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 **
Amanda held the back door open for Rebecca, who moved slowly with the aid of a cane. “It’s so good to see you! Would you be more comfortable in the kitchen or the living room?”
“Probably the living room,” Rebecca admitted.
“Mibby!” Eddie greeted from the kitchen. He sat in his high chair and waved his spoon in the air. “Mommy, Mibby!”
Amanda rolled her eyes. “Let me get him cleaned up and I’ll join you. Would you like some coffee?”
Rebecca stopped at the kitchen door to catch her breath. She had stopped using her wheelchair only a few days earlier, and still tired easily. “How about I join you in the kitchen, first?”
“Sure. Do you need any help?”
“Mibby!” Eddie slammed his fist on the tray. “Mibby!”
Amanda took the empty bowl and spoon away. “No, I’ve got it. Eddie, behave.” She unbuckled him from the chair and sat him on the counter. “How do you manage to get so much of your breakfast on you?”
Rebecca settled in a chair and sighed. “I never thought walking from the truck would be so tiring.”
“I was surprised to see you moving so well,” Amanda admitted, as she used a wet paper towel to get the worst of the oatmeal off of her son.
“Mommy, no!” Eddie shook his head to avoid the towel. “No! Bad!”
Amanda ignored his pleas and continued to wipe away the food. “Almost done.” She kissed his forehead and set him down. “See? You survived.”
Eddie toddled toward Rebecca. “Mibby!”
“Careful, Eddie. Miss Rebecca has an owie,” Amanda warned him. “Be gentle.”
He paused and looked at Amanda, then back to Rebecca. “Owie?”
“It’s okay, sweetie. Come here.” Rebecca held out her hands and laughed as he charged forward. She helped him climb onto her lap. “There you go.”
Eddie grabbed her shirt and kissed her cheek. “Good.” He settled on her lap and stuck his finger in his mouth.
Amanda brought two mugs of coffee to the table and placed one in front of her friend, but out of Eddie’s reach. “Here you go.” She noticed the light glint off of Rebecca’s hand. “Well, hello. What’s that?”
Rebecca blushed but held her hand out for inspection. “Shelby gave it to me last week.”
“She did? How sneaky!” Amanda nodded her approval at the simple ring. “I like it. Does this mean what I think it means?”
“Yes, it does.” Rebecca smiled and stared at her ring, as if she still had trouble believing it was real. “She got down on one knee, and everything.”
Amanda patted her hand. “That’s wonderful. Are you going to have any kind of ceremony?”
“No. We’ve already said what we wanted to say to each other. A ceremony isn’t going to change anything for us.” Her smile disappeared. “And if we had one, I’d have to invite my family. Mom would want some big production, and my father and brother would probably drive us all crazy.”
Rebecca shrugged. “My dad has been acting strange for the last year or so, and Terry’s always been a jerk. They’re not going to change, and I’m tired of messing with them. Mom has been great, though. She brought us at least a weeks’ worth of meals and sent Shelby to the barn when she complained.” She laughed at the memory. “Shelby was offended at the thought that she wasn’t taking good care of me, but Mom told her to get over it.”
“And then she had the nerve to send me out of my own house,” Shelby growled, as she tossed the clean hay on the floor of the stall.
Lex coughed to cover up her laugh. “Serves you right.” She opened another bale. “Sometimes you just gotta keep your mouth shut and take it, especially where family’s involved.”
“What would you have done, if Amanda’s mother had just come into the house and took over?”
“Um, well.” Lex leaned against the opposite stall and crossed her arms over her chest. “That’s different.”
Shelby stopped and removed her hat. She wiped her forehead against her shoulder and sighed. “Damn, I take a couple of weeks off and now I’m out of shape.” She leaned against her pitchfork. Her arm still ached, but she refused to give in to it. Instead, she worked herself harder, much to Rebecca’s dismay. “And how is it different?”
“’Cause Amanda’s mother was a freakin’ psycho. If she had tried to take over my house, I’d have called the sheriff.”
“Oh.” Shelby took off her gloves and scratched her neck. “Kathy means well, I guess. It just pissed me off that she thought I wasn’t takin’ good care of Rebecca.”
Lex opened her mouth to say something, when she noticed Shelby’s ring. “That’s nice.”
“Huh?” Shelby paused and realized where Lex stared. “Oh. Yeah.” She shrugged and blushed. “It was my old man’s.”
