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 email@example.com and at my website – www.CarrieLCarr.com
Completely exhausted after the home inspection, Ellie trudged up the back steps to the ranch house and opened the door. She stripped off her coat and hung it in its usual place, and was on her way up the stairs when Amanda met her in the hallway.
“Thank god you're home. Martha's got Eddie, my grandparent's will be picking up the girls at school, and I've got to be in Austin by six. I was going to leave you a note, but I didn't know what to say.” Amanda stopped babbling when Ellie grabbed her by the shoulders.
“Calm down and take a breath. What's going on?”
Amanda shook her head. “I don't have time to explain, you can ask Martha, Charlie or—”
“Hold it. Why are you going to Austin?”
“To catch a plane.” Amanda started up the stairs. “I've still got to pack, but I don't know how long I'll be gone.”
Ellie followed her. “Where are you flying?”
“To Oklahoma City. Hubert called about an hour ago. Lex's back is worse, she fell, and Hubert took her to the emergency room.”
Amanda ignored her and took a suitcase out of the closet. She opened it and began tossing clothes inside, not really paying attention to what she was packing. She went into the bathroom and came back empty-handed. “Damn it. What was I doing?”
“Sit down for a minute, and I'll help.” Ellie guided her to the rocker beside Eddie's crib. “You're not going to do Lex any good at all if you keep this up.”
“I know, but—”
“Sshh.” Ellie waggled a finger at Amanda. “Now, calmly tell me what's going on, and why you're in such a hurry to get to Oklahoma.”
Amanda exhaled slowly. “Lex reinjured her back the other day, but was too damned stubborn to go to the doctor. She was at Hubert's and her leg gave out, she fell and it scared Hubert so bad that he called an ambulance.”
“Oh, wow. Have you heard anything else?”
“Not yet.” Amanda stood until Ellie glared at her. She dropped back onto the rocker. “The last I heard was she was in the emergency room, and that was about an hour ago.”
The phone rang, and Amanda jumped up to answer it. “Hello?” She nodded as the person on the other end of the line spoke. “Really? Okay. Uh-huh. Right. Are you sure? All right. Could you have her call me as soon as possible, please? Thank you.” Amanda hung up the phone and turned to Ellie. “She's okay. Ramona said that they're releasing Lex in a little while, but she has to follow up with her own doctor when she gets back.”
“Oh, sorry. She's Hubert's fiancée. The emergency room doctor said that he thinks that Lex may have a herniated disc, which would explain why she's in so much pain.” Amanda sat on the edge of the bed. “Ramona also said that she and Hubert will be flying back with Lex, in case she has any more problems.”
Ellie joined Amanda. “That's nice of them. Although I'm glad I'm not there when they tell Lex. She's gonna blow a gasket.”
Amanda laughed. “Probably. But that's too damned bad. They're going to help her and she's going to accept it, whether she wants to or not.” She looked down and spotted the black grease on Ellie's scrub pants. “Is that oil?”
“Huh?” Ellie looked down and unsuccessfully tried not to blush. “Oh, yeah.”
“Did you have car trouble? Why didn't you call?”
Ellie brushed her hands over her face. “Um, no. No car trouble. I had an appointment this morning to meet with the inspector at the new house.”
“Oh.” Amanda nodded. “Found a few problems?”
“No, he said the house was in very good shape. No mold, all the appliances are in great order, and the AC/furnace unit is only three years old. The garbage disposal needs to be replaced, and the carpet's worn in the master bedroom, but that's about it.”
Amanda looked down at Ellie's leg again. “And?”
“Oh. The grease. When I got to the house, there was a car parked in the driveway. It belonged to Kyle, who needed a place to work on it.”
“Kyle? One of the neighbors? Did he tell you why he was using your driveway to work on a car?”
Ellie blushed and looked at the floor. “She said her roommates used the garage, and she didn't want to stop and move the car every time they wanted in or out.”
“She?” Amanda started to smile. “So, Kyle's a she?”
“Is she cute?”
The blush on Ellie's face intensified and she mumbled something.
“What was that?”
With a heavy sigh, Ellie looked up. “She's kind of butch, I guess. Got really short hair and muscles.”
Amanda's eyebrow rose. “Muscles? Like a weight lifter?”
“No, not all bulky or anything.” Ellie moved her hands around as she tried to describe Kyle. “She's not much taller than me, but has really nice arms.” Her face turned red again. “Her work pants have to be tailored, the way they fit.”
Ellie covered her face with her hands. “Oh, god. Kill me.”
“Come on, Ellie. Give me more details.” Amanda tugged on Ellie's scrub top and pulled her back onto the bed. “So, this Kyle. She's hot?” She laughed when Ellie rolled over and put a pillow over her face. “Aw, what's the matter? Is Ellie in love?”
Amanda tugged on the pillow. “Lust, maybe? You did say her pants fit well.”
All eyes in the room were on the woman in the wheelchair, as she continued to argue with the perturbed man in the lab coat. “I don't need those, I have crutches at home,” Lex told the doctor.
“Ms. Walters, you don't seem to understand. You have two choices. Either use the crutches, or I will admit you.”
Lex stared at him.
“Oh, for god's sake,” Hubert growled. He leaned over and whispered into Lex's ear. “Take the damn things so we can get out of here. It's not like he can see if you're using them once we leave.”
“Okay.” Lex took the crutches from the doctor. “Thanks.” She tried to keep her composure as Hubert wheeled her from the room. “Stupid jackass,” she grumbled.
Hubert pushed her faster, while Lex wrestled with the metal crutches. At the end of the hall they met Ramona, who took the crutches from Lex.
“You poor thing. I've talked Amanda out of coming, but she wants you to call her as soon as possible.”
