The Way Things Should Be

Part VI

By Carrie Carr

See Part 1 for disclaimers.


Chapter 11


Michael stormed out of the formal den, where he had been on the phone. "Those obnoxious, self-involved, arrogant assholes!" He almost ran over his father, who held out a hand to stop his progress.

"What’s the matter, son?"

Still fuming, Michael willed himself to calm down, although all he wanted to do was tear a couple of choice heads from their bodies. "They acted like it wasn’t that big of a deal, Dad. I told them their son was dead, and all they seemed to be worried about was missing the next leg of their vacation." He paced around the more open living room, shaking his head. "Now I know why we never got along. The Rivers’ have a wine tasting to attend in France, then they’ll head home. It’ll probably be late next week, though." He rested against the back of a heavy leather sofa. "Please tell me I never got that bad."

Jacob placed his hands in his pockets while he appeared to give the question a lot of consideration. "You were there for the birth of both your daughters, weren’t you? And for their high school and college graduations?"

"Yeah. But you know the girls. Do you think I could have been able to miss something as important as their graduations?"

"True." Jacob had to agree with his son on that one. "And, before you say it, I know there were a lot of things you did miss. I’m not condoning that, but I do understand it. You were the head of your own company, Michael. There were times when you couldn’t drop everything and run off to a piano recital."

Although he knew his father was right, Michael also knew there were more times than he could count where he could have adjusted his schedule for his children. But, at the time, he thought that work was more important. And just look at me now. I’m struggling to make ends meet as a photographer, but I’ve never been happier in my entire life. "Thanks, Dad." Something, no, make that someone, was missing this morning. "Where’s Mom?"

"She drove Lex, Amanda, and the baby up to the hospital this morning. I thought I’d stay behind, and see if I could help you with the arrangements for Frank."

Michael nodded. "I know we need to decide something soon, but I was hoping to see what Jeannie wanted." In spite of the fact that he was thrilled that his daughter had come out of her coma, he didn’t look forward to the conversation about her husband’s remains. "Do you think that she’ll be ready to talk today? I hate upsetting her."

"Your mother is supposed to call and let me know." Jacob put his arm around Michael’s shoulders and guided him into the kitchen. "How about I whip up some breakfast for the two of us while we wait? Or some coffee, at the very least."



"Sitting there ignoring me isn’t going to make me go away," Amanda stated softly. She stood at her sister’s bed side, trying to get some sort of reaction out of Jeannie.

For her part, Jeannie continued to look at the opposite wall. She had heard Amanda come into the room earlier, but just didn’t feel like talking with anyone. Buffeted by the wave of despair that threatened to engulf her, she longed to disappear back into the nothingness of her coma. There, she wouldn't have to feel the pain of losing her husband. She wouldn't have to be aware of how helpless her stroke had left her. She wouldn't have to face the challenge of raising a child who would never know her father. Or of struggling for every movement and for every word.

Jeannie finally spoke. "Go ‘way, Manda. Weave me wone." Fresh tears sprang into her eyes at the garbled words that came out of her mouth. I sound like such an idiot. Why didn’t I die, too? I can’t do this without Frank. She hoped that if she ignored her sister long enough, Amanda would get the hint and just leave her alone.

Amanda rubbed her hand across Jeannie’s arm, trying to soothe her any way that she could. "Do you think that Frank would want you to feel this way? I understand it’s painful, but–"

"Shud up!" Jeannie turned her head to glare at her sister. "You don’ know ow I beel. You couldnd!" Her eyes conveyed all the anger that her words could not. "Go back do your berfec wuber, an’ your berfec widdle wife. Dus weave me be." Jeannie turned her head again to face the wall. "Go ‘way," she finished in an anguished voice.

"I love you, Jeannie," Amanda murmured, right before she gave her sister’s arm one last squeeze and left the room. She stumbled down the hall to the waiting area, where Lex watched Anna Leigh talk nonsense to the baby. Amanda sat beside her grandmother and tried to wipe the tears of hurt from her eyes.

Lex put one hand on Amanda’s shoulder and leaned down to make eye contact with her. "I take it didn’t go too well in there, huh?"

"That’s putting it mildly." Scrubbing her face with her hands, Amanda inhaled deeply, then released the breath slowly. "She's in such pain that she switches between self-pity and anger. I tried to talk to her, but she told me that I couldn’t know how she felt, and ordered me to leave the room."

Anna Leigh looked up at Lex, expectantly. She didn’t have to speak, as her eyes conveyed all she wanted to say.

Lex stood up tall and stretched. "Well, I guess that it’s my turn, then." The last thing she wanted to do was go into that hospital room, but she’d given her word, and she never went back on that. She held out her hands to Anna Leigh, who handed the baby to her. "Come on, Lil’ Bit. Let’s go see your mama."

Anna Leigh and Amanda watched as Lex carried the infant down the hallway, then disappeared into Jeannie’s room. "She certainly looks a lot more comfortable with Lorrie this morning," Anna Leigh commented.

