Parental Advisory Rating: L
Break out those V-Chips, everyone!
Created, Produced, Directed and Written:
XWPFanatic, TNovan and Tonya Muir
Episode Fifteen: Home Is Where The Heart Is
I hear the incessant knocking on Harpers office door and I glance over to see a messenger holding an envelope. I finally get up from my desk and move to my doorway.
"You know, it doesnt take a mental giant to figure out after five friggen minutes that shes not in there."
The pimply face messenger with the headsets still doesnt hear me. Maybe its the heavy metal music hes listening too, full blast, on his cd player thats rusted his ears shut. I step forward and tap him on the shoulder. He jumps forward and bangs his head on the door.
I smirk as he rubs his head and turns around holding out the thick yellow envelope to me.
"You wanna sign for it?" he asks as he chomps his gum.
No, you stupid little turd I want to smack you into the middle of next week.
Instead I take his pen and sign his book so he will take his purple spiked head out of my immediate viewing area. Jesus, I remember a time when clean-cut got you the job.
As I turn the envelope over in my hands I see its from a travel agent. Harper must be going somewhere for the holidays. I wonder who the lucky girl is and what waters of the Caribbean theyre gonna be scaring the fish in.
I return to my desk and my paperwork, tossing the envelope down on the corner of my desk. Some people have all the luck.
An hour or so later, as I lean back in my chair and stretch, I see her come in.
"Hey, Tabloid!" I call as I wave her into my office.
She sticks her head in and gives me a wide, ornery grin. "Yeeesssss ."
I cant help, but laugh at the silly look on her face as I gesture toward the envelope. "Messenger from Heavy Metal Hell delivered that about an hour ago."
She practically bounces into my office.
"Oh goody!" She snatches the envelope from the corner of my desk.
"Somebody hit you with a giant happy stick today?"
"Yeah, well." She opens the envelope and gives the contents a quick check. "I havent been home in almost four months ."
Oh, a whole four months? Christ, Tabloid, I havent been home in ten years. Except, of course, for the occasional court appearance.
Then it hits me: home. Shes going home for Thanksgiving and not to some tropical island with the catch of the day. I am both surprised and pleased. "Have fun. Enjoy," I offer as I lean forward and close the file.
She plants herself on the corner of my desk staring down at me. "So do you and Dr. Feel Good have plans?"
I take a deep breath and lean back. "Umm, no, actually, we dont. Susan will be home with her family."
"And she didnt ask you?" Harper looks pissed.
"Harper, heres a tip, my friend." I lean forward and grin just a little. "Not everyone can be as open as you are. We all dont live in a perfect world. Susans parents dont know about her so she cant take me with her."
"Hey, no problem." I wave it off as if it doesnt bother me.
"Eriks gonna be home though, right?"
Jesus, Harper, when did you become so interested in what I do for the holidays?
"No. He wont be home until the following week. Hes still shooting in North Carolina. And, before you ask," I offer as I hold up my hand, "Ill be going to a Bogart and Bacall movie marathon. Decked out in baggy sweats and ballcap. Its become a tradition Ive been pretty happy with over the years. Last year it was Clark Gable marathon."
Another convincing lie about my life.
"Un-huh. Old movies and stale popcorn on Thanksgiving? Come on, Kels."
Okay, maybe not so convincing.
"No, actually, they have really good gourmet popcorn at this place, thanks. Very ummm," I leer as I look at her, "buttery. You know, the kind you gotta lick off your fingers after?"
To make sure I get my point across to my partner, I insert the first two fingers of my left hand into my mouth to the second knuckle and close my eyes. I very slowly start to bring them out of my mouth, but just before they are clear, I suck them back in and then remove them with a little smacking noise. I give the end of my thumb a little lick with the very tip of my tongue.
When I open my eyes, Harper is gone.
* * *
Sometimes, in a war, the best thing you can do is a tactical retreat.
