To Hold Forever
By Carrie Carr
Disclaimers – See Part One.
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Chapter Twenty Five
It was only ten days until Christmas and Lex was ready for the holiday to be over. She usually loved this time of the year, but between Amanda’s pregnancy and Lorrie’s exuberance, it was more than she was used to. Her partner alternated between giddy happiness and spur-of-the-moment crying jags, keeping Lex continually on edge. And Lorrie was, well, a typical three-year-old. At least that’s what Martha assured her. Lex wasn’t so certain.
The festive, piped-in music was beginning to grate on Amanda’s nerves. She had agreed to go Christmas shopping with Lex, but she didn’t take into account that everyone else in the county would be doing the same thing. If one more person shoved her, she was sure Lex would start breaking kneecaps as she had threatened to do earlier. She tightened her grip on Lex’s arm and followed her into what she hoped was the final store.
Lex found an empty chair near the women’s cologne counter. “If we don’t find it here, I’m going to cut out a picture of it and put it in a card.” She stopped and waited for Amanda to sit, which she did. “I’m sorry it’s taking so long, sweetheart.” The perfume hadn’t been her first choice for Martha’s present, but after she had heard her go on and on about it after seeing the commercial, Lex knew it had been a thinly veiled hint. So, here they were. “I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time.” Amanda sunk into the soft leather chair and closed her eyes. Her feet were killing her, and her back complained with every step. She was ready for the baby to arrive. And she was jealous of Jeannie, who had given birth by cesarean on December third. Because the doctors were concerned about Jeannie’s problems with her first child, they had planned for a cesarean from the beginning. She was home with her son, and planned to have her wedding on Valentine’s Day. Amanda thought the whole idea of a big ceremony was silly, when they had a newborn to care for. If it were her, she would have gone to the Justice of the Peace and been done with it.
The exhausted saleswoman checked her watch again. Muriel patted her dyed, platinum blonde hair, knowing it was no longer in the neat bun she had started with that morning. She didn’t think she’d last the next two hours until closing time. When she noticed the casually dressed woman peering at the different fragrances, she pasted a smile on her face. She hated browsers. This one looked even poorer than the rest. Her denim shirt was old and worn, and her jeans were faded. Even her battered leather jacket looked as if it had seen better days. “Is there something I can help you with?”
Lex raised her eyes. “Uh, yeah. What sizes does that,” she tapped the glass over a dainty bottle, “come in?”
“I’m sure I can find you something more affordable. We’ve got a shelf of suitably priced colognes over by the ladies’ shoes.” Muriel pointed in that direction. “The fragrances in this cabinet are imported.”
“So?” Lex couldn’t understand what the woman’s problem was. “Don’t you want to make a sale? This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
Muriel looked down her nose at the stubborn woman. She leaned across the counter and lowered her voice. “Listen to me. If you start to cause a problem, I’ll call security.”
“You heard me. Go back to the discount store. It’s more in your price range.”
Lex checked her clothes. They were clean, and didn’t have any holes. She looked at the soles of her boots. No, they were clean, too. She didn’t know why this woman was so hostile, but she was determined to find out. “Lady, I’m not in the mood for your games. Give me the damned perfume.” She reached into her inner coat pocket for her wallet.
All Muriel could see was the woman’s hand disappearing inside her coat. She panicked, fearing she was about to be robbed. Her hand groped beneath the counter until she felt the alarm button. She pushed it and hoped she’d live long enough to see security take this woman down.
Amanda heard hurried footsteps rush by her, and she opened her eyes just in time to see two large, uniformed men head toward the perfume counter. “Now what?” She struggled to get out of the chair to see what was going on.
Lex saw a commotion out of the corner of her eye and turned her head right before she was tackled to the floor. “What the—”
“Shut up.” The larger of the two guards pinned her to the floor, face down, and wrestled Lex’s hands behind her. “Don’t try anything stupid.” He handcuffed her and flipped her over onto her back. While straddling her hips, he carefully searched her pockets. “Where’s your weapon?”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Amanda wanted to yank the security guard off her lover. “Lex, what’s going on?”
“How the hell should I know? This big ape attacked me for no reason.” Lex rocked her shoulders in an attempt to get more comfortable. His hand brushed her breast. “Hey, watch it!”
The man climbed off her and lifted Lex to her feet by her coat. “Don’t move. The police should be here any minute.” He pushed her face against the counter and started to frisk her. His partner stood by and watched the scene silently.
Amanda had seen enough. “Would you please stop? She hasn’t done anything wrong.”
“She was trying to rob me!” Muriel pointed a shaky finger at Lex. “I saw her reach for a gun.”
“That’s ridiculous. We came in to buy a present.” Amanda bristled when Lex raised her head and the guard slammed her down again. “Stop! You’re hurting her!”
The second guard pulled out a notebook. He glanced at the saleswoman’s nametag. “Muriel, if you’ll give me your statement, we can get the perp out of your hair.”
At that moment, two uniformed deputies arrived. Both had their hands on their holstered guns, but relaxed when they noticed the woman nearby. The first one couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Amanda?”
She almost cried in relief. “Jeremy, thank god. Would you please tell this jackass they’ve made a mistake, and let Lex go?”
Jeremy waved off the other deputy and grabbed the big security guard’s arm. “Stand down, buddy. Uncuff her.”
“I can’t do that. She threatened to rob one of our employees.” He hitched up his pants. “We’ve got to process her.”
Lex cautiously raised her head. Her cheek ached, and she had a feeling it was going to bruise. “I did not. She was giving me a hard time about buying some damn perfume. I was just taking my wallet out to show her my credit card, when this guy body slammed me.”