“Is Rebecca wearing one, too?”
“Yeah. My mother’s.” Shelby stared at the floor of the barn. “I was tired of her family thinkin’ we were just roommates or a fling she’d get over. So I gave her a ring and promised to always be there for her.” She raised her head and gave Lex a hard look. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that, is there?”
Lex shook her head. “Not at all, my friend. I’d say there’s a lot right about it.” She walked closer and held out her hand. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” Shelby shook her hand and grunted in surprise when Lex hugged her.
“When’s the big day?” Lex asked after she stepped back.
Shelby looked genuinely confused. “Big day?”
“Yeah. You know, the ceremony?” Lex stretched as she walked across the barn to sit on a bale of hay. “Wedding bells?”
“Uh, no.” Shelby shook her head as she joined Lex. “Ain’t happenin’, buddy.”
Lex braced her back against the wall and stretched out her legs. “Why the hell not?”
“Neither of us want that kind of fuss. Rebecca would end up killing her family over it, and I don’t feel like visitin’ her in prison.”
Shelby removed her hat. “Yeah. Her mom is okay, but her dad would raise holy hell, I’d imagine. And don’t even get me started on that little bastard brother of hers. I’d love a chance to take him out behind the barn and kick his ass.”
“Ah. Well, that sucks.”
“Yeah. But I still feel like the luckiest person alive.” Shelby scoffed at her sentimentality. “Stupid, huh?”
Lex shook her head. “Not a bit. It’d be stupid if you didn’t feel that way.” She quietly reflected on her own life. “Pretty damned amazing, if you ask me.”
The gray kitten flipped in the air, batting at imaginary foes. Anna Leigh chuckled as she sipped her coffee. Derry had been just what she needed after Jacob’s loss. The small bundle of fur would never fill the gaping hole his death had left, but at least she had a reason to get up every day. She checked the clock on the stove and stood. Before she could move, there was a soft knock on her front door.
Anna Leigh smiled and nodded. Not long after her husband’s death, she had begun to share breakfast and coffee on weekday mornings with someone she had come to consider a good friend. She set her cup down and picked up Derry. “Right on time.” Her smile widened when she opened her door and came face-to-face with her visitor. “Good morning.”
“Good morning, A.L.” Kyle held a paper bag in one hand, and small catnip ball in the other. “I brought your favorite today.”
“Apple fritter?” Anna Leigh asked, as she traded Derry for the bag. “They’re still warm.”
Kyle nuzzled the kitten and followed his human into the kitchen. “Yep. Timed it just right.” She sat in what had become her usual chair, while the older woman poured her a cup of coffee. Kyle had learned the hard way not to offer to get it herself. After clearing out Jacob’s workshop, she realized she enjoyed Anna Leigh’s company, and started making excuses to drop by. Now she came over before work every morning. She set Derry on the floor with the ball and graciously accepted the steaming mug. “Thanks.”
“Certainly.” Anna Leigh removed the two fritters from the bag, placing each on a paper plate. “How was your weekend?”
“Busy. I was informed on Saturday that I’m going to have to find something besides jeans to wear.” Kyle shook her head. “I think that Ellie’s been hanging around your granddaughters too long, A.L. She’s getting a little crazy over the whole thing. It’s only two weeks away, and she’s getting frantic.”
Anna Leigh laughed at the look on her young friend’s face. “Well, Mandy has a good head on her shoulders. But Jeannie,” she stopped to consider her words. “She’s always been more, shall we say, fanciful.”
“Nice save,” Kyle joked, raising her cup in salute.
“Behave.” Anna Leigh couldn’t stop her smile. “You are a bad influence on me, I believe.”
Kyle buffed her nails on her work shirt. “I try.” She sobered and nervously brushed her hand over her hair, which stood up in short spikes. “Um, I also found out something else. Ellie asked Lex to give her away, since she’s the only family that’ll be there.”
“That makes sense. Does that bother you, dear?”
“No! Um, not at all. I’m glad she has Lex. Amanda is standing beside her, as her best woman, I guess.” Kyle took a deep breath and looked directly into Anna Leigh’s eyes. “Would you stand beside me?”
Anna Leigh almost dropped her fork. “Me?” She shakily placed the bite of fritter on the plate. “Don’t you have someone else you’d rather have?”
Kyle took the older woman’s hand. “I know a lot of people, A.L. But you’re just about the best friend I have, outside of Ellie.”
