Disclaimers: See Part one.
If you're interested in Amanda's Blog, go to http://rockingwmom.wordpress.com/ and check it out. My brilliant wife has been having a good time :-) – Carrie
I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and at my website – www.CarrieLCarr.com
Ellie parked in front of a faded, two-story duplex and turned off the key. The grass in the front yard was sparse, with muddy patches fighting for dominance with knee-high weeds. She turned to Amanda. “Are you brave enough to get out of the car?”
“I'm game, if you are.” Amanda turned her head to check out the rest of the neighborhood. The house they were in front of could be called the nicest on the block. “Listen, we still have one more place to check out, and it's in Somerville . Why don't we give this one a pass? I don't think I want to see you living in an area like this, especially alone.”
“You've got a point. Besides, I think I've realized why Parkdale has such a nice, fancy hospital.”
Amanda held onto the dash when Ellie wheeled away from the house. “Please, enlighten me. Why does Parkdale have such a nice hospital?”
“Because it makes a ton of money from all the knifings and gunshot wounds.” She took the road that led to Somerville . “Not to mention drug overdoses.”
“Is it really that bad there?”
Ellie sighed. “Not the wing I'm on, thankfully. But I had to get a patient from the ER the other night, and it was like a war zone.”
“Maybe you should keep trying to get a job in Somerville . I know there's several good doctor's offices, and the hospital.” When Ellie didn't say anything, Amanda tried another tact. “We really like having you at the house. Have you talked to Rodney? Maybe he knows someone—”
“No. I don't want to take advantage of your family. And just because I'm looking for a new place to live, doesn't mean you won't see me anymore. I promise.”
Amanda nodded. “Okay. Not to change the subject or anything, but I think I've got a buyer for your old house.”
“Really? That's great. At this point, I was going to start renting it out so it wouldn't stay vacant.”
“I don't think that'll be a problem. This family has one child and another on the way. They're living in a two-bedroom, one bath place at the moment, but they need more room.”
Ellie drummed the steering wheel with her fingers. “I don't even know how much to sell it for. To tell you the truth, I don't think I care.”
“That's why you have me. I can get you fair market value, and I can guarantee they'll take very good care of the house.”
“Yeah? That's good. I know that grandpa wouldn't want it to sit empty.” Ellie cleared her throat and fought off the urge to cry. “I got a letter last week from Nancy . She's enjoying living with her daughter and playing with her grandkids.” Nancy was her grandfather's housekeeper, who she let go after Travis had passed away.
Amanda touched Ellie's arm. “Travis would be very proud of you, Ellie. I know it hasn't been easy.”
“Easy?” Ellie snorted. “He was the first person in my life who accepted me for exactly who I was. Even my step-dad, who's a great guy, didn't always know what to do with me.” She wiped at her face, where a few tears had fallen. “Why can't I get past this?”
“Pull the car over, Ellie. Let's talk.”
At the next row of mailboxes, Ellie parked the silver Corolla behind them. She left the engine running, but unbuckled her seatbelt so she could turn and face Amanda. “You and Lex seem to have moved along a lot easier. I don't think I even remember seeing Lex cry.”
“Oh, Ellie.” Amanda unlocked her seatbelt and turned also. “We both cried almost every night for the first few months. It was extremely hard, especially when the girls kept asking what happened to their grandpa.”
Ellie began to cry in earnest. She covered her face with her hands and broke down into deep, wracking sobs, while Amanda rubbed her back. After a few minutes, she accepted a tissue and noisily blew her nose. “Sorry.”
“Don't apologize. Everyone needs to let go at one time or another. I'm just glad I was here for you.” Amanda continued to rub Ellie's back in a soothing motion. “Maybe we should skip the last place today.”
“No, I'm all right.” Ellie wiped her eyes and mustered up a smile. “Thanks.”
Amanda moved her hand from Ellie's back to her forearm. “Are you sure?”
Ellie nodded. “The last place is a duplex on this side of Somerville . I'd like to at least know if it's livable.”
“What? You didn't like the thought of sharing with the rats and cockroaches in the first apartment? Or maybe the drug dealers and hookers at the second place?” Amanda started to giggle. “My, you certainly are picky, Ms. Gordon.”
“Yeah, well. I'm afraid the rats would eat too much, and the hookers would charge too much.” Ellie flinched when Amanda lightly slapped her arm. “Do you abuse Lex like this?”
“All the time,” Amanda chortled. “She likes it.”
Ellie buckled her seatbelt and put the car in gear. “She would.”
Amanda laughed and clicked her seatbelt. “I'll be sure and mention that to her when I get home.”
“Uh, no. Don't do that. She'd kick my ass.”
“Oh, come on. Lex is a pussycat.”
When Ellie looked at Amanda in surprise, the car's tires hit the graveled shoulder of the road. “You've got to be kidding me. Are we talking about the same person?”
“Pay attention to the road,” Amanda chastised. “And for your information, Lex has mellowed quite a bit.”
Amanda started to say something more, when she saw the smirk on Ellie's face. “You rat.” She swatted the other woman on the arm, but was glad to see Ellie's mood improve. “Okay, smartass. About a mile after we enter town, turn left onto Austin, and then a right onto,” she checked the paper that was in the top of her purse, “ Mountain View .”
Ellie guided the car per Amanda's directions, and in no time they were parked in the driveway of one side of a duplex. The red brick exterior was complemented with tan woodwork, and the yard was well kept. Ellie peeked at the paper in Amanda's hands. “Are you sure this is the right address?”
