A new occupant in the other room had arrived while they were out. Neil had mentioned they were hosting more people than they had planned for and likely couldn’t take more than one or two more refugees. There were plans to redistribute some of the campers once ties were established with some of the other local “communes”. Seth could easily identify six other groups in the general area, and there was a small encampment north of Payson by Strawberry. Anyone showing up needing help was helped, but they would have to pull their weight some how.
There was a lot to be done: stone masonry for storage sheds and new casitas, hauling and chopping firewood, helping lay down plastic pipes and tubing for irrigation and plumbing, digging and filling latrines. Hay bales could be used to make temporary structures with tarps, until they would be taken down and used for something else. Bullets were to be used sparingly, so there was always time for practicing throwing knives and shooting arrows. Most hunting would be done for self protection against predators and vermin, but there were mule deer and javelina in the forest as well. The nearby lakes were stocked with fish, and a regular crew went out to see if they were biting.
They didn’t catch sight of their new housemate, and instead focused on getting Ian settled into the “crib” that had appeared in their room- a large dairy crate lined with straw and layers of old tshirts. Jay made some jokes about the baby Jesus and wondering if their hosts were the three wise men. Felicia laughed along, it had been a while since they’d bothered to have a sense of humor and it looked really silly. She moved it closer to her side of the bed so she wouldn’t have a hard time finding it if he cried. She also brought a bottle of goat’s milk from the kitchen and left it on the side table. Jay came up behind her and put his hands on her waist, sliding them up to her breasts and cradling them while he nuzzled on her neck. Felicia turned into his arms while he lifted her shirt off, and she slipped out of her pants. Thankfully, they weren’t too tired to have desire for each other.
Between the moans and the giggles, they heard some footsteps in the other room. The steps paused and then moved as if the owner of the feet could hear them and was trying to tiptoe. The door had been closed but Felicia immediately drew her comforter up around her to shield her body, and Jay pulled her closer. They climaxed in silence and rolled off each other directly into sleep.
The rooster waking them in the morning would have been funny if it wasn’t so annoying and cliche. It was still dark and cold, a frost had settled in the night, and there was no heater in their room. The windows were double paned, and a blanket was nailed over them for privacy and heat insulation. Still, Felicia shivered as she got up in the dark, finding the clothes they tore off last night and grateful she hadn’t bothered with her socks. Jake lit the Coleman and then slipped out quickly for a pee, while she checked on Ian. He needed a diaper change. She was just going to have to get used to it. Izzy had slept with them all night, and Rhea had found a place under the bed. She wondered about getting them a litter box, the papers in the carryon were wet. At this time of day, in this cold, the farming life didn’t seem so romantic anymore. But it was her new reality and it beat trying to hack it in the city.
They both got washed up and off to breakfast, no sign of the new housemate, this time Felicia carried Ian in the carseat so she could set him down instead of hold him all the time. The baby carrying and everything was a huge shift she hadn’t anticipated and she wondered how her friends and sister had been able to manage. She’d always thought she’d want to be a mom, but had kind of given up hope after the last five years brought two miscarriages in the first months. They hadn’t used birth control for over a year. Jay was fine with them not having children, or that is what he told her. She couldn’t miss the smile he gave her as she held Ian, it was different than before. He had dark curly hair like his mom, and didn’t look like either her or Jay, but it didn’t take much for her to get attached to him. Carolyn would probably be okay with her being his mom, under the circumstances, but Felicia didn’t know anything about Catholicism. She thought about the little gold cross Jay had kept from his christening, it was in the bag with the other gold jewelry.
“I’ll put that on him, he can have his parents close to his heart that way,” she thought. Jay was an atheist now and wouldn’t really care, and she was more of agnostic. She had spent time with a Quaker group some years back when the US invaded Afghanistan, then later Iraq. Felicia had been drawn to them because of their belief in non violence. She didn’t get the waiting for God thing, but they were pleasant enough as a group, and it was more like meditation for her. She had drifted off attendance once she and Jay moved in together, and breakfast was the new Sunday morning ritual. Felicia searched the pockets of her suitcase for the little black velvet bag she had packed but came up empty handed. In fact, she couldn’t find any of the jewelry she had brought, except a necklace with a hand blown glass pendant on woven hemp fiber. The pearls lay by the bedside, where she had removed them, and the gold ring was still on her hand. She turned it between her fingers. When Jay returned, she mentioned the missing jewelry. He kicked the luggage after searching his bags as well, finding that their passports and wallets were also gone. Not that they were leaving the country any time soon.
“I’ll have a talk with Seth as soon as I have a moment alone.” He felt like he had been duped by them. He knew that money would be an issue, and that they couldn’t stay there for free, but it seemed like a drastic measure to search their things and confiscate before asking. “I saw a light at the main hall and a few folks up there, must be breakfast”.
Breakfast moved a bit slower than the dinner, probably because not everyone was awake. Felicia left Ian with Jay, and went to the kitchen to find out where she could help. Tara was turning a pan of scrambled eggs and Lisa was pulling a tray of biscuits from the oven. She had seen her roll and cut them last light, dusting them with flour and putting them in the oven to proof overnight. There was coffee as well.
