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Chapter Thirteen 1






Trust Our Tomorrows

By Carrie Carr

 

Part 1

 

Disclaimers: Yes, they're probably familiar to you if you're read anything by me before. So I'll start by saying you might want to read the previous stories all seven of them (Destiny's Bridge, Faith's Crossing, Hope's Path, Love's Journey, Strength of the Heart, The Way Things Should Be, the short story, A Whole New Meaning and finally, To Hold Forever), if you want to know what the heck is going on. Otherwise, don't blame me if you get lost < g>. You can find every story right here at the Academy. You can also get updates on my yahoo list run over to my website to get details https://www.CarrieLCarr.com.

 

Dedication: This story, as with everything I write, is dedicated to the most wonderful woman in the world my beautiful wife, Jan. She's the reason I do what I do. Always and forever, my love.

 

 

Chapter One

 

A gentle breeze scattered leaves around the granite memorial stones. The screech of the gate's hinges silenced the afternoon birdsong. Heavy boots crushed the dried grass, the sound carrying through the peaceful clearing. The grieving woman knelt by the most recently placed stone and used one hand to brush away Mother Nature's debris.

Lexington Walters removed her dark shades and stared at the engraving. She sniffled and cleared her throat. It's been almost a year, and I still miss you something fierce. Her vision blurred and she took a moment to regain her equilibrium. We didn't have much time together, I know. She bent her head and closed her eyes, allowing the tears to fall. Scenes flashed through her mind as she remembered happier times. But even with the good memories, the grief threatened to overwhelm her.

She dropped onto her rear, pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. A little over ten lousy years. Doesn't seem fair, does it? I thought we'd have longer. Lex angrily brushed at her face. The girls miss you. Lorrie still asks about you almost every day.

The wind kicked up, blowing Lex's hair across her face. She ignored it and continued to speak. I sure could use your help, especially now. This drought has me at my wits end. I've had some water wells drilled, but we're still losing stock. At least I was smart enough to listen to you about one thing. Going back to cattle instead of horses made a huge difference. But even with that, things are still looking rough. You were always so good about helping me figure out what to do. Her voice broke, and she angrily climbed to her feet. I know I should be thankful that you're not in pain anymore. She tucked her hands into the pockets of the black duster she wore. Bet you didn't know I found out about that, did you?

Lex started to walk around, kicking at the leaves. After you she had trouble finishing the thought. After you weregone, a few medical bills showed up. I called your doctor and he filled me in. You could have told me, you know. Her heart ached at the loss, the pain as fresh as if it were yesterday. Taking a deep breath, Lex pulled herself together. I probably won't be back for a while, okay? The kids are growing so fast, and they need me. I promised to take them to the Fall Festival at school tonight. She finally smiled. Say a prayer for me, will you? I'm going to need all the help I can get. She kissed her fingertips and placed them on the stone. I love you, Grandpa. Give Grandma Laney a hug for me, okay? Straightening her shoulders, Lex passed through the gate and closed it securely behind her.

#

After parking the truck by the house, Lex walked up the back steps and stepped inside. She hung her hat and coat on their usual pegs and peeked into the kitchen, finding it empty. Curious, she continued toward the front of the house. As she passed the stairs she heard Amanda's voice coming from the living room.

I know you're excited about tonight, but that doesn't mean you can leave this room in shambles. Two younger voices apologized, but Amanda was only getting started.

Not wanting to interrupt, Lex paused out of sight beside the door. She could almost visualize her wife's actions by the sounds she heard.

Neither of you were raised this way, Amanda scolded. A loud bang punctuated her words. You know the rules. Clean up one thing before you get something else out. That's how it's always been. Another heavy thud followed. My time is already limited without having to play maid.

Lex nodded to herself. She'd been trying for years to get another housekeeper after Martha and Charlie had started traveling more, without success. She also knew she was as guilty as the kids about not helping out more. But after being gone from sun up to sundown, the last thing Lex felt like doing was housework.

As Amanda's voice continued to raise, Lex decided she had hid long enough. She stepped into the living room and watched as Amanda gathered toys, while Lorrie and Melanie stood guiltily by. Lex hoped she could charm her wife into calming down. How's my favorite girls?

