Copyright 2004 by Texbard

For disclaimers, see Chapter 1

Chapter  2

Dinner was a relatively quiet affair on the part of the majority of the family, with Aileen doing most of the talking, filling Kennedy and Pete in on the comings and goings of the bed and breakfast over the past few months.  The second floor had six guest rooms and four bathrooms.  Two of the rooms had private baths and the other four each shared a bath with one other room.  All the rooms were decorated in southwestern style, with a touch of cowboy cool chic on the side.  Guests had a choice of a full sit-down breakfast in the dining room, or a continental basket left at their door in the mornings.

Guest traffic had picked up considerably during the year, after an article on Big Bend National Park was published in a popular outdoor magazine.  As a bonus, the bed and breakfast, Big Star Lodge, had been mentioned in a sidebar article on places to stay.

Carson was properly impressed with the layout of the house.  She'd seen Kennedy's room earlier in the day, but on the tour, learned that the third floor was another complete living space, including a tiny kitchenette that had a refrigerator, toaster oven, and microwave.  There were five bedrooms, three baths, a small dining area, and a comfortable family room complete with fireplace, television, DVD player, and bookshelves that covered all of one wall.

For the time being, the one young couple booked for the evening and on through the weekend had come back from their hike, changed clothing, and gone back out again for dinner at the Gage Hotel down the road in Marathon, leaving the larger downstairs parlor vacant to an evening of peace.  Pete had volunteered to clean up after dinner, and had quickly made himself scarce, driving away to parts unknown as soon as the last dish was put away.  Joseph suggested an evening of movies and popcorn up on the third floor for the rest of them, and Kennedy quietly told him she and Carson would join them later in the evening.

She excused herself and squeezed Carson's leg under the table, indicating she wanted some company.  They got up and Kennedy headed for a coat rack near the front door, grabbing her leather jacket and holding Carson's up while she shrugged into it.  She pursed her lips, studying Kennedy's draw face and her troubled, brooding eyes.  They'd not discussed whatever was bothering her during the tour of the house, as there had not been much time before dinner, and she'd seemed to need some time to mull things over.

They stepped outside into a cold cloudy night, with only a faint scattering of stars peeking through the wispy darkness overhead.  Carson looked up, spinning in a circle, taking in the vast expanse of land and sky around them.  "It's so big out here.  Home on the lake feels big, but this is gigantic in comparison."  Her breath fogged as she spoke, the vapor floating up over her head before dissipating into the dry air.  "It must be beautiful when you can see all the stars."

"Yep.  It is."  Kennedy shoved her hands in her pockets and started down the driveway, her boots crunching in the finely-ground gravel and packed dirt.  Carson trotted after her and cautiously tucked a hand in the crook of her elbow, walking along in companionable silence, trying to decide if she should wait or speak up.

She stopped for a moment as a pack of coyotes yipped off in the direction of the hills, their howls and barks almost like a disorganized song.  "Wow.  Just like out in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico."

"Yeah."  Kennedy smiled into the darkness.  "I spent many a weekend camped out there when I was in school up in Santa Fe.  I know those ruins like the back of my hand.  I almost stayed there to work, instead of going on to law school."

"Really?  What changed your mind?"  Carson loved the desert park, full of Anasazi pueblos, which hikers could actually walk through.  She also enjoyed the remoteness of the area.  It was only a few hours' drive from Albuquerque, but the rough roads and spare facilities kept the park from getting crowded.  There was only one campground, for tents and RV's, no store, and no showers available, although it did have toilets and sinks in a cement washhouse.

"I applied for a park ranger position, but didn't get it." They reached the end of the driveway and Kennedy steered Carson to the right toward the mountains.

"Would've been kind of a lonely life out there, huh?"  She could only recall a single visitor's center and no other separate ranger stations.  "Talk about rolling the sidewalks up when the sun goes down."

"They don't have sidewalks."  Kennedy gave her a playful kick to the behind.

"Hey!"  Carson tried to kick back and ended up half falling as her lover smoothly anticipated and evaded her foot.  Kennedy caught her and spun them both around before making sure she was standing steadily on her feet.  "Thanks."  Carson looked up and reached out, watching Kennedy's eyes close as she pushed her bangs back.  "You wanna tell me what's wrong?"

Slowly, Blue eyes blinked open and Kennedy reached into her jacket pocket, withdrawing a baggie.  "Found this in Pete's room."

"Is … is that …?"  Carson took it from her, trying to hold it where she could see it better in the darkness.  "I've never …Pete had that?  Really?  I mean, I knew he drank quite a bit sometimes.  I've been kind of worried about him."

"Yeah."  She took it back and re-pocketed it.  "He thinks I flushed it, but I kept it -- hid it in the linen cabinet until he finished his shower."

"Why?"  Carson recalled stories of drunken high weekends on Galveston Bay, and felt a brief surge of fear, shooting adrenaline through her system and making her skin prickle.  "You don't want to … do you?"

"No.  Oh, no."  Carson's response was disappointing, but she tried to shove it down.  It was a logical conclusion, wasn't it, given what Carson knew of her past?  "He said something -- said he paid a half day's salary for it."

"Well, honey, he is a student.  He's not exactly rolling in the dough."  Carson relaxed, the cool air refreshing on her face, on the heels of the retreating rush of heat.

"You've really never done drugs?"  Kennedy's voice was thoughtfully quiet.  "Ever?"

"No."  Carson felt the slightest stiffness in the body next to her as she answered.   "Just … never was curious about it and never really was exposed to it.  The crowd I ran with in high school and college, mostly church kids and all, we just didn't …" she trailed off.

"Oh, yeah.  I forget sometimes you were one of the really good kids."  She released a long foggy breath.  "I still think a half day's salary is too much for this tiny bag of weed.  I haven't checked on what he makes lately, but it seems too high, pardon the pun.  Makes me wonder …"  she sighed and grew silent, looking out toward the mountains.

"Wonder what?"  Carson gently probed, finding her arm and wrapping her hand around it again.

"Wonder if it's mixed with something more potent."  She kicked savagely at a rock in the road, sending it flying and tumbling off into the ditch.  "Stupid kid," she huffed.  "Anyway, I thought about it, and I'm going to give it to Parker.  He knows people.  I'd like to have it analyzed  -- see what Pete has gotten himself into, if anything.  Anything other than pot," she amended.

"What would it be mixed with?"  Carson remembered a book she'd read in junior high school, Go Ask Alice.  It had curbed whatever tiny bit of curiosity she might ever have had to try drugs.  She had later read that the book was widely-believed to be fabricated, but it had done for her what it was intended to do, true or not.

"Cocaine, maybe.  Or PCP, which is pretty dangerous stuff.  I've not kept up with the more sophisticated drugs available these days.  Most of my clients who get in trouble go the way of crack or garden-variety weed.  They can't afford the more pricey stuff."  Kennedy sighed.  "I've heard heroine is on the rise again, and that sometimes they smoke it.  Damn!"  Her voice resonated across the open field next to them.  "I can't figure out what to do about it."

"You gonna tell your folks?"  She saw the dark head shake negatively, and started to open her mouth in protest, but stopped herself, deciding she didn't know enough yet about Nocona family dynamics to interject her opinion into the fray.  "Why not?" she asked instead.

"It would only worry them.  Legally he's an adult.  And he lives with me most of the time.  In a way he's more my responsibility now than theirs.  I just figured, unless he gets himself into trouble here at home, it serves no purpose to tell them.  They don't support him financially at all.  He works for his fraternity dues and fun money. He pays for his books.  He's got a partial scholarship for being Comanche.  I make up the difference in tuition and give him free room and board."  She veered off toward a small grove of trees, carefully stepping through the tall grass.  There was no worry of snakes in the cold, but she wanted to give any other small creatures plenty of chance to get out of their way.