Everyone turned to Muriel. “She was being difficult.” She brushed her shaky hand against her hair in an attempt to calm herself. “I mean, look at her. There’s no way someone who looks like her can afford a sample, much less a bottle of our finest fragrance.” She looked haughtily at Jeremy. “I want to press charges.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Jeremy glared at the guard until he relented and removed the handcuffs from Lex.
Lex stepped away from the counter and rubbed her wrists in an attempt to restore circulation. “Can we just go home?” The whole incident had unnerved her. She began to feel calmer when Amanda stepped into her embrace.
“I think that can be arranged. Go on, I’ll handle this.” Jeremy patted Lex on the back and waited until she and Amanda were out of earshot. He gestured for the guards to leave and took a long look at Muriel. “Lady, you’re damned lucky it was me that showed up. Because if it had been my boss, you’d be in deep trouble.”
She drew herself up and glared at him. “Why? What’s so special about that hooligan?”
“She’s my bosses’ daughter. And she has more money than you’ll see in a year.” He enjoyed her shocked look. “Now, which one of these was she looking at?” Jeremy knew it wouldn’t make up for the embarrassing day Lex had suffered, but it would be fun to tweak this snotty saleswoman. “While you’re at it, get your manager over here. I think they need to be filled in on how you treat customers.”
Once outside, it didn’t take long for Lex and Amanda to reach the truck. Amanda led her partner to the passenger side. “I’ll drive.” She brushed her fingers over Lex’s cheek, where a bruise was already starting to form. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah.” Lex closed her eyes at the gentle touch. “Do we have to tell anyone about this?”
“We’ll keep it between us, love. Let me call my grandparent’s and see if they’ll watch Lorrie for the night. I think we need a little alone time.” Amanda waited until Lex got into the truck before she went to the other side and climbed in. Some world-class pampering would be needed tonight. And she would be more than happy to be on the giving end, for a change.
Five days until Christmas. The last place Lex wanted to be was in a doctor’s waiting room, but here she sat, across from another couple. The obstetrician’s office was close to the Somerville hospital, and the doctor had been recommended by their primary physician, Dr. Anderson. They liked Dr. Vaughn very well, and she always explained everything to them well. Still, Lex felt uncomfortable around strange pregnant women. Some were with husbands, while others came in alone. She bounced her leg anxiously.
“Would you please calm down?” Amanda put her hand on Lex’s thigh. “You’d think you’re the one who has to expose herself to the doctor.”
“I can’t help it. You know how these places get to me.”
Amanda sighed. “Maybe I should have come alone.”
“No!” Lex blushed when everyone in the room stared at her after her outburst. “Sorry.” She leaned closer to Amanda and lowered her voice. “I promised you I’d share as much of this as humanly possible, and I meant it. I want to be here.” She laced their fingers together and privately vowed to keep her nervousness to herself. Amanda had enough going on without having to worry about her.
“Thank you.” Amanda squeezed Lex’s hand. While Lex was jittery, Amanda was actually looking forward to the visit. Although she had already had one ultrasound earlier in her term, they were hoping today to be able to tell what sex the baby is.
The woman across from them noticed their linked hands. “Is this your first?”
Amanda shook her head at Lex. “It’s my first pregnancy, but our second child.”
“I see.” The woman looked at Lex. “Really? Did you—”
Lex’s eyes almost bugged out of her head. “Me? Hell no!” Just the thought of going through what Amanda was freaked her out. She jumped slightly when her lover lightly slapped her leg. “Sorry.”
“We adopted our daughter.” Amanda didn’t feel the need to go into all the details.
The lady nodded knowingly. “And this one? Artificial insemination?”
Lex was relieved when a door opened and a nurse announced Amanda’s name. She stood then helped her lover to her feet. The conversation made her twitchy. She hated speaking about their personal life to strangers. A voice inside of her wanted to tell the woman to mind her own damned business, but she figured that would get her into more trouble.
Amanda linked her arm with Lex’s and looked over her shoulder to the other couple. “Artificial insemination? This baby seems real enough to me. Come on, Slim.” She led Lex to the door.
Lex smirked and strutted after her. Before going through the door, she turned and gave the woman a wink. The look of surprise she received made the whole trip worthwhile.
The nurse escorted them to an exam room and handed Amanda a cotton gown. “I’m sure you’re used to this by now, Ms. Walters. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes to take your vitals.” She closed the door behind her, leaving Lex and Amanda alone in the chilly room.
“This is one of the parts I wouldn’t mind sharing.” Amanda handed the gown to Lex so she could undress. “I don’t know why they have to make these places so blasted cold.” She hurriedly covered up and wrapped her arms around herself.
“Here.” Lex helped her onto the table and draped her coat around Amanda’s shoulders. “This should help, at least for a few minutes.”
Amanda pulled the leather jacket closed in front of her. It was nice and warm, and she could faintly detect Lex’s cologne. “Thanks. Have I told you lately that I love you?”
“Yep. But I still love to hear it.” She put her arms around Amanda. She turned around when the door opened and the nurse stepped inside. “Do you have to keep it so cold in here?”
The nurse set her chart on the nearby counter. “Of course we do. It keeps us from having to refrigerate our stethoscopes.” She placed a digital thermometer into Amanda’s ear. It beeped, and she checked the reading before writing it on the chart. “I hate to do this to you, but you’re going to have to remove the jacket, so I can check your blood pressure.”
Lex removed the coat and watched while the nurse completed her preliminary tests. As soon as the woman was finished, Lex replaced the jacket on Amanda.
Dr. Sandra Vaughn came into the room. She was of average height, and her light brown hair framed her delicate features. She gave Lex and Amanda a friendly smile and took the proffered chart from her nurse. “Good morning. Amanda, it looks like your blood pressure is a few points too high, so let’s try to keep an eye on that. But I see no cause for alarm as of yet.” She placed the chart on the counter and washed her hands at the sink, before donning a pair of rubber gloves. “Why don’t we get the uncomfortable part of the exam out of the way, and then we can move on to the fun stuff.”
