By Medora MacD
with Teresa L. Crittenden

DISCLAIMERS

Herein lie: F/F relationships, F/M relationships, and a profanity or twelve. Nothing that would embarrass my mom. I hope.

There is a Northfield, Minnesota, which is home to not one, but two fine liberal arts colleges, but any resemblance between its inhabitants and the characters in this story is purely coincidental.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

My deep gratitude to Teresa L. Crittenden, Ann Dancer, and the BBs, for helping me to watch my language and continually pushing me to take my story telling to the next level. And to Steph and the Royal Academy of Bards for motivating me to share the results with a wider audience.

Thanks, too, to my family and friends, especially the incredible people in my household, who are subjected to all this, my demented sense of humor and much worse on a regular basis and love me just the same. Most days. Thanks, guys. You’re the best.

I owe a tip of the hat to Robert Heinlein, whose interesting but very different book, Door into Summer, inspired the title, but little else about this tale.

Finally, VERY special thanks to Bandit, Bootsy, Peaches, and Patches,  who have  made my life much more fuzzy, much more full, and much more fun.

FEEDBACK

Send it to MedoraMacD@yahoo.com.

© 2004, all rights reserved which are not already restricted.

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Part One

“You’re going to regret this, Lexie. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life. You’re making a horrible, horrible mistake.”

The sleek, dark form forged onward, deaf to the admonitions. Just as she had every other time they’d enacted this particular domestic drama.

The redhead sighed. Why did she waste her breath? Lex always plowed straight ahead, certain things would be different this time. She wouldn’t stop until reality slapped her in her sweet, sensitive kisser. And until it did, she’d make life hell for everyone around her.

Might as well get it over with, thought Kearney Cooper. She steeled herself for the heartbroken look her housemate’s face would wear when she slunk back in.

“Fine.” She flung open the door with a bang. “Just ... fine! Don’t come crying to me when — for the millionth time, may I remind you? — it doesn’t work out. I warned you.”

Lex swept past her. She was so out of there. So gone. So ... cold! And so wet! And ... why was the white stuff still there?! It had been months, damn it! Would the horror never end?

She turned to Kearney, shock contorting her countenance. Then back to Maple Street. To drifts that were taller than she was, for Bastet’s sake! So tall, in fact, that it was impossible to make out the wooden steps where she had planned to sit to survey the evening scene.

“I told you. Didn’t I? But do you believe me? Noooooo. Gotta see for yourself. Gotta subject yourself to the trauma, time and again. Never mind what it does to the heating bill.”

Lex shuddered and meowed piteously.

“Enough already — get your furry little butt back in here. Dollar bills are whizzing out the door as we speak.”

The disconsolate creature returned to the house, weaving through her owner’s legs to brush the chill from her ebony fur.

Kearney made sure the door was snugged firmly against its weather stripping, then spared a moment for a look at the bleak scene outside. She shook her head ruefully. Currier and Ives do Siberia. Against her better judgment, she snuck a peek at the thermometer.

“Ten below! Damn!”

Yo! It’s mid-December, dummy. In Northfield, Minnesota. What did you expect? She snorted, remembering the day of the first cold snap. She’d run around like a kid, puffing her breath out into the crisp blue sky and watching the plume trail away. Ha. That was then and this is definitely now. The thrill of the chill is looooong gone.

Kearney sighed and turned toward the living room, hoping but not expecting to see Lex curled up on the couch. Nope. Time for Act II.

Snapping off lights as she went, Kearney headed for the kitchen. The long, hard winter had been good for one thing, at least — it had accelerated the restoration of the house. She ran a hand over the wooden pocket doors as she passed, admiring her handiwork. She probably hadn’t been in any danger of asphyxiating herself, given the way the ancient windows rattled in their frames with every gust of wind. Still, she was glad she’d used the biodegradable stripper — it was comforting to think she hadn’t had to sacrifice any brain cells in order to remove the harvest gold that had been slathered on everything in the 70s.

It was going to take a lot longer to get rid of the harvest gold appliances, unfortunately. Heating bills were really putting the whammy on the salary she earned at the writing center at Carleton College. In the fall, after covering the mortgage, groceries, gas, and the never-ending payments on her college and grad school loans, there’d been enough left over for the occasional “splurge.” But the November bill from Xcel Energy had put an end to that.

An imperious meow recalled her to the business at hand.

