The Way Things Should Be
By Carrie Carr
The next few days were rough on Amanda. As well-intentioned as her family was, their solicitousness was beginning to wear on her. Her grandmother insisted that she take a leave of absence from the real estate office, and her father made daily trips out to the ranch. The only one who seemed to be giving her any space at all was Lex, although Amanda feared that the ordeal had left its own scars on her wife. She would often wake in the middle of the night to find Lex sitting up holding Lorrie, quietly watching the bed where Amanda had been sleeping.
It was on one such night that Amanda stirred, and rolled over to face where Lex sat in the rocker with Lorrie. The nightlight next to the crib bathed them in a soft glow, showing how tenderly Lex took care of the baby. "Lex?"
The whispered plea brought Lex out of her musing, and she looked up to meet Amandas gaze. "Hey there," she murmured. "I was trying not to wake you."
"The cold bed woke me." Amanda sat upright and ran one hand through her hair. "I didnt even hear her cry."
Lex glanced down at Lorrie, who had finished her bottle some time ago. She had been burped, but Lex couldnt bring herself to put her to bed. "She gets hungry about the same time every night, so Im usually prepared for her. I thought you needed your sleep."
"We agreed to take turns." Amanda got out from under the covers and padded over to Lex. "I think youve been doing more than your share lately."
Amanda took the sleeping infant and placed her in her crib. After she was certain that Lorrie was comfortable, she crossed her arms over her chest and looked down into Lexs tired features. "Are you ever going to tell me whats the real reason youre up all night, every night? And dont even think about lying to me."
Lex couldnt meet Amandas stare. "Its just some stuff Im trying to work out."
"Id like to help, but youve got to trust in me enough to talk, so I can."
Its not a matter of trust." Lex stood and walked to the windows, where she quietly watched the night sky for several minutes.
Amanda was afraid she had pushed Lex too far, when she heard her partners ragged whisper.
"Ive failed you." Lex turned around, her eyes filled with tears. "Every time I close my eyes, I see what happened in the barn, and Im so damned terrified that Ill fail you again."
"You cant think that way. Because if you cant get past what happened, how am I supposed to?" Amanda knew she was in dangerous territory, but she had to get Lex to forgive herself, before her guilt tore them apart. She closed the distance between them until she could feel the warmth from Lexs body. "Im a grown woman who is perfectly capable of getting myself in and out of trouble, Lex. I didnt fall in love with you because you took care of me, or saved me from danger." She put her hands on Lexs hips and pulled her closer. "I fell in love with your beautiful heart." Amanda paused and grinned. "Not to mention that sexy smile and gorgeous body. Pretty much a perfect package."
Amanda silenced Lex with a kiss. When she pulled back, she saw the look of surprise on Lexs face. "Now, come back to bed and let me hold you, and well work through all this stuff together, okay?"
"All right." Lex dutifully followed, her heart lighter than it had been in days.
Lex stood at the foot of the stairs, unsure of which direction she wanted to go. The tantalizing aroma that floated from the kitchen made her mind up for her, and she walked until she was just inside the doorway. "I dont know whats in that pot, but whatever it is, Id be more than happy to clean it out for you."
Martha turned around and almost dropped her spoon. Lex stood with a clean cloth diaper on her shoulder, while the baby in her arms idly played with one of her long fingers. Her voice caught in her throat at the sight. "If I hadnt seen it myself, I might not ever believed it."
"What? Do I have something on me?" Lex looked down at her plaid shirt. "Looks clean enough to me."
"Brat." Martha turned her attention back to the pot of stew she had simmering on the stove. "Sometimes I dont know how Amanda puts up with you."
"Must be my natural charm." Lex looked down into Lorries face before she sat down in a kitchen chair. "Isnt that right, kiddo?"
Martha sighed. "Oh, yeah. Right." She continued to stir the stew. "Speaking of which, where is Amanda?"
"Shes in the den, researching the home care facility before she calls them. I swear, that woman is a whiz on the Internet. Ow!" Lex rescued a handful of her hair from Lorries grasp. "Trust me, little one, you dont want to see me bald."
"I think it would be funny," Martha injected.