Lex stood by Amanda’s head and concentrated on her partner’s face. Amanda handled the exams much better than she did, which was a private source of embarrassment. But, she figured that passing out would be worse. So, she held Amanda’s hand and listened carefully while the doctor related her findings.
“Everything is looking great.” Dr. Vaughn scooted her stool back and stood. She removed the gloves and washed her hands again. “All right.” She snapped on a fresh pair of gloves. “Let’s have some fun. Terri, bring the ultrasound machine over. And grab the gel from the freezer.” At the couple’s nervous looks, she laughed. “Just kidding.”
Terri took the gel from the warmer and handed it to the doctor. Sandra smeared a liberal amount over Amanda’s bare belly then ran the transducer across the area. She pointed out
several things to them on the screen while manipulating the device. “Quite an active one you’ve got there.”
“Tell me about it,” Amanda sighed. Being awakened in the middle of the night by the baby’s movements was already getting old.
Dr. Vaughn chuckled. “Looks like she’s an exhibitionist, too.”
Amanda perked up at the pronoun. “She?”
“Most definitely.” Sandra gestured to a certain area on the screen. “She’s very cooperative. And a little bigger than I expected.” She saw the concerned look on Lex’s face. “Not too surprising, considering how big you are.” She caught herself. “Oops. Sorry about that. Sometimes I forget.”
Lex shrugged good naturedly. “That’s okay. I think of her as mine, too.” She accepted a towel from the nurse and used it to clean the gel from Amanda’s skin. “So, Junior looks all right?”
Amanda pulled the gown down and swatted Lex on the arm. “Silly joke. Lex has been teasing me about naming the baby Junior, even if it was a girl.” She cut her eyes at her partner. “But now that we know for sure, that’s a definite no, right?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Lex helped Amanda sit upright. “Is there anything special we should be doing right now? It seems like every book I’ve read says something different.”
The doctor finished washing her hands again and dried them. “No, I think you’re doing fine.” She directed her next comments to Amanda. “Just rest with your feet up when you can.” She shook both their hands. “I’ll see you next month.”
“Thank you, Dr. Vaughn.” Amanda waited until the doctor and nurse were both out of the room before she turned on Lex. “I can’t believe you called the baby Junior.”
“I didn’t mean to.” Lex’s face changed from chagrined to elated. “We’re going to have another daughter. Isn’t that cool?”
Amanda’s faced mirrored hers. “It really is. I was hoping for a girl.”
“So was I.” Lex helped Amanda get dressed. “Want to go celebrate?” She was more excited to hear that Amanda and the baby were both doing well. It didn’t matter to her what the baby’s sex was, as long as both of them were healthy. But, the announcement still made her want to run outside and shout it to the world. She couldn’t wait to tell everyone.
The fire had burned down to embers, and the once boisterous house was now silent, except for an occasional exclamation from Lorrie. She sat in the den floor, close to the twinkling Christmas tree, surrounded by toys, empty boxes, and discarded wrapping paper.
Lex breathed a sigh of relief. Christmas evening had gone better than she had hoped. Everyone in their family seemed to have enjoyed themselves. But she was more than happy to have the house quiet once again. She was stretched out along the leather sofa, with Amanda propped against her and dozing. Her hands cradled Amanda’s stomach, and she found herself stroking the surface from time to time.
“Momma, look.” Lorrie bounced the blocky toy farmer around with one hand. It had come with one of her favorite gifts – a plastic barn with several animals and people.
“That’s great, lil’ bit. Is that you?”
Lorrie looked at her as if she were an idiot. “No.” She waved the piece at Lex. “It’s Momma.”
It felt funny being chastised by a three-year-old. Even though she was pleased with the gifts she had been given, Lex’s favorite part of the evening was any time Lorrie opened a package. She’d always hug the item to her as if it were the most important thing in the world. After it had been suitably loved on, she would run over to whoever gave it to her and give them a big hug and a kiss. Lex couldn’t understand why Lorrie wasn’t exhausted after all the excitement. She felt the body propped against her chuckle. “I thought you were asleep.”
“I was, until I heard you and Lorrie talking. She set you straight, didn’t she?”
“Yep.” Lex kissed Amanda’s ear. “Is it close to her bedtime? I believe I promised you a massage.”
Amanda stretched. “Oooh. I like the sound of that.” She noticed the paper still cluttering the floor. “Lorrie, it’s time to clean things up and go to bed.”
“Don’t want to.” Lorrie looked around and grabbed a piece of wrapping paper and put it on her head.
“Mommy’s right, kiddo.” Lex waited until Amanda scooted away before dropping to her knees on the floor. “I’ll help.”
Lorrie stood, the wrapping paper still on her head. It was covered with cartoon cows, wearing Santa hats. She dodged out of Lex’s reach and took off around the room at a gallop. “Moo!”
“Lorrie!” Lex dove for her again and missed.
“Moo!” Lorrie giggled as she evaded her momma. “Moo!”
Amanda aimed an unreadable look at Lex.
“You just had to wrap her farm in that paper, didn’t you?”
Lex gathered up several piles and stuffed them in a nearby trash bag. “I kind of thought she’d want to be the rancher.”
“No, not your daughter. She wants to be the cow.”
“Moo!” Lorrie hopped around Lex, who finally gave up and sat in the middle of the floor. It was going to be a long night.
