To Hold Forever
By Carrie Carr
Disclaimers – See Part One.
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Amanda slapped the fake leather arm of the wheelchair."This is ridiculous, Lex. I'm perfectly capable of walking." Lex ignored her outburst and continued to push her toward the front pew of the sparsely crowded church."I mean it. I've been cooped up in that blasted hospital for three days. Even the doctor said I was fine." She turned so she could look up into the still face of her partner."Are you even listening to me?"
"I heard every word you said." Lex lowered her face until her lips were almost touching Amanda's ear."But I also heard Dr. Vaughn say you were to stay off your feet. So please, try to relax." She left a quick kiss on Amanda's cheek before standing tall once again. She didn't miss the heavy sigh that answered her, but elected to stay quiet and continue the short trek. This was one gathering Lex was not looking forward to. Even though Amanda had insisted she didn't blame her for Elizabeth's untimely demise, Lex knew her sentiment would not be shared by the rest of the family. Today would be the first time she would meet the rest of the Kingston clan.
The front pews had been taken over by Elizabeth's family and their spouses. Morris, Christina and their partners were on the far end, a conspicuous space between them and a severe looking matron, Paula Kingston, the oldest of the clan. Paula's bleached hair was pulled into a tight bun, and her face was pinched in perpetual disapproval.
Lex parked the wheelchair beside the opposite pew, where Michael, Lois, Jeannie and Rodney sat. She started to go sit behind them, but Michael motioned to the space next to him, on the end nearest Amanda. Lex looked as if she'd disregard his gesture, until her partner took her hand. With the part she played in the current situation weighing heavily on her mind, she didn't feel comfortable taking a position with the family. But with Amanda's insistent tug, she pushed her reservations deep down and took the offered seat. The squeeze on her hand made her discomfort less stifling.
Michael leaned into her and spoke softly."How are you holding up?"
A halfhearted shrug was her answer. Lex was saved from any other conversation when the minister stepped to the podium.
"Good morning. Thank you all for coming. We're here to celebrate the life of Elizabeth Kingston-Cauble." He droned on for thirty minutes, extolling the life of the woman most had come to loathe.
Michael turned his head and snuck a glance at Paula, who dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. He nudged Lex, who had also noticed Paula's apparent grief."She's almost as good an actress as her sister was. Believe me, there was no love lost between the two of them."
His comment caught Lex off guard. She wasn't sure what to think, so she kept silent.
At the minister's request, Paula stood and made her way to the podium. She made a show of straightening her black dress before speaking. The heavy nylon material stretched tightly over her thick form."Thank you, Reverend." After a deep breath, she removed a folded paper from her purse."My sister," she paused and looked out over the small congregation,"my best friend, left us all too soon. She was cut down in the prime of her life." She glared at Michael, who had to clear his throat to cover his snort of derision."She was a special woman, whose gifts of love and charity were spread throughout us all."
"Speaking of spreading, isn't she laying it on a bit thick?" Michael's whispered comment elicited an elbow to the ribs from Lois.
Unable to help herself, Lex chuckled, but quickly covered her actions with a fake cough. Her hand was squeezed harder, and she pasted a solemn look on her face. She whispered her apologies to Amanda.
Paula was able to finish her eulogy without any more interruptions. Without further ado, she picked up the expensive Grecian bronze urn that held her sister's remains, and paraded to her seat.
The minister returned to the podium, flustered by her actions. He'd never seen anyone take the remains during a service."Um, yes. I suppose we are finished. Unless anyone has something they'd like to say?" A heavy silence answered him."Well, then. Thank you all for coming."
Everyone stood, and some began to mill about. Michael and Lois were met by Jeannie and Rodney, and they all stood around Amanda's chair. Jeannie touched her sister's shoulder."How are you doing?"
"Better than Lex." Amanda watched as her lover spoke to Morris and Christina."I tried to get her to skip the services, but she wouldn't."
"She's not still feeling guilty about Mother, is she?"
Amanda shook her head."She says she isn't, but I know better." She tugged on her sister's hand."Could we go somewhere alone and talk?"
"Sure." Jeannie took command of the wheelchair and wheeled Amanda into the outer vestibule."What's up?"
"We really haven't had much time together since this happened." Amanda looked around to make sure they were alone."Are you doing all right?"
