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Desert Heat

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If I Were a Boy by Erin O’Reilly

Chapter One

 

Katie McGuire watched out the RV window as her husband parked the monster house on wheels so it faced the Gulf of Mexico. She didn’t agree with buying the thing and hated every moment in it. The only saving grace was that Jack had bought the best money could buy. That meant the inside was spacious, as far as RVs went, and had rich wood accents, top-of-the-line appliances, and a larger bedroom than most with loads of drawers. What she disliked even more than the RV was the trip to Padre Island National Seashore. Every year for the past six years they traveled here to join five other couples whose only commonality was that the husbands were all pilots in the same fighter squadron in the air force.

Jack, like the rest of the squad members, was retired. He spent thirty years in the air force and had reached the rank of colonel. His retirement pay along with wise investing was enough to keep him in his toys. To Katie, all of the other men were braggarts and most of the women were snobs who loved to gossip. What the women had to talk about was a mystery since none of them lived near enough to each other to form a bond outside of this yearly trip. The only woman she found remotely interesting was Helen Swenson, who, the year before, looked as bored as she was. Remembering the time they spent together, albeit for only a few days, made her smile. She was nice but seemed a bit guarded because it was her first time there as the new wife of Bobby Swenson. Definitely she was a fish out of water.

“Looks like we’re the first ones here,” Jack said. “I’d better get the car unhitched and park it in another site. If we work it like last year we can all be on the Gulf side.”

The camping area that Katie looked at was deserted. “Lucky us. Maybe the others aren’t coming.” Katie couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of her voice. One can only hope. She shook her head. If I’d only gone through with the divorce last year, I wouldn’t have to be here.

“Don’t be that way.” Jack opened his door. “Why can’t you just enjoy yourself while we are here for once?” He climbed down the steps before turning back to his wife. “Take care of the pop-outs while I drop the stabilizers.”

Katie saluted. “Sometimes he can be such an asshole,” she muttered. After unbuckling her seat belt, she stood and walked to the back of the RV to start opening the pop-outs.

 

 

After cranking out the awning, Katie set up a few folding woven beach chairs and sat down to enjoy the sun on her body. She looked around and shook her head. Why they picked this place for their RVs was a mystery to her. The building that housed a bathroom had cold-water rinse showers and there were no hookups for the RVs. If they wanted to dump their wastewater, they had to drive the RV to the dumping station where they could also fill their water reservoirs. The fact that the wind blew in from the Gulf meant they wouldn’t have to suffer without air-conditioning since they couldn’t run their generators after ten at night or before six in the morning.

Katie stretched out her legs and looked up at the deep blue sky where a few cumulus clouds were towering high into the atmosphere. A loud RV horn brought her out of her reverie. Damn. No, they can’t be here yet. She sucked in a deep breath. It’s showtime.

The rest of the day Katie spent watching the others arrive along with other campers who were not part of their group. She’d greet each couple, gave them all hugs, and told the wives to come to her RV for drinks and snacks once they settled in.

Jack was grumbling. “The others better get here soon or they won’t be on the Gulf side,” he said before rushing off to greet the newest arrival and help set up their rigs.

Since Jack was the commander of the squadron Katie was, by default, relegated to playing hostess to all the other wives. Over the years, she found the wives to be snobs and gossips who freely shared their opinions of people, politics, and religion. She didn’t relish the job but she’d put on a happy face and do her best not to offend anyone. If she could, she would stay inside and let them fend for themselves—that was not an option. One by one the women brought their folding chairs and set them up under the awning of the McGuire RV. A gray-headed Rachel Matheson was the first to arrive. Saying she was plump was kind. The woman had a foul mouth and no trouble expressing her thoughts to anyone within hearing distance. Next, Brandie Markus, who was as thin as a reed and had the most annoying cackle for a laugh, arrived. Cassie Walton, an older woman and someone Katie considered a wannabe unfolded her chair and sat, causing the chair to groan. Erica Ellison, who had big blond hair and was by far the most obnoxious of the group, came right behind Cassie.

Hail, hail the gang’s all here, what the hell do I care, what the hell do I care, Katie sang silently to herself.

She half listened as the four women prattled on and on about nothing remotely interesting but nevertheless smiled and nodded at the appropriate moments. She watched with anticipation for the Swenson’s fifth wheel and let out a sigh of relief when they finally arrived. All the Gulf side spaces were full so the Swensons parked directly across from the McGuire RV.