Chapter Twenty Six
The thump of small feet running, punctuated by sharp, staccato barks made Amanda rub her temples with her fingertips and close her eyes. It had been going on all morning and she felt like she was slowly losing her mind. She wished Lex was home. But her partner had been “volunteered” by Martha to help set up chairs and tables for the Ladies’ Auxiliary New Year’s Eve dance. So, Amanda found herself alone for the day, with only Lorrie and her new best friend to keep her company. A high pitched bark in the next room startled her. “Lorrie, what are you two doing?”
Less than a week after they decided to find a pet for their daughter, a woman at the realty office approached Amanda. Peggy Kincaid was recently divorced and she was moving into a one-bedroom apartment. She had raised her rat terrier, Freckles, from a pup. The idea of cooping the frisky animal into such a tiny space wasn’t fair and she would rather give Freckles a good home than subject her to apartment life. As she was only three years old, the sweet dog immediately hit it off with Lorrie. They became friends and were now inseparable.
Clattering nails on the hardwood floor announced the arrival of her daughter’s four-footed partner in crime. One quick, yet effortless leap, and the excited dog sat beside her. The tri-colored rat terrier cocked her head and looked at Amanda. Its white, smooth coat was liberally covered with black spots, and its head was black, with brown eyebrows and cheeks.
“I swear, Freckles, you look like you understand everything I say.” Amanda stroked the animal’s soft head. Her daughter stomped into the room, dragging an old tee shirt of Lex’s. “Lorrie, why do you have Momma’s shirt?”
Lorrie waved the dark blue cloth. “Fleckles is cold. She wants dis.”
Amanda prayed to whatever deity would listen to grant her strength. Lorrie’s “terrible two’s” had been a cakewalk compared to how her three’s were starting. “I don’t think your momma would be happy to come home and see Freckles dressed in her favorite tee shirt. Please go upstairs and put it back.”
“No.” Lorrie tossed the shirt onto the floor and crossed her arms, in an uncanny imitation of Lex. “Fleckles wants it.”
“Excuse me?” Amanda was all for her daughter asserting her independence, but she was becoming tired of Lorrie’s favorite new word that she had learned at daycare. “Lorrie, I’m not asking you again. Please put the shirt back where you got it.”
“No.” Lorrie stomped her foot for good measure.
Freckles watched the goings on with great interest. She wagged her stubby tail at Amanda, expecting the treat her playmate's mommy always had close at hand.
It was almost amusing at how much Lorrie favored Lex when she was being stubborn. But no matter how cute she was, her attitude couldn’t be tolerated. Amanda stood and held out her hand. “Please give me the shirt, Lorrie.”
“N—” Lorrie could see that her mommy meant business. She exhaled heavily and gave her the garment. She knew what came next. Her parents had learned of the “time out” chair from the daycare teachers, and quickly instituted it at home, much to the child’s disappointment. Lorrie stuck out her lower lip and walked slowly to a small chair near the office door. She flopped hard onto the wooden seat and pouted.
“Thank you.” Amanda took the kitchen timer that resided on the bookshelves and set it for two minutes. Lorrie would be allowed up once it went off. She folded the shirt and placed it on the coffee table. A sharp bark caused her to turn. “Yes, Freckles?”
The terrier stood on the floor, with her rear high in the air. She wriggled her butt and barked again.
Amanda took a dog treat out of the container that was on a lower bookshelf. “I think Lex is spoiling you.” She gave the bone-shaped treat to Freckles, who snapped it up and raced into the office to eat it. “You’re welcome.” The timer dinged, and she waited until Lorrie got up and came to her. Amanda kneeled and gave her daughter a hug.
“Wuv you, Mommy.” Lorrie tucked her head into Amanda’s neck and sniffled. “I sowwy.”
“I love you, too, sweetie. Would you like to help me put Momma’s shirt where it belongs?”
Lorrie nodded. She dutifully took it from the table and held it close to her chest. “Fleckles, you help.” She led the way, the frisky dog by her side.
Lex stretched upward as far as she could reach. She was perched precariously on a rickety chair fighting for balance. With a final swing of the hammer, she had the banner draped across the wall. A sure grip on her calf caused her to almost fall.
“Lexington, are you sure that’s straight? It seems a bit crooked to me.” Mrs. Pendleton tugged on the jeans once more. Her bluish white hair was cropped close to her head, and the glasses she peered through were so thick, it was a wonder she could see anything at all. “I don’t think it’s centered very well, either.”
“No, ma’am, it’s centered and straight. I measured before I hung it.” Lex fought the strong urge to kick her leg free from the old woman’s grasp. Martha was going to owe her big time for what she’d gone through all morning. It seemed as if every woman in Somerville over seventy was crammed into the Knights of Columbus Hall, decorating it for the big New Year’s Eve dance. The old women had run her ragged. She started to step off the chair, but Mrs. Pendleton’s hold on her leg caused her foot to slip. Lex tumbled off the chair, her fall only broken by the frantic grip she took on the banner. She fell against the wall but landed on her feet. “Damn.”
Mrs. Pendleton slapped her arm. “Mind your language, young lady.” She craned her neck and glared at the drooping sign. “Well, it’s certainly crooked now.” She tsked and toddled away.
“Ornery old bat.” Lex raised the hammer as if she were going to throw it. Her arm was grabbed and held tight.
Martha pulled Lex’s arm down. “Lexie, what am I going to do with you? That’s no way to talk about Gladys. She was just trying to help.” She eyeballed Lex’s handiwork. “Run to the kitchen and fetch the ladder. I don’t know why you were climbing on that old chair, anyhow.”
“It’s not my fault. That old biddy—”
“Hush.” Martha took the tool away from her. “Go on. If you’ll hurry up and get this hung, I think there are a couple of ladies who want to take you to lunch.”
“Oh, no. Not the Holstein, I mean, Goldstein sisters. They’ve been giving me grief since I got here.” Lex backed away from Martha. “I’d rather starve, thank you very much.”
