Mother Nature was making one last run at summer heat. In spite of it being the end of August, the temperatures were in the middle to high 90’s, even at night.
The bathing of choice was a bar of soap and the stream at the deepest section near the water wheel. At least the adobe homes were cool at night. The people in the long houses were suffering. The occupants had the doors at both ends wide open during the night, willing to deal with bugs and catch what few breezes they could. They applied repellant near their beds, hoping to keep the number of insect bites down.
Sharon and her crew refused to bake until the heat wave ended. In place of bread, the women made tortillas that they cooked on a cast iron skillet outdoors. They also roasted meats on spits. It was just too hot to cook inside.
The work crews only labored in the very early morning hours then they stopped for the day. No one wanted anyone to suffer from heat stroke. No building was being done. For now, the women were just making sure that the crops and animals got enough water.
The horses had been put in the makeshift corrals built under some trees so they could have shady areas. The dairy cows were in the barn. Eva and Shane had taken the windmill to the barn roof and rigged an overhead fan in the rafters to keep the air circulated. As for the chickens, all they could do is give them plenty of water and rig an awning over the coop so it was in shade.
Poor Elu panted constantly, his long fur making him suffer. He preferred lying in the shade rather than following Cierra everywhere. She patted his head and made sure his water dish was always full.
The women from the southern states fared a little better than those from northern areas. For Tracy, she swore hell was just around the corner. She had come from the Canadian Rocky Mountains and her idea of hot was the high 70’s. The ladies from Arizona and other southern states just shrugged merely thinking it was a bit warm.
Tracy waved her makeshift fan and sighed. The heat was going to kill her. She just knew it. She guzzled more of her sun tea and sighed, planning on not moving away from her shady spot for all the tea in China. Then Robbie shot those plans all to hell.
Her lover walked around the corner. She had apparently just bathed in the stream because her skin was still damp and her hair was slicked back on her scalp. Tracy’s gaze traveled along Robbie’s athletic and tanned body. Her frame was barely covered in a tank top and shorts and Tracy forgot all about the weather. Robbie generated her own heat just by walking. The tall woman’s sea blue eyes made contact with Tracy’s and she smiled, her expression telling her mate that sex was very much on her mind.
An answering grin spread on the redhead’s lips as she watched her lover enter their home and shut the door. It took a few seconds for her to realize she was standing there staring at the door while her lover was waiting inside. She grabbed her glass of tea and rushed across the compound.
Two weeks later the heat wave ended, just in time for the women to begin harvesting some of the crops. The first fields they planned on reaping were the wheat fields. After the grain was separated from the stalks they would use the stalks as new thatching for the rooftops. After that they wanted to collect the grass from a field for hay to tide over the animals during the winter. Winter wheat would be planted for next spring in the fallow field where compost had been worked into the soil.
Then the early vegetables ought to be ready and a few weeks later, the last of the fall crops would be collected. With everyone helping they would fill canning jars or crocks. They would collect the empty jars from the other clans at the trade and use them for making preserves when the berries ripened.
Everyone looked forward to the slowing of activity of winter. The other seasons were filled with labor and people had little time for social activities or hobbies. Only the people who chose not to work on the day of worship ever took any time off. Even then, the women felt a sense of guilt at doing so because there was so much to get done each day.
The newcomers quickly got into the swing of things, adapting to the new culture that was developing at the village. Duane, who at first was disturbed about attitudes of child rearing by the women, soon grew to enjoy the freedom such a method provided for parents. The parents alone were not responsible for their children since it was a duty of the entire community. He and his wife no longer had to be the sole guardians of the children and their education.
The children were free to study with anyone they wished, often following different people around as they worked, even older children. Everyone was a role model and teacher. There were few rules or restrictions and those were mainly safety related. The younger members of the community slept when they were tired, played when felt like it, took lessons from everyone, and learned by watching.
