Disclaimers: I don't know why I keep trying to disclaim these folks – goodness knows I've chatted with them/about them enough. So, I'll just say that all names, places, people, and situations I write about are fictional. They are not based on anyone or any place. Although Amanda would disagree, I do own these characters – so please, no stealing J
If you have anything to tell me, please let me know at email@example.com . You can also get the scuttlebutt on my website, www.CarrieLCarr.com . Drop by and say hello.
Big time thank you: To my chat group at Carrie's Crossing, who keeps me motivated. And to my awesome beta readers, Kay and Kelly – thanks for keeping me on the right track!
Dedication: This story is dedicated to the love of my life, my beautiful Jan. She's the reason for everything I do. Forever and always, my love.
** The chapter numbers have changed, due to some reworking of the original text. I apologize for any confusion – Carrie **
Amanda watched Lex's hands clench the steering wheel until her knuckles were white. Her wife hadn't said more than three words since they had gotten Ronnie's call, asking them to come to his office. He had told them that he couldn't get away, but was supposed to hear from the state lab before three o'clock. He also had a few forms for Rebecca, Shelby and Lex to sign after the notification. “Honey?”
Lex blinked and glanced at her. “Hmm?”
“What's going through your mind?”
“Lots of things, I guess.”
Wanting more of an answer than that, Amanda waited. At her wife's heavy sigh, she reached across the seat and lightly gripped Lex's arm.
“I'm worried about what Ronnie will find out. Odds are, the horse had been infected with rabies. And I really don't want to go through a whole month of those damned shots.” Lex turned to Amanda. “Kinda childish when I say it out loud. Especially since poor Rebecca has to worry about the bite she got and the shots.”
“I don't think it's childish at all. Because I'm as worried about the results as you are.” Amanda squeezed her arm. “I'm scared that the shots will screw with your immune system and put you back in the hospital. And I don't think I can handle that, again.”
Lex had to agree with her. “Yeah, that sucked. And I'm lucky enough not to remember a lot of it.” She took Amanda's hand and kissed the back. “I'm sorry you had to go through all of that, sweetheart.”
“Me, too.” They turned onto the street where the vet's office was located. “Looks like Shelby beat us here.”
“Yep.” Lex parked beside the older truck. “It's about a quarter ‘til. Think he's got the results?”
Amanda got out of the truck and waited for Lex to do the same. “I hope so. Your appointment at Rodney's is at four.”
Shelby paced the small waiting room while Rebecca sat quietly, flipping through an equine magazine.
The main door opened and Amanda walked in, followed by Lex. Amanda sat beside Rebecca. “Hi.”
Rebecca put the magazine down and gave her a forced smile. “Hi.” She noticed Lex quietly talking to Shelby on the opposite side of the room. “How's Lex feeling?”
“Anxious.” Amanda leaned closer and softened her voice. “Scared, I think. But you know we'll never hear it out loud.”
“No kidding. Shelby 's worse, if you can believe that.” Rebecca giggled, which caused her partner to turn and look at her.
Lex nodded to the seated women. “Bet they're talking about us.”
“Oh, yeah.” Shelby crossed her arms and stuck her tongue out at Rebecca, who laughed even louder. “Those two are dangerous together, Lex.”
“Tell me about it.”
The interior door opened and Ronnie appeared. “Hey, guys. Why don't all of you come back here?”
Trading looks amongst themselves, the four women followed him to an office, where Ronnie directed them to guest chairs. He sat on the edge of the desk and waited until they were all seated. “I really appreciate y'all coming by. Doctor Hernandez is out of town and I couldn't leave the office unattended.”
“We most likely had to come into town, anyway,” Lex answered for all of them. “Unless you say differently.”
Ronnie chuckled and crossed his arms. “Always right to the point, huh?”
“Some of us are,” Lex chided him.
“All right, all right.” His grin grew wider as he looked at her. “The chestnut did not have rabies.”
Shelby paled. “What?”
Ronnie took a paper off the desk and handed it to her. “Here's the fax. Just the fax.” When the other three groaned, he winked at Lex. “I've always wanted to say that.”
“What does it say?” Rebecca asked Shelby .
“Tetanus,” Ronnie answered for her. “I feel like an idiot. I should have thought of that, instead of jumping to conclusions.”
Lex stood and patted his shoulder. “The signs are very similar, Ron. And I'm the one that thought the wound was caused by an animal bite.”
“Hey, Ronnie?” Shelby handed the paper to him. “A horse can die from tetanus, right?”
“Yes. I probably should have done a full autopsy after I found her, but I was in a hurry to test for rabies.” He looked into her eyes. “But now that I know what it was, I'm surprised she succumbed so quickly.”
