself in a heap of trouble. Tobes had to go bail him out.â€
â€œOut of what?â€
â€œDewey used to be a good kidâ€”well, heâ€™s twenty-three now. Somewhere in high school, he fell in with the wrong crowd and they got him hooked on meth, crack, heroin, blow, pills, anythingâ€¦Itâ€™s everything we can do to keep him out of mischief.â€
â€œAnd late Saturday night, the sheriff pulled him overâ€¦Wouldnâ€™t have been so bad, but Dewey was driving on a suspended license, and heâ€™d been hittinâ€™ the booze and pills hard. They threw him and his skank woman in county jail.â€
MJ rubbed her face. â€œAnd you canâ€™t get help for him?â€
â€œWeâ€™ve triedâ€¦And Tobes had to be the one to spring him; I couldnâ€™t.â€
He got up and walked around. â€œI ainâ€™t the purest angel in the family neither. Iâ€™ve done some time.â€
â€œTheft. Was caught stealinâ€™ in an auto parts store. I got nine months, but served six and they let me out on good behavior.â€
â€œLife in these parts ainâ€™t easy. For hundreds of years, folks have done what they needed to survive. Sometimes itâ€™s not all on the right side of the law.â€ He stopped and looked out the window. â€œYouâ€™d do right with Toby. Heâ€™s a good man.â€
â€œI wonâ€™t say nothinâ€™ to him about us. Iâ€™m gonna tell him I fixed your roof and took care of a leak in the basement.â€
â€œWhat? Itâ€™s the truth. You wanna be his girlfriend, thatâ€™s all fine and dandy. And when those womanly urges hit, you just give me a call.â€
â€œIsnâ€™t that two-timing?â€
â€œIâ€™m just providing a service that my dear brother wonâ€™t. No strings attached, no charge for the maintenance.â€
MJ shook her head. â€œI canâ€™t believe you!â€
He walked toward the hallway. â€œAdmit it, you enjoyed the sex.â€ With that, he left.
The whole next day it seemed like nothing could go right. A red washcloth accidentally got tossed in with a load of white clothes, turning everything pink; the handle on the toilet broke, and now, MJ realized she was running out of mozzarella cheese for the pizza. Anything else? she pondered, trying to spread the cheese evenly over the whole pan. Her mind was cluttered with what happened with Nate. Sure, he was attractive, but did she love him? No. MJ refused to let herself love Nate. Toby was the one that warmed her heart. Nate would be there to provide a service, nothing more. And MJ decided that his services would be used sparingly.
She looked at the clock on the kitchen wallâ€”almost 6 p.m. Toby should be arriving any time. The oven beeped, indicating it was preheated. MJ finished fussing with the pizza, grabbed the hefty pan, and shoved it in the oven. Setting the timer, she went to the sink and washed her hands.
â€œHello?â€ a male voice called from the front entryway.
A quick jolt of terror shot through MJ. No, this wasnâ€™t Chicago.
â€œHello?â€ the voice called again.
She let out a sigh, realizing it was Toby. With kitchen towel still in hand, she went out to him. â€œYou scared the life out of me! Donâ€™t you Southern boys know how to knock?â€
He lowered his head. â€œSorry. Knockinâ€™s something you donâ€™t always think about in these parts. Most folk are familiar.â€ Toby turned, heading for the door. â€œI can go out and knock if you want.â€
â€œDonâ€™t be silly!â€ She grabbed his arm. â€œYou gotta understand, Iâ€™m from the big city.â€
â€œAnd folks that donâ€™t knock are usually burglars.â€
â€œOh. Guess Iâ€™m lucky you didnâ€™t come out shootinâ€™.â€
He looked at her. â€œYou even own a gun?â€
â€œâ€™Cause not all the folk in these parts is polite and kind.â€
She led him into the kitchen. â€œHavenâ€™t had any problems.â€
â€œYet.â€ He leaned against the heavy oak table and watched as she cleared up from making the pizza. â€œHome invasions are on the rise. Just about every day you hear about it on the news.â€
â€œIs this a lecture?â€
â€œNo. Just want you to be safe.â€ He went to the sink, grabbed another towel, and started drying dishes that were in the rack. â€œYou live pretty far from town; itâ€™d take the sheriff quite a while to get out here if something happened.â€ Toby dried a plate and gently set it on the pale gray and white marble countertop. â€œThereâ€™s been real problems with the meth users. They ainâ€™t afraid to rob someone for a few bucks so they can get a quick fix.â€
He froze. â€œNate say somethinâ€™?â€
â€œHe told me about Dewey, and you having to bail him out.â€
â€œI love my brothers, but I ainâ€™t too proud of what theyâ€™ve done.â€
â€œOr are still doing.â€
Toby took another plate and dried it. â€œNateâ€™s on the right path. He did wrong, paid for his mistake, and now works real hard.â€ He set the plate on top of the other. â€œI just wish I could get Dewey to do the same.â€
â€œNate said youâ€™ve tried to help Dewey.â€
â€œNothinâ€™ works. Even God canâ€™t fix whatâ€™s wrong with him.â€ He took a glass and turned to her. â€œMa and Pa would be rollinâ€™ over in their graves if they saw what Deweyâ€™s becomeâ€¦That boy is hell spawn.â€
MJ felt uncomfortable with the conversation. She put away the flour container and then went to the refrigerator, taking out a bottle of white wine. Realizing that Toby wasnâ€™t going to join her for a drink, she was just about to put it away when he stopped her.