Thank God, they arrived. The last thing I want to do is spend the next five days alone in the company of these blithering idiots. At least with Helen she’s an ally and we can actually talk about real life not gossip.

“I see the Swensons finally arrived,” Rachel Matheson said. “She certainly is the coldest and most distant woman I’ve ever met. I can’t believe Bobby dumped Karen for a trollop like her.”

“She’s only after his money,” Brandie said.

Katie shook her head, wondering if any of them knew that Helen, as an investment banker, probably made more money than all their husbands combined. Of course they don’t. They haven’t bothered to be pleasant or get to know her. She was the lucky one and her husband didn’t make her sit with them. “Unlike Jack,” she said under her breath.

“She is a slut. Karen told me all about how she lured Bobby away from her. I don’t understand how Bobby puts up with her. Karen is such a sweet woman yet he threw her out for that bitch. He is so outgoing and happy and she is just the opposite,” Brandie Markus added.

“I think she drinks. That’s why she always has her sunglasses on,” Cassie Walton added.

“She always looks like she has a pole up her ass. She never smiles.” Erica Ellison shook her head. “Lord knows I’ve tried to befriend her.”

“Maybe she is on some kind of antidepressants or maybe she smokes pot,” Cassie interjected.

“What is your opinion of her, Katie?” Brandie asked.

Katie looked away from the Swensons’ arrival and studied the group of women sitting with her. She wanted no part of their gossiping. “I think clucking like a bunch of chickens about Helen isn’t going to let you get to know her. Is it?” Katie could see the surprise in the four pair of eyes watching her. “We know nothing about her except for a few days last year. Why don’t we make a better effort this year?” Her heart was pounding in her chest for confrontation wasn’t her strong suit. She’d rather listen than speak to save any kind of aggravation.

“She’s a whore who stole Bobby away from Karen right, Brandie?”

“Yes, that is what Karen herself told me,” Brandie said.

“She’s certainly not the type of person I want to associate with or get to know. We need to go,” Erica said. She stood, folded her chair, and then walked away with the others following close behind.

Katie’s heart rate slowed, she chuckled, and relaxed into her chair. She gave herself a mental high five for getting rid of the obnoxious women and defending Helen.

“Hi there.”

Katie looked up to see Helen standing near her. She had to suck in a breath. Helen’s light brown hair that had blond highlights flowed around her shoulders. The blue tank top with matching running shorts fit her perfectly. Her tanned legs seemed to go on forever before they ended in multicolored running shoes.

“Hi. I’m so glad you made it.”

“I saw the invincible four all leave together with their chairs in hand. Did you offend them by any chance?” Helen grinned.

“No, not really I told them I thought they should get to know you better.”

“Really,” Helen said with a twinkle in her eye. “What will you ever do without them around you?”

Katie shrugged. “Suffice it to say, I don’t think they will be asking us to join them anytime soon so it will be just the two of us. Do you mind?”

“Their loss.” Helen settled into a chair next to Katie.

“I saw the Waltons are setting up their grill just like they always do on the first day.”

“Yeah, that’s steaks from Nebraska for tonight right? How can anyone forget that tradition?”

“We can go over there together and see if they really don’t want to talk to us.” Katie grinned.

“What the hell is going on?” A man’s voice boomed across the campsite.

“Jack, what are you talking about?”

“Those women came to visit you at your invitation and it was clear when they all left they were not happy.” Jack glared at his wife. “I’m the commander, and you know how important spending time with the squad is to me each year. I know you don’t like those women and I understand why. What the hell happened now?”

Helen cleared her throat then stood. “I will catch up with you two later.”

Katie watched Helen’s retreat then turned to Jack and frowned. “Those women are so full of themselves that they can’t wait to trash others.” Katie’s voice rose. “They sat here speculating if Helen was a drunk or on drugs and it was malicious. They don’t even know her and I suggested we all get to know her and they walked off.” Katie held up her hands. “Do you think that’s fair of them? Do you condone that kind of attitude? Do you?”

Jack shook his head. “I wasn’t here. All I have is your word for what was said.”

“That should be good enough for you, Jack. They have been after Helen since last year. They are just making speculations about her and I did my best to make it work, just like you would want me to but it didn’t happen. They obviously have other ideas. If you are so keen on making them happy you sit with them,” she growled.