Lex raised her head and glared at the housekeepers back. "We didnt ask for a comment from the cheap seats."
Chuckling, Martha brought over a small bit of stew in a mug. "That will teach you to mouth off to me. Here, try this and see if its okay." She knew that Lex would be whining for a taste before lunch, so she decided to surprise her by offering the mug first. "So Jeannies still set on leaving us? I was hoping shed change her mind."
"Me, too." Lex took a cautious sip of the hot stew. "Damn, woman."
"What? Too spicy? Not enough spice? Is there something missing?"
"Its fantastic," Lex assured her. "Probably the best youve ever made. "As for Jeannie, I know what you mean. Amandas pretty upset about her leaving, too. Thats why shes checking out the care center, hoping that there will be something wrong that we can use to keep Jeannie here." She finished what was left in the mug and held it out. "May I have some more, please?" Her attempt at a British accent was mangled by her Texas roots.
Martha shook her head. "Youll have to wait until lunch time, just like everyone else." But secretly she was pleased that her stew was so well received. "How long do you think itll take Amanda to do her computer search? I want to know when to put the bread in the oven."
"I dont know. She was also going to check her email, since Anna Leigh told her to stay away from the office for the next couple of weeks. Im hoping shell be done in the next half hour, or so."
A yell from the den caused both womens eyes to widen, and Lex was on her feet instantly. She raced from the kitchen, Lorrie still in her arms.
Amanda sat in the corner of the den, where they had set up the desk from Lexs office and the computer. She had been online researching the care facility where Jeannie wanted to go, and found nothing but glowing recommendations for the hospice. Realizing theyd have to let Jeannie go, she decided to check her email before calling the facility to see if they had any openings. There were several emails from people she didnt know, which didnt ring any alarm bells. After all, she did run the real estate office, and was often getting letters, both good and bad, about either an employee or a property. The third email caused a very loud expletive to come from her mouth. It gave Amanda the web link to her bank in California, telling her to check her balance. While she waited for the site to upload, she continued to read the letter. In it the writer apologized for his part in the "temporary" loss of her money, then went on to explain, in detain, what had happened.
"What the hells going on in here?" Lex rushed into the room, doing her best not to frighten the baby in her arms. "Are you all right?"
Amanda was too busy looking at the computer screen to turn around. "Come here and see for yourself."
Lex stood behind Amanda and saw the amount of money in the bank account. "Isnt that"
"Yeah." Amanda opened up the screen of the email. "Now read this."
"Dear Ms. Cauble," Lex murmured, then read silently. Son of a bitch! "Thats great, sweetheart."
With tears in her eyes, Amanda could only nod. A sudden thought struck her. "I wonder." She closed out her email and quickly switched over to Lexs. "Look. Heres one from him to you, too."
"Go ahead and open it." Lex could feel her heart start to pound in anticipation. The email was similar to what had been sent to Amanda, with the request that Lex check her bank balance as well. At Amandas questioning glance, she nodded.
"Oh, my god. Was this what your stocks were worth?" Amanda asked, lightheaded from the amount.
Lex swallowed hard. "I dont know. Thats why I had someone handling the investing. But I dont think Ill be making that mistake again. Could you pull up the email, please? I didnt read it all the way through."
Amanda gladly did as she was asked. She had also missed the last half of the letter, and gasped in shock at the revelation. "My mother? How did she get out of the mental institution? She wasnt up for evaluation for another four months."
"I dont know, but I bet ol Elizabeth is shitting herself over all this. You know how she hates to lose."
"Do you think were in any danger here? From her, I mean?" The last thing Amanda wanted was for her mother to come back and make their lives miserable, again. Like burning down the house wasnt enough. She had to steal from both of us? "Family or not, If I ever see her again, I swear Im going to punch her in the face."
Lex put her free hand on Amandas shoulder. "Whoa there. Lets just tell Charlie about this, and have the law take care of her. I honestly dont think shes going to hang around here since all this went wrong for her." She looked down at the computer screen. "Id sure like to shake that fellows hand, though. He took an awful risk going against your mother."