Jeannie guided Amanda near a bench, so she could sit also."I'm okay. I was more worried about you."
"We're funny, huh?" Amanda played with the hem of her black sweater."If I say something, will you promise not to get mad?"
The tone in her voice worried Jeannie, who covered Amanda's hands with her own."Hey. I know we haven't always seen eye to eye on everything, but you never have to worry about that. You can tell me anything."
Amanda stared at their hands, unable to look her sister in the eye."When I found out, you know, about mother." She took a shaky breath."Oh, god, this is so hard to say."
"You don't have to—"
"I was glad." Amanda's voice cracked."When I heard our mother was dead, all I could think about was how she wouldn't be plotting against us anymore." She raised her head, tears threatening to fall from her eyes."I'm horrible, aren't I?"
"No!" Jeannie lowered her voice."No, honey. Not at all. To tell you the truth, I wasn't too upset, either. She's given our family a lot more trouble and heartache than anything else. And she's never been much of a mom to either of us. How does Lex feel about it?"
"Um, I don't know. We've kind of tiptoed around the subject. I know she's got to be feeling guilty, so I didn't want to add to it."
Jeannie shook her head."You're as stubborn as she is. What am I going to do with you two?"
The shuffling of feet silenced them both. Lex stepped into the antechamber, apparently looking for her wife."Is everything all right?"
Jeannie squeezed Amanda's hands before standing."Yes. I thought it would be better for Mandy to be out here, away from the crowd." She leaned over and whispered in her sister's ear."Talk to her." She gave Lex a hug and kissed her cheek."I'll see you two at the house."
Once Jeannie left, Lex sat next to Amanda."How are you holding up?"
"I've been better," Amanda admitted, brushing a stray tear from her cheek.
"Do you want to skip going to Jeannie's? I'm sure the family will understand if you're not there."
Amanda seriously considered asking Lex to take her home, so she wouldn't have to face the Kingstons. She'd never gotten along with her mother's family, especially after Paula and her mother banished Morris. But, as distasteful as it was, she felt she needed to at least make an appearance."I doubt it, very seriously. My aunt isn't the understanding kind."
"Your dad doesn't have much use for her, I've noticed." Lex began to push Amanda's chair out of the church.
"That's putting it mildly."
They reached Martha's Explorer, which she insisted they drive, instead of the Xterra. Martha decided Amanda's SUV was too rough riding, and wouldn't take no for an answer. Lex unlocked the doors and helped Amanda get seated. She folded the wheelchair and placed it carefully in the back, before coming around and getting in behind the wheel. She was about to start the vehicle, when Amanda touched her arm.
"Can we sit here, for a little while? I'm in no hurry."
Amanda turned slightly, so she could see Lex's face."This has been hell for you, I know."
Lex bit her lip and nodded, but didn't say anything.
"I can't even begin to think what you've gone through, this past week." Amanda touched Lex's cheek."When I found out that Mother had taken Lorrie, I completely lost it. But I knew you'd make everything okay."
"I'm so sorry, about your mother. It—"
"Shh." Amanda covered Lex's mouth with her fingers."Don't you dare apologize for something that wasn't your fault." She inhaled, then exhaled heavily."As much as I hate to admit it, when I heard what had happened, I couldn't help but be glad."
"Yeah. Imagine that." Amanda lowered her eyes."God forgive me, but I was actually thankful my mother was dead."
Lex tipped her head back and closed her eyes. She reached for Amanda's hand and held it tight."That's what has been bothering me, too."
"Yep. I kept wondering if I meant to do it. I know I tried to stop, but what if, deep down, I didn't? Because I sure as hell wasn't upset she was gone. Just that I was the one who caused it." Lex raised their joined hands and kissed Amanda's knuckles. With her lover's admission, the pressure that had been building in her chest for days finally lessened, and she knew that everything would be all right.
Paula Kingston stalked through the small house, ignoring the condolences of those around her. She was a woman on a mission, and nothing would keep her from finding a certain person. She peered into the kitchen, and saw her quarry. A satisfied smirk crossed her pinched features."There you are."
Standing between Michael and Lois, Lex looked up. A look of dread raced across her face when she realized who had spoken. She placed her coffee cup on the table, before it fell from her nerveless fingers.
