Parental Advisory Rating: L

Break out those V-Chips, everyone!


Created, Produced, Directed and Written:

XWPFanatic, TNovan and Tonya Muir


Episode Sixteen: We Are Family

As I slowly come into full wakefulness, I wonder how I can smuggle this bed back to Los Angeles. It has to be the most comfortable thing I have ever slept in. Every time I stretch, I find a new comfortable spot and I’m nearly lulled backed to sleep. It’s easy to curl up here and rest. I’ve never felt so safe.

However, the smell of food cooking and all the laughter coming from downstairs compel me to get out of this big, old, wonderful bed. I slip on my robe and tie it off, moving to the door that connects my room to Harper’s. A quick peek through confirms she’s not there. I didn’t figure she would be.

I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with the fresh scent of this place. It’s amazing how I don’t miss the smell of smog. I listen carefully to the sounds floating in through the slightly open balcony doors. Ah, there she is. Turning, I walk out onto to the balcony.

I look down into the garden to find my partner dressed in jeans and a baggy sweatshirt rolling around on the ground, covered in little bodies. She must be wrestling and playing with every child in the house. They are all laughing and giggling as they find new ways to attack Tabloid.

I see four men who I know instantly are her bothers sitting nearby. It’s as if Cécile and Jonathan bought a photocopier which produced children. The only difference is the last one came out a girl. They are all tall and broadshouldered – though the oldest two, Gerrard and Jean, I believe, are a bit thicker through the chest than the younger two. But they all share the same dark hair, straight noses, light eyes, and length of bone. I can’t wait to see what their spouses look like.

The brothers are encouraging their children and laughing loudly every time one of their suggestions is used to elicit a new yell from their sister.

"No fair!" Harper shouts as a water gun is brought into the fray and she is doused from the back.

I fold my arms across my chest, hugging this moment to me, and watch them. I still can’t believe this is the Harper Kingsley I work with back in LA. Our eyes meet when she gets rolled over by one of the kids.

She starts pushing kids off of her body. "Okay, guys, she’s up. Ready?"

I watch as she scrambles to her feet, glancing up at me and smiling as she does. She motions all the kids together in a group. They all look up at me and in unison yell, "Good morning, Ms. Kelsey!"

I can’t help but laugh. I feel the blush rise all over my face. She’s certifiable. I manage to catch my breath and give a little wave. "Good morning, everyone."

"You coming down anytime soon, lazy bones?" Harper calls as she picks up one of the smallest children.

"Yeah. I’m going to shower first and then I’ll be right down."

" ‘Kay." She turns in time to find herself ambushed again and the game is back on.




I make my way downstairs, following the sounds of chatter and laughter until I find myself standing in the doorway of the kitchen. "Good morning," I offer as I step hesitantly into the room. Lots of unfamiliar faces here, and I don’t want to slip into work mode to deal with these people. I know work mode isn’t very pleasant, for anyone concerned.

"Bonjour, Kelsey. Come on in here and let me introduce you to the rest of the family. Elaine, chér, will you put some water on to boil for tea?" Cécile’s smile and open arms are truly infectious. I am glad to accept another hug from this woman.

"I don’t need tea if you don’t have…" I murmur as I untangle myself from her slowly.

"Oh I have. I have Earl Gray." She laughs gently. "Harper called and made sure I understood that you drank Earl Gray tea every morning."

"She did, huh?"

"Mais, oui, she did."

"Harper did that?" A slim woman asks, looking up from her work, an inscrutable expression on her face.

"Mais, yeah." Mama grabs my hand and walks me around the huge kitchen. "This is Katherine, Gerrard’s wife."

All right, someone can get a real insecurity complex in this family. Katherine looks like a model – long blonde hair, big blue eyes, stunning figure. I know she has to be close to forty years old, but she looks younger than I do. I’d hate her if she wasn’t Harper’s sister-in-law. And hugging me right now.

"Pleasure to meet you, Kelsey. We’re all glad you could join us."

"Thank you," I stammer.

"Mom?" a small voice calls from the doorway. Katherine’s attention goes to the boy standing there.