â€œI donâ€™t mind. If you wanna have a glass of wine, thatâ€™s cool with meâ€¦Iâ€™ll take some of that fantastic sweet tea Nate told me aboutâ€”if you have any left.â€
She paused before setting the bottle on the counter. â€œYeah, I have plenty.â€ Taking out a large glass pitcher, she set it next to the bottle of wine. It was odd being involved with two brothers. There seemed to be open communication between them. MJ wondered how much Toby knew. Nate told her heâ€™d say nothing about their agreement, but somehow, she knew in time, Toby would figure it out.
He finished drying dishes, laid the towel over the edge of the sink, and sat down at the table. â€œIâ€™m not meaninâ€™ to be forward or anything, but I was wonderinâ€™ if you had plans this weekend?â€
MJ poured a glass of tea and brought it to him. â€œUh, I have some work I need to get done. Why?â€
â€œI thought maybe if you were up for it, weâ€™d go to Hell for Certain.â€
â€œExcuse me?â€ She raised an eyebrow.
Toby chuckled. â€œOh, my nephew, Collinâ€™s, in Hell for Certain.â€
â€œIs this a joke?â€
â€œNo, no. Hell for Certainâ€™s a little place over in Leslie County. Its real name is Dryhill. But folks started calling it that because it sits on the Hell for Certain Creek.â€
â€œWhat a name!â€
He took a sip of tea. â€œMmm, mighty fine tea.â€
â€œThank you.â€ MJ poured a glass of wine and settled at the table. She glanced back and checked the oven timer. Still ten minutes to go. For some reason, it felt like an invisible wall had been built between them. After what Nate said about Toby, MJ was seeing him in a different light. She still liked him, but wondered if it would work out. His rather conservative Christian beliefs had her befuddled on how to act around him. Her big city upbringing was far more liberal and opinionated.
â€œCollin told me a story of a preacher who went there, and when he got home, he was asked where he was. He said he had no idea but it was hell for certain.â€
â€œSo much myth and legend in these parts.â€
â€œAnd a good helpinâ€™ of folklore.â€
â€œYouâ€™ve lived here all your life, right?â€
â€œTell me, whatâ€™s with all the licks?â€
â€œYou mean Red Lick, Blue Lick, Flat Lick, Paint Lick, Grantâ€™s Lick, Mayâ€™s Lick, Bullittâ€™s Lick, Knob Lick, Beaver Lick, and Big Bone Lick?â€ He took a long swallow of tea. It was cold and perfectly sweetened to his liking. â€œLicks.â€
â€œEach of those places got their name because of licksâ€”usually salt or mineral licks where wildlife would come and lick the ground. The Indians knew them as good hunting spots. And during the time of Daniel Boone, they learned about â€™em too.â€
â€œOh, that makes sense.â€
â€œAnd what were you thinkinâ€™ it was all about?â€ he said with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
â€œI dunnoâ€¦Iâ€™ve learned that countryfolk are strange.â€
â€œWe are, huh?â€
â€œUh, well, some are.â€
â€œYeah, yeah, I know. We eat strange stuff like possum and grits, drink pop with strange names like Ale-8-1, or Nehi, and call each other strange nicknames like Cooter, Whitey, Rooster, Duck, Squirrel, Rabbit, Hubcap, Cutworm, Bull, or Stinky.â€
â€œSo whatâ€™s yours?â€
â€œYou got a nickname?â€ MJ saw his cheeks flush red. â€œWell?â€
Toby tried to hide his embarrassment by looking down at the table. â€œDigger.â€
â€œDigger? Howâ€™d you get that name?â€
â€œNobody calls me that.â€
â€œYes, but howâ€™d you get it?â€
â€œI was maybe ten. We had a real bad winter. Money was tight, times tough, and I figured Iâ€™d help out by digging through garbage dumpsters tryinâ€™ to find stuff I could sellâ€¦Some of the bullies from school saw me and called me that all around town.â€ He rubbed his face. â€œThey really called me Trash Digger. Or even worse: Dumpster Diver.â€
MJ so badly wanted to reach over and take his hand. She wasnâ€™t sure how heâ€™d react after what Nate told her. â€œThat wasnâ€™t nice.â€
â€œWhy I donâ€™t like being called that.â€
â€œSorry, I didnâ€™t mean to bring up bad memories.â€ She edged her hand closer to his.