“Keep your voice down.”

“Why? So your buddies won’t hear how intolerant their wives are?”

“Katie, I hear what you’re saying, but that is how they are. Can’t you just go with the flow? I consider these men my closest friends. I don’t want to get in the middle of a squabble between you and their wives.”

“There won’t be a squabble. I will be polite to them but I will not pursue their friendship. I will, however, spend time with Helen, who they have ostracized and needs a friend here. Perhaps the others will come around after that.”

“Good enough,” Jack said.

Katie stood and walked away toward the Gulf.

 

 

“What was that all about?” Bobby Swenson asked his wife.

Helen shrugged. “Don’t know.”

“You don’t know,” he repeated with a sneer. “Do you think I’m blind? I saw Jack go over there and you leave.” He stepped closer to his wife. “What did you do?”

“I did nothing. I went over there to say hi to Katie. It was after the other women left. Then Jack came and asked why they left.” She held her ground. “When they started having words I left.”

“You better hope I don’t find out otherwise.”

Helen saw her husband’s hand curl into a fist and she forcibly held back, refusing to let him see her shrink away. He had an awful temper and they’d had heated arguments in which she thought he might hit her but he hadn’t. Still, she wasn’t taking any chances. “You won’t.”

 

 

Helen sat on the outskirts of the gathered group picking at her steak, corn on the cob, and roasted potatoes. To her surprise, Katie sat next to her with her meal in hand.

“How’s dinner?”

“Better than I thought it would be.” Helen looked down at her plate. “I don’t usually eat a heavy meal like this.” Her eyebrows met. “Why aren’t you sitting with Jack?”

Katie smirked. “The meal is over for the men so it’s squad time…women are not allowed.”

“Did you notice how throughout the meal the mighty four kept looking at us and covering their mouths to say something, and then laugh like a bunch of school girls?” Katie asked.

“Yes. How old are they two?”

They looked across at the four women.

“Can you believe with all this beauty around us we have them front and center?”

“Indeed,” Katie replied before she began laughing with Helen.

 

 

Rachel, Brandie, Cassie, and Erica, sat together in a tight circle. The men had moved into a group of their own, no doubt to relive their glory days.

“I’m surprised Katie didn’t come over to sit with us. Now she’s over there with that woman,” Cassie said.

“Look at her over there glaring at us,” Brandie said. “It’s like she thinks we did something wrong.”

“Bobby’s new wife is a slut, we all know that. I can’t imagine why Katie would stick up for her. She used to be so sweet,” Rachel said. “Just look at that Helen sitting over there so smug like she thinks she is too good for us. I bet she’s drunk.”

Erica nodded. “I think you’re right. I can see her glassy eyes from here. She’s definitely a drunk.”

“Well, I was taken aback when Katie said we should all get to know her. Like hell we will. Surely, she believed us when we told her about that whore stealing Bobby away from Karen. How can she condone something like that? I thought she was a God-fearing woman,” Erica said.

“That’s what I thought too,” Brandie added. “Just look at Katie over there with that scowl on her face. It is sooo unattractive. She would be so much prettier if she just smiled.”

“Maybe it is her time of the month and that’s why she’s bitchy,” Cassie interjected.

All four women turned and looked at Katie and Helen before giggling.

Erica’s eyes glanced at the two women across from them. “Katie will come crawling back tomorrow wanting to be friends again. Why else would she invite us to join her if she didn’t want to be friends.”

“Some friend. I’d rather have no friends than be associated with the likes of Helen Swenson.” Cassie looked across the way and began laughing.

 

 

“Enough about them,” Katie said. “They are too exhausting.”

“I agree.” Helen looked away. “I want you to know how much I admire you.”

Katie’s brow furrowed. “Me.” She touched her chest. “Why?”

“They are rather obnoxious and here you are with your head held high despite their obvious taunting.”

“There is no way I will let the likes of them rule my life or make me bury my head in the sand. But, I’ve always found that being nice to them throws them a curve and they don’t know what to do.”

Helen looked away. “At least you speak to them,” she said and shrugged, “I just avoid them.”

Katie chuckled. “I think avoidance is the wiser path. In so many words, Jack told me I had to be nice to them because they were part of the squad.” She shook her head. “The squad, as he calls it, is nothing but sixty-something men who have nothing but old war stories to share.”