Martha held the tool by the head and waggled it at Lex. “Be nice. They’re only trying to be helpful. This is their one big thing they get to do all year long. Behave yourself.”
Lex took another step back. It was a good time for a retreat. “You say the ladder is in the kitchen?” She didn’t wait for a response. “Got to run, bye.” She turned and jogged away.
“Brat.” Martha flipped the hammer in the air and caught it, before laying it on the chair. “I’ll get her back for that one.”
The kitchen was bustling with activity. Women maneuvered around each other while they cleaned and got things ready for the refreshments that would be arriving the next morning. Lex saw the ladder near the pantry, but a woman was already using it. She moved closer, hoping to be able to borrow it once she was finished.
Mrs. Pendleton brushed by Lex, causing her to bump into the ladder. The woman who had been standing on the top rung began to fall, and Lex instinctively caught her. She cradled her in her arms, and looked into her face. The young woman was in her early twenties, and her auburn hair fanned across her face.
“I’m sorry about that. Are you okay?” Lex realized she was still holding the redhead and immediately set her down.
“Oh, I’m more than okay.” The woman brushed her hair out of her face. Her dark brown eyes sparkled. “Thanks for saving me. I’m Ashley.”
“Nice to meet you, my name’s Lex. I’m sorry about bumping into you like that. How did you get roped into helping around here?”
Ashley wrapped her fingers around Lex’s arm. “Why don’t we go somewhere quieter to talk? It’s like a madhouse in here.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t. I’ve got to get the sign in the main room hung. I just came in here for the ladder.” Lex wriggled out of her grasp and took a step away. She wasn’t comfortable with the look Ashley was giving her. “Do you need it anymore?”
Ashley’s face took on a predatory gleam. “No, I’m done. How about I help you? I’m sure it would be easier with two of us.”
Lex grabbed the ladder and kept it between them. “No, really. I can handle it.” She backed through the kitchen door. “Thanks.” She quickly dragged it across the room, intent on finishing so she could get out of there.
A hearty yell echoed in the Hall. “Momma!” Lorrie raced to where Lex was setting the ladder and attached herself to Lex’s leg. “We got foods.”
“Hey there, lil’ bit.” Lex bent and hoisted Lorrie into her arms. The reprieve was a welcome one.
Amanda followed at a more sedate pace. She stood next to her partner and rubbed her on the upper arm. “Martha told us you were about finished. And, as our daughter so eloquently put it, we brought a picnic lunch. I thought it would be fun to sit in the gazebo in the square.”
“Sounds great.” Lex kissed Lorrie’s cheek and set her down. “Give me a second, and I’ll be done.”
The December afternoon was unseasonably warm, which allowed the trio an opportunity to enjoy an outdoor lunch. Amanda and Lex were sitting on an old blanket, both propped up against the inside wall of the gazebo, enjoying the relative privacy it afforded them. They snuggled while Lorrie galloped around the grass that surrounded the structure, riding an invisible horse.
Amanda was sitting between Lex’s legs and her head was pillowed on her chest. “You’re quiet. What’s up?” The hand that had been lightly rubbing her belly stilled.
“Is everything all right?” Amanda covered Lex’s hand with her own, stroking the long fingers.
Lex exhaled heavily and resumed her rubbing. “Nothing’s wrong. I was just thinking.”
“Are you sure you want to go to the dance?”
Amanda turned her head slightly to look at her partner. “Why? Don’t you?”
“Well, yeah. I guess so. It’s just that this year, you’re, you know.” Lex patted Amanda’s stomach, which seemed to grow larger every day.
“I’m pregnant, not an invalid. What’s the matter, are you ashamed of being seen with me?” Amanda felt tears sting her eyes. She hated how easily she cried these days. “It’s because I’m fat, isn’t it?”
“No!” Lex kissed Amanda’s head and pulled her closer. “You’re not fat at all, sweetheart. I think you get more beautiful every day. I just didn’t want you to get worn out tomorrow night.”
Although she enjoyed how attentive Lex had been lately, Amanda got tired of her over-protective streak that had grown in epic proportions. “I know, and I appreciate it. But we’ve already planned on staying at my grandparent’s house after the dance, and they’re excited about watching Lorrie for the evening. If I start to get tired, I promise I’ll tell you, and we’ll leave.”
“Okay.” It was a battle she’d never win, so Lex caved. She was looking forward to the dance, and they hadn’t missed a year since they were together.
They sat quietly for a while, exchanging kisses while keeping an eye on their daughter. Lex was about to doze off when Amanda gasped. “What is it? Are you okay?”
Amanda sat perfectly still. There. She felt it again. “I think I just felt the baby move.”
“Really?” Lex placed both hands on her belly. Since she had read every book on pregnancy she could get her hands on, Lex knew it was too soon for her to feel the baby's movements from the outside. But it didn’t keep her from getting excited. “What did it feel like?”
The excitement in her lover’s voice brought a smile to Amanda’s face. “It was kind of a flutter, I guess. Wait.” She paused for a moment, and her smile widened. “That’s such a weird feeling.”
Lex felt like jumping up and hollering. The miracle they were a part of continually amazed her. She raised the bottom of Amanda’s top and covered her stomach with her fingers and kissed her ear. “I can’t wait to meet Junior. I bet she’s going to be beautiful, just like you.” Her hands were playfully slapped.
“Hush. I’ve told you if we have a girl, you’re not naming her Junior.”
“Why not? I think Amanda Junior has a nice ring to it.” Lex couldn’t help but tease her wife. “We could call her Junie for short.”
Amanda chuckled. “No way. How about naming her after you?”
“Not a chance. I don’t want our daughter going through life having to fight every time someone teases her.”
“You know, I’ve always wondered how you got your name. Do you know?” Amanda loved Lex’s name. It suited her, somehow.