“Yes.” Amanda opened her door. “Come on. Let's go check it out.”
While holding Eddie in one hand, Lex opened the back door. “Come on in, guys.” She stepped back and allowed Chet, Roy and a surprise guest inside. “Helen, hi. I wasn't expecting you.”
“I know, but once Martha told me about your little guy, I had to come see him for myself.” Helen held out her hands. “May I?”
“Sure.” Lex passed Eddie to her. “Would you like to take him into the den? I'll bring you some coffee.”
Helen smiled as Eddie gurgled and waved his hands. “That sounds great. Thank you.”
Roy watched his wife walk down the hall. “That young'un sure takes after you, boss.”
“Yeah. I got lucky there. He could have taken after my dad's side of the family.” Most of the Walters' were short, with ruddy complexions and muddy brown eyes. Lex and Hubert both favored their mother, for which Lex was eternally grateful. “So, you guys want some coffee, or do you want to go ahead and get the furniture moved?”
Chet and Roy exchanged glances, and Chet shrugged. Roy took the lead. “Let's warm up with some coffee. It's not like we have that much to do around here today. We took care of the stock before we got here.”
“All right. You guys go on into the den, and I'll bring in a tray.” Lex gathered coffee mugs and the carafe, and carried the tray to the den. She grinned at how close the men sat to Helen, and almost laughed at the silly things they were saying to Eddie. “Chet, stop that. You're gonna make my son grow up to sound like an idiot.”
Chet looked up and blushed. “Aw, come on, Lex.”
She handed him the tray. “Make yourself useful and help pour.” Lex sat beside Helen and stretched her legs out. “Looks like you've made a friend.”
“He's adorable, Lex. Usually babies this age are afraid of people they don't know.”
“Yeah, it's weird. Mel wouldn't let anyone but us hold her until she was almost six months old. I guess Eddie's just social.”
Helen shook her head. “From what Martha told me, I think it's more than that. It sounds like his mother didn't have much to do with him, so maybe he's just starved for attention.”
“He'll surely get more than enough of that around here,” Roy chimed in. “From the way things are going, he won't be walking until he starts school.”
Helen shot her husband a dirty look, but didn't relinquish her hold on the baby. “Don't you have some furniture to move?”
Lex laughed. “Does this mean you want a baby, Helen?” She almost choked on her laughter when Roy turned white.
“Are you kidding? I have more than enough children at the bunkhouse.” Helen kissed Eddie's head. “No, I think I'll just come by and spoil this little man.”
“Sounds good to me.” Lex put her mug on the coffee table. “If you don't mind hanging onto him for a few minutes, I'll show these two what needs to be moved.”
“Take your time. We're doing just fine, aren't we, Eddie?”
Both men grumbled, but dutifully followed Lex out of the den.
Amanda and Ellie exited the car at the same time. They started up the walk, which was shared by both sides of the duplex. Ellie noticed that while the flowerbeds on the right were well-tended, the left-hand side was bare. “Do you have a green thumb, Amanda?”
“I have more of a brown thumb. My grandmother has always said I could kill a plastic fern.” Amanda unlocked the door and opened it. The musty smell of a long-empty home assailed her senses. “Ugh.”
Ellie followed her inside and wrinkled her nose. “I don't care how cold it is outside, if I move in I'm opening every window for at least a week.” She looked around the main room. “I like the size of the living room.”
“The carpet is in good shape, too.” Amanda walked to the back of the room, which opened up into an eat-in kitchen. “New appliances.”
“Not like I'll be using them much.”
Amanda shook her finger at Ellie. “I know damned good and well you can cook, so don't try that line of bull on me.” She passed through the kitchen and down a short hallway. “Wow. Two nice-sized bedrooms and a little nook where you can put a desk. The guest bathroom is a little small, though.”
“Desk? What would I want with a desk?” Ellie stepped around Amanda and looked around the master bedroom. “Ooh. Awesome size. And look, a walk-in closet.” She turned in a circle. “If I put twin beds in the other room, can the girls come over and visit?”
“Sure, if you're brave enough.” Amanda opened a door on the far side of the room. “Wow. The master has a nice bathroom.”
Ellie peeked around her. “That's a huge shower, and a great tub on the other side of it.”
“I bet you could get at least two people in the tub, or shower,” Amanda teased. She laughed when her comment got the expected result, and Ellie blushed. “Oh, come on. Don't tell me you didn't see that little rainbow flag sticker on the window next door.”
Amanda rolled her eyes as they returned to the living room. “You can't be that naïve.”
“I'm not. I just don't remember seeing any stickers.”
A knock on the door caused both women to look at each other. They were surprised when the door opened and a slender red-headed man stuck his head inside.
“Hello, there! I hope I'm not disturbing you.” He opened the door the rest of the way with a flourish. “Please tell me you're moving in. I'd love to have family as neighbors.”
Ellie looked at Amanda in confusion. “Family?”
The man covered his chest with one hand. “Oh, my. Please forgive my manners. I live next door with my two roommates. My name is Richie Childress.” He held out one hand to Amanda, palm down. “And you are?”
Amanda took his hand. “Amanda Walters. This is my cousin, Ellie Gordon.”
“By marriage,” Ellie added. “I'm the one that's thinking about living here.”
“So, you two aren't a couple?”
Ellie laughed. “Not hardly. My cousin, her wife, would take exception to that.”
