See Part 1 for disclaimers.
The drive from the hospital was quiet, except for Amanda giving Ellie directions from time to time. She had gladly handed over the keys to the rental car, knowing that she had no business trying to operate the vehicle in the state she was in. Ellie didnt seem to mind, and had actually been very solicitous the entire trip.
"Thats it, there on the left," Amanda pointed to a two-story, Spanish-style house. As Ellie pulled the car into the driveway, Amanda thought back to the last time she had been here. It had been a few weeks before she left for Texas, when her grandfather had been in an auto accident. And not long after, I met the other half of my soul. She wondered what Lex was doing now. I miss her so much. "I need to call home as soon as we get inside."
"Its kind of late to be calling, isnt it?" Ellie asked, as she got out of the car and grabbed the bags from the trunk. "Wouldnt it be better to wait until morning?"
Amanda closed her door and then took her bag from Ellie. "It already is morning, Ellie. And no, I dont think it would be better to wait. Lex is probably worried sick." She led the way up to the front door, and took the keys from Ellies outstretched hand. "Thanks." After fumbling with the lock, Amanda finally opened the door.
"Whoa." Ellie had followed Amanda inside, and her eyes widened when Amanda flicked on the interior light. The front room was wide, with glossy tile floors and ornate furniture. "Ive only seen places like this on television, or in those fancy magazines at the doctors office." She thought about what a baby would do to the obviously expensive surroundings, and chuckled.
"Whats so funny?" Amanda asked.
Still upset with herself over her own thoughts about the baby, Amanda didnt feel like letting Ellie off the hook so easily. "It must have been something, or you wouldnt have laughed. I dont see anything about this situation thats funny."
"No, really. I think Im just tired." Ellie didnt want to fight with Amanda over something as silly as what she had been thinking. Deciding a subject change was in order, Ellie made a show of looking around the room. "I bet youd be living like this, if you had stayed in California and gotten married."
Amanda tossed the keys down on a side table. "I am married. To Lex."
"Thats not the same thing, Amanda. I mean, youre an intelligent woman." Ellie stepped closer and touched Amandas arm. The touch turned into a light caress. "Youre beautiful, and could have your pick of just about any man youd want."
Repulsed by Ellies words, Amanda backed away. "I dont want a man, Ellie. Im happy with Lex."
"That so-called marriage isnt real, at least legally, or in the eyes of God. Everyone answers to Him, at sometime in their lives."
Now Amanda was mad. Very mad. She reached out and poked Ellie in the chest. "Now you listen to me, you holier-than-thou bitch. If I have to answer to your God, believe me, I have a few choice words for Him." She poked Ellie again, causing the other woman to back up against the wall. "And where do you get off being so damned high and mighty, considering how youve been looking at me, lately? Do you have a closet to step out of, Eleanor?" Amanda yelled.
"Thanks, Rob. I owe you a big one." Lex shook the hand of the man who helped her off the small plane. "Sorry about the late hour." When Lex couldnt get a commercial flight out, she called an old high school buddy, who just happened to own his own plane.
He helped her with her crutches and then patted Lex on the shoulder. "Not a problem, Lex. If it werent for you, I wouldnt even have this plane. Besides, I hear the women out here are hot. I may have to spend a few days down at the beach." When the bank tried to foreclose on Robs commercial delivery service, Lex had loaned him the money to stay afloat. He never forgot the favor, and was glad to finally be able to return her generosity.
"Youre right about that, my friend." Lex allowed him to help her through the terminal. She saw a row of pay telephones and stopped. "Thanks again, Rob. Ill let you go find that beach, now."
"Are you sure you dont need a ride? We can always share a cab," he offered.
Lex shook her head. "No, thats all right. Im not too sure where Im going from here. You go on, and have fun."
"Okay. But if you need anything, give me a call." Rob patted the cell phone in his jacket pocket, then waved and walked out of the terminal.
Finding an available pay phone, Lex reached into her pocket and pulled out the proper change, then fished in her shirt pocket for the slip of paper she had written Franks cell number on. She balanced on the crutches while she dialed the phone, and was relieved when he answered almost immediately.
"Frank? This is Lex."
"Hey. Hows everything going?" Lex had no way of knowing Jeannies condition, and didnt know why Frank sounded so preoccupied.
There was a long pause, and then Frank cleared his throat. "Not well, Lex. Has Amanda called you?"
"Uh, no. I just landed in Los Angeles. Whats going on?"
"They had to take the baby early. And Jeannie" His voice broke.
Oh, no. "Are they okay?"
"The babys fine. Shes a little premature, but should only have to stay about a week."
"And Jeannie?" Lex dreaded his answer, especially with how the normally stoic ex-football player sounded.
"Shes in a coma, Lex. Jeannie had some complications during the C-section, and had a stroke." Frank sniffled. "They dont know if shes going to come out of it or not."
Lex closed her eyes and bent her head. "Damn, Frank. Im sorry. Is there anything I can do?"
He coughed, then cleared his throat again. "Not right now, but thanks. Im sure Mandy could use you, though. She and Ellie went to get some rest at our house."
Ellie? That bitch is still with Amanda? Ill kill her. "How long ago did they leave?"
"About fifteen minutes or so, I guess." Frank gave Lex directions to the house, not realizing the undercurrent of emotion.
"All right. Thanks." Lex wrote the address on the back of the paper she had put Franks phone number on. "Ill get on over there. And, Frank?"
"Let me know if theres anything you need, okay?"
After she hung up the phone, Lex tucked the paper back into her shirt pocket and went out the terminal door in search of a cab. Several vied for her attention, and she took the closest one. She gave him the address, and allowed the driver to help her into the back seat.