Lex kept quiet. Her name had been the source of many fights while she was growing up. Kids could be mean, and she never wanted to subject her children to such a fate. “I asked Dad about it when I was around ten. I got sent home from school for fighting, and after he busted my ass, he finally got around to asking why I did it.”
“Just stupid kid stuff. Some of the guys in my class started hassling me. I got tired of it, and threw a few punches. I don’t think Dad would have gotten so upset, but I got my butt kicked. He hated losers.” She rested her forehead on Amanda’s shoulder. “I got so mad at him about that. I asked him why he named me something so stupid. He said it was where he was when he found out my mother was pregnant with me, and he liked the way it sounded. They thought I was going to be a boy, and when I was born, he was too damned stubborn to change it.” Lex shrugged. “I guess I should be thankful he wasn’t in Hoop and Holler, Texas, at the time.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“Nope. It’s in Bell County.” Lex released a heavy sigh.
Amanda’s well-developed protective streak made her want to hold Lex in her arms and never let her go. “I’m sorry. I should have never brought it up.”
Lex pushed the thoughts away. “That’s okay. Just promise me we won’t name her Dallas.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Dallas Walters has a distinctive ring to it.” Chills went down Amanda’s arms when she felt Lex nibble on her neck. “Don’t start something you can’t finish.” But she tilted her head to one side to give her lover better access.
“Believe me,” Lex whispered in her ear, “I have every intention of finishing.” She slid her hands higher until they were gently cupping Amanda’s breasts.
Amanda squirmed when she felt Lex’s thumbs barely brush across her overly sensitive skin. “Please.”
“Hmm?” Lex kissed her way across Amanda’s neck and took her earlobe into her mouth. She knew it drove her lover wild, and she wasn’t disappointed.
“We’ve got to stop.” Amanda’s right hand rose and tangled in Lex’s hair, pulling her closer. “Oh, god.” She felt like she was going to combust on the spot. With what little strength she had, she struggled to her feet. “Take me home. Now.”
Lex’s face was flushed. She stood and took Amanda’s hand in hers. “Let’s see if Martha will watch Lorrie. I plan on keeping you busy for the rest of the afternoon.” She headed for the building on shaky legs. Amanda would be lucky if she let her out of bed at all.
Lex was stretched out on the bed, when another dress landed on top of her legs, adding to the growing pile. They had enjoyed a fun afternoon, at least until Amanda realized she had nothing to wear to the dance the following day. Now she was stuck watching as the clothes flew out of the closet. She lifted a dress from the stack. “What about this red one?”
Amanda stuck her head out of the closet and glared at her partner. “Are you kidding me? I look like a cow in that one.” She ducked back inside. “I’m too fat for anything,” she wailed.
No matter what she said, Lex knew she’d get into trouble. She slipped from the bed and quickly put her clothes on. “Sweetheart?”
“What?” Another outfit sailed across the room.
Lex decided to take her life into her own hands. She peeked around the door and was shocked at the disaster their closet had become. Almost every piece of Amanda’s clothes was now decorating the floor, and her lover stood in the middle, clad only in a bra and slip. “It’s still fairly early. Why don’t we go into town and buy you something new?”
“Like what? A tent?” Amanda tossed another hanger onto the floor. She stared at her body and burst into tears. “I’m huge!” She crumpled into Lex’s arms and began to sob. “I don’t know how you can stand to look at me. I’m as big as a house.”
“You’re beautiful.” Lex brushed at her face with the end of her open shirt. She cringed when Amanda took the cloth and wiped her nose. Her more immediate concern was her wife. “Baby, look at me.”
“No.” Amanda tucked her face into Lex’s chest.
She knew she was being unreasonable, but Amanda couldn’t help it. Her tears continued to dampen Lex’s skin. The embrace she found herself in finally calmed her. She sniffled a few times and moved back slightly. “I got you all wet.”
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing.” Lex kissed her forehead. “I know that while the baby is growing, you’re uncomfortable with how your body is changing.”
Lex’s smile was sincere. “No, you’re pregnant. A beautiful, sexy, pregnant woman. And I understand how you want to wear your regular clothes. But sweetheart, maybe those clothes are uncomfortable for Junior.” She ran her hands down Amanda’s sides and rested them on her hips. “Let’s spoil you, and go buy some new clothes.”
Amanda tried to keep her petulant look in place, but the love that shined from Lex’s eyes made it extremely hard. “Then everyone will see how big I am.”
“No, they’ll see how beautiful you are.” Lex framed Amanda’s face with her hands. “You don’t know how wonderful it is, to see our baby growing within you every day. It only makes you more stunning than ever. You take my breath away, Amanda.” She kissed her, trying to convey with action what she couldn’t find in words.
The words soothed Amanda’s wounded psyche, and she melted into Lex’s embrace. When they finally parted, she knew that the time of regular clothes was over, at least for another four months or so. “Thank you.” She kissed Lex on the chin and went out to the bedroom. One of the older dresses would do, while they shopped for new outfits.
Amanda tugged self-consciously at the edges of the jacket draped around her. She was afraid to remove the coat she borrowed from Lex. The new dress she wore wasn’t uncomfortable. In fact, it was just the opposite. The black crinkle chiffon dress was stylishly cut, and it complemented her figure. It was sleeveless, with a scoop neck and a band of glittering oval rhinestones that lined high above her waist. But the fact that it was a maternity dress, no matter how nice it looked, made her feel matronly instead of sexy.
Lex had gone crazy at the maternity boutique. For someone who didn’t like to shop, she certainly had a great time dressing her partner. Now Amanda had enough of a wardrobe to last her several months. Dresses, jeans, sweaters, tops, and even new undergarments filled her closet. She put her foot down when Lex wanted to buy her a new coat. Her regular coat fit fine, but she’d rather wear Lex’s old leather jacket. She started to panic when Lex tried to remove it from her shoulders. “Wait.”