“Hold your horses, Your Majesty. I’m coming.” Kearney padded over yellowing linoleum to the back of the house, where Alexandra the Great waited impatiently. Placing her hand on the chill metal doorknob, she smiled indulgently.

“I admire your optimism, Lexie. Really I do. But as I assured you yesterday — and the day before and the day before that, if I’m not mistaken — you’re in for another bitter disappointment. Summer is not outside this door either.”

The feline looked up uncomprehendingly. As she had all the other times.

“Still won’t believe it till you see it, eh? Okay, but make it quick. Tomorrow’s Monday and the last writing lab before Christmas break. I’ve got essays to grade.”

She cracked the door open, and a gout of biting cold surged in. Lex shuddered, gave her human a baleful glance, and fled.

Hightailing it for the bed, no doubt. Kearney shoved the door back in place, then shivered, the chill of the floor finally registering through her slippers. That’s where she should be heading, too.

She sighed again. She missed her upstairs study with its view of Maple’s picturesque turn-of-the-century houses. Her dwindling bank balance had convinced her, however, that it didn’t make sense to heat the second story any more than was needed to keep the pipes from freezing. Especially given the condition of the aged furnace. Last thing she needed was to have that thing punk out on her. It was much more energy efficient to move her office into her bedroom, wrap herself in an electric blanket, and heat only what needed to be heated.

Applying a little warmth internally wouldn’t hurt, either, she thought. She filled a pan with milk and put it on the stove to heat. Pulling down the tin of Godiva Dark Chocolate Truffle Hot Cocoa mix her parents had sent her for her birthday, she spooned a heaping helping into a mug. As she reached for a tall stool to perch on, eager to give her popsicle toes some relief from the frigid floor, a flash of pink in the kitchen window drew her gaze to her reflection.

Gads! Her hair was doing its wild “Venus on the Half Shell” thing. She laughed. Well, “On a Half Shell in Expedition Weight Thermal Underwear,” anyway. Heh! No way Botticelli would have made it into the art books if he had dressed his Venus for a Minnesota winter! She peered at her image, studying it carefully. The tangle of titian tresses falling half way down her back might resemble those of the goddess, but at 5'6" she had only half as much leg, worse luck, and WAY more clothing. And such enticing clothing it was, too. Long johns might be a turn on for somebody — Mr. L.L. Bean, maybe? — but I don’t think Victoria’s Secret’s going to bother revamping its product line any time soon.

She pulled a handful of bright auburn curls together at the nape of her neck and contemplated her face. She didn’t look quite so much “the girl next door” as she used to, thank god. At 29, she shouldn’t. Come to think of it, it had been months since anyone had mistaken her for one of the students or carded her at the liquor store. Wahoo! It’s about damn time!

The milk rumbled gently in the sauce pan. Lex is probably making a similar noise in the room down the hall, she thought.

“Silly cat.” She smiled to herself as she mentally replayed the cat’s ridiculous evening ritual — and her complicity in it. “I swear she truly believes that she’ll find summer — in all its drowsy wonder — if only she looks hard enough, checks all the doors.”

She moved her feet to the highest rungs of the stool, parked her elbows on her knees, and allowed her mind to meander down that interesting mental path for a while.

The thing is, of course, if she waits long enough, that will be true. Kind of like the broken watch that is accurate two times a day. Some day the door will open and it will be spring out there, the crocuses I planted last fall pushing up through the grass, or summer — lush with day lilies. The wonder is how she keeps going in the meantime. How she puts the disappointment aside each time, never gets down on the world, on herself. Still expects the miracle.

“Sheesh!” Kearney laughed at herself, grabbed the pan, and filled her mug with milk heated just short of boiling. “Listen to me. She’s a cat, for god’s sake. Not Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King. She keeps looking for miracles, expecting them, because she has a brain the size of a walnut.”

Leaning back against the counter, she stirred the cocoa thoughtfully, then drew the mug close to her chest, savoring the heat emanating from it and the rich chocolaty smell of its contents. 

Makes you wonder, though. What the world would be like if humans took as much on faith. Were willing to explore all the doorways, not just the sensible ones, the approved ones. Were willing to try them time and again in hopes of achieving new and surprising results. What might we discover?

Padding down the hall to the bedroom, she set the cocoa carefully on the nightstand, then  grabbed the essays and a pen out of her backpack and slipped into the bed’s warmth. It took a few minutes more before she could begin grading. She first had to convince Lex that lying atop the electric blanket would keep her plenty warm and did not need to be augmented by full-length contact with her human. And then that the student papers did not constitute an immediate threat to life or limb that needed to be attacked.