“Then I’d be honored, Kylie. Thank you.” Anna Leigh leaned across the small table and kissed Kyle on the cheek, which caused the younger woman to blush.
Her desk faced the back wall, so Ellie had no idea that someone had come into the small office she shared with the bookkeeper and the other nurse. She had her head down as she tried to make out Rodney’s written instructions on a patient’s file. “I wish we’d go digital,” she grumbled.
“Good luck with that,” Jeannie cheerfully answered. “My husband hates technology. He’d rather go back to the days of house calls and horse-drawn carriages.”
“Ah!” Ellie tossed her pen in the air and covered her chest with one hand. She turned the chair around and gave her boss’s wife a dirty look. “You scared me.”
Jeannie moved a stack of files out of her way and sat on the edge of the desk. “Why are you hiding in here?”
“I’m not hiding, I’m working.” Ellie retrieved her pen from the floor. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to get you.” Jeannie took the pen away from her. “Come on.”
Ellie shook her head. “What? No. Wait. I have to work.”
“Nope. You’ve got the day off. Let’s go,” Jeannie ordered. She tossed the pen on the desk and held out her hand. “We’ve got stuff to do.”
“No butts. You’ve got two weeks to get your dress. I’ve already taken the liberty of asking my father to do the photographs.” Jeannie hauled Ellie to her feet and gently pushed her toward the door. “We’ll stop by your place first, so you can change.”
An hour later, Ellie stood in the fitting room of Jeannie’s favorite boutique, a tiny, overpriced store in Parkdale. She looked down at her body, clad only in the white, sensible underwear she always wore. Her figure had filled out over the last year. A layer of muscle now covered her slender body, due to the activities her lover had introduced to her. On their days off they hiked or bicycled, something that Ellie would have never thought she’d enjoy as much as she did.
“Hey, try this one,” Jeannie yelled, as she draped a full dress over the door.
Ellie took the dress and unzipped the back. She stepped into it and pulled the lace sleeves over her shoulders and looked into the mirror. The person staring back at her was a stranger. “What the hell am I doing?”
“Did you say something?” Jeannie asked. “It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?”
“Uh, well.” Ellie frowned at the rows of lace across her chest and shoulders, while the ivory, satin skirt flared out well away from her body. “It’s something, all right.” She carefully removed the dress as her good sense returned. “Jeannie, we need to talk.”
Ellie quickly got into her jeans and tee shirt. She opened the door and handed Jeannie the dress. “You can put this back.”
“Okay. Was it too big?” Jeannie waved the sales clerk over and passed the dress off to her. “I’m sorry, we’ll have to try something else, I guess.”
Ellie shook her head as she stepped into her canvas shoes. “No, we won’t. I’m sorry we wasted your time.” She tugged on Jeannie’s sleeve. “This is all wrong.”
“What do you mean? Ellie, wait.” Jeannie gave the clerk a smile and jogged after Ellie. “Hey, hold on.” She finally caught up with her outside. “What’s the matter?”
“This has gotten way out of hand,” Ellie said, waving her hands around. “It was fun at first, but it’s not what Kyle and I talked about.” She started toward Jeannie’s SUV, which was parked nearby. “We wanted a small little gathering, just family. But thanks to my stupid cousin, we have a minister.” She had been totally against anything to do with organized religion since breaking free of her mother’s influence. But after meeting the reverend who presided over Lex & Amanda’s ceremony, she agreed to have him involved.
Jeannie hurried behind her. “But what about the cake and the caterer?”
Ellie stopped at the SUV and rested her arms against the hood. She lowered her head until it was on her arms. “That’s not us. I don’t think Kyle even cared about having a ceremony.” She looked at Jeannie. “I got so caught up in it all that I almost forgot the most important thing.”
“Kyle,” Ellie softly answered. “She’s probably afraid that I’m going to make her wear some fancy dress, like you almost roped me into.”
“Now, wait a minute. I didn’t—”
Ellie held up her hand to stop her. “I know you didn’t mean anything by it, but honestly, Jeannie. Can you really see me in that lacy thing you had me try on?”
Jeannie thought about it for a moment before she started to laugh. “You’d be about as comfortable in that as your cousin.” She poked Ellie. “Why did you go along with me, then?”
“I dunno.” Ellie leaned against the truck and crossed her arms. “Maybe I liked hanging out with you,” she whispered.
