To Hold Forever
By Carrie Carr
Disclaimers – Yup, here we are again. I know it's been a while since Lex and Amanda made an appearance, but now they're back. As usual, this story could probably be rated PG-13, and it's filled with two women who love each other. If that's not your style, travel on. I won't be upset. Any comments, good or bad (please be gentle, though), can be sent to email@example.com .
HEAVY STEPS ON the back porch alerted the house's residents of the approaching person. The thick, wooden door opened, and quickly shut behind the silent figure. Rain water dripped from the drenched black hat and duster of Lexington Walters, as she struggled to remove the soaked items.
At the sound of rapidly moving feet, Lex looked up just in time to intercept a damp, naked toddler. "Hold on, there, lil' bit. Give me a chance to catch my breath."
"Up!" the tiny dynamo demanded, raising her arms.
Lex hung her hat up next to the coat and squatted to the child's level. She scooped her up in her arms and kissed the dark head. "Where's everyone?"
"Lorrie, come back here. You know better than—" Amanda Cauble-Walters stood outside the doorway to the downstairs bathroom, fluffy towel in hand. "Looks like you could use one of these, too."
"Yeah, it's coming down in buckets out there." Lex shifted Lorrie until she was able to prop her on one hip. She took the towel from her partner and wrapped it around the squirming child. "Stay still, kiddo. I'll be done in a minute, then you can get down and terrorize the house some more."
At two and a half, Lorrie ran everywhere, keeping both aunts busier than they expected. Her mother, Amanda's sister Jeannie, had gone to a rehabilitation clinic in Austin to regain her strength, not long after Lorrie was born. They had agreed to keep the baby with them, so that Jeannie could concentrate on getting better from the stroke that incapacitated her after Lorrie's birth.
Lorrie pulled Lex's wet hair. "Uck." Now that she had greeted Lex, she leaned as far as she could toward Amanda. "Manny," Lorrie grunted, as she stretched her short arms out.
"I see how I rate." Lex handed her cargo to Amanda. "How was your day, besides busy?" She followed Amanda to the bathroom and watched her partner struggle to put Lorrie in pajamas.
"That's pretty much it. I don't think I was ever this worn out, even when I worked late at the office." Amanda had taken a leave of absence from Sunflower Realty, where she worked as the office manager. "This little dynamo ran me ragged, today." Her job finished, Amanda tickled Lorrie's foot.
The child giggled and squirmed, until she was set on the floor. She immediately held her arms in the air. "Wex, up!"
Lex rolled her eyes, but dutifully grasped the toddler under the armpits and lifted her high in the air. "Is this what you wanted, kiddo?" A high-pitched squeal answered her, so Lex spun in a slow circle, while holding Lorrie over her head.
"If you get her stirred up, you have to try and put her to bed," Amanda threatened. It was after seven in the evening, which was about the time their young charge was laid down for the night.
"Ossie, Wes. Ossie!" Lorrie commanded. Her wish was granted when her aunt placed her behind her head, with her chubby legs draped to each side of her neck. She grabbed a handful of Lex's damp hair, and kicked her feet. "Go!"
Lex galloped to the stairs, using both hands to hold Lorrie close. "Hang on. We're heading to bed, Lorrie." She took the stairs slowly, bouncing a little on each step, much to the child's delight.
Martha stepped out of the kitchen when she heard the noise. She shook her head at Lex's antics. "I swear, I don't know which one is the bigger kid."
"I know what you mean. I had no idea Lex would enjoy having a child in the house as much as she does. She's so good with Lorrie." Amanda's voice softened. "I really want to give her that, Martha. I know she loves Lorrie, but I want to give her a baby of our own."
"Maybe the next time will be the charm, honey."
"Possibly. Two failures aren't the end of the world. We've got an appointment again next week, this time in Dallas. I didn't like the doctor in Austin. He was so impersonal, and I thought Lex was going to deck him when he kept asking where my husband was."
Martha put her arm around Amanda's waist. "It's going to work out. I have a good feeling about this one."
Amanda leaned into Martha, until her head was on the other woman's shoulder. "I hope so. I don't think I can handle much more disappointment. I didn't want to tell Lex, but I got a phone call today from my sister. She's coming for a visit this weekend, and I'm afraid she'll want to take Lorrie back with her."