Michael nudged Lex aside."Hello, Paula. Is there something I can do for you?"
"No, I believe you've done more than enough. But I would like to speak to your young friend, here." The predatory smile she gave Lex was anything but friendly.
Before her father-in-law could intervene again, Lex straightened her shoulders and stepped by him."Why don't we go out on the back porch, where we won't be disturbed?" She wasn't about to let Paula cause a scene which would get back to Amanda. Lex opened the back door."After you." Once the door was closed behind them, she turned to the older woman."What can I do for you, Ms. Kingston?"
The casual look on Lex's face unnerved Paula."Considering you murdered my sister, I think you've done more than enough, don't you agree?"
"Actually, it was an accident." With a nonchalance she didn't feel, Lex leaned against the wall and crossed her arms over her chest."But, I'm sure you've already read the police report."
"Of course I have. It's the only way I could learn the truth."
"The truth, Ms. Kingston, is that your sister kidnapped our daughter. If she hadn't been running away from the police, she'd still be alive today." Lex hadn't been prepared for the slap, which caused her head to slam back against the wall.
"How dare you!"
The back door opened, and Michael stood in front of Lex."Paula! Have you lost your mind?"
Paula puffed up indignantly and pointed at Lex, who was rubbing her sore cheek."This, this, woman, seems to be proud of what she's done."
"No, ma'am. As much as I didn't care for your sister, I would have never wanted to cause her harm." Lex only hoped she could get away with the white lie.
Michael put his arm around Lex."Elizabeth was lucky it was Lex driving that truck, and not me. I might have backed up and hit her again." He pointed a finger in Paula's face."This is the last we'll hear of this, Paula. You're not going to bully us around like you do your own family." He started to lead Lex into the house, when she stopped.
"Ms. Kingston, believe me, I'm truly sorry for your loss." Lex lowered her voice."But, if you so much as look at Amanda wrong and upset her, I won't be responsible for my actions." She followed Michael inside, leaving the eldest Kingston seething on the back porch.
Once inside, Lex brushed off Michael's concern as he offered to get her ice for her face."Don't worry, I barely feel it." She almost rolled her eyes at the look on Lois' face.
"Lex, honestly. Come over here to the sink and at least let me put a cool cloth on you." Lois grabbed her arm and pulled her across the room. She ignored Lex's mutterings, and in moments had a damp towel against her reddened cheek."Now hush."
"Yes, ma'am." Lex accepted the mothering in the spirit in which it was given. As she quietly allowed Lois' gentle ministration, she couldn't help but overhear a conversation Michael was having with another member of the family.
"You know, Michael, as much as Paula thrives on ceremony, I was surprised to find out she had Elizabeth cremated. I had been expecting an open casket, with a several-day viewing." The man who spoke was several years older than Michael, and had been introduced earlier as a second-cousin.
"Well, Simon, it wasn't Paula's call. I was still listed as her next-of-kin, and decided it would be easier on the family this way." Michael lowered his voice, but could still be heard."She was probably already used to the heat, anyway."
Jeannie's voice from the doorway caught everyone's attention."Lex, there you are. Amanda's been looking for you." She came into the room, giving Paula a nasty look, when her aunt stormed through the room, muttering under her breath."What bit her in the butt?"
Michael shook his head."You don't want to know." He watched as Lex left the room in a hurry."Was your sister okay?"
"Oh, sure. I think she was just tired of fending off the attentions of Great-Aunt Marnie. She keeps trying to touch Mandy's stomach, so she can tell her what sex the baby is."
Lois joined them."Didn't anyone tell Marnie we already know?"
"Well, yeah. Several times, as a matter of fact. But you know how stubborn that old woman is." Jeannie linked arms with the couple."How old is she, anyway? At least ninety, right?"
"She's got to be pushing a hundred, by now. I think she was closing in on eighty when you were born." Michael nudged his daughter."At least she hasn't asked Amanda to name the baby after your Great Uncle Bertram, has she?" At Jeannie's answering nod, he sighed."We'd better go save Marnie."
Lex searched through several rooms in her search, until she heard her partner's exasperated voice. She nudged her way into the crowded sitting room, where Amanda's wheelchair took up residence in one corner.