Shelby tucked her hands into the back pocket of her jeans and met his gaze. “Yeah, I think everyone was surprised. It's a shame. Still, at least she's no longer suffering.” She gave him a slight nod before turning to her partner. “I guess I'd better get you back to work, darlin'.”
Ronnie shook his head and sighed. He was almost certain what had happened to the chestnut, but since he had the body destroyed, he had no proof. “Let me get your signatures on an acknowledgment form and I'll let y'all go.”
Amanda swung their linked hands as they left the veterinary building. “I wonder what that was all about.”
“Hmm?” Lex opened Amanda's door for her and helped her into the truck. “Oh. That little look between Shelby and Ron?” She hurried around and got in behind the wheel. “I have a pretty good idea.”
“Do you plan on sharing, or just tormenting me with it?” Amanda asked while Lex backed out of the parking space.
Lex began to whistle until Amanda poked her in the ribs. “Hey, watch it. I'm trying to drive, here.”
“More like trying my patience,” Amanda grumbled. She thought about the exchange between the ex-rodeo rider and the veterinarian. “Oh, my god. Do you think that Ronnie believes Shelby had something to do with the horse's death?”
“What makes you say that?”
The truck slowed as it turned onto a residential street. Amanda felt a certain amount of comfort as they headed toward Anna Leigh's home. “You have to admit, the timing's right. Ronnie had told us the evening before that there had been no change in her condition, and then, all of a sudden, she's dead the next morning.”
“Yep. He even mentioned that as the rate she was going, we'd probably have to take all the shots before we knew for sure.” Lex parked on the street in front of the Cauble house, since there was a moving van in the driveway. “Is she moving today?”
Amanda shrugged. “Who knows, anymore? Ever since Daddy pissed her off by hovering, she's done what she's wanted to do without telling us about it. Not that I've been paying that close of attention. My mind's been on more important things, lately. ” She started to open her door, but the look she received from Lex stopped her. After Lex helped her out of the truck, Amanda linked their arms. “You never answered me. Do you think Shelby killed that horse?”
Lex stopped and turned to look at her. “Truthfully? I wouldn't blame her if she did. If, god forbid, a stray horse bit you and then showed signs of rabies, I would have probably killed it on the spot.”
“Come on, Lex. I know how much you love horses. I find it hard to believe you'd kill one.”
“I do love horses.” Lex rested her arms on Amanda's shoulders and looked into her eyes. “But I love you, more. And you, and our kids, mean more to me than anyone or anything else.” She lowered her head and gently kissed her.
“Good grief! Don't you two ever stop?” Jeannie called from the front porch.
Lex put her arm around Amanda's waist as they walked toward her. “Of course not.” When they were on the porch, she released Amanda and spun Jeannie into a low dip, blowing a raspberry on her forehead. She stood Jeannie upright and swatted her on the rear. “Is that better?”
Jeannie tried to shove her, but Lex didn't budge. “My god, you're a pain in the ass. Mandy, how do you stand her?”
“Labor of love.” Amanda tugged Lex away by a belt loop. “Is Gramma inside?”
“Last time I saw her, she was upstairs showing the movers what order she wanted stuff taken.” Jeannie followed them into the house. “Wait for me!”
Anna Leigh stood outside the master bedroom door. “I believe this room should be first, since it has the largest pieces. The northeast bedroom has the furniture for the guest room at the condominium and between the two there are less than a dozen boxes.”
A male voice came from the bedroom. “Thank you, Mrs. Cauble. We'll take very good care of these things for you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Wills.” Anna Leigh heard footsteps on the stairs and turned to see Amanda and Lex. “Hello, girls.” She asked the mover, “Is there anything else you need from me, Mr. Wills?”
“No, ma'am. We'll holler if we have any questions.”
She nodded and returned her attention to Amanda and Lex. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
Amanda put her arm around Lex. “We were in the neighborhood and thought we'd see how you were doing. Oh, and we found out that Lex won't have to have any more rabies shots.”
“That's wonderful!” Anna Leigh hugged Lex and kissed Amanda's cheek. “I'm so happy for you, Lexington .”
“Thanks, Gramma.” Lex gestured to the bedroom. “I thought Michael said you were moving on Saturday?”
Anna Leigh let out an unladylike snort. “On the contrary. That's what Michael decided. He wanted to rent a truck and have the family move my things. As if everyone doesn't have better things to do. I, on the other hand, had made my own plans.”
“Well, I'm sure I could have asked the ranch hands,” Lex started. “I know the spring craft fair and barbeque is this weekend, so they'd be in town, anyway.”
“No, Lexington . As much as I'd appreciate their assistance, I'm quite capable of hiring professional movers. These gentlemen come highly recommended. They've gotten most of the furniture downstairs loaded. At least the pieces I'm taking. Jeannie has offered to take care of everything else.”