“Thanks, Ramona. Wait. Amanda knows what happened?” Lex turned and looked at her brother. “Did you call her?”
He tried to avoid the question as they went through the emergency room doors. “I'll run get the car.”
Lex grabbed his belt before he got away. “Why did you call Amanda? I bet she's going crazy right now.”
“Come on, Lex. You can't blame me for calling her. You scared us to death, and I had no idea if you had a concussion, or worse.”
“I was stunned, that's all.” Lex started to get out of the chair, but Ramona's hand on her shoulder held her fast. “It's my leg that's bothering me, not my head. I've had enough concussions to know what one feels like.”
Ramona gently squeezed her shoulder. “Not to mention the doctor agreed with you. Since Hubert's going to get the car, why don't you sit tight for a little while longer? You can use my cell phone to call Amanda.”
Hubert handed Lex a plastic bag. “I think all your stuff is in there. Be right back.” He took off before Lex could harass him any more.
“If you think you'll be okay, I'll give you some privacy to make your call.” Ramona patted Lex's arm and followed her fiancé.
After finding her cell phone in the bag, Lex hit the familiar speed dial.
“Hello?” Amanda answered breathlessly.
Lex couldn't help but smile when she heard her wife's voice. “Hi, sweetheart.”
“Oh, my god, Lex. Are you—”
“Yeah, I'm okay.”
Amanda had to clear her throat before she could continue. “Hubert told me you were knocked out when your head hit the coffee table. He said—”
“No, my head's fine. Just a tiny bump, and I never lost consciousness. I feel kind of stupid, to tell you the truth. When I stood up, my right leg gave out. I started to fall forward, tried to break my fall with the coffee table, and caused it to flip over. I was stunned, but not really hurt. The doctors here verified that, so you really have nothing to worry about. I promise I'm okay.”
“I was going to fly up there, but Ramona talked me out of it. She said that they would fly back with you, to make sure you got home all right.”
Lex rolled her eyes. “I don't need babysitters, Amanda.”
“Honey, please. If you won't do it for yourself, do it for me. Otherwise I'll be out of my mind, worrying about you.”
“You don't play fair.” Lex sighed at the futility of ever trying to win an argument with her wife.
“All right. But only for you.”
“Thank you.” Amanda's voice was hoarse with emotion. “I love you so much.”
Lex softened her tone as she fought the lump in her throat. “I love you too, sweetheart. See you tomorrow, okay?” She closed the phone and set it in her lap, wishing she was home with her wife.
Amanda pushed the off button on the phone and curled up around the receiver. She was alone in the bedroom, since earlier she had convinced Ellie to get some rest. Ellie had related the rest of her morning, and that she was planning on going back to her old house first thing tomorrow to start packing, so she agreed a nap would be a good idea.
The sound of the back door closing downstairs caused Amanda to sit up and return the handset to the base. She brushed her fingers through her hair and adjusted her clothing, just as footsteps hit the stairs.
“Amanda?” Martha called. “If you're going to the airport, you'd better get a move on.” She stood at the entrance to the master bedroom and put her hands on her hips. “Did you fall asleep?”
“No. Come on in.”
Martha joined her on the bed. “You look a little out of it, honey. What's going on?”
“I just heard from Lex. She's okay. Seems like Hubert panicked and scared us all to death.” Amanda stood and started removing items from the suitcase which was on the bed. “Her leg gave out, caused her to fall, and he thought she had been more seriously hurt.”
“Well, isn't that something.” Martha stood, took the stack of clothes from Amanda's hands and placed them neatly in a dresser drawer. “I think it was easier on all of us when they weren't getting along.”
Amanda chuckled. “Isn't that the truth? Anyway, He and his fiancée, Ramona, are going to fly back with Lex to make sure she doesn't have any more problems.”
“I bet Lexie just loved that.”
“Oh yeah.” Amanda stopped in the middle of the room and scratched her head. “Damn. Where are we going to put them? We've already cleared out the extra guest room.”
Ellie piped in from the doorway. “They can have my room. I'm going to be staying at my old place until I get everything packed and moved. Since I'm paying cash for the condo and the previous owner wants to get rid of it as soon as possible, I'll be signing the papers next week.”
“What's wrong with the new place?” Martha asked. After hearing real estate horror stories from Amanda over the years, she knew there must be a catch.
“There's a trio of ‘deviants' living in the adjacent condo,” Ellie quipped, taking a seat on the rocker.
Amanda laughed at Martha's confused look. “Two gay men and a lesbian,” she supplied helpfully.
“Oh, for goodness sakes! What in the sam hill is wrong with people nowadays? I've never heard such bull pucky.” Martha couldn't understand what Amanda found so amusing. “Doesn't that upset you?”
“Are you kidding? One person's bigotry saved Ellie tens of thousands of dollars on a new place to live. I think it's poetic justice.” Amanda shoved the empty suitcase under the bed.
Ellie nodded. “I wish I'd see them at closing. After everything was signed, I was going to put the key on a rainbow keychain. It would have been great to see the look on their face.”
“I swear, you girls,” Martha sighed. “Well, since you're not traipsing off to Oklahoma, I suppose you'll be wanting little Eddie back.”
“Yes, most definitely. And I need to call my grandparents back, so they'll know what's going on. It's too late to stop them from picking up the girls, but I can run into town and get them.” Amanda starting ticking things off on her fingers. “Not to mention, calling Rodney to see if he can see Lex sometime tomorrow afternoon. And letting my sister know that everything's a go for the house.”
Martha started for the door. “Why don't you let your grandparent's keep the girls tonight? Things are going to be hectic enough around here tomorrow. You know they'll want to start painting their rooms as soon as they can. Give yourself a break. Charlie and I will be in town tomorrow, so we can bring them home that evening.”