"Did she specifically say? She's visited before without wanting to take her daughter away."
"Not in so many words, no. She did tell me she had a surprise to share, and seemed very excited about it." Amanda could still hear Lex and Lorrie upstairs. "It sounds like they're singing, again. We'll never get her to sleep at this rate." She started for the stairway, until she was stopped by Martha's gentle grasp of her arm. "What?"
"No sense in borrowing trouble. Let's wait and see what your sister has to say, before we get all riled over nothing. Maybe she's decided to move back to Somerville."
Amanda closed her eyes and took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "You're right. I'm just afraid of what losing Lorrie would do to Lex. And to me."
The housekeeper let go of Amanda. "Forgive me for saying so, but I don't think Jeannie wants to be tied down with a child. She's been well enough for over a year to take that baby back, and she hasn't done it. I believe she's more than happy with the arrangement you have."
"As far as I'm concerned, Lorrie is our daughter. She doesn't even know who her mother is. When we take her to see Jeannie, my sister is so detached from her. She's never bonded with Lorrie." Amanda started up the steps. "I'll tell Lex tonight about the phone call. I don't want her to be blindsided by Jeannie's visit."
AMANDA STOOD IN the doorway of the guestroom/converted nursery. It was directly across the hall from the master suite, and Lex had spared no expense in decorating it for her niece. Pale yellow walls were highlighted by a colorful border of cartoon characters, which ran across the middle of the walls. The crib was made of light oak, as was the matching rocker, chest of drawers, and changing table.
Lex sat in the rocker, singing softly to Lorrie. She had changed into boxer shorts and a tee shirt, although her hair was still damp. The little girl's eyes were closed, yet her right foot kicked, almost in time to the song. Feeling Amanda's presence, Lex looked up, a tender smile on her face. "Hey, there." Her voice was low, and she never stopped her rocking.
"Hi." Amanda stepped further into the room, her gaze never leaving her lover's. "Looks like you finally got her to sleep."
"Yep. Although the hardest part is letting her go and putting her in her crib." Lex looked down at the child in her arms. "She's adorable, isn't she?"
Amanda nodded, too choked up to answer. The thought of losing the toddler to an indifferent Jeannie was almost too much to bear.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing. I can't believe how much she's grown. It won't be long before she'll need a real bed." Amanda walked over and lightly played with Lorrie's hair. She couldn't get over how much the child favored Lex, although her eyes were light brown instead of blue.
Lex lifted the toddler, so Amanda could hold her. "I know what you mean. It seems like only yesterday she was a tiny baby. Where does the time go?" She watched as Amanda kissed the tot's forehead and laid her in her crib. "Why are you crying, Amanda?"
"I heard from Jeannie today. She's planning on visiting this weekend."
"So? She's okay, isn't she?" Lex stood and moved to where Amanda was, next to the crib.
Amanda put one arm around her lover, and placed her head on Lex's chest. "She's fine. She told me she had a surprise, and I'm worried about what that could be."
"You're afraid she's coming for the baby, aren't you?" Lex wrapped her arms around Amanda. "She hasn't cared so far. I don't see her changing her attitude, now."
"My mind tells me you're right, but my heart is saying another thing altogether." Amanda sniffled when she felt a light kiss on the top of her head. "I couldn't stand it if we lose her, Lex. She's too precious to me."
Lex rubbed Amanda back in a soothing pattern. "Baby, we can't think that way. We'll end up going crazy if we do." She tugged her lover away from the sleeping child. "Let's go snuggle."
SLIPPING THROUGH THE mud, Lex cursed. In the short walk from the jeep to the corral, she had almost fallen several times. There was a small part of her that wanted it to be raining, so she could stay inside with Amanda and Lorrie. Her partner was still worried about her sister's upcoming visit, and nothing Lex did could make her feel any better.
"Hey, boss." Roy Wilson, foreman of the Rocking W Ranch, waved from the corral fence. "You're just in time. Chet's about to bring out that new little filly he's been working with."
Lex stood beside him. She mirrored his stance, crossing her arms over the top rail and propping her chin on her hands. "Is she turning out to be half as good as she looks?"