Thats what Im telling myself as I sit in my office and try not to think about Kelseys fingers in her mouth and the soft sucking sounds coming from her throat and
Oh God. I groan and shift in my chair.
Why is it so fucking hot in this office today?
I nearly pounced on her. I want her. I want her like Ive never wanted another woman in well, ever, truth be told.
Shes infuriating. Exciting. Smart. Gorgeous. Funny. Damn good at her job. Sexy. Sensitive. Alone.
God, I hate that shes alone. She shouldnt be. She should have more than Erik and their sham relationship. More than Susan and their casual whatever. She deserves someone who will be willing to be proud to be at her side as her lover. Who will tell the entire world to piss off about morals clauses and other such nonsense.
My parents didnt raise me to roll over and accept the status quo and suffer injustice quietly. Nope. Not the Kingsleys.
Truth be told, I cant wait to see my family. Four long months of not having decent food and music in my life. And not playing touch football with my brothers. And I havent even seen Robie and Renes little baby Clark yet. My own nephew and I havent even seen him after three months of being in this world.
Mama isnt pleased, I know that. I got an earful of sour French last time I called home.
I think I know how to get Mama off of my back. Give her a new cause. Always worked for Papa before.
I stand up and straighten my shirt, for no reason other than to give my hands something to do. Come on, Harper, stop acting like a nervous teenager. Which, if I need to remind you, you never were before. Just go ask her.
I find myself standing in Kelseys office, not quite sure how I got here. Shes staring at me, waiting for me to speak. "Why dont you come home with me for the holidays, Kels?"
There. To the point.
She is surprised at my invitation. I think. Either that or she just swallowed a fish.
"Uh, well, Harper thanks for the invitation. But, really, I couldnt intrude."
"Its not intruding if youre invited."
"Thats really sweet, but No. You go on home and have a good time. Ill be here when you get back."
Then it hits me: What if she isnt? What if the fucking stalker does something to her while Im gone? After I promised her earlier this week that Id take care of her. After Ive been sleeping on her couch for the last couple nights.
"Come on, Kels. You know you want to. Itll just be me and my family. A small gathering of about twenty insane Cajuns having a wonderful holiday. Mama is the best cook in all of Louisiana, even Emeril Lagasse calls her for cooking advice." I can tell shes not yet persuaded, so I try pulling out the big gun. Well, I hope its a big gun. "Besides, I promised to protect you and I cant do that if were in different states. And my Mama will absolutely kill me if I dont come home for Thanksgiving. Im already standing hip deep in gator shit for not going home when my nephew was born. So ."
Kelsey laughs. Its a wonderful sound. "Okay, okay. If I can get a ticket at this late time, Im yours for the holiday."
God, if only that were true.
* * *
Were sitting in first class on Delta flight 1816 about to take off from Dallas. Next stop New Orleans. I was able to purchase Kels ticket for a mere $2500 at this late date. But, at least, shes with me.
Take that, Susan. Im not ashamed of her. Or myself.
Kelsey is gripping the armrest as if its her last, best friend in the world. We went through this when we took off from LAX earlier this morning. She really hates to fly. Id give her something alcoholic to drink, but Omaha is a bad memory.
"All right, are you ready for the cast of characters?" I ask, trying to distract her.
"What?" She blinks mossy green eyes at me.
"My family. Ready to learn all their names?"
"Well, I have twenty immediate family mom, dad, brothers, sisters-in-laws, nephews and nieces. All of them will be there for Thanksgiving. And then I have forty-nine other relatives aunts, uncles, cousins, Nonny who you may or may not see this time. This gives me a total of sixty-nine relatives, which I find inordinately pleasing for some reason."
She snickers, "Right. For some reason."
"Dirty mind," I chastise. I hear my New Orleans accent coming out stronger as we head home. I like it. It feels right to speak to Kelsey this way. "All right, Mama and Papa are Cecile and Jonathan Kingsley. Then my brothers are Gerrard, Jean, Lucien and Robie."