“I'll see what Gramma says. I'm sure if she had her way, the girls would spend the entire weekend with them.” She turned to Ellie. “Why don't you go back and try to get more sleep? You still look tired.”
The comment caused Ellie to yawn. “I was going to argue with you, but,” she shrugged. “Let me know if you need me for anything okay?” She gave Martha a quick hug on the way out.
“I'm really going to miss that girl when she moves back out,” Martha lamented.
“Me, too. But I'm glad she won't have to drive so far after working all night. I hated thinking of her on those quiet, country roads.” Amanda took a cleansing breath and straightened her shoulders. “Let's go get my son, before your husband spoils him rotten.”
Martha followed her out of the room. “Don't you know that's a grandparent's job? I think we've done an admirable job of restraining ourselves, so far.”
Anna Leigh parked her Cadillac near the front door of the school, arriving far too early, as usual. She picked up the magazine she had brought and mindlessly began leafing through it, her thoughts elsewhere. Amanda's second call had been welcome news, but she still worried about her granddaughter's partner. Lexington Walters always chafed at any physical limitations, and from the way Amanda talked, Lex was in for enforced rest, time-consuming physical therapy, or worse.
A quick call to her grandson-in-law, Rodney, had verified what everyone already suspected. Even without a physical exam, he was somewhat certain that Lex suffered from a herniated disc, which, with proper care, was something she could fully recover from. If they could get Lex to follow instructions. Anna Leigh shook her head. “Mandy's certainly going to have her hands full.” She tossed the magazine on the seat next to her, instead occupying herself with her thoughts.
Her son, Michael, had come over for breakfast, looking far healthier than he had in months. He admitted to her and Jacob that he had ignored the warning signs from his body, afraid that if he slowed down, he'd lose business. It took his heart condition, plus a long talk with his wife, to make Michael realize what was most important in his life. He had spent the entire morning apologizing to his parents for his actions.
The sound of the school bell broke Anna Leigh from her remembrance, as she watched the front doors of the school carefully for her grandchildren. In no time at all, the Walters' girls headed toward the car, huge grins on their faces.
The back door opened, and Melanie was the first to climb in. “Hi, Gramma! I was so excited when my teacher told me you were coming to get us. I love when Mommy picks us up, but I have a lot of fun at your house, and Grandpa is always letting me help him in the shop.” Her constant chattered slowed as her older sister got in beside her. “Penny got put in time out today ‘cause she called Tommy a boogerhead. Is boogerhead a bad word?”
“Well, dearest, it's not a nice thing to say. And calling someone a name is never right.” Anna Leigh smiled at Lorrie. “How was your day today?”
“It was okay, I guess. Are we spending the night with you?”
“You can, if you'd like. Your grandfather and I thought we would go shopping tomorrow in Austin, then perhaps go see a movie. We'd love for you to join us.”
Both girls cheered.
After a moment, Melanie sobered. “Momma comes home tomorrow from her trip. What if we're not there to give her a hello hug?”
Lorrie wasn't worried. “She'll understand that we're with Gramma and Grandpa. We can give her our hugs when we get home. Right, Gramma?”
“That's right. Maybe you can find her something special on our trip. How's that sound?”
“I like that a lot,” Melanie agreed.
Lorrie nodded. “Me too.”
“Then it's settled. Come on girls, your grandfather was about to make some hot chocolate when I left.”
Early evening found Amanda and Charlie in the kitchen playing cards, while Eddie napped in Martha's arms. When the doorbell rang, the three looked at each other in surprise.
Martha held Eddie closer to her, trying not to disturb his sleep. “Are you expecting anyone?”
“No. I wonder who it could be?” Amanda asked.
Charlie put his cards face-down on the table and stood. “We're not going to find out by sitting here talking about it, that's for sure.” He headed down the hall, with Amanda and Martha hot on his heels.
Before the doorbell could ring again, Charlie opened the front door. He noticed their adopted son, who was not alone. Beside Ronnie stood a quiet redhead, her eyes taking in the three people on the other side of the doorway. “Ronnie? What are you doing here?”
“Hey, everyone. I know I should have called first, but—”
Amanda took his hand and tugged. “Of course not. You're family, so you never need to call ahead. Come on in, and bring your friend with you.” She released Ronnie and held out her hand to the silent woman. “Hi, I'm Amanda.”
The younger woman smiled bashfully. “I'm Nora. It's a pleasure to meet you.”
“Let's go into the den, shall we?” Martha suggested. “We're all going to catch a chill standing in the doorway.”
Once everyone was settled, Amanda brought in a carafe of coffee and passed it around. She sat next to Martha, and watched as Ronnie nervously fiddled with the cowboy hat he held. “Ronnie? Is everything all right?”
He looked up and grinned. “Oh, yeah. Everything's great, isn't it, Nora?” He realized his social error. “I'm sorry. Mom, Dad, this is Nora Haden. Nora, my folks, Charlie and Martha Bristol. And you've kinda met Amanda.”
“Pleased to meet you all.” Nora murmured. Her face was pink with embarrassment, and she kept her hands tucked demurely in her lap.
Ronnie placed his hat on one knee. “Where's Lex and the girls?”
“The girls are with my grandparent's for the night, and Lex is, uh, in Oklahoma until tomorrow.” Amanda answered.
Eddie woke with a squeak and began to fuss. Martha checked his diaper and shook her head. “Nice timing, cutie.” She started to get up, but Amanda took Eddie out of her arms.
“Let me. I'll just run upstairs and get him cleaned up.” She looked at the young couple on the loveseat. “I'll be right back.”
It suddenly occurred to Ronnie what Amanda had in her arms as she left the room. “Mom, what is Amanda doing with a baby?”