"I think you'll be pleasantly surprised." Roy pushed his western hat up on the back of his head, and rubbed where the band had been. "You made a real good deal with Chuck Bice, offering Thunder's services for one of the foals. I don't think that stud will throw any bad ones." He noticed that his employer was unusually quiet. "Is something bothering you, Lex?" She was silent for so long, he wasn't sure she would answer.
"I don't know." Waiting for the new arrival, she turned her head, resting her cheek on her arms. "Do you ever wonder if there's more to life than what you're doing?"
He gave the question serious thought. "You mean, like doing something else?"
"Well, sure. I think we all have, at one time or another."
"What would you do, if you weren't foreman here?"
Roy scratched his jaw. "You'll probably think it's funny."
Lex raised her head, so that her complete attention was now on him. "Try me."
"You know I've spent nearly my whole adult life here on the ranch." At her nod, he continued. "It's always been a dream of mine to have my own little spread. Nothing on this scale, just a few dozen head of cattle, and a decent place to hang my hat."
"Really?" Lex leaned against the corral, draping one arm over the top rail. "Why haven't you said something before?"
He dropped his gaze and kicked at the drying mud. "Like I said, it's only a dream. I could never afford something like that."
To give Roy time to get his feelings under control, Lex returned to her previous position. "Don't give up your dreams, my friend."
Roy looked up at her profile. She seemed sad. "I…I won't."
They both stood silent as the ranch hand led the dark horse into the corral. She was saddled, and didn't seem concerned with the extra weight on her back. Lex ducked between the rails. She slowly moved toward the animal, until she was standing next to the hired hand. "You've done a nice job with her, Chet."
"Thanks, Lex. She was one of the easiest horses to saddle train I've ever worked with." He patted the animal's neck. "Why don't you climb up? I think she's ready for a test run."
For the first time since she left the house that morning, Lex smiled. "I think I will." She gathered up the reins and swung herself up onto the saddle. The horse stepped sideways, but was quickly brought under control by its rider. "Whoa, girl. Just take it easy." Lex waited until the filly stilled. She lightly touched her heels to the horse's flank, and used her legs to guide her forward. "That's it. Nice and slow."
Chet moved over to where Roy stood. "What's up with the boss?"
"I'm not sure. But whatever it is, I hope she works it out."
"Yeah." Chet climbed through the wooden slats to stand next to Roy. They both quietly watched as Lex put the new horse through its paces.
AMANDA PACED ANXIOUSLY across the living room. Jeannie had called earlier to say she was on her way, but she still gave no clue about her reason for coming. She alluded once again that she had a surprise. The uncertainty of it all kept Amanda on pins and needles.
"It's going to be fine." Lex hated seeing her partner so upset. Truth be told, her own fears had kept her awake the previous night. She had no idea what Jeannie had to say, and the ball of worry in the pit of her stomach had turned into a boulder. "Why don't you come sit next to me? You're going to wear yourself out."
"I can't. I'm afraid if I get too still, I'll throw up." Amanda paused long enough to peek through the curtains in the front windows. "Finally! There's a car coming down the driveway." She readjusted the material and headed for the hallway. Moments later, Lex was by her side, opening the front door.
Lex was momentarily stunned when she came face-to-face with a man, who stood next to a beaming Jeannie. "Uh, hello."
Jeannie linked her arm with his. The large smile that graced her delicate features spoke of her happiness. "Well? Are we going to stand on the porch all day, or are you letting us in?"
"I'm sorry. Of course." Lex stepped back and held the door open wider. "Please, come in. Why don't we all go into the den?" She exchanged looks with Amanda, as the newcomers walked ahead of them.
Amanda recovered from her shock. "Would you like some coffee? I believe there's a fresh pot in the kitchen." She didn't miss the questioning glance between Jeannie and the man sitting next to her on the loveseat.
He shook his head, and spoke for the first time. "Actually, juice would be better, if you have some."
"Sure." Lex patted Amanda on the back. "Sweetheart?"
"Coffee, please." Amanda waited until Lex left the room before taking a spot on the dark leather sofa.
The three maintained an uncomfortable silence until Lex returned with a tray. "I hope apple juice is okay. That's Lorrie's favorite at the moment, so it's all we have."