With a village full of hard-working and caring adults to emulate, the children had little need for rules and discipline. It was a learning experience for the adults as well. They found that the nicer they were to the kids, the more helpers they had during the day. Even the adults who weren’t the maternal types appreciated a little help. A few kind words were rewards enough for the children. In turn, the adults came to enjoy kids and their outlook on life. It was a self-fulfilling cycle that would continue long after they had passed on to the next world and for generations to come.
Mia McGaven, the Korean mother of David and Lisa, enjoyed getting up with the sun. She would practice Tai Chi outdoors, often in the clearing that overlooked a meadow to the east. There she would watch the sunrise as her lithe body went through the slow and graceful movements of the exercises. As the days passed, she slowly had a growing group of people who joined her, copying each movement quietly. Many of those who joined her were the expectant mothers and older children.
Cierra no longer experienced morning sickness and quietly joined the others. She carried her medicine bundle with her, considering the time she spent learning the discipline as the same as meditation. It brought a sense of peace as well as gently preparing her for the day. JP still preferred sitting silently in the mornings. They would rise about the same time each day and begun, as they wanted. Afterwards they would rejoin and stroll together to the communal kitchen for a light meal before the workday began.
Cierra would be helping with the food drying. Not all of the foods would be canned. Part of the crops would be sliced and dried so they could be used later. Not all of the tomatoes had ripened yet. They had planted some of the seeds too late in the season. Sharon had the women collect them anyway, fearing an early frost.
Another group was slicing the green tomatoes and putting them in buckets of salty water. Sharon promised to prepare fried green tomatoes for lunch and dinner. The cooks had other volunteers slicing the ingredients to make salsa. The combined ingredients were easier to prepare now rather than later and the vinegar, salt, and citrus juice would help preserve the salsa.
Sharon made a small batch of chips each day since it was a favorite among the community. Salsa and chips were something people could keep in the homes for when they wanted a snack. People also kept small amounts of dried fruits, nuts, jerky, cheese wheels that were wrapped in wax, and homemade crackers.
Having Cierra helping with the food preparations made JP feel better. She was worried about Cierra working too hard and straining herself. As a leader, Cierra felt she had to work as much as she could rather than laze around during her pregnancy. She had spoken with the doctors and they said that as long as she sat down and rested time to time and avoided heavy lifting she should have few restrictions. That didn’t stop JP from worrying and making a fuss anyway. She often checked up on her spouse and made such a fuss that the surrounding women grinned.
JP wasn’t the only overly protective mate among the colony. All but one of the expecting women had a partner. Without exception, all of the partners of pregnant women were hovering like nervous mother hens. Pam had griped about Eva becoming so cautious that she was surprised that she hadn’t been wrapped in cotton batting by the engineer.
Jenny chuckled as Cierra shooed JP from the kitchen. “Cyd needs to give lessons to JP. My darling fussed a little but kept her worries to herself once she realized her worrying was affecting me.”
The Shaman sighed. “I’m afraid to push her away much after everything that happened last year. The more I try and make her relax the more frightened she becomes. I just have to live with her jitters until she works through them.”
“And avoid anything that makes her worse,” added Pam.
“Yes, and avoid her triggers. I thought she was gonna have heart failure when she caught me climbing up the frame of the long house.”
Ann tossed another handful of sliced tomatoes into the saline solution with a tired sigh. "Hell, I’m to blame for a lot of her worries. I wish now that I had never volunteered for the mission.”
Cierra smiled indulgently. “If you hadn’t then none of us would have gotten to know you. If you hadn’t taken the job then someone else would have. That person might have taken me prisoner and never batted an eye at my abuse. Don’t bother trying to fight the Fates Ann, it’s a waste of energy.”
The former special ops soldier felt the tension in her body ease. God had pulled the rug out from under her and laughed, but had given her a family to replace the rotten one she had in the Old World. Other than a few dirty looks in the beginning, she had felt welcomed by the community.
In the Old World, she had joined the military because she wanted to feel like she belonged to something. She had felt like an unwanted litter of kittens as a child. Her father had been abusive and her mother distant. In school she had been considered odd and had few friends. The military had given her a focus but it didn’t replace the affections she had lacked growing up.