Kelsey is amused. "How in the hell did you end up with Harper then?"
"Well, I am called Leone by the Cajun side of the family. But my brothers and parents know better."
"Which side is Cajun?"
"Chér, with a last name like Kingsley, what you tink?" I slip right into the way Ive spoken with my mothers family all my life.
"Tres bien. She was Cecile Boudreaux before marrying my daddy."
"So, what are your brothers non-Cajun names then?"
I laugh, wondering what her reaction will be to them. "Well, now remember, my parents were big in the civil rights movement. So, we have Medgar, John, Martin and Robert."
She shakes her head, getting all of the references. "Medgar Evers, JFK, Martin Luther King, and RFK. And then Harper Lee of To Kill A Mockingbird fame. Jesus, they were serious about it, werent they?"
"Still are. I come from a very passionate family. We all just focus our passion a bit differently."
"What do your brothers do for a living?"
"Theyre all attorneys. Well, Gerrards a judge, actually."
"Sixties civil rights activists gave birth to four attorneys? Somehow that doesnt seem right."
"Actually, Papa always said the best way to change the institution was to infiltrate it. He came from a very wealthy and influential family in New Orleans."
Kelseys small hand releases the armrest and travels over to rest on my forearm. "Thanks for inviting me, Harper. Im really looking forward to meeting your family."
"Theyre gonna love you, Kels. Itll be the best Thanksgiving youve ever had. I guarantee it."
Or Ill kick their ever-lovin butts all the way down St. Charles.
* * *
We make the right turn on St. Charles and drive the final leg to my familys house. Okay, house isnt quite the right word.
"Ohmigod," Kelsey says as I pull into the long driveway alongside the family home. "This is where your parents live?"
"Not exactly the trailer you had pictured, eh?"
She slaps my arm gently. "Harper."
I never thought much about the house growing up. All the houses in the Garden District are impressive. Ours was just another Greek Revival on the block. The one thing I did gratefully know was that it had eight bedrooms, so I didnt have to share with any of my brothers.
As I park the Explorer, I see Mama walk out onto the porch, having heard us pull in. Well, here goes nothing. God, I cant believe I m nervous about being home. Ive never felt this way before.
"By the way, do you speak French at all?" I ask as we climb out the vehicle.
She wrinkles her face up in a cute frown. "A little."
"Ah, good. French tends to be the language of choice with the family. But, theyre pretty good about it when any of the wives are around."
Her eyebrow hikes up toward her hairline. "Im a wife now?"
"No!" Shit. "No, my brothers are all married. And only Rene speaks fluent French. The others are pretty bad with it, actually." Is my face as red as it feels?
"Okay. Because, I mean, Harper, we havent even gone steady."
I join her smile, catching her reference to our school adventure. "I did carry your books though."
"True. So, why dont you get the luggage now?" Laughing at me, she turns and walks toward my home.
"Oh no, maam, get back over here!" I wave her back over.
She looks over her shoulder lowering her sunglasses to stare at me over the top of them. It is undeniably cute and a bit alluring. I wave her back again and she turns and very slowly walks back to me.
"Were not going steady. You can carry your own luggage." I hand her the black overnight bag. As she starts to take her the matching case, I cringe when I hear Mama.
"Harper Lee Kingsley, what you think youre doing!"
I look to the porch and I can feel the gator shit getting deeper. "Yes, Mama?"
"Please tell me the last time a guest carried her own bags into our home."
"Mama, shes not a guest," I protest. "Shes shes " Words fail me. What is Kels to me? Finally, I take the damn bag as Mama crosses her arms and offers me a very disapproving look.
"Come on," I grumble as I start up the walk to the house.
"Grump," Kels teases as she gives me a little slap on the backside, dawdling a bit behind me.
I climb the steps and I am face to face with the one woman in to world who can make me do exactly what she wants me to do, when she wants me to do it.