The drive didnt take as long as Lex thought it would, and in no time they pulled up behind the rental car in the driveway. Lex paid the driver then thanked him when he assisted her out of the car. He told her that hed wait until she was in the house, and she slowly made her way up the walk.
Lex stood at the front door, and was about to ring the bell when she heard Amandas raised voice. What the hell? Finding the door partially open, she pushed on it and was surprised by the sight before her.
Ellie was backed against a wall, with Amanda in her face. Both turned when they heard the front door open.
"Lex?" Both women ask at the same time.
"What the hell is going on here?" Lex asked, moving inside. "Amanda, are you all right?"
Amanda moved away from Ellie and met Lex halfway. "I should be asking you the same thing. What happened to you?"
Lex started trying to explain, but Ellie didnt pay any attention. All she could think about was Amandas words to her. Closet? What was she no! Im not like that! Lex is the pervert, not me. But Ellie had always been honest, even to herself. She thought about how her feelings for Amanda had grown, and how her cousins "partner" had intrigued her, even from their very first meeting. And my fascination with her breasts isnt quite the "normal" way to feel for another woman. Even I know that. She looked over and saw Amanda touching Lex, as if to assure herself that she was really there. Ive got to get out of here. "I see youre in good hands now, Amanda. If its all the same to you, Im going to go visit with my family." Ellie brushed by the couple, and saw the cab that had started to pull out of the driveway. She waved him down, and he stopped and waited for her to climb in. A few weeks with my mother ought to clear my head, one way or another. She decided to take the next flight out to San Diego, and worry about her new family, later.
Hours earlier, the sun made its appearance, but Lex wanted to let Amanda sleep as long as she could. She ran her fingers through the hair that fanned across her chest, and wished that she could have been with her lover sooner. Lex tried to move her left leg and was gratified that the pain wasnt as bad as it was the night before. Damned stupid fool. I shouldnt have tried to take a new horse onto unknown property. If I had just stayed close to the house, Amanda wouldnt have had to go through all of this alone. She thought about the scene that greeted her the evening before. Although she wasnt alone she was with that bitch of a cousin of mine. Id like to know what went on before I got here. I dont think Ive ever seen Amanda that mad, before.
"Youre thinking pretty hard about something this morning," a quiet voice mumbled. Amanda turned her head so that she could see Lexs face. "Anything you want to share?"
Lex tried to smile, but the dark circles under her lovers eyes almost broke her heart. "Just wishing that Id been here with you, instead of Ellie."
With the previous evenings events still fresh in her mind, Amanda couldnt help but grimace. "I wish that you would have been, too. That cousin of yours has some real issues to work out."
"Oh, just that I think that shes got more in common with you than shed care to admit."
"In common with me?" Lex sat up slightly, but kept her firm hold on Amanda. "What could she oh." She couldnt stop the smile that worked its way onto her face. "Bet that was a revelation. I always felt that she was a bit too friendly with you. But, then I thought I was just being unreasonably jealous."
Amanda crawled her way up Lexs body until they were eye-to-eye. "Martha also mentioned something to me before we left. Am I the only person who didnt see it?"
"Yep." At her partners outraged look, Lex leaned forward and kissed Amanda. The light peck quickly turned into a more thorough exploration, until both women had to pull away, breathless.
"Now thats my idea of good morning." Amanda nestled back against Lexs chest. "Hows your knee this morning? You never did really tell me what happened to you yesterday."
Checking the limb again by moving her foot, Lex sighed. "Its okay. Not as sore as last night, anyway."
"It wasnt that big of a deal, Amanda. I just got thrown from that new horse, and twisted my knee."
Amanda sat up and looked down at Lex. She traced her fingers along Lexs normally smooth face, which was marred by a few scratches that were already healing. After they had undressed for bed the night before, she had found several bruises and scratches along Lexs body, but they had both been too tired to talk about it. "You look a little bit more banged up than if you were just thrown. What really happened?"
The conversation wasnt getting any easier. Lex took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts. "Well, I was thrown. Sort of. I had taken the new filly out to check the property we had just bought, and she was pretty skittish. There were a couple of explosions off in the distance"
Lexs expression quieted Amandas questions. "After the second explosion, which sounded farther up the creek, the horse reared and pushed me into a tree limb." She rubbed the top of her head, which still sported a slight bump. "My cell phone rang while I had been stretching in the saddle, so my boot got caught in the stirrup, and she dragged me for a bit. Thats where the scratches came from."
Amanda lowered her head. "That was probably me, calling your phone." She raised up and her face was filled with remorse. "Im so sorry, Lex."
"Hey." Lex cradled Amandas face with her hands. "I couldnt have stayed on that horse, even with both hands. It wasnt your fault." She kissed the tip of her wifes nose. "Besides, once I finally found that damned phone, I couldnt get a signal, anyway. It seemed like things just kept getting worse. But, finally Ronnie and Roy found me, and brought me back to the house. Thats when Martha told me about you and Ellie leaving in such a hurry. So, here I am."
"I was wondering about that, too. We were on the last flight out. How did you get here?"
"A friend owed me a favor. No big deal." Lex was just thankful that Rob had turned down her offer to pay for the fuel. After buying the new property, she wasnt sure what her bank account looked like. "And speaking of getting here, what was that little scene I walked in on? You looked like you were about to kick Ellies ass. Not that I would have minded."
Now it was Amandas turn to be embarrassed. "I dont know if it would have gotten that far. But then again, I was pretty upset." She looked down at where her hands were stroking Lexs chest in a nervous pattern. "Shed made a few rude comments about you, and with the stress of everything that was going on, I guess I just snapped."