"What do you need, T-Jean?"

"Can I have something to eat? I’m hungry."

"Sure, sweetie. You go on back out and I’ll bring everyone a snack in a few moments."


He turns to run back outside, but Katherine’s voice stops him. "You tell your Tante Harper the next time she gets hungry to come in and ask for herself."

The boy giggles. "Yes, ma’am."

"Some things never change. She used to send in Robie," Cécile mutters. She leads me to the next woman, the one who asked about Harper a moment ago. "This is Rachel, Lucien’s wife."

This is another blonde wife, but different from Katherine in almost every way imaginable. Where Katherine is tall and voluptuous, Rachel is short and has an athlete’s build. Her hair is cut short and she has hazel eyes, which belie a keen intelligence, I suspect.

Rachel holds up her hands, which are covered in flour, and smiles. "Good to have you here. Maybe we’ll get to hear some truth about what it is old Harper does nowadays."

"I think we can swap some stories," I suggest. I would love to have some dirt about a young Harper.

We move along and come to Rene. "Good morning." I am surprised to see that she has Clark in a snuggle-pack against her chest. "How did you wrestle him away from his aunt?"

"Wrestle is the key word. Clark is a little too young yet to be out there with that rowdy bunch. And Robie is just as bad."

"They’re all alike, every last one of them," Katherine sighs.

"I’m Elaine," the last wife introduces herself to me as she hands me a mug of Earl Gray. "Jean’s wife."

Elaine is dark haired and willowy with a toothy smile. I look at her narrow hips and can’t believe this is a woman who has given birth to no less than five children, as Harper has told me. The youngest of her five is an infant boy, a few months older than Clark, sitting in a car seat on the table. He is sound asleep. "Thank you." I prepare my tea on the countertop, drizzling in some honey. "Cécile, is there anything I can do to help?"

"Actually, yes." She gathers up a cutting board, knife and a colander of something I don’t recognize. "Could you peel these up for me? And take out the seed?"

"Of course, I’d be happy to. But … what are those?" The item in question is a prickly-skinned green vegetable, roughly the size and shape of an avocado.

Harper’s mother laughs. "Child, this are merlitons. After you peel them and remove the seed, we’re going to stuff them with shrimp and breadcrumbs. Then we bake them and eat them. And you will love it, so good."

I take the vegetables and begin lending about as much help in the kitchen as I’m capable of. Thank God Erik has taught me the bare basics of cooking for myself. Peeling I can do.

Katherine has finished putting together some snacks for everyone outside. She is about to take a tray out when Rachel stops her. "Hold on, I want to take some tea out to the boys, too."

The two sisters-in-law look at each other and laugh.

I think someone’s in trouble.




I’m wondering where Kels has gotten to when Katherine and Rachel come into the garden with trays of snacks and iced tea. The kids instantly cluster around Katherine, wanting even more sugar, God help us, while Rachel makes her way to me.

I don’t like the look on her face. It’s far too smug. She sets the tray down on the wrought iron table. Then picks up a glass and turns to me, placing it in my hand. "She’s cute, Harper. I like her."

Oh shit.

"Huh?" I can’t seem to find my tongue as I sip my tea, hoping my sister-in-law won’t torture me. But this is Rachel. I know better.

"Kelsey. She’s cute."

"Where…where…is she?" I take another sip of tease…er…tea.

"With Mama and the girls, in the kitchen." She says the last three words slowly, letting me know what’s going on. Rachel turns from me and picks up another glass, which she gives to Lucien, along with a kiss.

Oh shit.

"Excuse me for a minute, guys." I grasp the glass and head for forbidden territory. I gotta get Kels out of there.

Years ago Mama banished all of us kids from the kitchen, declaring it to be hers alone, the one place in the house where she could have solitude. We were all quite fine with that declaration, until we realized she only meant it during the cooking of the food and not during clean up. Nevertheless, Mama’s prohibition stayed in place.

Until Katherine.