She tucked a hank of hair behind an ear and grabbed the first essay off the pile. “Let’s see now ... what’s this week’s topic? Ah yes ... ”

Scrunching deeper into the blankets’ warmth, she allowed herself to be sucked into the words, into the task of finding ways to help students communicate what they knew. In minutes she was totally absorbed, humming tunelessly as she filled the margins of their papers with neat red notes.

Lexie’s ears swiveled toward the window, noting, then dismissing the sound of icy pellets tapping on the panes.

**No threat there.**

Her eyes moved through the darkness to the lamp-lit room in the neighboring house.

**Ah, good. The other sentinel is on duty, still vigilant. All’s well.**

She tucked herself more tightly into the warm cove behind Kearney’s knees and allowed herself to doze.

Part Two

“Right you are, Lex. The longest journey begins with but a single step.”

Lexie flicked an ear at Kearney’s words, but kept her laser gaze trained on the back door.

“On the other hand, it also only takes but a single step to fall off a cliff.” The cat might have been one of the statues in the Egyptian section of a museum. “Or in this case, to fall into a snowdrift the size of my VW.”

Kearney shook her head. She should know by now. Resistance was futile. She could no more ignore Lexie’s importunings than she could allow a modifier to remain misplaced. “All right, already. Make it quick.”

She opened the door a cat’s width, expecting the biting cold to once again drive Lexie back. She hadn’t gotten as far as the threshold for more than a week now. To her surprise, the feline stepped forward, halting with her nose an inch from the outer door.

“It’s your funeral.” Kearney snaked an arm through the opening and poked at the latch, pushing the metal storm door open another cat’s width. The light streaming from the kitchen into the night revealed an expanse of white as yet untouched by either foot or paw.

It seemed likely to remain that way for the immediate future. Until it was warm enough to dig her car out of the garage, Kearney had no reason to go into her back yard. And a single, tentative pat of the snow’s fluffy but frigid surface had, apparently, convinced Lex again of the error of her ways. It looked, in fact, as if the cat might even forgo testing conditions at the front door tonight. In any case, she’d trotted down the hall to the bedroom with nary a backwards glance.

Putting off her reading assignment for a few minutes more, Kearney contemplated the car tracks in the driveway next door and the single pair of footsteps leading from the double garage to the garish green door at the back of the house.

Curious folks, the Jarretts. In every sense of the word. Interesting. And inquisitive. Frank, in particular. When I moved into town last May, he was the very first person on the block to come calling.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“What the ...?” She’d paid off the moving guys and was halfway up the stairs, returning to her chores, when the doorbell rang. “Must have forgotten something.” She trudged back to the front door, flexing her shoulder muscles to keep them from stiffening up.

“Hi. Kearney Cooper, right? Frank Jarrett.”

She gawked at the man standing on her steps, wondering when the Jehovah’s Witnesses had wised up and started recruiting guys from Ralph Lauren ads to make their calls.

“Your next door neighbor?” He waited for his words to register. “And ... your city councilman?”

An awkward moment later, she noticed the casserole dish in his left hand and his outstretched right hand. Her right hand, unfortunately, was encased in a ghastly yellow rubber glove and clasping a toilet bowl brush.

The visitor cut her blushing stammer off at the pass,  apologized for intruding, and with an engaging grin held out his offering.

“It’s just Tater Tot Hot Dish. Still, we thought you might appreciate not having to cook tonight on top of unpacking all those boxes.”

She hurriedly flung the brush to one side and reached for the bowl.

“Jesse would have delivered it herself, but she had to fly to Boston for something or other,” he added. He waved toward the meticulously maintained, two-story Craftsman home on the adjoining lot. “We hope you’ll come over for dinner when she gets back. We’re very excited about having you in the neighborhood. Mr. Lobitz was a terrific old guy, mind you, but things kind of got away from him the last few years.” He appraised the house’s sagging gutters and a flowerbed choked with weeds, then turned back. “It’ll be great to see this house looking shipshape again.”

Kearney wasn’t sure how to reply. On the one hand, he seemed to be giving her notice that the neighborhood had certain standards. On the other, it was clear that  he had absolutely no doubt that a young, single woman was as capable as anyone else of meeting them. She opted for silence and for what she hoped was an enigmatic, rather than an addlepated smile. It seemed to work.

“I’ll let you get back to your chores,” he said easily. “Let me know if  I can help with anything — from a cup of sugar to info on garbage pickup.”