Amanda couldn’t help but smile. "She should. I think Lex took as many turns getting up with her as I did last night. When I woke up this morning, Lex was propped up on pillows in the bed with the baby sprawled on her chest, both of them sound asleep. If Lorrie wasn’t so young, I’d almost be jealous," she tried to joke, but her heart just wasn’t in it.

Pushing the door open slowly, Lex peeked inside. She saw that Jeannie lay still in the bed, her head turned toward the far wall. She must have heard the door open, because her head turned slightly, then faced the wall again.

"Hi, Jeannie. I brought you another visitor," Lex explained quietly. Hospitals always gave her the creeps, and this one was no exception.

"Go ‘way," Jeannie grumbled, not bothering to turn her head.

Lex ignored the plea, instead sitting in the chair next to the bed. "I’m afraid I can’t do that just yet. At least not until we talk for a bit."

"I don’ wanna ‘alk. I can’. Wisen ooh me. I soun’ wike an iiod." Jeannie began to cry softly. "Pwese go ‘way, Wex."

After she stood up, Lex sat on the edge of the bed. She held the baby in one arm, while she used her free hand to touch Jeannie’s shoulder. "I’m afraid I can’t do that, Jeannie. There’s a lot of folks who care about you, and we all want to do what we can to help you get through this time."

Jeannie shook her head and squeezed her eyes tightly shut, wanting to escape-- wanting to be anywhere but where she was, who she was, and how she felt.

"I wish there was something that we could say or do to make everything all right for you. This has got to be the hardest thing you've ever had to face." Lex patted the baby, who had started to stir in her arms. She gazed into the baby's eyes. Lorrie was watching her intently. Lex smiled down at her and stoked her tiny cheek with her fingertips. When she raised her eyes again, she saw Jeannie turn her head away. All of the losses in Lex's life surfaced, along with the realization of her deep protective feelings for Jeannie's child. Lex's heart demanded to be expressed. Jeannie's loss became her loss, and the words she spoke next were for the both of them.

"This isn't how it's supposed to be. Frank should be here holding his daughter. You shouldn't have had a stroke. You should be together. You, Frank, and Lorrie. You should be a family. This isn't fair. It isn't right. You shouldn't have to have people standing over you telling you that everything is going to be all right when it's not. When you know deep in your heart that nothing will ever take this hurt away. When all you can hope for is to find a way to live with this pain. This isn't the way it’s supposed to be," Lex repeated.

Jeannie turned her head back toward Lex and raised her opened hand to her as if making a plea. Then she shut her eyes again in one last attempt to stem the flow of tears and sorrow that threatened to sweep her away in their intensity.

Lex shifted her hold on the baby and took Jeannie's hand. "I can't make it stop, Jeannie. I can't wake you up from this nightmare." Lex’s voice got even quieter and her eyes clouded as her own grief rose to the surface. "It wasn’t that long ago I lost my father. Even though we had our differences, I worshipped the ground that man walked on. My entire life was spent trying to be good enough for him, and it took him dying before we reconciled that." Lex realized she said more than she should, and cleared her voice to cover her embarrassment. "Anyway, after he was gone, I spent a lot of time brooding over things I couldn’t change. All my chances to be a daughter to him were gone. I hated that. I resented that I had to grow up not knowing my mother, and then lose my father just as I found out that he really didn't hate me.

Don't do that to Lorrie."

She placed Lorrie in the crook of Jeannie’s arm, then brought the appendage up so it cradled the baby. "You’ve got a lot to live for. And there’s a little girl here who needs her mama. You've got to love her for both you and Frank."

Jeannie’s head turned, and she looked down at the infant beside her. "She’s god Fwank’s hair," she marveled as fresh tears tracked down her face. Then her eyes glanced up and met Lex’s. Emotionally spent, all she could do was nod.


"She looks so melancholy. Probably due to living with that woman," Elizabeth snarled. Her view of her daughter was cut short by Lex leaving Jeannie’s room and walking over to stand in front of Amanda. She pulled her head back around the corner, not wanting to be seen. Yet. Turning around, she crossed her arms over her chest. "So? Tell me you have some good news, for a change," she asked Terence.

He scratched at the back of his neck, wishing once again that he could get back into his expensive suits, and leave the hospital wear behind. "From what I’ve gathered, your daughter’s condition has improved quite a bit. As a matter of fact, they may want to release her in the next few days." A quick slap against his arm caused Terence to cry out. "Ow! What was that for?"

Elizabeth grabbed a fistful of his shirt and pulled him close. "You imbecile. I wanted to know about Amanda! I already know my other daughter’s condition. She’s a half-crippled, barely understandable mess. Lord knows what I’ll be able to do with her."

"But Liz–"

"Don’t whine to me, you mealy-mouthed little idiot. I need to know what that hick has done to my little girl, to make her so upset. If we can figure that out, it should give me just what I need to take Amanda away from her, for good." Elizabeth released his shirt, then wiped her hand on it as if soiled. "One way or another, I’m taking my daughter back."