When Gerrard brought her home, Mama immediately took her to the kitchen and tossed us out. Together, they plotted and schemed and decided Gerrard’s fate. Not that he wasn’t amenable to it. But, he wouldn’t have been married quite so young had it been left solely up to him.

Andrew Jackson’s kitchen cabinet has nothing on Mama’s.

The kitchen became a litmus test of sorts for the girlfriends. If Mama liked one, she was invited into the kitchen to help. Elaine was invited into the kitchen after dinner to help with dessert. It took Mama the meal to decide if she liked the Yankee. Elaine’s family had only moved to New Orleans fifty years prior from Massachusetts.

Rene was scooped from Robie the moment she stepped into the house. I think Mama spent more time courting her than he did. Of course, Rene has Cajun in her – her grandmère grew up near mine – and so she was instantly family. If Robie hadn’t already been head over heels in love with her, Mama would have beat him until he was. She was intent on Rene becoming a Kingsley.

Lucien brought home a series of girls who never got past the parlor. I was actually the one who brought Rachel home. We were at Tulane at the same time – although she was in law school while I was undergrad. We took a course on entertainment law together. When I brought her home for dinner one night so we could study for the final together, she met Lucien. And got invited into the kitchen.

I was best man in the wedding, gender notwithstanding.

Standing in the doorway, I see that it’s worse than I thought.

Not only is she in Mama’s kitchen, but she’s helping out with the meal.

Mama, you’ve gone too far this time.

I force a smile across my face as I approach my partner. I need to appear nonchalant. Despite the fact everyone is looking at me and pretending not to.

"Good morning, Little Roo, ‘bout time you got up." I reach for one of the merliton seeds and get my hand playfully slapped.

"Well, I’m up and having my tea." She picks up her mug to take another drink. "Thank you, by the way." She grins as she toasts me with the mug.

"Uh huh." Oh boy. This is sooooo very bad. On so many levels.

She takes the time to pull the collar of my polo shirt out of my sweatshirt and straighten it, like this is something she does everyday. "And I thought I’d offer a little help in the kitchen." She now hands me one of the seeds.

I put it in my mouth immediately to keep myself from doing one of two things: saying something really stupid or kissing her.

Rene says, "Fous le camp, Harper. Ce n’est pas tu place."

I’ve just been ordered out of the kitchen. "Tais toi, agitateur." You be quiet, troublemaker. I look over at my favorite sister and give her my best intimidating look. It is, of course, completely wasted on her. "Tu sais ce qu’elle fout." You know what she’s up to. Meaning Mama.

"Vas-y!" the accused orders.

I narrow my eyes slightly at my mother at her command to leave, but not so much as to get a spoon rapped on the back of my hand. It’s been known to happen. "Kels, it’s beautiful out. You wanna come outside? I can show you around." Come on, Kels, let me get you out of here.

"No, thanks. I’m glad to help out."

"See, she’s fine. Dehors!" Mama repeats, looking displeased with me.

Now Mama is pointing the way out of here. "Mama, I told you …"

She holds up her hands and turns her head to the side. It’s her ‘I give up - what did I do to God to have him give me a child like you’ sign. I saw it quite a bit growing up.

"Fine. I’ll be outside," I huff.

"On t’appellera, quand on est prêt," Mama says after me.

I snort. Yeah, right, she’ll call me back into the kitchen later. Will that be before or after you pick me up a marriage license, Mama? I’ve gotta get her off that Families for Same Sex Marriages committee.

Now I know how my brothers felt.


* * *


They are laughing at me when I come out. Robie comes to my side and throws his arm around my shoulders. "She’s brutal. But we know that, we grew up with her."

"Like a dog on a bone," I mutter.

"I know, little sister. But, at least, Kelsey’s a cute chew toy."

"Robie! à ça oui!" I slap him upside the head for even thinking such a thing about Kelsey. I can. My brother can’t. Even if he is my favorite. Especially since he’s my favorite.

Oh God. I am so screwed.

I’m glad she’s here with me. I can’t stand the thought of her being in Los Angeles watching some crappy movie marathon instead. And I like her. A lot. Okay, more than a lot. But, am I ready for her to be in that damn kitchen?