"Look, Aunt Marnie. We already know we're having a girl, remember? Jeannie told you earlier." Amanda held out her hands to keep the old woman's claw-like hands away from her.
Marnie's fingernails were close to an inch long, and painted mulberry, and they clacked together when she reached toward her grand-niece."Now honey, you know I've never been wrong. I can tell you—" Her hands were grasped in a firm, but gentle grasp.
Lex knelt next to the elderly woman."Mrs. Dardenryple, that's kind of you to offer, really. I've heard from everyone in the family how on-target your predictions are." She tried not to grimace as the sharp digits poked into her palms."But, you told us earlier that Amanda is going to have a little girl, remember?"
The old woman frowned slightly."Of course I did." Marnie pulled her hands free and patted Lex's cheek."You're a cute one. But don't be trying to pull the wool over old Marnie's eyes. I can see that you're not with child."
"Um, right." Lex's eyes widened as she frantically thought of what to say, next. To her relief, another family member came to the rescue.
Morris placed his arm around Marnie's frail shoulders and led her away."There you are, sweetheart. I've been looking all over for you. Kevin has a cup of tea with your name on it." The crowd, which had been enjoying the show, followed the pair, leaving Lex and Amanda alone.
When Lex's head bumped against her, Amanda ran her fingers through her lover's hair."Nice timing."
"Your Great-Aunt needs to be declawed, before someone gets hurt." Lex turned to look into Amanda's eyes."She's a character, that's for sure."
"Oh, yeah. When we were little, Dad used to threaten to send us to live with her, if we didn't behave. He never followed through, though."
The thought of a small Amanda being chased by Marnie gave Lex the chills."That'd be enough to scare me." She was enjoying the loving attention when Michael's voice could be heard in the next room.
"Paula, stop." Michael tried to keep the heavy woman from entering the sitting room, but she bullied past him.
"Shut up, you little toad. I've had about all I can stand of you." Paula stood in the doorway, glaring at Lex."There you are."
Lex stood, positioning herself protectively in front of Amanda."Yep. Here I am." She was tired of putting up with the likes of Elizabeth, and now her shrewish sister, Paula."What do you want, now?"
The tone in Lex's voice should have warned Paula she was about to bite off more than she could chew, but she ignored it."I think you owe me, and this entire family, an apology."
"Excuse me?" Amanda started to rise from her chair, but Lex's hand on her shoulder stopped her.
"Ms. Kingston," Lex put her hands on her hips,"Paula. I don't owe you a damned thing."
Paula's face reddened."My sister—"
"Was not a nice woman," Lex finished for her."She plotted and schemed, until her husband lost everything. Once she was through with him, in some warped effort to control her daughter, tried to poison me, almost killing Amanda, instead." She held up her hand to stop Paula from interrupting."She burned down my house, with Amanda inside, escaped from a mental institution, embezzled from us, and last, but not least, kidnapped her own granddaughter." Lex stepped forward, causing Paula to back away."So don't give me some sob story on poor Elizabeth, and expect me to cower and beg for your forgiveness. Because it's not going to happen."
"You hateful bitch." Paula looked around the room at the congregated family members."Are you all going to stand here and let her get away with this?" She pointed at Lex."She's the one who killed Elizabeth!"
An elderly man, who had stood silently by, shuffled forward."Pauline, that's quite enough." He took a surprisingly strong grip on her arm."You've caused enough of a scene. It's time to take your Aunt Marnie and me home." He allowed her to leave the room on her own, before turning back to Lex and holding out his hand."I'm Bertram, Marnie's husband. You take good care of our little Amanda there, you hear?"
"Yes, sir." Lex shook his hand. He was strong for his age, which had to be at least ninety."If there's anything I can do for you, Mr. Dardenryple—"
"We're fine, young lady." He gave Amanda a wink, and left the room as quietly as he had entered it.
Lex watched the rest of the family, ready to do battle if she had to. She was met with either warm smiles, or accepting nods, as they filed out of the room.
"That went, um, well, I guess." Amanda sat back in the wheelchair and rubbed her stomach."Your Momma was pretty cool, Junior. You should have seen her." She smiled at Lex when she turned around.
Amanda nodded."Definitely." She held out her hand, which was quickly taken."Ready to take me home, Slim? I think I've had about all this I can stand."