They reached the trees and she smiled briefly, giving a spin to a large old tractor tire that hung from a thick rope.  "Cool."  Carson immediately climbed into the tire and looked at her lover expectantly, laughing as Kennedy gave her a spin, then pulled back on the rope and released it, sending her flying back and forth between the trees.  "Is this still yall's land?"  She yelled from high off the ground.

"Yeah."  Kennedy caught the tire as it sailed past, running with it a ways and making it stop.  She gave it another spin and walked around it in a circle as she spoke.  "I have to decide what I'm going to do with him.  I already told him if I find drugs back in Austin, he's out.  I … just … I know how those threats go.  He won't listen.  At least not the first time.  I didn't."

"You got caught?"  Carson dug her toes into the ground, grinding to a halt.

"Yeah."  Kennedy's head dropped, and Carson saw the slight rounding in her shoulders, the stoop in her posture, that indicated she was ashamed.  "I was fourteen -- freshman year of high school.  Some friends and I decided to get high up in the loft in the barn one rainy afternoon.  Colossal stupidness."  She shook her head.  "My mother saw the open loft window from the kitchen, and went out there to close it against the storm.  We'd opened it to let the smoke escape.  When she found us, we were too screwed up to even try to get away.  I'm surprised we didn't burn the barn down."

"Whoa.  What did they do to you?"  Carson got up and grasped the inner edges of the tire, hanging back from it, her feet still on the ground, peering through the large round opening at Kennedy's silhouette.

"Sent my friends packing and turned me over a sawhorse and whipped my ass but good -- used a saddle strap, if I recall."  She rubbed her backside in memory.  "I know that sounds abusive, but damn.  It did make an impression.  I think that may have been the last time she spanked me."

"Ouch."  Carson's feet slid beneath her and she hopped a little, before leaning back again.  "What did your father do?"

"Remember that this was when I still hated him for my heritage."  She walked back over to the tire, mimicking Carson's stance from the other side, causing the tire to dangle slightly more in her direction, due to her extra weight.  She chuckled.  "If I let go right now, you'd fall on your behind."

Carson quickly let go and watched as Kennedy lifted herself, swinging up and landing seated in the middle of the tire.  "No fair!"  She stepped forward and found herself standing between Kennedy's legs, with two large hands resting on her hips.

"My father told me if I did drugs again, I'd have to go sleep down in the park in a tent for a week."  She pulled Carson closer, trapping her in the circle of her legs.

"But you like camping." Carson leaned back some, smiling as Kennedy held her up.

"It was winter.  Temperatures can drop into the teens down there."  She playfully loosened her grip, tightening it again as Carson started to fall backward.

"Oh." She leaned forward, placing her hands on Kennedy's thighs.  "I guess you did some snow camping?"

"Yeah, a couple of times, before I finally quit getting high.  At least at home.  Didn't stop me from doing it away from the house, and on through college and law school.  You've heard the rest."  Her head was down again, her face hidden behind long dark layered locks.  She felt a gentle touch to her cheek and slowly looked up, keeping her eyes open this time as Carson pushed her hair back and continued to stroke it.  "Never any drugs at all, huh?  Regular cigarettes?"

"No."  Carson moved in as close as she could, feeling Kennedy's legs tighten around her.  "Look, Honey, we just chose different paths to grow up is all, right?  There was a heck of a lot more to do in Dallas.  I imagine if I'd grown up out here, I might have done exactly what you did.  It must have gotten a little …"

"Boring?" Kennedy supplied.  "You bet.  But not all the kids out here did drugs."  She gazed uncertainly at Carson, who was still running her fingers back through her hair.  "That feels nice."  She closed her eyes.

"I'm sorry you had such a hard time of it, back then."  The soft words brushed over her, Carson's breath warm against her face.  "And I'm very glad you survived it in one piece.  Maybe you were meant to go through everything you did back then so you could help Pete today.  I'm not going to judge you for your past, honey.  Maybe you had to go through all of that to become who you are today."

"I love you."  Kennedy hugged her tightly, squeezing her with her arms and her legs, feeling the little gasp of breath as Carson eagerly returned the hug, holding on for all she was worth.  "I keep forgetting I don't have to face this stuff by myself anymore."

"No, you don't."  Carson turned her head, finding her lips, nibbling at them tentatively before they made a more solid contact, reaffirming their budding partnership.  She pulled back and resumed stroking Kennedy's hair.  "Whatever help or support you need from me, you've got it.  I know you'll figure out the best thing to do about him."

"Thanks."  Kennedy sat there for a bit, simply holding Carson close, feeling the peace as they breathed the cold air, their lungs rising and falling almost in sync.  She finally shook herself out of a pleasant lethargy, feeling a slight tremor run through Carson's body "Getting cold?"

"My front is nice and warm, but my back is a little chilly, yeah."  She smiled as Kennedy's face drew closer and they spent another few minutes in slowly escalating kisses.  "Not so cold now," she laughed as they drew apart slightly, very warm breath clouding the slight space between their lips.  "But I think we promised your father we'd watch some movies with him."

"That we did."  Kennedy slid out of the tire, releasing her hold on her lover while she straightened her leather jacket.  "And I think I promised to lend you a hand later, so to speak," she teased, taking Carson's hand, swinging their arms as they walked back toward the road.

Carson bit her lower lip, listening to the swish of their footsteps in the grass.  "Is that a little strange for you?  I mean, in the room you grew up in, with your parents just down the hall?"

"Don't know."  Kennedy dropped her hand and wrapped her arm around Carson's shoulders.  "Guess I'll find out.  Might have to make sure there aren't any photos of them in the room watching us or anything."  She laughed quietly.

"You've never?"  Carson looked up at her in shocked disbelief.  She'd just assumed, based upon everything else her lover had done growing up, that sneaking around with someone in her parents' home would have been a natural course for her to follow.

"Nope.  You get to be the first."  She looked down.  "And the last I hope," she spoke softly, looking down at her booted feet as they walked.  All of a sudden two boots moved in front of hers and she looked up.  "Whoa …"

Carson pulled her to her so fast it made her head spin, drawing her swiftly forward into a warm embrace.   They stood there, in the middle of the road, with coyotes howling behind them and a growing wind blowing around them, stirring the tall grasses and the leaves on the nearby trees, and brushing softly through their hair.  Carson tilted her head back and pulled her lover's face toward her, kissing her soundly for a long while, until they forgot where they were.  They didn't break apart until bright headlights illuminated them, and a horn sounded loudly, making them jump.

"Hey," a familiar voice called from the idling vehicle.  "Break it up you two, you're scandalizing the children."

"Parker?"  Kennedy peered past Carson, who simply buried her face into Kennedy's chest in utter embarrassment.  "Come on."  She led her mortified lover toward the mini van.  "Hi Katie," she nodded at the woman in the passenger seat.  "Thought y'all weren't getting in until tomorrow morning."

"Howdy, Carson." Parker grinned, taking in her blush, obvious even in the faint evening light.

"Hi, Parker," Carson leaned heavily into Kennedy, still flustered.  She felt Kennedy give her a little squeeze, before her arm dropped down and she slipped her hand into Carson's back pocket, unseen in the darkness.

"We weren't, but I got off a little earlier than expected, and the kids were whining about missing the Macy's parade if we drove out in the morning, so … here we are."  He looked behind him toward the inside of the van, where the sounds of video games and serious banter could be heard.  "Hey, hush up for a minute.  Your Aunt Shea is out here."

"Auntie Shea!"  Three voices piped up all at once, and one small body wriggled forward, leaning over Parker out the window.  "Hi Auntie Shea," a small boy with a shock of red hair peered up at her.  "Is that your wife?"

"Hi, Nathan."  She bent over, accepting a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Um … no,  no, not exactly.  She's my girlfriend.  This is Carson.  Carson, meet Nathan, Parker's youngest."

"For now," Parker winked at her.  "Hey, let me get this thing parked and we can go in and talk with the folks, and make proper introductions."  He put the van in gear and turned into the driveway, leaving them to catch up.

