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 :)
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 **
The squeak of the breakfast cart woke Shelby from her fitful sleep. Her head, which rested against the plastic rail of the bed, throbbed and ached, as did the rest of her body. She glanced at Rebecca, who was dozed peacefully. Shelby struggled to her feet. Every muscle she owned had stiffened overnight, and she had to bite her lip to keep from cursing. She looked up when she heard a light tap on the door.
Before Shelby could answer, the door opened and Rebecca's mother poked her head inside. She was an older, slightly heavier version of her daughter, with streaks of gray in her auburn hair and a few more wrinkles around her blue eyes. She ignored Shelby and moved to stand on the other side of the bed. After Kathy assured herself that her daughter was all right, she nodded to Shelby . “Thank you for calling us.”
“You're her family,” Shelby answered. “Although she'll probably kick my a…uh, rear, when she finds out.”
Kathy cracked a smile. “I'm sure you can handle her.” She held her hand out over Rebecca's body. “I'm really sorry about how we've acted toward you, Shelby.”
Never one to hold a grudge, Shelby took her hand. “Thanks, Mrs. Starrett. I'm sure that'll make Rebecca feel better.”
“Mom?” Rebecca opened her eyes and noticed the clasped hands over her legs. “What's going on?”
Kathy squeezed Shelby 's hand before she released it. “I was apologizing to Shelby for our behavior.” She touched her daughter's cheek. “How are you feeling, honey?”
“I hurt all over.” Rebecca looked at Shelby . “Were you here all night?”
Shelby tried to shrug, but it jarred her shoulder. She masked her discomfort by adjusting the sling. “What makes you think that?”
“You're still in the scrubs they gave you, yesterday. And,” Rebecca looked at Shelby 's head, “you have a red crease on your forehead.”
“Um.” Shelby tried to rub the mark away. “Would you like some coffee, Mrs. Starrett? I could give y'all some time alone.”
Kathy shook her head. “No, that's all right. You don't have to leave. I just wanted to—”
“Mom? Would you give us a minute?” Rebecca asked.
“Sure. I'll be right outside.” Kathy smiled at both women before she stepped from the room.
Shelby rested her good hand on the bed rail. “What's up, darlin'?”
“Will you do me a huge favor?”
“Anything,” Shelby solemnly promised.
Rebecca tried to raise her arm, but her back hurt too much. “Ow.”
“Hey, take it easy.” Shelby reached between the rails and covered Rebecca's hand. “What's the favor?”
In an attempt to reassure her lover, Rebecca carefully smiled. The motion pulled at the bruise on her cheek, but she ignored it. “Honey, you look worse than I feel. Please, go home and get a shower and some rest. I'm sure Mom wouldn't mind staying here, if that'll make you feel better.”
“Are you tryin' to get rid of me?”
“Yes.” Rebecca laughed, then closed her eyes for a moment. “Ow. I shouldn't do that.”
Shelby reached for the call button. “Do you need me to get the nurse?”
“No.” Rebecca took a few shallow breaths before she opened her eyes. “But I do need you to take care of yourself, if only for me.”
Rebecca was poised to argue her point. “What?”
Shelby touched the tip of Rebecca's nose. “You win. Besides, I could really use a shower. I itch in places that don't need to itch.”
“I can just imagine.” Rebecca squeezed Shelby 's hand. “I'll see you tomorrow?”
“You'll see me this evenin',” Shelby corrected. She leaned down and gave her lover a gentle kiss. “Get some rest, darlin'. I love you.”
Rebecca blinked away the moisture from her eyes. “I love you, too.”
Shelby used her fingertip to wipe Rebecca's tear. “Are you sure you want me to go?”
“I'm sure. I think all these drugs they have me on make me feel more emotional than usual. Go on, before my mother breaks the door down.”
“Okay.” Shelby opened the door and stepped into the hall. “Mrs. Starrett?”
Kathy met her not far from Rebecca's room. “Is everything all right, Shelby ?”
“Yes, ma'am. Matter of fact, would you mind keepin' Rebecca company for a while? She's sending me home.”
“Of course!” Kathy finally looked closely at Shelby . The hospital scrubs were too large for her slender body, which was covered in scrapes and bruises. Her eyes had dark circles beneath them, and her left eye was swollen from the bandaged injury. The gray sling that held her left arm didn't seem to fit correctly, either. “Are you all right?”
Shelby considered blowing off the question, but Kathy seemed sincere. “I've had better days, that's for sure. Nothin' a little time won't heal, though. Thanks.”
“All right.” Kathy touched Shelby 's unencumbered arm. “When something like this happens, it puts everything in perspective, doesn't it?” At Shelby 's confused frown, she continued, “When I heard that Rebecca had been hurt in the storm, I didn't care about anything else but her.” She lowered her gaze and focused on the tile floor. “We were just so sure that you were a phase she was going through. A way to get attention.”
“With all due respect, Mrs. Starrett—”
“No, Shelby. Please. Even if I hadn't seen you by my daughter's side just now, I know we were wrong. Becca's told me over and over how much she,” Kathy stumbled over the words, “loves you. It's hard to reconcile what I always hoped and dreamed for her, against what reality is, you know?”
Shelby nodded. “Yes'm, I do understand. And bein' at odds with y'all has really torn her up. But, at the same time, we've never been happier. I love her more than anything in the world, Mrs. Starrett. And that ain't never gonna change.”
“I'm glad, Shelby .” Kathy started toward Rebecca's room, then turned. “I thought we resolved that ‘Mrs. Starrett' stuff years ago.”
“Yes, ma'am.” Shelby nodded and graced her with a genuine smile, one she usually only shared with Rebecca. “Thanks, Kathy.”
Kathy winked at her and went into Rebecca's room.
Shelby watched the door close. Now that she had been sent home, she wasn't certain she wanted to go.