â€œItâ€™s hardscrabble around here. You do what you can or learn to live without.â€
â€œWhen were you going to Hell for Certain?â€ MJ felt absolutely stupid saying it.
â€œSaturday. Little more than an hourâ€™s drive from here.â€
â€œSure, Iâ€™ll ride along. Just donâ€™t make me hold the shotgun.â€ She winked at him.
Toby smiled. â€œNaw, the shotgunâ€™s usually in the back.â€
The oven beeped. MJ got up and rescued the pizza. â€œI hope youâ€™re hungry.â€
She went to the fridge. â€œMore tea?â€
Retrieving the pitcher, MJ filled his glass as full as she could. â€œSo I make good sweet tea, huh?â€
â€œDarn fine for a city girl.â€
â€œActually, I got the recipe from Auntie Flo next-doorâ€¦Her husband, Brewster, sold Fergie to me. He was kind enough to lend me his trailer so I could take her to the rally.â€
â€œDid she give you any more recipes?â€
MJ pointed out the window. â€œGot an apple tree out back. Auntie gave me a recipe for fried apples.â€
Toby groaned in a rather seductive way. â€œOh, I love fried apples.â€
â€œWell, thatâ€™s fortunate, â€™cause I was planning on making â€™em for dessert.â€
The evening ended with Toby being sent home with leftovers for Nate and Dewey. MJ enjoyed her time with him and wondered if they could actually have a relationship. She was a bit disappointed about not receiving a good-night kiss from Toby. But things were still quite new between them, and she realized rushing it would only spell disaster. He was a farmer, and as such, MJ figured sheâ€™d have to cultivate his affections toward her. Being friends was just the start.
She went upstairs to her â€œofficeâ€ and sat down at the computer. Sheâ€™d turned one of the bigger guest bedrooms into her work area. Large windows on two sides gave her a great view. The room badly needed paint, but she figured that could wait in favor of making money. White walls seemed too stark for her taste. MJ thought about buying some colorful curtains to liven it up. The wood floor creaked loudly whenever she walked across it. A corkboard was the only item that hung on one wall.
Opening a computer folder with photos sheâ€™d taken at the tractor rally, MJ found one of Mable. The dark gray tractor sat against a background of wildly colored fall leaves and a crystal blue sky. It seemed perfect. The red rims of the wheels contrasted with the deep green grass, and behind her waved the American flag.
Turning on the printer, MJ printed out the photo. She took the page and pinned it on the corkboard near her easel. Then she went to a pile of blank canvasses and found one that appealed to her. It was large, nearly three feet by two feet. She placed it on the easel and stepped back, looking at it. The white canvas seemed so bare and empty. It was time to change that.
MJ picked up her pallet and set it on a table. She rummaged around a moving box, finding the right colors of oil paints. Once she had everything together, she approached the canvas, brush in hand, and started to paint. A deep passion welled up inside her. She knew she was an outsider and desperately wanted to find a connection to these people. This was her life now; there was no changing it, no going back. Soon, a tear rolled down her cheek, followed by more. Her hand kept brushing, the paint flowing like a river onto the canvas. Colors melded, the image slowly taking shape.