"What kind of comments?" Although shed never admit it to anyone, Lex was secretly pleased with how Amanda always came to her defense. Even if it was to a member of her own family.
"Like our relationship was the result of my misplaced hero-worship, and things like that." Amanda would never tell Lex everything, for fear it would only hurt her. She doesnt have to know that Ellie thought that she "lorded" over me. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
"Well, she was partly right." Lex pulled Amanda close to her. "Except that she figured the wrong person. Youre my hero, Amanda."
Unable to find her voice, Amanda just snuggled closer to Lex, happy to feel at least part of her life back to normal.
The smell of fresh coffee caused Elizabeths eyes to open underneath the sleeping mask she wore. She stretched and yawned, removing the mask and then sitting up as Terence handed her a steaming cup of the fragrant brew. "What are you so damned cheerful about this morning? Do you have any idea what time it is?" After a careful sip of her coffee, she muttered, "And how the hell did you get into my room?"
"Its well after nine, Liz. I didnt think you meant to sleep the entire day away. And, I told the maid down the hall that I'd forgotten my key." Terence pulled a chair close to the bed and propped his feet on the coverlet. "Besides, I know youll be glad to see me when you hear what I have to say."
Still not completely awake, Liz kicked Terence's feet off her bed. "Cretin. Now, tell me what makes you so full of yourself today."
Terence didn't seem to mind the way Liz spoke to him. If anything, he appeared amused by her grumpy comments. "Be nice, Liz. Or I won't tell you that you're about to become a grandmother."
The coffee that she had just sipped was spewed onto the expensive coverlet, and Liz gasped and sputtered. "I'm what? How is that possible?"
"You have two daughters, don't you? Not just the one who's living with another woman." Terence pulled a piece of paper from his shirt pocket and read from it. "Jeannie Cauble was admitted into a hospital in Los Angeles yesterday morning, pregnant with her first child. Your other daughter, Amanda, took a flight out with another woman yesterday afternoon." He looked up from his paper and felt very proud of himself. He had been up half the night with a friend of his in California, who had relayed the news to him. "So, I think you should be a bit nicer to me, Grandma."
Liz was halfway to the bathroom to get dressed when Terence finished his reading. She turned around and pointed a long finger in his direction. "Don't you dare call me that! I won't allow myself to be that old." When she reached the doorway, she stopped. "Start packing, and then get on the phone and get us the next flight out there. And while you're at it, call room service and get me some decent coffee."
"Yes, Grandmama," Terence whispered, unable to contain his glee at finally breaking through Liz's icy demeanor. He picked up several silky items and tossed them in her suitcase, still chuckling at the way she spit coffee everywhere.
While Lex finished up in the shower, Amanda gathered up the clothes that they had tossed around the room the night before. She picked up her dress jacket that was partially hidden under the bed, and frowned when an envelope fell from one of the pockets. "Where did that come from? Oh, right. Must be the one that I picked up before we left." Amanda sat on the edge of the bed and opened the envelope, pulling a folded piece of paper from it. She began to read, then gasped in horror, allowing the paper to fall to the floor.
Lex heard Amandas gasp, and limped heavily from the bathroom. "What is it?" She saw the dropped paper on the floor, and bent down to pick it up, before landing on the bed next to her wife. After reading a few lines, Lex was still confused. "I dont get it. So you closed out an account."
"No, Lex. This was where my trust fund was. I never closed out this account." Amanda looked at her lover, willing her to understand. "Someone else has taken it. All of it."
"But who? Maybe its just some sort of computer error." The argument sounded weak, even to Lex. She had a sneaking suspicion that whoever was the mastermind behind her sudden loss of money, was probably behind this, as well. She looked at the return address on the top of the letter. "This is a local bank. Why dont we run over there today and check it out?"
Amanda nodded. "That sounds like a good idea. But Id like to go by the hospital and check on Jeannie today, first. Another few hours wont change anything at the bank."
"All right." Lex put her arm around Amanda and kissed the side of her head. "Besides, Id like to check out this new niece of ours."
The warm breath on the back of her neck was like a soothing balm, as Amanda looked through the glass at the tiny infant while Lex stood behind her. "Isnt she beautiful?"
"Its kind of hard to tell," Lex admitted truthfully. "Shes awful little." Although in her eyes, the baby seemed to have Jeannies nose, and her dark hair. If it were a bit lighter, she could be Amandas. A heavy hand squeezed Lexs shoulder, causing her to turn around. "Hey, Frank."
"Lex. Amanda." Still looking rumpled and exhausted, Frank gladly pulled Amanda into a hug. "Im glad you both are here."
Amanda pulled away from her brother-in-law. "Oh, Frank. You look like you havent slept at all." She reached up and brushed the hair out of his eyes. "Hows Jeannie?"
"The same as she was last night. The doctors arent holding out much hope, Im afraid." He peered past the two women and through the glass. "At least Lorrie is doing okay."
"Lorrie?" Both women asked at once.
Franks face broke out into a tired smile. "Yeah. Jeannie and I," his voice broke, and it took him a moment to get himself back together. "Before she was born we had already discussed a name for her. Lorraine Marie, after her two godmothers."
"Thats so sweet, Frank." Amanda hugged the big man again, oblivious to her partners confusion.
Lex looked at the baby, and then back at the embraced pair. "Godmothers?"
"Sure. Didnt Amanda tell you?" Frank asked, looking over Amandas shoulder.
"Uh, no. We hadnt really had time to discuss it," Amanda told him, turning around and facing her partner. "But its pretty cool, isnt it?"