Amanda paced around the small room, waving her hands and grumbling. “Of all the pig-headed, stubborn, lame-brained—”
“Sweetheart,” Lex tried to interrupt.
“Stupid, foolish, moronic, idiotic—”
“Amanda.” As her wife continued to stomp around, Lex balled up a piece of paper and hit her in the back of the head.
Amanda stopped and spun around, glaring at Lex. “What?”
Lex held out her hand. “Could you come over here, please?”
“I don't know.” Amanda put her hands on her hips. “Maybe I'm not through talking.”
“Uh huh.” Lex crooked her finger. “Talk over here.”
Amanda growled, but moved across the room to stand beside Lex's hospital bed. “Yes?” She yelped when she was pulled onto the bed and across Lex's lap. “You're going to hurt yourself.”
“Nah.” While the motion did make her back ache and her chest hurt, Lex ignored the pain and wrapped her arms around Amanda. “Now, what were you saying?”
“I know you're anxious to get out of here, but the doctors want to keep an eye on you for another day or so. They're concerned about the bruising on your chest.” Rodney had stopped by the room the night before to explain the results of the x-rays and MRI. Lex had two cracked ribs and significant bruising from the seatbelt. Although there was no sign of internal bleeding, they wanted to err on the side of caution, especially with Lex recently recovered from pneumonia.
Lex took a shallow breath and released it. “See? I'm okay. I've tried telling them that.”
“Lex,” Amanda placed her hand on her wife's chest, “it's not the bruises that concern them, it's what's under the bruises.”
“Ah.” Lex put her hand over Amanda's. “One more day? Then I'm going home. I miss the kids.” She had awakened to find that Jeannie had taken Lorrie home with her, and still felt hurt by the loss.
“What if I bring Mel and Eddie for a visit this afternoon? Would that help?”
Lex stuck out her lower lip, which Amanda immediately kissed. They broke apart and Lex sighed. “Nah. There's no sense in dragging them all the way out here. I'll see them tomorrow.”
“Maybe.” Amanda gentled her point by a kiss to the forehead. “How's your headache?”
“Still going strong,” Lex admitted. She leaned into the kiss and closed her eyes. Amanda's light tracing around her swollen nose soothed her. “I look like hell, don't I?”
Amanda continued to place soft kisses all over her face. “I.” Kiss. “Think.” Kiss. “You're.” Kiss. “Beautiful.” The last kiss was on Lex's lips, but was interrupted by a yawn.
“Sorry.” Lex yawned again. “It's not you.”
“I know.” Amanda scooted off the bed and lowered it. “Time for your morning nap.”
Lex groaned, both from the discomfort of changing position and her wife's words. “I just woke up.”
“Then it shouldn't be too hard to go back to sleep,” Amanda teased. She straightened the covers and brushed her hand over Lex's hair. “I'll see you this afternoon.”
“'kay.” Lex struggled to keep her eyes open but emitted a low snore, instead.
Amanda shook her head. “I guess I'd better get used to that sound, at least until your nose heals.” She kissed Lex's forehead again before leaving the room.
Shelby leaned against the back of the elevator and tried to keep from falling asleep. She let her eyes drift closed as the elevator stopped on the next floor and nearly jumped out of her skin as someone touched her arm. “What?”
“I'm sorry, Shelby . Are you all right?” Amanda asked. She had peeked in on them last night, but both Shelby and Rebecca were sound asleep and she didn't have the heart to wake them.
“Uh, yeah.” Shelby rubbed her face with her free hand and blinked a few times to get her bearings. “How's Lorrie?”
Amanda stepped into Shelby 's personal space and carefully hugged her. “She's going to be fine, thanks to you.”
“Don't thank me. It's a wonder I didn't get her killed,” Shelby muttered once Amanda moved away. “How about Lex?”
“She's grumpy, which is a good sign.”
The elevator opened on the ground floor. Shelby followed Amanda through the lobby and out into the morning air. She looked at the clear, blue sky and shook her head. “Hard to believe yesterday even happened, ain't it?”
“Sure is.” Amanda stopped at the end of the sidewalk. “How's Rebecca? I was going to check on her before I left, but I ran into you.”
“She's hurtin', but she's tryin' to keep it to herself. The doc said her back is strained or sprained, and she'll have trouble movin' around for a while.” Shelby scratched behind one ear, wishing she had showered before changing into the scrubs. “I didn't want to leave, but since her mom showed up I figured they could use some time alone.”
“That was sweet of you.”
Shelby shrugged, or at least tried. She grimaced as the motion pulled on her shoulder. “Yeah, well. Kathy apologized this mornin', and it made Rebecca pretty damned happy. That's all that matters to me.”
Amanda had heard Rebecca's side of the problem with her family. She and the younger woman had discussed it at length over coffee. “Where are you heading?”
“Home, I guess. Even with a change of clothes, I smell like a stock tank.”
Amanda laughed at the comparison. It sounded exactly like something her wife would have said. “Is your house all right after the storm? Ours is going to need some work on the roof, but otherwise it's okay.”
“Yeah. Other than the back door being busted, it's in good shape.” Shelby straightened her posture in an attempt to wake up. “Can I walk you to your truck?”
“On one condition.”
Shelby shuffled beside Amanda. “What's that?”
“Come to my sister's house with me. You can shower there and catch a nap. She's got plenty of room.”
Shelby stopped. “Naw, that's okay. Y'all don't need me underfoot.”
“Let me rephrase that,” Amanda said, as she took Shelby 's good arm. “You're about ready to drop, and you have no business trying to drive. Come with me and get some rest, and I'll bring you back up this afternoon. Deal?”
“Is that how you talk to Lex?”
Amanda laughed. “Yep. And she's smart enough to listen to me. Most of the time,” she added.
“Well, if you're sure I won't be any trouble, then.”