“It’s okay.” Lex gently eased it from her, but left the black lace shawl. She hung the coat next to her own then placed her arm around Amanda’s shoulders. “You look great.” In fact, the dress complemented her growing belly quite well. Because Amanda was petite to begin with, it hadn’t taken long for her to start showing.
Martha took that moment to show up. “Don’t you two look spiffy. Amanda, is that a new dress?”
No matter how hard Amanda prayed, the earth didn’t open and swallow her. She was certain people had heard Martha’s exclamation on the other side of the crowded room. Embarrassed by the attention, she shrank back against Lex. “Yes, we got it yesterday afternoon.”
“Goodness.” Martha took Amanda by the arm and pulled her away from Lex. “Step over here where I can get a good look at you.” She made Amanda turn around. “You look positively radiant, sweetie.”
For the first time since she noticed her stomach growing, Amanda felt her self esteem peek out from its hiding place. She knew that while Martha loved her dearly, she would never say anything she didn’t mean. “Really?”
“Most definitely.” Martha slapped Lex on the arm. “Haven’t you told her how lovely she looks? Shame on you.”
“Hey.” Lex looked offended. “Of course I have.”
Amanda stepped in front of her. “Lex has been extremely supportive. It’s been my own stupid insecurity that’s been the problem. But thanks. I needed to hear it from someone other than my obviously biased wife, here.”
“I’m not biased. I’ve just got good taste.” Lex put her hands on Amanda’s shoulders. “Do you want me to get you something to drink?”
Martha took Amanda by the hand. “Why don’t you two sit with us at our table? It’s not too far from the refreshments. Or the ladies’ room.” Her last words were whispered to Amanda. She had noticed the frequent bathroom breaks Amanda took at home, and knew the reason. But she didn’t want to embarrass her.
“Thank you. That would be great.” Amanda allowed herself to be led through the crowd, with Lex close behind.
They were stopped by Wanda, who noticed them when they arrived. “Amanda! You look fantastic.” She turned to her husband. “Isn’t she beautiful?” He opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off. “What a gorgeous dress. Where on earth did you find it? I mean, you always dress so nice, but I can never find anything that fancy around here.” She chattered on, not giving Amanda a chance to answer. “Did you go shopping in Austin? I bet you found it at some fancy boutique, didn’t you?” She elbowed Dirk. “Well? Isn’t she lovely?”
He wore his usual suffering look. It was rare that he got a word in whenever his wife got started talking. “Yes, dear.” He shook Lex’s hand. “It’s good to see you both. You do look beautiful, Amanda. Now if you’ll excuse us, I’m going to try and find a muzzle.” He escorted Wanda away, ignoring her squawks of complaint.
“I’m not through visiting, Dirk. Let go of my arm.” Her voice could be heard all over the room, even with the noise of the crowd.
Lex waited until they were out of sight. “She’s something, isn’t she?”
“You can say that again.” Amanda tucked her arm around Lex’s. Martha had gone ahead of them, and they could see her standing next to a table close to the kitchen. Charlie was there, sitting next to another couple. “I’m not quite ready to sit down. Would you like to dance, instead?”
“That’s the best offer I’ve had all day.” Lex led Amanda to an unoccupied spot on the dance floor and pulled her close. She loved how they fit together. Amanda’s head was at the perfect height so she could nestle her face on her hair. The weight of her lover’s arms around her waist relaxed Lex, and she did the same with Amanda.
Amanda rested her cheek against her lover’s chest and closed her eyes. The sounds of the crowd slowly receded until all she was aware of was the sound of Lex’s heartbeat. They swayed slowly to the music, and Amanda couldn’t think of anything more perfect.
They had been on the floor for three songs when Amanda’s bladder demanded to be acknowledged. “Honey? Can we take a break?”
“Sure.” Lex followed her off the dance floor. Before they got to the table, she tapped Amanda on the shoulder. “Would you like me to get you something to drink?”
“That would be great. Thanks.” Amanda draped her shawl over an empty chair and continued on to the restroom.
Lex was ladling them each a cup of punch when someone touched her back. She turned, her hands full, to see Ashley in front of her. “Hi.” The red dress she wore shimmered in the lights. It was short-sleeved, cut well above her knees and skin tight.
“I’m glad you made it tonight. I was hoping to talk you into a dance or two.” Ashley stood leaning slightly forward, to accentuate the way her breasts almost fell out of her low cut dress. “We didn’t get much of a chance to talk yesterday.” She ran her red painted fingernail down Lex’s arm.
Amanda stepped out of the ladies’ room and noticed Lex wasn’t at their table. She scanned the room, and noticed her at the concession table. She felt her blood pressure rise when she saw a strange woman with her hands on her partner. It didn’t take long for Amanda to weave her way through the crowd. She was almost upon them when Lex noticed her.
“Hi, sweetheart.” Lex felt somewhat guilty for talking to Ashley, but she didn’t know exactly why. “I was just about to bring you some punch.”
Amanda cut around Ashley and put her arm possessively through Lex’s. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”
Lex cringed as Amanda’s fingers dug into her arm. She didn’t have to see her face to know she was pissed. “Uh, yeah. Amanda, this is Ashley. She was helping with the decorating yesterday. Ashley, this is Amanda, my—”
“Wife,” Amanda finished for her. She gave Ashley a barely perceptible nod. “If you’ll excuse us, we’ve got friends waiting.” She practically dragged Lex from the refreshment area. “Who the hell does she think she is? That bitch was hanging all over you.” She continued to grumble as they came upon the table. It was vacant for the moment, as the other couples were on the dance floor.