"Bonjour, mon coeur. Comment ça va?"
Shes called me her heart for as long as I can remember. The boys were always called her spirit. And Papa is her soul. "Mama, ça va bien. Et toi? Et Papa?" Mama, I am good. And how are you? And Papa?
"Ça va bien. Qui est cette jeune fille?"
How to explain who Kelsey is to me? Well, guess Ill go with the basics. "On travaille ensemble. Je te l'ai dit." My partner from work. I told you about her.
"Quelle dommage. Elle est vashement belle!"
Yeah, it is a shame. And, yeah, she is beautiful. "On n'est que m'amie. Cest tout, mamman!" Shes not my girlfriend, Mama. Dont get any ideas either. My mother considers herself my personal matchmaker. Some parents, when they find out their child is gay, react poorly. My parents? Well, they immediately bought a rainbow bumper sticker for the fucking BMW, joined PFLAG, and started trying to hook me up with cute girls. Mama is also now the National Chairwoman of the Families for Same Sex Marriages. My sexuality is another one of their causes.
"Espèsce de tête dure!"
I roll my eyes. Shes been telling me Im hard-headed for as long as shes been calling me her heart. That explains a lot about both of us. "D'accord, mamman. Alors, est-ce que je te presenter Kelsey." I agree, Mama. Now, let me introduce Kelsey.
As Harper and her mother embrace and say hello, I take the time to take a really good look at the house. Its truly beautiful. Surrounded by flowers and thick, old oak trees covered with Spanish Moss, it feels like taking a step back in time.
I take a deep breath as I lean against the railing and look out over the grounds. God, it is beautiful. Very traditional in southern charm and ambiance. In any other situation it could be very romantic, like finding the worlds best bed and breakfast.
"Hey, Little Roo." I turn to face Harper who still has her arm around her mothers shoulders.
Cecile Kingsley is one of the most dignified and attractive women I have ever seen. Its easy to see where Harper gets her good looks.
"Mama, may I introduce my partner, Kelsey Stanton. Kelsey, this is my Mama, Cecile Kingsley."
I offer my hand with a genuine smile. "Mrs. Kingsley, it is a pleasure to meet you."
I am not expecting to be pulled into a hug by the woman, but I go with it.
"Its a pleasure to meet you, Kelsey. And Mrs. Kingsley, elle a disarue, God rest her soul, was my mother-in-law. You call me Mama. All the friends and family do. Or Cecile, if you wish."
"Thank you." I look into my partners very amused blue eyes as I pull back from the hug.
"Harper has told me a lot about you."
"Really?" I raise my brows to my partner. Surely, she has better things to talk about than me when she calls home.
I dont know if thats good or bad, but since shes welcoming me into her home and not ordering me off her property, Ill go with the feeling that its been good. Will the surprises never cease?
"Harper, you take Kelsey up and get her settled. Shes in the guest room at the end of the hall, next to your room." Her words are full of soft sounds gentle ds and ts. I can understand why French is the language of romance.
"Ill find your Papa and you two meet us in the garden for tea when youre ready. Robie and Rene will be here with les bébettes soon. Well have supper once they get here."
"Sounds fine, Mama." Harper nods as she begins collecting the bags again.
I hold out my hand to take the overnight bag. Harper smiles, giving her head a little shake as her eyes shift to her mother. "Allons." She motions toward the front door.
"Of course." I follow my partner.
"Kels, could you get the door?"
"I think I can manage that." I reach past her and push open the door.
I follow her in and am immediately struck by the beauty and the charm of the house. It is furnished entirely with antiques, with wide young pine and cypress that accent the floors and ceilings.
"Its beautiful, Harper. You really grew up here?"
"Yup, I sure did." She heads for the staircase, which immediately makes me think of "Gone With The Wind."
"This is a Thomas Sully house, isnt it?" I ask as I look at the intricate carvings on the newel post at the bottom of the stairs.