"Did he say …?"  Kennedy blinked, looking to Carson for affirmation.

"'For now?'  Yeah."  She grinned.

"Oh, boy."  She took Carson's hand, dragging her toward the house.


Joseph and Aileen stood, as the noise of multiple pairs of feet sounded on the wooden stairs just outside the third floor family room.  Their quiet evening was suddenly shattered, as their grandchildren entered the large room, all three of them flinging themselves at them at once, threatening to bowl Aileen over in their exuberance.

"Grandpa!  Grandma!"  Nathan managed to get a hand on one leg of each of his grandparents, fighting for space next to his two taller siblings, who eagerly hugged each of the older adults in turn.  Aileen knelt down and hefted him up for a moment, ruffling his hair before she set him back down.

"Land sakes, but you've gotten big!"  Nathan was the sole other redhead in the room, a testament that Parker actually was her son, despite the fact he so strongly favored Joseph.  "Look at you.  You've grown a foot since I saw you last month."

"Hi Mama.  He has.  We've had to buy him all new jeans this past week." Parker kissed her on the cheek, pushing his way through the excited children, "Pa," he grasped his father in a man-hug, as they patted each other on the back but didn't touch anywhere else.  "Hope it's okay we came down tonight."

"More than okay," Joseph answered, beaming down at Ryan, Parker's nine-year-old middle child.  "Look at that jersey," he plucked at an orange and white miniature University of Texas football shirt.  "Wonder who sent you that?" he teased.

"Auntie Shea," he smiled proudly.  "She promised me she'd play football with me this weekend.

"That I did," Kennedy entered the room carrying a large bowl of popcorn, followed by Carson, who bore a pitcher of cherry kool-aid.  Her eyes swept the room.  "Who wants to watch a movie?"

"Me, me!"  Nathan and Ryan shrieked, as they clamored for the smaller bowls of popcorn Kennedy was dishing up.

"How about you, Erin?"  She smiled, as Parker's eleven-year-old only daughter shyly stepped out of a corner and joined her at the table.

"Can I hang out with you?"  The girl looked up at Kennedy, her eyes full of hero-worship.

"Sure," Kennedy winked at her.  "But we might end up watching the movie with everyone else."

"That's okay, as long as I'm with you, we'll have fun." Erin accepted a cup of kool-aid, curiously studying Carson's face as her long slender fingers wrapped around the cup.  "Hi," dusky lashes blinked shyly at the pretty blonde stranger.

My god, Carson took in the girl, a miniature clone of her lover.  She recalled some of the photographs on the staircase wall, blinking as if some of them had suddenly come to life.  Erin was at that awkward age, all legs and arms.  She was on the thin side, yet appeared sturdy, and as she talked with Kennedy, their expressions and smiles mirrored one another.  Her eyes were the same vibrant blue, her skin the same rich reddish-brown, and as she nodded her head in answer to a question, the same auburn highlights flashed from her dark hair, illuminated by the fire and dimmed lamps in the room.

"Um … hi."  Carson wiped her hands on her jeans and extended one, smiling warmly as Erin took it.  Even the firm grip was the same.  "I'm …"

"Carson."  Erin grinned.  "Pleased to meet you," her soft west-Texas drawl added extra syllables to a few words, as she shook Carson's hand.

"Pleased to meet you, too."  Carson looked up as Katie approached them.  She briefly wondered if there were any ugly genes in the entire family.  Katie was cute as a button, with short brown hair and tanned skin, and only a little taller than Carson.  "Hi," she held out her hand again, clasping Katie's.

"Hi Carson, I'm Katie," Parker's wife smiled charmingly, her own accent even more pronounced than her daughter's.  "Welcome to the family," she nudged Kennedy good-naturedly with one hip, watching as mortified blue eyes begged her not to make Carson uncomfortable.

"Thank you," Carson blushed slightly, ducking her head and fumbling for a cup.  "Kool-aid?"  She laughed lightly.

"Might be best," Katie joined in her laughter and patted her own belly, as they looked across the room.  "I don't think I'll be joining them tonight."  Joseph, Aileen, and Parker had already popped the tops on long-necked Mexican beers, and were sipping at the cold frothy beverages as they tried to get the wrestling boys settled in front of the television.  "Go on and join your brothers, Erin," she gave her daughter a little push.

"But Auntie Shea said …"

"Just for a little while, sugar, while I chat with her, please?"  Katie's expression was no-nonsense, and Erin closed her mouth, her shoulders slumped in defeat.  She shuffled away from the table, mumbling unhappily under her breath.

"I'll come get you to play with Carson and me in a little while, okay?" Kennedy called after her, receiving a brilliant smile in response.  Erin skipped the rest of the way to the television, plopping down on the floor in the middle of her brothers.  "So."  Kennedy shot a meaningful glance at Katie's stomach, where her hand still rested.  "I suppose y'all have a little announcement to make, huh?"

"Yeah," Katie laughed giddily, her entire face lighting up, and Carson realized it was really true that pregnant women glowed, although Katie was no where near showing, just yet.  "This is your fault, you know."

"My fault?"  Kennedy poked a finger into her own chest, her brows shooting into her hairline.  "Firstly, if I got close enough to you to … um … Parker would kill me, and secondly, last time I checked, I'm not equipped right."

"Oh, I don't know, stud," Carson bumped hips with her lover, "I bet if you tried hard enough …" Carson trailed off when she realized what she was saying, and her hand flew to her mouth as her blush returned in full force.  She looked around and realized only the two women next to her had heard her.

Katie was shaking in silent laughter, and Kennedy's face was a mixture of outrage and well-stroked ego.  Carson realized Kennedy and Katie were very comfortable with each other, and she released a relieved breath.  Kennedy draped an arm across her shoulders and leaned over, whispering in her ear, "Careful.  I just might try to prove that theory later, babe."  She nipped the ear quickly, looking back up as Katie cleared her throat meaningfully.

"I meant your fault, as in both of you," she shook her finger back and forth at them, watching as they looked at each other in shock, and then back at her.  "This little bun was baked the weekend Parker came back from helping y'all out in Dallas.  Seems y'all had enough chemistry going between the two of you to leave him a little hot and bothered.  By the time he got home, well …" she buffed her nails against her collar.  "It was a very good Sunday."  She smirked.

"That weekend?  But back then we hadn't even done any …"  Carson felt Kennedy's hand clamp over her mouth.  "Mmmpphhh." She frowned indignantly, trying to bite the warm skin against her lips.

"I am sure Mama and Pa do NOT need to hear that version of conception, do they?  Ouch!"  Carson finally succeeded and Kennedy jerked her hand away shaking it and peering at her stinging palm suspiciously.  "Hey, you left teeth marks!"  She swatted her lover on the behind, and received a return-swat.  "I give up."  She moved well out of the way.  "You want a beer?"

"Yes, please," Carson's eyes sparkled with mischief, as Kennedy stalked toward a mini-refrigerator on the counter of the wet-bar, which was tucked into the far corner of the room.

"I can see you're going to fit in just fine.  I needed a partner in crime.  Someone has to help keep Shea on her toes, and you seem like just the woman for the job." Katie took a sip of kool-aid and grimaced at the overly sweet taste.  "Ugh. Seven more months."

"Congratulations," Carson smiled warmly, deciding she liked Katie very much.

"Thank you," she swirled her cup around.  "We decided we'd save the big news for dinner tomorrow, assuming those three can keep it a secret for that long." She glanced at her three children, who were all engrossed in an animated movie.  She squinted at the television and smiled.  "I always did like that version of the Hercules movie better than the Disney one.  That woman, she sure can sing."

Kennedy re-joined them, handing her lover a cold bottle, then holding up her own.  They clinked the necks together, and Katie joined them, touching her cup to their bottles.  "Glad I'm not driving," Kennedy took a long swig of her beer.  "I think I need this.  Been a long day."