“Hey.” Jeannie stood beside Ellie and put her arm around her. “We’re already family. And, to tell you the truth, I get along better with you than I do my own sister.”
Ellie chuckled. “You two do go at it, don’t you?”
“God knows I love her, but she can really get on my nerves,” Jeannie admitted. “Since I don’t have to be home for a few hours, let’s go get some pie from the diner. You can tell me what you really want your ceremony to be like.”
“All right. But I’m buying.”
Jeannie laughed. “I never said you weren’t.” She stuck her tongue out and jogged around the SUV.
Loud music bounced off the concrete walls of the shop, drowning out the muttering from beneath the late-model Ford truck. Kyle fought with the cross-threaded nut until it snapped free and caused her to skin her knuckles on the undercarriage. “God-damnit!” She tossed her wrench on the floor and used her legs to wheel out from under the vehicle. She stopped in surprise when she noticed a familiar pair of shoes. “El?”
Ellie knelt in front of Kyle and shook her head. “Why don’t you wear the mechanic’s gloves?” She took a tissue from her jean’s pocket and held out her hand. “Let me see.”
“It’s not that bad,” Kyle argued weakly, as her lover dabbed at her bloody knuckles. “Ow.” She sat quietly as Ellie cleaned the scrape.
“Where’s your first-aid kit?”
Ellie gave her a look. “The boo-boo box.”
“Funny.” Kyle climbed to her feet. “We have one in the bathroom. I guess I might as well wash up.” As they walked across the shop, she asked, “What are you doing here? I thought you had another day of power shopping with Jeannie.”
“That’s what I came to talk to you about.” Ellie followed her into the restroom and waited until Kyle locked the door. The small room had a single toilet and a sink, along with a metal cabinet that hung on the opposite wall. Ellie opened the cabinet and snorted. “A greasy, half-empty box of old bandages and some dried-out medical tape?”
Kyle shrugged her shoulders as she scrubbed her hands, mindful of the oozing injury. “I bought the bandages myself a couple of years ago. Most of us keep them in our tool boxes, anyway.”
“Ugh.” Ellie gingerly took the box of bandages from the cabinet and set them on the edge of the sink. “Let me see your hand.” She tsked as she used a paper towel to dab the wound as dry as possible.
“Are you ever gonna tell me why you’re not out with Jeannie?”
Ellie covered the injury with a bandage and lightly kissed it. “There. Now it’s properly germy.” She looked into her lover’s eyes and shook her head. “I’m so sorry, Kyle.”
“Huh? For what?”
“The last couple of weeks. I got all caught up in Jeannie’s excitement, and didn’t even bother to ask you what you wanted. I feel like a jerk.”
Kyle stroked Ellie’s cheek with her fingertips. “Hey, it’s all right. You seemed like you were having such a good time, I didn’t mind at all.” She kissed Ellie gently. “As long as I’m not expected to wear some crazy-assed dress, that is.”
Ellie laughed at the thought of her lover in the gown Jeannie had her try on earlier. “You have nothing to worry about. As a matter of fact, I’ve told Jeannie to back off and let you and I handle it. I thought we could dress comfortably, with just our family around. Nothing fancy.”
“Are you sure?”
“Definitely.” Ellie put her arms around Kyle’s neck. “If Jeannie wants a big ceremony, she can get remarried.” She laughed when Kyle swung her around the bathroom.
“Have I told you lately how much I love you?” Kyle asked. She stopped spinning and kissed Ellie until someone started beating on the door.
Amanda peered through the kitchen window to the backyard. The morning sunlight glinted off the dozen or so folding chairs set beneath the trees. She watched as Lex fussed with the placement, while Roy and Chet stood nearby.
Martha stepped behind Amanda and looked over her shoulder. “Is she still at it?”
“Yes.” Amanda turned away from the window. “You’d think it was our wedding, the way she’s carrying on.” She leaned against the counter and crossed her arms. “I really can’t blame her, though. Ellie’s more like her sister than her cousin, and I know she wants everything to be perfect.”
“That’s true. And how on earth did y’all convince Ellie to have the Reverend preside? Last I heard, she wanted no part of it.”
Amanda laughed and pushed off the counter. “Lex didn’t give her much of a choice. She grabbed Ellie at lunch a couple of weeks ago and took her over to see Reverend Hampton in person.”
“I’m sure that went over well.” Martha opened the window. “Lexie, quit being such a pain in the patootie. I’m sure Roy and Chet have better things to do than watch you rearrange the same chairs over and over.”