Richie clapped his hands. “I love it. Would you two like to come next door for some coffee?”
“Maybe once Ellie moves in. I'd like to get back before my daughters get home from school.” Amanda nudged Ellie. “You are going to take this place, aren't you?”
“I guess I'll have to, since you've already got me moved in.” Ellie shook Richie's hand. “Can I have a rain check on the coffee?”
He pulled her into a hug. “Of course, darling. Just give a knock when you come back. Kyle, Tony and I will help you get settled.” He waved at Amanda and left the room as quickly as he had arrived.
The last thing to move out of the guest bedroom was a nine drawer, hand-made, heavy oak dresser. Roy took out the first drawer and set it to the side.
“What are you doing?” Chet asked.
“I'm taking out the drawers to make the damned thing lighter. Why?”
Chet picked up the drawer and stuffed it back in place. “If you do that, we'll have to make several more trips. I'll take one end and you get the other.”
“Have you lost your mind? This thing weighs a ton.”
Lex came into the bedroom. “What's going on?”
Roy pointed to Chet. “He thinks we can carry the dresser down without taking out the drawers.”
“Have you tried lifting it?” Lex asked.
Chet picked up one end and set it down. “It's not that heavy. Come on, Roy . Piece of cake.”
“Yeah, okay. But you're going to be the one walking backward.” He lifted the end and groaned. “Are you sure about this?”
Lex moved closer. “Do you need help on your end, Roy ?”
Roy grunted. “I think I've got it. Chet, you'd better get moving.”
“Try to keep up, old man,” Chet joked. “Boss, you might want to go ahead of me.”
“All right. But holler if either one of you need any help.” She moved in front of Chet, but stayed close as they began to descend the stairs.
Chet shifted his grip when they got halfway down. “Hold on, Roy . It's starting to slip.”
Unable to stand idly by, Lex stepped behind him. “Need a hand?”
“No, I don't think so.” Chet started moving again, but his boot heel caught on the edge of a step. “Shit!” He tumbled backward and Roy was unable to stop the dresser from moving with him.
Lex lunged forward and leaned over Chet. She pushed at the top of the dresser to keep it off of him. “ Roy , drop your end and grab hold,” she yelled. She felt a sharp pain in her back, but held firm. “Chet, can you get up?”
“Yeah.” Chet slid down a few steps and got back to his feet. He took off his baseball cap and scratched his head. “Damn, that was close.”
“I could use some help here,” Lex growled at him. “Help me turn it on its back and we'll slide it down the rest of the stairs.”
Roy wrestled with his end, but was able to help flip the dresser. “Why didn't we do this to begin with?”
“Hell if I know.” Lex moved out of the way while they pushed. She leaned against the banister and tried to catch her breath. “When you get to the bottom, take the drawers out. And Chet?”
“You get to carry every damned one of them to the truck.”
Amanda opened the back door and waved Ellie to go in front of her. “And when I told her about the house, she couldn't jump fast enough.”
“It's crazy, your sister and her husband buying my grandfather's house. Are you sure about the price? I don't need that much, since the duplex is roughly half the cost.” Ellie took off her coat and hung it. She helped Amanda with hers.
“Thanks. Jeannie and Rodney can afford it. Besides, it's still a bargain.” Amanda took a deep breath. “Mmm. Smells like stew.” She stepped into the kitchen, and was surprised to see Martha stirring a pot on the stove, and Charlie at the kitchen table, feeding Eddie a bottle. “Hi. Um, what are you two doing here?”
Martha removed the wooden spoon from the pot, placed it on the counter, and put her hands on her hips. “Cooking dinner, of course. What does it look like?”
Amanda walked over and gave her a hug. “No, I didn't mean it that way. But, when we left, Lex was here alone with Eddie.” She sat next to Charlie and looked at Eddie, who comfortably reclined in his portable car seat on the table. “Is grandpa taking good care of you?”
“Of course I am,” Charlie huffed. He wiped the milk off of Eddie's chin with a small cloth. “How did the house hunting go, Ellie?”
“Really well. I found the perfect place on the other side of Somerville . It's only about fifteen minutes from Parkdale Hospital .” Ellie sat on the other side of Amanda and propped her elbow on the table. She rested her chin on her open hand. “I swear, that little guy looks just like Lex.”
Once Charlie removed the bottle, Amanda took Eddie out of the carrier. She smiled at Charlie when he draped a towel over her shoulder. “Thanks.” As she put Eddie on her shoulder and patted his diaper, Amanda looked at Ellie. “Everyone keeps saying how much Eddie favors Lex. I think it's great, because Melanie looks so much like me. And the older Lorrie gets, the more she's beginning to favor Frank.”
“Did it bother Lex that neither girl looked like her?” Ellie asked.
Amanda shook her head. “Not at all. But I've always been fond of her looks, so I'm glad one of our kids will look like her.”
Martha snorted. “Hope he doesn't get the trouble-making gene from her.”
“Well, that's true. She does tend to get herself into messes,” Amanda agreed. “Speaking of Lex, where is she?”
Charlie and Martha exchanged glances, and he shrugged. “She's upstairs, resting.”
“What did she do?” Amanda stood and gave Charlie a deadly look.
“Uh, well,” he looked at his wife for help.
Martha took Eddie from Amanda. “Go on upstairs and talk to her. Dinner will be ready in about an hour.”