“Not at all.” Amanda unlocked her Expedition and climbed in behind the steering wheel. “You're not much smaller than Rodney, so I bet they even have some clothes you can borrow. Unless you're fond of those scrubs.”
Shelby gave her a wry look. “They go great with the boots, don't they?” As Amanda backed out of the parking space, Shelby cursed.
“What's the matter?”
“I need to head home and take care of the horses. They're probably chewing the barn to bits.”
Amanda stopped Shelby from unbuckling her seat belt. “Let me have one of the guys do it. They need something to do.”
“They have more than enough to do, Amanda. I'm sure there's plenty of broken tree limbs and shi-, um, stuff to clean up at the ranch.”
“Really?” Amanda laughed and continued to drive out of the parking lot. “Well, since I have you captive in my SUV, you have a choice.”
Shelby couldn't stop the grin from crossing her face. She had witnessed Amanda's handling of Lex, but had never been targeted by her. “What's that?”
“Either let me call the guys to take care of your horses, or I'll drive you out there and we can do it.”
“You don't need to go to all that trouble. I can handle it just fine.”
Amanda stopped the truck. “What's it going to be? Remember, I'm used to Lex. She's one of the most stubborn people I've ever met.”
Shelby relaxed against the back of the seat as her energy left her. “I reckon Rebecca would disagree with you there. But, all right. Chet's been there with me a time or two. He'll know what to do.”
Once they were headed toward Somerville , Amanda turned on the radio to a news station. “I hope this doesn't bother you, but I'd like to get an update on the weather.”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
“…at least four people are missing and many injured in the storm that hit the small community of Somerville , yesterday afternoon. Two people drowned at Lake Somerville when their boat was capsized by the seventy-mile-an-hour plus winds, while three more were killed in separate instances in the town proper. It's the first derecho in this part of the state in over forty years, and many were ill-prepared for the fast-moving storm.”
Amanda flicked the radio off. “My god. That explains a lot. One minute we had a few clouds in the sky, and the next all hell was breaking loose. The only reason we were prepared at the ranch was because of the weather radio.” She turned to Shelby . “You and Lorrie could have been killed. How did you know?”
“I heard some thunder and wanted to get her to the house before the bad weather hit. Just got unlucky that the truck was blown off the road where it was. I'm sorry, Amanda. I should have been more careful.”
“Are you kidding? I'm just glad she was with you, instead of Lex.”
Shelby shook her head. “What? No. Because of me, Lorrie's got a broken wrist. If she had been with Lex, she'd—”
“Been in the truck when it was hit by the tree,” Amanda added quietly. “Who knows what would have happened to her, then.” She took a cleansing breath. “So, thank you.”
Shelby had nothing to say to that. She had spent the entire night going over the events of the day, trying to figure out what she could have done differently. “Then I'm glad she was with me. Thanks, Amanda.” She closed her eyes and allowed herself to relax for the first time since the storm.
The Somerville Hospital parking lot was full, something that Kyle had never seen. She parked her shop's tow truck a block away and wearily hiked to the emergency room. After they had rescued Lex and Weldon, Kyle and Ellie had driven to the town square. They spent the rest of the day helping the injured. Afterward, Ellie had asked to be taken to the hospital so she could assist the overwhelmed staff. That was the last time Kyle saw or heard from her.
Once she had dropped Ellie off at the hospital, Kyle had gotten her company's tow truck and used it to give assistance as needed. Sometime before sunup, Kyle returned home to finish cleaning up their bedroom. She had enough time to shower and change before driving to the hospital for her partner.
Kyle checked her watch and mentally cursed. Ellie was supposed to have called her before now. She stepped through the doors and glanced around. Most of the chairs in the waiting area were occupied, some by sleepers who waited for word of loved ones, while others gathered in small knots to speak quietly amongst themselves. Kyle stood quietly at the intake counter until the woman ahead of her walked away. “Hi. I'm here for Eleanor Gordon. She's a nurse who came in yesterday to help.”
“I'll have her paged,” the woman offered. She appeared as exhausted as Kyle felt.
Ten minutes later, Ellie stepped through the doors from the emergency area and glanced around. Her eyes quickly found Kyle. She hurried across the room and embraced her lover, mindless of the people around them. “I'm sorry I didn't—”
“Shh.” Kyle kept her arm around Ellie's waist and led her outside. “Have you had anything to eat?”
Ellie rested her head against Kyle as they walked. “Hmm?”
“Food. Have you had any since yesterday?”
“I had a sandwich last night, I think.”
When Ellie stumbled, Kyle tightened her grip around her. “I'll make you something when we get home. Eggs and toast okay?” Kyle felt Ellie's nod on her shoulder. “Then I'm putting you to bed.”
“I'd like to go to Parkdale and see Lex,” Ellie argued. “Besides, we still have some cleanup to do in our bedroom.”
“Not anymore. I took care of it.” Once they reached the truck, Kyle helped Ellie inside before jogging around to the driver's seat. “The window's still boarded up, but I was able to put clean sheets on the bed after tore out the carpet. I had to throw away the comforter, though.”
Ellie rested against the back of the seat and closed her eyes. “You're amazing.” She reached out blindly and smiled as Kyle took her hand. “I love you.”
Kyle kissed her partner's fingers before starting the truck. “I love you too, baby.”
The drive was done in silence. Kyle let Ellie rest while she navigated the streets that had been cleared by volunteers.
“That's Amanda's SUV at Jeannie's house. Pull over, Kyle,” Ellie asked.
Kyle jumped at the sound of her lover's voice. “I thought you were asleep.”
“No, just resting.” Ellie had her hand on the door handle before the truck stopped. “Jeannie's house looks okay.” She climbed from the vehicle and waited for Kyle. “I guess this area was away from the path of the storm.”
“Yeah. It started a couple of blocks north of here.” Kyle walked beside her as Ellie headed toward the front door. “Remind me to drive by Mrs. Cauble's after we leave here, okay? I want to make sure she doesn't need anything.”