Hours later, she collapsed into bed. The painting was not quite half complete. Sheâ€™d keep it from Toby until it was finished. MJ wanted to show that she had empathy for the hard life he lived. He deserved something nice. Mable was very special to him, and Toby was very special to her.
The red Ford F-150 cruised along the Hal Rogers Parkway heading east. Toby tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as a country song played on the radio. MJ sat quietly looking out the window watching the miles pass. There was an awkward silence between them. She was trying to think of how to get him to open up.
And then it dawned on her. â€œDidnâ€™t you say your grandfather had a tractor like Fergie?â€
â€œHe had a TO-35. Didnâ€™t keep her long before he bought a bigger John Deere.â€
â€œOh. But you know about fixing them?â€
â€œDo you think you could help me with Fergie? Iâ€™d like to restore her.â€
He glanced over, a little smile on his face. â€œSure.â€
â€œI donâ€™t even know where to start.â€
â€œYou start with the money. How much you have depends on how much you can do.â€
â€œTrue. And I have no idea where to get parts, except for the internet.â€
â€œThereâ€™s places thatâ€™re local. Youâ€™ll learn â€™em.â€
MJ straightened up in the seat, rubbing her hands down her jeans. â€œOh, itâ€™d be so nice to show up at the tractor rally next year and have Fergie all restored. I felt like such an idiot out there with a broken-down excuse for a tractor.â€
â€œAw, donâ€™t say that about her, sheâ€™s just goinâ€™ through a rough patch. Some TLC, and sheâ€™ll be runninâ€™ just fine.â€
â€œIâ€™m glad you have optimism and the know-how to fix her. I could never do it.â€
â€œSure you can, â€™cause youâ€™re gonna help me.â€ He slowed down and put on the turn indicator. â€œWhen weâ€™re done, youâ€™ll even know how to rebuild a carburetor.â€ Turning left, they traveled down a narrow road. The hills seemed to close in around them. Finally they came out into a small clearing. â€œWelcome to Hell!â€
She giggled, looking about. â€œActually, itâ€™s kind of pretty.â€ Tall trees were swallowed up by acres of kudzu as it slowly strangled everything in its path. A creek ran to one side of the narrow valley, and a few houses dotted the landscape, looking quite out of place amongst all the green.
He pulled up to a pale gray double-wide mobile home and turned off the engine. The residence appeared to have been revived from a junkyard. â€œCollinâ€™s lived here all his life. His kin were some of the original settlers of Hell.â€ An assortment of dogs, large and small, barked frantically and rushed up to greet them. Several of them stood on hind legs and clambered at the truck door. â€œHey! Hey! Get down! Donâ€™t you go jumpinâ€™ on guests now, you hear!â€ He shooed the dogs away. Most of them retreated to the porch, but three smaller ones hung back, choosing to remain annoyances.
Getting out, he scurried around and opened the door for her, offering his hand to help her out. MJ took his hand. Little tingles ran up her arm. â€œThank you, kindly,â€ she said, hopping out, and not immediately letting go of his hand. His skin was rough and calloused, but she liked how it felt. It wasnâ€™t soft and doughy like some of the upper-crust city guys sheâ€™d dated. No, Tobyâ€™s hands worked for a living. She didnâ€™t want to let go.
Realizing that it was now an awkward moment, she let her hand slide. MJ looked up and saw his eyes sparkling and the tiniest hint of a smile on his face. He turned and went to the back of the truck, grabbing a beat-up silver toolbox. â€œI promised Collin Iâ€™d help finish putting the new engine into his â€™65 Shelby Mustang GT.â€
â€œSounds nice.â€ She tried to dodge the ankle-biter-sized dogs swarming around her feet.
â€œIt will be when he gets it painted.â€ He led the way onto the rickety wooden porch. Various potted plants dotted the railings, and an old rusted metal gliding porch swing sat pushed against the house near the front door. A tattered American flag hung on a pole, waving gently in the cool morning breeze.
The front door opened, and a man shoved open a torn screen door. â€œToby!â€ He came out, dressed in ratty faded blue jeans, a camouflage shirt, and heavy work boots. His hair was long, blond, tangled, and greasy. He wore a camo-colored ball cap, and a lit cigarette was stuck between his lips. MJ guessed him to be in his early forties.