Amanda exhaled heavily. “I swear, if she was moving furniture after she promised not to, I'm going to kick her ass.” She continued to mumble as she stomped from the kitchen.
Ellie looked at Charlie and then Martha. “Is there anything I can do to help with dinner? Because I'm sure as hell not going upstairs right now.”
Amanda stood in the doorway of their bedroom and studied the still form on the bed. Lex was stretched out on top of the comforter, dressed but without her boots. One arm was over her face and she appeared to be asleep. “What am I going to do with you?” Amanda whispered.
“Anything you want,” Lex answered, just as quietly. She moved her arm and turned her head. “How did the house hunting go?”
“Great. We found the perfect place for Ellie, and it's in Somerville .” Amanda stepped into the bedroom and closed the door behind her. She sat carefully on the bed beside Lex. “What happened to you? I thought you promised not to move any furniture.”
Lex held Amanda's hand. “I didn't. Move any furniture, that is.” She frowned as she thought about what to say. “I mean, not really.”
“No, wait. Roy, Helen and Chet came over not long after you left. Helen fell in love with Eddie, by the way.”
Amanda couldn't help but smile. “Glad it's not just us.”
“Yeah. Anyway, the guys made pretty decent time clearing out the guest room until all that was left was the big dresser.”
“Ooh. I'd forgotten about that monster.” Amanda paused. “Wait a minute. You didn't help them move it, did you?”
Lex shook her head. “No. Not on purpose, anyway.” She sighed. “ Roy wanted to take the drawers out to make it lighter, and Chet wanted to hurry up and finish. So, they decided to try and move it all at once.”
Amanda winced. “Either one of them need to go to the hospital for a hernia?”
“Thankfully, no. I went downstairs first, then Chet. Roy made him walk backward, since it was his bright idea. About halfway down, Chet stumbled or something, and Roy couldn't hang on. I was right behind Chet, so I was at least able to hold it up long enough to keep him from being crushed.”
“Oh, my god. You held up one end? With your back?” Amanda ran one hand along Lex's jaw. “What happened next, honey?”
Lex closed her eyes for a moment and enjoyed Amanda's touch. “Um, let me think. Chet got up, we turned the dresser onto its back, and slid the damned thing down the stairs. I think we might have scratched it up some, but it's still in one piece.”
“I don't care about a stupid piece of furniture, Lex. How's your back?”
Another heavy sigh was Lex's only answer. She opened her eyes when Amanda tugged on her hair. “I don't know. As soon as I reached out for that dresser, I felt something, almost like someone stabbed me in the back. But since I've been lying here, it's doing better.”
“Do you want me to take you to see Rodney?” Amanda knew the answer before she asked.
“Nah. Let me see how it feels tomorrow. If it's still bothering me, we'll go in, okay?”
Amanda unbuttoned Lex's shirt. “All right. But let's get you comfortable.”
“Thanks.” Lex grimaced as Amanda helped her sit up. “Martha got my boots off, but I really didn't want her undressing me like a child.”
“I don't see why not. Up.” With a tug on the jeans, Amanda waited until Lex raised her hips and then carefully slid them down her legs. “You are her child. And, no matter how old you get, you always will be.” She took the clothes to the bathroom and dumped them in the dirty clothes hamper. On her way back, Amanda stopped at their dresser and took out a pair of soft, flannel boxers and a tee shirt. “Lift your arms, honey.”
Lex rolled her eyes, but allowed Amanda to help dress her. “Thanks. Um, can you help me stand up?”
“Whatever it is, I'd rather do it for you. I don't think you're in any shape to do much.”
“Yeah, but believe me, what I need to do, you can't help with.” Lex tipped her head toward the bathroom.
Amanda laughed. “All right. But hold on a moment.” She went to their closet and returned with a pair of crutches. “Here.” When Lex opened her mouth to argue, Amanda held up a finger. “Hush. Do me a favor and use these, please? I don't think I can pick you up off the floor if something happens.”
“You don't play fair,” Lex griped, but she stood and tucked the crutches under her arms.
“And I never will, where you're involved.” Amanda kissed Lex on the chin. “I'm going to run downstairs. Will you be okay?”
“Sure.” Lex looked longingly at the closed bedroom door. “The girls should be home soon. Can I—”
Amanda covered Lex's mouth with her hand. “I'll send them up after we get back from the bus stop. When you see her, ask Ellie about her new neighbors.”
Lex raised an eyebrow and licked Amanda's hand.
“Ew, gross.” Amanda wiped her hand on Lex's shirt. “I hate when you do that.”
“Maybe one of these days you'll think about that before you cover my mouth.” Lex kissed Amanda on the lips. “Send Ellie up in a few minutes. I'd like to hear how y'all's day went.” She slowly made her way to the bathroom, still smiling about how much fun it was to mess with her wife.
Lex was still laughing at Ellie's impersonation of her new neighbor, when she heard two sets of small feet racing up the stairs.
“Momma!” Melanie squealed as she ran toward the bed.
Ellie held out her hands to keep the girl from jumping on Lex. “Be careful, Mel. Your momma isn't feeling well.”
Melanie stopped in her tracks, a few feet away, while Lorrie came into the room with a little more decorum. “Hi, Momma.” She gave her sister a nasty look. “Mommy told us to be careful. Remember, Mel?”
“Uh huh.” Melanie moved closer. “I just wanted to give Momma a hello hug.”
Lex opened her arms. “You still can, sweetheart. But no jumping on the bed.” She winked at Ellie as Melanie carefully climbed into her arms. “How about you, lil' bit?”