Ellie stopped short of the door and turned to Kyle. “You're just too sweet.” She put her arms around Kyle's neck and kissed her.
The door opened and Jeannie cleared her throat. “Should I leave you two alone?”
Kyle jumped back as if she had been shocked, while Ellie laughed. “Hi, Jeannie. I'm sorry to bother you, but we saw Amanda's truck and decided to stop. How's she doing?” Ellie asked.
“She's tired, but okay. Come on in.” Jeannie stepped back to allow them inside. “Amanda's getting Shelby settled in the guest room. Do you want me to get her?”
“No, that's all right. We were on our way home,” Ellie answered. “We'll get out of your hair.”
Jeannie noticed how worn out both women were. “Amanda is going to start brunch in a few minutes. Why don't you come into the kitchen with me and have some coffee? We'll have more than enough food to go around.”
Before her partner could argue, Kyle nodded. “Only if you'll let me help. I'm pretty handy in the kitchen, too.”
“Thank goodness. I've been banned from my kitchen by my sister.” Jeannie pointed a warning finger at Ellie. She knew her husband had spoken of her misadventures to his staff, including Ellie. “Not one word.”
After she made certain Shelby was asleep in the guest room, Amanda moved down the hallway of her sister's home and opened the door to Teddy's room.
The light blue walls were complimented with navy curtains and posters of cartoon characters. Against one wall was a wooden desk with different action figures posed together. Next to the desk was a two-shelf bookcase, filled to overflowing with books and more toys. Across from both was a twin-sized bed, where Lorrie was curled up, mumbling in her sleep.
Amanda quickly crossed the room and sat beside her daughter. “It's okay, sweetie,” she said, as she rubbed Lorrie's back. “Everything's all right.”
“Momma!” Lorrie cried, waking up. She sat up and looked around the room in confusion. “Mom?”
“I'm right here, honey. You were just having a bad dream.”
Lorrie tightly embraced Amanda. “It seemed so real.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Lorrie shook her head. “It's too hard.”
“That's all right, you don't have to.” Amanda kissed her on the head. “But if you need to talk, I'm right here.”
They sat quietly for a minute or two. Lorrie was the first to break the silence. “I was walkin' in the hospital, but it was dark and no one else was there,” she whispered. “I heard a noise and went into this room, and,” she trembled and began to cry again, “Momma was lying on this bed, really still.”
Amanda continued to rub Lorrie's back as she related her dream.
“When I,” Lorrie choked out, “touched her, she was d…dead.” She burst into tears and got as close to Amanda as she could. “I kept trying to get her to wake up, but she wouldn't.”
“It was just a bad dream, honey. Momma is doing fine. As a matter of fact, I thought that later, we could pick up your sister and brother and go visit her this afternoon.”
Lorrie moved back enough to see her mother's face. “Is she still okay?”
“She's grumpy, bored and misses all of you. I promised her if she'd do as the doctors tell her, we'd all come up for a visit.”
“How long does she have to stay?”
Amanda kissed Lorrie's forehead in an attempt to erase the last vestige of terror from her daughter's mind. “Hopefully only one more day. They want to make sure her head and ribs are all right before they let her leave.”
“How about her back? When she first came into the hospital, they had her tied in place. And something around her neck, too.”
“Her back is okay, honey. She's going to be sore for a while, but the only real damage was to her wrist.” Amanda lightly touched Lorrie's cast. “Like you.”
Lorrie frowned and looked at her cast. “I…I don't know if I can go up there.” She raised her head and blinked away the tears from her eyes. “I'm scared.”
“Oh, sweetie.” Amanda pulled her close. “You don't have to go. Momma will understand.”
“But I want to see her.”
Amanda nodded. “I know. Let's play it by ear, all right? Would you like to go to the ranch with me to get Mel and Eddie?”
“Is our house okay?”
“We have some roof damage, and one of the rear doors on the hay barn is broken.” Amanda thought about the call she made to Roy before Lex awakened this morning. He assured her that the ranch was in better shape than they had thought, and that two of the ranch hands had covered the damaged roofs with tarps. “But yes, everything's okay.”
Lorrie's stomach growled, causing them both to laugh. “Sorry.”
Amanda touched the end of Lorrie's nose. “I was going to ask you if you were hungry, but I think I already have my answer. Why don't you go wash your face and then meet me in the kitchen?”
“Aunt Jeannie's kitchen?” Lorrie nervously asked.
“Don't worry. I love you too much to subject you to her cooking.” Amanda stood and hauled Lorrie out of bed. “Just don't tell her I said that, okay?”
“Okay.” Lorrie giggled and hugged her. “I love you, Mom. And I think I want to go see Momma at the hospital, too.”
“That's my girl.” Amanda lightly swatted her on the rear. “I love you, too. Hurry up, before Aunt Jeannie decides to poison, I mean, cook for us.”
Shelby sighed as she walked toward the hospital entrance. She made the drive from their home to Parkdale twice a day for the past week. Each morning, she took care of their horses before the forty minute trip to visit her lover. Shelby stayed until the nurses sent her away, then returned that evening until they forced her to leave. The only upside was that she and Kathy had become better acquainted.
She stepped off the elevator and nodded politely to the nurse as she passed the desk. “Mornin', Miz Charlotte.”
“Good morning, Shelby . I'm going to miss seeing you here.”
Shelby stopped and looked at her. “What? Does that mean Rebecca's gonna be released today?”
“Dr. Patterson signed her release and gave instructions to her family a short while ago. I was surprised you weren't here.”
“Her—” Shelby bit off the curse. “Thanks, ma'am.” She headed for Rebecca's room.
When she reached the open door, Shelby heard Rebecca's father, Greg, raised voice.
“I don't know why you're being so stubborn, Rebecca.”