Was it? Lex thought about the implications, especially with Jeannie lying comatose. Her leg ached, and she wondered what Martha would have to say about it, if they ended up taking responsibility for a baby. Shes already raised me, and now has Ronnie to worry about. Would it be fair to her and the rest of the family? "I dont know, Frank. Im not sure if Im ready for that kind of drastic change in my life."
Feeling the serious undercurrents of emotion from the two women, Frank tried to lighten the conversation. "Really, Lex. Its only a formality. Jeannie is a fighter, and shell come out of this any time. Besides, its too late now. The paperwork has already been done." He lightly tapped Lex on the shoulder and winked.
Lex sighed, and turned back to look at the baby once again. "If you say so." But she didnt sound very thrilled by the honor.
Beside her, Amanda felt her heart break. If Lex wasnt ready to become a godmother, then she certainly wasnt going to want to be a regular mother any time soon. She felt her dreams shatter along with her heart.
The rest of the week went by quickly, especially since Michael, Anna Leigh and Jacob showed up to offer their support to Frank at the hospital. They had taken rooms at a nearby hotel, and took turns sitting with Jeannie, whose condition hadnt changed.
Amanda tied off the end of crepe streamer, then began to wind it around the banister. They were decorating the house for the babys homecoming, although her heart wasnt really into it. Frank hadnt wanted to bring the baby home before, since, once their daughter had gained a little weight, he was able to arrange to have her stay in Jeannies room at least part of the time. He had hoped that the babys presence might stimulate his wife to wake up. But now, due to a lack of space and available cribs, little Lorrie would have to come home. She looked across the room at her grandmother, who was teasing Jacob about something she couldnt quite make out. Dont they realize that Jeannie wont be here? How can they be happy? Disgusted with everyone elses attitude, Amanda tossed the crepe to the floor and rushed up the stairs.
Sad eyes watched Amandas retreat. Lex was still nursing her injured knee, and although she hadnt used the crutches for a couple of days, she still wasnt able to navigate the stairs. Before Lex could climb out of the leather recliner that she had been ordered to stay in, Michael sat down beside her.
"Is everything all right? You look a little upset." Michael had spent the entire morning watching his daughter and Lex, and he could tell that something was going on between them. He just wished that one of them would confide in him, so that he could try and help.
Lexs eyes closed momentarily when an upstairs door slammed closed. When she opened them and looked at her father-in-law, she couldnt keep the sadness out of her voice. "Im not sure. Amandas been so quiet lately, and she wont talk to me." Not to mention the fact that they hadnt been alone long enough to talk.
Their trip to the bank a few days earlier had been a bust, too. The banker had been very respectful, and had even shown them the signed papers. Although it didnt look exactly like Amandas signature, it was close enough to pass. They had also spoken to the clerk who had talked to "Amanda" on the phone several times. He was happy to "finally meet Ms. Cauble in person", and didnt seem to know any difference between the real and the bogus woman. Even after Lex threatened the bank with a lawsuit, the bank president shrugged his shoulders and apologized, but assured them that, as far at they could tell, everything was done legally, and nothing could be done about it.
"Would you like me to go up and talk to her?" Michael offered.
"No, thats all right." Lex closed the footstool on the recliner and got to her feet. "I think Ill try my luck at the stairs." She patted Michael on the shoulder and limped across the room.
It took Lex longer than shed expected, but she finally made her way up the stairs and to the closest door to the stairs, which appeared to be the only one on the floor that was closed. She tapped lightly on the wood. "Amanda?" An incoherent mumble was her only answer, so Lex opened the door slowly.
Amanda sat in the floor in the middle of the room, which had been decorated as the babys nursery. Bright yellow walls were punctuated by pastel stripes of blue, pink, and green. There were butterflies and flowers decoupaged all over the walls, and the white crib, rocker, and changing table looked ready for occupancy. Amanda held an oversized stuffed teddy bear in her arms, and her face was buried in its soft fur. She didnt even look up as Lex walked into the room.
"Amanda?" Lex limped in, her knee throbbing at the abuse it took climbing the stairs. She gritted her teeth and knelt beside her lover, reaching out and running her hand through Amandas hair. "Hey."
Finally realizing who was with her, Amanda looked up. "Lex? What are you doing here?"
"Coming to see if youre okay." Lex finally sat down, spreading her legs out in front of her. "Whew."
Amanda put the bear down. "You came up here for me?"
"You didnt have to do that, you know." Amanda scooted closer.
"I know." Lex felt Amandas arm go around her back, and she countered by putting her arm across her wifes shoulder. "But I hated the thought of you being up here alone, upset."
"Have I told you lately how much I love you?"
Lex grinned, and leaned her head into Amandas. "You may have mentioned it at one time," she teased. "But I never get tired of hearing it."
The beeping and the low whoosh of the machinery were the only sounds he heard as Frank stepped into the room. He held Lorrie carefully, still not used to the squirming bundle that was dwarfed by his hands. "Hi, Jeannie. I brought our little girl by." His voice was soft, and he painstakingly placed her in the crook of Jeannies arm, taking his wifes limp hand to lie across the baby. "Shes a lot like her mama, you know. Feisty little thing." He swallowed back his tears and touched Jeannies face. "Shes got my hair, but I think shes going to have your eyes. I wish youd wake up and see her."
Jeannie remained unresponsive, but Frank continued to talk to her for several minutes. He checked his watch, and knew that the nurse would be coming in soon to attend to Jeannies needs. Before he picked up Lorrie, he leaned forward and kissed his wife on the forehead. "Im going to take her home, honey. Your dad and your grandparents are here, and theyll be helping me with her until you get up on your feet again. I hope thats soon, because I miss you so damned much, Jean. I love you." His lips quivered against her skin, and he stood back up and wiped his face with a handkerchief, which he stuffed back into his pocket.