"Oh?"  Katie looked around the room again.  Parker and the elder Noconas were engaged in low but lively conversation, having staked out spots on the plush leather couches that bracketed the television.  "Where's Pete?"  She finally did the math, realizing who was missing.

"Long story," Kennedy's eyes narrowed, the anger evident as her sight turned inward.  "And don't ask right now. I think my blood pressure just shot up a notch."

"Alllriigghhtt."  Katie shot a glance at Carson, who just shook her head slightly.  "Am I going to be filled in later?"

"Yeah."  Something settled inside, and Kennedy's features softened a bit.  "I need to have a little chat with Parker about our dear baby brother, and I imagine he'll tell you all about it.  Or maybe I'll just kill Pete.  It would be a lot easier."

"Well this I can't wait to hear."  Katie smiled as Erin made her way back toward them, tucking herself under her mother's arm.  "Hey, sugar."  She kissed her daughter's dark head.  "Thank you for giving us some girl time."

"I'm a girl."  Erin rolled her eyes.  She looked down and tugged absently at a small locket on a chain around her neck, the gold metal catching the light.

"That's pretty," Kennedy reached over and took a look at it, popping it open.  Inside was a picture of Erin on one side, and a blonde-haired girl on the other.  "Who's that?"  She clicked the oval case closed.

"Oh," Erin's voice perked up.  "That's my best friend, Jessica. She gave me this for my birthday.  Jessie … I wish she could've come this weekend, but her parents made her go to San Francisco to visit their family.  I wish I could go to San Francisco someday."  Her eyes were dreamy, and she looked down thoughtfully at her locket.  "Are you going to watch the movie, Auntie Shea?"

"No." Kennedy's eyes questioned Katie as she spoke.  "I was thinking of having some more quiet girl talk in my room.  You want to join us?"

"Oh, that would be so cool!"  Erin's voice bubbled over.  "I wish Jessie was here so she could have girl talk with us.  I told her all about yall's house.  It's just rad.  She was jealous I got to come here and ride horses and play football and stuff."

"Why don't you take a couple bowls of popcorn on down to my room, and Carson and I will join you in a few minutes."  Kennedy was still watching Katie, and she gave Carson's shoulder a little squeeze, as the blonde handed Erin the requested bowls.

"Hurry!"  Erin shouted, as she danced out of the room with the popcorn.

"Jessie?"  Kennedy eased from one foot to the other, feeling Carson lean against her.

"I need to talk to you sometime," Katie glanced over her shoulder at the rest of the family.  Even the adults were engrossed in the movie, having been drawn in, and were laughing at the antics of some cartoon animals.  "Erin and Jess are inseparable.  A few months back, they were sleeping over at our house, and I went in to say goodnight, and caught them experimenting."

"Experimenting?"  Kennedy frowned and then Katie's meaning struck her.  "Oh.  I see.  And you think it's something more than just typical stuff?  A lot of kids their age …"

"I know, but I just sense it, Shea."  Katie sipped thoughtfully at her kool-aid, wishing she could have a beer.  "I think Erin does, too.  I know she feels like she's different.  She's already come to me a few times, confused about her other little friends' budding obsession with boys.  All she can talk about is Jess.  I think Jessie is starting to like boys, too, and my baby's about to be left alone to figure it all out."

"She won't be alone."  Kennedy took Katie's hand, holding on to it for a long moment.  "Have you talked to her at all?"

"We've tried not to make a big deal out of it.  She was embarrassed enough to be caught. They had their shirts off when I walked in.  We only talked about it briefly.  I wanted to make sure they were only experimenting to a certain extent, and not going too far with it. Far as I can tell, they haven't."  She shook her head in frustration.  "Parker was pretty shaken when I talked to him.  You know he loves you, Shea, but …"

"I know."  Kennedy's voice was soft as she spoke.  "I know. But it's hard on any parent, to think their kid might be gay.  It was really hard on Mama when I came out to her.  I'm her only daughter, just like Erin is Parker's only one.  It's tough to give up dreams you have for your children, even if those dreams won't make them happy.  I'll certainly talk with her, if she seems like she needs to, assuming that's alright with you and Parker."

"It is."  Katie smiled weakly.  "Parker and I talked about it.  She adores you."

"And I adore her."  Kennedy pursed her lips in thought.  "I won't push, though.  She's going to have to come to me with her questions."

"Thank you, Shea."  Katie's eyes warmed in gratitude.  "Y'all are cut from the same cloth, you know."

"Yeah." Kennedy's expression was troubled.  She fervently hoped Erin didn't completely follow in her footsteps as she grew older.  "I know." 

"Well," Katie eyed her husband.  "I guess I'll go join the family, and let y'all go bond with my daughter.  Ladies."   She nodded her head graciously and turned, sashaying across the rug and bending over, wrapping her arms around Parker's neck from behind, and shrieking with laughter as he grabbed her and hauled her over the back of the couch and into his lap.  She quickly joined in conversation with her in-laws, as the children continued to be engrossed in the movie.

Carson laughed.  "I like her."

"So do I."  Kennedy took her hand as they walked down to the other end of the hall.  "She and Parker are a great match.  I swear they're even more in love now than they were when they got married, and it's been, gosh, thirteen years."

"Wow.  That's pretty impressive.  Most couples I know that have been together that long have lost that spark long before then."  She stopped, feeling Kennedy's grip loosen just a little.  She glanced over at the tense set of her jaw line, and deliberately twined their fingers more tightly.  "What do you think Katie and Parker have that all those other couples don't?" she kept her voice casual.

"Oh, I guess partly, they talk about everything." Kennedy smiled, guessing at the nature of her lover's gentle prodding.  "And they make time for just the two of them -- they have a date night at least once a week.  They also try to go away for at least a long weekend once a year, just the two of them.  I know they don't take each other for granted.  They work and play together.  And judging from their behavior and Katie's current condition, I'm guessing they've kept their love life pretty spiced up."  She bumped against Carson on those words.  "They're pretty good examples, I think.  My parents are the same way -- still very much in love.  You'll see more of that the more you're around them."

"Hmmm.  I like all those ideas"  Carson nodded in approval.  "So it's kind of a family tradition to have strong long-lasting relationships?"

"Yeah."  Kennedy grinned.  She got me good.  "You could say that."  They reached Kennedy's room, and Carson found herself pressed against the closed door, and kissed soundly.  Kennedy pulled back, just enough to look into her eyes.  Carson's heart sped up at the banked passion there, an unmistakable fire that simmered and threatened to erupt.  Long fingers trailed against her face and twined in her hair, as Kennedy kissed her again, her entire body pushing Carson against the smooth wooden door.  "I want you," Kennedy's voice whispered into her ear, sending chills skittering down her spine.

"Umm."  Carson quickly stood, as she felt the door starting to give way.  "Hold that thought.  We've got a confused kid to entertain for a while first."

"Grrrrrr."  Kennedy's voice trilled with the little growl, which was tempered with an agreeable, yet very sexy smile.  "I hope these kids have a reasonable bedtime."  She also stood up, as the door opened and Erin poked her head out.

"What are y'all doing?"  She eyed Carson, who was hastily straightening out her mussed shirt.  She snickered knowingly.  "Come on in.  I found your boom box and CD's in here, and a deck of cards.  And I have a bag of M&M's.  We can play poker."

"Oooo."  Carson's voice rose.   "M&M poker is the best.  You get to eat your winnings when the game is over."

Kennedy sighed in frustrated resignation.  Bedtime, it seemed, was going to be a long ways a way.


It was close to midnight before everyone was settled into various rooms on the third floor.  All three adult Nocona children were conveniently assigned to their childhood rooms, although Pete was still not home.  Joseph and Aileen of course slept in the master bedroom they always shared, leaving one guest room next to Parker's for his children.  Joseph and Parker carried the two sleeping boys down the hall from the family room, and tucked them into the comfortable queen-sized bed, while a none-too-happy Erin had to settle for a pull-out trundle on the floor next to them.