â€œCollin!â€ Toby replied, setting down the toolbox and offering his hand. The two men shook.
â€œWell, well, you brought along a lovely assistant.â€
â€œCollin, this hereâ€™s MJ Ripley.â€
â€œHowâ€™d do,â€ Collin said, extending his hand.
MJ was a bit apprehensive, but took it, shaking it quickly. She didnâ€™t immediately dislike Collin; he did, however, give her a good case of the creeps. â€œHi,â€ she said politely.
â€œTobes, whereâ€™d you find this pretty little filly?â€
Toby shot him an angry glare. â€œI met MJ at the tractor rally.â€
â€œOh, was she impressed by the size of your Case?â€
He burst into raspy laughter. â€œAw, come on, I was just joshinâ€™.â€
â€œHow about less talk and more work?â€ Toby picked up his toolbox. â€œI didnâ€™t drive all the way to Hell for nothinâ€™.â€
â€œAll right, all right.â€ Collin opened the door. â€œMiss MJ, you might wanna sit a spell and chat with my woman, Rhonda. I donâ€™t think youâ€™d be interested in greasy guy stuff.â€
â€œUmm, thank you,â€ she replied, going past him into the house.
Five hours later, and MJ was glad to be heading home. Her visit with Rhonda had been unusual and she was quite happy to see Toby come in and announce they were done. After saying polite good-byes, it was back in the truck for the ride home. The weather had changed, and dark clouds swirled around the hilltops and valleys casting gloomy shadows on the normally vibrant green foliage.
â€œMore rain?â€ MJ said as they drove down the Hal Rogers.
â€œLooks like it.â€ He fiddled with the heater. â€œYou cold?â€
â€œItâ€™ll take a few minutes, but Iâ€™ll warm us up.â€
â€œThanks.â€ She tried to hide a little smile. Iâ€™ll warm us up. Yes, that would be nice in a different situation.
â€œHow was your visit with Rhonda?â€
â€œSorry. I shoulda warned ya, sheâ€™s a bit odd.â€
â€œUnderstatementâ€¦The woman smokes like a chimney, drinks way too much coffee, and seems to have little regard for anythingâ€¦Although I did get a good recipe for apple cider.â€
â€œLeaded or unleaded?â€
â€œAlcoholic or nonalcoholic?â€
â€œNon.â€ MJ looked out the window; large raindrops were starting to fall. The noise was quite loud on the truck roof. â€œYou know, I swear I saw marijuana growing in some of those pots on the porch.â€
â€œThatâ€™s so illegal!â€
â€œFolks in these parts tend to skirt the law. Collin only grows a few, just for personal use.â€
â€œBut what if he gets caught?â€
â€œHeâ€™s been caught twice. Donâ€™t stop him none.â€
â€œAre all the folk around here as hard-headed?â€
Toby chuckled. â€œProbably more!â€ He turned on the heater and adjusted it. â€œI know of at least five stills in Clay County.â€
â€œAs in moonshine?â€
â€œYup. Nate occasionally brings home a pint or twoâ€¦Says it helps with his bad back.â€
â€œIâ€™m sure it does.â€
â€œDonâ€™t get me wrong, heâ€™s no drunk. I told him to keep it locked away from Dewey.â€
â€œI got enough trouble with him as it is.â€ He turned off the Hal Rogers and got on I-75 South. Rain pounded down, the windshield wipers barely able to keep up with the deluge. â€œWhat a day!â€
â€œStarted out so nice; now all this rain.â€
â€œHow it goes here.â€ He got off at the next London exit and headed west. MJâ€™s â€œfarmâ€ was a few miles down Route 192, not far from Laurel River Lake. The sound of the rain was so loud it made it nearly impossible to carry on a conversation. Thunder and lightning only punctuated the rainâ€™s roar.
As Toby pulled into the long gravel drive, he was met by eight frightened cows standing in the middle of the road.
â€œOh, no!â€ MJ said, digging in her purse for her cell phone. â€œThe cows got out.â€
â€œLooks like they broke through the wire.â€
â€œIâ€™ve got to call Mr. Marcum.â€
â€œAw, donâ€™t bother him now; we can get â€™em back where they belong.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know anything about herding cattle.â€
â€œEasyâ€”theyâ€™re dumb!â€ He parked the truck and got out. The rain poured down, instantly soaking him. Toby walked along until he found the break in the fence. Moving the wire out of the way, it took him several minutes before he gently coaxed the creatures through the gap.