Harper stops in mid-step halfway up the stairs. The look on her face is one of pure shock. "Yes, yes it is."
"Thought so. The design of the house really reflects his work. From the crown moldings at the ceiling, Id guess it was built between eighteen ninety and eighteen ninety-five."
"Well, what do you know?" I offer as I join her on the steps. "That year and a half I thought I wanted to be an architect finally paid off." I grin as I gesture up the stairs.
"Amazing," she mumbles as she continues up the stairs. "Youre full of surprises."
"So are you."
"Whats that suppose to mean?"
"Youve been talking to your mother about me?"
"Sure. We work together. When she asks about work, you naturally come up."
"Naturally." I smirk just a little. I dont talk to my mother about work. Hell, who am I trying to fool, I dont talk to my mother.
I continue to take in the fixtures of the house. The crystal chandeliers, the old gas lamps lining the hall that have been converted to electricity, the rugs, old portraits and photographs that line the walls.
"Hmm?" Harper glances at the wall. "Oh yeah, most of them. Family history is very important to the Kingsleys and the Boudreaux."
She stops at one room and opens the door, dropping her bags inside it. She turns to me with a grin. "My room. Mama and Papa have left our rooms ready and available to us, in case we ever needed to come home. So far, only Jean has needed to. Elaine threw him out when he told her she looked fat during her last trimester."
"Ouch. Not good. My Mother turned my room into an office two weeks after I left for college."
She doesnt seem to know how to respond to this. She shakes her head a little as she shows me the next room. "This is yours. I think youll like it."
A big four poster bed dominates the room, but the floor to ceiling French doors offer a beautiful view and lots of light. The light only serves to accent the marble mantle over the small fireplace and the crystal chandelier that hangs in my room.
"Is there a room in the house that doesnt look like this?" I ask as I take it all in.
"No. Its a pretty amazing place."
"Oh, now theres the understatement of the century."
Harper places my bag down on the bench at the end of the bed and moves to the French doors. She pushes them open, allowing a soft breeze to blow in.
"Kels, just relax and enjoy it. Feel free to look around and get to know the place." She waves her hand toward the outside. "You have a private balcony here, and, as far as Im concerned, the most beautiful view the house offers: it overlooks the garden."
I follow her out on to the balcony to find yet again more beauty. My view is of a formal garden below, filled with every flower known to man. God, no wonder she loves it here and wants to come home so often. I would too, if I had someplace like this to come to.
"Is that Harper Lee I see standing tall and proud up there?" A mans voice brings me clear of my own thoughts.
I watch as Harper smiles and waves. "Yes, Papa."
I look down into the garden to find a tall, good-looking man with slightly graying hair and a mustache smiling up at us.
"And the very attractive young woman standing next to you would be?" He gestures my direction.
"This is Kelsey Stanton, Papa. Shes my partner, from work."
"Ah, yes, your Mama mentioned that you were bringing a guest. Good choice, Harper."
"Thank you, Papa."
I can tell that shes a little embarrassed and I reach over and give her hand a little pat.
"Its nice to meet you, Kelsey. Were glad you could join us for the holidays."
"Its nice to meet you too, Mr. Kingsley."
"Eh, thats a bit too formal for my tastes. Call me Jonathan."
I smile and nod.
"Well, when you two get settled, come on down and join us for a glass of tea."
"Well be down in a few minutes."
I feel Harpers hand on the small of my back as she guides me back in. "Ill leave you to get unpacked. If you need anything Im right through that door there." She gestures to the door that connects our room which I hadnt noticed before. "If you need me, just knock."
"Uh, Harper why dont we just open it now? Ive got to be honest, Im feeling a little overwhelmed here and Id like very much to keep you close for a while."
Truth is, here in this setting, Id like to keep you close to me and naked oh shit did I just think that? Reality, Kels. Reality. But hey! it could lend to an interesting fantasy or two. God knows, I have enough of those.