"I want to have a sleepover with Auntie Shea and Carson," she scowled, crossing her arms and poking her lower lip out.  "I'm a big girl.  I don't want to sleep with the little kids anymore."  She looked up hopefully at Carson, who merely ducked her head and rubbed the side of her neck, before glancing up at her partner.

"Sugar, there isn't room for you in Aunt Shea's room, so you'll have to go on in with the boys."  Katie shooed her oldest out of Kennedy's corner spot, smiling as Kennedy mouthed a giant 'thank you' at her.

Kennedy bent over and tousled Erin's hair.  "Hey, sport, you beat me but good at poker."  She coaxed a reluctant smile from her niece.  "How about a re-match before the end of the weekend?"

"Alright."  Erin placed her hands on her hips, her stance matching one Carson had seen many times before.  "But I'll just win again."

"We'll see."  Kennedy pecked her on the cheek and closed the door behind her, then moved over to the desk where a variety of CD's were scattered across the ink blotter.  Carson leaned against the door and watched, as her lover's hips wiggled slightly.  She could just make out Kennedy humming something as she sorted the CD's and replaced them in their cases, and she moved closer to try to hear her.

Carson burst out in a fit of giggles, and Kennedy turned and raised one eyebrow at her.  "What?"

"You're singing that Pink Get the Party Started song."  She laughed again.

"Am not."  Kennedy frowned.  "Was I?"

"Yep."  Carson chuckled and moved in behind her.  "Cute moves too, by the way."

Kennedy was just about to turn and tackle her lover in retaliation, when she felt Carson press up against her, wrapping her arms around her and encouraging her to keep up her little dance.  She smiled and complied, as they began to move together, while she finished putting the CDs away.  Carson's hands began to wander, and Kennedy picked out something a bit more sensual and popped it into the boom box, her hips swaying suggestively as Carson plucked her shirt from the waistband of her jeans and quickly found her breasts, pushing her bra up and teasing her sensitive skin.

"Oh, god."  Kennedy began unbuttoning the flannel shirt, allowing it to drop down off her shoulders.  Carson's lips traveled along her partially bare back, a scattering of goose bumps following the tiny butterfly kisses she placed there.  She unclasped Kennedy's bra and stepped back long enough to allow it and the shirt to fall to the ground.

"I love dancing with you."  Carson pressed against her again, placing her hands on Kennedy's hips and guiding her in a slow grind as she moved with her in time to the saxophone playing from the boom box.  Her hands snaked around and unbuckled Kennedy's belt, then unpopped the button on her jeans, and slowly unzipped them.  She slid the jeans down past her hips, moving back just long enough to let them slide on down her legs, before she pressed against Kennedy again, slipping her hand inside the waistband of her underwear.

"Thought I was lending you a hand tonight," Kennedy gasped and leaned forward, bracing her weight on the desktop, as Carson began teasing her with light strokes of her fingers.  She groaned as Carson's lips assaulted her back again, moving downward while she knelt to remove the last remaining article of clothing.

"I want you," Carson purred against her skin, as she guided Kennedy back, pushing her down on top of the bed.  Carson crawled up with her, creeping up her body on her hands and knees like a cat, and found her lips, kissing her fiercely, smiling against the soft skin as Kennedy fussed with her clothing, managing to get most of it off as they rolled over a few times, warring for dominance, before Kennedy ended up on her back again, arms and legs wrapped around Carson as she kissed her way down the long dark body.

"I could absolutely devour you right now," Carson whispered against her lower belly, nuzzling her lover, nudging her legs further apart.  "Will you let me do that?"  She paused, turning her head to the side and closing her eyes, as Kennedy cupped her cheek, stroking her face with her thumb.  Those fingers moved back, threading through her hair and urging her downward.  Their eyes met once more, desire mirroring desire, before she turned to her task, Kennedy's musky sweet scent making her mouth water.

The first warm breath against her almost made her cry out, before Kennedy remembered where she was.  She gasped quietly, then hissed in pleasure, as her lover put her lips and tongue to good use, her hips moving against Carson, until she felt one arm wrap across them, keeping them under some control.  She felt Carson's other hand behind her knee, her blunt fingernails dragging slowly down the back of her sensitive leg, until Carson grasped one butt cheek, pressing her more firmly against Carson's mouth.  "Oh, sweet Jesus," Kennedy's body tensed and then stilled completely for a split second, before her climax hit with unexpected force.

One hand remained lightly at the back of Carson's head, while the other grabbed up a fistful of blanket, and her heels dug into the mattress, as she forced down the scream of pleasure that threatened to escape her lips, her breath coming in soft whimpers instead.  Slowly, her body began to settle, and she looked down, tilting Carson's face up.  "Come up here," she whispered, still feeling residual spasms as her lover did just that, crawling upward until their lips met again.

"Gonna have to get these insured by Lloyd's."  She smiled, tracing Carson's lips with one finger.  The smile turned to a laugh as Carson engulfed it, circling it with her tongue.  "That too."  She felt Carson's body rubbing against her and reached down with both hands, finding her ass and kneading it, settling her on top of her as they ground together, much as they had while dancing next to the desk.

"Need to feel you," Carson found her lips again and their tongues danced together in the space between them, before they got lost in another long exchange of kisses.  Kennedy gently rolled her over, pressing one knee between her legs and pushing them apart, before her hand tickled its way down her belly to tease her inner thighs.

"Mmmm."  Kennedy found a nipple, closing her mouth around it as Carson arched up into her.  "Need to feel you too."  She moved to the other breast, as she slipped inside her lover, stroking her gently at first, then feeling the rhythm Carson established and matching it.  Carson cried out quietly, and Kennedy stroked her head, brushing her bangs out of her eyes.  "Look at me."  Gray eyes forced themselves open and Kennedy smiled at her, kissing her forehead.  "Your eyes are so beautiful."  Carson was panting now, her release very close, and Kennedy nipped at her throat, nibbling back toward the very sensitive skin of her ear.  "Feels so very nice.  Let go, baby."  She buried her face into Carson's shoulder, her lips teasing the soft skin.  Carson wrapped her arms around her and cried out again, as the waves crashed over her.

Kennedy watched her face, as Carson slowly came back down to earth.  She rolled over and pulled the compact body against her, rubbing Carson's back and smiling as her lover pressed against her hipbone.  "Need more?"  She chuckled, patting a firm backside and feeling a long shuddering warm breath against her chest.

"No."  The blonde head shook slightly, tickling Kennedy's skin.  "Just.  Sometimes, right afterward, it feels good to …"  She trailed off, ducking her head, and slid down, hiding her face against Kennedy's stomach, pulling the covers over both of them in the process.

"Hey."  Kennedy dug under the covers, pulling Carson back up.  "Feels good to what?"  She stroked damp locks, arranging them back behind Carson's ear.  "I need to take notes for future reference."

"Um …" Carson blushed.  "Feels good when I grind against you like that.  Gives me another little jolt without you having to do any more work."  She grinned sheepishly.  "Feels really good."

"Grind away, sweetheart."  She waggled her brows and flashed a sexy little smile, watching it matched on Carson's face.  "But if you need me to help out, I'll be glad to oblige."  She held Carson as they lay there quietly for a few minutes, while she rubbed Carson's back and Carson traced circles around her navel.  "We've managed to do a lot in the past month or so, but we haven't really talked about this stuff a whole lot have we?"

"Nope."  Carson's hand moved up, cupping a firm breast.  She kept her hand still, more a comforting gesture than anything else.  "Do we need to talk about it?  Everything okay?"

Kennedy pulled her up some more until they were eye to eye.  She smiled, guiding Carson toward her and kissing her, a long languid exchange, as she felt her lover relax more fully against her.  She could taste the lingering evidence of their lovemaking on Carson's tongue, and she moaned a little, deepening the contact.  "I don't think they could get any more okay."  She broke off and studied Carson's face, the deep love and passion evident in her shining eyes.  "You really enjoy going down on me, don't you?  Not that I'm complaining in the least.  It's a huge turn-on, just watching you, actually."