Charlie started laughing, at least until Martha lightly slapped him on the arm. “Son, nothing gets past you, does it?” At Ronnie's continued confusion, he elaborated, “Lex and Amanda adopted little Eddie about a week or so ago. I guess it slipped our minds to let you know about him.”
“Wow. Well, that's great,” Ronnie enthused. He noticed the expectant looks on his parent's faces and started to bounce one leg, until Nora covered it with her hand.
“So, how's things at the vet's office?” Charlie asked, more to fill the silence than anything else.
Ronnie's head bobbed up and down quickly. “Good. Real good. Dr. Hernandez is going on vacation for a couple of weeks starting in January. He said he trusts me to handle anything that might come up.”
“Of course you can. I've always said that about you,” Martha added with pride. She looked at Ronnie's face carefully. “Did you forget to shave this morning?”
He brushed at his upper lip. “No. I'm growing a mustache. What's the matter? Don't you like it?”
Nora patted his leg. “I think it looks nice, honey.”
Martha snorted, but didn't add anything. Her eyebrow rose at the term of endearment the young woman used. “How long have you known each other?”
Ronnie's face turned bright red. “Um, a while. We met at school.”
“Oh?” Martha turned her attention to Nora. “Did you study veterinary science, too?”
“No, ma'am. Architecture. Well, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, to be exact.”
“I see. That sounds quite fascinating.”
Nora leaned forward as she nodded, her face animated and her deep brown eyes twinkling. “Oh, yes. I love it. I've recently gotten on with a firm in Austin, and it seems like I'm learning more now than I ever did in school.”
Amanda returned, with a happy and clean Eddie. She sat next to Martha. “Sorry about that. What did I miss?”
“We were just getting to know Nora,” Martha shared. “She's a landscape and urban planning architect. Right?”
Nora beamed. “That's correct, Mrs. Bristol.”
“Oh, please. Just call me Martha.”
“Thank you, ma'am, I mean, Martha.” Nora seemed to be coming out of her shell, at least until Ronnie stood.
“I'd like to make an announcement,” he said, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. “Last night, I asked Nora to marry me, and she said yes.” He pulled Nora up beside him and put his arm around her.
Charlie and Martha both stared at them, not saying a word. Amanda grinned, and Eddie kicked his legs, oblivious to everything.
Ronnie looked at his folks, his smile slowly disappearing. “Um, Mom? Dad? Aren't you going to say anything?”
Charlie looked at his wife, who still had a stunned expression on her face. “I do believe that's the first time I've ever see Martha speechless.” He stood and embraced the happy couple. “Congratulations, you two. Nora, I hope you know what you're getting into.”
Finally coming out of her trance, Martha clapped her hands. “This is wonderful news!” She looked Nora up and down. “You're not having to get married, are you?”
“Mom!” Ronnie's face turned beet red. “I can't believe you asked that.”
Martha patted his cheek. “That'll teach you to keep such a lovely young woman a secret from me.” She took Nora's left hand and looked carefully at the ring. “Very nice. Have you two set a date?”
Nora shook her head. “No, ma'am. But I was hoping to maybe have a spring wedding?” She asked Ronnie, who smiled his consent.
“Anything you want, honey. Just tell me when and where, and I'll be there.” Ronnie kissed her cheek.
Amanda smiled fondly at the display. “Lex is going to be so sorry she missed this.”
Once all the hugs were over, everyone took their seats again. “When will she be home?” Ronnie asked. “We can always stop back by sometime this weekend, can't we, Nora?”
“Of course. I don't have to be in Austin until Tuesday.”
Martha had the perfect solution. “Why not come over for lunch on Sunday? I've got a lovely roast I can have ready.”
Ronnie deferred to Nora, who nodded and smiled. “We'd love to. And I can't wait to meet Ronnie's big sister, Lex, who I've heard so much about.” She caressed his reddened cheek. “Aw, it's okay, sweetie. Everyone idolizes their older siblings.”
“I know it goes both ways,” Amanda shared, which only added to Ronnie's embarrassment. “Don't worry, Ronnie. We won't tell.”
“Thanks,” he mumbled. In order to take the attention off himself, Ronnie got up and walked over to Amanda. “Can I hold him?”
She immediately handed Eddie over. “Sure.”
Ronnie studied the baby while he held him close. “What's his name?”
“Edward Lee Walters. But we call him Eddie.”
“He's cute.” Ronnie shifted Eddie a little until they were both more comfortable. “How come he looks just like Lex?”
Charlie, Martha and Amanda all laughed at the familiar question. Amanda watched as Ronnie sat beside Nora, and they both fussed over Eddie. “It's kind of a long story, if you're in any hurry to get anywhere.”
“Go on,” Ronnie encouraged. “We're fine. Aren't we, Nora?”
“Sure. I'm interested, too.”
Amanda took a deep breath and exhaled. “Okay, well, it goes like this.” She slowly related the tale, leaving nothing out.
By late Sunday afternoon, Lex was chafing at the enforced rest. The lunchtime visit with Ronnie and Nora had been fun, but after they left, she had been relegated back to her bedroom. Even with the girls doing their best to keep her occupied, she was ready to escape. As her “company” for the time being, Melanie was stretched out across the bed, coloring. The room was quiet, which gave Lex time to think about the previous day's events.
The visit to Rodney's office had frightened Lex, but she was too stubborn to admit it to anyone, including Amanda. Rodney had taken several x-rays, and wanted to send her for an MRI, which she adamantly refused. He told her that from her symptoms, he believed she suffered from a herniated disc in her back. Rodney recommended a week of complete bed rest, and without bothering to get Lex's approval, made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon for a second opinion, and the dreaded MRI.