"Sure, we can do that." She moves to the door, unlocking it and pulling it open to reveal her room on the other side. "Now all you need to do is give a whistle. You know how to whistle, dont you?" She is teasing me, I can tell.
"Uh huh, put my lips together and blow. Ive got that down. Thanks."
As I finish unpacking, I hear her clear her throat. "How you doing, Little Roo?"
"All finished," I offer as I close the door to the wardrobe.
"Great. Lets go down and find my folks."
Oh God, how to do this? "I want to thank you again for the invitation. Youre right, this is better than old movies and popcorn."
"Its my pleasure, Kels. Thanksgiving is really fun around here. I think youre gonna like it." She offers me her hand. "Come on."
As I slide my hand into hers, I take a moment to notice how right they feel together. How could I have been so stupid to push her away from me? If I had worked at it a little maybe things could have been different for us. Damn.
As we walk through the house, I notice more of the detail: the marble, the cut glass in the windows, the stained glass at the top of the stairs and over the entry. True beauty. Just like the woman walking in front of me. I screwed up. Damn.
Damn my own fears, and damn my parents for putting them there.
Harper leads me to the garden where her parents are. Theyve been joined by a young man and woman. The man is an obvious brother of Harpers, being merely a male version of my partner. A small child is standing next to Cecile clutching her pants leg. Cecile stroking his hair as she speaks with the young man and gives him a hug.
"Well, look there," Harper yells as we enter the garden. Im waiting for her to release my hand now that were nearing her family, but she doesnt. Actually, if anything, I notice her tighten her hold on me. "If it isnt the ugliest thing on two legs since the zoo got its new baboon."
The young man straightens up and turns our direction. "Ah, baby sister, dont start what you cant finish." He sprints toward us. My hand is released as they engulf each other in a fierce embrace, which resembles a tackle.
I watch them until I notice Im being waved over by Cecile. I leave Harper and her brother, who are now joking with one another, and join her parents and the young woman. I notice now that shes cradling a tiny dark-haired baby in her arms. "Ah, this must be little Clark." I smile as I look at the baby. "Harper hasnt talked about anything else since we got on the plane."
"Yes, this is the newest addition to the Kingsley clan." Mama offers as she makes the introductions. "This is his mother, Rene, and his older brother, Christian." She gestures to the child clutching her pants. "Rene, this is Kelsey, your sisters partner."
"How do you do, Kelsey?" She asks warmly as she adjusts the baby and offers me her hand.
"Im fine, thank you. Nice to meet you."
I kneel down to the child and offer my hand. "Its nice to meet you too, Christian."
He gives me an embarrassed little smile and turns his face away. Hes adorable. I brush my fingers through his hair before standing back up.
"Christians a little shy." Rene looks to her eldest. "But hell get over that soon enough. Christian, I want you to say hello to Ms. Kelsey."
He peers up at his mother, trying to gauge how serious she is.
"Say hello to Ms. Kelsey. You need to be polite, ma fils."
He nods slowly and then fixes his big blue eyes on me. Apparently the Kingsley clan specializes in big, blue eyes that make your knees weak. "Hello," he says softly, but clearly.
"Hello, Christian," I reply.
"Baby!" I hear Harper yell as she moves across the grass to us. "Give me the baby!"
Rene laughs as she gives up the child to the demanding hands of my partner. "Here you go, Tante Harper. Let me introduce you to Clark."
"Ah, little guy, Im sorry I wasnt here when you arrived, but, rest assured, if you ever need me, Ill be here for you." She coos as she cradles the child in her arms.
Now theres a sight. Harper Kingsley holding a baby.
She unwraps the blanket from around the small body and inspects the child. Finally, she looks up and grins at Rene. "Thank the good Lord above this one also looks like you, Rene." She leans down and kisses her sister-in-laws cheek. "Theres hope for him yet. Despite having Robie as his papa."