Lex turned toward the house. “It’s only four hours until—”
“I can tell time, girl. Go find something else to do.” Martha closed the window before Lex could argue. She turned to Amanda, who had a wide grin on her face. “What?”
Martha’s stare was enough to make Amanda raise her hands in surrender.
“I had already told Lex the same thing you did, and you saw where it got me. So I found it pretty funny when you hollered at her.”
Martha’s glare softened into a smile. “She’s a handful, isn’t she?”
“Every day,” Amanda agreed. She sat at the table and took a sip of her coffee. “Not that I’d change a thing about her. Well, maybe her tendency to find trouble at the drop of a hat.”
“Good luck with that.” Martha joined her at the table. “Where’s Eddie?”
Martha almost choked on her coffee. “Alone?”
“No, both girls are up there, too.”
“Honey, are you sure that’s wise? After what happened last week?”
Amanda laughed. “I think Mel learned her lesson. She promised not to leave him alone, no matter what.”
Melanie had been after her parents to give her more responsibility. Lex was the first to give in, and asked their youngest daughter to keep an eye on Eddie. Mel swore she had only been gone for a moment, but by the time she found him, the toddler had dumped all his socks in the toilet and tried to flush them away. It had been a very expensive error in judgment, but Amanda was willing to give Melanie another chance.
Amanda listened for a moment. “Although, now that you mention it, it does seem to be too quiet.” She got up from the table. “If my wife comes in the house, tell her to take a chill pill, will you?”
“I surely will,” Martha happily agreed. “And if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’ll run home and check on my overnight guest. Ellie was up late last night, talking to Kyle on the phone.”
“You should have sent her over here. She could have kept Lex company. I caught her downstairs at two o’clock this morning, playing games on the computer.”
Martha waved to her and went to the sink to rinse out her coffee cup. She noticed Lex still messing with the chairs. “Crazy kid.”
Once she was upstairs, Amanda looked in Eddie’s room, which she found empty. She walked down the hall and noticed Melanie’s door open. She peeked inside and bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud.
Melanie and Eddie were in full “tea party” mode. Both were wearing floppy, straw hats. Eddie had a purple feather boa around his shoulders, while Melanie wore her old princess Halloween costume. “Okay, Eddie. Now drink out of your cup, like this.” Melanie pretended to sip from the plastic tea cup.
“No!” Eddie waved his empty cup around before he slammed it on the table. “No.”
“It’s just pretend, Eddie. Mommy won’t let me use real tea.”
Eddie pounded the plastic table with his cup. “No!” He shook his head until the hat fell. “Ha! Bad, Meemee.”
“Eddie, you can’t have a tea party without the hat. It’s just not right.” Melanie bent to pick it up, only to be hit by a flying cup. “Eddie, stop it.”
Amanda decided to intervene before there was an all-out brawl. “How’s it going?” she asked as she stepped into the room.
“Mommy!” Eddie tipped his chair over in his eagerness. “Meemee, bad.” He tossed the boa to the floor.
Melanie pushed her hat back on her head. “He’s not playing right, Mommy.”
“Well, little boys aren’t known for their tea party manners, honey.” Amanda lifted Eddie and rested him against her hip. “Have you been giving your sister a bad time?”
Eddie chewed on his index finger for a moment then pointed it at Melanie. “Bad.”
“No, honey. Meemee isn’t bad. She just wanted to play with you.” She smiled at her daughter. “Thanks for watching Eddie. I’ll take him off your hands, now.”
“That’s okay, Mommy. He didn’t like wearing the hat, anyway.” Melanie gathered Eddie’s castoffs and adjusted her hat. “I’ll wait until he’s older.”
Amanda solemnly nodded. “That’s probably a good idea.” She rubbed noses with Eddie, who giggled. “Let’s go see what Lorrie’s up to.”
“Leelee good,” Eddie agreed.
Martha veered from the paved path and ended up behind Lex, who stood beneath the tallest oak tree, staring upward. “What are you doing, now?”
Lex startled and turned. “Hey, Martha.”
“Don’t you ‘hey’ me, Lexie. What’s going on under that hat of yours?”
“Uh, well.” Lex removed her black hat and scratched her head. “I was thinking of trimming that one branch, ‘cause it sticks out some.”
Martha’s hands went to her hips as she glared at Lex. “Oh, really? And why would you do that, today?”