Carson fought the urge to hide her face, realizing it was an honestly curious question, not meant to tease.  "Yeah."  Her hand dipped down, running along the curve of Kennedy's hip.  "When we started dating, and when I knew we were eventually going to … you know …" she smiled.  "It was just about all I could think of."  Her hand wandered across Kennedy's stomach and she rubbed it with the flat of her hand as she spoke.  "I've loved your body from the moment I laid eyes on you.  I knew I had to love you in that way.  So that first time, after you made love to me, I just had to, in case something happened and we didn't make love again.  Not that I was really afraid we wouldn't.  Just, I had dreamed about it for so long."

"Really?"  Kennedy's fingers combed back through her hair.

"Yeah."  Carson closed her eyes, enjoying her lover's touch.  "It seemed like the most natural thing in the world.  I never really thought about if I could do it right or anything.  I wanted you so much, there wasn't much thought involved."

"You surprised the hell out of me," Kennedy laughed quietly.  "At first because I didn't expect you to go there, and then because it was the most mind-blowing experience of my life.  I really thought the top of my head was about to explode.  It was so good, and so hot."

Carson's body shook in silent laughter.  "Glad it was good for you, honey, 'cause it was spectacular for me."  Her hand drifted down, cupping her lover, feeling her heat.  "Just felt good, like this does right now."  She kept her hand where it was, feeling the love between them, equally as strong as the physical sensations had been moments before.  "I think I like it because you make yourself so completely vulnerable to me, and your face is so beautiful when you do that.  I can't describe it.  And it's knowing that no one else gets that close to you -- that you trust me enough to allow me to love you like that."

"Mmm.  That feels good.  I love it when you do that."  Kennedy squeezed Carson's hand between her thighs a little, before releasing it, reaching down and holding her there.  "I think that's why I like being inside you.  Sort of the same idea.  I like feeling you when you come.  It's so completely erotic and beautiful to me -- something we only share with each other.  It's why I sometimes ask you to look at me -- I love your eyes all the time, but at the height of passion, they're absolutely breath-taking, like I can see into your soul."

"You are the keeper of my soul."  Carson kissed her lightly on the lips.  "Take it, it's yours."

Kennedy took her hand and pulled it up from its warm nest, kissing her palm.  "You are my soul."  She hugged her tightly.  "I love you, so much."  She pulled the covers up over them, tangling her legs with Carson's.

"Love you too," Carson hugged her back, settling against her as they sank down into the warm covers, their bodies tired and pleasantly sated.  She briefly hoped no one would expect them up early, before she closed her eyes, surrendering to a deep dreamless sleep.


A clap of thunder rolled across the mountains, echoing through the valley and shaking the house.  Carson stirred beneath her warm layer of blankets, reaching next to her and feeling for Kennedy.  She frowned, not quite awake, and rolled over, finding the space next to her empty.  Her eyes fluttered open and she looked around, blinking as she remembered where she was.  The curtains were still drawn in the rounded alcove, and there was only the faintest suggestion of daylight indicating it was morning. 

She thought about getting up, but she was naked and warm, and the air outside the covers bore a hint of chill.  Stretching and yawning, she searched around for a clock and spotted the green glow of a digital clock radio on the desk next to the computer.  It was 7:00 a.m., and she groaned.  "Where'd she go?" she croaked to the empty room.  She had little time to wonder, as the doorknob clicked and Kennedy slipped into the room.

"Morning."  She flashed a cheery grin in Carson's direction, and set a bundle down at the foot of the bed, before walking past it and pulling the curtains partway open to reveal a panorama of ominous billowing dark clouds, pouring rain, and streaks of lightening in the distance, over the mountain tops.  Kennedy was wearing a thick white terry robe, and was toweling her hair dry as she walked.  "Big thunderstorm out.  Kinda rare around here, especially this time of year.  Gullies will be flooded in a few more hours."  She noted the question in the sleepy gray eyes and smiled.  "We're high up enough not to worry."

"Oh."  Carson yawned again, as Kennedy stretched out on the bed next to her.

"You're not awake yet, are you?"  She leaned over and planted a light kiss on Carson's lips.  "I need to go downstairs and see how I can help out.  Mama will be prepping our dinner, and Pa will most likely be out in the barn, so it's a tossup where they'll want me, but rest assured, they'll find something for me to do."

"Mmmm.  You smell great."  Carson nuzzled the wet head, drawing in a fresh clean green sort of scent, that reminded her of something she couldn't quite place.

"Agave cactus shampoo and conditioner.  One of the perks of living in a bed and breakfast.  We always have top of the line toiletries and fresh clean robes to wear.  And the thickest softest towels."

"Just like the towels you keep at home."  Carson smiled.

"Yeah, I got spoiled growing up and order mine from the same place Mama does."  She ruffled Carson's scraggly hair and rolled on top of her, engulfing her and the blankets in a hug, burying her face into her shoulder, nibbling a little bit at her salty skin.  "You smell pretty darned good too."  She lifted her head and raised a flirtatious eyebrow.

"But I haven't had a shower yet."  Carson enjoyed the attention, reaching up and tracing the raised brow, watching as Kennedy's eyelids lowered halfway and her nostrils flared.

"I know," her voice was low and sexy, and sent a little shiver down to Carson's toes, which she wiggled in reflex.  The animal magnetism was palpable, this close, covered by Kennedy's warm strong clean-smelling body, and before she could stop herself, her hands were wandering, slipping inside the soft robe and finding warm softer skin.  She felt the ripple of movement at her touch and heard the faintest growl, as Kennedy tugged the covers partway down, and those eyes got so close they blurred.  Their lips met in a heart-pounding exchange that left them both breathless.

Kennedy slowly rose up again.  "Better stop before I can't."  She smiled watching Carson's chest rise and fall.  The smile turned to a frown as she traced a red strawberry mark near Carson's left shoulder, just above her breast.  "Oops."  She bit her lip and glanced up at her lover's face.  "I think I got a little carried away last night.  Left a mark. Sorry about that."

"Huh?"  Carson looked down and made a little ticking noise with her tongue.   "At least it's in a place that usually stays covered this time of year."  She touched the tip of Kennedy's nose.  "Go check yourself out in a full-length mirror, stud.  I think I may have returned the favor.

"Where?"  The indignant tone was charming, and Carson giggled as Kennedy parted her robe further, looking down at her own body.   "Didn't see anything in the shower."  She tilted her head to one side in question, studying Carson's face.

Carson swatted her on the butt, then ran her hand down to the really sensitive skin just below it, rubbing it through the thick terry.  "Would've been tough to see in the shower."

"Why you little wench."  Kennedy rubbed her backside, tugging the robe up.  "Did you really?"  She presented her backside to Carson for inspection, and felt the gentlest of kisses at the back of her thigh.

"Afraid so.  Guess you'll have to lay off the Daisy Duke shorts for a few days," she teased, pulling the robe back down.  "I don't recall you complaining at the time.  Actually, I don't recall you speaking English at the time.  Hey!"

Kennedy pounced, pinning her down and tickling her ruthlessly, until Carson was begging for mercy.  "Oh!  Oh, pleassseeee.  Kennedy … oh lord.  Hey.  Stop it.  Please???  Heheh.  Arrggghhhh!"  She wriggled around and mumbled a few more unintelligible pleas, trying to toss Kennedy's weight, but there was no escape.  She laughed until the tears rolled down her cheeks, then sighed as the tickles turned to light caresses, and Kennedy relented, sliding back down and kissing her for several languid minutes, until Carson's sighs morphed into whimpers.