Amanda shook her head. "I dont have a mother. That woman was just a vessel that brought two kids in the world." She covered Lexs hand with one of her own. "I wouldnt claim her for any amount of money, and I wouldnt spit on her if she were on fire." She turned back around and closed out the computer programs and shut them down. "Let me call the care facility, and then we can tell the family about all thats happened, okay?"
"Works for me." Lex stood where she was for a moment. "Mind if we keep you company?"
"Id love it." Amanda stood momentarily and kissed her wife. When she was sure Lex had been thoroughly kissed, she placed her lips on Lorries forehead. "Thank goodness you wont have to worry about that woman, sweetie pie. Well make sure of that."
"Damn right." Lex winked at Amanda, then took a seat in a nearby chair to watch her lover. "Hurry up, now. The smell of Marthas stew is driving me nuts."
It took almost a week, but the care center in town finally had a room available for Jeannie to move into. She watched as Amanda tearfully packed her meager belongings into a suitcase.
"Were going to have to get you more clothes, Jeannie. I dont want those people thinking we cant afford to dress you." Amandas voice shook, and she turned her back so that her sister wouldnt see her cry.
"I habe enob." Jeannie had been working hard with Ellie on her speaking, and she was privately proud of the progress shed made in such a short time.
Amanda shook her head. Id still like to buy you some nice things, if youd let me." She placed the last item in the bag and zipped it closed. Unable to look at the urn that took up the space on the four-drawer filing cabinet, Amanda tried to think of a way to ask her sister about it. "What about"
"Ibe en tinkin bout Fwank." Jeannie wished, at least for this one conversation, she could speak at a normal pace. "Wheres Wex?"
Oh, boy. This is something I definitely didnt want to bring Lex into, if I could help it. "I think shes in the kitchen with Martha, having some coffee before heading over to the bunkhouse. Do you want me to go get her?"
Amanda left the room, shaking from the emotional toll. What could she be thinking? Is she going to ask Lex to keep the urn here? Or maybe find some way to place it in her room at the hospice. God, I hope its not that. She stepped into the kitchen, feeling everyones eyes upon her. "Lex, Jeannie wants to see you. I think its about, umm, Frank."
Lex frowned. "Frank?" She looked to Martha for help, but the housekeeper just shrugged her shoulders. Ellie was conspicuously silent as well. "Okay." Lex stood up and handed Lorrie to Ellie before leaving the room. For some reason, Lex had trouble keeping her hands off the baby when she was in the house, a trait everyone but Amanda seemed to take notice of.
Jeannie looked up when Lex stepped into the room. She read the concern on her sister-in-laws face, and held out her good hand to try and dispel Lexs anxiousness. "I need your elp."
"Name it." Lex took the offered hand and squatted next to the wheelchair that Jeannie was in.
"Okay." Lex followed Jeannies gaze to the urn, and nodded. "Do you want the urn to stay here?"
Wonderful. I get to play Twenty Questions. "Do you want to take it with you? Im not sure the care center will allow that."
"No." Jeannie exhaled heavily. "Could ou arry em ear?"
What? Did she just ask "You want him to be buried here on the ranch?"
Jeannie nodded tearfully. "Pwease?"
"Well, sure. If thats what you want. Would it bother you if he was in my family cemetery? My dads parents are there, and my mother, father and brother, too."
"Dat ood e underuul." Jeannie pulled Lexs hand to her lips and kissed it before rubbing it against her cheek. "Ou oodent ind?"
Lex brushed the hair away from Jeannies face in a tender gesture. "Id be honored. Hes family, as are you."
Amanda stood in the doorway of the room. "Is there something between you two that I should know about," she asked in a teasing fashion.
"Nah. I think you already know that I love your sister." Lex stood up and kissed Jeannie on the forehead. "Right?"
Jeannie blushed and giggled. Even as serious as the conversation had been, she felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She watched as Lex picked her sister up and spun her around.
"Lex, you idiot! Put me down!" Amanda instinctively locked her hands behind her wifes head. "Youre going to hurt yourself." She couldnt stop the wide grin that broke out on her face at Lexs playful manner. "Whats got you so excited?"
"To tell you the truth, I dont really know. But it feels so good to hold you, I dont think Ill ever stop." Lex kissed Amanda soundly.
When they didnt show signs of stopping, Jeannie cleared her throat. "Get a woom."