Momma! Both children raced around the sofa to greet Lex. Each one wrapped her arms around one of Lex's legs, turning their sad faces up to look at her.

Amanda stopped what she was doing and put her hands on her hips. I'm glad you're home. Maybe you can get through to these two. She raised her arms and spread them wide. Have you ever seen this room look this bad?

Hmm. Lex kept one hand on each girl's head, and made a point of turning slowly to take in the whole room. She could understand why Amanda was so upset. There wasn't a clean spot anywhere. Games were strewn all over the floor, their pieces scattered everywhere. She glanced down at her children. What in the hell was going on here?

Lorrie stepped away from Lex. We wanted to see how many games we could play. Her hands ended up on her hips, mimicking Amanda's earlier posture. We were gonna clean up when we were done, I promise.

Hearing a sniffle, Lex scooped Melanie into her arms. Is that right, sweetheart? Were you going to pick this mess up?

Uh-huh. Melanie snuggled closer. Mommy came in before we could.

Lex looked over Melanie's head to meet Amanda's eyes. Busted them, huh?

Amanda was about to go off again about the state of the room, when she took a good look at Lex's face. The red and puffy eyes were a clear indication that something was wrong. She stepped closer and placed her hand on Lex's cheek. Are you okay?

Yeah. Lex turned her head and kissed Amanda's palm. I went up to the memorial clearing.

Ah. Amanda took Melanie from Lex's arms. Go help your sister, sweetie. Lorrie, I want both of you to get this room clean or no Fall Festival tonight.

Both girls sighed. Yes, ma'am, they replied in unison.

Amanda's attention returned to Lex. Come on. Let's go upstairs.

I'm okay.

Then come help me calm down. Amanda took Lex's hand and led her from the room.

#

Once upstairs, Amanda closed their bedroom door and led her wife over to the bed. She sat Lex down and quickly removed her boots. It's going to take the girls quite a while to clean up, so we might as well take advantage of it. With a gentle push, she made Lex lie back and quickly snuggled up beside her. Much better.

As long as you're comfortable. Lex wrapped her arm around Amanda and kissed the top of her head. You were right. This does feel good. Thanks.

Anytime. Amanda unbuttoned Lex's shirt and began to lightly rub her stomach. It was the easiest way to get her to relax. Now, want to tell me why you went to the clearing?

Lex sighed. While I was in town, I ran into Ellie.

How's she doing?

Not too good. I tried to get her to come home with me, but she refused. Lex wiped one hand across her eyes. She's just so damned stubborn.

Amanda had to laugh. Family trait, she teased.

Smartass. Lex shook her head. Anyway, as I was driving home I realized I hadn't gone to the clearing for a while, so I stopped by. I know he's buried in Dallas but I still feel closer to him out there.

That's understandable. How are you doing now?

A lot better. Closing her eyes, Lex wrapped both arms around Amanda and tugged her as close as possible. I love you.

Amanda kissed Lex's throat, and slowly moved upward until their lips met. Love you, too. She felt warm hands slip under her shirt, making her hope their children took a long time to get the living room clean.

#

Lex parallel-parked the green Dodge truck in front of the playground and turned off the engine. She unbuckled her seatbelt and with a wry smile to her partner, turned to face the two excited children behind her. Lorrie, you remember the rules, don't you?

The ten-year old nodded vigorously. Yes, ma'am. Stay in the building and don't talk to strangers. Lorrie tugged her rubber zombie mask into place. Do I have to take Melanie with me?

Melanie's lower lip stuck out. I don't want to go with you anyway, she huffed as her blue eyes filled with tears. I'm old enough to go by myself.

Amanda bit her lip to keep from laughing. Their usually shy six-year old was beginning to assert her independence, much to their amusement. Melanie, I was hoping you'd go with us. We may run into your cousin Teddy.

Oh. Okay. Melanie's tears immediately dried. Teddy's s'pose to be dressed like a cowboy. She gave her sister a dirty look. He's nice to me.

Can I go now? Lorrie asked, her hand on the door handle. I bet Al's already inside.

I guess Lex's words were lost on Lorrie, who hopped out of the truck and raced into the elementary school. Lex climbed out of the vehicle, opened the back door and gave Melanie a kiss before she swung her daughter to the ground. You look beautiful, sweetheart.