Suddenly a football is headed my way and I catch it as it impacts my gut. I look over to see Gerrard and his two oldest sons waiting for me to toss it back.

I do.

Too much thinking is bad for the appetite.

And it is Thanksgiving. I plan on stuffing myself.


* * *

I finish with the merlitons, then take the cutting board over to Cécile, giving it to her with a little smile.

"Merci, chér." Her smile is so kind and gentle. I shake my head a bit as I turn to see if there is anything else I can do.

"So." Rene waves me over to the breakfast table, which she is now clearing. I don’t know why, but I begin helping her. It simply feels right. "You were going to give us dirt on Harper."

Oh, the dirt I could give them. But somehow I think I’d better make it clean dirt. Question is, do I know any clean dirt?

"Not without us!" Rachel calls as she, Elaine and Katherine wander over.

Cécile looks over at us from the stove. "À oui, mes brus, I do believe it is time for us to do what we do best. Dinner is coming along nicely. Let’s relax a bit."

With that, the breakfast table is properly prepared and very soon we are all seated around it with fresh cups of tea, coffee and finger food. Somehow, I had a feeling we were going to end up here.

"Come on now, Kelsey," Elaine encourages as she scoops Geoffrey out of his car seat. He looks at me as he rests his head against his mother’s shoulder. His hair is dark like the rest of the Kingsleys, but his sleepy brown eyes remind me of a baby deer. He focuses on me, poking his little tongue out from between his lips. He yawns, almost making me join him. Once his fists are done rubbing his eyes, he smiles and reaches for me.

Oh shit. Me and kids. Not a mix I had considered before. Still, he’s too cute to be denied. I open my arms to him and he extends his body. It doesn’t take long for me to find myself with a lap full of eight-month-old. He’s content to sit upright in the crook of my arm with his bottom on my lap, staring at his mother and sucking on his fingers. I look down at him and begin to understand why Harper likes this so much.

As I glance around the table, I get the feeling that all of these women are communicating telepathically. Guess that’s what happens in close knit families.

"Tell you what," I offer as I sip my tea. I’m grateful for Harper’s baby lessons from dinner last night, which allow me to be reasonably comfortable right now. If nothing, I’m a fast learner. "I’ll trade you two for one, but you have to go first."

They all look at each other. I can tell they’re trying to decide which story to tell first. Oh, I’m gonna like this. Watch out, Tabloid. I got you where I want you now.

Well, maybe not where I want you, but this will do.




I have tears in my eyes and I try to catch my breath. "You’re joking?"

"Pas de tout," Cécile says, pouring another cup of coffee from the carafe she brought over earlier. "I’m serious. Covered." She puts her cup down and gestures over her own body. "Totally covered, head to toe, in flour."

"Now, this was, of course, after Robie and Gerrard had pelted her with a few raw eggs," Rachel adds as she wipes away her tears. "She looked like a walking cake mix. She had things just dripping off her body. It was almost obscene."

Now, I don’t know why that struck me as so funny, but I find myself choking on my tea. I try hard to swallow it instead of letting it leave my mouth and nose like it wants to. I’m glad I returned Geoffrey to the safety of his mother’s arms a few minutes before.

Katherine joins in. "Not quite the food play Harper is used to."

All the women burst out in laughter again.

"Well, all I can say is thank God Harper has shared some of her ideas with her brothers," Rachel whispers conspiratorially.

"Amen," Rene echoes, crossing herself, setting off another round of tittering.

"Qu’est ce qu’on vous fairait?" Mama asks, clearly as amused as the rest of us.

"What will you do with us? Adore us, madly, like you already do," Rene replies, leaning over to kiss her mother-in-law’s cheek.

"And they did this because?" I ask as I hold a napkin to my lips.

"They did it because she said that they couldn’t." Rene cuddles Clark close to her. "She said she was the grand champion of practical jokes and nothing they could cook up would be smooth enough to catch her. So they nailed her with the eggs…"

"Got her to chase them down to the gazebo," Elaine continues, shifting Geoffrey and his bottle just a bit. "There they managed to get her to hit a trip wire and dump close to fifty pounds of flour on her head from the trees above."