Lorrie put her hands on her hips. “It won't hurt you?”
“Not getting a hug would hurt worse,” Lex promised her solemnly. She grinned as she was quickly covered by her children.
Ellie stood. “I think I'll let you enjoy the girls, and go see if I can help with dinner.” She had only stayed to keep Lex company.
“Will you play a game with us later, El?” Melanie asked. “We haven't seen you in forever.”
“Sure thing. How about after dinner?”
Both girls cheered, then got into an argument over which game to play. Ellie left them to decide, while she made a quick exit.
“Old Maid,” Melanie started.
“Sorry,” Lorrie countered.
Lex covered Melanie's mouth, since she was the closest. “Enough! If you can't decide together, there will be no game playing tonight.” She removed her hand. “And use your inside voice, before your mom comes upstairs and gets after all of us.”
Melanie's lower lip quivered. “I'm sorry, Momma.”
“Me too.” Lorrie snuggled closer and put her head on Lex's shoulder. “Mommy said your back hurts. Are you going to the doctor to get better?”
“Um, well, I—”
“She is, if it isn't better tomorrow,” Amanda answered from the doorway. She came in and sat on the edge of the bed and put her hand on Lex's leg. “Isn't that right, Momma?”
Lex bit off a nasty retort. “Yep. I sure will.” The look she gave Amanda added a few choice thoughts to her words. “Want to join us for a little while, Mommy?”
“Oh, I don't know. Is there enough room for me?”
Both girls answered her at the same time. “Yes!”
“All right. Scoot over.” Amanda joined her family, taking time to tickle each girl before settling down.
Lex brought her small toiletries bag from the bathroom and tucked it into the overnight bag. She zipped the bag closed, but her hand was slapped away when she tried to take it off the bed. “Hey.”
“Don't ‘hey' me.” Amanda flipped the strap of the bag onto her shoulder. “I'll take this downstairs.” She ignored her sputtering wife as she exited the bedroom.
With a heavy sigh, Lex followed Amanda down. “I'm not an invalid,” she grumbled.
“I know you're not, but it's only been three days since I came home to find you flat of your back. Are you sure you don't want to just overnight the paperwork to Hubert? Or maybe I should go instead.”
At the foot of the stairs, Lex stood behind Amanda and put her arms around her waist. She kissed the side of Amanda's neck. “If you were to leave me here alone with three kids, I couldn't guarantee the house would be in one piece when you return. Besides, I'm flying instead of driving. That's something, isn't it?”
“I guess.” Amanda turned in Lex's arms so she could look into her eyes. “Tell me the truth. How's your back this morning?”
“Not too bad. I still have a small twinge, but nothing like the other day. I'm okay, I promise.” Lex kissed Amanda, only breaking off when she heard Martha clearing her throat from the kitchen doorway.
Martha laughed as the two hurriedly broke apart. “I swear, you'd think Lexie was going across the world, instead of an overnight trip to Oklahoma City.”
Lex stuck her tongue out at Martha. “You're just jealous.”
“Not hardly.” Martha shook a finger at her. “You'd better get going, if you're gonna make your plane.”
“Yes, ma'am.” Lex tugged Amanda along behind her, but stopped in front of Martha. “Want me to bring you anything back from Oklahoma?”
Martha straightened Lex's collar. “Just yourself.” She smiled when Lex kissed her on the cheek. “Go on, now.”
Lex swatted Martha lightly on the rear. “See you tomorrow.” She turned to Amanda. “Walk me out to the truck?”
“As if you had to ask.” Amanda set the bag down and helped Lex with her duster. She hurriedly slipped on her own coat, picked up the bag and followed Lex outside.
Once they were by the truck, Lex took the bag from Amanda. “I'll call you when I get to the airport.” She grunted in surprise when Amanda moved in close and locked her in a death grip. “Hey. Are you all right?”
“Yeah.” Amanda sniffled and buried her face in the front of Lex's shirt. She closed her eyes and absorbed the scent. The mixture of Obsession and Lex's own unique essence brought tears to her eyes. “I'm gonna miss you,” she murmured.
Lex cupped the back of Amanda's head and held her close. “Me, too.”
The crowd noise bothered her, but Lex continued to fight her way through the boisterous group, her eyes focused on the nearest exit. She ignored a woman who roughly shoved by her, but took exception to the two men who blocked her path. “Excuse me.”
One of the men turned and dismissed her with a roll of his eyes.
“Why don't you guys move out of the way, so the rest of us can get by?” Lex asked, louder than necessary.
The same man glared at her. “Why don't you find another way around? We're trying to have a conversation here.”
Lex's eyes narrowed and she dropped her bag to the floor. She was about to say something else when someone shouldered the men out of the way.
“Oh, excuse me. I didn't see you there.” Hubert grabbed the nearest man before he fell down. “Sorry about that, fella. But you shouldn't be standing in the middle of the walkway. It could be dangerous.” He gave Lex a grin. “Hey, sis.”
“Hubert.” Both stood awkwardly, until Lex held out her hand. “Thanks for picking me up.”
He ignored her hand and pulled his sister into a hug. “Like I'd let you take a cab.” Hubert looked around and noticed the small bag by her feet. “Is that all you brought?”
“Yep. It's not like I'm staying that long.” Lex reached for the bag, but Hubert beat her to it.
