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Desert Heat

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Dannie Marsden's book Desert Heat

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Unconventional Lovers - Prologue-Chapter 1

Prologue

August 1990

 

Kathleen Kaufman could feel the sweat roll down her temple as it tickled the edges of her ear. Her husband, Jeremy, made cooing, supportive noises. She was done. If this damn baby didn’t make her appearance soon, Kathleen vowed to tell the doctor she’d changed her mind about natural childbirth, and he should go ahead and give her the fucking drugs. She’d issued the eviction notice two days ago. With her hair plastered against her head, she was sure, right about then, she looked about as unattractive as she ever would.

 

“You’re doing great, hon. I can see the head now,” Jeremy cried out in excitement. He was stroking her arm in a loving gesture of encouragement.

 

“Okay…ready, Kathleen…give me another big push. We’re almost there,” Dr. Harding coaxed.

 

“Arghhh, that’s what you said an hour ago.” Kathleen grunted all her effort into the push. She was almost out of gas now. This had better do it. She was never having sex again if the end result was labor for thirty-six hours straight. When her contraction ended and still the baby hadn’t arrived, Kathleen felt like screaming at every man, woman, and child anywhere near her bedside.

 

“It won’t be long now, don’t push until I tell you to, okay, Kathleen. I know you’re going to feel like you need to push again, but hang on until we tell you to,” Dr. Harding instructed.

 

“Easy for you to say, you don’t have a fucking baby the size of a large watermelon coming out of a hole the size of a zucchini,” Kathleen sniped.

 

Jeremy was holding her hand, and she crushed it when the next contraction came. “Oh hon, I think this is it. Can I get the camera?”

 

“No,” Kathleen screamed and squeezed harder on his already squashed hand.

 

“Okay, one more push, Kathleen, push, push, push, that’s great. You’re doing great…” Dr. Harding encouraged.

 

With this last push, Kathleen could feel her baby slide right out. Finally, her daughter was making her entrance into the world.

 

Kathleen was a practical young woman. She’d opted for knowing the child’s sex, because then she could properly plan for the nursery. Jeremy acquiesced to her wishes and went along with whatever his wife wanted. His role was to put together the crib and anything else that required his mechanical expertise.

 

Jeremy was also responsible for keeping the freezer stocked with various flavors of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and a continual bowl of fried frog legs in the refrigerator she could microwave whenever she had the craving. Frog gigging was hard work, but he was happy to go out late at night and hunt the backwaters for the big bullfrogs to keep his wife content.

 

When Kathleen heard her daughter cry, it was music to her ears. She lifted her head to get a glimpse and noticed the furtive looks of the nurses and doctor. Jeremy didn’t seem to notice, as the nurse laid the squirming bundle on Kathleen’s chest. The other nurse handed Jeremy the scissors for him to cut the cord—like they’d talked about when creating their birthing plan. Kathleen could sense something was wrong, as she looked at the faces of the medical team. She knew the look of pity.

 

“What’s wrong with my baby?” Kathleen asked.

 

Jeremy looked perplexed. “Nothing’s wrong. She’s kinda slimy right now, but I’m sure the nurses will wash her up in a minute. I count ten fingers and ten toes. She’s perfect. Right, Doc?”

 

The doctor frowned as he looked down at their daughter and then turned back to Jeremy. “We should probably talk after the nurses have a chance to take care of your daughter. We can go over the Apgar score in a little bit.”

 

Kathleen’s heart sunk, as she looked at the crestfallen look on her husband’s face. She could tell he was confused but had grasped the sudden realization something was drastically wrong with their first child. He was so excited at the prospect of becoming a father, and nothing short of a perfect child would do. His first reaction to the news left an indelible imprint on her mind, but this was something she would never share with her daughter. That kind of emotional baggage was not something a mother should ever relay to her child.

 

Chapter One

July 2007

Deb rapped twice on the back door, then burst into her older sister’s house, breathing heavily. Her niece, Siera, sat at the kitchen counter with her head propped on her hand and a little crinkle in her forehead. A thick textbook was laid out in front of her, and Siera’s mouth moved as her eyes traveled back and forth along the page.

 

Kathleen kept shifting her attention to her daughter. Deb could tell her sister wanted to jump in and help, but that would end up placing more pressure on her niece. She’d been an outside observer of this, time and again. Kathleen pushed Siera and was vocal about not wanting anyone to treat her differently. She would refuse the additional services offered, stating flatly Siera did not require special consideration. That was the ironic part. Her stubborn sister never understood how her hovering and continued interference while Siera was completing her homework was exactly the type of assistance the school officials tried to provide.

 

Deb was too excited to step in and save her niece from her overprotective sister. She wanted Kathleen’s advice, even though she probably wasn’t going to take it.

 

Kathleen finally shifted her attention away from Siera. “Where’s the fire? Siera, why don’t you take your homework to your room? I can already tell from Deb’s vibrating body that she’s going to disturb your concentration.”

 

Siera looked up and gave Deb a toothy grin. “Hi, Aunt Deb. Are you staying for dinner?”

 

Deb smiled at her niece. “Nah, Carrie and I have dinner plans.”

 

Siera frowned. “Carrie doesn’t like having dinner with us because of me.”

 

“That’s not true,” Deb answered.

 

Siera shrugged and gathered her books before rounding the corner and clomping up the stairs.

 

“Well, she might not dislike Siera, but she sure fidgets a lot when you bring her over for family barbecues.” Kathleen folded her arms across her chest and frowned.