“Goodmorning, looks like you slept well” Lisa called cheerfully as she took the biscuits from the pan. Felicia thought of the hot and heavy sex she’d had just before passing out for the rest of the night, and smile came to her face. Then she remembered the footsteps.
“Hey, good morning, yeah, sleep was alright. Do you know who our new neighbor is? We didn’t get to meet him.” Felicia found the flatware in the drying rack and sorted it out into the organizer, so it could be put out with breakfast. Napkins were cloth, and generally reused until really dirty, there was a stack on the table already. The dining area had two rows of three picnic style tables lined up, and a few folding chairs at each end. There were assorted salt and pepper shakers on them, and lots of half used bottles of Chalula and Sriracha sauce. The napkins were kept in baskets on a sideboard, where the plates and flatwear would be stacked.
“No, I didn’t know we got anyone else new. Neil didn’t mention it. Did you hear anything from Seth, Tara?” Tara moved the pan of eggs over to the prep table. Steam curled up from them and unfurled under Felicia’s nose. She thought of her dream to open a cafe one day. Maybe she’d have a chance after all.
“Yeah, they picked someone up on their trip back from town around dinner. Hitchhiker.” Lisa and Felicia looked at each other with concern. “No worries, he’s a she. Probably harmless.”
Harmless my ass, thought Felicia tens minutes later when the new neighbor walked in to join the breakfast crowd. Everyone else stopped eating and looked up to watch her as she entered. She was about 5’10”, bony and long limbed, with the kind of features you usually only see on a magazine after airbrushing. Her button up shirt was ironed smooth, unbuttoned to below her sternum, and falling open to reveal a lace bra cupping her surgically perfect breasts. Anyone would assume she had either been a professional model or trophy wife, Scottsdale was full of both. But no one they’d expect to see here. No wonder they picked her up, Felicia thought. Every pair of eyes followed her moves, except maybe Ian’s. Even the little boy she hadn’t met yet, he must have been seven, followed her with his gaze as she shook her long, flowing, wavy blond hair over her perfectly distressed brown leather jacket. Somehow she had a tan, and was wearing lip gloss. The little girl lost the attention of her new playmate, and scowled. As did every other woman there except Tara. She just continued to get breakfast ready and not look up.
Felicia dumped some more Chalula on her eggs, and salted them again. “That’s who’s living with us,” she spat out. Jay laughed at her fit of jealousy. Of course she denied it, but it was impossible to hide. Most of the women there looked a little rough around the edges with the lack of makeup, dirty crumpled clothes, and grey skin tone you pick up from being indoors for weeks without regular showering. Only Tara had a little color, she’d been living here for almost two months already and was outdoors most of the time with the animals. Felicia thought that she might be Native American, definitely hispanic. The model scanned the tables for a space and saw one across from Jay and Felicia and sat her plate down. She removed her leather jacket and unwound the long woven silk scarf she’d been wearing. Felicia thought of all the beautiful clothes she had at their apartment and wished she’d done a better job of packing. She still had her pearl earrings on, and so she pushed her hair back behind her ears and reached across the table with her left hand. Her married hand.
“I’m Felicia, I believe we are neighbors,” she said. The model ignored her hand and pushed the eggs around her plate with the biscuit. Her other hand put the coffee mug on the table but did not let go.
“Vanessa.” Of course, she had a name like Vanessa. Her voice was deep and silky, as seemed befitting a woman of her stature and bearing. Felicia spent her life being completely invisible to the Vanessa’s of the world. Vanessa smiled and took a bite of food into her mouth, another swish of coffee, as if she hadn’t eaten in days. Maybe this gaunt look was relatively new, although her jeans and shirt fit her well, not baggy. They didn’t appear dirty either. Her hair still had shine, so it could only have been washed at most 2 days ago. Felicia’s hair was growing out, she had been due for a touch up before Christmas, and that hadn’t happened. Now her roots were about three inches long, and they were always darker in winter. Especially when she was so pale.
“I guess it was you I heard going at it last night,” Vanessa remarked and winked at the both of them. Felicia was appalled and started to protest. Jay blushed and laughed.
“Yes, yes it was. Sorry ‘bout that, didn’t know you’d be there.” His eyes were twinkling and his dimples were showing, first time in weeks. “I’m Jay Hoffstedt, this is my wife Felicia. And this is Ian.” At least he remembered to say they were married, Felicia thought with relief. It would be hard for her, living so close to this woman. Jay had never made her jealous in all their years together, but they didn’t know anyone like Vanessa. Felicia had long struggled with self esteem issues, because she had been a plain and chubby girl growing up. She was always on a diet to keep her weight from exploding, and had never been able to look anything like her sister who was just naturally lanky. Karen hadn’t gone a day in her life without benefiting from the unearned privilege of just being born beautiful. People everywhere were always falling over themselves to help her, just to have a chance to be in her inner sphere. Men still offered to pay for their meals when she’d visit her in Toronto and Steve was not with them.
Vanessa looked like she’d had plenty of work done, her teeth were definitely veneers, and her breasts were obviously implants. Still, she had the height and the bone structure and the long blond hair that just put her at the front of everyone’s line. She wore some jewelry, but no wedding band. There was not a man in the room who was not currently imagining sex with her, and Felicia was not naive enough to think that Jay hadn’t either. She was every man’s fantasy and every wife’s enemy. And clearly, she knew it.