Shelby moved into the room and stepped around him. “Mornin'.” She insinuated herself between Greg and the hospital bed so she could kiss Rebecca's cheek. “How're you doin', darlin'?”
“Much better, now that you're here.” Rebecca cupped her hand behind Shelby 's head and pulled her in for a proper kiss.
Greg cleared his throat. “I was just suggesting to Becca what a good idea it would be for her to stay with us while she recuperates.”
Shelby straightened and turned to look at him. “How do you figure that, Greg?” She felt Rebecca's hand on her back, which was the only thing that kept her from yelling at him.
“Well, the doctor said she'd need to go to physical therapy every day for the next couple of weeks. And since we live in town—”
“Physical therapy? Every day?”
Rebecca tugged on Shelby 's belt to get her to turn around. “Because of the weakness in my legs he wants me to continue therapy.” She glared at her father. “I wanted to surprise you with the news that I'm being released this morning.”
“That's great to hear, darlin'. The boys from the ranch already helped me build a ramp to the back door for you, so we're good to go.”
Greg would not be dissuaded so easily. “And you're going to drive her into town every day? What about your job?”
“I'm on paid leave ‘til my shoulder heals,” Shelby answered. While she had initially argued with Lex over it, now she was glad she had the leave to fall back on. “And yeah, I'll do whatever I need to for Rebecca.”
“Sorry it took so long, Becca, but—” Kathy silenced when she felt the tension in the air. “Good morning, Shelby . I ran out to the car to get the new sweats for Becca to wear home.” She gave Shelby a careful hug and kissed her daughter's cheek. “I bet you're excited to be going home.”
Rebecca nodded. “I sure am. Thanks for the clothes, Mom.”
“I was glad to help.” Kathy went to stand by her husband. “How is your shoulder, Shelby ? Is it still giving you much trouble?”
“It's feelin' better every day, thanks.”
Kathy smiled. “I'm glad to hear it. Becca, do you need me to help you change?”
“Um.” Rebecca looked at Shelby, then her father.
“I think I can manage it, Kathy,” Shelby said. When Kathy's expression deflated, she added, “but it would be great if you could come out to the house. Maybe show me some things that are easy to cook? I really don't want to send Rebecca back to the hospital by eating my cookin'.”
Rebecca exhaled in relief. “That would awesome. Could you, Mom?”
“Of course, honey.” Kathy turned to her husband. “I told you.”
He shrugged and stared out the window.
Kathy went on to explain. “Greg thought we should have Becca stay with us. I told him it wasn't a good idea, because the bedrooms are upstairs.” She nudged him with her shoulder. “But you know how guys are. We'll leave you to get dressed, Becca. Shelby , give me a call once you get settled at home.” She gave her daughter a gentle hug and kiss on the forehead.
“I sure will, Kathy. Thanks.” Shelby couldn't help but grin at Greg. “See you later.”
Greg ignored her and leaned over Rebecca to kiss her cheek. “Love you, sweetheart.”
“I love you too, Daddy.”
Shelby closed the door behind the couple and leaned against it. “That was fun.” She exhaled heavily and went to sit on the foot of the bed. “Your dad sure was full of himself today.”
“I don't know what's gotten into him, lately. Every time he'd come to visit, he would start griping about one thing or another.”
“Maybe it's his time of the month,” Shelby joked.
Rebecca giggled. “Poor Mom.”
“Yeah.” Shelby stood and took the clothes out of the bag. “Let's get you dressed and out of here, before they change their mind.”
Amanda headed upstairs after seeing the girls off on the school bus. She could hear her wife talking, so at the top of the stairs she walked toward Eddie's room. She stopped at the doorway and bit her lip to keep from laughing at the conversation.
“Big boy,” Eddie said.
“I know you're a big boy, son. But you still need to wear socks and shoes.” Lex tried to slip a sock over his foot, which he jerked away.
Lex sighed. “Come on. I promised to have you dressed before your Mommy got back.”
Eddie turned his head and grinned. “Mommy!”
“Yeah. Now don't give me—”
“Mommy!” Eddie squealed again, kicking Lex's hand away and climbing to his feet on his bed. “Mommy, help!”
Amanda came into the room and stood beside Lex. “Are you giving Momma trouble?”
“No,” Eddie answered with a giggle.
Lex rested her casted arm on the edge of his bed, which had been converted from the crib. “I think his idea of trouble and mine aren't the same.” She was secretly proud of Eddie's independence, although it could sometimes drive her crazy.
“Eddie, why aren't your shoes and socks on?” Amanda asked him. “Don't you want to be ready when Mada and Pawpaw come over?”
“No.” Eddie backed away from his parents. “No go, Mommy.”
Lex started to say something, but stopped when Amanda touched her back.
“Why don't you go downstairs and see if we have enough coffee. I'll finish with him.” Amanda leaned closer to Lex and kissed her cheek. “I'm sorry I forgot about you being down a hand. It's hard enough wrestling with him with two.”
“All right.” Lex lightly touched Eddie's stomach. “Behave, Eddie.” She laughed as he grabbed her finger. “Now what are you gonna do?”
“Momma, no go.” He tugged until he lost his grip, then toppled back onto his rear. “Momma!”
Amanda picked him up and kissed him all over his face. “We'll see Momma in a minute, as soon as you get your socks and shoes on.”
Before she could get pulled into the argument, Lex kissed the top of Eddie's head. “Be good.” She kissed Amanda's cheek. “You, too.” As she left the room, she heard Amanda laugh.
“We'll have to show Momma who's good, won't we?”
Lex chuckled and moved gingerly down the stairs. She had gladly put away her cane two days earlier, but still walked slowly in deference to her healing body. As she hit the bottom of the stairway, the back door opened.
Martha entered the house and removed her sweater, with Charlie's help. She looked up and noticed Lex. “You look a little too happy this morning.”