"Hey now!" Robie protests good-naturedly. "I dont see you providing Mama and Papa with any grandchildren."
"Well, Im in the infertile brother, remember?" Harper replies and then the two siblings explode in laughter, apparently over an inside joke.
Little Clark lets out a small cry of protest at the noise, causing Rene to reach for her youngest son. Harper swats at her hand and nestles the boy closer to her.
"Dont worry, Ren, Ill be good around him. Now, let me bond with my nephew." She drops to a knee. "And, little Christian, get over here and give your Tante Harper a kiss."
The boy immediately obeys, throwing himself at my partner with abandon. She somehow manages to hold onto the infant and get an arm around the two year old. She pinches the small boys cheek, then kisses it. "Mmmmm, my little cochon de lait!"
He laughs, a big belly laugh, nearly doubling his small body over. "Tante Harper! I am not a cochon!"
"Mais, yeah!" she replies back. She leans forward and makes pig noises against his small neck, sending the small boy back into fits of laughter.
If this is Harper Kingsley, who is the person I know back in Los Angeles?
* * *
At supper, Harper insists on two things. She demands that I sit on one side of her and Clarks infant seat is situated in a chair on the other. I notice that her family takes this behavior in hand as if her love of children is common knowledge. I obviously dont know her as well as I thought I did.
Supper consists of andouille gumbo with sweet potato, jambalaya, and homemade French bread. Its absolutely delicious. The family is loud and loving. I smile as I think how appalled my mother would be at the display before me: elbows on the table, people reaching across the middle, tossing pieces of bread from one end to the other.
Harper is equally attentive to Clark and me. She makes sure my plate is full and often asks me if Im doing okay even as she is holding a bottle for the baby and following the conversation around her.
Christian, true to his mothers words, has lost all shyness. Now Robie and Harper are taking turns challenging him to sing songs and he stands in his chair for each one, belting out classics like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Each round is greeted with cries of encouragement from the two siblings. "You sing, peeshwet."
Somewhere in the middle of the meal, I forget to be uptight and reserved and start enjoying myself.
Mama is bending my ear on one side, asking about work and how I got where I am. She brings up my family but drops the subject kindly when Im reluctant to talk about them. Even though Ive known her for less than a day, Im certain the topic will come up again and I wont be able to avoid it.
"Mama made sweet potato pie for dessert, Kels," Harper says, interrupting our conversation. "She makes the best pie so you better save some room." To her mother she says, "I have had such an envie for good food, Mama!"
Mama replies with a wide smile, full of affection of her youngest.
"Save some room? Youre the one whos been piling food on my plate," I laugh.
Harper pats my knee and winks at me. God, shes even more gorgeous here with her family.
"Hey," Robie calls from his seat across the table. "Quit flirting over there. You get to see Kelsey all the time. I think Clark needs his tante to hold him."
Harper doesnt miss a beat as she reaches over to free Clark from his seat and cradle him against her. "Thank God I get to see Kelsey more than your ugly mug, Robie."
Clark fusses momentarily and I wave my fingers at him. He looks comfortable there on her chest. Of course, who wouldnt be?
"You wanna hold him, Kels?"
I blink for a moment. Me? Hold a baby? "No, thats okay."
"No, really." Shes already moving closer to me, pressing the baby into my arms.
"Maybe she doesnt want to hold Clark, Harper," Robie chastises.
"Ça! Dont worry. She wont drop him on his head like Papa did you, big guy." Her blue eyes twinkle at me. "You wont drop him, right?" she whispers.
I shake my head rapidly.
"Good." Shes tucking my arm around him, sliding it under his well-padded bottom.
"His head?" I dont know much about babies but I remember something about wobbly necks.
"Its fine," she assures me. "Just support it on your elbow like that. There."
Oh shit. Her hands are gone and Im holding Clark. He looks as uncomfortable as I feel.
"Relax," Harper whispers, rubbing my knee warmly. "Isnt he wonderful?"