Frank gently picked up Lorrie, tucking her blanket around her. "Tell mama that you love her, Lorrie. Youll be back to visit soon." He cleared his throat and left the room, hating having to leave his wife behind, while he took their daughter home.
Almost to the outer doors of the hospital, Frank felt as if someone was watching him. He turned to look over his shoulder, and saw someone duck back around a corner. The single glance he was able to get sent shivers down his spine. Thats impossible. Shes still locked up in a mental hospital in Texas. I must be imagining things. Not wanting to take any chances, especially with Lex and Amanda here, he decided that it would be best to tell Lex what he thought he had seen, just in case.
Outside, Frank walked the short distance to his car, a silver Lexus GS, which he had pulled up close to the hospital exit before going in to get Lorrie. He unlocked one of the back doors and buckled the baby into her car seat, cooing softly at her while his inexperienced hands figured out all the buckles. "Blasted thing is more complicated than it looks," he mumbled. Once his daughter was safely in the center of the rear of the car, he climbed behind the steering wheel and pulled slowly out of the parking lot.
He took the city streets instead of the freeway, thinking back to when Jeannie teased him about that very thing. He hadnt driven them on the highway since he found out Jeannie was pregnant, and had also stayed well below the speed limit any time she was in the car with him. As he stopped at a traffic light, he remembered one of the last conversations theyd had about that particular subject.
"Frank, you can drive faster than this, you know," Jeannie teased her husband. "Im just pregnant, not made of crystal."
Stopping at the light, Frank turned to look at his wife, who glowed with beauty. "As the mother of my child, youre more precious than crystal. You always have been, Jean." With the traffic light still red, he leaned over and kissed her, love filling his heart. He sat back in his seat, waiting for the light to turn green. "I will love spending the rest of my life with you, Jeannie Rivers. I cant wait to show you how much."
Franks eyes brimmed with tears over that precious memory. He glanced in the rear view mirror, glad to see that the baby was sleeping peacefully. While he tried to regain his focus, the two cars in front of him went on, and he followed them through the light.
He never saw the delivery truck that sped through the intersection from the left, which slammed into the front panel and drivers door of the sedan so hard that the car went into a spin.
The impact then caused the car to careen onto a sidewalk, barely missing several pedestrians, before crashing through a plate glass window of a closed down restaurant. The only sounds that could be heard were the falling of broken glass, the hissing of the cars engine, and the wail of a baby.
It had taken some doing, but Lex was able to talk Amanda into coming back downstairs. She used the excuse that she needed help, which got her a doubtful look, but Amanda went along with her, anyway. Now they stood by the foot of the stairs, listening to Michaels comments about the baby gifts, which covered the formal dining room table.
"Thats not what I mean at all, Mom. I just said that Id never seen this many packages the last few holidays, combined." He yelped when Anna Leigh walked behind him and swatted his rear.
"This baby is the first great-grandchild, Michael. Of course shes going to be showered with gifts." Anna Leigh pointed to the couple standing in the entryway. "Although I think those two should shoulder some of the blame."
Lex limped into the living area, then took her seat in the recliner when her partner gave her a gentle shove in that direction. "Dont blame me. Amanda is the one that kept going shopping all the time." She raised the footstool on the recliner, and accepted the pillow that Amanda placed beneath her leg. "Thanks."
"Youre welcome." Amanda turned and put her hands on her hips. "I dont suppose that you bought anything at all, did you, Daddy?"
"Well, maybe a small little something," Michael blustered.
"Mmm-hmm," Amanda teased, on her way to the kitchen. When the phone rang, she changed direction and picked up the cordless phone that was on a nearby table. "Rivers residence." She listened for a moment, then paled and fell back against the wall, the phone falling from her hand.
Lex saw her wife collapse, and jumped up from the chair to rush across the room. She caught Amanda before she could completely fall to the floor. "Amanda? Whats the matter, sweetheart?" Her heart pounded in her chest, even as she heard the anguished answer.
"Frank. Hes " As the family gathered around them, Amanda couldnt stop her tears, and she turned and buried her face in Lexs shirt.
"Hold on, Lex. Let me check this out." Michael picked up the phone from the floor. "Im sorry, who is this, please? Im Michael Cauble, and this is my daughter and son-in-laws home." He nodded slowly as the person on the other end of the line continued to speak. Finally, Michael uttered a low thank you to whoever called, and he pushed the off button on the phone. He cleared his throat in a fruitless effort to control the desolation in his voice. "There was an accident. We need to, ah," his voice cracked. "The baby is okay. We need to get Lorrie. Frank is " Michael couldnt continue.
Jacob stepped forward and put his arm around his son, trying to offer what comfort he could, even as his own heart broke. His wife took a position on the other side of Michael, rubbing her sons back as silent tears tracked down her face.
With her arms wrapped around Amandas body, Lex held her close and watched as Michael leaned into his parents, sobbing as if he were a small boy. As she gazed at the uncomprehending and heartbroken faces in the room, Lex knew with a quiet certainty that all their lives would never be the same again.
The overworked nurse went about her duties briskly, knowing that she had an entire floor of patients yet left to attend. Her tasks complete, she was about to turn and leave when the patients eyes blinked open. "Mrs. Rivers? Can you hear me?" When the eyes blinked in confusion, the nurse patted her arm. "Its all right. Let me get the doctor, dear. Im sure hell be happy to know youre awake." She picked up the phone and dialed the nurses desk, asking for the doctor on call to come to the room.
Soon afterward, the doctor hurried into the room. "Mrs. Rivers. Its so nice to see you awake." He pulled out a small penlight and aimed it into her eyes. "Lets just see how youre doing, then well get rid of that nasty tube."