Lex bent and kissed her."You got it."
The heavy oak desk was cluttered with paper, and Lex added to it by tossing another envelope onto one of the piles."I hate paying bills." She picked up another, not recognizing the return address. One quick swipe with the letter opener was all it took. She unfolded the yellow sheet and scanned it."What the hell?"
It was a notice from a mortgage company, warning her she would soon be in default – on a property inside the city limits of Somerville. The address was familiar, and Lex realized with a sinking feeling it was Hubert's house."Damn." She picked up the phone and dialed a number from memory, feeling her blood pressure rise as the recording announced the number was no longer in service."I'm going to kill that son of a bitch." With everything that had been happening, the deal she had made with her brother had been all but forgotten.
She picked up the phone and dialed the number on the notice."Hello? I need to speak to someone about a notice I received. Thanks." While she was on hold, Lex opened another envelope. It was a past-due notice from the electric company, warning that the power would be shut off at Hubert's the previous week."Sorry bastard. He must have skipped town." A confused voice brought her back to the call. She apologized to the woman, and gave her the account number.
"Yes, Ms. Walters. We show here you co-signed the loan for Hubert Walters."
"When was I supposed to have done this?" Lex opened two more letters, both disconnect notices from the house in town. Somehow, all of Hubert's mail had been forwarded to the ranch."Dammit!" At the huff of indignation on the other end of the line, she quickly apologized again.
"As I was saying, since we are unable to reach Mr. Walters, the loan has defaulted to you. Either pay the amount due, or we'll take custody of the property in question."
Lex closed her eyes and silently counted to ten."Fine. Take the damned house. Anything else?"
"No, ma'am. We'll send you a letter, stating we've begun foreclosure proceedings. Have a nice day."
"Yeah." Lex slammed down the receiver and glared at the phone."If I ever see Hubert again, I'll castrate the son of a bitch with a rusty spoon." She checked the rest of the bills, satisfied that there would be no more surprises.
A rustling from the doorway caught Lex's attention. She looked up and saw a tousled head peep over the top of the desk. All of her anger quickly deflated when she saw the innocent face of her daughter."Hey, lil' bit. Have a good nap?" She'd left Lorrie on the couch, where she had nodded off while watching a favorite video.
"Yep." Still about halfway asleep, Lorrie stumbled around the desk and crawled onto Lex's lap."I'm thirsty."
"Well then," Lex stood and settled her daughter against one hip,"let's go see what we can get into." She headed toward the kitchen, reminding herself to call Lois and see how Amanda was faring.
Since Dr. Vaughn allowed Amanda out of the hospital on the stipulation she would stay close by, they accepted the offer to stay with Michael and Lois. Their home was more than large enough, and being only one floor, allowed Amanda a place where she didn't have to worry about stairs.
Lex volunteered to take Lorrie for the day, since she had to handle a few things out at the ranch. She was almost to the kitchen when the flap to the pet door swung open, and an excited Freckles raced into the house. The radio collar allowed the dog to go in and out, but kept the door locked to keep Lorrie inside. They'd found out the hard way how easy it was for her to slip through.
"Fleckles!" Lorrie slid out of Lex's arms and hugged her pet."Eew. Momma, Fleckles smell yucky."
"Now what?" Lex sniffed the air, then noticed several new dark spots on the terrier's white coat."Someone must have been rolling in the stables, again." She sighed when Lorrie began to wrestle the dog."Great. Now both of you get a bath." She wondered if she could get away with bathing them both at the same time. A smirk crossed her lips. It probably wouldn't be wise, because if Amanda found out, Lex would be the one in the doghouse."Okay, kiddo. Let's get you cleaned up, then we'll have a snack before we go to see your mommy."
Short, loud raps on the front door woke Amanda. She opened her eyes and looked around the unfamiliar surroundings before realizing where she was. The clean living room was comfortably warm, and she was hunkered on the sofa, tucked in one corner while her feet were stretched across the cushions. There was also a soft afghan across her legs that hadn't been there before. The knocking continued, so she struggled to her feet to answer the door.
Amanda opened the door, wishing she hadn't."Aunt Paula. What are you doing here?"