When Rodney explained that, in some cases, only surgery could repair the damage, Lex had felt like fleeing the office. The only thing that kept her in place was the terrified look on Amanda's face, and the knowledge that she was the only one who could take that look away. Then and there, Lex pledged to do whatever it took to appease her wife.
But now, with the bedroom walls already closing in on her, Lex had second thoughts. She didn't know if she could handle an entire week this way.
“Momma,” Melanie tapped Lex on the leg, “what color should I do the horse?” She held up her coloring book. “I was thinking brown, but it kinda looks like Thunder, and he's black. But black isn't a pretty color. Maybe red? Or I could do different colors, like Mommy's horse. But that's not as pretty as purple.” When Lex didn't answer, Melanie grabbed the hem of Lex's tee shirt and tugged on it. “Momma? Why are your eyes closed? Is your head hurting again?”
Lex took a deep breath and opened her eyes. “A little. Would you mind going downstairs and getting me something to drink, please? I'm sure that would help.”
“Sure!” Melanie gave Lex a kiss on the cheek before she hopped off the bed and raced from the room.
A few minutes later, Amanda arrived with a glass of milk and a small plate of cookies. She placed the items on the nightstand and carefully eased herself next to Lex. “Hi, honey. Mel told me you had a headache.” She caressed Lex's cheek. “You look a little worn out.”
“It's the pain meds, I think. And I don't know how I'm going to survive an entire week in this room. If I have to lie down the entire time, you may have to have me committed.”
Amanda's eyes grew serious and she cupped Lex's chin with one hand. “I know this is hard for you, and I really appreciate that you're willing to do whatever it takes to get better. I know how I'd feel in your position, so, why don't we compromise? How about stretching out on the sofa downstairs during the day, and only being up here at night? Would that help?”
Lex leaned forward and kissed her. “Will you be keeping me company?”
“Keep kissing me like that and you can bet on it.” Amanda grinned as her lips were covered again, this time for a much longer period.
An embarrassed cough sounded from across the room. Hubert stood in the doorway, his face and ears red. “Uh, sorry to disturb you.” He and Ramona had accepted Amanda's offer to stay, at least until Lex met with the specialist. They both enjoyed being a part of the large family, and were thrilled to help out. “Martha sent me up to see if Lex wanted anything, but I can see she already has it.” His eyes grew big. “I mean, I saw the milk and cookies. Um, I think I'll go back downstairs now. Talk to you later, sis.”
Both women laughed as Hubert scurried away. Lex put her arms around Amanda. “He was right, you know.”
“You're all I'll ever need.” Lex pulled her close and kissed Amanda again.
Late Monday morning, Lex was propped up on the couch, television remote in one hand and her head tipped back, dozing. The pain pills Rodney had prescribed tended to knock her out, which was as much for Amanda's benefit as Lex's.
At the other end of the sofa, Amanda sat with her laptop, typing away at her blog. She stopped when she heard a car come up the graveled driveway. “Damn.” She put her laptop on the coffee table and hurried to the front door before the visitor woke up Lex.
She opened the front door and was almost hit by her sister, who had been prepared to knock. “Jeannie! What are you doing here?”
“Nice to see you too, Mandy. I was hoping to help keep Slim company. How's she feeling?”
Amanda held the door open and gestured for Jeannie to come inside. “Her back and right leg are really bothering her, and she hates taking the pain medication. So she's either grumpy or sleepy.”
“And that's new?” Jeannie teased. She glanced into the living room and could see Lex's head. “Let me guess. Right now, she's sleepy.”
“I'm afraid so. She put off taking the meds until after Hubert and Ramona left for the day.” Amanda's eyes softened as she looked at her wife. “I hate seeing her like this.”
Jeannie rubbed her arm. “She's going to be okay. How are you doing? I can't even imagine taking care of two active girls, an infant, and a recuperating wife. You've got my utmost respect, little sister.”
“Thanks. But I've got a lot of help. Martha and Charlie usually kidnap Eddie, and I don't get to see him until lunch. Then we have lunch together, and they usually stay and visit.” Amanda tugged Jeannie's arm. “Come on. Lex will be out for a while. Let's get some coffee in the kitchen.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Jeannie watched as Amanda efficiently got two mugs of coffee ready and set one in front of her at the table. “This may sound crazy, but you really seem comfortable here.”
“Don't you think I should? I've lived here for over twelve years.” Amanda sat across from Jeannie. “What makes you think I wouldn't?”
“No, no. I didn't say that right. What I meant was, I've always seen you as someone in an office, and enjoying it. But now, you seem perfectly content to stay at home, raise your kids, and live your life.”
Amanda nodded. “Yeah, it's been a bit of an adjustment for me, that's for sure. At first, I felt almost cheated, because we closed the office. But it didn't take me long to realize that I really wanted to spend my time with my family. The girls are growing so fast, and I don't want to miss a moment of it. And now, with Eddie, I can actually be a stay-at-home mom full-time. Even with Mel, I worked half-days once she was six months old. And as she got older, I worked even more. And when I got home, I was so busy being some kind of super mom, I had a tendency to neglect the most important person in my life.”
“I can't imagine Lex giving you a hard time about working, though,” Jeannie mused. “She's got such a strong work ethic.”
“No, she didn't.” Amanda smiled fondly. “She wouldn't. But it got to the point that the only time we'd see each other was at the dinner table, with the kids. Then, once we'd get the girls to bed, we'd both collapse and fall right to sleep. Even though I was lying right beside her, I missed her.”
Jeannie wiped away a tear. “You two should be considered illegal. I've never seen two people so much in love.”
“We are. It seems like every day, I fall even deeper in love with her.”