Lex walked over and set Amanda on Jeannies bed. "Can we use yours?"
Both Amanda and Jeannie groaned at the thought. Amanda was the first to find her voice. "Thats just sick."
"Oh. Are you saying I should share?" Lex received the expected slap on the arm for her comment.
"Lexington Marie! You watch your dirty mouth." Martha stood in the doorway wiping her hands on a dishtowel. She had come to the room to tell everyone that lunch was ready, and had overhead Lexs last two comments. Although she was secretly glad the three were in a playful mood, she had her own image to uphold. "You three get cleaned up and get to the kitchen, before I feed the stew to the stock."
Jeannie snickered, while Amanda fell back onto the bed, laughing loudly.
"Oh, shut up," Lex grumbled, as she released her hold on Amanda and left the room. Her attitude only spurred on the other womens mirth, and she could hear their laughter all the way down the hall.
It had only taken them two days to get everything ready for the funeral service, although it would be longer than that before a proper headstone could be made and erected. Lex had called in some favors, as did Charlie, and now all of them, with the exception of Jeannie, were standing in the Walters family graveyard.
The morning brought with it a heavy dew, and the dampness seeped deeply into Amandas bones. She had stood between Lex and her father across from the grave, with Ronnie and Travis on the other side of Lex. The ministers words of sympathy and compassion caused Amanda to more than once find herself seeking solace in her partners arms. Jeannie, in front of the grave, sat in her wheelchair with Ellie behind her, flanked on either side by Anna Leigh and Jacob. Martha had volunteered to stay at the house with Lorrie, as they all decided that it was too cold and damp for the baby to be out. Amanda watched as Jeannie accepted the condolences of the clergyman, looking much stronger than Amanda felt. The man nodded to Anna Leigh and Jacob before taking his leave, knowing the family needed quiet time alone after the service.
Jeannie looked across the grave to where Amanda stood. She could tell her sister had trouble keeping herself together through the service, and knew that Amanda would have to come to grips on her own about Franks death. She believed she was lucky in that respect. Spending most of my days thinking about nothing else, certainly gave me to proper perspective. I know I have to get well so that I can raise my daughter and be a contributing part of my family. I hope Amanda finds the peace she so desperately needs.
Jacob leaned down to whisper in his granddaughters ear. "Do you need more time, or are you ready to go? Its entirely up to you."
"Im okay. But I would like to come back once the headstones in place, if thats okay." Jeannie allowed her father to pick her up in his arms, and she snuggled against his chest. "Thanks. Its a long walk back to the car for me."
Michael kissed her head. "Anytime, sweetheart. And Ill be glad to bring you back out here, whenever you want. Just let me know." He could hear the others start to follow them back to where the cars were parked.
Although it wasnt that far from the ranch house, Lex insisted that everyone drive due to the weather. She assured them that she wasnt worried about the land being torn up from the vehicles, and in fact offered to bring over anyone that wanted to ride with her in the truck. Lex kept a firm grip on Amandas hand, hoping to keep them both grounded.
The ride back to the house was unnerving to Ronnie. He had never been around Lex or Amanda when they were both this quiet, and he looked over to Travis for a clue as to how to handle the situation.
Travis tried to assure Ronnie with a look, but wasnt too sure how successful he had been. All he wanted more than anything, was to take away the pain Lex and Amanda were feeling, but knew they had to get through it on their own. He waited until the truck was parked beside the house before speaking. "Is there anything I can do to help around the house?"
"Why dont you just come in for coffee," Amanda offered quietly. "Your company would be the best help in the world right now."
"Then thats what Ill do." Travis followed the threesome through the side door and into the kitchen. Seeing Martha trying to make coffee while holding a crying Lorrie, he quickly jumped into action. "Martha, do you want me to take the baby, or the coffee machine?"
The harried housekeeper gave him an exhausted smile. "If youll finish up the coffee, Ill go check this little ones britches. Im sure thats what shes so upset about." She patted him on the arm as she left the room with the baby.
Lex watched as her grandfather made quick work of the coffee duties. He had the brew going before the others walked into the kitchen. "I didnt know you knew how to make coffee."