Melanie's blonde curls danced in the breeze. Thanks, Momma. She spun in a circle, causing her yellow costume skirt to whirl around her legs. Snow White's my favorite. They rounded the front of the truck and joined Amanda, who held out her hand.

She's my favorite, too, Amanda agreed. With their daughter between them, she and Lex swung their arms, causing Melanie to giggle. Let's go find your classroom.

As they passed through the front doors decorated with cutouts of pumpkins and a scarecrow, Lex muttered, Fall Festival, my ass.

What? Amanda blinked as her eyes became accustomed to the bright fluorescent lights.

I don't know why they can't call it the Halloween Carnival, like they did when I was in school, Lex complained. I mean, they've got the same decorations as they did then. And why on earth do they have it a blasted week before Halloween?

Amanda laughed. I'm sure they're just trying to keep from insulting anyone. She tightened her grip on Melanie's hand as they weaved through the crowded halls.

I'm insulted by their stupid ideas, Lex groused. Next thing you'll know, they'll take away Christmas.

Momma, look. There's my room, Melanie pointed out excitedly. We're doing the cake-walk. She dragged her parents toward the room where loud music could be heard.

Lex looked questioningly at Amanda. Cake walk? Did we

I brought a pie yesterday. Amanda cringed as they entered the room and the loud music assailed her senses. Yippee.

#

Not far away, Lorrie roamed the familiar halls looking for her best friend. They had agreed to meet by the cafeteria. As Lorrie rounded the corner, she saw a pudgy blonde girl dressed as an angel, surrounded by three loud boys. The ninja, fireman and soldier were all teasing her. Hey!

The angel turned at the voice and a smile lit up her face. Lorrie! She tried to push by the boy dressed all in black, but he stopped her.

Hold on. I want to tell you something, he ordered. The dark clothes clung tightly to his pudgy frame, and his black pants were several inches too short, showing his white tube socks.

Lorrie joined the group, lifting her mask to the top of her head so she could see better. What's your problem, Jerry?

The ninja-boy sneered through his black ski mask. Nobody's talking to you. Go way. He flipped the mask off Lorrie's head and started to laugh. Why didn't you dress like you usually do?

'Cause we're supposed to be in costumes, Jerry. Or do you always dress like a ninja? Lorrie picked up her zombie mask and held it in one fist. Al, let's go.

The angel, also known as Allison Skimmerly, jerked her arm free. Okay. She followed Lorrie away from the cafeteria, until Jerry's voice caused Lorrie to stop in her tracks.

I figured you'd be a little cow-pie, like you are every day. Just like your mom. He constantly teased Lorrie about the boots and jeans she wore to school. Jerry's comment caused the two boys with him to start laughing.

Lorrie spun around and tossed her mask on the floor. Take it back, Jerry.

No. Jerry danced from foot to foot. Your mom's a cow-pie. Cow-pie, cow-pie, he sang.

The former zombie rushed the ninja and pushed him to the ground. Take it back, or I'll Lorrie's words stopped when she was grabbed by the back of her shirt and pulled away.

Lorrie Walters, what's going on? the middle aged woman asked. Dressed in denim bib overalls, flannel shirt and floppy hat, the pseudo-farmer separated the two feuding children.

Allison piped up. It wasn't her fault, Mrs. Barrett. Jerry started it.

Did not! Jerry whined. I didn't do nothin'. Lorrie pushed me for no reason.

The fifth grade teacher took Jerry's arm in her free hand. Let's go to the office to straighten this out. She gave the costumed fireman and soldier a stern look. You boys have a choice: Either find your parents or come with us.

I think I see my dad, the soldier stammered. He took off with the fireman close on his heels.

Mrs. Barrett looked at Allison. How about you?

The angel raised her chin defiantly. I'm staying with Lorrie.

All right. The teacher escorted the trio down the hall. Lorrie, are your parents here?

Yes, ma'am. They're with my little sister. Lorrie ignored Jerry's derisive snort.

Cow-pie, he whispered.

Shut up, Lorrie yelled, twisting out of Mrs. Barrett's grasp. She would have knocked him down but the teacher's grip kept him upright.

Lorrie! That's enough! Mrs. Barrett took a fistful of the back of Lorrie's shirt and yanked her away from Jerry.