"That's great." Jeannie took both glasses from the tray and handed one to the man next to her. She watched as her sister-in-law shakily placed the tray on the coffee table. "I'm sorry, I don't know where my manners are. Guys, this is Rodney Crews. He's a doctor at the rehabilitation center. Rodney, this is Amanda and Lex."
Rodney nodded to the couple. "It's great to finally meet you two. Jeannie's told me so much about you, I feel as if I know you already."
"I hope it wasn't all bad." Lex couldn't help but tease Jeannie. Their relationship had always been based on mutual affection, with a large dose of jokes tossed in.
Jeannie laughed and shook her finger at Lex. "No, not all of it. I didn't want to scare Rodney off before he got a chance to meet you."
Rodney squeezed her hand. "Nothing to worry about there. Anyone related to you can't be bad, darling."
Darling? Just who is this guy? Amanda cleared her throat. "So, sis. What brings you out here? I thought we were going to go see you next week."
"I know. But I couldn't wait any longer. Rodney and I have wonderful news." She turned and stared into his eyes for a long moment. "We're engaged."
Amanda's jaw dropped. The revelation caught her off guard. "Engaged? I didn't know you were even seeing anyone."
"Actually, we've been together for several months, now. Rodney asked me last week to marry him."
Lex was about to say something, but a small cry coming from the nearby baby monitor caught her attention. She stood immediately. "If you folks will excuse me, I'll be back in a minute." She stepped from the room without another word.
"Aren't you happy for us, Mandy?" Jeannie took a sip from her glass. "After all, wasn't it you who told me I needed to get on with my life?" She remembered all too clearly her sister's comments from a year ago. "You were right, you know. I would have never gotten better if it hadn't been for that."
The coffee table was suddenly quite interesting to Amanda. She had trouble meeting her sister's eyes. "Of course, I am." She looked up, but focused on a point over Jeannie's head. "Congratulations."
Baby gibberish brought everyone's attention to the den door. Lex walked into the room, with Lorrie sitting on her shoulders. "Sorry about that, everyone. Somebody woke up from her nap." She cringed when the toddler pulled her hair. "Lorrie, cut that out." She sat next to Amanda, who relieved her of her burden.
"Come here, you." Amanda kissed Lorrie's cheek.
Rodney's eyes widened. "Is that her?" he asked his fiancée.
"Yes." Jeannie handed him her glass and got to her feet. She went to stand in front of Amanda, and held out her arms. "Come to mama, sweetie."
Lorrie immediately locked her arms around Amanda's neck in a stranglehold. "No." When Jeannie tried to pull her away, she screamed and held on tighter. "Manny!"
"What's the matter with her? She's acting like a spoiled brat." Jeannie gave up the battle, stepping back and placing her hands on her hips. "Just what have you been teaching my daughter, Amanda? Have you been telling her bad things about me?"
Lex rubbed the child's back with one hand, while she placed her closest arm around Amanda. "That's ridiculous. She's just not very good with strangers."
"Strangers? For god's sake, Lex. She's my daughter." Jeannie took a step forward, which caused Lorrie to whimper again.
"Leave her alone, Jeannie. There's no sense in tormenting the child," Rodney interjected.
Jeannie stomped back to her seat. "But she's mine. There's no good reason to act like that."
Amanda ran her fingers through Lorrie's wispy hair, which further settled the child down. "You may have given birth to her, but you've never shown an interest in her, and she knows that."
"Well, she needs to get used to me. Especially since—"
"Wes." Lorrie leaned over and grabbed Lex's shirt. "Mine."
Lex allowed the young girl to climb into her lap. "That's right, kiddo. I'm yours." She glared over Lorrie's head at the couple on the loveseat. "Especially since what?"
Jeannie looked at Rodney, who nodded. "Especially since she's going to have a little brother or sister. That's another thing I wanted to talk to you about."
"What?" Amanda jumped to her feet. "You don't have anything to do with your daughter! What gives you the right to bring another child into the world?"
"How dare you question me!" Jeannie met Amanda in the middle of the room. "I don't see you with kids!"
Amanda gasped. She wanted so bad to slap some sense into her sister. Her hands were balled into fists, and she was barely able to keep them at her sides. "Don't."