Amanda felt Lex inhale to argue, and she quickly jumped in. “That's wonderful, Gramma. You could be settled into your new place, sooner. Smart.”
Lex turned to her wife. “Yeah, smart.” She flinched as Amanda's fingers lightly poked her. “Bully.”
“You girls are adorable. Are you able to stay for a few minutes? I have iced tea downstairs.”
They followed her to the kitchen, where Anna Leigh took two blue disposable cups from a package on the counter. “I'm afraid all the tea glasses are already packed, but these should do.”
Lex took them from her and filled them with ice. “They're fine, Gramma.”
Jeannie came through the back door. “What happened to everything in the storage building?”
“I rented a storage space near my condominium. I assumed your family would need all the extra storage, dear.” Anna Leigh sat between Lex and Amanda at the kitchen table. “The movers took care of that yesterday.”
Jeannie refilled her cup and joined them. “Well, okay. But we could have handled that a little at a time and saved you some money, Gramma. I feel like we're kicking you out of your home.”
“Nonsense,” Anna Leigh said. “This was my idea, remember? But I'm glad you've decided to wait two weeks before moving. That gives me ample time to hire someone to do a thorough cleaning.”
It was an old argument that Jeannie would never be able to win. “Gramma, I keep telling you that's unnecessary.” She stretched her arms out. “I mean, look at this place. Even in the middle of packing and moving, I bet I won't find a speck of dust anywhere. It's ridiculous.”
“You should just say thank you,” Amanda added. “I've seen how you keep house, Jeannie. It will probably be the cleanest this house will be after Gramma leaves.”
“I'm going to kick your a—”
“Jeanne Louise! Don't you dare,” Anna Leigh warned.
Lex's laughter turned into a pained groan, when a sharp kick from Jeannie hit her shin. “Ow!” When Amanda started to stand, Lex put a hand on her shoulder. “Down, girl.” Once she was sure her wife wasn't going to climb across the table, she turned to Anna Leigh. “Gramma, are you absolutely sure this is what you want to do? Because we'd love to have you out at the ranch.”
Anna Leigh patted her arm. “Yes, Lexington . While I truly appreciate the offer, I must do this. The truth is, Jacob had spoken of retiring from his woodworking. We had discussed downsizing so that we could enjoy each other's company, without having to spend so much time maintaining this old house.” She shook her head. “Perhaps if we had done so, sooner…”
Everyone at the table was respectfully silent, while the older woman struggled with her emotions. Amanda and Jeannie stood at the same time and held their grandmother in a loving embrace.
Lex quietly left the table and stepped through the back door to give them privacy. She opened the door to the shop and went inside. The click of the light switch sounded loud, and she soon discovered why.
The room was completely empty, except for the remaining heavy-duty steel shelves along the far wall and the clean workbench nearby. The floor had been painted to cover the old varnish stains. “Wow.” All of Jacob's tools and projects were gone. A cheery yellow paint covered the walls, leaving behind a clean smell that hid the odor of years of work. Lex felt her eyes burn. There was no sign of the man who had spent so much time here and she felt the loss hit her in the chest. “I'm sorry, Jacob.” She rubbed her face and cleared her throat. “We'll do our best for her, I promise you.” She shook her head. “At least as much as she'll let us.”
Ellie took her car keys out of the desk drawer and tucked them in her pocket. She walked the tiled hallway and peeked into the doctor's office. “Is there anything else you need me to do, Dr. Crews?”
Rodney looked up from his paperwork. “Just the same thing I've always needed, Ellie.” He put his pen down. “Your cousin is married to my sister-in-law, which makes us family. Please, call me Rodney.”
“Sorry. It's a habit. I have no problem away from the office, but here, it's different.”
He laughed and shuffled the papers on his desk. “All right. I guess that will have to do. And, no, I don't need anything else. Have a good night, Ellie.”
“You, too.” Ellie passed through the waiting room and locked the office door behind her. She was halfway to her car when she heard a voice behind her.
“Hey, baby. You doin' anything tonight?”
Ellie spun around. “Wha—”
Kyle hand her hands on her hips, laughing. “You should have seen your face!”
“I swear, Kyle. One of these days, you're going to get it.” Ellie turned away and continued toward her car.
“Ellie, wait!” Kyle jogged after her. “Come on, baby. I was just playing.” When her partner quickly spun, held out her arms and screamed, Kyle stumbled backward and fell on her rear. “Shit!”
Ellie stood over her and laughed. “Not so funny when it's you, is it?”
“Well, actually, it is.” Kyle got to her feet and brushed off her jeans. “I nearly pissed myself, you wicked woman.” She put her arms around Ellie and kissed the tip of her nose. “Hey, wanna go to the junkyard with me?”