MJ climbed out. â€œDo you need help?â€
â€œI got some bailing twine in the back of the truckâ€”see if you can find it.â€
â€œOkay!â€ She went to the rear and opened the camper shell. Climbing up the bumper, she swung her leg over the tailgate and got inside, happy to be out of the pouring rain. After some rummaging, she found a ball of thick orange poly twine wrapped around a short piece of metal pipe. MJ carefully got out and hurried over to him. The rain was cold; she shivered as it soaked through her clothes. â€œThis?â€ she said, offering the twine.
â€œYup, thanks.â€ He quickly made repairs to the fence by tying the twine to one post and running it back and forth between posts, creating something of a zigzag spider web. â€œThat should hold â€™em. But I guess you should call him in the morning and let him know he needs to mend the fence.â€
Toby hurried back to the truck, getting the door for MJ on the way.
When they were both in the cab, she looked at him. â€œYouâ€™re drenched.â€
â€œNo big deal. Iâ€™ll get some dry clothes when I get home.â€
â€œThatâ€™s like a forty-minute drive.â€
â€œSo?â€ He pulled up to the house.
â€œIâ€™m not letting you go home in wet clothes. Youâ€™ll catch a cold.â€
â€œDone it a million times, never caught one.â€
MJ opened the door. â€œToby Farmer, youâ€™re gonna come in and get dried off,â€ she said in a stern voice.
He turned off the engine and got out. â€œYes, Maâ€™am.â€ Following her onto the porch, he stood dripping. â€œIâ€™m gonna drip all over the floor.â€
â€œSo am I, donâ€™t worry about it.â€ She worked the key in the lock and opened the door. â€œThereâ€™s a bathroom next to the kitchen. Go get out of your wet clothes and Iâ€™ll see if I can find something for you to wear.â€
â€œItâ€™s really not necessary.â€
â€œAll right.â€ He did his best to tiptoe across the wood floor and down the hall toward the kitchen. Reaching the bathroom, he went in and closed the door. It was a full bath, so he took off his clothes and tossed them into the tub. Grabbing a towel, he wrapped it around his waist and came out. MJ was nowhere to be found. He thought he heard noise upstairs. A teapot sat on the back stove burner. Toby figured something warm would be nice. He checked the amount of water, put it on a front burner, and turned on the stove.
A few minutes later, MJ came downstairs dressed in a fluffy pink bathrobe and carrying her wet clothes. She stopped dead when she came into the kitchen. The sight of Toby wearing only a towel almost made her knees go weak. â€œOh.â€
â€œI found a towel,â€ he said. â€œDo you want my clothes?â€
â€œUh, yeah,â€ she stammered. His bare chest was driving her nuts.
â€œIâ€™ll get â€™em.â€ He went into the bathroom and came out with an armload of soggy clothes. Handing them over to MJ, he returned to the stove. â€œI hope you donâ€™t mind, but I put the kettle on.â€
She went down another hall into the tiny laundry room. â€œNo, not at all. Do you want coffee or tea?â€ Truly, she wanted to end the sentence with â€œor me?â€ but realized that probably wasnâ€™t a good idea.
â€œTea sounds good.â€
â€œOkay, lemme get everything in the dryer and Iâ€™ll get it.â€ She dumped the clothes into the dryer and turned it on. Taking a moment, MJ gathered her composure and returned to the kitchen. She found Toby standing in front of the stove. He looked great in that towel. The throbbing ache returned between her legs.
Toby turned away slightly and MJ saw a line of scars going diagonally across his back. They were made by something evenly spaced, and whatever did it appeared quite sharp. Did she dare ask? Going to the cupboard, she got out the tea, sugar, and two mugs. â€œSo when can we start?â€ she asked.
â€œWorking on Fergie.â€
â€œAnytime. The winterâ€™s good. Crops are in, and not much to do because of the weather.â€
â€œIâ€™ve been fixing up the barn. Not long after I moved in I had a contractor work on the electric and also put in water.â€
â€œGood, weâ€™ll need both.â€ He went to the table and sat down. â€œHowâ€™s the lighting?â€
â€œDecent. I had him install a couple fluorescent lights.â€
â€œI donâ€™t suppose you have many tools?â€
â€œUh, no.â€ The tea kettle let off a shrill whistle. MJ snatched it off the burner.
