This story begins where S4 ended. Alternating viewpoints again. First..Winona.
Ch. 1 Who's the Blonde Stranger?
After changing planes and enduring a three-hour layover in Atlanta, the practically empty Sarasota-Bradenton terminal was the answer to my prayers. My eyes swept the waiting area looking for my mother as the Marshal who'd accompanied me on the plane at Raylan's insistence came to a halt beside me.
"Winona!" I heard a familiar voice shout. "Winona!"
There she was. Mama moved through the crowd of tan, well-dressed senior citizens with a lively grace, waving wildly as if I wouldn't have already spotted her. Stopping in front of me she held me at arms' length, then pulled me in for a fierce hug.
"Oh sweetheart! I'm so glad you're here!" She leaned in, smelling of Chanel #5, and kissed my cheek. "You look wonderful." She was being kind. My feet were swollen, I was rumpled from the flight, my hair was already frizzing with the damn Florida humidity, and there was a coffee stain on my dress.
As usual, she was perfect from her shoulder-length silver blonde hair down to her recently pedicured toes. She was wearing a bright pink blouse with lipstick to match and white capris. The low heels on her strappy pink sandals were the only acquiescence to the arthritis in her knees that I knew bothered her a little more each year. "It's good to see you, Mama," I said.
She linked her arm through mine. "Let's go get your luggage."
"This is Deputy Marshal Matt Killian," I gestured to the the young man behind me who nodded in greeting. "He's going to stick around for a day or two until I get settled in and we're sure everything's alright."
She looked him up and down. "What is he? Twelve?" She asked, as if he wasn't right there listening. Clucking her tongue she went on. "Why didn't Raylan come himself if he's so worried about you being safe?"
I blew out a breath and rolled my eyes. Matt caught it and cracked a smile for the first time all day. "Raylan has some things to take care of," I told her. "His father just died and he's dealing with selling the house and he just finished up a really big case so there's a lot of paperwork to do." I left out the part about him being suspended.
"Is that the case that almost got you and my granddaughter killed?" Mama chided. "Now I've always liked Raylan, you know I have, but he brings that damn job home with him and..."
"Raylan's the reason the baby and I are alright. He's good at his job, Mama. It's...it's..." The weight of the past few days came down on me. I sighed and felt my shoulders drop. "Can we not talk about this right now?"
She didn't answer as we stepped onto the escalator down to baggage claim, then her hand slipped around mine, squeezing. "I just love you, 'Punkin'."
I squeezed back. "I love you, too."
I jolted awake as we turned off the narrow causeway and rounded the curve onto Anna Maria. Mama smiled at me. "Did you have a nice nap? You never could stay awake in the car. Your daddy used to put you in the car seat and drive around to get you to sleep at night."
I nodded and listened to her prattle on as we crossed the last bridge onto the island. It had changed a bit since I'd been here last, right after I'd left Raylan the first time. Some things, like the hand-lettered sign marking the sandy, crushed-shell road leading back to the Sandbar restaurant and the beach beyond, were still familiar, but other buildings had sprung up or been painted or torn down. New shops lined the main street and the pier had been widened. Benches and picnic tables stood in rows along the sides.
The blue-green waters of Tampa Bay stretched out in front of us as we came to the end of the street. If I squinted, I could see the bridge we'd just crossed as we left the airport. Mama made another turn and passed several more restaurants and shops before the street turned residential. The houses on the left backed into the bay. The one she'd inherited from her grandfather was old Florida. Concrete block painted pale yellow, with bougainvillea vines trailing up one side and sparkling white hurricane shades pulled up from the windows.
Mama pulled in the driveway behind a red pick-up truck. I raised an inquiring eyebrow. She avoided my gaze, dropped her keys into her purse and opened the door. "We can get your bags later." She shaded her eyes with one hand and glanced down the street where Matt had pulled his grey rented sedan up to the curb. "Is he just going to sit out there in his car all the time?"
"I don't know. I've never had a protection detail before," I lied. "I'd imagine he's getting a feel for the neighborhood."
I picked up my purse from the floor where I'd had it wedged between my feet and followed her up the narrow stone path to the door. The minute she pushed it open there was the thud of feet and the click of claws on tile and a gigantic monster of a dog careened into the entryway almost knocking over the vase of daisies on the end table.