"Don't what? I have every right to this child." Jeannie rubbed her belly. "And I think Rodney will be an excellent father."
As tears welled up in her eyes, Amanda spun and raced from the room.
Lex put her arms around Lorrie and stood. "I'll be right back."
"Would you like to leave her with us? I'll really like to get acquainted with her." Rodney stood also. "I'm pretty good with children."
Before Lex could even take a step, Lorrie started to cry. "Want Manny."
"I think Lorrie and I will both go check on Amanda. Excuse us." Lex took the child from the room, much to Jeannie's disgust.
"My sister always gets what she wants." She patted the loveseat. "But not this time. Honey, come over and sit with me. I'm sure Amanda will quit throwing her little tantrum in a few minutes." She snuggled into her fiancé when he sat beside her.
THE SOUND OF POTS and pans being tossed around led Lex to the kitchen. Even with Amanda's back to her, she could tell that her lover was crying. "Amanda?"
"I can't do it." Amanda turned away from the sink. Tears fell freely from her eyes. "There's no way I can sit in there and listen to my sister brag about what a wonderful mother she's going to be. What's to say she'll treat this baby any better than Lorrie? My god, Lex. She has never shown an interest in this precious little girl. How could she be so callous?"
Lex brought Lorrie closer. The toddler reached for Amanda, who immediately took her into her arms. "I don't know, sweetheart. Maybe being pregnant again has brought out maternal feelings in her."
"But she acts like she wants Lorrie back. How can we allow that?" Amanda rocked side to side, holding the child close.
"She hasn't really said she wants Lorrie back. Just that she's engaged, and expecting another baby. Maybe that's all she's here for."
Amanda's expression hardened. "I'll fight her, Lex. There's no way I'm giving up this sweet child to someone who's never loved her."
"Let's just hope it doesn't come to that."
"Comes to what?" Jeannie asked from the doorway.
Lex turned and tried to give her a reassuring smile. "Nothing. We were just on our way back to the den." She glanced over her shoulder. "Right?"
"Sure." Amanda forced a more civil look onto her face. "How long will you be staying in town, Jeannie?"
"We were planning on stopping in to see dad, and our grandparents. We'll probably be staying with them."
"Good," Amanda muttered under her breath.
Amanda inhaled deeply. "I said, good. I know they'll love to see you." She glared at Lex, daring her to say differently.
Jeannie followed them back to the den. "There is something else I'd like to discuss."
"Oh?" Amanda fought to keep control of her emotions. She didn't want to upset Lorrie, who was playing with her necklace.
Rodney stood as they entered. "Is everything all right?"
"Just fine, dear. I was just about to talk to Lex and Amanda about Lorrie." Jeannie went and put her arm around his. She waited until the two women were seated. "Seeing her makes what I have to say much easier."
Lex swallowed the heavy lump in her throat. "And what is it you want to tell us?"
"It's about what I think is best for my daughter, Lex. I thought it would be easier to discuss this in person, rather than on the phone."
"Dammit, Jeannie. Would you just spit it out?" Amanda was at the end of her rope, where her sister was concerned. She was having trouble reconciling the woman she knew all her life, to this stranger in her house.
"Fine. Rodney and I talked about this at length, and we both think it would be in Lorrie's best interest if she was in a home where she was loved."
Amanda fought the tears that were threatening to fall. "She's extremely loved here, Jeannie. Or maybe you're conveniently forgetting that."
"No, I'm not." Jeannie moved away from Rodney, so that she could stand in front of Amanda. She reached down and lightly touched the toddler's head. "I know you and Lex have been imposed on for these last couple of years, having to take in a baby that wasn't even yours."
"It wasn't an imposition," Lex interrupted. "It was a labor of love." She put her arm around Amanda and pulled her and Lorrie closer to her. "We've never regretted one second of it, Jeannie. She's brought light into our life."
Jeannie pulled her hand away from Lorrie. "I'm glad you feel that way, Lex. Like I said, Rodney and I deliberated over this for a while now. As much as I love Lorrie, I know that you've given her a good home, and that's something that's very important.But it's also important for a child to be with its mother."
"What are you saying?" Amanda began to shake. Her greatest nightmare was coming true.