Allison pointed at the obnoxious boy as the walked into the office. He's saying bad things, Mrs. Barrett.

With a heavy sigh, Mrs. Barrett separated the three, keeping at least two chairs between Jerry and Lorrie. I don't want to hear another word out of any of you until your parents get here.

Lorrie crossed her arms over her chest and glared straight ahead.

#

In the first grade room, Lex watched as Amanda and Melanie walked around the perimeter to music. She couldn't get over how much their youngest looked like her wife. Although Amanda had started wearing her hair short years ago, the two blondes still favored each other. Melanie's hair was lighter and her head was covered with curls, but even their facial structure was similar.

The outer edges of the floor were taped off into squares, with numbers in some of the boxes. Amanda's sister Jeannie and her son Teddy were on the opposite side of the room, walking and laughing as well. When the music stopped, so did the walkers. Some of them ended up in numbered squares, while others were stuck in empty spaces. Lex laughed as their daughter danced around Amanda in a numbered box.

We win, Mommy! Melanie's clear voice floated across the room. Number seven!

Amanda clapped along with her. Why don't you go get the prize and take it to your Momma? She waited until Melanie skipped to the prize table before joining Lex. Pretty cool, huh?

Yep. Hope it's the cream cheese covered brownies, Lex whispered. She watched their daughter claim a box of baked goods. Damn. I think it's the peanut brittle.

Yum. Amanda was about to say more when an announcement came over the loud speaker.

Would the parents of Jerry Slater, Allison Skimmerly, and Lorrie Walters please come to the office?

Lex shook her head. Great. I wonder what she's gotten into this time. She turned to her wife. Do you want me to handle this?

No, let's both go. Amanda smiled at Melanie when she bounced forward with her prize. Honey, would you mind staying with your Aunt Jeannie for a little while? She waved at her sister.

Is Lorrie in trouble? Melanie asked.

Lex scooped Melanie into her arms so she could speak quietly and still be heard. We don't know. But I promise we'll let you know as soon as we can, okay?

Jeannie and Teddy joined the trio. We were going to the kindergarten class and try the ring toss. Would you like to go, Melanie? Jeannie nodded at Amanda's whispered thanks. She grinned when Melanie took her hand.

We'll catch up to y'all as soon as we can, Lex called after them. Once Jeannie and the children were out of the room, she turned her attention to Amanda. Want to take bets on what Lorrie has done?

Amanda swatted Lex's arm. Behave. She might surprise you.

Uh-huh. Lex followed Amanda down the hall, her hands tucked into her back pockets in an effort to keep them to herself. She learned a long time ago that while most of the people of Somerville pretty much left them alone, they didn't like to see two women holding hands.

Loud voices were already coming from the office when they arrived. Lex was able to pick out Wanda Skimmerly's voice easily. She stepped into the room and saw Wanda and another woman going at it, nose to nose.

Your boy is a bully! Wanda pointed a finger at the stouter woman in front of her. I'm sure he got at least what he deserved.

Mrs. Barrett stepped in between the two women. Ladies, please. She turned her head when Lex and Amanda entered the room. Lexington, Amanda. I'm glad you're here.

Lex glanced at Lorrie, who looked none the worse for wear. What's going on here?

I caught Lorrie and Jerry fighting, the frazzled teacher explained.

Allison piped up. Jerry started it.

Jerry's mother, Susan, a weather-beaten heavyset woman, snapped at Allison. My boy didn't start anything. Years of alcohol abuse had aged her unkindly, her puffy red face perspiring in the cool room. She gave Jerry a pointed look. Did you?

He raised his head until he met her face. No, ma'am, he agreed quietly. His eyes tracked to the floor.

See? Susan whirled and pointed an accusing finger at Lex. This is all your fault, Lexington Walters. You were no good in school, and

Amanda interrupted the woman's tirade. Excuse me, we haven't met. I'm Amanda. She held out her hand.

Susan disregarded the offer and crossed her arms over her chest. Walters, what are you going to do about your kid?

Lex ignored Susan and knelt in front of Lorrie's chair. Want to tell me what happened?

Lorrie sniffled, trying not to cry. I got mad. She lowered her gaze, focusing on Lex's knees.

Did you hit Jerry? Lex gently asked. Tell the truth, sweetheart.

No.

Lex sighed. Lorrie.