“Don't even bother arguing,” he said, hooking the strap over one shoulder. “A little birdie called me and said you had messed up your back.”
Lex frowned, but allowed him to take the bag. “I'm going to kill her.”
Hubert laughed and gestured in front of him. “After you.” He followed Lex out of the terminal and pointed to the right. “I'm parked right over there.”
Lex shook her head when he unlocked the old truck. “Nice ride.”
“It gets me where I need to go.” Hubert put Lex's bag in the back and got in behind the wheel.
“You know, it kind of reminds me of that old truck that dad used to own. Remember?”
Hubert looked at her. “Yeah. Damn, that seems like a hundred years ago, doesn't it?”
“Sure does. He sold it on one of his trips to Oklahoma.” She tapped on the faded dash. “For all we know, this could be it.”
“Hell, don't tell me that. Knowing my luck, the old bastard would probably haunt me.” Hubert pumped the gas pedal a few times and turned the key. The truck sputtered, but came to life.
Once they were on their way out of the airport, Lex took out her cell phone. “I need to let the ‘little birdie' know I made it all right,” she explained to her brother.
“Sure.” He kept his eyes on the road, but couldn't help but listen in to Lex's conversation.
“Hey. I'm with Hubert.” Lex listened for a moment. “Yep. By the way, he mentioned that you called him earlier.” She laughed. “Yeah, you're busted, all right. No, everything's fine. What? Um, okay.” Lex held out her phone. “She wants to talk to you.”
Hubert warily put the phone to his ear. “Hello? Yeah, sure.” He looked at his sister. “Okay, I will. No problem. Bye.” He returned the phone to Lex.
“Do I want to know what you two talked about?” Lex asked Amanda. “Nah. I'm just messing with you.” She cut her eyes to Hubert, who was concentrating on the traffic in front of them. “Yeah. I love you, too. See you tomorrow.” Lex closed the phone and tucked it away. She looked out her window at the passing scenery.
They drove along in silence for a while, until Hubert cleared his throat. “You know, I used to be so damned jealous of you.”
Lex turned to face him. “You did? Why?”
“Hell, lots of reasons. For one, you were the old man's favorite. I swear, when you were little, he probably thought you could walk on water.”
“Yeah, right. I wasn't much more than a hired hand to him,” Lex grumbled. “I envied how you were allowed to do whatever you wanted, and not be tied down to the ranch.”
He glanced at her. “Really? That's wild.” His voice softened. “Then, when you told everyone you were a dyke, I figured he'd drop you like a hot rock.”
“Nah. He didn't care enough to do that. He yelled a lot, slapped me around a little, and then decided I was going to be in charge of the ranch, since you didn't want it.” Lex crossed her arms over her chest and stared ahead. “He thought you were gay for a while, too.”
Hubert almost swerved off the road. “What? You're shittin' me.”
“Nope. Said that you must have been queer, ‘cause you didn't like ranching.” Lex shook her head. “He had some pretty fucked up ideas.”
Lex sighed. “You know, when he came back home,” she had to clear her throat to continue, “to die, I almost threw him off the ranch.”
“What stopped you?”
“Amanda. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I'm glad she did. We got a few things resolved before he passed. But I don't think I'll ever come to respect him, not after everything.”
Hubert snorted. “That sorry old bastard doesn't deserve your respect. He sure as hell wasn't much of a father.” His voice softened. “Not like I'm any better.”
“At least you realized you wouldn't be able to raise Eddie, and found another solution,” Lex argued. “Dad left us to our own devices once Mom died.” She watched Hubert's face. “You haven't changed your mind, have you? About Eddie?”
“No. I talked to Ramona, and we both agree he's better off with you and Amanda. How's he doing, anyway?”
Lex smiled. “He's great. I've got a few photos that Amanda took with her digital camera and printed on the computer. Thought I'd show them to you when we got to your place.”
“I'm looking forward to it. Um, Lex?”
He bit his lip as he thought about what he needed to say. “I can never thank you enough for taking Eddie, and for giving me another chance. I know I don't deserve it, but—”
“We've both done some pretty rotten things to each other in the past, Hubert. I think we should just leave everything there, where it belongs.” Lex put her hand on his shoulder. “I'm kinda enjoying this second chance.”
“Me, too.” Hubert blinked the dampness from his eyes and smiled.
The morning sun burned Ellie's eyes as she left Parkdale hospital. She blinked to clear her vision and wiped an errant tear off her cheek. Once her car door was unlocked, she dropped into the driver's seat with a tired moan. “I don't want to meet with the inspector this morning.”
She turned the ignition and held her breath until the car finally decided to turn over. “All I want to do is go home and sleep. The girls are in school, Lex has probably left for Oklahoma, and I'm sure Amanda will leave the house, too. Perfect time to sleep.”
After a quick stop for a breakfast sandwich and coffee, Ellie continued to the condo she had contracted to buy. Her lowball offer had been immediately accepted, which made her wonder what hidden disasters she'd end up finding. So, instead of being surprised later, she decided that following the home inspector around would be in her best interest.
Although she was over an hour early, Ellie turned onto Mountain View and proceeded toward the condo. To her surprise, there was a blue nineteen sixty-six Ford Thunderbird parked in her driveway with the hood up. She frowned and parked behind the car.
Ellie slammed her door and stomped to the front of the Thunderbird, where she stared at a pair of legs beneath the car. “Excuse me.”
“Yeah?” The voice, while low, was definitely feminine. But the person didn't budge.