"Now who's not speaking English?"  Kennedy pulled back, looking rather pleased with herself.  She stroked Carson's face, tracing a flushed cheek.  "Hey."  She glanced down at the foot of the bed.  "I brought you a set of clean towels and a robe to wear down the hall.  I think they may have fallen on the floor.  Here."  She crawled down to the end of the mattress and leaned over, plucking the items off the rug, then crept back to her lover's side, depositing them next to her.  "Should be plenty of hot water left.  Pa had an industrial-sized water heater installed in the basement back when we were little.  We almost never run out, unless we're completely full up with guests and they all decide to shower around the same time."

"Thank you."  Carson pulled her over and kissed her again.  "For the towels and for making waking up so much fun."   She sat up, holding the covers around her against the chill.  "You want me to come find you after I shower?  You had breakfast yet?"

"Yes, and no."  Kennedy sat up too, swinging her legs over the side of the bed.  "Go on and shower, while I get dressed.  I'll go on downstairs, but I'll wait on you for breakfast.  If Pa wants me in the barn, grab one of the rain ponchos next to the back door and come get me when you're ready."

"Sounds like a plan, Stan."  Carson reluctantly crawled out of bed and stood next to it, and felt warm terry at her back, as long arms wrapped around her.

"No fair," Kennedy nipped at her ear.

"What's no fair?"  Carson managed to pick up the robe on the bed, finding the front of it.

"You're just so damned sexy standing there naked.  Makes me want to crawl right back in bed with you."  She helped Carson shrug into the robe.  "Tomorrow morning I'm going to wait and shower with you."

"Not a good idea."  Carson hugged her, then slipped from her grasp and headed for the bedroom door.

"Why not?"  Kennedy stood with her hands on her hips, a slightly hurt expression on her face. 

"'Cause we would run out of hot water."  Carson winked at her, and slipped out the door.

Kennedy just laughed, all traces of hurt vanished.  She looked up at the ceiling, then out at the mountains.  It was so different with Carson.  After five long years of solitude, her mornings were suddenly lively and fun, and made her look forward to each new day.  The passion between them was undeniable.  That had existed from the start -- a chemistry that simply was, with no explanation.  But as they slowly recovered from Carson's kidnapping and the crisis that had overshadowed the beginning of their relationship, something else had emerged.  They had become friends and were able to laugh and play together, and tease each other in a way that Kennedy never had with anyone else before.    It was new and comfortable, all at the same time.  "I am the luckiest woman on God's green earth."  She shook her head slightly, then rummaged around in her duffle bag for clean clothes.


Morning was a flurry of activity, as Joseph, Kennedy, and Parker mucked out stalls in the barn and got all the livestock fed.  Carson got egg-hunting duty in the chicken coop, scooting about and searching for nests in the different levels of deep shelves that served as roosting areas for the hens, placing the eggs in a softly-padded basket.  Inside the house Aileen and Katie were preparing a aromatic meal that made everyone's stomachs growl, despite being full from breakfast.  Erin got babysitting duty upstairs in the family room, keeping her younger brothers out from under foot, since they couldn't go outside to play in the storm.  Pete had not yet emerged from his room, and Parker mentioned to Kennedy that he heard him come in after 4:00 a.m.

Kennedy made little comment, wanting privacy away from their father to discuss the baggie she had locked up in a drawer in the desk in her room.  She resisted the urge to go check out his car, which she noted was parked askew beneath the carport.  Texas penalties for driving while intoxicated were severe, and she found herself wondering if an arrest might scare some sense into her brother.  Not that she would instigate it, but given his behavior, she figured it was only a matter of time. 

She kicked herself silently, thinking of all the partying she knew he had done over the past few years.  She had pretty much looked the other way, excusing it as typical college frat boy behavior, but the drugs drove home just how serious things had become.  Now she wondered if perhaps she had nipped things in the bud, if it wouldn't have gotten as bad as it apparently was.  She suddenly realized that she and Pete kept such different hours, that she rarely knew when he was coming or going anymore, and really only kept up with him by noting that the horses back home were cared for just as well as they always had been.  "At least he's still got some sense of responsibility," she muttered to herself.

"Shea, you say something?"  Parker stepped out of the stall next to her, toting a pitchfork full of soiled hay.  He dumped it in a bin kept for mulching the garden, and returned to the stall, repeating the process several times.  He finished and poked his head around the corner and over the half door of the stall Kennedy occupied.  She was absently brushing down one of the mustangs, talking to it so quietly he couldn't hear her.  "Oh, you were talking to the horse."  He chuckled.  "Never mind."

"Huh?"   Kennedy jumped slightly as he spoke, drawing her back to the present.  "Oh.  Yeah.  Just thinking."

"About what?"  He rested his forearms on the door, leaning over and studying her troubled face.  "You okay?  Everything okay with Carson and all?"

"Oh."  Kennedy smiled.  "Yeah, Carson and I are great.  I was just thinking about Pete.  I need to talk to you sometime before you go home, but now's not a good time."

"Alright."   He frowned, opening the door and stepping inside.  "Is he okay?"

"No."  She sighed.  Might as well talk now.  She knew her father was out of hearing, down near the cows.  "I found a bag of pot in his room yesterday."

"Great."  Parker didn't sound completely surprised.  "I knew he was drinking like a fish, but drugs, I had kind of hoped he would avoid that road."

"Does anyone from this godforsaken town avoid that road?"  Kennedy stood up taller, finishing her task and scratching the chocolate brown gelding beneath his halter strap, receiving a tickling nuzzle to her hand for her efforts.  "I know some do, but my gosh, seems like our family sure didn't.  And it's not like Mama and Pa are to blame.  Boredom and peer pressure drew me into it, and the high kept me there for so long.  High school, college, and on into law school.   It's a miracle I had enough brain cells left to pass the bar exam. Then again down in Houston, I was drunk or stoned almost every weekend."  She looked down, giving a little kick to the bed of straw.  "If not for what happened to Angela, lord only knows where I might have ended up."

Parker just managed to avoid a visible reaction to the mention of Angela.  His sister rarely spoke of the event, and past discussions had usually ended with her either in tears, or storming away to be alone until she could get her emotions in check.  Now, she seemed okay, here eyes reflecting a fraction of the sorrow they had in the past.  He swallowed, and decided to make no comment regarding the greatest tragedy of his sister's life.  "Took Katie to straighten me out," he leaned casually against the stall wall, plucking a sweet strand of oat from the trough next to him and chewing on it thoughtfully.  He rolled it over to one side of his mouth and crossed his arms.  "She put the clean into my living, that's for sure. Pete, dunno what to do with him.  Have you talked with him at all?"

"Yeah, but he's pretty obstinate and defensive about it.  Can't imagine that, him being from our family and all," she remarked drolly.  "I took the bag and locked it up.  I want you to send it to your buddy in the lab and have it analyzed."

"Why?  Oh."  He spit out the oat straw.  "What's it laced with?"

"Don't know if it's laced at all, but he said he paid a day's pay for it, so I figure either it's laced, it was grown in gold dust, or he's stupid.  Since I know he's not completely stupid, despite doing drugs, and since plants don't grow in gold dust, I'm guessing he's into something more serious than pot."  She signed heavily, giving the gelding one last scratch, before she trudged to the stall door.

"You told Mama and Pa?"  Parker followed her out, latching the door behind them.

"No, and I don't plan to unless absolutely necessary.  No sense in worrying them over something they can't do anything about.  Not with him in Austin and them here."  She glanced toward the other end of the barn, smiling as Carson emerged from the chicken coop.  "He's my responsibility, Parker.  Promise not to tell them?"

"For now," he agreed.  "But Pete is his own responsibility, Shea.  He's an adult, not a child.  Short of you locking him up at night, he's going to have to figure things out for himself."

"Now there's a thought."  She held out one arm as Carson slipped under it, keeping quiet as Kennedy and Parker talked.

"What?"  Parker eyed the basket hooked over Carson's arm.  It bore a dozen eggs, and he nodded his silent approval.

"Locking him up.  Maybe a nice thick padlock on the efficiency door."  She gestured with her free hand.  "Or a chain across it maybe.  Hey,  a boot for his truck tire -- force him to stay home at night."  Her eyes gleamed at the possibilities.