“Wow, such a romantic idea. I don't know if I could handle all that excitement.”
Kyle took her hands and knelt on one knee. “Please, baby. Help me find a junker. We're going to raffle off tickets for people to destroy it. I'll make it worth your time.”
“Oh! Um, excuse me,” Rodney stammered. “I didn't mean to interrupt.”
Ellie looked down at her lover, who had a panicked look on her face. “Don't worry, Dr., I mean, Rodney. Kyle was just trying to talk me into an exciting trip to the junkyard.” She tugged on Kyle's hands. “Get up, loon.”
Kyle stood and nodded to Rodney. “Yeah, doc. My girl seems to think it won't be any fun. But, I ask you. Is there anything more interesting than finding just the right junker for the fair this weekend? The kids love paying to beat the hell out of something, and it's always one of the highest earners.”
Now that his embarrassment had cooled, Rodney decided to play along. “Well, sure. I was just telling Jeannie the other day that we should take a trip out there for our anniversary.” He waved to them as he started toward his car. “Try not to have too much fun, ladies.”
“I can't believe he thought that you were proposing to me,” Ellie groaned. “I'll never hear the end of this.” She tried to keep a low profile at work, as she did in everything. Over the last year, Kyle had slowly pulled her from the self-imposed exile she had kept. But, at times, Ellie felt her old fears come back to haunt her. She could almost hear her mother's voice, telling her that nice, Christian young women never drew attention to themselves.
Kyle watched the emotions cross Ellie's face. “Would that be so bad, El?” At the confused look she received, she stepped closer and embraced Ellie. “Would it be so bad, to be committed to me? For me to be committed to you?”
“I…I thought we were.” Ellie began to panic. “I mean, I never even thought about anyone else but you. Are you saying that you, umm—”
“No!” Kyle shook her head and began to lightly kiss Ellie's face. “No, baby. You're it for me. I haven't even looked at another woman since before we got together, I swear.”
Ellie relaxed in her arms and lowered her head to Kyle's chest. “Don't scare me like that.”
“Sorry, El.” Kyle released her and dropped to one knee, again. “So, what about it? Want to make an honest woman out of me?”
“Are you serious?”
Kyle shrugged and grinned. “Sure. Come on, Ellie. Let's get hitched. I know it won't be legal, but we can have a ceremony, maybe invite that crazy cousin of yours and the rest of the gang.” Kyle stood and looked into Ellie's eyes. “Neither one of us are the hearts and flowers type, but I'd really like to put a ring on your finger so that everyone knows you're taken.”
“Would,” Ellie lowered her eyes, “would you wear a ring, too?”
“Damned right I would!” Kyle wriggled and began to twirl Ellie in a circle. “Does that mean yes?”
Ellie laughed and put her arms around Kyle's neck to keep from falling. “Can we send my mother an invitation?”
“Baby, if it would make you happy, I'd take out a full-page ad in her hometown newspaper. C'mon, El. I'll find a car to destroy, tomorrow. Let's go look at some rings.”
“Why not?” Ellie kissed her and felt her feet touch the ground. “I love you.”
Kyle returned the kiss. “I love you, too.”
Several home decorating magazines, bookmarked with bright, yellow tabs of paper, covered the coffee table and sofa in the living room. Jeannie picked up one and flipped it open. She held it out to Amanda. “See? Don't you think this color would look good in the kitchen? Gramma picked it out.”
“Really? Our grandmother chose,” Amanda squinted at the photo, “lavender? For the kitchen walls?”
“Well, maybe not this exact shade,” Jeannie admitted. “But, honestly. That kitchen has been plain old yellow for as long as we've been alive, Mandy. And with the white-washed oak cabinets, it's so eighties.”
Amanda handed her the magazine. “What did Gramma say, exactly? Maybe I should go back in the kitchen and ask her.”
“If you're brave enough to be in there when she gets off the phone with Daddy, be my guest. I swear, I don't understand his problem.” Jeannie sat on the edge of the sofa and flicked imaginary dust off her jeans.
“He's worried about her making a rash decision that she'll later regret.” After she gathered the magazines off the couch, Amanda stacked them on the table with the others and sat on the center cushion. “Doesn't it worry you, too?”
Jeannie slid off the arm and onto the couch. “Of course it does. That's why we're not going to sell our house, at least not right away. We wanted to pay Gramma market value for this one, but she said it had been paid for long ago, and between their retirement and insurance, she doesn't need our money.” She bumped shoulders with her sister. “She made us promise to use our money to update this house.”
“It's kind of hard to argue with her, isn't it?” Amanda bumped Jeannie back and leaned against her. “I just worry about her.”