"I've come to take care of something my sister obviously couldn't," the matron huffed. Paula was dressed in a form-fitting navy dress, similar to the one she wore to the funeral. Her purse hung from her arm, and she peered at her niece through black-framed glasses."Well? Am I to stand here all day?"
With an aggrieved sigh, Amanda held the door open and escorted Paula into the living room. She sat on the sofa and gestured to a nearby chair."Forgive me for not playing hostess, but I'm supposed to stay off my feet."
Paula lowered her bulk into a floral print wingback chair."I can see. You know, your mother talked to me at length at what a disappointment you'd been to her."
"What else is new?"
"You've got a sharp tongue on you, girl. No wonder poor Elizabeth was at her wits end." Paula leaned forward to make her point."Now, listen to me. It's about time you quit behaving inappropriately, and find yourself a nice man and settle down."
"I realize it will be harder since you're in that condition. But, you're young and reasonably attractive. Once you lose that weight, I'm sure you'll catch some young man's eye."
Amanda balled her hands into fists and fought the urge to throw something into her aunt's smug face."That's enough."
But Paula was only getting started."You can't possibly be happy, taking up with her. She murdered your own mother! You've betrayed the family, and tarnished your mother's memory."
"Excuse me?" As hard as it was, Amanda stayed seated."You have no right to talk to me that way! I love Lex, and she loves me. Nothing in my life concerns you, or your precious family."
The front door opened, and Lois stepped inside, her arms full of grocery bags."Amanda? Is everything all right? I heard—" she stopped when she saw who else was sitting in her living room.
A small blur raced by her."Mommy!"
Amanda opened her arms and greeted Lorrie."Hello, honey."
"I think this is all of them, Lois." Lex came inside, also loaded down with several bags. She almost ran into Lois, who was frozen in place.
Paula turned in her seat to take in the newcomers."Good afternoon, Lois." She pointedly ignored Lex.
"What the hell is going on here?" Lex placed her bags on the floor and stepped further into the room."Amanda, are you okay?" She went to take her partner's outstretched hand.
Tension weighed heavily in the room. Lois was torn between calling Michael at work or stand close by in case a referee was needed. She looked on helplessly until a subtle nod from Lex calmed her."I think I'll go get these groceries put away."
Amanda kissed Lorrie on the head."Why don't you go with Mimi? Maybe she'll give you milk and cookies."
"Yep. Me help Mimi." Lorrie gave her mommy one last hug and hurried after Lois.
Lex waited until Lorrie and Lois had left before she turned to Paula."Is there some reason you're here?"
"You're a rude one, aren't you?" Paula sat taller in her seat."Before you so rudely interrupted, I was having a private conversation with my niece. Now if you'll excuse us—"
"Lady, there's no excuse for the likes of you."
Paula pursed her lips, looking frighteningly like her sister."You're just as uncouth as Elizabeth described. But, if you insist on butting in, fine. Amanda and I were discussing how it was time for her to straighten up and behave in a proper manner."
"No, you were trying to tell me how to live my life," Amanda sputtered. She gasped as a sharp pain lanced through her stomach.
Lex dropped to her knees beside her."Sweetheart?" She began to panic when Amanda moaned and wrapped her arms around her belly."The baby?"
"Oh, god." Amanda bit her lip and leaned as far forward as she could."I think we'd better call the doctor."
"It's going to be okay." Lex got to her feet and yelled for Lois, who rushed into the room."I'm going to take Amanda to the hospital. Could you—"
Lois kept Lorrie by her side."Don't you worry about a thing." She put her hand on Lorrie's head."Would you like to stay with me and make some more cookies?"
Torn between her parents and the thought of fresh goodies, Lorrie stuck her finger in her mouth."Momma?"
"Oh, for heaven's sake." Paula stood and fussed with her purse.
"Not one word," Lex warned her. She squatted next to Lorrie."I have to take your Mommy to the doctor, lil' bit. Can you stay here with Mimi and be a good girl?"
Lorrie gave her a bashful grin."Yep. We makes cookies."
"Great." Lex kissed her forehead and straightened up. She went to help Amanda to her feet."Can you walk?"
Amanda put her arm around Lex and leaned into her."As long as you're here with me."
Paula grabbed Amanda's arm."You can't be seriously thinking of going with her?"
"Let go of me."