Terence watched as Elizabeth retreated down the hall, his eyes wide. "That woman is completely crazy." He brushed off the front of his "uniform" before taking a different route through the hospital. "I guess that makes me just as nuts, since I’m working for her," he mumbled. No matter how hard he tried, Terence couldn’t figure out how to get away from Liz, without her retaliating against him. But, he decided, at least the pay was good.


After a long morning at the hospital, the family was just about to sit down for a late lunch when the phone rang. Michael, being the closest, answered the call. "Hello?" He waited for several moments, then a smile broke out onto his face. "It’s good to hear from you, Charlie. Yes, thank you very much. Sure, hold on a moment." He held the receiver out. "Lex, it’s for you."

Lex walked around the kitchen table and took the phone. "Thanks." She held the receiver up to her ear, and unconsciously turned away from everyone. "Hello?"

"Lex? This is Charlie."

"Oh, hi."

"How are you girls holding up? Martha told me the news."

Before going to bed the night before, Lex had spent a long time on the phone to Martha, telling the housekeeper everything that had happened. Since she had to be the support for Amanda, she needed someone to talk to that could be her support. "About as good as could be expected, I suppose. It’s really rough around here," Lex murmured into the phone.

"I can just imagine, kiddo." Charlie was quiet for a moment, then cleared his throat. "I checked out those explosions you said you heard. Seems like whoever owns the property north of you, was blowing some rock to make a dam on the creek. They’ve also cleared a bunch of the land nearby, but I don’t know what for. I’ve got deputies trying to find out more."

"I thought the creek had been dammed. The water was too low for it to have come naturally." Lex leaned against the counter top, watching as the rest of the family sat down at the table and tried not to listen in to her conversation. "Since the creek is a source of water for several properties, they can’t legally dam it, can they?" With the running of the ranch in her hands for so many years, Lex tried to keep up with all the laws and statutes that affected the ranch. It had saved her many times in the past.

"They couldn’t, if they completely dammed it. But as it is, water is getting through, although slowly," Charlie answered, apologetically. "We’re not even sure who owns the property, yet."

Lex thought about the events in recent weeks. At the bidding, Andrew Wilson seemed a little too anxious to buy the property she had just acquired. Now she just needed to find out who he worked for. "He certainly wasn’t smart enough to be working on his own," she mumbled.

"What was that?"

"Oh, sorry about that. I was just thinking about the bidding, where I picked up the new property. Some guy was pretty hot about buying it from me."

"Did you get his name?" Charlie asked, still in lawman mode. "I can try checking him out."

"Yeah. He said his name was Andrew Wilson, for all the good that’ll do you. I have a feeling this is a lot bigger than we think, Charlie." Lex rubbed her forehead to stave off the headache that was coming on.

"You’re probably right. I think while I’m at it, I’ll check the tax records for the entire area. Could be someone’s up to something."

"All right."

Charlie’s voice changed to a quieter tone. "Are you okay, Lex?"

"Sure, Charlie. I’m just fine." She didn’t feel fine, though. The gravity of the situation, as well as everything else that had happened, was weighing heavily on Lex’s mind. She knew that it was going to get a lot worse, before it got better.

"Uh-huh." Not convinced, Charlie let the question drop. "I know you’re probably busy out there, so I’ll let you go. Give us a ring if you need anything, all right?"

"I sure will, Charlie. Thank you." Lex hung up the phone, feeling more worn out than before. She turned around and her eyes sought out her partner’s. "If everyone will excuse me, I’m not very hungry right now." Lex left the room, and Amanda stood up as well.

"I think I’ll go–" Amanda gestured to the doorway that Lex just walked through.

Anna Leigh spoke for everyone else in the room. "You go right ahead, dearest. We’ll listen for the baby." Lorrie had fallen asleep on the way back from the hospital, and Michael had placed her in the bassinet they had put in the living room. "Let us know if you or Lexington need anything."

"Thanks, Gramma." Amanda rushed out of the room in search of her partner. Not finding Lex on the main floor, she was about to traverse the stairs when she noticed the front door slightly ajar.

Lex sat on the front steps, her elbows on her knees, and her head in her hands. She heard the door open, and wasn’t surprised when she felt someone sit beside her. Her mind was spinning with what Charlie had told her. Lex wondered if whoever bought and dammed the property was involved with her losing her money. She didn’t think so, but stranger things had happened. Now there was the added burden of Frank’s death, and what they were going to do about Jeannie and the baby.

"Lex?" Amanda put her hand on her lover’s arm. "Is everything okay at home?"

Raising her head, Lex turned and looked into Amanda’s face. "Yeah, things are okay there. Charlie just wanted to let me know that whoever owns the property north of ours, has cleared the land and partially dammed the creek. He’s still trying to find out who, and why." She tried to force a smile onto her face, but wasn’t very successful. "Sorry for running out on lunch like that."

Amanda scooted closer and then put her arm around Lex’s waist. "You don’t have to apologize, Lex. I just want to help, if I can."