"Do you think I made my servants do it for me?" Travis asked, thoroughly amused. "Ill have you know I wasnt always well-off, young lady. I had to work for many years to get to where I am today."
"My kitchen?" Lex teased.
Amanda stood from where she had been seated. "We just buried someone! I dont think its the time to be so damned flippant." She rushed from the room, tears flowing from her eyes.
"Damn." Lex sighed and rubbed her face with one hand. "I screwed that up."
"I dont think so. But it might be a good idea to go find her and calm her down," Travis advised.
Lex knew he was right, and hurried out of the room in search of Amanda. Hearing the front door slam, she figured that her wife went to sit on the front porch swing, one of Amandas favorite places to go and think. Lex walked down the hall and cautiously opened the door, peeking outside. "Can I talk to you?"
With her back to the door, Amanda didnt indicate that she had even heard the entreaty. She continued to cry, but wasnt surprised when Lex sat down beside her on the swing.
Amanda continued to look down at her own lap, where her hands were clasped. Her hair fell around her face, and she was hoping that Lex couldnt see how much she had been crying. She felt like a complete fool for making such a scene in the kitchen, and was thankful that the rest of the family hadnt arrived yet to see her display of emotions.
"Please, Amanda. Would you look at me?" Lex felt like a first class jerk, and the longer Amanda went without acknowledging her, the worse she felt. "We all love and miss him, you know. Its just that when I get nervous, I tend to release that pressure by being a smartass." Lex stood then squatted at Amandas feet, placing her hands on either side of her partners legs. "Cant we talk about this?"
The pleading tone in Lexs voice touched Amanda, but she still felt so bad about her own behavior she couldnt, or wouldnt, look up.
"Please forgive me?"
Amanda had no doubts that Lex would continue to beg until she acquiesced, and her guilt about hurting Lex outweighed the embarrassment of her actions in the kitchen. "Theres really nothing to forgive. Im the one that acted like a jerk," Amanda whispered.
Lex felt her heartbeat slow back to its normal speed. Having Amanda upset with her was the last thing she ever wanted. "No, youre grieving. Theres nothing wrong with that."
Amanda stood and helped Lex to her feet as well. She linked her arm with her wifes and guided them both back into the house. "Thanks for coming out to get me."
"Anytime, sweetheart." Lex pulled Amanda closer and kissed the side of her head. "But I hope I dont upset you again any time soon. I love you, Amanda Cauble-Walters."
"I love you, too."
With everything back to semi-normal, Lex felt herself relax for the first time in days. She just hoped things held out, and theyd make it through the next obstacle.
Later that afternoon, Lex loaded up Anna Leigh and Jacobs Suburban with all of Jeannies effects. She had wanted to drive Jeannie in herself, but Jeannie told her that there was no use in her making a special trip into town, when her grandparents were going, anyway. Although it made perfect sense, Lex still didnt have to like the decision.
Amanda had gone shopping, and now Jeannie sported two larger suitcases full of things, much to her sisters surprise. Jeannie tried to act upset, but the smile that kept breaking out on her face gave her away too many times. "Do you need any help with that?" Amanda asked Lex, as she stood next to Jeannie on the porch. "Im sure we can get Martha to load all that for you, if its too much."
"Smartass." Lex loaded the large television and closed the back hatch. She took a deep breath and released it before talking to Jacob. "Now remember, youre not supposed to touch a thing. Ive given explicit instructions, and theyre getting paid extra to unload your truck and get everything into Jeannies room. All youll have to do is help her unpack her clothes."
"And well be more than happy to do just that, Lexington," Anna Leigh assured her. "I cant speak for my husband, but Im not about to lift some of those boxes. I thought you were going to rupture something, yourself."
Lex couldnt help but laugh. "I always complain when I work. Just ask Martha. But honestly, dont you dare lift a finger, okay?"
Jacob nodded. "Yes, maam. We promise."
Anna Leigh watched as Jeannie held Lorrie, with Amanda and Ellie beside her. "Are the two of you going to be all right taking care of the baby until Jeannie is back on her feet? Thats a lot of responsibility youre taking on."