"You're not serious," Parker's voice wasn't at all certain.  Unfortunately, taking things to extremes ran in the family.

"No."  Kennedy's shoulders slumped in defeat.  "Not really.  Just, I told him if I find drugs back in Austin, he's out.  No support, physically or financially."  She nibbled her lower lip.  "Knowing him, he'll test me on that."

"And if he does?"  Parker led them toward the main barn door.  The horses were all cared for, and he had seen Joseph enter the one remaining cattle stall at the far end.  He retrieved a rain poncho from a hook along the wall, as Kennedy and Carson did the same.

"I'll make good on my threat."  She pulled the poncho over her head and held the door as Carson stepped out into the rain.  They all wore tall Wellington boots, and walked back to the house, heedless of the mud and puddles liberally scattered across the back yard.

"We'll talk some more tonight after dinner, okay?"  Parker pushed the poncho hood off his head as they reached the shelter of the back porch.

"Okay."  Kennedy followed suit, shaking her head of the confining sensation any head covering always gave her.  "Guess Carson and I should head down to the basement and start putting our gear together for our backpacking trip on Saturday.  Provided this rain eases off.  You ready for Pa's version of Oshman's?"  She smiled, leading Carson to an obscure door under the stairs on the kitchen side that she hadn't noticed before.  She flipped a light switch on the wall and opened the door, allowing cool slightly-dank, musty air to waft over them.

"Oshman's?"  Carson followed Kennedy down a narrow staircase.  "Oh.  Wow."  She reached the landing.  Every type of sporting goods equipment imaginable filled fully a half of the large open basement, while unidentifiable bins and boxes occupied the other half.  One side bore shelves that were filled from floor to ceiling with canned goods and other stores for the bed and breakfast, and a narrow row of ground-level windows allowed a thin sliver of light to filter in from outside.  The rain was running along next to the windows, making an interesting trickling sound.

"Let's find proper packs, first."  Kennedy led her over to a set of shelves that bore several different backpacks, and they experimented with a few until they found one that Carson found comfortable.  Kennedy located a black and blue pack that had her name stitched on the inside, and set it down while they inspected several sleeping bag rolls.

Carson hefted one up and eyed it speculatively.  "This one is nice and light, and this one next to it seems to match."

"No."  Kennedy took them from her.  "Let's use these instead."  She handed a much larger roll to her as she absently retied the ties around the one she'd chosen.

"Kennedy, honey, this is a lot heavier than that other one.  Shouldn't we keep our packs as light as possible?  Those had tags on them -- they were warm enough for zero degree weather."

"Can't use those," Kennedy blushed, not looking at her.

"Why ever not?"  She swung the heavier bag down, setting it on the floor.  "These are also for zero degrees.  Doesn't make sense to me to go with something heavier."

"The lighter ones are mummy bags," the dark head shook slightly, and Carson noticed a slight catch in her lover's voice.

"And???"  She placed her hands on her hips, waiting.

"Can't sleep in a mummy bag." She continued to fiddle with her heavier bag, retying the ties yet again.

"Those are plenty tight, don't you think?"  Carson's hand closed over Kennedy's, stilling them.  "Why no mummy bag?"

"Claustrophobia," Kennedy mumbled, barely audible.

"Huh?"  Carson tilted her chin up, forcing eye contact.  "Did you say 'claustrophobia'?"

"Yeah."  She looked down again.  "Makes me feel like I’m all tied up and can't move.  I … get to where I can't breathe, unless I'm hyperventilating.  I remember one time, I had to sleep in one.  Woke up with it turned around and over my face.  I felt like I was drowning."

"Honey, all you have to do is crawl out the top."  Carson cupped her face.

"Logically, I know that," Kennedy huffed.  "But my body doesn't know it.  I just can't sleep in a mummy bag, Carson.  Not unless you want to watch me have a complete panic attack.  You can take one if you want, but I kinda figured we might zip our bags together.  To do that, we need the same type of bags."

"Oh."  Carson reconsidered. "I've never done that before.  I think I can manage a little extra weight on my back, if it means I get to snuggle with you in the tent at night.  Blue eyes gazed at her uncertainly, the looked down.  "Kennedy?  You okay?"

"Yeah."  She looked up, her bangs falling across her forehead.  "Stupid to not be able to get over the mummy thing, huh?"

"Not stupid."  Carson pushed the bangs aside, noting again that they needed a trim.  "Most everyone has something they're afraid of.  It's called being human.  I'm afraid of heights."

"But you parasailed in Cancun."  Kennedy's forehead scrunched up in confusion.

"I kept my eyes closed until time to land, then went promptly into the ladies' room and threw up."  Carson smiled sheepishly.  "Didn't tell you because it was over and I was embarrassed.  I hoped parasailing would make the fear go away.  All it did was remind me that I'm terribly afraid of heights."

"Guess skydiving is out?"  Kennedy teased her.

"If you want to throw yourself out of a perfectly good plane, go right ahead.  I'll be down on the ground in the middle of the bull's-eye waiting for you."  She couldn't resist any longer, and hugged her lover tightly, rubbing her back.  "You've got knots on your knots back here."  She gently probed the muscles along Kennedy's spinal column, which were stretched as tight as piano wire.

"Mmmm.  Feels good."  She closed her eyes as Carson dug into a few spots.  "It's Pete, mostly.  And Erin a little bit.  Family fixer-upper is a relatively new role for me.  I'm not used to it just yet."

"Anything I can do to help?"  Carson turned her around, drawing her over to a barrel and pushing her down onto it, before she slid in behind her and dug in in earnest. 

"That helps."  Kennedy dropped her head and gave a little grunt of pained pleasure.  "Just having you by my side to talk to and love me is all I need."  She felt the hands still for a second, a slight tremor running through them, before Carson continued her massage.

"I think I can manage that."  She worked her way down Kennedy's back and back up, ending with a soothing scalp massage.

At last, Kennedy reluctantly stood, rolling her shoulders in appreciation.  "Much better."  She leaned over and kissed Carson quickly.  "Thank you.  What say we finish packing these up tomorrow, and go upstairs and hang with the kids for a while?  I think we still have Spiderman on DVD somewhere up there."

"Ooo.  Sounds great."  Carson grabbed her hand, leading her back up the stairs.  "I really liked that punk rocker chick. Her outfit was totally cool."  They emerged into the kitchen, which smelled absolutely divine, and Carson nudged her as they headed for the next staircase.  "You ever consider piercing your nose?"

Kennedy stopped completely still.  "You been nipping at the tequila again?"

"No."  Carson giggled.

"Do you want me to pierce my nose?"  Her voice revealed she was just a little afraid of the answer.  "Might make it tough to get the sympathy of a few Travis County judges, next time I'm in court."

"No, honey, but if you wanted to, that would be fine by me."  She tugged at a long arm, as they continued on up to the family room.  "I'll always find you beautiful, no matter the exterior package."

"Oh.  Thanks.  I think."  She pondered that, then forgot it completely as Pete appeared at the top of the stairs, his hair sticking out and his t-shirt halfway tucked into wrinkled flannel pajama bottoms.  "Afternoon," she nodded curtly, as they passed each other.  "Lord, Pete, can you at least shower and get dressed?  It's almost noon."

"Leave me alone, Shea."  He resisted the urge to lash out physically.  "Sleeping in on a holiday was still legal, last time I checked."

"Fine."  She went on by, listening intently.

"Peta Braden Nocona!"  Aileen's voice lilted up the stairs.  "You march right back up there and make yourself presentable.  I might allow breakfast in your pajamas, but it's near on to lunch, so go get some proper clothes on, and comb your hair before I take a razor to it."

"Might be legal outside these walls," Kennedy laughed to herself.  "But the laws of Mama's kitchen will prevail."


Continued in Chapter 3

Return to the Academy