“Look, I don't know who you are, but you're parked in my driveway.” Ellie crossed her arms to ward off the chill. Her light, denim jacket wasn't much protection from the cold wind. She tapped her foot against one of the legs. “Hey.”
The sound of a dropped wrench rang out. “Can't you see that I'm busy?”
“You're trespassing, is what you're doing.” Ellie nudged the leg again. “Get up.”
The body slowly started to slide out, and one greasy hand grabbed Ellie's leg. “Damn it, woman. What the fuck is your problem?”
Ellie shook her leg to remove the hand. She looked down at the gray scrubs and grimaced at the dark stain now present. “You're going to pay for cleaning my pants.”
“Like hell I am.” The woman slid the rest of the way out from under the car and sat up. “Who the hell are you?”
“I'm—” Ellie stopped when her eyes met the angry ones below her. The scowling woman had a blonde crew cut and beautiful hazel eyes. Her well-defined forearms peeked out beneath the rolled up sleeves on her khaki brown work shirt, which was liberally covered with grease. “Uh.”
The woman tugged on Ellie's pants leg again. “Now what's the matter?”
Ellie shook her head to clear it. “Nothing.” She wriggled her leg. “Do you have to put your grimy hands on my work clothes? And what are you doing in my driveway?”
“Sorry.” But the grin on the woman's face didn't appear too concerned. She wiped the worst of the oil from her hands with a rag. “You must have the wrong house. A crazy Bible thumper lived here until last month, and you're too young to be her. Unless you're related.”
The comment reminded Ellie of her mother, whose religious zeal and bigotry chased Ellie from their home. “No, I'm definitely not a Bible thumper. But I have signed a contract on this house.”
“Oh, shit.” The woman scrambled to her feet. “You're the woman that Richie has been going on about?” She was only an inch or so taller than Ellie, but her stance made her appear taller. “I'm sorry. Can we start over?” She held out her hand. “I'm Kyle Lind.”
“Ellie Gordon.” Ellie automatically took the offered hand, before she realized it was still covered with grease. “Ugh.” She looked at her hand and sighed. “Just great. Wait. Kyle?”
Kyle grinned. “Kylie, actually. But everyone calls me Kyle. I mean, if you were going to hire a mechanic to work on your car, you'd rather have a Kyle than a Kylie, right?”
“I dunno. I've never really thought about it before.” Ellie took a crumpled tissue from her coat pocket and tried to wipe her hand clean. “Is there a reason you're playing mechanic in my driveway instead of your own?”
“Three cars, two parking spaces. I room with two prissy guys who think they need to park in the garage, and I didn't want to have to stop what I was doing and move my car. Besides, this place has been vacant for over a month, and we'd never seen a for sale sign in the yard. We didn't know what was going on.”
Ellie gave up on cleaning her hand when all she was doing was smearing the mess worse. “Do you know why it was so cheap?”
“Besides being next door to three ‘deviants'? No. As far as I know, everything's fine with the place.” Kyle watched as Ellie made a mess of her greasy hand. “Why don't you come inside and wash up? And if you'll send me a bill for your cleaning, I'll take care of your clothes, too.”
“Um, well, I don't know. I was supposed to meet the inspector at eight-thirty.”
Kyle picked up her toolbox. “Please, I insist. I'll even brew you some fresh coffee while you wait.” She gave Ellie a hopeful look. “You've got at least forty-five minutes. Might as well do it inside where it's warm.”
“All right.” Ellie followed Kyle into the other side of the duplex, trying not to enjoy the view of the woman's backside as they went inside.
Hubert parked the truck in his assigned space and turned to his sister. “I know I said I'd get you a hotel room, but I was kinda hoping you'd stay with us tonight. We have a perfectly good guest room, and I know that Ramona is looking forward to getting all the dirt on my rotten childhood.”
Lex gave the thought a moment of consideration. “Are you sure I won't be any trouble? I saw a motel up the street from here.”
“Do you want me to promise not to murder you in your sleep?” Hubert halfway teased. “I mean, I know we're just getting to know one another again, but—”
“I think I can risk it.” Lex tried to keep the grin off her face. “Does the guest room have a lock?”
He nodded. “I think so. If not, I can always,” Hubert trailed off when Lex started to laugh. “Aw, hell. You're still a damned smartass.”
“Yep.” Lex opened her door at the same time he did. She swung her right leg out and began to get out of the truck, when her leg buckled. Only her firm grip on the door kept Lex from falling. “Damn.”
Hubert hurried around the truck. “Hey, are you all right?” He took one look at Lex's face and put his arm around her waist. “What happened?”
“I don't know.” Lex blinked to try and clear the stars from her vision. Sharp pains shot from her back down her right leg. She gratefully leaned into Hubert's body. “Guess I'm a little stiff from sitting for so long.”
“Can you make it inside to the elevators, or should I take you to the emergency room?”
Lex gave him a look. “I'll be okay in a minute. Maybe if I walk around a little it'll get better.” She wrapped her arm around his shoulder. “Good thing we're getting along now, isn't it?”
“Yeah. If I'd gotten this close before, you'd have kicked my ass.” Hubert chuckled nervously as they walked slowly to the parking garage's elevator.
Once inside the elevator, Lex pulled away from Hubert and carefully put weight on her leg. The shooting pains were still bad, but she hated being dependent on anyone. “I think I can make it now, thanks.”
“Sure. Just let me know if you need anything.”