Lex wrapped her fingers around Paula's wrist and squeezed, until she let go of Amanda."Touch her again and I'll wring your damned neck."
"You shouldn't be allowed behind the wheel. For all we know, you'll kill Amanda and the baby, too." Paula rubbed her sore wrist.
Amanda turned on her."Aunt Paula, go home. You're not wanted, or needed, here." She allowed Lex to help her out of the house.
"Why, the nerve!" Paula blinked in shock at her niece's words. She turned to Lois."Can you believe that?"
Lois gave her a smug look."She's right. Why don't you slither back under your rock, wherever it is. Our family is doing just fine without you." She held the door open wide."Goodbye."
Paula puffed up and sniffed."Fine. I have a plane to catch this evening, anyway." She raised her head high as she crossed the threshold.
Lois watched from the door as Lex and Amanda drove away. She felt a tiny hand tangle in her slacks."Why don't we call your Gampi, and see if he'd like some cookies, sweetie?"
"Yum. Gampi likes cookies." Lorrie wrapped her hand around Lois' finger and tugged her in the direction of the kitchen.
Lex slammed the heel of her hand on the middle of the steering wheel, blowing the horn. The old man on the tractor ignored her and continued to drive slowly in the middle of the street."Would you get off the damned road? What the hell is he doing on a residential street, anyway?"
"Honey, calm down. I'm fine." Amanda's own panic had lessened when she realized it was only labor pains she felt. She braced one hand on the roof of the Explorer as Lex whipped around the tractor.
"Dumbass." Lex barely slowed at the stop sign before taking off again. She spared a glance at Amanda."You okay?"
Amanda nodded."You don't have to hurry. We have plenty of time." She felt another strong contraction, and then a warm wetness."Oops. Um, Lex?"
"Huh?" Lex stopped at a red light and turned her head toward Amanda."What's the matter?"
"I think my water just broke."
"Shit!" After a quick look both ways, Lex raced through the intersection."Should we call the doctor again? Maybe I should have called an ambulance. Damn. I knew I should have—"
"Honey, please. It's all right." Amanda inhaled sharply."Ooh. That was a good one." She kept one hand on her stomach, as if to sooth her unborn child.
"What?" Lex kept looking from the road, to Amanda, and back again."Please don't have the baby, yet. I haven't finished reading the book on delivery." She hit the horn again as she came upon another traffic light."Come on, idiot! Move!"
Amanda tried to keep from laughing."Lex, it's a red light. People are supposed to stop."
"Not today." Lex growled and stuck her head out the window."Would you go, already? The damned light's green!" she yelled, hitting the horn again. When the car ahead started to move, Lex swerved around it and sped through the intersection."Ha!" She drove several blocks without any interference, and was feeling quite proud of herself.
"Honey?" Amanda still couldn't get her lover's attention. She was sure it would be something funny to tell their grandchildren, but right now, she was beginning to get a little irritated."Lex!"
"You missed the street." Amanda pointed to their right."It was a block back."
"Damn." Lex checked her mirrors, and seeing the coast clear, quickly turned around."Why didn't you say something?"
"I tried. You weren't listening." Amanda breathed a sigh of relief when the hospital came into view. She wasn't surprised when they ended up in the emergency entrance.
Lex parked the Explorer and jumped out. With the engine still running, she hurried around to the passenger side and opened Amanda's door."Oh, wait." She held up her hands and started walking backwards."Don't go anywhere. I'll be right back." Before Amanda could speak, she raced into the hospital. Seconds later, Lex came running out, pushing a wheelchair."Here." She helped Amanda into the chair and started toward the hospital doors.
A stern looking nurse met them at the door."I told you I would have an orderly assist you," she chastised Lex."You're not authorized to bring in a patient."
"I didn't have time to wait. Can't you see that my wife is in labor?" Lex jumped back when she was slapped away from the chair by the nurse."Hey."
"Young lady, I'll take it from here. You have to move your car."
Lex almost ran into the automatic door before it hissed completely open."I'm not leaving her."
Dr. Vaughn stood at the admitting desk, trying to keep from laughing. She'd already been at the hospital, checking on another patient, when Lex's frantic phone call had come in."Lex, calm down. Amanda, how are you doing?"
Amanda shook her head."Better than she is, I think. My water broke about five minutes ago."