“I know, hon. Rodney and I do, too. He talked to some of the people in her new neighborhood. Two of her neighbors go to her church, and another is on the Ladies Auxiliary. They've been trying to recruit her for years.”
Amanda laughed. “You make it sound so sinister. She's always been too busy with other things.” She sobered as she thought about those things, and how the most important reason for their grandmother not joining was no longer here. “Maybe it's a good idea, after all.”
Out in the shop, Lex reached for the light switch, but was stopped by a cool hand on her own. She turned toward Anna Leigh. “Oh. Hi, Gramma. I was just, um, seeing if I needed to do anything in here.”
Anna Leigh walked into the empty space as if she hadn't heard her. She stopped in the middle of the room and stared at the floor. “What do you think, Lexington ? Have I lost my senses?”
Lex followed and stood beside her. She put her arm around Anna Leigh and considered the question. “I believe, given the circumstances, you've held up incredibly well. As a matter of fact, I honestly don't think I could ever be as strong as you.”
“Strong?” Anna Leigh shook her head and tried to hold back her grief. “I'm doing everything in my power to run from the memories.” She crossed her arms over her chest and closed her eyes. “Even now, in this clean, repainted room, I can still smell his aftershave. And it tears me apart.”
“I'm so very sorry, Gramma. I can't even begin to imagine your pain.” Lex tightened her grip until Anna Leigh was wrapped in her arms. “But I'll do whatever I can to help you through it.”
For the first time since her husband died, Anna Leigh allowed herself to accept the strength of someone else. She tried so hard to be strong for her family, and it was a welcome relief to give up that control. She melted into the strong embrace and cried, pouring out her pain and anguish. Before she knew it, she and Lex were on the floor, holding onto each other in the space where she thought her life had ended.
Lex her onto Anna Leigh as if both their lives depended on it. While she felt tears burn her eyes, she held them back, determined to be strong. Had their situation been reversed, Lex knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she wouldn't have handled losing her partner as well as this petite, soft-spoken woman had, and it scared her. “I couldn't have survived,” she softly mused.
“You'd be surprised at what you can do,” Anna Leigh told her. She wiped her face with the back of her hand. “I went to bed that night, praying that I wouldn't wake the next morning. But when I did, I realized that I had to go on, no matter how horrible it was.” She gratefully accepted the handkerchief Lex offered. “Thank you.”
Lex stood and helped the older woman to her feet. “Are you having second thoughts about moving?”
“Not at all. But I'm terribly tired of fielding the same arguments from everyone, especially Michael. I wanted to reach through the phone and throttle him.” Anna Leigh kissed Lex on the cheek. “Thank you for this, Lexington . You truly are a gift to our family.”
Unable to hide her blush, Lex tried to shrug off the compliment. “Thanks. Um, would you like me to talk to him?” She winked. “Or maybe break his legs?”
Anna Leigh laughed and looped her arm with Lex's. “While both options are attractive, I'll handle my son, dearest. But thank you for asking. Now, I had better make certain Jeannie doesn't distract the movers. I'd like to be at my new home before dark.”
The two-bedroom condominium had all its furniture as well as stacks of boxes in every room. Amanda, carrying two plastic cups of iced tea, navigated around a tower of boxes and almost tripped over her sister, who was on her knees. Some of the tea sloshed from one of the glasses, but she was able to keep from spilling it. “Jeannie, what are you doing down there?”
“Waiting for you to pour tea all over me, of course,” Jeannie snapped, wiping the moisture from her face.
“Oh, all right.” Jeannie got up and dusted the knees of her jeans. “I was trying to see what was beneath this carpet. I think Gramma would appreciate hardwood floors.”
Amanda shook her head. “You're something else. Has Gramma said anything about the floor?”
“Well, no. But—”
“Just stop. You've got enough to do with your two houses, Jeanne Louise. Leave poor Gramma alone. Have you seen Lex?”
Jeannie rolled her eyes. “Not since I caught you two making out in the truck, while the rest of us were inside, waiting for you to get here.” She pantomimed sticking her finger down her throat and made a gagging sound.
“I hardly call giving my wife a kiss making out. Jealous?” Amanda handed Jeannie one of the cups. “Here, maybe this will cool you off.”
Amanda nodded then continued to wander through the condo. She took in the open floor plan and the taupe-colored walls and tried to picture her grandmother spending the rest of her life here. Even with the familiar furniture, it was difficult. She moved from the living area to the kitchen, where she saw the heavy oak door open, but the exterior storm door closed. She glanced through the screen and saw her wife seated on the top step of the small, covered porch. Lex had her elbows resting on her knees and looked totally exhausted. Amanda slowly stepped outside and touched the top of Lex's head. “Hey.”