"That’s what I want to do," Lex whispered. "I want to help you, and your family. There’s just so much going on." She leaned her head to the side, until it touched Amanda’s. The contact made Lex feel better, but she knew there was a lot they still had to talk about.


Later that day, Michael stormed out of Jeannie’s hospital room. He nearly ran over the man who was mopping the floors. "Excuse me. I didn’t mean to–"

"No, that’s all right. It happens all the time," the janitor assured him. He picked up his mop and dropped the head back into the rolling bucket. "No problem." Not bothering to take his orange caution cone with him, the man wheeled the bucket around the corner and out of sight.

Michael watched the man leave and then shook his head. "Strange. I’ll swear that guy is here all the time, cleaning the floor." He went in search of his mother and father, who had made the trip to the hospital with him. Finding them in the waiting area, Michael sat down beside his mother and leaned back in the chair. "How did I manage to have two daughters that were so damned stubborn?"

"I’d have to say it was hereditary," Jacob explained, with a pointed glance at his wife. "But you always said you wanted children who could speak their mind. What did Jeannie say to upset you?"

"I hated to bring it up to her, but I had to ask about Frank."

Anna Leigh, who had glared at her husband over his earlier remark, touched her son’s knee. "I know that had to be hard on both of you. What did she decide?"

Michael stood up so that he could pace around the small area. "She wants him cremated!"

"So? What’s so wrong about that?" Anna Leigh asked.

"You don’t get it, Mom," Michael tried to explain. "She told me she wanted him cremated, so that she could keep him with her! That can’t be a healthy thing."

Jacob stood up also, and stopped his son’s movement. "I agree, son. But it’s also so soon after his death. Maybe, in time–"

"And what do I tell his parents? As much as I dislike them, this won’t be easy. I’m sure they’d rather have a grave that they can place flowers on, and things like that." Michael dropped back into a chair. "As a parent, I know I would want some kind of closure."

A tall man in a lab coat stopped when he saw Michael in the waiting area. "Mr. Cauble? I’m Doctor Webster. I’ve been checking in on your daughter."

Michael stood up and shook the doctor’s hand. "Oh, that’s right. How is she doing, doctor? Has there been any problems?"

"No, she’s actually progressing along quite well. I was just going to talk to you about her care after she’s released." Dr. Webster flipped through a folder, then looked back up at Michael. "I’d say she could leave here in a day or so, if she continues to progress."

"That’s great." Michael looked to his parents for support. "Is there anything special we’ll need to do for her?"

The doctor nodded. "I have a list of assisted living centers nearby, who are all very capable of handling a case such as hers. If you like, I can–" He didn’t see the pair of women who walked into the area.

"Assisted living?" Amanda asked. "Are you suggesting that we put Jeannie into a home?"

The doctor turned to address the newcomers. "Well, yes. It would be the best thing for her. She’s going to need therapy and twenty-four hour assistance for the next few months. A nursing home would be the best thing for her, and for all of you."

Lex stood next to Amanda, and placed her hand on her wife’s shoulder. "How could locking her away from her family be good for her? Isn’t there another option?"

"Do you plan on taking care of her? Feeding, bathing, and helping her with all her needs?" Dr. Webster hated to sound so harsh, but he had seen so many good-intentioned families ruined by a loved one’s illness.

Seeing the anguished faces around her, Lex said the only thing she could. "Yes. We’ll take her back to Texas with us, and her family will see to Jeannie’s needs." When Amanda turned and looked adoringly into her eyes, Lex knew it was exactly the right answer.

"That’s right, Dr. Webster," Anna Leigh added. "You don’t know our family very well. When can we start making arrangements for Jeannie’s trip home?"

He shook his head and sighed. "I’ll have the duty nurse come talk to you." Dr. Webster walked away, hoping that this family would be able to handle the extreme stress it was about to experience.



Chapter 12


The darkened hospital chapel was filled to capacity, all eyes on the gray, polished metal urn that set upon the table at the front of the room. The minister had just finished the short ceremony, and leaned down to speak a few quiet words to the woman in the wheelchair that was parked on the front row.

Only able to use one side of her body, Jeannie refused to relinquish the grip she had on the strong hand in her lap. She turned her head and appealed to the owner of the appendage, who sat next to her.

"That was a fine service, Reverend," Lex said, understanding that Jeannie didn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone outside of the family, due to her speech problems. "I’m sure Mrs. Rivers appreciates your kind words."

Jeannie nodded, still not wanting to speak. After the clergyman left, Jeannie turned to look at the urn, and then back at Lex. For some reason she had developed an attachment to her sister-in-law, and only wanted Lex around her. She looked up into Lex’s eyes. "Pwease? My woom?"

"What?" Lex felt the hand in hers tighten. "You want to take the urn back to your room?"

"Mmm-hmm." Jeannie started to cry again, and Lex pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her face.

"Sssh. It’s okay. I’ll take care of it," Lex promised. There was just something about the Cauble women that she couldn’t say no, to. "How about if Amanda takes you back to your room, and I’ll bring," she looked at the urn, unsure of what to call it, "that back."