Lex shrugged, looking more like the teenager Martha had raised than the mother of three children of her own. She set her hat low on her head.
Martha crooked her finger. “Come here.”
“Hmm?” Lex leaned closer, until her ear was grabbed in a vice-like grip. “Ow! Dammit, Martha. Let go!”
“Now, you listen to me,” Martha whispered. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Roy and Chet quickly escape through the gate. “You’re going to stop all this nonsense and settle down.” She released Lex’s ear. “You have a choice.”
Lex rubbed her ear. “What choice?”
“You can go in the house and relax, or you can come with me and help Ellie get ready for her ceremony. Hers, not yours.”
“I know that. I just want everything to be perfect for her.” Lex followed Martha through the yard and out the gate. “She deserves it, after everything she’s gone through.”
Martha stopped and looked back at the yard. She had to admit it looked nice. Lex and the boys had decorated the top of the fence with floral garland. Beneath the tree was a trellis arch, similarly adorned. “Honey, do you think that Kyle loves her?”
Lex appeared shocked at the question. “Of course, she does. What kind of—”
“Nothing else matters to her, I’m bettin’.”
“Oh.” Lex grinned and swatted Martha on the rear. “Pretty smart, aren’t ya?”
Martha shook her finger at Lex. “You were good training, kiddo. Come on, let’s go check on Ellie.”
Amanda and Eddie both knocked on Lorrie’s door.
“Leelee! Not not!” Eddie said as he slapped the door.
There was a furious shuffling sound behind the door before it opened and Lorrie appeared. “Hi.”
Eddie squirmed. “Down.” When he wasn’t released, he added, “Pease?”
Amanda set him on the floor and laughed as he waited for Lorrie to move aside. She noticed the handset to the cordless phone in her daughter’s hand. “I’m sorry, did we interrupt?”
“Um, no. I was just talking to a friend. We’re done, though.” Lorrie stepped back. “Come on in.”
Eddie laughed and charged ahead. He saw Freckles curled up on the end of Lorrie’s bed and made a beeline for her. “Leckles!”
Lorrie chased after him and scooped him up before he could pounce on her dog. “Hey, want to sit at my desk and draw?”
“Leckles,” Eddie cried, until Lorrie’s words registered. “Dwaw?”
While Lorrie attended to Eddie, Amanda looked out the window. She watched as Martha grabbed Lex’s ear, which caused Amanda to laugh.
Lorrie soon joined her. “What’s so funny?”
“Just Mada keeping your Momma in line, as usual.” Amanda put her arm around Lorrie and brought her close. “How are you doing?”
“I’m okay.” Lorrie turned into the embrace and wrapped her arms fully around Amanda. She had recently gone through another growth spurt. The top of her head was even with her mother’s eyebrows and she rested her chin on Amanda’s shoulder. “I think it’s cool that we don’t have to dress up today.”
Amanda laughed and kissed her cheek. “Me, too. Do you want to come downstairs and keep me company while I get things ready in the kitchen?”
“Um, can I come down in a little bit? I promised my friend I’d call her back.”
“Sure.” Amanda almost commented on the blush that covered Lorrie’s face, but decided against it. “Let me just grab Eddie and get out of your way, then.”
Lorrie shrugged. “He can stay here, Mom. I’ll bring him downstairs with me.”
Amanda blinked, but didn’t say anything. She wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. “All right. Thanks.” She left the room and closed the door. “Pod person. That’s got to be it.”
Charlie pulled up short as he met Lex and Martha on the front porch of the cottage. “I was just on my way into town to pick up the cake.”
“Do you want me to go?” Lex asked.
“Nah, I can handle it.” Charlie clapped her on the shoulder before he kissed his wife’s cheek. “Anything you can think of, hon?”
Martha shook her head. “I believe we have everything else. Be careful.” She brushed her hand down his arm as he walked away.
Lex heard the small sigh escape from Martha’s lips as she watched her husband walk to their SUV. “Is everything okay?”
“Hmm?” Martha seemed to gather herself together. “Everything’s good. I just sometimes get caught up in thinking.” She went inside and headed for the kitchen. “Why don’t you see if Ellie’s up, and I’ll check the coffee.”
The older woman turned around in the kitchen doorway. “I’m fine, Lexie. These past few months have reminded me how lucky I am, that’s all.”