I pushed him. But I didn't hit him. Big, heavy tears slid from Lorrie's eyes.

Amanda sat beside Lorrie and put her arm around her. Why did you push him?

Jerry jumped to his feet. 'Cause she's a big meanie, he yelled.

No she's not! Allison defended her best friend. You're a jerk!

Susan took Jerry by the shoulder and shook him. What have I told you about yelling? she snapped.

Mrs. Sater, please, Mrs. Barrett tried to control the situation.

Allison ran to her mother and wrapped her arms around Wanda's waist. He called Lorrie a cow pie, and said her Mom was one, too.

He said what? Amanda looked at Lex to see how she took the news.

Lex sighed and made eye contact with her daughter. Lorrie, is that why you pushed him?

Yes, ma'am. Lorrie blinked and wiped her tears on her sleeve.

Remember what I told you about name-calling? Lex quietly asked.

Lorrie nodded. Words hurt, but won't leave bruises. We're supposed to ignore people who have to use words to make themselves feel better. Her big gray eyes stared into Lex's face. I did okay until he talked about you. That's when I got so mad.

I know, sweetheart. Lex put her arms around Lorrie and brought her close. But words won't hurt me. It's okay. She kissed the little girl's head and held her until she stopped crying.

Oh, please, Susan snorted. She turned to Mrs. Barrett. Are you going to let that little heathen get away with this?

Lex stood and turned, holding Lorrie on her hip. Sue, I'd be careful what I said if I were you.

Susan would not be dissuaded. You let your children run wild and then seem surprised when they get caught. Come on, Jerry. I'll take care of you when we get home. She yanked her son toward the door. Keep your mongrel away from my kid, Lexington. Or you'll be the one that's sorry.

Wanda tucked Allison close as well. Well, isn't she the pleasant one? She commented, breaking the tension.

Amanda noticed Wanda was alone. Where's Dirk?

He's with Penny. I think they were going to try the ring toss in her classroom. Penny was their other daughter, who was one year behind Melanie.

Mrs. Barrett sounded truly regretful. Lexington, Amanda, I'm afraid Lorrie will have to be suspended Monday and Tuesday. It's school policy.

We understand. Amanda shook the teacher's hand. Thank you for bringing the kids to the office, instead of handling it out in the hall. She followed Lex and Lorrie from the room.

Wanda wasn't as impressed, however. What about Jerry? It was his fault to begin with.

Mrs. Skimmerly, I can't do anything to Jerry because I didn't hear what he said. All I witnessed were Lorrie's actions.

It's still ridiculous, Wanda grumbled. Come on, Ally. Let's go see what your sister is up to.

Can we get a candied apple? I'm hungry, Allison trailed after her mother, her foil-covered wings bouncing behind her.

#

At home later than evening, Lex sat on the edge of Lorrie's bed. Lorrie had to be punished for getting suspended from school, but Lex's heart wasn't in it. She remembered being in her daughter's shoes. Do you understand what you did wrong?

Lorrie, tucked under the bright blue covers, nodded solemnly. Yes, ma'am. Fighting's bad, no matter what.

Right. Lex looked around the room, seeing pieces of herself in her oldest child's decorating. Posters of horses shared space with magazine pictures of sports figures. The small four-poster oak bed had been a birthday gift from Jacob the previous year, with a matching dresser and nightstand. Books covered almost every available space, along with a softball glove and bat tossed in one corner. Lex realized how better rounded her children were than she had been at their age, and knew it was due to her wife's influence. She cleared her throat. Halloween is coming up next Saturday, and

No! Please, Momma. I want to go trick-or-treating, Lorrie interrupted. I'll do better.

Lex sighed. We already promised Melanie you could take her. So it wouldn't be fair to her if we kept you home. Lex decided on another punishment, one that would hurt her almost as bad. No riding for the rest of the week.

What? But Momma

I'm sorry, Lorrie. But you have to realize that your actions have consequences. You still have to groom Mine every day, but no riding until Sunday.

Tears trickled down Lorrie's cheeks. But you were going to take me out riding Friday after school.

I know. I was hoping you could help me check the new well on the north pasture, but now I'll have to go alone. Lex felt like crying herself. She enjoyed the time she was able to spend with Lorrie, just the two of them. At her daughter's sob, she brought Lorrie into her arms and held her. Sssh. We'll have other times, I promise.