"No." Jeannie pulled Lex’s hand closer. "Don’ weave me."

Lex sighed. "I can’t carry that, and push your chair, Jeannie." She turned to Amanda, who was sitting on the other side of her. Her lover was taking Frank’s death almost as hard as Jeannie was, since they had been close friends since high school. It was Amanda who had introduced Jeannie to Frank, and she was having a rough time as well. There’s no way in hell I’m going to ask Amanda to carry what’s left of her best friend back to Jeannie’s room. There’s got to be another way.

Before she could figure out what to do, Anna Leigh, who had overheard the conversation, handed Lorrie to Amanda. "Mandy, I think someone is missing their auntie." She winked at Lex, then squatted next to Jeannie’s chair. "Would it be all right if I carried the urn for you, Jeannie?"

God bless you, Anna Leigh. Lex waited until Jeannie nodded, then leaned down to release the brakes on the wheelchair. "Let’s get you back to your room." She wheeled Jeannie through the throng of well wishers, remembering all too well how hard it was to be polite to people when all you really wanted to do was hide somewhere and cry.

It didn’t take long for Lex, Jeannie, Amanda and Anna Leigh to return to the hospital room. The cheery atmosphere of flowers and balloons was more than Jeannie could handle, and she leaned forward in her chair and sobbed.

Amanda, holding the baby, bit her lip to keep from joining her sister. She allowed her grandmother to guide her to a nearby chair, where she sat down and began to rock Lorrie.

Lex was torn. She wanted to go to Amanda, but seeing Jeannie in such a vulnerable state broke her heart. With Anna Leigh’s help, it didn’t take long for them to get Jeannie back into her bed. Trying to be of some comfort, Lex sat on the edge of the bed. Jeannie immediately reached for her with her one good arm, and Lex pulled the crying woman close. She gently rocked the grieving Jeannie, who clung to her as if her life depended on it.

The door opened. Michael stepped in, followed by Jeannie’s doctor and a nurse. The doctor had been present at the services, and he thought that his patient would do better after a tranquilizer. "Mrs. Rivers, I’ve prescribed something to help you rest."

"Nooo," Jeannie wailed, clinging tighter to Lex.

"I’m sorry, but it’s for your own good," Dr. Webster explained, nodding to the nurse.

Lex turned to block their access to Jeannie with her own body. "Is drugging her into oblivion absolutely necessary? Can’t you damned people just let the woman alone to grieve?" She held Jeannie’s head to her chest, trying to keep her calm.

"I think that as her physician I know what’s best for Mrs. Rivers. Now if you’ll just move out of the way–"

"Back off," Lex snapped. She’d had all she could stand of the pompous doctor. "If you don’t want that shot to become an enema, I’d suggest you both get out of here."

Dr. Webster turned to look at Anna Leigh, who had one hand over her mouth to keep from laughing at his expression. "Did you hear her threaten me?"

"Actually," Anna Leigh chortled, "I’d think it was more of a promise, than a threat." She got herself under control and began to lead the doctor from the room. "Please, let our family take care of Jeannie. She just needs a little time, not more medication."

"All right. I’ll send a nurse back in to check on her later. If she’s still hysterical, I’m going to have to sedate her." He left, followed by his nurse, who was grinning.

Anna Leigh turned back around to face the women on the bed. "Lexington, that wasn’t nice."

"But it was well-deserved," Amanda added. "I never have liked that man’s attitude."

Jeannie pulled back from Lex’s grasp, her shoulders shaking, but she was no longer crying. "Enema?" she asked slowly, then bursting into laughter. "Dat was a good un’."

"Well, he was a jackass," Lex defended herself, glad to see Jeannie in better spirits. She knew it wasn’t the end of the tears, but she was happy to see some healing begin. When Jeannie tried to lean back, Lex helped her lie back on the bed. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Yeah. I jus’ wan’ some ‘ime awone," Jeannie admitted. "You, ‘nigh’?"

Lex nodded, combing the hair out of Jeannie’s face with her fingers. "Sure. We’ll come back tonight." She leaned down and kissed her sister-in-law’s forehead. "Have them call if you want us back sooner."

"’kay." Jeannie closed her eyes, exhausted by the emotional ordeal.



When Lex pulled the rental car onto their street, she noticed a black limousine parked in front of Jeannie’s house. She turned to Anna Leigh, who was in the seat beside her. "Do you have any idea what that’s about?"

"No, I surely don’t," Anna Leigh answered. She turned slightly to speak to Amanda, who was in the back, next to the baby’s carseat. "Mandy? Do you know anything about a limousine?"

Amanda shook her head. "Nope."

They stayed silent until Lex pulled into the driveway. Not long after, Michael and Jacob drove in beside them.

Lex had already gotten out of the car, and was on her way up to the house, where a man and woman stood on the steps. Both middle-aged, the man was dressed in an expensive black suit, while the woman wore a gray linen skirt and matching top. "Excuse me, can we help you with something?" she asked them.