â€œDonâ€™t worry, I got plenty.â€
â€œShouldnâ€™t I go buy some, just in case I need them?â€
She made up the tea and brought over the mugs. Then she grabbed the sugar, a spoon, and settled down in a chair next to him. â€œI donâ€™t know how you take it.â€
He gave her a quizzical look.
â€œYour tea. How do you take it?â€
â€œOh, sweet, of course.â€ He smiled, reaching for the sugar bowl and spoon.
MJ felt a mass of frustration building inside her. â€œToby?â€
â€œUh, I donâ€™t know how to say thisâ€”â€
â€œIâ€¦Iâ€¦like you.â€ She eagerly waited to see his expression. There was none. Toby sat stone-faced. â€œDid you hear me?â€
â€œYes, I did.â€
He stirred in two heaping spoonfuls of sugar. â€œWhy?â€
â€œWhy do you like me?â€
MJâ€™s mouth opened but no words came out. It took a few moments. â€œI just do.â€
â€œWhy would anyone want broken merchandise? Just look at me, Iâ€™m a mess.â€
She reached over and put her hand atop his. â€œI donâ€™t see that. I see a wonderful guy who has so much to offer.â€
â€œAre you sure thatâ€™s what you see?â€
â€œYes!â€ She gave his hand a little squeeze. â€œI see someone that makes my heart beat faster, my skin go clammy, and my mind go crazy.â€
Deciding to throw caution to the wind, MJ leaned over and caught his lips in a gentle kiss. As she drew away, she noticed the expression on his face; it was still rather expressionless. â€œToby?â€
He didnâ€™t move.
Finally he looked down at his deformed arm. â€œYouâ€™re much too good for the likes of me. You should find someone who can take care of you and give you everything you want.â€
â€œI think I have.â€
The chair scraped on the wood floor as he got up. Toby walked to the sink, his back to her. â€œI donâ€™t seem your type.â€
â€œType? How do you know what my type of guy is?â€
â€œYouâ€™re from the big city. Girls like you probably wanna guy whoâ€™s wealthy and has a good job. A stockbroker, banker, or company CEOâ€¦Not a poor farmer.â€
â€œJust because I come from the city doesnâ€™t mean I like those kinds of guys.â€ She rested her elbows on the table and put her face in her hands. â€œYes, Iâ€™ve dated those typesâ€”shit, I was married to one, and it didnâ€™t bring me happiness.â€ MJ stood and went to him. â€œWhen weâ€™re together, I feel a happiness unlike Iâ€™ve ever felt. I canâ€™t explain it, but I love being with you.â€
He turned to face her. â€œReally?â€
She put her hands on his arms. â€œReally.â€
The faintest hint of a smile curled to Tobyâ€™s lips. He leaned down and kissed her.
It was still dark when MJ woke. She swore Tobyâ€™s kiss still lingered on her lips. Her heart beat faster and her mouth went dry. Yes, she was in love with him, no doubt. But how could she handle an old-school relationship? Sex was a part of her life and she loved it. Nate? No, absolutely not.
Soon the throbbing between her legs preoccupied her thoughts. She slid her hand down her loose sleep shorts and played her finger about. Oh, it felt so good. Could she get Toby to go that far? Nate was certainly game. No, not Nate, get him out of your mind, she scolded herself. Her finger moved faster, and soon tension filled her body. â€œToby,â€ she gasped, trying to keep her mind on the man she loved. Images of Nate kept popping into her head. â€œNo, no.â€ MJ wanted Toby in the worst way, but why could she only see Nate?
She cried out as she climaxed. Her body flushed and twitched with nervous excitement. â€œToby!â€ she called. But Nate kept filling her mind. Oh, what to do?
The old springs creaked as she got out of bed. A faint light shone from behind the curtains. Daylight was breaking. As MJ walked to the bathroom, she saw the phone sitting on the chest of drawers near the door. â€œNo,â€ she said, carrying on. Toby was the man she wanted, not Nate. She wondered how she could get it clear in her mind. Yes, sheâ€™d had wild, frantic, fantastic sex with Nate, and that was certainly good, but her heart belonged to another man.
* * *