"It looked like a snowstorm had hit us in the middle of July," Katherine adds as she begins to clear the table.

July. It hits me. "You mean to tell me this happened the last time she was home? Not when they were kids?"

Cécile shrugs. "They just never grow up. Took Jonathan weeks to get the grounds cleaned up. He wasn’t nearly as amused as they were."

"I can only imagine."

Just as we are all about to get back to work the back door swings open with a crash.

"Oh, don’t be such a big baby, baby sister!" I think it’s Robie’s voice.

"I’m not. I’d just like to get the damn bleeding stopped, if you don’t mind." I hear Harper growl and I’m on my feet before she enters the kitchen.

"Kelsey?" I turn and catch the damp towel Cécile has tossed to me. Why did she toss it to me? Why am I getting up?

Harper comes into the kitchen holding her right hand to the top of her head. She looks a little sheepish, as she shrugs at all of us. "I zigged when I should have zagged." She points at Katherine. "Your Joseph is getting as big as his daddy. Damn."

Katherine swells with maternal pride. "We have a team to supply at Tulane, Harper. You know that. Is he all right?"

Harper pauses, hand on her hip, and glares at her sister. "He’s fine. I’m the one bleeding."

A mock baby’s cry is heard from the doorway.

"You go along, Robie," Rene calls. "She’ll come back out and play in a minute."

Before I even realize what I’m doing, I take Harper by the arm and sit her down at the table. "Lemme see."


"No argument. Now, come on."

"It’s just a scratch. I only need a Band-Aid," she protests as she swats at my hands.

"Don’t make me hurt you, Tabloid." I hear Robie snort from the doorway. Harper shoots him a dirty look as Mama shoves him out the door. But Harper drops her hand, allowing me to press the cloth to the cut on her head. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, yeah. I’m fine."

After I clean the cut above her right eyebrow, I find that first aid supplies have been placed at my fingertips. Without thinking, I place a small bandage over it. I give my head a little shake to stop myself from my next course of action, which would have been to give her boo boo a kiss.

"There you go, Tabloid. All better?"

"Much." She fingers the bandage for a second. "Thanks."

"No problem." I gather up the wrapper and the other discarded items and move across the kitchen to throw them away. "You can go play again," I tease. "But be more careful this time."

Harper just shakes her head and tries to hightail it out of here.

"Tu as pris aux bons soin de cela," Cécile whispers to me. You took good care of that. She has her back to the rest of the family, who are now teasing Harper, each of the sisters carefully inspecting her for further injury. "Tu as du douce âme." You have a gentle soul.

Here I thought I had kept my little secret, secret. I’m beginning to wonder if anything is secret from Cécile Kingsley. I smile at her, tossing away the wrappers. "Merci."

"Dit donc, tu as le nez fin, aussi." She quirks her brow at me. And you are a sneaky one to boot.

"Evidament, que ce n’est pas assez." Apparently not enough. I give her a pat on the hand as I turn and lean against the counter.


* * *


Papa and I come in for the turkeys. He goes over and places a gentle kiss on Mama’s left temple. "The natives are getting restless, darlin’."

"Of course they are. Ça fini pas," she murmurs in agreement. "They’re ours." She spots a small scrape on the back of his knuckles. "Jonathan?"

He shrugs, glancing at me. "We had to make the extra point, dear."

"Mama," I say, trying to save my father. "I can’t wait to have some of your fried turkey. I’ve been dreaming of it long and hard."

Mama recognizes my ploy, but allows it. She walks over to the large professional size refrigerator and opens the door, revealing two large birds waiting for us.

"Fried turkey?" Kelsey asks, the tone of her voice conveying her extreme skepticism.

"It’s amazing," Rene assures her. "Nothing better in record time. Don’t worry."

"You want to see how it’s done, Kels?" I ask, innocently enough. I can use this to drag Kels out of this dangerous place.

"Sure," she agrees amiably.

Papa and I each grab a tray laden with a twenty pound turkey and make our way outside. Kels opens the screen door for us and helps run interference as the older grandkids run over to see the birds.