 

Deb ignored the comment. Although she had noticed Carrie’s subtle shift whenever they came over, she assumed it had more to do with Carrie’s discomfort with open displays of affection rather than her uneasiness around Siera. Deb never seemed to care who was around when she leaned in to kiss Carrie.

 

“I need your help.” She pulled a small white box from her pocket and laid it on the counter. “I want to ask Carrie to marry me.”

 

“What?” Kathleen raised her eyebrows. “It’s not legal, so you mean you want to become registered domestic partners, right?”

 

Deb sighed. “Someday it will be legal. And don’t give me that semantics shit. A registered domestic partnership is not the same as marriage. It’s all bullshit if you ask me, but we have to take what we can get. At least the recent ruling is a step above what we have now. Just because this state thinks it’s so magnanimous by extending benefits to domestic partners, does not mean we have all the same rights.”

 

“Why are you even asking my opinion, if you’re going to start an argument?” Kathleen asked.

 

“Ok, fine. Do you think it’s cheesy to put this in her dessert or glass of wine? I need a good hook or something.”

 

“Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think you should ask at all. Carrie…well…”

 

“I knew this was a bad idea. Never mind. I should have asked Jeremy. When’s he getting home?”

 

“He’s not. He’s at the firehouse tonight.” Kathleen’s jaw clenched.

 

“You’re a narrow-minded homophobe.” Deb grabbed the white box and stormed out of the house. She loved her sister, but Jeremy was always more supportive of her relationship with Carrie. It was just that sometimes she craved her sister’s approval more than Jeremy’s.

 

 

Deb’s leg bounced up and down, as she waited for the waitress to bring the bottle of wine. A warm breeze kissed her skin, as they sat on the wrought iron chairs in the crowded, outdoor seating on the back deck. The porous black shades were pulled down to protect customers from the sun, but they also blocked out the beautiful view of the lake. Deb wanted to ask the waitress to use the remote to raise the barrier to their view, but the old woman sitting in the next table had complained loudly. She preferred the shade. It probably didn’t matter much. They were both locals, and maybe the beautiful lake view didn’t make a difference to Carrie.

 

Deb had called in a favor and asked a friend to tie a ribbon around the stem of a wine glass and attach the ring.

 

“What’s the matter with you tonight?” Carrie narrowed her eyes.

 

Deb turned her head and sighed in relief, as the smiling waitress approached with the bottle of wine and two glasses. She was “family.” Knowing the waitress was rooting for her had made it a lot easier to set things up. The ring clinked against the glass as it was set on the table.

 

Carrie’s eyes widened. “Deb…” she whispered.

 

Deb ignored the panicked look on Carrie’s face and took her hand. “Look, I know it isn’t legal yet, but it will be. We’re so close. For now, the next best thing to marriage is this registered domestic partner thing, but I think we should have a ceremony and pretend it’s a legal marriage and all. We can work out the kid thing.”

 

Carrie was shaking her head. “I um…I wanted to tell you before tonight…a recruiter called, and I was offered a position at Sacred Heart. It’s not far from Moses Lake, we could still see each other, but…” her voice trailed off.

 

Deb looked at the diamond sparkling in the dim candlelight, and her worst fear nearly choked the life out of her voice. “I guess that’s a no.”

 

“I love you Deb, but I’m not ready. There are still some major gaps in what each of us wants out of a relationship or our future. Can’t we just…”

 

Deb grabbed the wineglass and pulled on the ribbon to release the ring. She jammed the diamond in her pocket. “No, we can’t. Congratulations on your new job. I guess we can figure out what to do with the house…” Deb’s voice hitched, “I can’t do this now.”

 

The loud scrape of the chair on the floor telegraphed her intention, as she tossed several twenties on the table and walked out of the restaurant with as much grace as she could muster.

 

 

The night was still warm, as Deb stepped into the fading sun. She heard several sirens in the distance and wondered if Jeremy was having a bad night. The flashing lights of two ambulances sped by, and Deb thought someone else was probably having an equally shitty evening. Job security for Kathleen and Jeremy. Dark humor was all she had left.

 

Deb pulled out her cell phone and called her sister. She was impossible sometimes, but when it mattered, Kathleen was always there for her family.

 

“I need you to come get me. I’m at Michael’s on the Lake… Thanks, Sis.”

 

Deb sat down on the curb and waited. She knew Carrie would give her the space and wait until Kathleen picked her up. Carrie didn’t enjoy conflict. With her head in her hands, Deb allowed the tears to leak out of the corners of her eyes.

 

Two more police cars sped by, lights and sirens blazing. She looked up briefly and hoped the ruckus hadn’t affected someone young enough to still have their whole life ahead of them. She supposed there was always something worse happening in the world, and her heartbreak was probably insignificant in comparison.

 

 

Olivia paced her living room, stepping on and off the large cream rug with the subtle bamboo design. Irene had picked out the covering to protect the blonde maple floors after Sasha, Olivia’s dog, had already managed to add character to the grainy swirls. The scratches in the glossy wood were only noticeable when the daylight streaked across the floor at the perfect angle.

 

Irene was like clockwork. Her longtime lover always came home around the same time every night. Three hours past her normal arrival, something was clearly wrong. When she heard the firm knock on her front door, a foreboding feeling traveled up and down her spine.

 

She opened the door hesitantly and met the apologetic eyes of the officer standing on her doorstep.

 

“I’m sorry to disturb you, ma’am. Does Irene Saunders live here?”

 

Olivia couldn’t make the muscles in her mouth work, so she nodded instead.

 

“There’s been an accident…”

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