“Amanda, hold on.” Lex held out a chair for her lover and waited for her to sit. “I think she was just being friendly.”
“Too friendly, if you ask me.” Amanda sat and kicked off her shoes beneath the table. “Damned grabby whore.”
It was time to diffuse the situation. She covered Amanda’s hands with hers and looked into her eyes. “You’re the only one for me, sweetheart. I met her yesterday in the kitchen, surrounded by a roomful of old ladies. We said maybe half a dozen words to each other. Let’s forget her.” She kissed Amanda, deepening the contact.
They separated and Amanda opened her eyes dreamily. “Forget who?” She put one hand behind Lex’s neck and pulled her close again.
“I swear, I can’t leave you two alone for a minute.” Martha sat next to Amanda. She enjoyed the way the two women reddened at her words.
“Can you blame me?” But Lex moved away from her lover. A little. She placed her arm around the back of Amanda’s chair and stretched her legs under the table. When Charlie sat next to Martha and wiped the perspiration off his forehead with a handkerchief, she couldn’t help but tease him. “What’s the matter? Is Martha wearing you out?”
He put the damp cloth in his jacket pocket. “Isn’t she always?”
“Don’t blame me if you’re tired.” Martha took a sip of her punch and wiped the residue from her mouth with a paper napkin. “It’s not my fault you stayed up so late last night.”
“Are you sure about that?” Lex never saw the wadded paper sail toward her. She picked it up from the table after it bounced off her chest. “Shame on you, Martha. You should let the poor man rest, sometime.” She tossed the napkin back at Martha, who batted it away.
Amanda popped Lex on the arm. “Behave.”
“She started it.” But Lex relented. She’d find another way to torment Martha, later. “Nice suit, Charlie. I guess you’re off tonight?”
He did look dapper in the navy suit. The pale blue shirt and red tie went together well. He adjusted the tie. “Uh-huh. I’ve decided to cut back on my hours, since Jeremy practically runs the department anyway. I’d rather spend more time with my lovely wife.”
“I don’t blame you a bit.” Lex rested her hand on Amanda’s shoulder. “I’m thinking of cutting back a bit, myself.”
Amanda turned her head. “What do you mean?” This was the first she’d heard about Lex’s plans. It rankled her when Lex would do something without even talking to her. They usually shared everything. Lately, her partner was doing more things without thinking them through, or confiding in her. “What’s going on with you?”
“I’m tired of spending all day, every day, with the guys or the horses.” Lex never noticed when Charlie stood and took Martha away from the table. “Is it so wrong to want to be with my family more? I thought you’d like it.”
“Of course I do. But you can’t suddenly drop what you’ve spent your whole life working for.” Amanda scooted closer to her and put her hand on Lex’s thigh. “I can’t let you do that.”
“Let me?” Lex grew angry. “Shouldn’t I have a say in how I spend my life? I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking that the damned ranch is more important to me than they are.”
“Lex, please. I’m trying to understand, not tell you what to do.”
The plaintive tone in Amanda’s voice touched a cord in Lex’s heart. Her anger faded away, leaving a weary resignation behind. “I know, and I’m sorry. It’s something I have to work out in my head, not take out on you.” She stood. “I’ll be back in a minute. I need some air.”
Amanda watched her leave. She wanted to find out if Martha had any idea what was going on with Lex. Before she could get up to find her, someone sat beside her.
“She’s quite a catch.” Ashley gestured toward the outside door, which Lex had disappeared through. “Don’t you just love how safe it feels in her arms? She’s so strong. God, I could stay there forever.”
“I beg your pardon? Are you talking about my Lex?” It took a lot of effort, but Amanda controlled the urge to dump her punch over the woman’s head.
Ashley laughed. “Oh, honey. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think I’m woman enough to keep up with tall, dark and sexy. But I wouldn’t mind giving her a whirl.” She leaned closer. “You can tell me. Is she the dominating type in the bedroom? I get all hot and bothered, just thinking about her.” She licked her lips. “I bet she’s a wild one.”
Amanda was able to silence the little voice in her head that stopped her earlier. A glance at her near-empty glass kept her from tossing it into Ashley’s face. Instead, she picked up Lex’s full cup and carefully poured it over the smirking woman’s perfectly coiffed head.
“You bitch!” Ashley jumped to her feet and held out her shaking hands. Mascara ran down her face and punch dripped off her nose. “Well, I never!”
“And you never will.” Amanda got right in her face. “If I find out you so much as think about Lex again, I’ll kick your skanky ass.”
Lex saw the commotion across the room and jogged through the heavy throng to reach the two women. “What’s going on here?”
“Your, your, girlfriend is a freakin’ lunatic!” Ashley shoved by them both and stomped away. Catcalls and laughter followed her out into the night.
“Amanda?” Lex took the empty cup from her lover’s hand. “Hey, it’s almost midnight. Let’s go watch the fireworks.” She’d wait until Amanda calmed down before she asked about the altercation again. Red punch wouldn’t look good on her gray shirt, and she noticed several more glasses on the table.
Amanda was still fuming. “Hateful cow. I should have decked her.”
“Um, sweetheart? Do you want me to hunt her down for you?” Her partner had always had a temper, but the hormone-induced emotions were beginning to scare Lex. She’d have to check with Martha and see if there was something she should do, besides hide for the next few months. For now, a diversionary action was called for. She held out her hand. “Come on. We’ve never missed the fireworks. We’ll worry about her, later.”
Amanda took her hand and squeezed. Lex was cute when she was flustered, and it always had a way of calming her. “Never mind. She’s not worth the trouble. Besides, I think we’ve seen the last of her.” She followed Lex out of the building and across the lot to the gazebo. There were much more important things to think about. Like when they could sneak away from the dance, and ring in the New Year in a much more private way.