“Isn’t that the truth?” Helen looked at Katie. “I like you, Katie. Unlike those other four,” she nodded in the direction of the women sitting on the other side of the grill, “you have a clue as to what life is all about. Tell me about your work.”

Katie smiled. “I love my work. I love helping people.”

“Even if they are gruff?”

Katie reached out and touched Helen’s hand. “Please don’t let this get around but my goal in life is to make everyone happy.”

“Even the likes of them?”

“No, I will be pleasant toward them but that is all. I have no use for people like that. With me, it is either black or white. I either like someone or don’t and if I don’t then they fade into the background.”

Helen tilted her head and looked at Katie.

“In case you were wondering I do like you.”

A brilliant smile crossed Helen’s face. “The feeling is mutual.”

“How is the banking world?”

“To tell you the truth it is going very well. The market is at an all-time high and that is very good news for our firm.”

“You like it don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“I can hear it in your voice. If you couldn’t do that what would you do?”

Helen didn’t speak for a few minutes. “Actually, I don’t know. Work, my job, is all I’ve ever really strived for.” She shrugged. “Nothing has ever interested me enough to think about anything else.”

“Mhmm. I hear what you are saying. It is how I feel about what I do.”

“Do you have any regrets?”

“About what?” Katie asked.

“Choices you’ve made in your life. Do you ever wonder if things would be different if you had taken a different path?”

Katie looked away. “I do wonder sometimes what my life would’ve been like had I made different choices.”

Helen patted Katie’s arm. “Me too. Would it embarrass you if I told you the only reason I agreed to come to this gathering this year is because I knew—no hoped—you’d be here?”

Color reddened Katie’s cheeks.

“Sorry. I guess it did embarrass you.”

Katie’s heart skipped a beat. “Nothing to be sorry for...I am honored that you think that...”

Jack shook Katie’s chair.

Startled, she frowned. “What?”

“It’s time to turn in,” he said. “Remember we’re going golfing first thing in the morning.”

Katie pointed to the other men still seated. “What about them?”

“Oh, they will stay up and drink, which means I will have the best round and win the pot.”

Helen looked up at Jack and saw his smirk. “How much is at stake?”

“A hundred bucks each. I figure it will be easy pickings.” Jack chuckled. “I’ve done that every year and they haven’t caught on yet.” He looked at his wife. “You ready to go?”

Katie shook her head. “No. You go on. Helen and I are having an interesting conversation.”

Jack shrugged. “Okay, then.” He turned and walked toward their RV.

“Don’t you want to go with him?” Helen asked.

Katie frowned. “Not really. He can get ready for bed all by himself. I’ll be damned if I leave here before those four go and I won’t leave you to fend for yourself against them.”

“What do you think about giving them their own treatment?”

“Like what?”

Helen grinned. “I loathe the idea since it is so childish, but we can look at them then giggle.”

Katie laughed. “As tempting as that sounds…do we want to sink to their level?”

“No, we don’t.”

Off to their left came boisterous laughter and loud voices.

“Sounds like they are still going strong.” Helen stood. “As much as I’d like to stay here I need to go, and hopefully I will get to sleep before they are done. Otherwise I will have to listen to Bobby snore all night long.”

“There’s nothing worse than drunken snoring.” Katie grinned. “I guess I should have left sooner.”

“One consolation is that they will all be gone by seven and we can go back to sleep.” Helen shrugged. “Can we catch up in the morning?”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

“Sleep well, Helen. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

 

Helen quickly undressed then put on shorts and a T-shirt and hurried to bed. She wanted to be asleep or at least look as if she were before Bobby came in. She knew exactly what would happen when he came back to the RV and she wanted none of it.

The slamming of the door pulled Helen out of a light sleep. “Crap,” she whispered. She could hear Bobby stumbling down the long hallway before he banged into the door.

“Fuck,” he growled.

He kicked off his shoes and the sound resonated around the room.

Next, Helen heard his zipper and she slowed her breathing to simulate sleep. She felt the bed dip as he slid under the sheet and then his hardness against her back. Helen had been down this road before and did not move.

“Frigid bitch,” Bobby slurred.

When Helen felt him go soft, she struggled not to let out a sigh of relief. It wasn’t long before he was sleeping and snoring and she could let out the breath she’d been holding.

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