Lorrie snuggled as close as she could. Although her feelings were hurt at the punishment, there was no safer place than in her mother's arms.

#

Amanda looked up from the book she was reading when Lex came into the room. She could tell her wife's talk with their oldest had taken a toll on her. She closed the book and placed it on her nightstand, patting the bed beside her. You look pretty ragged.

Yeah. Lex sat on the edge of the bed and kicked off her boots. She stood and quickly undressed, tossing her clothes on a nearby chair. Amanda had laid out her flannel nightshirt, so she draped it over her body before climbing into bed. God, this feels good, she sighed, stretching out under the covers.

Rough talk? Amanda asked, crawling next to Lex and taking her usual position against her side.

Lex closed her eyes in an attempt to control her emotions. I grounded her from riding until Sunday.

Ouch. Amanda sneaked her hand beneath Lex's shirt, stroking the soft skin of her stomach. Weren't you supposed to go riding together Friday?

Yep. Lex relaxed as the gentle touch continued. It hurt me almost as much as it did her. But I didn't know what else to do. She can't go around pushing other kids just because they say something she doesn't like.

Amanda kissed her wife's jaw. I know. And for the record, I think you did the right thing. She played with the ends of Lex's hair. The dark strands were slowly losing the battle against the gray, especially around her temples. Lex had started wearing it shorter than when they first met, and now the ends barely grazed her shoulders.

Thanks. I remember going through the same thing at her age. Town kids always picked on those of us who lived out on ranches and farms. Lex turned and propped her head on her hand, staring into Amanda's eyes. Is it wrong to keep our girls so isolated out here?

Mirroring Lex's posture, Amanda brushed her free hand along Lex's arm. Honey, it doesn't matter where you live or what you do. Kids will always find something to pick on other kids about. I got teased because my dad's driver always dropped us off. One of my friends always got pushed around for wearing nothing but black.

I guess you're right. I just don't want our kids to suffer because of how we live.

I know. Amanda studied her lover's face. Not to change the subject, but I take it you and Susan Sater have a history?

Lex shrugged. We went to school together, that's all. When Amanda continued to look at her, she rolled her eyes. Yeah. We've never gotten along. She was Rick's girlfriend back in the bad-old-days. She was just as mean as a kid.

Nice.

She blamed me because she got suspended before homecoming, and didn't get a chance to be Homecoming Queen. Susan got caught cheating on a test, and she swore up and down that I turned her in.

Amanda frowned. Did you?

Hell, no. But I think Rick told her I did, and that was good enough for her. After graduation she left town, but came back a few years later with several kids and a hen-pecked husband. Haven't had much to do with her.

Good. Amanda started to trace around the edge of Lex's ear. I think we've talked enough, don't you?

Lex shivered as Amanda's finger drew a line down her throat. Um, yeah.

Amanda leaned closer and lightly touched her lips to Lex's. I love you.

Threading her fingers through Amanda's hair, Lex rolled onto her back and brought her partner with her. Love you, too. She had no trouble removing the nightgown Amanda wore, and somehow felt her own shirt disappear. The delicious skin-on-skin contact drove all other thoughts from her mind.

 

Chapter Two

Wednesday morning Lex sat at her desk, enjoying the relative peace of an empty house. Amanda had taken the girls to school, and the silence was almost spooky. She knew that her wife would spend the day at Sunflower Realty until their children were out of school, then bring them home. Lex took the opportunity to get caught up on her paperwork. She was scrolling through her emails when she came across one from a business contact in Houston. Yes!

Lex switched to her accounting program, searching for the listing of available cattle. Perfect. She picked up the phone and dialed the number from the email. Mr. Stewart? This is Lexington Walters. I just received your email. She listened for a moment. Friday? Sure. What time's good for you? Thank you, Mr. Stewart. Hanging up the phone, she tapped a pen on the desk. Now came the hard part.

She picked up the phone and hit the speed dial. Hi, this is Lex. Is Amanda available?

A moment later, Amanda picked up. Hi honey. Miss me all ready?

Always, Lex answered honestly. But I do have another reason for calling. Remember when I was trying to set up a chance to sell beef to that restaurant in Houston?


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