A shuffling at the door caused Amanda to look up. “Lex, what are you doing?”
Lex stood in the doorway, propped on crutches. “Hey, Jeannie. How are you doing?”
“I'm fine, Slim. The baby's growing, I'm eating, and poor Rodney has to run out in the middle of the night to fetch my latest craving.” Jeannie pushed a chair away from the table. “Why don't you come join us?”
“Are you sure I'm not interrupting anything?”
Jeannie patted the chair. “Not in the least. As a matter of fact, I came to visit you. Come sit by me, cutie.”
Lex blushed, but worked her way into the kitchen. She lowered slowly into the chair and put the crutches on the floor beside her. “One of these days Amanda's going to think something's going on between us, if you keep that up.”
Amanda took one look at Lex before she stood and picked up a coffee cake off the counter. She gathered plates and forks, and brought everything over to the table. In no time at all, she had served all of them a decent-sized piece. She poured Lex a glass of milk and returned to her chair. “You need to get something into your stomach, honey.”
“Yeah, I know. Those damned pills always make me wake up nauseous.” Lex picked at the coffee cake, before finally taking a small bite.
Jeannie scooted closer and rubbed Lex's shoulder. “Maybe you stole my morning sickness. I had it for about a week, and then it disappeared.”
“God, I hope not.” Lex gave her a crooked grin. “I lucked out when Amanda was pregnant. Didn't get sick, or the weird cravings. But I did buy a lot of strange things when I was in town, just on the off chance she'd want them later.”
Amanda came close to spitting her coffee across the table. “Martha was afraid you were craving those things. I think it freaked her out a little to think of you setting foot in a grocery store without being threatened first.”
“She even tried to take my temperature, the first time I came home with several grocery bags,” Lex added, much to Jeannie's amusement.
“Well, Slim, you have to admit, you've always acted like you were allergic to any kind of shopping.”
Lex shrugged. “I tried to be prepared.”
“Want to come home with me? Rodney's been good, but I think I'd like to be spoiled.”
Amanda started to choke on her coffee cake. When she was finally able to take a breath, she glared at her sister. “You've been spoiled your entire life, Jeanne Louise. So don't try and tell us any different.”
Jeannie stuck her tongue out at Amanda. “Turd.”
“Spoiled brat,” Amanda retorted.
“Ladies, please,” Lex sighed. “Let's not resort to name calling.”
Both sisters started laughing. Their favorite pastime was teasing each other.
Jeannie flicked a piece of pecan from her cake at Lex. “Who are you calling a lady?”
Lex flinched as the nut bounced off her cheek. “Not you, obviously.” But she couldn't help but smile at their silliness. “You'd better not make a mess in here. Amanda's worse than Martha when it comes to the kitchen.”
“Really?” Jeannie looked at her sister. “My sister? The girl who used to get hives at the thought of cleaning?”
Amanda dropped her fork onto the plate. “I was ten, for god's sake. What ten-year-old likes to clean?”
“Pfft.” Jeannie waved her hand in a dismissive motion.
“I swear, sometimes I wish I had been an only child,” Amanda grumbled.
“Yeah, right. Then whose bed would you have invaded every time you thought you saw the boogeyman? Hmm?” Jeannie turned to Lex. “Does she still stick her cold feet on your legs in the middle of the night?”
Lex nodded. “All the damned time.” Another piece of cake bounced off her shirt. “Hey.”
Amanda pointed her fork at Lex. “My cold feet will find somewhere else to sleep, if you're not careful,” she threatened.
“Yeah.” Amanda appeared quite pleased with herself, until a rather large piece of cake hit her forehead. “Lexington,” she growled.
Ten minutes later, Martha came into the kitchen, where she saw three laughing women and chunks of coffee cake all over the kitchen. “What on earth has been going on around here?”
The room turned silent, as all three pointed to each other, laying the blame. They looked at the peeved glare on Martha's face, then at each other, and proceeded to laugh even harder.
“Uncle Hubert, how come you don't live here no more?” Melanie asked. It was Tuesday evening and they were gathered around the kitchen table, with several games stacked to one side. Hubert and Ramona were with the girls, while Amanda had taken Lex upstairs to bed.
Hubert looked at Ramona. “Uh, well, I had some business in Oklahoma, and when I met Ramona, I decided to make it my home.”
“But you lived here for a long time, too, right?” Melanie persisted.
“That's right. Why?”
Melanie got off her chair and proceeded to crawl into Hubert's lap. “I think you're nice. Were you sad when you moved away from home?”
“I don't want to ever live away from home. I love Momma, Mommy and Lorrie. And Eddie.”
Lorrie opened a game box and set out the pieces. “When you grow up and get married, you'll have to live somewhere else. That's what grownups do. Right, Uncle Hubert?”
“Usually, yes.” Hubert smiled at Ramona when Melanie snuggled closer and put her arms around his neck.
“But Momma said that this is the only house she's ever lived in. Did you live here, too?” Lorrie asked.
Hubert nodded. “When I was younger, yes I did. But after I graduated from high school, I went away for college, and then moved into my own place.”
“Aunt Ramona, do you live with your family?” Melanie asked.
“We're in the same city as my father, but I live with your Uncle Hubert.” Ramona helped Lorrie set up the Sorry! game. She accepted the green game piece and placed it on the board. “Thank you.”
Lorrie grinned at her. “You said you liked the green one, right?”
“Cool.” Lorrie passed out colored game-pieces to everyone. “Uncle Hubert, how come Momma never told us about you? We didn't even know she had a brother, until Eddie came to live with us.”
Hubert's smile faded, as he remembered past events. “I wasn't a very nice person, Lorrie. I'm sure your moms didn't talk about me because they're too nice to say bad things about people.”