“Too happy? What does that mean?” Lex asked, as she followed them into the kitchen. She nudged Martha away from the counter. “Sit. I'll bring the coffee over.”
Martha glared at her, but joined Charlie at the table. “How long will you and Amanda be gone?”
Lex brought four mugs and the insulated carafe to the table. She poured everyone coffee before she took her place across from Martha. “Not too long. I'm hoping we'll be done by the time the girls are out of school, so we can pick them up.”
“Mada! Pawpaw!” Eddie toddled into the kitchen with Amanda not far behind. He grabbed a handful of Martha's slacks and tried to pull himself into her lap. “Mada, help.”
She hefted him up and kissed his chubby cheeks. “How's my boy?”
“Mmm.” Eddie wrapped his arms around her neck and gave her a slobbery kiss on the chin.
Amanda laughed and sat beside Lex. “Be careful, Mada. His newest trick is to lick instead of kiss. I think he's been playing with Freckles too much.”
As if she had heard her name, Freckles raced through the pet door and into the room. She danced around the table to see if anyone had goodies for her. When none were forthcoming, she trotted to the corner by the pantry and curled up in her dog bed.
“Leckles,” Eddie screeched. He slid from Martha's lap and headed for the dog.
Freckles raised her head and sighed, but didn't move as she was tackled by the rambunctious child.
“Eddie, be gentle,” Lex warned. “Don't hurt Freckles.”
“Love Leckles,” he argued, before he left a gooey kiss on the dog's head.
Amanda laughed and stood. “Since he's found something else to focus on, I think it's a good time for us to head to town.” She rinsed out her coffee mug and placed it in the dishwasher. “Do either of you need anything while we're there?”
Charlie stretched his arm behind Martha, who leaned into his embrace. “Not that I'm aware of. Are you sure you don't need my help?”
“All the heavy work is done,” Lex assured him. “We're just going to be there for moral support, more than anything else. And maybe to keep Jeannie from doing anything in the kitchen.”
Amanda swatted her on the arm. “Be nice. She's very excited about moving into Gramma's house. I doubt she'd do anything to jeopardize that.”
“Who's being ornery, now?” Lex walked to the dog bed and picked up Eddie. “Be good for Mada and Pawpaw, okay?”
He giggled when she blew raspberries on his cheek. “Momma, no.”
Lex put him down, but not before one more kiss. “I love you, Eddie.”
“Love Momma,” he answered, with a big smile, before returning his attention to Freckles.
Lex cleared her throat. “Well, okay. Guess I can't put this off any longer.”
Amanda knelt beside the dog bed to give Eddie a kiss as well. “You've been itching to get away from the house all week,” she teased Lex, as she stood.
“Ha. I have not.”
Martha rolled her eyes. “Children!”
“Have not,” Lex whispered. She kissed the top of Martha's head. “Bye.”
Not to be outdone, Martha swatted Lex on the rear as she stepped away. “Don't make me get my spoon after you.” When Amanda laughed, Martha added, “You, too.”
Martha shook her finger at them. “You two try to stay out of trouble. I know that'll be hard for you, but at least try.”
“I don't know what you're talking about,” Lex scoffed. “Come on, sweetheart. Let's go.” She held the back door open for her wife. “Have not!” she yelled, laughing and quickly closing the door.
Jeannie flopped onto the sofa beside Anna Leigh and blew out an exhausted breath. “Moving sucks.”
“Yes, it does.” Anna Leigh patted her arm. “Perhaps this will be your last move.”
“Oh, yeah. They're going to have to drag me out of here, feet first,” Jeannie quipped, then gasped in horror. “Oh, my god. I'm so sorry! That was awful of me.”
Anna Leigh shook her head as she stared off into the distance. “Nonsense. You shouldn't have to guard your every word, dearest. Jacob wouldn't have wanted that, and neither do I.” When Jeannie rested her head against her shoulder, Anna Leigh hooked her arm around her granddaughter's shoulders. “As hard as it has been, we have to keep living our lives.”
“I miss him,” Jeannie whispered.
“As do I. But I believe your grandfather is here, watching over us.” Anna Leigh hugged Jeannie and sat up straight. “And he'd thump us both for sitting here, moping.”
A knock at the open front door caused them both to turn, as Lex and Amanda stepped into the house. Lex balanced several white, thin boxes on her cast while Amanda hefted a cardboard box.
Amanda stopped at the entry to the living room. “Hey there. Is the kitchen presentable?”
Jeannie stood. “Mostly. Why?”
“Because we brought goodies,” Lex answered.
“Oooh.” Jeannie moved forward. “Donuts!”
Lex stepped around Amanda and started for the kitchen. “If you're nice to me, I'll let you have one with sprinkles.” She jerked and came close to dropping the boxes when Jeannie pinched her rear. “Watch it, woman.”
“ Lexington looks much better,” Anna Leigh commented to Amanda, once the kitchen door had closed behind Lex and Jeannie.
“She is, mostly. Her back is still hurting her, but she won't let me schedule a follow up appointment with her orthopedist. How are you handing all this?”
Anna Leigh gently smiled. “I'm quite all right with it, truly. This old house needs a happy family. I'm thrilled that Jeannie decided to move so soon.”
Amanda laughed and held the kitchen door open for her grandmother. “Lex swears she did it for the attention.”
“Did what?” Jeannie asked, her mouth full of donut. Multi-colored sprinkles dotted her chin and shirt.
Lex handed her a paper towel. “Moved so soon after the storm. Here, you look like one of the kids.”
Jeannie stuck her tongue out at Lex, chewed donut and all.
“You're disgusting,” Amanda said as she sat at the table. “Gramma, are you sure we're related?” She took a chocolate glazed donut and sat it on the napkin in front of her.
“Most definitely.” Anna Leigh used a napkin to remove a glazed donut from the box. She nibbled at it delicately, but didn't elaborate.