We approach the garage driveway where a makeshift fence has been erected around a cooking area. Gerrard and Lucien are standing inside it, while Jean and Robie are entertaining the littlest kids, keeping them well away.

Fried turkey is a wonderful thing, a staple in our home for Thanksgiving, and in many other Cajun households. It sounds like KFC, but it ain’t. Not by a long shot. There’s no breading on the bird, so it doesn’t come out that way. We just cook the turkey in a pot of oil and take it out when it’s done. Cooks faster and seals in the moisture. Plus, Mama puts an amazing injection of Cajun spices into the turkey, so those are sealed in as well.

"So, you can see," I begin explaining to Kels, "we’ve heated up the oil using the propane tanks. We need to dip them quickly a few times in the oil to vaporize any excess water off their skin, to prevent any spitting of oil once they’re fully immersed."

Even as I speak, Gerrard and Lucien take the birds and do as I describe. They sizzle, and a small cloud of vapor rises up over the pots. Then the boys set them down fully in the oil.

"That’s it?" Kels asks, as my brothers go over to deck chairs and set themselves down to watch the birds cook.


"How long will they take?"

"Around an hour."

"That’s fast."

"Yup. And wait until you taste it. Darlin’ …" I growl, like my stomach always does thinking about this delicacy.

Kels laughs and blushes.

Oh damn.


* * *


It’s less than two hours later when we sit down for dinner. The formal dining room table doesn’t have enough room for the family anymore, which now numbers twenty-three, including Kels. We’ve brought another table into the room and set it at a T to the main one. Mama never believed in kids’ table. Family sits with family, no distinction for age.

So, here we sit and gaze at the abundance of food spread out before us.

"My God, Mama, you’ve outdone yourself!" Robie exclaims.

"Qui t’a dit," she chastises.

"Yeah, watch your language, Robie." I snicker and am surprised when both Rene and Kels slap my arm, one on each side.

Papa clears his throat. "Speaking of the Lord," he intones. He holds out his hands and soon all of us have linked hands around the table.

Kels has the softest hands.

Stop it.

"Lord, we thank you for this day to reflect. We thank you for this family that makes us strong. We thank you for the new members of the family, and how you bless us with new ones. We thank you for this food and all the hands that prepared it. And help us to have the strength to do the right. Teach us to pray, as you taught your disciples, saying …"

We finish up with the Lord’s prayer and we all cross ourselves, including Kelsey. I haven’t the heart to tell her she did it backwards. Lord knows, I’ve done it that way more than a few times myself, and I was raised Catholic. Of course, I was normally hung over those times, but I’ll credit hers to nerves and lack of practice.

I miss holding her hand.



* * *


I watch her as I lean against the doorframe.

She is sitting on the living room floor with her long legs stretched out in front of her, surrounded by the youngest grandchildren. I now recognize them as Christian (Robie and Rene’s oldest son), Thomas and Caitlin (Jean and Elaine’s two year old twins), T-Jean and Anthony (kindergartners belonging to Gerrard and Katherine and Jean and Elaine respectively). And, of course, Clark is cuddled in her arms.

I smile, watching her tickle them and run her fingers through their hair paying attention to each one, redistributing toys as necessary. They all seem to run to her the second she sits down and she loves every minute of it.

I look around the living room and it’s no wonder. Her brothers and their wives, her mother and father, are all here together for the holidays and happy. Suddenly I feel a huge lump in my throat and I need to get away for a minute.

Making my way to the verandah, I take a seat on the porch swing. I curl my legs under me and I stare at the sweat running down the side of my iced tea glass.

I trail my finger over the glass’ surface. I can see the path I clear and then the path closes and you can never tell I was there. Kinda like my childhood. I snort at the thought and bring the glass to my lips.

"Hey, Little Roo?"

I turn my head to find her standing on the porch with me. I hadn’t even heard her approach.

"You okay?"