They stood in silence as the elevator made its way to Hubert's floor. When the door opened he motioned for Lex to go first, and shouldered her bag. “It's the fourth door to the left.”
Lex moved slowly and tried her best to hide her limp. She stood behind Hubert as he put his key in the lock.
The door opened, and a heavyset woman stood smiling at the pair. Her salt and pepper hair was pulled back away from her face, and her dark brown eyes twinkled merrily. “Hi. I'm Ramona Buchanan.” She opened the door wider and stepped back. “Please, come in. Hubert, why don't you take your sister's bag to the guest room?”
“Sure, sweetheart.” Hubert kissed Ramona's cheek in passing.
Ramona held out her hands and tugged Lex into the apartment. “I would have known you anywhere, Lex. I can call you Lex, can't I?”
“Um, sure.” Lex followed her into the living room. “It's nice to meet you.” She allowed herself to be placed on the sofa next to her hostess. “Thanks for having me.”
“Oh, please. You're family, Lex. You're always welcome here.” Ramona leaned closer and whispered, “I know you and Hubert have had your issues in the past, but I really want to thank you for giving him a second chance. It's made a huge difference in his life.”
Lex shook her head. “Honestly, you've made the biggest difference. It's great to finally get to know him as a good guy, and not,” Lex paused, as she tried to think of a tactful way to continue.
“A complete horse's ass?” Hubert finished for her. He sat on the other side of Ramona in a nearby chair.
“Hubert!” Ramona scolded halfheartedly. She winked at Lex. “You'll have to excuse him. He spent all day yesterday with my father, who's a horrible influence.”
Hubert's laughter echoed around the small living room. “Ramona, honey, I think Lex has heard the word before.” He grinned at his sister. “Hell, she's called me worse!”
Lex shared his smile. “True. But with a houseful of kids, I've tried to curtail it, at least a little.”
“That's right. You have two older children, besides the baby, don't you?” Ramona asked. “Do you have any pictures?”
“I sure do.” Lex started to stand. “I've got an album in my bag.”
Hubert quickly got to his feet. “If you don't mind, I'll get it for you.” At Lex's nod, he left the room again. When he returned, he had the small album, as well as a large envelope. “I'm guessing these are the papers I need to sign?”
“Yes.” Lex gritted her teeth while he slowly took the legal papers out and read them over. She held her breath, hoping that he wouldn't change his mind.
He sat, took a pen from his pocket, and signed on the bright-yellow highlighted lines. Exhaling heavily, Hubert thumbed through the papers again to make certain he signed everywhere. “Okay. I think that's it.” He tucked everything in the envelope and left it on the coffee table. “I hope you know what you're doing, Lex. I don't think I'd have the patience for three kids.”
She slowly released her own breath quietly and willed her heart to slow down. “It's a labor of love. Those three keep me young.”
Ramona held out her hand to Hubert, who gave her the photo album. “I think it's just wonderful. I've never wanted children of my own, but it's plain to see you love yours.”
“Why don't you want kids?” Lex asked. To her, Ramona seemed very loving and kind, and she couldn't understand why she didn't want children.
“Oh, lots of reasons. Mostly, I'm too self-involved, and I believe a child deserves everything a person can give them. I love kids, as long as I can spoil them and send them back to their parents.” She smiled at Hubert. “Thankfully, I found a man who feels the same.”
Hubert nodded. “Yeah.” He sat on the arm of the sofa beside Ramona and looked over her shoulder while she studied the photos. “That little one sure looks like Amanda.”
“Acts like her, too,” Lex added. “She'll get mad at something and put her hands on her hips, and I swear it's like a miniature version. I always have a hard time keeping a straight face.”
“Oh, my.” Ramona looked at the photo of Lex holding an infant. “Is that him?” she asked Hubert.
“Yeah,” he muttered in a choked voice.
Ramona raised her head and looked into his eyes. “He looks just like you.”
Hubert could only nod. He cleared his throat. “Uh, Lex? How's he doing?”
“He's growing like a weed. And he loves being around a lot of people. That one really surprised us.”
“Really? Why?” Ramona asked.
Lex shrugged. “Most babies that age don't really care for anyone but their parents. At least our two girls were like that. But even from the start, he's always enjoyed being held by just about anyone.”
Hubert nodded. “I noticed that, too. He took to me right away, even though he had no idea who I was.” He put his arm around Ramona. “I think that his birth mother probably didn't have much time for him, considering her profession. She sure didn't seem very attached to him.”
“That's a shame.” Ramona leaned into him. “From the looks of these two girls, I'd say he's got a very happy life ahead of him.”
“We'll do our best,” Lex promised, her eyes focused on Hubert's. “I hope they'll see a lot of their uncle. And aunt,” she emphasized.
Ramona closed the album and handed it to Lex. “They'll probably get tired of seeing us,” she promised. The answering squeeze of her shoulder was all the confirmation she needed. “It's getting close to lunch time. Why don't we go to the restaurant downstairs? We can chat more over their prime rib.”
“Sounds good to me. If you don't mind, I'd like to wash up, first.” Lex put her hand on the arm of the couch and levered herself up.
Hubert stood as well. “Let me show you where the washroom is.” He lurched forward when Lex's right leg gave out again, causing her to fall forward.
When her left landed on the edge of the coffee table, the table flipped up, hit Lex in the head and caused her to fall face first on the floor. She lay there, motionless as Hubert dropped to his knees beside her.
To be continued in Part Nine
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