It didnt take long for them to take the breathing apparatus away, along with the heart monitor. The nurse placed a few ice chips on Jeannies lips, while the doctor watched.
He leaned in and smiled. "Now, Mrs. Rivers, can you tell me what your first name is?"
The room, which has been festive only a short time earlier, was now quiet, except for the sounds of Amandas crying, and Lexs attempted words of comfort. Michael, Jacob, and Anna Leigh had left for the hospital to pick up Lorrie, where she had been taken as a precaution after the accident.
Lex sat stretched out on the leather sofa, with Amanda pulled up against her. They hadnt moved since the family left, and Lex was beginning to worry about her wife.
"Its all my fault," Amanda hiccuped, her face still nestled against Lexs chest. "All my fault."
"No, sweetheart. It was an accident. You had nothing to do with it."
Amanda rolled away, so that she was sitting on the next cushion. "You dont know that," she snapped.
Lex reached for her, but Amanda scooted farther away. "Yes, I do. You didnt kill Frank, Amanda. It was a car accident."
"But, maybe I did. I wanted what they have, Lex. Jeannies comatose, and Franks dead. Its all my fault!" Amanda jumped up and would have run from the room, but Lex grabbed her arm. "Let me go!"
"Dammit, Lex," Amanda struggled to break free. "Let go!"
Lex stood up and faced her irate lover. "Im not going to let you run away, again. What did you mean when you said that you wanted what they have? Are you talking about a baby?"
The phone rang, saving Amanda from answering. Lex limped over to the phone, taking Amanda with her. She used her free hand to pick up the receiver. "Hello?" She paused for a moment, listening. "No, thats great. Thank you." Lex set the phone down, her face registering disbelief.
"That was the hospital. Jeannie has woken up."
The shock of the situation was almost more than Amanda could bear. Her anger spent, she collapsed into Lexs arms.
Not too far from Jeannies hospital room, a man dressed in scrubs swiped at the floor with a damp mop. He spent more time looking around than actually cleaning, but lowered his head as two nurses walked by.
"Isnt it tragic? Poor Mrs. Rivers practically came out of her coma the instant her husband was killed in that car accident," one nurse related to the other.
"Oh, I know. Its just by some miracle that the baby survived. Why, the entire floor was shocked when they heard the news." They continued on their way, not even paying attention at the surprised look on the "janitors" face.
Terence dropped his mop. I need to tell Liz. He waited until the two nurses left, then hurriedly picked up his supplies and hid them in a closet.
Doing a floor by floor search, Terence finally found Elizabeth in the hospital gift shop. He looked around to make certain no one else noticed him, then, from another aisle, whispered loudly to get her attention. "Liz!"
The distinguished woman set down the delicate crystal figurine that she was looking at and spun around. "Excuse me, do I know you?"
He hurried around the greeting cards and grabbed her arm. "Cut it out, Liz. This is important." Not even bothering to be discreet, Terence pulled Elizabeth from the store, and into the hallway.
"This had better be good. I was trying to find a gift for my daughter, you ass."
Terence looked around to make sure no one was looking at them. "Your son-in-law is dead," he whispered.
"Oh, really? Well, isnt that nice."
"Didnt you hear me?" Terence asked, shocked at her attitude.
Liz smiled. "Of course I did. But youre a little late with the news. I heard it about ten minutes ago." She brushed an imaginary speck of lint from her slacks. "It changes nothing, other than making things even easier for me. Now I should have no problem in getting both my daughters, and my granddaughter, back. I just wish that damned redneck bitch would have been in the car with him."
Although he shouldnt have been surprised, it still struck Terence as extremely cold-blooded, even for Liz. "But he was the babys father. Doesnt that mean anything to you?"
"My dear boy. You should know," Liz leaned in closer, "that all men are expendable."
The entire family stood outside Jeannies hospital room, including newly arrived Lex and Amanda. The doctor had just come out to speak to them about Jeannies condition, and they all waited anxiously for what he was going to say.
"Amazingly, Mrs. Rivers came out of her coma fairly alert. Her speech was affected by the stroke, as were her motor skills." He looked at the concerned faces around him. "Shell need extensive therapy, but shes young and strong. Mrs. Rivers prognosis is very good. Im confident that she will make a full recovery over time. Are there any questions?"
Jacob, who had been standing with Anna Leigh, held out his hand. "I think you covered it pretty well, Doctor. Is she up to visitors?"
The doctor shook Jacobs hand then nodded. "Certainly. Just dont all go barging in there at once. Shes still a bit groggy." He adjusted his lab coat. "Now, if youll excuse me, I have more patients to check on. Just have me paged if you need anything."
They all watched him go, then Anna Leigh leaned back into her husbands embrace. "What will we tell Jeannie when she asks about Frank?"
"I think I should go in, and see how shes doing, first," Michael volunteered. "Im her father, and if she asks, I think it would be best, coming from me."
Amanda, who hadnt left Lexs arms, reached out for her father. "Are you sure, Daddy? I can come in with you, if you need me to." She talked brave, but the last thing Amanda wanted to do was see her sister being told that her husband was dead. I know what I would feel if it were me. I couldnt go on without Lex. Poor Jeannie.
"No, Amanda. Thats okay." Knowing the offer for the sacrifice that it was, Michael kissed his daughters cheek, then squared his shoulders and went into Jeannies room, closing the door behind him. He was heartened to see all the machines were gone, and his daughter appeared to be resting peacefully. Walking slowly to the bed, Michael sat down on the edge and picked up Jeannies hand. "Hi, sweetie."
Jeannies eyes opened. Although she seemed happy to see her father, she strained to look past him. "Whers Fwan?" she slurred.
