A tottering Stowe Huff squealed hearing the front door open. Before Layton could catch her, she gasped in excitement and ran toward the noise. “Stooowwweeee.” Lesley scooped the younger, more fiery twin up in her arms. “I missed my firecracker.”
“Sorry, she literally can run faster than me,” Layton apologized as the two women entered the house.
“She’s quicker than us too, Layton,” Sylvia said, kissing the top of Stowe’s head. “Liene watching a video?”
“If she’s not already asleep.”
Nodding, she walked into the den to find little Liene Huff sitting sweetly watching a Baby Einstein video.
“Mère,” said the sleepy baby. She reached for her mother and Sylvia obliged, kissing her cheeks. “I-sti.”
“That’s right, sweetheart, it’s Baby Einstein.”
Lesley entered the room and Stowe, never to be held for long—followed behind. To be sisters, twins… they were as vastly different as their mothers. Stowe was loud and stubborn, a very opinionated child. Never shying away from a new challenge or adventure. The only time she was still was when she was sleepy or sick. Her sister was quiet and accommodating. A great sleeper, mild-mannered Liene loved to cuddle any chance she got. Sylvia amazed herself with her ability to love them. She thought she knew what love was when she met and fell for Lesley, but loving these two miracles was the purest, most intense emotion she’d ever felt. And for Sylvia Huff that was the miracle in and of itself.
“Y’all are home early.”
“Yeah. We missed these two little ones too much.” Lesley bent down and spread a blanket over Liene who’d already fallen asleep. “No problems?”
“Not at all. How was dinner?”
“We finally got to meet Gregory’s new girlfriend. Well, I say new, but they’ve been dating for four months,” Sylvia replied, sitting in her recliner with Stowe.
“And y’all are just now meeting her?”
“Greg’s weird, Lay. Maybe cautious is a better word. I’ve known him since my early twenties, and I’ve met one girlfriend—not including this one,” said Lesley.
“He totally strikes me as that kind of man.” Layton pulled her legs up Indian style, getting comfortable. “Well, did y’all like her? What did Arianne think?” she asked.
Layton had met Nash’s mother three years before, when she was in her clinical rotation at Rivers in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. As the director of CICU, Arianne took notice of her innate ability to nurse, and offered Layton a job after graduation. Together with Lesley, they helped foster the young nurse, grooming her to be a leader, if not the unit’s charge nurse when Lesley took her maternity leave. Layton vaguely remembered the turn of events that caused Arianne’s resignation as Unit Director, but she knew it involved Dr. Millie Douglas, or Dr. M as she was known in Rivers. Less than a full month after Arianne left, Dr. M resigned too.
When she and Nash started dating, it bothered her that he took her to meet “Mills” months before his parents. She knew they were close, but nothing prepared her for how familiar they actually were. It was as if she was his real family and everyone else was unimportant. Millie and Nash lived in their own little world and they didn’t seem to want Layton to be part of it. Andrew and Arianne were different, especially Arianne. Over the past year, they’d become closer, even more so since the two of them had been working on the Hope Benefit together. Fitting in with the Douglases was natural, making it easy to stay in her unhappy relationship with Nash. That mentality was unconventional—maybe even wrong—but being with Nash meant instant family. And that was something Layton craved but never had.
“I think Arianne liked her. Thought she was sweet. But we all agreed that she’s a little young for Greg.”
“Oh? How much younger?”
“A lot. She’s got to be around your age, Lay. Wouldn’t you say so, hon?” Lesley elevated her voice to get her wife’s attention.
Rocking Stowe, Sylvia rolled her eyes and replied, “You know I don’t pay attention to the same things you girls do, but yeah, probably mid-to-late twenties.”
Always in the mood for hospital gossip, Layton asked, “What’s her name?”
“Tiffany… can’t think of her last name… Syl?” Lesley elevated her eyes.
Sylvia, perturbed now that she was holding an almost sleeping Stowe mouthed, “Comeaux.”
“Comeaux?” Layton said in her most quiet, excited voice. “Are you serious? Petite, brown hair and eyes, ’bout five-foot-two, busty?”
“Yeah… do you know her?”