Lex looked up. “Hey. How's it going in there?” She took the offered cup of tea and drank half of it before setting on the step by her feet. “Thanks.”
Amanda sat beside her. “Gramma already has her bed made and the majority of her bathroom in order. I feel pretty useless.”
“You're anything but that, sweetheart.” Lex put her arm around her wife. “I offered to unpack the kitchen and she sent me out here.”
“Well, you do look pretty wiped. Maybe we should head home for the day.”
Lex checked her watch. “Might as well. I'm sure your dad and Lois will be here before too long. This place isn't big enough for all of us. It's too late to cook dinner, but we could grab a couple pizzas on the way home.”
“Sounds good.” Amanda rested her head against Lex's arm and closed her eyes. “It's been a hell of a long week.”
The screen door opened. “There you are. Gramma said—” Jeannie stopped. “Are you guys all right?”
Amanda stood and turned to face her. “Not really. I think we're going to tell Gramma goodnight and head home.” She pulled Lex up. “What were you saying?”
“Oh, um, yeah. Gramma wanted me to find y'all and send you home. She said, and I quote, ‘ Lexington needs her rest.' And I gotta agree, Slim. You've looked better.”
Lex put her hands on her hips and glared at her. “What do you mean, I've looked better? There isn't anything wrong with me.” She turned her stare to Amanda, who had swatted her lightly on the rear. “What?”
“In the last few months, you've fractured your arm, been in the hospital and then sick from a damned rabies shot. So, yes. We're going home, and you're going to bed.”
Jeannie covered her mouth to keep from laughing at the indignant look on Lex's face. When Lex looked at her, she couldn't help but giggle. “She's got your number.”
Lex climbed the steps and looked down on her short sister-in-law. “Oh, yeah?”
“Yeah.” Jeannie crooked her finger so that Lex would lean closer. When she did, Jeannie licked her cheek.
“Yuck!” Lex wiped at her face, while behind her, Amanda laughed so hard that she ended up sitting in the grass. “That was disgusting!”
Jeannie tapped Lex on the nose and headed back inside. “Teach you to mess with me.”
While Amanda continued to laugh, Lex started up the steps.
“Hey, wait,” Amanda called between giggles. “Lex!” She scrambled to her feet and jogged to catch up to her wife. “Aw, come on. You have to admit it was funny. She owed you one.”
Lex held the door open for her. “Uh huh. Whatever you say.” She stopped short to keep from bumping into Anna Leigh. “Oh, hi, Gramma. How long have you been standing here?”
The large smile on Anna Leigh's face was the perfect answer. “Well, at least you've already started the rabies vaccination, Lexington . That should protect you.”
“Gramma!” Jeannie exclaimed, shocked that the older woman would say such a thing.
Amanda hugged her grandmother. “We're going to head home. Give us a call if you need anything.”
“I certainly will, dearest. Thank you.” Anna Leigh kissed her cheek before holding her hand out to Lex. “And you, dear. Please get some rest.”
Being raised to always respect her elders, Lex didn't argue about the politely framed order. “Yes, ma'am. I sure will.” She embraced Anna Leigh, holding on longer than usual. “I'll be back in town tomorrow. Would you like me to bring you lunch?”
“That would be lovely, thank you. Now, please. Run along. Michael will be here soon, and I want to have the guest room in order.”
As Lex and Amanda left, Jeannie stood beside her grandmother. “Why are you worried about the guest room?”
“You know how your father is, dear. I'm certain he'll make a fuss and want to spend the night.”
Jeannie laughed and nudged her. “Want me to short-sheet the bed?”
The back passenger door opened on the truck and Lex turned to look over the seat. “Hey, girls. How was school today?”
Melanie kissed her cheek before settling in her usual spot. “We painted flower pots to sell at the craft fair. Mine has a sunflower on it.”
“That's great. Be sure and show it to me on Saturday, so I can buy it.” Lex waited until Lorrie closed the door and buckled her seatbelt. “How about you, Lorrie? Did you have a good day?”
“It was okay.” Lorrie's glum expression changed into a smile. “Allie dared Trisha to shoot a pea out of her nose at lunch, but it got stuck.”
Lex shook her head. “Is Trisha all right?”
“Yep. The nurse had to use tweezers to get it out. And now Allie has detention for a week.” Lorrie rubbed beneath her nose and sniffled. “She's afraid she's going to be grounded when she gets home today. I hope not, because she was going to meet me at the craft fair so we could hang out.”
Lex checked the traffic before driving away from the school. “What about Jerry?”
“He's not going. He told Allie it was dumb. Jerry is dumb, ‘cause we always have a lot of fun.”
Melanie had to add her two cents worth. “There's gonna be a petting zoo, with itty bitty horses. That's really cool.”