The man walked over to her, the woman trailing behind. "Who the hell are you?"

"Hello, Harrison, Veronica. I wasn’t expecting you for a few days," Michael said, moving past Lex and holding out his hand. "I’d like for you to meet my daughter-in-law, Lexington Walters. Lex, this is Harrison and Veronica Rivers, Frank’s parents."

Lex offered her hand, surprised when she was ignored. "I’m sorry for your loss, Mr.–"

"Daughter-in-law? How’s that possible?" Harrison boomed. He looked back at Amanda, who held Lorrie. "You can’t mean? That’s ludicrous, Cauble." He put his hands on his hips. "Where have you been, anyway? We’ve just come from the airport, and expected for someone to be here."

Michael took a step back, confused by the man’s ire. He and Harrison Rivers weren’t friends, but they had always been at least civil to each other. "I’m sorry about that, Harrison. We were at the hospital chapel, attending the service for Frank. Had we known you were on the way, we’d have postponed it so that you could–"

"What the hell do you mean, Frank’s service? And why at the hospital?"

Jacob moved to stand behind his son. "Mr. Rivers, Jeannie wasn’t well enough to travel to a large service, so we had a small gathering at the chapel, where she would be able to be there. As a matter of fact, the urn–"

"Now wait just a goddamned minute! Did you say urn?" Harrison leaned into Michael’s face. "You had my son cremated? Who the hell made that decision?"

"It was Jeannie’s decision, Harrison. After all, she was his wife," Michael explained, getting more angry by the moment. "Not like you seemed to care, traipsing all over Europe."

Harrison glared at his in-law. Realizing he couldn’t change what had already happened, he nodded. "All right. Where’s the urn, now?"

"In Jeannie’s hospital room. She wanted it with her."

"What? Is that some sort of sick joke?" Harrison made a point of glaring at Amanda. "One of your daughters is a queer, and the other one’s some sort of necrophiliac?" He was about to say something more, when Jacob reached for his arm.

"Mr. Rivers, please. I think we all need to calm down." Jacob grasped the angry man’s forearm.

Harrison jerked his arm away, almost causing Jacob to fall. "This is none of your concern, old man!"

Michael lunged for Harrison. "Hey!" He felt arms grab him from behind, and he struggled wildly to break free. But when elbow connected with something solid, he was quickly released.

"Ugh," Lex groaned, falling back away from the melee. She thought she was helping keep Michael out of trouble, until his elbow slammed into her nose, causing it to bleed. She landed on her rear, a few feet away.

"You son of a bitch!" Michael yelled. He was about to punch the larger man in the face, when they were both hit with a stream of water.

Anna Leigh trained the hose on her son. "If you’re going to act like children, then perhaps it’s best we treat you that way," she yelled over their shouts. Once she was convinced that the would-be fight was over, she turned off the hose.

"Are you all right, Lex?" Amanda knelt beside her wife, who was trying to control her bleeding nose. She would have tried to help, but she was still holding Lorrie, who slept through the entire scene.

Michael turned and saw Lex sitting on the ground. "Oh, no. Not again." He ignored a sputtering Harrison, and joined Amanda. "I’m sorry, Lex. I guess that’s two you owe me now, isn’t it?" He referred to the time that he punched Lex in the face, thinking that she had brought injury to Amanda while they were visiting in California. He pulled out a clean handkerchief and handed it to his daughter-in-law. "Is it broken?"

"I don’t think so. Just caught me at the right angle." Lex accepted the handkerchief and held it to her face. "If you keep this up, I’ll start to think you don’t like me," she joked. She looked over his shoulder at Anna Leigh. "Nice shot with the garden hose."

"Thank you." Anna Leigh swatted Michael on the arm. "Take Mr. Rivers inside, and the two of you get dried off. I’ll expect you to be a good host."

"Yes, ma’am." Michael trudged back to the house, gesturing for the Frank’s parents to follow him.

"And as for you two," Anna Leigh told the two women, "Mandy, give me the baby, and then take Lexington upstairs to get cleaned up. I’m sure it’s not as bad as it looks, but you really need to get that shirt soaking before the stain sets." She referred to Lex’s pale gray top, which was now liberally stained with blood.

Amanda did as she was told, then helped Lex to her feet. "Yes, ma’am." They both saluted the older woman and hiked into the house.



"Hold still, you big baby." Amanda grabbed Lex’s chin to keep her head from moving away. "I thought you said it didn’t hurt?" They were in the master bathroom, where she stood over Lex, who sat on the edge of the bathtub.

Lex tried to twist out of her lover’s grasp. "It didn’t, until you started scrubbing it so damned hard." She reached out and took hold of Amanda’s hands. "What are you so pissed off about? It wasn’t my fault."

"I know that. And I’m not pissed off, I’m just trying–" Amanda stopped. She had been scrubbing the blood from Lex’s face harder than necessary. "I’m sorry." She leaned over and placed a light kiss on the tip of her wife’s nose. "Forgive me?"