He handed her an embossed business card that identified him as a partner in a local law firm, threw her a sassy sketch of a salute, then loped homeward across the adjoining lawn without a backward glance.

The man’s gifted, she thought, admiring both the ease with which he’d made her feel welcome — and the marvelous way that long lean body of his filled those khakis. Uh huh. Gifted. No doubt about it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

She laughed as she recalled that fateful meeting. Swayed by the view and the prospect of a full meal as delicious as the casserole, which had been filled with porcini mushrooms instead of the usual cream of something soup, she had decided to accept if Frank invited her to dinner again. Especially after Grit, the secretary at the writing center, had informed her that the Jessamyn W. Jarrett whose name shared the mailbox with that of Franklin D. Jarrett was his sister and not his spouse.

Not that there was anything wrong with having dinner with a couple of married neighbors. But it had been a while since someone had caught her eye. Someone who seemed to be interested in return. As far as she could tell.

Kearney rested her head against the soothing cold of the window for a moment and sighed. She was so bad at picking up on those kinds of things. Which was why she’d given up on dating for so long. It was all too confusing. Too complicated. Too fraught with . . . things she just didn’t want to deal with.

She pulled her thoughts back to more pleasant places.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Hunky.” That’s how Grit had described Frank, adding “honorable” after a reflective pause. Named after FDR,  a political hero of his father, he’d been president of their senior class and been voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” Jesse, who was in her early 30s, she knew less well. She had been named for her mother’s favorite writer and she’d lived in Colorado until two or three years ago, when Frank had been severely injured in an auto accident that had killed their parents. She worked for the Nature Conservancy now, doing the legal work connected with — well, Grit wasn’t sure what it was except that it was very important and took her out of town a lot.

The sister was gone so much, in fact, that Kearney didn’t as much as see her until the night she had dinner with them in early June. She ran into Frank at the local coffee shop several times, however. She had just waved the first time and was headed for the exit when she’d felt a gentle touch on her shoulder and turned to find his blue eyes twinkling at her.

“Howdy, neighbor. Got a few minutes? I’ll introduce you to some of your fellow citizens.”

When she hesitated, he wrapped a long arm casually around her and pulled her toward the crowd of people with whom he’d been hobnobbing. “You’ll like them, I promise. And vice versa. There’s some high school teachers enjoying summer vacation, another lawyer or two, a couple of local business people. C’mon.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He’d been right, of course, though the avid interest they’d shown when he’d drawn her to the table had almost sent her running. Would have, if Frank hadn’t grabbed her sweating hand. It had been sweet, really, the way he’d introduced her to his friends. He had a real knack for making people feel special. He stopped and chatted whenever he saw her at the shop thereafter — which happened with increasing frequency after she adjusted her morning routine to match his schedule and tweaked her budget to accommodate the cost of two or three mochas a week. It was nice, really nice, to have found a friend outside of work, someone other than a colleague or college student.

None of which explained, of course, why she’d been a total nervous wreck the week before the dinner at his house. She realized, in retrospect, that she’d viewed meeting his sister as a kind of test, a time to make a good impression. Fortunately, she had. As had they.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Yum. The lemon bars, I mean. They look great. Um. You do too.”

Frank whisked the dessert she’d brought of out of her nervous hands and ushered her into the book-lined living room that she’d gotten tantalizing glimpses of on the occasional evening they neglected to draw their curtains.

“Make yourself at home. I’ll just take these back to Jesse. She’s putting the finishing touches on dinner.”

She was perusing the bookshelves when he returned. The bulk of the tomes were biographies and books on public policy, but the ones stacked on the table next to the couch were mysteries, the topmost one by Laurie King.

“May I pour you a drink?” he asked, waving toward a built-in sidebar topped with an assortment of bottles.

“Merlot, if you have it.”

“Ah, girl after my own heart,” he replied, plucking the appropriate glass from the nearby rack and decanting into it a rich, red, aromatic stream of wine. “Jess!” he called back to the kitchen. “You want something to drink?”

“Arsenic, if these potatoes don’t start cooperating” was the response, delivered in a dry tone notable for its lack of anxiety.

“Merlot, it is,” he answered, filling another glass.

Before long, the sound of approaching footsteps drew Kearney’s eyes to the doorway and a lanky brunette wearing tailored tan slacks, a blue scoop neck, and fashionable loafers. She’d pushed her sleeves up for cooking, revealing strong, tanned forearms. A light silver chain draped over her collar bones, and the swing of her dark hair as she walked revealed simple silver studs on her earlobes.