"I know." Lex followed Anna Leighs line of sight and couldnt help but smile at the scene. "Weve been doing pretty well so far, and weve had Jeannie, too. So I think well be okay. Besides, Ellies asked to stay here and offered to nanny for us during the day. And of course, well be bringing the baby in to visit her mom several times a week."
Anna Leigh clapped her hands. "Excellent. You know, Ellie seems like a very sweet girl."
"You two seem to be getting along a lot better, thats for sure," Jacob commented. "Did you call a truce?"
Lex laughed. "Something like that." She noticed the sad look on Ellies face, while the others on the porch were all smiles. "I guess its time to get this show on the road, though. You really want to have her all moved in before dinner time." She walked over to the porch, where everyone else was standing. "Miss Jeannie, would you mind if I gave you a lift to your chariot?" Lex asked, bowing deeply at the waist.
Unable to contain her mirth at her sister-in-laws antics, Jeannie tittered. She allowed Amanda to lift Lorrie from her lap, and kissed the babys forehead. "Tanks."
"Youre welcome." Amanda did her best to keep from crying at the heart wrenching scene. "Remember, well bring her in every other day, and if thats not enough, give us a call, okay?"
"Otay." Jeannie waved her good hand to Lex. "Im weady."
Lex reached down and plucked Jeannie from the wheelchair. "I figured for this trip, youd get the personal touch."
Happy that Lex had thought enough to put her good side close to Lexs body, Jeannie hooked her hand around Lexs neck and leaned into the embrace. She understood why her sister was so taken with this woman. Never had she met anyone, her own husband included, that was as sensitive, loving or gentle than the woman that carried her now. She just hoped that Amanda cherished Lex, or she might be in for a fight. Wouldnt that just freak out the folks! Jeannie chuckled, which caused Lex to almost drop her.
"Whats on your mind?"
"Nuthin." No way was Jeannie going to share that little tidbit, ever.
Once the wheelchair and everyone was safely tucked away in the Suburban, Lex stood on the porch with Ellie, while Martha took Lorrie inside for her nap. Amanda gave last minute instructions to her grandparents in the vehicle and Lex turned to see tears in Ellies eyes. "Hey, are you okay?"
"I dont know what it is about those Cauble women that attracts me to them," Ellie admitted quietly. She had become very attached to Jeannie since they started working together, and it pained her that Jeannie felt the need to get better care than what she was giving.
Lex, who had heard the quiet query, put her arm around her cousins shoulders. "I dont know the answer to that one, El. But, if its any consolation, I think youve got real good taste."
"Thanks." Ellie sighed and walked back into the house, her heart broken once again.
Amanda waved at the Suburban until it was out of sight, then joined Lex up on the porch. "That was harder than I thought it would be."
Taking her wifes hand, Amanda led them both over to the swing so they could sit. "Its not going to take Jeannie that long to get better, you know. Shes already moving both legs and has limited use of her left hand, now."
"I know." Lex knew she sounded like a broken record, but she wanted to hear where Amanda was going with this.
"I dont know how Ill be able to let Lorrie go once Jeannie is ready for her," Amanda admitted quietly. "Shes already such a big part of me."
"Me, too." Lex looked off into the winter rye field that was starting to grow in front of the house. "But you never know. Theres really nothing for Jeannie in California anymore. Maybe shell decide to settle down in Somerville."
Amanda propped both elbows on her knees and placed her chin in her open palms. "That would be great, but"
"And, I was hoping we could discuss giving Lorrie a little cousin, or two. It would be tough to be an only child in a family, dont you think?"
It took Amanda a long moment to understand what Lex meant. When she finally figured it out, she almost whooped and jumped off the swing. "Are you sure about this, Lex? Weve never really talked about having children of our own. I just assumed that you didnt want any."
"If theres anything these past few weeks have taught me, is that we cant take one moment of life for granted. I thought Id have all the time in the world to think about kids, but when that guy pointed his gun in my face, all I could think about was what wanted to do, and what Id be leaving behind. You were born to be a mom, Amanda. I can see that, and I want to raise children with you, if you still want to."
Amanda couldnt believe what she had just heard. It was as if Lex had read her mind. She leaned forward and kissed Lex. "I want this for us, too. You and me, having a family. I know thats the way things should be.
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