It took Michael a moment to figure out what Jeannie had said. He used his free hand to touch her face. "Were so glad youre awake, Jeannie. The whole family has been worried about you. And, youve got a beautiful little girl."
Her eyes moistened. Although Jeannies speech and motor skills were damaged by the stroke, her mind wasnt. "Fwan?"
Michael swallowed hard, his eyes filling with tears, also. "There was an accident, baby. Im afraid hes"
Jeannies wail could be heard out in the hallway where the gathered family hung their heads as they wept in shared pain.
After hearing Jeannies cry, Anna Leigh took her husband by his arm and led him away from Lex and Amanda. Once they were in the elevator, she leaned against him. "That poor child. We need to do something to help her through this, dearest."
"Such as?" Jacob hurt for their granddaughter also, but he didnt know what his wife was up to.
The doors opened, and Anna Leigh took him by the hand. "Maybe seeing her daughter will help." They stepped out onto the pediatric unit, and she ushered Jacob to the glass cased room.
The head nurse, who remembered them from their earlier visits, met them outside. "Mr. and Mrs. Cauble. Im so sorry to hear about your loss." She reached out and grasped Anna Leighs hands, wanting somehow to show her empathy. "Weve been watching Lorraine for any signs of injury or distress, but she seems to have come through all of this just fine."
"Thank you, Sophia. It means a lot to us that youve taken such fine care of our great-granddaughter." Anna Leigh had gotten to know the head pediatric nurse during her frequent visits to the hospital, and felt a bond with the woman who also had her share of grandchildren. Her head turned when another nurse brought out Lorrie and handed her to Jacob.
"You just let us know if we can do anything else, Mrs. Cauble. Well all be praying for your family." Nurse Sophia stood next to the other nurse as the couple walked back to the elevator. "What a horrible thing to happen to a nice family. I hope they come out of it okay."
Back on Jeannies floor, Anna Leigh and Jacob returned with Lorrie. They spied Lex and Amanda in the waiting area, sitting quietly, and walked over to join them. Jacob handed the baby to Amanda, who accepted her niece with silence.
Wanting to make sure she was okay, Amanda carefully inspected the small bundle for any signs of harm. "Hey there, sweetie. How are you doing?" The baby squeaked, but was otherwise silent. "Youre so beautiful."
Lex leaned over until her head touched Amandas. "Shes all right, isnt she?"
"It looks like it," Amanda assured her. "Shes just so tiny. I cant believe that she survived, much less without a scratch on her." She teared up again at the thought of Frank. "This is just so surreal."
"I know, love." Lex put her arm around Amanda, and was about to say more when Michael finally came out of Jeannies room. He saw the family in the waiting area, and headed over to talk to them.
Jacob immediately put his arm around his son. "Hows she doing?"
"Not good, Dad. Shes completely shut down."
"What do you mean, dear?" Anna Leigh asked.
Michael looked at his mothers kind face. "She threw me out of her room." He rubbed his face with his hands, then looked down at the floor. "She hates me."
"Im sure thats not true." Jacob escorted Michael to a chair. "Shes understandably upset. But once she has some time to grieve, shell be able to handle everything a little easier."
"Maybe if she sees Lorrie," Anna Leigh suggested. "Holding her daughter could help."
"She doesnt want to see her, or anyone, right now." Michael didnt tell the family the way Jeannie glared at him after he broke the news of her husbands death. Telling his daughter that she was a mother, and a widow, was one of the hardest things hed ever had to do. Being thrown out of her room broke his heart, even though he understood why Jeannie wanted to be alone. "Lets follow her wishes, at least for now. She needs time to sort things out in her mind."
Anna Leigh dusted her hands together. "I dont like it. We shouldnt leave her here all alone. She needs her family with her at a time like this."
Jacob put his arm around his wifes shoulders. "I dont like it either, Anna. But shes a grown woman, and we need to respect her feelings."
"Mom, please. lets just go back to the house for now, and well try again later. Arguing here about it isnt good for anyone."
"All right. But I still dont like it." Anna Leigh followed the group to the elevator, looking over her shoulder once at Jeannies door. "I dont like it at all."
Once back at the house, Anna Leigh took Lex by the arm and led her away from Amanda, who carried the baby into the living room. "Lets go in the kitchen and gather some refreshments for everyone, Lexington."
"Okay," Lex agreed, somewhat confused. She limped behind the older woman, and was barely into the kitchen when her arm was grabbed and she was practically dragged over to the breakfast area to sit down. "I have the feeling this isnt about getting drinks for everyone."
"No, it isnt. I thought about it all the way over here, and I think that youre the perfect person to talk to Jeannie."
Lex laughed, although it wasnt a cheerful sound. "Yeah, right. Im such an expert on losing husbands." She started to stand. "I dont think so, Anna Leigh."
"Wait, please." Anna Leigh watched the doorway, and when she was certain that they were alone, she leaned over closer to Lex. "Youve had a loss in your family recently, Lexington. I think that would give you more insight, at least in Jeannies eyes, than any one of us." She reached across the table and touched Lexs hand. "Dearest, who better than you, for Jeannie to share her loss with?"
When it was put to her that way, Lex couldnt argue. The loss of her father was still fresh in her mind, although talking about it again would most likely bring all the pain back to the surface. But shed do anything for Amanda, and that included doing anything for Amandas family, as well. "All right. Ill try. But Im not going to promise anything." She thought about how Amanda looked holding Lorrie, and tried to imagine her wife holding their child. Lex now realized how much having a child meant to Amanda, but she still wasnt certain if she was ready for such a drastic change in their lives.