Jesse had her brother’s stunning JFK, Jr.,  kind of good looks, but combined with something more down to earth. Sort of ... Kearney cocked her head, searching for an apt comparison. Sort of... “corporate Betty Crocker,” actually.

Kearney gave a silent laugh at the homespun simile. The woman’s manner smacked much more of deal-making than homemaking.

Still ... there’s something about her that’s very ... Grounded. That’s it. As Daddy would say, she’s “comfortable in her own skin.”

“Jesse Jarrett.” Her handshake was firm. “Sorry not to have greeted you when you arrived.”

“Troublesome tubers, eh?”

A dark eyebrow rose, accompanied by a wry smile. “Not anymore.” She turned to her brother. “Have you had a chance to show Kearney your photos yet, Frank?”

“Not exotic etchings?” blurted Kearney, blushing as she belatedly realized this might not be the kind of banter you exchange with someone’s sister. She was relieved when Jesse smiled back.

“Nope, just some wonderful pictures of Northfield. You have to see them. They’ll give you insights into the town and its people. Including my brother. Who likes to pretend he’s a hard-headed pragmatist without an ounce of sentiment or sensitivity.”

With a little more sisterly coaxing, Frank showed her a few framed pieces, pictures of a homey place with establishments with names like The Ideal Café and Quality Bakery. As dinner finished cooking, they flipped through an album. It was filled with faces, young and old, that were at once incredibly familiar — she’d seen them at the supermarket, perhaps? — and at the same time new to her. Each one had a story, too, and with some prodding from Jesse, Frank shared some of them with her.

“Wow.” Kearney closed the album. “I think I just fell in love.” There was a startled silence. She grinned at Frank, who was looking shell-shocked. “With Northfield, I mean. What a great way for a newcomer to get to know the town. Thanks.”

She turned to Jesse. “And thank you. You were right. That was very ... informative.” As Frank put the photos away, they exchanged conspiratorial smiles.

Over broiled fish, braised asparagus, and a warm potato salad rich with the taste of cumin and lemon, Kearney told them a little about her work at the college and learned more about theirs. Well, mostly about Frank’s, actually. And about his political aspirations. He was running for re-election to the City Council in the fall — and was expecting her vote, he said with mock sternness — but both the Republicans and the Democrats had approached him about running for the state legislature in 2004. He practiced civil law in one of the historic offices in downtown Northfield. “My great grandfather’s office, as a matter of fact.”

He must have seen the twinkle in Jesse’s blue eyes at the same time Kearney did. He blushed and amended his statement. “I mean, our great grandfather’s, of course.”

He never quite got around to saying what Jesse’s job was, Kearney realized later. He just said that she logged more than 500 highway miles a week and tens of thousands of frequent flyer miles annually in order to “save trees.” The gibe was obviously a familiar one, judging from his sister’s good-natured response.

“It’s a dirty job, Frank, but somebody’s got to do it. Otherwise Northfield will have to change its letterhead. Scratch the town motto: ‘Cows, Colleges, and Contentment.’ Substitute ‘Colleges, Concrete, and Corporate Farms.’ Sure you don’t want another helping, Kearney?”

Frank smiled genially at the change in subject. “That’s my cue to cease and desist. Before Granny here pulls out the guitar and starts singing protest songs.”

“Exactly,” grinned Jesse, standing and scooping up their plates. “You youngsters retire to the living room, why don’t you? I’ll be back with dessert and coffee in a flash.” Before the swinging door closed behind her, Kearney heard a lovely alto voice singing something that sounded suspiciously like “pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”

“She’s terrific, Frank.”

“I think so.”

“I can’t imagine living with any of my brothers — we’d kill each other in a week flat, I think — but you two ...”

“Yeah, well ...” Frank fingered the cloth covering his right thigh, studying it intently. “We were pretty close as kids. She’s just three years older. But we may not keep this up much longer. We’re both getting ready to move on. In the meantime, the layout of the house lets us lead fairly separate lives if we want to. Fact is ...” He looked up. “I wouldn’t have made it after the accident if she hadn’t come back from Colorado to help me. She left everything: a dream job ... someone who was really important to her ... everything. I owe her big time.” They heard the clatter of stoneware and a muffled curse in the kitchen. “And now, obviously, I owe her some help with the dessert stuff.”