Pulling Amanda’s hands to her lips, Lex kissed them. "Nothing to forgive. But you want to tell me what’s got your britches all in a twist?"

Amanda laughed. Sometimes the little things that Lex said were just too cute. "Frank’s dad."

"We’ve heard worse from folks before. Why now?"

"He’s always been a bit pompous, but he’s never been actually mean, before." Amanda started to open the snaps on Lex’s western shirt. "He usually just said hello, and then went along and took care of his business. Not go out of his way to be hurtful."

Lex sat quietly while Amanda removed her shirt, and watched as she placed it in the sink to soak. "Maybe it’s because he’s hurting, too. The man just lost his only son, then flew halfway across the world, only to find out the funeral was over." She gingerly touched her nose and was thankful it wasn’t broken.

"Maybe." Amanda picked up the tee shirt she had brought in from the bedroom. "Arms up."

Although she was more than capable of dressing herself, Lex allowed Amanda to slip the shirt over her head and pull it down her body. She knew that her lover needed something to do while she talked, or she’d get even more upset. Once the shirt was on to Amanda’s satisfaction, Lex stood up. "Thanks, love."

"You’re welcome." Amanda felt a little ridiculous for her earlier behavior, but was heartened when she was enveloped in a strong hug. "Can we just stay like this forever?"

"I wish." But with a final squeeze, Lex pulled away. She bent her head forward and captured Amanda’s lips, prolonging the kiss as long as possible. When they at last broke apart, she held one of her lover’s hands and led her through the bedroom and into the hallway. "But I think we better get downstairs, just in case your grandmother needs to break out the garden hose again."

Hearing voices, they followed the sound into the formal living room. There they found the Rivers’ sharing a loveseat, with Harrison wearing a towel around his neck, and his suit and tie missing. At a right angle to the loveseat, Michael sat in a matching chair, similarly clad.

"I understand that, Harrison, believe me. But that’s still no reason to go off like you did." Michael noticed the two women standing in the doorway, and he stood up. "Lex, Amanda. Come in and sit down."

Amanda led the way, but made it a point to not look at Harrison as she and Lex sat on the leather sofa directly across from their guests. "Thanks, Daddy. I’m sorry it took us so long."

"That’s fine, sweetheart." Michael waited until Lex was seated before he addressed her. "How’s the nose? Should I be expecting a lawsuit?"

Lex laughed, even though the motion caused her face to ache. "Not this time, Michael. But if I were you, I’d be careful the next time you let me saddle your horse."

Jacob and Anna Leigh entered the room at that moment, each carrying a tray. His had the coffee carafe and mugs, while hers held what appeared to be small sandwiches. "That sounds like a good trade off," Jacob teased, placing his tray on the wide coffee table in front of their guests. He winked at Lex. "Just make sure you take pictures when my son slides off the horse, and I’ll be happy."

"Dad!" Michael shrugged his shoulders at Harrison and his wife. "Honestly, she’d never do anything like that." He turned back to Lex. "Would you?"

"Of course not, Michael." Lex accepted a cup of coffee from Jacob, nodding her thanks. "That could be dangerous for my horses." But her smile showed she was joking, and she looked across the room to make eye contact with the Rivers’. Lex was determined not to let Harrison get away with his obnoxious attitude, if only to put him in his place after he upset Amanda. "Mr. Rivers, my wife tells me that you’re an attorney. What area of law do you specialize in?"

Harrison almost spit out the sandwich he had taken a bite of. "Your, ah, well. My firm handles corporate litigation, Ms. Walters. Did I understand correctly, that you’re a farmer?"

"Rancher, actually. We have a modest spread outside of Austin," Lex informed him, taking hold of Amanda’s hand and pulling it into her lap.

Anna Leigh knew what Lex was doing. And even though she enjoyed watching the pompous man squirm, she didn’t want a repeat of what happened outside earlier. "Veronica, that’s a lovely outfit you’re wearing. You must tell me where you got it."

"Oh, this?" The meek woman brushed her hands down the linen suit. "There’s this quaint little shop right off Rodeo Drive, and–"

"For God’s sake, woman. No one really gives a damn where you shop," Harrison complained. "We have more important issues to discuss. Like our granddaughter."

Michael leaned forward. He had a pretty good idea what Harrison was about to say, but was not prepared for the words that left the attorney’s mouth.

"I’m sure your daughter will be leaving the hospital soon, since there’s not much else they can do for her. Am I correct?" At Michael’s nod, Harrison continued, "Have you decided which nursing home you’ll have Jean placed in?"

"What? Why?" Michael asked, completely confused.

"Well, you all have lives back in Texas, and I’m sure you need to get back to them. It’s obvious that in her present condition, Jean cannot stay in this house. It’ll be much easier for us to take care of our granddaughter if her mother is placed in a home nearby."

Amanda didn’t like where the conversation was going, and she really didn’t care for the tone in Harrison’s voice. "And what makes you think that you’ll be taking care of Lorrie?"

He looked at her as if she were an idiot. "You don’t think your sister can, do you? We’re the only family that baby has here that’s capable of taking care of her."