It wasn’t until she found herself living among a large community of lesbians did she find companionship and acceptance. It didn’t matter to them that she was straight or that she was aggressive. They were a group of women who had taken adventure to heart in order to colonize the wilderness that Cierra had discovered. To them, Ann was a lost sheep that had been found.
Ann sniffled and nodded in gratitude to Cierra. Their leader was both kind and understanding. Her acceptance had eased her way into the community.
Now her only problem was to sit down and having a heart to heart with Sara. She knew deep down she could never truly change how she felt. Ann loved the kind woman, but not in the way Sara hoped for.
When the kitchen tasks were half completed, Jenny suggested to Ann that she finish working for the day and get some rest. She knew the doctors had told her to take it easy and didn’t want Ann to overexert herself. The former soldier nodded and with the aid of one of the women, got to her feet and headed for her house.
Ann eased her tired frame into the large rocker one of the women had given her as a gift. It was well padded and sturdy and the perfect place to sit down when she was tired.
Sara came home just before dinnertime and saw her snoozing in the rocker. At the sound of her closing the door, Ann opened her eyes and smiled.
“Hey, how ya doing Sara?”
The young woman smiled and stroked her hair before leaning down and placing a brief kiss on Ann’s lips. “Doing okay. Are you feeling alright?”
“Yeah, just a little tired.”
“Are you sure you’re not over doing it?”
“I’m fine, really.” Ann looked at her roommate and sighed. She was a former soldier that has been in combat situations, so why was she having trouble just talking?
“Sara…we need to talk,” she said nervously.
The young woman locked her light brown eyes with Ann’s. “You don’t want to move beyond friendship.” Sara smiled weakly. “I knew that would be the answer, but a girl could hope. Does that mean you want me to move out and back to the barracks?”
“Only if you want to,” Ann replied. She enjoyed the closeness between them but didn’t want her friend to feel obligated to remain if she didn’t want to.
Sara almost said it would be for the best but something in Ann’s expression made her pause. “Ann, look at me. Do you want me to move out or stay? Be truthful.”
“I don’t want you to do any--”
“Ann,” the young woman said sternly, wanting an honest answer.
The former soldier let her shoulders slump. “I like sharing the house with you. Just because I don’t want to have sex with you doesn’t mean I don’t want you near.” Ann began blushing and avoided her friend’s eyes. “I actually love you a lot. Just not the way you hoped for. But it isn’t fair to ask you stay. I know you. You’d avoid getting involved with anyone as long as you felt responsible for me.”
“It works both ways you know. You won’t go looking for a fella as long as I live with you. I know you pretty well too. Aren’t we a pair?” Sara chuckled. She pulled up a chair and took her friend’s hands into her own and held them.
“Ann, right now, I can’t picture myself involved with anyone but you.” She squeezed Ann’s hands gently and stopped her protests. “I love you Ann, and I think I always will. In spite of the fact we aren’t sexually intimate, I feel more content with you than with anyone I’ve ever been involved with in the past. Now, I know there might be a time when you may find someone you will want to become intimate with. If that day comes, I’ll make myself scarce with no hurt feelings. Deal?”
“I still feel like I’m using you Sara.”
“But you aren’t. We like each other and know our boundaries. Both of us just want to feel cared for, am I right?”
Ann felt tears trying to escape. Sara had given her unconditional love all this time and had asked for so little in return. Ann only wished she had it in her to take Sara as a lover but she just couldn’t. Her one fear was that her friend wouldn’t look for happiness with another if she remained. “I want you to stay, Sara, but I want a promise from you.”
“That you won’t ignore any possible relationships with anyone else. You are one hell of a wonderful person who deserves to find someone to love you fully. I don’t want you turning your back on anyone special just because of me. I know that even if you leave my home we’ll always be close. Will you promise me this?”
“If you’ll promise me the same.”
Ann smiled. “Deal.”
Continued in Part 6
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