I nod without answering, then smile as Danielle (Gerrard and Katherine’s eight-year-old) bounces over to Harper. She hunches down to eye level and gives the little girl a hug and a kiss. "Tante Harper needs to talk to her friend for a sec. Can I catch up to you in a bit?"


"Cool. I’ll be in soon."

And with that the child runs back into the house calling to her grandmother, "Tante Harper is on the porch with her new girlfriend".

Harper rolls her eyes and turns to me with a smile and a shrug. "I’m sorry about that. She’s been trained that partner equals girlfriend. She’s a bit confused."

"It’s okay." I reassure her. I can’t help it when I see her like this. She is happy and relaxed here. "Is it always like this around here during the holidays?"

"This?" She lifts her brows as she juts her thumb over her shoulders. "Ah, this is nothing. You should be glad the rest of the extended family didn’t come over. Then it’s a real zoo."

I really want to cry. I fight back the tears and shake my head. "Amazing, just amazing." I know my voice is breaking, but can’t help it.

"Hey!" Before I know it she is kneeling in front of me, taking one of my hands in her own and rubbing it. "What’s wrong, Kels? Please tell me."

I shake my head and note that my hands are trembling for some reason. "It’s silly."

She takes the glass from my hand and places it on the ground. "You’re on the verge of tears. Whatever it is, it’s not silly."

I look down at her and I see real concern reflected back at me in her impossibly blue eyes. I can feel the tears pooling again and I know I can’t let them fall. I catch them on the tips of my fingers before they have the chance. Running my hand over the surface of my slacks, they are gone.

Harper’s voice is soft and caring. "Please?" She settles herself cross-legged on the floor in front of me. She runs her thumb over the back of my hand. I can tell she’s not going to let this issue go. Why should she? I’m probably ruining her holiday with her family.

"You know, maybe I should just fly back to LA tonight," I offer softly.

"Oh no, you can’t do that. My Mama would never forgive us."


"Yup, because if you go, I go."

I laugh a little as a tear finally slides down my cheek. "You’re nuts."

"Some reporter you are if you’re just figuring that out." She reaches up and wipes the tear away, palming my cheek as she does. "Please tell me," she gently urges again.

I take a deep breath and look at her. "You’re gonna hate it."

"I know. But I need to hear it and you need to say it."

"I’m just so overwhelmed by all this." I gesture to the house. "I mean if there is a total opposite for the way I was raised, this is it."

Her hand drops away from my cheek to rest on my leg. I miss it on my cheek.

"I come from a very affluent family as well. However, my Mother and Father are … well, just that, my Mother and Father, not mama and papa or even mom and dad. Mother and Father, always. I’m an only child. Thank God. I would have hated for another child to have lived like that. The fact that I was also a girl was bad for my Father’s ego, you know. His only child wasn’t a proper heir."

"Because you were born a girl." It’s a statement not a question.

"I spent my very early years with nurses and nannies. They were good to me but Mother always found something wrong with them. They never lasted long. Personally, I think that the second she saw I was getting attached to one, she’d fire her."

I can really tell I’m gonna lose it. Part of me wants to stop as I blink back the tears. A gentle squeeze to my leg, however, gives me the courage to say things I’ve never said to anyone. Not even Erik.

"Then, when I got old enough, I was given a tour of the best boarding schools in the world. Again always being transferred when I began making friends and getting attached to teachers or some other adult. If I spoke of anyone too often, I’d soon be leaving one school for another. My Mother said it was so I would have a well rounded education."

Harper hands me my iced tea and I take a sip to wet my now very dry mouth.

"I was always brought home for the major holidays. This was so I could be shown off to all their friends and business associates. Then, while they had a wonderful time at their dinner parties, I was taken to my room where I would have dinner, watching TV or maybe reading a book. Always by myself. That’s how I’ve always spent Thanksgiving. Movies and popcorn aren’t new to me."

"Oh God, Kels." She gets up and joins me on the swing, her arms sliding around me, pulling me tight against her chest.

The tears come again. I begin sniffing to try to get myself under control. I feel safer with her arms around me. It’s easier to talk. "Christmas time was always my favorite though," I offer with a slight smile.