Anna Leigh watched as Lex silently thought. "Is there something else on your mind, Lexington?"
Is there? Just how selfish will she think I am, when I tell her my worries about starting a family with her granddaughter? "There is, but I doubt youll want to hear it."
"What is it?" The woman across from her looked as if she had the weight of the world on her shoulders, and Anna Leigh hated that she added to that burden with her request.
"I think Amanda wants to have a baby." Once she said the words, Lex knew that she couldn't pull them back. "And I dont think I do." She rolled up the placemat in front of her with nervous hands.
Struggling to keep her surprise from showing on her face, Anna Leigh nodded. "I see. Why dont you, Lexington?"
Lex looked up. "Im not quite the mothering type. Hell, my mother died when I was little. What kind of role model would I be?"
"Are you saying that Martha has been just your housekeeper, all these years?" Although she knew that most of what Lex said came from fear, Anna Leigh wasnt about to let her get away with the feeble excuse. "What a shame."
"No! Of course not!" Lex got up in a hurry, which caused the chair she was in to slide across the kitchen floor. "You know thats not what I meant. Its just that"
Anna Leigh stood up with her, using both hands to grasp Lexs arms and keep her from leaving the room. "Youre scared." One of her hands touched Lexs cheek tenderly. "Dearest, were all scared from time to time. But you cant let that fear dictate your life."
"Its not just that," Lex whispered. "My mother died giving birth. Jeannie nearly died giving birth." Her voice lowered even more. "I cant lose Amanda like that, Anna Leigh. I cant."
Although the idea of another one of her grandchildren suffering concerned her, too, Anna Leigh put her arms around Lex and brought her close. "I understand your worry, Lexington. But would you rather see her sad and upset for the rest of her life? Because, I can tell you right now, the desire to have a child isnt something that just goes away."
The thought sobered Lex. Would she lose Amanda over that? Could their relationship survive such a difference in what each other wanted? She definitely had a lot of thinking to do over the subject. Lex put her arms around Anna Leigh and squeezed. "Thanks. Ill go see Jeannie in the morning."
Later that evening, Lex stood at the door of the master bedroom and watched Amanda in the rocker, holding Lorrie. Earlier, Michael and Jacob had brought the chair and the crib from the nursery into the room so that Lex and Amanda could watch over Lorrie, since she was so little. Getting a preview of the maternal side of her partner was something that Lex had not expected to see so soon, and was pleasantly surprised by her own reaction. Her heart swelled with love at the picture Amanda and the baby made.
"They look good together, dont they?" Jacob whispered from behind Lex. While downstairs, his wife had briefed him on Lexs worries, and he wanted to see if there was anything that he could do to help alleviate her concerns. "Amanda would make a good mother, Id bet."
"Im sure she would," Lex whispered, so as not to disturb the scene. She turned to face Jacob. "Thanks for helping get everything brought over to our room. I was afraid that Amanda would end up sleeping in the nursery, if you hadnt." And of course Id end up there with her, with the two of us napping on the floor. Bringing the crib and rocker into the master bedroom makes a lot more sense.
He chuckled, then patted Lex on the shoulder. "Shes a mite protective of that little one, isnt she?"
Turning back to look into the room, Lex couldnt help but agree. Amanda hadnt put the baby down since they got back from the hospital. "I think were all going to be."
"Probably so." Jacob noticed the dark circles under Lexs eyes. "Why dont you go on in there, and you three get some rest? Michaels still trying to track down Franks parents, so theres really not much more that can be done right now."
"Thats probably the best idea Ive heard in days." Lex gave Jacob a firm hug, then watched as he went down the hallway toward the stairs. She walked slowly into the bedroom, hoping that Amanda would see her and not be startled by her sudden appearance.
Sensing someone else in the room, Amanda looked up and smiled at her partner. "Hi," she whispered, not wanting to wake the baby. She could tell by the way that Lex limped into the room that her leg was bothering her. "Could you come here?"
Lex nodded. In no time at all, she was standing right in front of the rocker. "Hows she doing?"
"Good." Amanda shifted the baby so that she could raise the small bundle. "Could you take her, so that I can get up? Im afraid my leg has fallen asleep." Although it wasnt a lie, Amanda knew shed have no problem getting up. She just wanted to give Lex an opportunity to hold Lorrie, which shed avoided doing so far.
"Me? Hold her?" Lex took a step back. "Do you really think thats a good idea? Ive never held a baby before." The closest shed ever come to holding a baby was when she had been a teenager, and one of her friends cats had kittens. Shed held one of the blind, mewing tufts of fur, terrified the entire time that shed crush it in her hands. Lorries not much bigger than one of those kittens. I cant do this!
Amanda barely lifted the baby. "Come here, Lex. Ill show you how."
Riding wild horses didnt scare her as much as taking that step forward, and putting her hands under the sleeping infant. "God, shes tiny," Lex marveled. She let Amanda place her hands in the correct position, and then she was holding Lorrie. "I bet one of my boots weigh more than she does."
"Im sure they do." Amanda gently guided the baby in Lexs hands, until her wife was holding Lorrie correctly. "See? Theres nothing to it."
Lex looked down at the sleeping child, her eyes almost tearing up with emotion. "Shes beautiful, Amanda." Holding the baby in her arms, with her lover by her side, made Lex realize what Amanda had been wanting. She didnt know if she was quite ready for such a step, but she vowed to herself to seriously consider it, if not for Amandas sake, then for her own. "Were going to take good care of you, Lil Bit," she promised the baby, "and your mama, too." She looked up into Amandas eyes. "Arent we?"
"We sure are." Amanda leaned forward and kissed the top of the babys head, then kissed Lex on the lips.
To be continued in Part 6
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