"Stella! Sit!" Mama commanded. The animal sat instantly, although her paws still scratched against the floor. She whined and mama petted her head. "Stella's just a big old baby," Mama cooed. "Aren't you?" The dog's huge tail thumped on the floor like a hammer.
"When did you get a dog?" I stammered. Mama hated dogs. Cats, too, for that matter. Gayle and I were never allowed a pet because she was 'allergic'. Your mama's allergic to anything she don't like. Daddy used to say. Evidently, she'd changed her mind.
"It's Glen's dog," she said. "Glen, honey, I'm home. Winona's here. Come say hello." She turned back to me. "She's an English Mastiff. She's almost two years old and very well trained."
"Who's Glen?" I asked, a little stunned.
A slightly bow-legged man with a shock of snow white hair and a neat goatee appeared. Tan legs stuck out of frayed denim shorts and he wore a t-shirt sporting a picture of a smiling alligator playing the bongos. Underneath the cartoon the shirt declared: Drummers do it with rhythm.
What the hell?
After wiping his hands on a dishtowel, he extended one to me. "Glen Underwood," he said. "It's nice to finally meet you, Winona." He smiled, and bright blue eyes flashed in his sunburned face. "Your mama here talks about you girls all the time." He slung an arm around my mother and she blushed, staring at the floor instead of at me. Oh, we were definitely going to have a long talk.
There was a rap on the door behind me and Marshal Matt stuck his head in. Stella's tail thumped louder, but she didn't growl or make a move toward him. Still, the marshal looked at her warily.
"I got her," Glen laid a hand on her collar. "Stella, down." The dog gave a grunt and lowered herself to the floor.
Matt stepped in. "Everything looks good out here. I'm going to need to take a quick look around inside, if you don't mind, Ma'am."
"Let me show you around," Mama said, relieved for the distraction. She walked away, disappearing into the kitchen with Matt at her heels.
"You've got bags in the car?" Glen said. "I'll grab them. I bet you'd like to get settled in. Your mom has the back bedroom all made up for you." He said. "She's worked my butt off since yesterday getting things ready."
"Thank you," I said, staring after him as he made his way out to the car, a thousand questions running through my mind. At sixty-two, my mother was certainly young enough to want male companionship, but why had she never mentioned him? Did he and that enormous dog live here with her ? What in the world was going on?
Glen carried my bags down the hallway and I followed. Despite my nap in the car, I was so tired I could barely put one foot in front of the other. He set my bags down and tugged on the blinds to shut out the late afternoon sun. "You look like you could use a nap. I'll tell Lainey you're lying down. You rest, now." He shut the door quietly behind him before I could say thank you.
The only people I'd ever heard call my mother 'Lainey', - short for Elaine -, were my daddy and her sister, my Aunt Janet. So Glen wasn't a newcomer. He'd evidently been in the picture for awhile. I had to admit I'd been a bit self-focused what with the baby and all, but Gayle talked to Mama as much as I did and I was sure if she'd mentioned Glen, I'd know about it.
Sinking onto the bed I kicked off my shoes with a groan. I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow. The baby woke me eventually, kicking up a storm. I had no idea how long I'd been asleep. I looked for a clock, and not seeing one, dug my cellphone out of my purse. Shit. I'd forgotten to call Raylan. I hadn't even turned the damn thing back on when we got off the plane. How could I forget that? I guess what they said about 'pregnancy brain' was true. I powered up the phone and listened to three increasingly annoyed messages from Raylan and one from Gayle. Then I punched in his number and waited.
"I'm sorry. I forgot to call," I said when he answered. "I was just so tired."
"I called Killian. He said you were sleepin'. You okay?"
"Just tired. Everything caught up to me, I guess." I yawned.
"Sounds like you need to go back to bed."
"I'll probably turn in early, but I need to eat something first. You know they don't feed you on planes anymore?"
"Not even peanuts?"
"Pretzels. I hate pretzels."