Lex understood exactly what Martha meant. She often spent time thinking the same thing. “Yeah.” She stepped forward and put her arms around Martha and gently squeezed.
Martha returned the hug and then swatted Lex on the rear. “Now, go on. We don’t want Ellie sleeping through her own ceremony, do we?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Lex kissed the top of her head and darted out of the way before she could retaliate. “Whatever you say, ma’am.”
Lex chuckled all the way down the hall. She stopped in front of the closed guest room door and listened, but didn’t hear a sound. Her light knock went unanswered, so she tapped louder. “Hey, Ellie. Rise and shine!”
“Go ‘way,” a grumpy voice growled.
“You’d better be decent, ‘cause I’m coming in,” Lex warned, right before she opened the door. She was hit in the face with a pillow as she crossed the threshold. “Good morning to you too, sunshine.”
The lump under the blankets groaned and Ellie poked her head out. “Since when did you become so damned cheerful?”
Lex laughed as sat on the edge of the bed. “It’s a gorgeous day. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and one of my favorite people in the world is exchanging vows in just a couple of hours.”
“Yeah, well.” Ellie popped up with a panicked look on her face. “A couple of hours? What time is it?”
Lex looked at her watch. “A little after ten.”
“Oh, my god!” Ellie threw the covers off and was on her feet in a flash. “Why didn’t someone wake me sooner? I’ve got so much to do! I haven’t showered or—”
“Calm down, cousin. Everything’s already set up, Charlie’s picking up the cake and I’m here to help you get ready. It’s not like you have to put on a fancy dress, or something.”
Ellie dropped back onto the bed. “Why did I agree to this circus, anyway?”
“Don’t worry about it. Just think about how much fun you’re gonna have on the honeymoon.” Lex laughed at her cousin’s blush. “Aww, that’s cute.”
“Shut up.” Ellie swatted Lex with her spare pillow. She wasn’t prepared for the retaliatory hit. “Hey!” The battle started in earnest, as both got to their knees on the bed and pounded each other with pillows while they laughed.
Anna Leigh sat on her new sofa, while the kitten in her lap purred. Her hand kept a smooth motion on its fur. “You’re going to have to come out of my guestroom at some point,” she said, her voice loud in the quiet house.
“I know,” Kyle answered. She walked into the living room and held her hands out away from her body. “I’m just not sure about this.”
“Oh, Kylie. You look wonderful.”
Kyle looked down at her clothes. Her jeans were faded and fit like a second skin, and the black, ribbed tee hugged her muscular body. “I know Ellie wanted me to wear this, but I feel like I’m underdressed.”
“Hmm.” Anna Leigh placed Derry on a cushion and stood. She slowly walked around Kyle and hummed to herself. “Did she say why?”
Kyle blushed and lowered her head while she mumbled her answer.
“I’m sorry, dear. What was that?” Anna Leigh stood behind Kyle and tried to keep from laughing.
“She likes the way I look in tanks and jeans.”
“I don’t blame her. You do cut a dashing figure.”
The comment caused Kyle to rub her face with one hand. “Oh, god.”
Anna Leigh took pity on her and patted Kyle on the back. “Go put your socks and shoes on, and I’ll have a calming cup of tea waiting for you in the kitchen.”
“Shoes?” Kyle glanced at her feet. “Damn.” She scampered to the guest room.
Anna Leigh was almost to the kitchen when she heard Kyle yell.
“I can’t find my socks!”
Reversing her course, Anna Leigh followed the panicked voice. When she reached the room, she saw Kyle bent at the waist, looking under the bed.
“I can’t get married without socks,” Kyle cried. “I’ll never hear the end of it from Ellie.” She had her shoes in one hand, while she used the other to balance against the bed. “I could have sworn I brought my damned socks.”
Anna Leigh cleared her throat as she took the boots away from Kyle. “Are they white tube socks?”
“Yes!” Kyle rose so quickly she almost slammed into the older woman. “Do you see them?”
Anna Leigh held up the boots, which had a pair of white socks stuffed into one of them. “Do these look familiar?”
“Good god, I’m an idiot. Thanks, A.L.” Kyle sat on the edge of the bed and to finish dressing. “You’re not going to tell anyone about this, are you?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m sure Eleanor would enjoy this story.”
Kyle shook her head. “You wouldn’t, would you?”
Anna Leigh winked at her. “That should give you something else to think about,” she teased, before she turned away and left.
To be concluded in Part 14
Return to the Academy