Ramona put her hand on his shoulder for support. “The important thing is that now we're all together, and happy. Right?”
“Yeah,” Hubert agreed, his voice gruff with emotion.
Lorrie still had questions. “Do you like kids, Uncle Hubert?”
“Then how come you didn't want Eddie? Was he bad?”
Hubert scooted away from the table and held out his free arm to Lorrie. “Come here, sweetheart. Let's talk about this.”
Lorrie quickly moved from her chair to his lap. “Okay.”
“Remember when I told you I wasn't a very nice guy? Well, I'll always worry that I'll be that guy again. And I loved Eddie so much that I wanted him to have the best home he could. I knew that your parents would raise him right, giving him all the love in the world.” He kissed each girl on the forehead. “Besides, he needed big sisters to take care of him. Who's better than you two?”
Lorrie turned to Ramona. “Didn't you want babies?”
“Oh, sweetie. I love children, especially the ones living in this house,” Ramona said, a little sad. “But your Uncle Hubert and I are too old. It wouldn't be fair to the child to have parents who couldn't do everything with them. Don't you agree?”
“I guess. But you'll come and visit us and Eddie a lot, won't you?”
Ramona looked at Hubert, whose eyes glistened with lost chances. “You'll get tired of seeing us, we'll be here so often,” she promised.
Ellie yawned as she walked down the quiet hallway. She had agreed to work late this Thursday morning to help out a coworker, but the slow-moving clock made her regret her kindness. She saw a solitary figure in the waiting room and thought her tired eyes were deceiving her. “Amanda?”
The woman's head lifted, and a wan smile came across Amanda's face. “Ellie? What are you doing here this time of morning?”
“Splitting a shift with a coworker. Why are you here? Is it Lex?”
“We got a call last night from the orthopedic surgeon. He wanted Lex to get the MRI done before coming into his office on Monday. So, here we are.” Amanda lowered her head and brushed her fingers through her hair. “I managed to get Hubert and Ramona to stay home and help Martha get the girls off to school. But I'm really glad to see a friendly face.”
Ellie sat next to Amanda and put her arm around her in a comforting gesture. “I'm glad I came this way for my break. How long has Lex been in there?”
“Seems like hours.” Amanda checked her watch. “About forty-five minutes, though. I just hope she's not going crazy in there.”
“She should be okay. This hospital has an open-bore MRI, so it's not as claustrophobic. I've talked to patients who said it's not bad at all.”
Amanda sighed. “I hope so. She's really not taking this whole thing very well.”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you ever known Lex to sit still for very long? She's been, as she put it, ‘under house arrest', since she returned from Oklahoma. As much as she loves the kids, even they are starting to get on her nerves.”
Ellie gave her a one-armed hug. “Hang in there it's going to get better. Has she made any progress at all?”
“Not much. Her leg and back are still causing her a lot of pain, even with lying around all the time. What if they end up having to do surgery? It scares me to death to think about that.”
“Let me talk to some of the surgeons around here, and see what's involved, if it comes to that, okay? Don't start worrying about it until you have to. I know that's easier said than done, but you'll be better off.” Ellie checked her watch. “I'm going to call the charge nurse and see if I can wait here with you. Be right back.”
Amanda caught Ellie's arm. “You don't have to. I don't want you to get into any trouble.”
“It's no trouble. Besides, I don't really care for the attitudes in this place. I plan on job hunting again as soon as I can.” Ellie hurried down the hall to the nearest phone.
Before Ellie could respond, the double doors at the end of the hall swung open and Lex came out on her crutches. Amanda jumped up and met her halfway. “How did it go?”
“Okay. Can we get out of here?” Lex leaned heavily on the crutches, a defeated look on her face.
“Sure, love. Let me run tell Ellie.”
Lex perked up a little. “Ellie was here?”
“Yes. She saw me waiting, and was going to sit with me until you got here.” Amanda noticed movement down the hall. “Here she comes.”
Ellie joined them, carrying a denim jacket. “Hey, cuz. I thought you'd be in there longer.” She patted Lex gently on the shoulder. “You guys up for breakfast? I got cut loose early.”
“Sounds good to me. Amanda? What about you?” Lex asked, suddenly much more animated.
“Sure.” Amanda picked up their coats from a waiting room chair and followed them down the hall.
Once they were outside, Ellie pointed to a far-away parking lot. “I'm over there, so I guess I'll meet you someplace. Any ideas?”
Amanda tugged on the arm of Ellie's jacket. “How about you get in and ride with us? We can take you over to your car, and discuss breakfast options on the way.”
“Might as well do as she says, El. I know from experience how pointless it is to try and argue with my better half,” Lex teased.
“All right. I didn't feel like a hike in this cold wind, anyway.” Ellie flipped the collar up on her denim jacket and shivered.
Amanda stuck her tongue out at Lex, but led the way to where she had parked her Expedition. “Is there someplace nearby to eat? Or should we just head back to Somerville?”
Ellie quickly climbed in the back and closed her door. “Honestly, I haven't bothered looking around here for anything. I usually just go to work and back. Drop me off at my car, and I'll meet you at the diner in Somerville.”
Once Lex was settled, Amanda started the vehicle. “Sounds like a plan.” She followed Ellie's directions, and they were soon parked beside the silver Corolla. “Don't you have a warmer coat?”
“I've never needed one, since I'm rarely outside. I've got a blanket I keep in the car to cover my legs, so I don't freeze before the heater kicks on. I'll be fine.” Ellie got out of the SUV. “See you in a few.” She closed the door and unlocked her car, waving once she was inside.
Lex looked at Amanda. “Are you thinking what I'm thinking?”