I could hear the smile in his voice and picture the way his eyes crinkled and one side of his mouth lifted when he was amused. After everything we'd been through together in the past few days, I felt closer to him than I had in a long time. I'd wanted some space between us, and Louisville had been a safe distance. Now though, I hated that he was so far away. I missed him. The words were on the tip of my tongue, but I thought about all it would mean to say them and what it might do to the fragile peace between us and bit them back.
"My mother has a boyfriend," I said instead.
"Wasn't she engaged to some retired banker from Alabama?"
"Albany and that was six years ago, Raylan. They broke up. Thing is, she never mentioned this new guy and it looks like he's practically living here. Him and his giant dog. It's kinda weird."
"Giant dog? I thought your mother didn't like dogs."
"She never did before. She must really like this guy, but then why not gush about him like she has everyone else she's dated?"
"I toldja, I don't know anything about girls, least of all the grown-up kind."
"Well, pretty soon you get to start over on the ground floor."
"How's she doin'?"
The baby was still moving around, kicking and turning over. "She's good. She's taking advantage of the space in there to do some tumbling while she can. The book says she can hear voices. Do you wanna talk to her?"
"Isn't she a little young for her own cell phone?"
He was smiling again, I could tell, and I wanted to reach out and touch him, brush the hair from his forehead, lean in and feel his warmth. I swallowed. "Yeah, I guess so, but she could borrow mine. Why don't you say goodnight?" I figured he'd say it was silly. There was a pause before he answered.
"Say whatever you want," I told him. "I won't eavesdrop."
He chuckled. "Yeah, you will."
I slid the phone down, pressing it to my belly. "Go ahead. She's listening."
Raylan was right. I pressed my thumb against the volume button and heard his voice, soft. "Goodnight, baby girl. Daddy loves you..." There was a pause. "...and your mama, too."
After saying goodbye to Raylan, I slipped the phone back into my purse and blew my nose. A soft rap came at the door and it opened a crack. Mama stuck her head in. She'd taken off her make up, pulled her hair back, and traded her airport outfit for yellow lounge pants and a white T-shirt. She looked tan and fit and very happy.
"You're awake," she observed. "I thought I heard talking. Oh don't be embarrassed now, I talked to you girls all the time when I was pregnant." She pursed her lips and her mouth wrinkled unpleasantly. "Your father thought I was nuts, but I was right, wasn't I?"
"Yes, babies can hear. But I was talking to Raylan. He says 'hello'."
"You tell him 'hello' right back and to get his ass down here if he's so worried about you."
I shook my head. Mama was like a dog with a juicy bone she wasn't letting go. I wondered if she'd be all that happy if he actually showed up.
She pulled my suitcase up onto the bed. "Let me help get you settled in." She started unzipping the bag, but I laid a hand on her arm.
"I can do that myself later."
She threw her hands in the air. "Alright. Alright." Moving to the closet, she slid the door open. "I got you a few things. I wasn't sure that you would have time to pack much or if you even had any summery maternity clothes. It gets so hot this time of year..." She turned, her smile quivering. "I hope you like what I picked out. I was never as good with you as I was with your sister."
She was right. I remembered our fights over clothing when I was a teenager and all the Christmas presents from her that I'd returned or packed away, never worn. "You didn't have to get me anything."
"I know," she nodded. "But I wanted to."
She'd gone overboard as usual. There were three sundresses, leggings with two tops, a maternity bathing suit (as if!), and a pair of colorful flip flops. I picked them up and laughed. "I haven't worn flip flops since I was eight."
"You laugh now, but by the time I delivered you flip flops were all I could wear, my feet were so swollen."
I fingered a silky dark blue sundress. "Thank you."
"Why don't you take a shower and change? Glen is going to throw some steaks on the grill and I made that potato salad you like. You'll feel better after you clean up." She patted a stack of towels on the dresser. "Your bathroom is right across the hall."
"So, Glen's living here?"
"Oh, and my friend, Judy next door," Mama went on as if she hadn't heard my question. "She has a fancy salon down at St. Armand's and she's giving you the whole mommy-to-be package as a gift. You get a hair cut, pedicure, manicure, and a massage or facial." Mama beamed at me. "Isn't that nice?"
It sounded heavenly, but I didn't like the way she was avoiding talking about Glen.