He got up, a little stiffly, and went to offer his assistance, while Kearney once again thanked her lucky stars for the unexpected bequest from Great Aunt Harriet that had enabled her to buy a house. It was, as her parents had advised, the best financial investment she could have made for herself. She was glad she had also taken to heart the advice of the real estate pros.

“Location, location, location,” they say ...  Little did I know how great this location would be. It’s not only near the college, it’s near a remarkable person — no, two remarkable people — that I’m looking forward to getting to know much better. How cool is that?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Kearney glanced again at the neighboring house. It was dark except for a light on the second floor. Frank must be out,  she realized. Or he’d be sitting in the living room, watching C-SPAN. Oh, right. It’s Monday. Weekly council meeting. He’s probably busy making the world safe for big box retailers.

Jesse’s in, though. Early for a change. Must have hustled to get home before the worst of the snow. Otherwise, she’d be in the Cities still, trying to protect the world from big box retailers.

She shook her head, marveling anew that two people with such divergent views could live together so companionably. From what she could tell, though, it was Frank who’d drifted away from the liberal politics they’d been raised with. Looking to get out of his big sister’s shadow, Kearney surmised. Which was probably the reason, too, that he tended to be a bit full of himself at times. Things would shift back probably as he found his own way. Like Jesse, he was much more than a pretty face — as she’d seen for herself at the various civic and political events she’d attended with them.

She smiled, indulging in a little daydream. She might surprise her parents yet. Come home someday with a tall, good-looking attorney. A state representative, maybe, or a U.S. senator. Hey, it could happen! After all, Minnesota’s last governor had been a former pro wrestler!

In the meantime, though, I need to get to Orlando. She laughed aloud. Boy, did that sound weird. God, wouldn’t it be great to actually be headed for Florida? Instead of for a novel with the same name by Virginia Woolf?

Knowing that when the holiday break was over her office would be filled with students frantic about looming paper deadlines, Kearney was trying to get ahead in the reading for the course she was auditing. That was one of the neat things about her job. It gave her an excuse to take classes — in order to get a better feel for the needs of first-year students coming to the center for writing help. She was going to take an environmental studies course in the spring. This semester she was taking “The Androgynous Imagination,” or, as the students called it, “Gender Bender Lit,” a seminar taught by faculty from the English and Psychology Departments. She was finding the subject matter surprisingly absorbing. It was exposing her to ideas and issues that she hadn’t thought about since her own undergraduate days, things that Jane Austin certainly never addressed. It was improving both her teaching and her interactions with gay and lesbian students on campus.

Not to mention my knowledge of GLBT musicians! Shane, one of her student assistants,  had declared that she couldn’t read Sappho and Woolf and Baldwin and Waters without an appropriate sound track and presented her with a dozen or so CDs from her personal collection.

Kearney pondered the options.

Melissa’s too raucous to mesh with a story about a time-traveling transsexual European aristocrat. And k.d.’s Shadowland is too country. DiFranco? No. This one. Timing Is Everything by Ann Reed.

Kearney slipped the disc into the boom box. The Minnesota singer/songwriter’s deep rich voice and resonant lyrics would be the perfect accompaniment for the night’s reading. She grabbed her book, shoved Lexie to one side, and slid under the covers. “Where was I? Oh yes ... Chapter Four.”

“For it was this mixture in her of man and woman, one being uppermost and then the other, that often gave her conduct an unexpected turn. She detested household matters, was up at dawn and out among the fields in summer before the sun had risen...”

“The times, they have a’changed, Virginia. What would you make of today’s women cops and soldiers?” she wondered. “Or lady lawyers? Of any of us who wear jeans, work for our livings, and raise families and run households?”

Kearney tucked a tangle of red behind one ear and then turned the page, unconsciously harmonizing with the quiet song flowing so smoothly from the stereo speakers.

“Some paths are straight and strong, till they divide and oh... Some lessons don’t take long; the hardest you learn all alone. I will be there for you ...”

On the bed, Lexie stirred.

**Does she ever listen to herself? Hmm. No rush, I guess. She’ll figure it out one of these days. Now that she’s stopped avoiding the subject altogether.**

“... Someone to hold on to. Listening with only an open heart, I will be there for you.”

Lexie snuggled closer to Kearney’s warmth, allowed her eyes to close again, and drifted back into a dream of a land of sand and sun, a land filled with the intoxicating aroma of cedarwood, myrrh and henna.

Continued in Part Three

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