Lex laughed and sat beside her wife. While Amanda continued to tease Jeannie, Lex took the opportunity to steal a bite from her donut.
“Hey, get your own.” Amanda snatched the other half and held it away from her.
“You are my own,” Lex stated, which caused Jeannie to make gagging sounds. “What?”
Jeannie rolled her eyes as she finished off her donut. “You're disgustingly mushy, Slim. I think my sister has corrupted you.”
For a moment, Lex didn't say anything. She wiped the chocolate from her lips and stood, staring at Jeannie the entire time. “Maybe I should show you what you're missing,” she said in a soft voice. She held her good hand out to her sister-in-law.
“Um.” Jeannie looked at Amanda, who shrugged. Acting braver than she felt, Jeannie took Lex's hand and was pulled to her feet.
Lex dipped Jeannie backward and held her there. She brought her face close to Jeannie's until they were almost nose-to-nose. “I bet you've always wanted this,” she whispered.
Jeannie's eyes grew large as Lex's lips descended.
With a wicked grin, Lex bypassed Jeannie's lips and blew a wet raspberry on her cheek. When Jeannie squealed and struggled, Lex was unable to hold the position and they both tumbled to the floor.
Amanda stopped laughing long enough to help her wife. “Are you okay?”
“Never better.” Lex stood and stretched. She looked at Anna Leigh, who held a hand over her mouth to mute her laughter. “How about you, Gramma? You ready for a spin?”
Anna Leigh shook her head. “I believe I'll pass, Lexington . But thank you for offering.”
Jeannie climbed to her feet and wiped her cheek with her hand. “You're so gross, Lex. I'm gonna get you for that.”
“Promises, promises.” Lex swatted her on the butt. “You asked for it.”
“I did not!”
The kitchen door opened. “What on earth is going on in here?” Kyle asked.
“Jeannie's been picking on Lex,” Amanda answered, as the trio took their places once again. She pointed to the boxes and the extra cups of coffee. “We brought sustenance.”
“I've always liked you.” Kyle stepped into the kitchen and opened the top box. “Oooh. I love chocolate glazed.” She went to the sink and washed her hands.
Anna Leigh scooted her chair back so that the other side of the table was accessible. “Why don't you take a break? You've been working non-stop.”
“Thank you, A.L.” Kyle had never been comfortable calling the older woman by her given name, so the initials were her way of compromise. “Everything's in place upstairs, and the guys just left.”
“Oh. Okay. I was going to pay them—”
Kyle waved Jeannie off. “They didn't mind helping, so don't worry about it. But they had other plans for later, and wanted to head home to clean up.” She sat on the other side of Anna Leigh and exhaled heavily. “Since everything is already done, I need to call Ellie and tell her not to bother coming over after work.”
“She can still come, if she wants. I was thinking of cooking a roast for lunch,” Jeannie said. “Rodney was only going to have the clinic open for half a day.”
Frightened sets of eyes met around the table at the announcement. Anna Leigh was the first to find her voice. “I didn't see a roast in the refrigerator.”
“No, but I think I have one in the deep freezer. Somewhere.”
Amanda shook her head. “Jeannie, it's after ten. You can't cook a frozen roast in a couple of hours.”
“Of course I can,” Jeannie scoffed. “I'll just turn up the oven. Right, Gramma?”
“I'm afraid it doesn't work that way, dear. Haven't you read that book I gave you?”
Jeannie rolled her eyes. “Gramma, I don't need a beginner's cookbook.” When Lex choked on her coffee, she swatted her. “Stop that.”
Lex coughed a few more times while Amanda rubbed her back .She finally cleared her throat. “Two words, Jeannie. Boiled potatoes.”
“That wasn't my fault!” Jeannie whined. She turned to Kyle. “Somehow the burner on the stove got set to high, and the pot burned dry. I had it set lower, I know it.”
“The fire department didn't believe her, either. They showed up when the potatoes caught fire and smoke billowed out the back window,” Lex helpfully explained to Kyle.
Amanda covered Lex's mouth. “What we're trying to say, Jeannie, is that maybe it would be easier to order out for lunch. Lex and I can go pick up some barbeque.”
Lex nodded, since her mouth was still covered. She licked Amanda's hand, which earned her a dirty look from her wife. But it also gave her a chance to speak, when the hand moved away. “Right.”
When everyone became quiet, Anna Leigh turned to Kyle. “Have you and Eleanor decided when and where your ceremony will be?”
“Um, not exactly. I mean, well, we don't want it to be some huge, drawn out affair.” Kyle looked to Lex and Amanda. “We figured to just have a few family members around, while we read our vows to each other. Nothing fancy.”
Amanda reached for Lex's hand beneath the table. “We would be thrilled if you two would consider having it at the ranch. Right, honey?”
“Sure,” Lex agreed. “Do you want us to talk to Reverend Hampton? He presided over ours.”
Kyle shook her head. “No, thank you. Ellie really doesn't want to have anything to do with religion. She totally freaked out when I asked her.”
“That makes sense,” Amanda mused. “If I had her mother, I'd probably feel the same way.” Ellie's mother was a religious fanatic that had disowned her only daughter after finding out she was gay. They hadn't spoken since.
“Yeah. I guess I'm lucky that my folks moved to Virginia . They cut me out of the family when I was in high school.”
Anna Leigh patted Kyle's arm. “We're very happy you're a part of our family, Kylie.”
“Thanks, A.L.” Kyle covered Anna Leigh's hand. “That means a lot to me.” Kyle looked around the table at the family she had acquired when she and Ellie had gotten together. “It's a great family to be a part of.”
Jeannie decided to lighten the mood. She bumped her shoulder against Lex's. “Most of the time, it is.”
“Watch it, woman,” Lex warned.