“We see horses every day,” Lorrie scoffed. “It's not that big a deal. Right, Momma?”
Lex shrugged. “Oh, I don't know. The miniature horses are pretty cute.”
Lorrie wouldn't be dissuaded. “I guess. But what good are they? You can't ride them, and they're too small to use on a farm.”
“So what?” Melanie asked. “You can't ride Snow, and she doesn't do anything, either.”
“Um, well.” Lorrie frowned while she considered the argument. “She's for a project, Mel. That's different.”
Melanie danced in her seat. “And the little horses are for petting.”
Lex had to cover her laugh with a cough. “Actually, miniature horses can be ridden by small children, and they can pull little carts.”
Lorrie rolled her eyes, but seemed to concede. “Hey, Momma? How come you picked us up today? Not that it's not great,” she added quickly.
“I dropped off the donated beef to the VFW so they could get it ready for the barbeque, and thought y'all might appreciate a day off from the bus.”
“I like the bus. ‘Specially if I get to sit on the back seat and bounce,” Melanie said. “But I like riding with you, more.”
When Lorrie sneezed, Lex grabbed a tissue from the console and handed it to her over the seat, never taking her eyes off the road. “Are you feeling okay, kiddo?”
Lorrie blew her nose. “Uh huh. Hey, Momma?”
“Are we going straight home?”
“Can we get ice cream?” Melanie asked at the same time.
Lorrie gave her a dirty look and whispered something to her, which caused Melanie to growl and reply just as softly.
Lex let them get it out of their system. She usually only jumped in when Lorrie was on the verge of losing her temper. “Sorry, girls. We need to head home. Maybe next time.” She had every intention of stopping, but Amanda's earlier call told her to come directly home. “Ellie and Kyle are coming to the house, and they're bringing enough Chinese food to feed an army.”
“With chopsticks?” Melanie asked.
“I don't know. Maybe.” Lex checked the rear view mirror to see Lorrie's face. “How's that sound to you, Lorrie?”
“Will they stay long?” Lorrie asked. Seeing her mother's frown in the mirror, she added, “I want to show them Snow.”
Lex nodded. “I'm sure they'd love to see her. Is she still trying to eat your pockets?”
Just thinking about the kid's playful habits made Lorrie giggle. “Not sense you told me to leave her carrot bites in a bag. Now she looks behind me to see if I'm hiding them. Momma?”
“I just remembered something. I don't think I have enough feed to last until Saturday.” Lex usually drove into town on Saturday for supplies, and Lorrie would get what she needed for Snow. “Can we stop by the feed store?”
“All right. That's a better idea, anyway. We'll be too busy on Saturday to do it. Good idea, kiddo.”
Lorrie beamed at her. “Thanks, Momma.”
Before the second knock on the front door, Melanie scrambled through the house. “I'll get it,” she yelled as she raced down the hall.
“Don't run,” Lex warned from the living room. She sat on a quilt on the floor, stacking blocks with Eddie.
“Meemee, no,” he added. He picked up a block and handed it to Lex. “Bok.”
She stacked it with two others. “That's right, Eddie. Block.”
Eddie giggled and knocked down the short tower. “Ha.” He picked up another block and gave it to Lex. “Bok.”
Melanie led Kyle into the room, while Ellie was escorted to the kitchen by Amanda. “Look, Momma. Kyle's here.”
“Hey, guys.” Kyle walked in with Melanie and sat beside Eddie. “Hey, buddy. What are you doing?”
He picked out a block and handed it to her. “Bok.”
As Kyle reached for the item, the light glinted on the ring finger of her left hand.
Lex caught her hand to study it. “Well, what do we have here?” She tsked as she looked at the shiny, platinum band. “I'm guessing this jewelry is one of the reasons y'all decided to bring dinner tonight?”
“Yeah.” Kyle pulled her hand back. “It was one of those spur-of-the-moment type things, Lex. And we're planning on having a ceremony, but—”
Lex stood and put her hands on her hips. “Stand up, Kyle.” Her expression was impossible to read. “Mel, why don't you take your brother to the kitchen? We'll be right there.”
Kyle got up. “Lex.”
“You know, Ellie's not just my cousin. She's more like a sister to me.” Lex stepped closer. “And for the last year, I've seen quite a change in her.”
Standing her ground, Kyle looked up into Lex's face. “I hope so, because she's made a big change in me, too.”
Kyle nodded. “I love her, you know. More than I ever thought I could love anyone.” She stood up as straight as possible and kept her hands down at her sides. “So, go ahead. Do what you want.” As Lex swooped in and wrapped her arms around her, Kyle squeaked.
“Welcome to the family, Kyle. We've thought of you that way for a while, now. So it's nice to see you finally coming to your senses.” Lex moved back and lightly swatted Kyle on the arm. “So, have y'all set a date for the ceremony?”