"I'm saying that, even though she's my daughter, I don't really know Lorrie at all. Rodney and I think our family should start with this little one, here. You're the only mother she's ever known." Jeannie rubbed her abdomen again. "Would you two have a problem with adopting Lorrie? I know it was supposed to only be until I got back on my feet, but she's obviously very happy here."
Lex wiped at her eyes. "Does this mean you want to give up your rights as her mother?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I mean. Come on, Slim. You don't actually think I'm heartless enough to drag a child away from the only home she's ever known, do you?"
"Damn, Jeannie. You just gave me a heart attack." Lex stood and moved to embrace her sister-in-law. "We'd be honored to raise Lorrie. She's already so deep into our hearts, I don't know what we'd do without her." She put her mouth next to Jeannie's ear. "Thank you."
Amanda got to her feet. "Are you absolutely sure about this?"
"Completely." Jeannie gestured to her fiancé. "Show them, Roddie."
Rodney reached into his interior jacket pocket and brought out several sheets of paper. He handed the documents to Lex. "These are already signed and notarized. There's also a set in there that you two need to fill out, in order to take legal custody."
"I can't believe this." Amanda looked down into the sleeping child's face. "Guess what, honey? You're going to live here." She raised her head so that she could lock eyes with her sister. "I don't know what to say."
Jeannie leaned in to kiss Amanda's cheek. "Just say you'll raise her to be half as good a person as you. That's all I ask."
"We'll do our best." With that, Amanda felt the tear in her heart heal, and knew she had the sister she loved back.
THE ONLY LIGHT in the room was from the moon, which shone through the bedroom windows. Lex was lying on her side, with her head propped on her hand. Her eyes were on the sleeping child between her and Amanda, who mirrored her position. "Look at her, not a care in the world." Lex's gaze tracked upward to meet her lover's. "Can you believe this day? I'm still in shock over what Jeannie did."
"Me, too. I want to file those papers first thing Monday, just in case she decides to change her mind." Amanda traced Lorrie's face with her finger. "How could anyone desert such an angel?"
"I think it's like Jeannie said. She knows that Lorrie is happy here, and she's very well loved. Why would she want to ruin that?"
Amanda leaned across the baby and kissed Lex. "I know I'm very happy here. You've given me everything I could ever want." She ran her hand through her partner's hair, which now only came to the top of Lex's shoulders. "I like this look on you."
"Thanks." With her free hand, Lex took Amanda's and brought it to her lips. She kissed the palm, which elicited a moan from Amanda.
"Maybe we should have re-thought having Lorrie with us tonight."
"I can always put her back in her room," Lex offered, although her heart wasn't really in it. "She's sleeping so hard, I don't think a train could wake her up."
Amanda closed her eyes momentarily at the thought. "No, that's all right. I think I want her to stay, so that when I open my eyes in the morning, I'll realize it wasn't a dream." She noticed the sad look on Lex's face. "What's the matter?"
"Hmm?" Lex blinked, and the look was gone. "I guess I was just thinking about the doctor's appointment next week. I wish you didn't have to go through that again."
"Are you saying you don't want a baby with me?"
Lex shook her head. "No, of course not. I want that with all my heart. It's just, seeing you go through that, I wish that's the one thing I could give you."
Amanda interlocked their free hands. "I'm glad you can't."
"Look at it this way. If you had the right equipment to give me a baby, then we wouldn't be together." Amanda wiggled her eyebrows. "I happen to love your parts."
The teasing tone in Amanda's voice caused Lex to laugh. "Thanks, I think." She squeezed Amanda's hand, and they both settled down in the bed. "I happen to be very fond of your parts, too."
"I'm glad. And, when we're alone again, I'll happily show you just how glad I am."
"I can't wait." Lex stretched forward just enough, so she was able to place a light kiss on Lorrie's head. "Goodnight, little one." Her eyes glinted with humor. "Oh, and you too, Lorrie."
Amanda chuckled. "I'll have to think of a really good way to get you back for that one."
"You can try." Lex brought their linked hands to her lips and kissed Amanda's fingers. "Goodnight, sweetheart. I love you." Her eyes closed, and she was asleep almost before finishing her sentence.
"Sleep well, love."
To be continued in Part 2
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