"I hate to break this to you, Mr. Rivers, but Amanda and I are legally responsible for Lorrie's well-being, at least until Jeannie gets back on her feet." Lex released Amanda’s hand, and placed her arm across her lover’s shoulders. "We’re her god-parents."

"What? Just exactly what kind of idiot would do that?" Harrison yelled, his face turning red.

"Your son," Michael explained. "He and Jeannie took care of all the paperwork months ago, once they found out she was expecting. They knew that Lex and Amanda would give their child all the love and protection she needed, should anything happen to them."

Harrison stood up, pulling his wife up with him. "We’ll just see about that. There’s no way in hell I plan on letting a grandchild of mine be raised by the likes of them! Come along, Veronica." He practically dragged her behind as he stormed from the room.

"Thank you for having us. I’m sorry," Veronica whispered to Anna Leigh, right before the front door closed behind them.

Michael stood up and removed the towel from around his neck. "That went well, didn’t it?" When he didn’t get an answer from anyone else in the room, Michael tossed the towel in the chair he just recently vacated. "I’m sorry you had to listen to Harrison’s bullshit. The man has obviously got his priorities out of whack." His in-law’s words haunted Michael. It wasn’t that long ago that I would have been agreeing with him. Am I that much better than he is, just because I’ve finally had my eyes opened? "If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some arrangements to make, so that we can bring Jeannie home."

"Speaking of arrangements, I think we need to talk about where Jeannie will be staying." Lex had her own ideas, but she wanted to give Jeannie’s family a chance to talk about all the options. "I don’t think she should be put into a nursing home, just because of her condition."

Jacob traded glances with his wife. "We talked about that in the kitchen, and we agree with you, Lex. We think that she’d be better off with family. I suppose we could have the downstairs living room at our home renovated into a bedroom."

"You could, or we could have the office cleared out in the ranch house, and turn it into a bedroom. It wouldn’t take as much work, and–"

"And I could take a leave of absence from the real estate office, and take care of her," Amanda finished. Her guilt over being jealous of Jeannie’s new baby made her want to do something to help.

Lex turned to look at her wife. "We can also hire a nurse, and a physical therapist. Jeannie’s going to need more than what we can give her, you know."

"Maybe. But I think she’d feel a lot better with her family taking care of her, than some stranger." Amanda didn’t know why her partner was being so stubborn about this. Didn’t she understand why Amanda had to take care of her sister? It was as if Lex was determined to undermine her attempt at penance.

Standing up, Lex dusted off her slacks, even though there was nothing on them. She knew there was no sense in arguing with Amanda over this. They’d have plenty of time later to do that. "If it’s okay with you, I’ll call Martha and have her start clearing out the ranch office," she asked the older couple. "Unless you’d like me to have her organize the revamping of your living room."

"No, Lex. I think that the ranch would be a better place for Jeannie. She seems to have bonded with you during this time, and being closer to you might be just the thing for her. That is, if you don’t mind," Jacob admitted. "It would take longer to change our living room into a bedroom for her, than we have time for, I’m afraid."

"All right, then. I’ll just go upstairs and get my cell phone, and let you know what she says." Hurt by her partner’s attitude, Lex left the room, leaving a quizzical Amanda behind.

"Is it just me, or did she just practically ignore my offer of taking care of Jeannie?" Amanda asked her grandparents, who sat across from her on the loveseat. For some reason, she thought about what Ellie had said about Lex. "She lords over you like some kind of–" No, she doesn’t. She’s just concerned about Jeannie, and is trying to help the family out any way she can. I should be grateful that Lex is so caring.

The upset look on Amanda’s face caused Anna Leigh to clear her throat. "Ahem. Mandy? Is everything all right?"

"What? Oh, right." Amanda straightened up in her seat and brushed the hair out of her eyes. "I’m sorry. I guess I was just thinking about what Lex had said. I don’t know why she seemed so dead set against me taking care of my own sister. I guess she’s afraid that if I do, I won’t have enough time for her."

"I don’t think that’s the case at all, Peanut." Jacob took both of Anna Leigh’s hands in his and held them close. "Being a nurse for someone full-time, even if you love them dearly, can take a lot out of a person. I wasn’t as incapacitated after my auto accident as Jeannie is now, yet your poor grandmother nearly killed herself by taking care of me. I believe that Lex is just afraid that you’ll do the same thing, and is trying to prevent that."

"Oh." Amanda had the decency to be embarrassed by her uncharitable thoughts. "I didn’t think of it that way, Grandpa." Guess I have an apology to make. She was about to get up and go find Lex, when she heard the baby’s cries. "Sounds like someone is ready for a meal." She stood and started out of the room. "I’ll take care of Lorrie, if you two want to sit and relax for a bit."

Anna Leigh snuggled closer to her husband. "We have the room to ourselves for a change, handsome. Got any ideas?"

"I’ve got several, but most of them would embarrass the kids," Jacob murmured, leaning over and covering her lips with his.


To be continued in part 7

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