Kyle rubbed her upper arm and followed Lex to the kitchen. “Not yet.”
“I'm glad you called, Ellie.” Amanda took one of the take out bags and placed it on the kitchen counter. “But you didn't have to bring dinner.”
Ellie put her bag next to Amanda's and began removing containers. “It was Kyle's idea. She knows how much the kids love it.”
“We all do.” Amanda stopped what she was doing. “You look different.”
“I do?” Ellie fought to keep the blush off her face, but from the warmth flooding her cheeks, she hadn't been very successful. She smiled and rubbed at her face, the ring on her finger shining brightly.
“Ellie? Is that what I think it is?”
Ellie nodded and held out her hand. “We picked them up last night.”
“Ooh.” Amanda took her hand and nodded at the simple platinum band. “Very nice.”
“Yeah, well, we both have jobs that aren't conducive to anything big and flashy, so we thought these would be better.”
Amanda dragged her to the table and pushed her into a chair. “Tell me everything. Who asked? Where were you?”
“Um, well, Kyle met me after work and asked if I'd like to go with her to the junkyard.”
“No way.” Amanda giggled at the deepening blush. “Seriously?”
Ellie played with the ring. “She was on her knee, begging. It was really funny, until Rodney came out of the office and saw her. After we explained what wasn't going on he went home, but—”
“Mommy, Momma said we were supposed to come help you,” Melanie announced, as she led Eddie by the hand. “Her and Kyle was talking and sent us here.”
Ellie exchanged worried looks with Amanda. “You don't think?”
“I don't know. Lex still surprises me sometimes. Mel, would you please run tell your sister it's time to eat?”
Eddie toddled over to Amanda. “Up.” He was ignored until he added, “Pease?”
She put him on her lap. “That was very good, honey.”
“Mmm, good,” Eddie agreed.
Amanda turned to Ellie. “So, after Rodney left, what happened?”
“Oh, ah, I guess it got Kyle thinking along those lines, and she dropped back on her knee and proposed.”
“Right there, in the parking lot?”
Ellie started to laugh. “Crazy, I know. But it's really kind of perfect, for us. I mean, neither one of us are the mooshy, flowery type.”
“Are you saying that I am?” Lex asked from the doorway. She came into the kitchen and kissed Ellie on the cheek. “Congratulations, cousin.”
“Thanks, Lex.” Ellie grinned shyly at her lover, who sat in the next chair and took her hand.
Amanda grabbed Lex's belt and tugged. “You have something against being mooshy?”
“No, ma'am, not at all.”
“Moo,” Eddie added. When everyone around him laughed, he said it again. “Moo!”
Long after their company left, the children were asleep and Amanda was snuggled against Lex. “That was really sweet of you to offer the ranch for their ceremony.” The only light in the room came from a nightlight in the bathroom which cast a soft glow across the women in bed.
“Well, I don't think that many churches in Somerville are open to a commitment ceremony.” When Amanda draped her leg over Lex's, she tightened her hold on her. “I'm not going anywhere, sweetheart.”
“Can't be too sure. You looked ready to bolt when Ellie asked you to give her away.” Amanda giggled at her wife's indignant snort. “Don't bother trying to deny it.”
Lex grumbled something unintelligible.
“Get over it.”
“I think she did it just to see what I would say.”
Amanda kissed her shoulder. “I think she did it because she loves you.” The heavy sigh that answered confused her. “What's the matter?”
“Nothing. Ow!” A second poke to her ribs was all the encouragement Lex needed. “Do you think they're moving too fast?”
“Are you kidding?”
Lex shifted enough so she could look at Amanda, although the shadows made it difficult. “No. I think that Kyle is Ellie's first relationship. Hell, for all we know, she's her first—”
Amanda covered Lex's mouth with her hand. “Don't even go there.” She removed her hand and left a kiss in its place. “Honey, Ellie's a grown woman, and you know Kyle adores her. What more could you ask for?”
“I want Ellie to have what we have.”
“What makes you think she doesn't?” Amanda propped her head on her hand so that she wouldn't get a crick in her neck. They were still so close that they were breathing the same air, and she found herself struggling not to get lost in Lex's eyes. “She looked pretty happy to me.”
Lex softly traced her finger along Amanda's jawline. “I wish I would have had more time to talk with her before they left.”
“You'll see her again Saturday at the craft fair. And, like they said, they're not as mushy as we are.”
“I'm not mushy, or mooshy.”
Amanda turned her head to kiss Lex's palm. “Of course not.” At the sharp intake of breath, she kissed it again. “You were saying?”
“Huh?” Lex rolled back and pulled Amanda with her. “You win.”
To be continued in Part 10
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