“Definitely. At least we know what to get little miss stubborn for Christmas.” Amanda waited until Ellie drove away, then followed her. “Not like that's a surprise.”
“What do you mean?”
Amanda laughed. “Stubborn runs in the family.” She kept her eyes on Ellie's car and was surprised by the small pinch on the leg she received. “Hey.”
“Runs in the family, huh?” Lex asked. She tapped her chin, as if in deep thought. “You know, I do believe you're right. And it started about twelve years ago.”
Without taking her eyes off the road, Amanda delivered a perfect slap to Lex's arm. “Smartass.”
The booth seat was lumpy, the coffee like mud, and her breakfast plate was chipped. Lex ignored the pain she was in and enjoyed the old diner, as well as the two women with her. She looked closely at Ellie. “Hey, El?”
Ellie looked up from her own breakfast. “Yeah?”
“Did you do something different with your hair?” Lex squinted. “A haircut, or something?”
“Um.” Ellie looked embarrassed. “Yeah. I got it cut and a little color added to it yesterday. Does it look okay?”
Lex nodded. “Looks great. Doesn't it, Amanda?”
Amanda stifled a laugh. “Sure does. Is there any reason you got your hair done, Ellie?”
“No! I mean, not really. I just felt like a change.” Ellie wiped her mouth with her napkin. “I need to run to the restroom. Be right back.” She slid out of the booth and left in a hurry.
“What's up with her?” Lex asked her wife.
Amanda took a sip of her coffee. “Has she talked to you about her new neighbors?”
“Only the day you two came back from finding the place. Is there something else?”
“One of the roommates is a woman. They met last week when Ellie went over for the house inspection.” Amanda put her hand on Lex's. “I think Ellie likes her, but I don't want you to tease her about it, okay? I think I did that enough when I found out.”
Lex's lower lip stuck out. “You're no fun.”
“Promise to behave?”
“Only for a little while. Then, all promises are off.” Lex watched as Ellie came from the restroom. “This isn't going to be easy.”
Amanda patted her thigh. “Shh.”
Ellie sat and gave her cousin a funny look. “What?”
“What, what?” Lex answered.
“You look like you're up to something,” Ellie accused.
Lex shook her head. “Nope.”
Ellie turned to Amanda, who had trouble looking her in the eye. “You didn't.”
“You told her.”
Amanda tried her best to look innocent. “Told who, what?”
“Her. About Kyle.”
Lex looked from Amanda to Ellie. “Kyle? Who's he?”
Ellie sighed. “It's okay. Kyle's the woman who lives next door. I met her last week.”
“Oh.” Lex shrugged. “Is she cute?”
“No, I mean, yes, I, uh.” Ellie bit her lip. “She's different, but in a good kind of way.” Her face turned pink. “She's really nice.”
“Ah. I see.” Lex speared a piece of sausage and popped it into her mouth. “What does she do?”
Ellie began to fiddle with her coffee, swirling a spoon around the half-empty mug. “She's a mechanic, who also likes to restore old cars in her spare time. She doesn't like to go out to bars, and she said her roommates are always teasing her about that.”
“Sounds okay to me.” Lex put her fork down. “How old is she?”
Ellie stared at her own plate. “I'm not sure, but I think she's in her early thirties. She doesn't seem that old.”
Although tempted to tease Ellie, Lex decided to play it safe. “Sounds like a good thing, having a mechanic that lives next door. Especially with that old car you drive.”
Relieved that the conversation was heading toward a different topic, Ellie nodded. “My car's fine. It's just temperamental, that's all.”
“Uh-huh. Sure.” Lex waved to the waitress, Francine, for coffee refills.
Francine immediately arrived with a full pot of coffee. “Hey, ladies. How's the kids?” she asked, as she refilled everyone's cups.
“They're doing great,” Amanda answered. “Growing too fast, though.”
“Ain't that always the way,” Francine agreed. “Y'all take care, you hear?”
Lex nodded. “Thanks, Francine. You too.” Once the waitress was out of range, she turned to Ellie. “Now, what were you saying?”
“I was going to ask if you two would mind coming over to the old house, and see if there's any furniture that you want. Otherwise, I thought I'd see if Jeannie and Rodney wanted it.”
Amanda stirred sweetener and creamer into her coffee. “You don't want it?”
“Just a few things, actually. My bedroom furniture, the kitchen table, and maybe one of the sofas. I want to get a few new things, too.” Ellie looked at Lex. “Is that okay?”
“You're asking me? Ellie, it's your house, and your stuff. Of course it's okay.”
Ellie rubbed one of her eyes and took a cleansing breath. “I thought you might want some of our grandfather's furniture.”
“Ellie,” Lex reached across the table and covered her cousin's hand with hers, “you gave me probably the greatest thing in the world, when you passed along that quilt. Besides, if Jeannie and Rodney have the furniture, it's still in the family, right?”
“Right.” Ellie squeezed Lex's hand. “Whatever they don't want, let's donate. Are you okay with that?”
“Yep.” Lex winked. “Now, tell us more about this Kyle person. I want to know if I need to go have a talk with her.”
Ellie's eyes widened. “You wouldn't dare.”
“It'll be good practice, for when our girls get older. Gotta see what her intentions toward you are, right?”
“B, bu, but, Lex, you—”
Lex laughed. “No more secrets from me, right?”
Ellie growled and threw a piece of toast at Lex, who caught it and took a bite.
“Thanks. I was still hungry.”
Amanda shook her head and covered her face, as the two women laughed loud enough to draw attention to their booth. “I can't take you two anywhere.”
“Sure you can,” Lex helpfully answered. “As long as you don't mind having a little fun, right, El?”“Right.” Ellie wiped her mouth and put her napkin on her plate.
To be continued in Part Ten
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