“Knew of her. We went to LSU about the same time. I think she’s a year or two older than me. And Les, the best description I can give for that girl is trashy gold digger. She was notorious for sleeping with her professors. Let me tell you, she made the most out if every opportunity too. They’d buy her purses and clothes… whatever. When she got tired, she’d move on to the next one.”
Lesley’s mouth dropped, and she quickly glanced at Sylvia, but both she and Stowe were sound asleep.
“She’s been at the hospital now for four or five months—started right around Thanksgiving. I think I remember her saying she was getting her Master’s, and working as a coder. Maybe doctor’s dictation? Oh, that must have been where they met.”
“She’d have to see him for her job for sure.”
“I really thought it was strange a few months ago when she called me out of the blue and asked me to have lunch with her in the cafeteria. Now I get it. She must know I’m seeing Nash. I wonder if that’s why she’s was trying to get to know me. Because of his connection to Greg?”
“Very possible, Layton,” she said, shocked at this new and rather disconcerting information about the woman who had eyes on her friend.
“What in the world is Dr. Gregory thinking?”
“Well, now that you’ve said all that… I think it’s more… what is he thinking with?” Lesley implied. “But surely he can spot a gold digger.”
“I don’t know, Lesley. He seems kinda naive. She’s a cute girl. An ego boost and some kinky sex could make him think she cares. Love has masqueraded for a lot less.”
Layton stood, grabbing her purse and keys.
“That’s true,” Lesley followed the young woman outside. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay here since Nash is working all night?”
“Girl, I’m fine. Pretty used to staying by myself,” she said, turning the key in the ignition. “When he’s not at the hospital, he’s usually in Slidell.”
“Are you kidding?” Lesley said, disgusted.
“Nope. I think if Millie asked Nash to find a way to farm gold out his ass, he’d sure try.”
They laughed together, both knowing Layton was spot-on with that observation.
“I’m sorry, Layton. I know it hurts.”
“A little. But I’m fine. I’ve got a lot to look forward to. Reece is coming home tomorrow. We’ve not seen each other in forever.”
“Is he?” The gleam in Layton’s eyes was unmistakable when she spoke of Nash’s middle brother, and Lesley couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more than friendship budding between the two of them.
“Yeah. Can’t wait.” She noticed the time on her car clock. “Crap, almost midnight. I’m going straight home and locking up before the crazies come out.”
She laughed, thankful she lived in the gated Eastover community. “This is New Orleans. The crazies stay out. Text me when you get there, Lay.”
Walking back into the house, Lesley followed behind an exhausted Sylvia with Liene in her arms. “Need help?” she asked.
“Got it, honey. Stowe’s down too,” She carefully placed her daughter in bed next to her sister. When the babies were first born, Sylvia and Lesley wanted each girl to have her own crib, but it became apparent that their babies wanted to occupy the same space.
Reaching for the small bottle of Holy Water on the side table, Lesley dampened each index finger and leaned over on her tiptoes, making the sign of the cross over each child’s forehead. Reverently she whispered, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” It was a blessing she received from her grandmother every night. As Lesley grew older, she’d question how her very Baptist grandmother knew so much about Catholicism, especially since the Arkansas Catholic population was less than five percent. Her answer was a smile and few words, “A blessing is a blessing, my little sunflower.” After Lesley’s own daughters were born and home from the hospital—much to her surprise—Sylvia leaned over their bassinet and blessed them, just as the old woman had blessed Lesley.
“Did I hear you and Layton say that she knew Tiffany from college?” Sylvia said, gently pulling the door shut. “I was about half asleep at that point.”
“Oh yeah. And you won’t believe what she said about her. Layton’s exact words were ‘trashy gold digger.’” Turning on the light in their bedroom, Lesley saw Sylvia’s sour face.
“Something’s up when a college student is dating the CMO of one of the largest hospitals in South Louisiana.”
Sylvia tapped her fingers on the dresser. “Granny Huff always said to watch out for Greeks bearing gifts.”
“Wise woman,” Lesley said.
“What was Greg and Ari’s fight about?” she asked, turning down their bed.
“She made a comment about how much younger Tiffany was than him,” Lesley said, changing into her usual tank and shorts sleepwear.
“Somebody needed to, Les. What’s your gut saying?”
“I hate to go on hearsay from anybody, but Layton wouldn’t lie. I’m suspicious—in a bad way.”