Amanda leaned in front of Lex to stare at her sister. “Or I'll finish it.”
“Thanks, sweetheart.” Lex put her arm on the back of Amanda's chair and made a silly face at Jeannie. “As we were saying, Kyle, check with Ellie. We'd love to host your ceremony at the ranch.”
Kyle nodded. “I will, thanks.” She finished her coffee and stood. “If y'all will excuse me, I think I'll go home and get cleaned up, before Ellie gets off work.”
After Kyle left, Anna Leigh stood as well. “I believe I'll run home and check on Derry . She's not used to being home alone for very long.”
“Gramma, you've only had her a week. She can't already be that spoiled,” Jeannie joked. “And I wish you would have named her something more normal.”
Anna Leigh shook her finger at her. “Nonsense. The little dear survived the first derecho to hit Somerville . I think Derry is a perfect name.”
“So do I,” Amanda added. “It's better than your idea,” she said to Jeannie.
“Fluffy is a perfectly good name for a cat,” Jeannie defended.
Lex laughed. “Not for a short-haired cat, Jeannie. Why not just call her ‘Dog'?” She batted away the wadded napkin that Jeannie threw. “Ha.”
Amanda got out of her chair. “Come on, honey. Let's walk Gramma out.”
“Sure.” Lex allowed herself to be led from the kitchen, while Jeannie took another donut from the box. “Mushy,” she muttered, before devouring the donut.
Shelby tucked the blanket around Rebecca's legs, once she got her partner settled comfortably on the sofa. She struggled to control her anger as she listened to Rebecca's side of the phone conversation.
“No, Terry. I don't care what your friend looks like, or how much money he makes. I'm very happy with Shelby .” Rebecca brought the phone away from her ear and sighed. She listened again, while her brother ranted. “Stop it! I don't care what you think. You didn't bother to come see me in the hospital, so why should I allow you to visit now? Please. You're an assistant manager at a hamburger joint. It's not exactly the most important job in the world. Yes, I realize that Austin isn't next door, Terry.” She held the phone out at arm's length and rolled her eyes. “I haven't heard from him in over a year, and suddenly he cares?” she whispered to Shelby .
“Want me to have a go at him?” Shelby offered.
Rebecca shook her head. “I can handle him, but thanks.” She put the phone to her ear. “Shut up, Terrance. No, I said, shut up!” Once her brother quieted, Rebecca took a deep breath and released it slowly. “If all you want is to bitch at me about my life, then don't bother calling again. I'm with Shelby , and I'm going to stay with her until we're old and gray. Got that?” She hit the disconnect button and tossed the phone to the other end of the couch. “He's such a jackass.”
Shelby sat on the arm of the sofa. “Sorry, darlin'. I know you were upset when he didn't visit you in the hospital.”
“It wasn't that, exactly. I just get tired of having to defend our relationship with the people who are supposed to love me. I mean, it's an ongoing thing. We've been together for five years. When is it going to stop?” She looked up to see the anguish in Shelby 's eyes. “You're not a phase, Shelby . You're my life.”
“I know. And I hope you realize it's the same for me.” Shelby kissed the top of Rebecca's head. Something occurred to her and she stood. “Be right back, okay?”
Rebecca watched Shelby go into the bedroom. “All right.”
Shelby passed to the closet and moved the clothes to one side so that she could reach the small, metal box in the far corner. She opened the box and dug through the few photos and trinkets from her life. “Ah.” Beneath the folded rodeo playbills and the letters from her aunt, she found a balled handkerchief. She removed the handkerchief and closed the box.
After she stood, Shelby unfolded the cloth and stared at the contents. Her hand shook as she picked up the two thin, platinum bands. “I hope I'm doin' the right thing, Pop,” she whispered. “It sure didn't turn out so good for you.” She tightened her fist around the rings and tucked the handkerchief into her back pocket.
When Shelby returned to the living room, Rebecca frowned. “Hon? What's wrong?”
Shelby shook her head and sat beside her lover. “Ain't nothin' wrong, darlin'. Um.” She looked at her closed hand. “I'm kinda late with this, but it ain't because of you.” She raised her head and looked into Rebecca's eyes. “I might not say it all the time, but you're the best thing that's ever happened to me, you know.”
“You tell me more than enough, Shelby. I can always see it in your eyes.” Rebecca gasped in surprise when Shelby dropped to her knee beside the couch. “What—”
“I reckon you could have just about anybody you'd want, Rebecca. I'm uneducated, foul-tempered and stubborn. But I swear to you, I'd die before I'd hurt you.” Shelby took Rebecca's left hand and held it in hers. “We can't do this legal-like, but I'd be honored if you'd be mine, and wear this ring.”
“Shel—” Rebecca couldn't stop her tears from falling when her lover shakily held out a thin, platinum band. “Is that?”
Shelby swallowed. “Yeah. It was my mom's. She left it when she took off, and my dad kept it. I figured maybe we could give it better luck.”
Rebecca sniffled and nodded. “I'd like that.” Her hand was shaking as badly as Shelby 's, and it took more than one try to get the ring on her finger. “It's a perfect fit.”
“I had it sized a couple of years back,” Shelby admitted. “I just never got up the nerve to ask you.”
“Why were you scared?” Rebecca asked. She looked at the ring on her hand. “You weren't afraid I'd say no, were you?”
Shelby shook her head. “If there's one thing I've ever been sure about, it's you, darlin'. But I remember what hell my parents went through, and wasn't sure I wouldn't do that to you.”
Rebecca tugged on Shelby 's hand. “Get up here.” Once she had Shelby next to her, she leaned in close and slowly kissed her. When Shelby deepened the contact, Rebecca tangled her fingers in her lover's hair. Once they broke apart for air, Rebecca said, “How's that for an answer?”
“I dunno. Maybe we should talk about it some more.” Shelby grinned and kissed her again.
To be continued in Part 13
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