"You are ready, aren't you?" The doctor patted Amanda's hand before looking at Lex again."Lex, we're going to get Amanda settled first. Take care of what you need to, then Nurse Harvey will bring you in."
"But—" Lex was loathe to leave Amanda's side.
Amanda winced as another contraction hit."I'll be fine." She held out her hand and brought Lex close, pulling her down for a quick kiss."But I think our daughter is getting impatient. So hurry."
"Okay." Lex kissed her again."I love you."
"Love you too." Amanda waved to her as she was wheeled away.
Lex had just returned from parking the SUV when she saw Dr. Vaughn hurrying toward her."What's wrong? Is Amanda okay?"
"We've got a slight change in plans. Amanda's fine, but she's being prepped for surgery." Dr. Vaughn had to grab one of Lex's arms to keep her steady."We've already given her the epidural, but I don't trust her blood pressure, so we're going to do a cesarean. I thought you might want to come with me and get scrubbed up."
"Uh, yeah. Right." The thought of being present while they cut into Amanda made Lex feel lightheaded. But she refused to give in to her fear."Lead on, doc."
After changing and being briefed on what to expect, Lex followed Dr. Vaughn into the operating room. She swallowed heavily and took her place next to Amanda's head."Hi, sweetheart."
Amanda rolled her eyes upward."I'm glad to see you."
"I wouldn't miss this for the world." Lex brushed her fingers across Amanda's forehead."Looks like you're all set."
"Yeah. The epidural they gave me has done wonders. You know, even though I didn't want to go this route, once those labor pains set in, I changed my mind."
Lex was relieved as well. She hadn't been looking forward to seeing her lover in pain, no matter what the circumstances were. A quick glance down Amanda's body shifted her nerves into high gear. Sterile cloths were draped across her entire form, except for her stomach, which was now a lovely orange color. It was then that Lex realized she'd have a perfect view, and the thought caused black spots to float across her vision.
Dr. Vaughn noticed her discomfort."Lex? Are you going to be okay in here?"
"Yep. Fine. No problem." Lex nodded nervously, much to the amusement of her partner.
"Honey? Hey, it's not much different from seeing a calf born."
Lex shook her head."It's very different. You're no cow."
The entire room broke into chuckles over that statement, and even Amanda giggled."Well, thanks for that vote of confidence."
Once everyone had settled down, the doctor made the initial incision. Lex kept her eyes on Amanda's face, gratified to see she was in no pain."Doing okay?"
"Yeah." She wrinkled her nose."That's weird."
"I can feel it, sort of."
The doctor overheard their conversation."It's not painful, is it?"
Amanda tilted her head slightly as she considered her answer."No. More like it's disconnected. Like how it feels when someone touches the outside of your shoe. You know it's there, but you can't really feel it."
"Perfect." The doctor continued, speaking in low tones to her staff.
Lex concentrated on her wife, whose eyes never left hers."I love you, Amanda." She had no idea how much time had passed, but looked up in surprise when the doctor spoke out loud again.
"Here she is, ladies." Dr. Vaughn brought their daughter out into the world. Small and red, her tiny face was scrunched in displeasure at her new surroundings. She kicked and opened her mouth, showing off her lungs with a loud squall.
With her own head raised slightly by Lex, Amanda was able to see."She's beautiful."
Tears of joy spilled from Lex's eyes. She'd never seen such an amazing sight in her life. She watched as the nurse took their baby across the room to the warmer, then turned her attention back to her wife."You did good, Mommy."
While the doctor began the arduous task of closing the incision, the nurse completed her tasks and brought the baby to the new parents. She offered her to Lex, who accepted the precious bundle with awe.
Lex held their daughter close to Amanda's head, the baby still crying loudly."I don't think she's very pleased with us right now."
The nurse watched the new family bond. No matter how many births she witnessed, it never ceased to put a smile on her face."Have you decided on a name?"
Amanda looked at her daughter, then met her wife's eyes."Melanie." She didn't miss the joyful look that crossed Lex's face, even with the mask she wore. Naming the baby after Lex's grandmother was something she had hoped to do."Right?"
For a long moment, Lex couldn't speak. Then she decided to add to the new tradition."Melanie Leigh."
To Be Continued in Part 19
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