"Christmas was better?" her voice is low in my ear.

I give a little nod. I let the tears fall unabated against her shirt as I remember the one person who made Christmas special for me. "On Christmas Eve, when they were at their dinner party, I would sneak down to the kitchen. Martha, our cook, always baked Christmas cookies just for me. They’d be in the shape of toy soldiers and ballerinas.

"We would eat them together and drink great big glasses of fresh milk. I wasn’t allowed whole milk as a child. Mother said it would make me fat, but, on Christmas, I always got hot cookies and cold milk. Martha and I would talk until the party started to break up. Then she would take me back upstairs and tuck me in with a kiss. She always left me with a little present for Christmas morning, too. It was always the first one I opened, and the only one I ever kept. I never told my parents because I knew if I did, they’d get rid her. I didn’t want to lose the only person who seemed to care about me."

When I look up at Harper, there are tears streaking down her cheeks.

"Oh God, Harper, I’m sorry." I wipe them away. "I am so sorry. I’m ruining your holiday with this."

"No," she says forcefully. "No, you’re not. You are actually reminding me of how much I do have to be thankful for."

"Imagine that. Me, helping you, during the holidays."

"And, Kels," she whispers, staring at me intensely.

"What?" I breathe, taking in the scent of her, my emotions all in a whirl.

"You now have someone else who cares for you. Both on the holidays and off."

And then she kisses me. I’m surprised, but oh so very happy with this turn of events. God, it feels so right. Her lips are soft and moving against mine. It’s not demanding, but it’s certainly not just a friendly kiss.

I feel my arms move around her shoulders of their own volition. And when one of her hands cups my neck and pulls me even closer, I almost forget what we’ve been talking about for the last few minutes.

We break for air, but don’t move very far from one another. I can still taste her on my lips, mingled with the salt of my tears, and I want more of her.

Just as I am about to go back for a second helping, we hear Danielle’s voice from the open doorway. "Grandmaman! Tante Harper is kissing her girlfriend on the porch swing!"

Just when I was beginning to like kids.

<fade out>




Scenes from Next Week’s Must Read TV:


Not all relationships are easy. Some start off on the wrong foot.

<cut to>

"I hear she’s a bitch on wheels," Conrad speaks up. "The whole news room hates to work with her. They fight over who has to do her stories and promos. The makeup lady dreads that part of her day."

"Yeah," Jimmy agrees. "I hear the same. Why did we have to get the bitch, Harper? That Samantha woman seems like a better bet."

"Every team needs a problem child." I shrug. "And we all know it ain’t one of us," I drawl softly, pleased with myself. It isn’t until that moment that I turn around to face the room.

Wouldn’t you know Kelsey Stanton is standing in the doorway? Her expression is frozen, her green eyes shuttered. She’s a woman used to hiding her emotions.

"Speak of the devil," I say to let the boys know she’s there.


And stay there.

<cut to>

"Then it wasn’t making love, Harper. It was sex." I lean back in my chair and set my tea cup down. I hate how composed she looks. How it seems like none of this matters to her. I want her to feel as badly as I do. "You know sex. You’ve had lots of it."

Puzzled blue eyes meet mine. "What’s that supposed to mean?"

"Harper, the first time I laid eyes on you, you were practically fucking a woman on the seat of your motorcycle."


But, sometimes, things do get better.

<cut to>

"Come here," I say, even as I take her into my arms. She hugs me readily. Our boundaries are forgotten in the midst of crisis, as per standard operating procedure with us. I enfold her in a strong embrace, rocking her gently, whispering calming words.


And better.

<cut to>

And then she kisses me. I’m surprised, but oh so very happy with this turn of events. God, it feels so right. Her lips are soft and moving against mine. It’s not demanding, but it’s certainly not just a friendly kiss.

I feel my arms move around her shoulders of their own volition. And when one of her hands cups my neck and pulls me even closer, I almost forget what we’ve been talking about for the last few minutes.

We break for air, but don’t move very far from one another. I can still taste her on my lips, mingled with the salt of my tears, and I want more of her.


How much better could it get?

<fade out>





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