“Noted.” Sylvia turned on the baby monitor, got into bed, and waited for her wife to return from checking on the girls one last time.
“I can’t imagine being Ari right now,” Lesley paused before getting into bed. “Living with all these lies. Can you? Secrets from Andrew and Greg. And they’re probably keeping things from her too.” Lesley shook her head. “It was hard for us, but I’m glad we came clean years ago.”
Sylvia breathed deep. Lesley wouldn’t like the truth, especially since she’d continue to hide one part of her life from Lesley at all cost.
Oh, Les, I wish I could be honest with you. But if you knew my secret… it could jeopardize everything in our world. How I wish I would have told you when we first met, or even three years ago when we had all our problems. You would have been pissed, but we could have worked through it. But now? The pain we had then would pale in comparison to this secret I’ve kept for fourteen years.
“Baby, I never thought having kids was in my future. Hell, I never thought someone as amazing as you would come my way,” Sylvia said, opening her arms, leaving a place for Lesley. “I was so scared to truly love that I almost missed the three most precious people in my life.”
“But you didn’t.”
“And I will never take that for granted.” Kissing her forehead and then her lips, she grinned. “Now, let’s get some sleep. The girls will be awake soon regardless if we are.”
Nodding in agreement, she turned off the lamp, and found her place in the bend of Sylvia’s arm to rest for the night.
Two hours later, Sylvia woke to Lesley’s piercing cry.
“No… no… Mama? Mama? Please Mama…” Her body jerked violently with each word.
“Les… Lesley.” Sylvia shook her shoulders. “Baby, it’s your dream. Wake up. It’s only a dream.”
“Wha… what?” She bolted upright in the bed, shaking and wringing wet with sweat. “Syl? Syl?”
“Shhh, I’m here, love. Right here,” she reassured. “That was worse than last time, Lesley. Are you okay?”
Lesley didn’t try to fight her tears. It was pointless when she’d been dreaming. “Tiffany’s from Zwolle.”
“Where Mamaw and Papaw used to take you every year? For camping and tamales, right?” Sylvia asked.
“Yeah.” She sniffed. “God, why do even happy memories trigger it?”
“I don’t know, Les. I wish like hell, I did though. Here…” She passed a tissue and quickly ran to the bathroom for a wet washcloth. “Tell me about it. Let’s see if there’s anything new.”
Lesley opened her notebook and accepted the washcloth and a pen from Sylvia. “I was playing in the field of sunflowers. Mom was bound and gagged. Naked. Bloody marks on her back shaped like angel wings. He was there again. Farther away this time. And the little boy was playing with a puppy next to his feet.”
“That’s new, Les. The puppy?”
Scribbling down her thoughts, Lesley nodded. “The puppy was a Rottweiler.”
“Good. Details are important,” Sylvia encouraged. “Was your mother breathing?”
“Yes. This time she was.”
“What about the light? Did it get brighter?”
“No.” She scratched her head and looked towards Sylvia. “It didn’t. You know, Mamaw swore this was related to Mama’s car accident. But I know it’s not. I know it.”
“Whatever memory you’ve repressed, Lesley, it wants to come out. And God, I’ve watched you struggle with this for so long. I want you to be free of this… this burden.”
Lesley leaned in close, needing to be near her wife. “You know I couldn’t face it without you, Syl?”
“Les, you could. You are so strong.”
Nodding again, she returned her notebook to the bedside table and reclined into Sylvia’s embrace. “You’re probably right. But… I never want to be without you to find out.”
– The picture is from Saint Roch’s Cemetery in New Orleans. Read about that historic neighborhood and cemetery here.
– Sylvia and Lesley were two characters that came completely formed with names and personalities. Out of the multitude of characters to love and hate, readers have overwhelmingly loved both women and *hope* their relationship stays intact. All I can say I’d that they have trials ahead (see Sylvia’s secret above).
– I loved the idea of someone as level-headed and literal as Lesley having a ‘gift’ that goes against her personality.
– I can’t say too much about the dream, but I’m excited for all the pieces to finally come together as y’all keep reading.
– This is the last Fun Facts, I can only do so much (what’s available on Amazon but I really loved sharing this with y’all. Maybe next, I’ll do character profiles.
Hope everyone is having a wonderful Saturday.
Blog Link: https://liddyburgess.wordpress.com/