I nod. Hes warm and solid in my grip and his eyes are so trusting. I cant help but smile.
The entire table bursts out laughing and I blush bright red. I can feel the heat of my face.
Harper smiles. "Smell his skin. Babies smell so good. As long as their diapers are clean."
I do as she says and there is something about his scent thats comforting. He smells fresh and cozy. The scent of baby powder lingers on him. I look up to Harper and we meet eyes as she nods.
"Yeah," I agree. "You love kids."
"Sure, I do. Whats there not to love?"
"Have you ever thought of having them?"
"Nah," she waves me off. "Im the worlds best aunt. Thats good enough."
Christian agrees readily and Robie makes a comment about swollen heads. Harper ignores him as she helps me settle Clark and shows me how to eat one handed. Its harder than it looks.
I know Im in for it when I sneak into the kitchen just after midnight and Mama is sitting at the table.
"Thief!" she accuses and I smirk.
"Is there any more of that pie, Mama?"
She starts to stand but I wave her back to her seat. "Ill get it. You want a piece?"
"Oh no, bou. Im stuffed."
She lets me stew through half of my midnight snack before she speaks up. "Tell me about this sweet Kelsey and you."
I meet her eyes, knowing that they are exact replicas of my own. Shes not teasing or pressing, she honestly wants to know.
"Not much to tell. We work together."
She purses her lips in thought. "But you want more?"
"Tell your Mama," she soothes. How often have I heard that phrase?
I consider how much to tell but I know shell get it all out over the course of the weekend. Poor Kelsey, she wont be safe from my mothers questioning. "We work well together, we click in a lot of ways. When shes herself, shes wonderful. But shes almost always hiding behind this imaginary person she thinks she has to be."
"Shes hurt you."
Uh oh. "Non, Mama," I say quickly, trying to save Kels from her wrath. "Well, weve hurt each other. But were moving past that."
"She wants a relationship with a woman, though? This you know?"
I smirk, finishing my pie. "I know she does."
"And she likes you?"
"Who wouldnt?" I give her my best smug look.
Mama laughs and reaches out to smooth my hair back. "Who, indeed? What do you know about her people?"
I tell her about Omaha and the phone message I heard. "Thats all I know."
She looks as angry as I feel. "Maybe she doesnt know how to be liked or cared for. Those couillons!"
I shrug silently. Maybe. But there is Erik and shes mentioned a grandfather. Plus she does have some kind of relationship with Susan. I cant figure out why the fuck shed want Susan instead of me but self-esteem has never been a big problem of mine.
"We must seem from a different planet," Mama says and finishes up her coffee.
"I think shes feeling a little overwhelmed," I agree.
"Harper, you dote on her."
Im shocked. I dont dote on Kelsey. I say as much.
Mama laughs and clears my plate, rinsing it in the sink and dropping it into the dishwasher. "You were good with her and Clark."
I shrug. "Kingsley babies are easy to love. She just needs practice." I cant believe I said that. "With Clark," I add but I can tell by her smile that I already blew it.
"Practice makes perfect."
I shake my head, hiding a smirk. My parents are impossible. Its late and Im tired so I stand up and stretch. "Its good to be home, Mama."
"Well, dont wait so long next time," she chides. "And Im glad you brought her."
"Mama, you know some matches just cant be made," I say stupidly and then cringe. Shit, I just challenged her. Were really in for it now.
I can hear her chuckling as I make my way up the staircase. I cant wait to see the rest of my family tomorrow. My visit is all the sweeter having Kelsey here to share it.
Next Week on Must Read TV:
Im wondering where Kels has gotten to when Rachel comes into the garden with a tray of ice tea. Ohm I dont like the look on her face. Its far too smug. She sets the tray down, picks up a glass and turns to me, placing it in my hand. "Shes cute, Harper."
"Excuse me for a minute, guys." I grasp the glass and head for forbidden territory. I gotta get Kels out of there.
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