Dawn Cavendish lounged in her deck chair, trying to read. Outside, the air had turned cold and sharp. Snow had fallen once already this year, right after Halloween, but not stuck. All that remained of it was the promise of more to come. It was going to be a bitter winter in Mannsborough.
Here, inside the hothouse, it was always summer. Running from the main house to the guest house, it covered the pool area completely, a framework of semi-rigid plastic that kept the warmth inside. Dawn felt odd, swathed in SPF 45 lotion, wearing a bikini in late November. But, she thought she could get used to it.
She stared blankly at the book in her hands and realized she'd been doing so for at least the last five minutes. She picked up her bookmark and thrust it between the pages. For some reason, she just couldn't focus today.
She looked down at the cover. The picture of a black cat looked up at her. "The Book of Night with Moon," had been one of Scott's suggestions, a bit more fanciful than she would have chosen for herself, but it would give them something to discuss.
She looked up when she heard the door of the main house open. Jonas emerged wearing only knee-length swim trunks with a red, orange, and black palm tree pattern. Seeing Dawn, Jonas gave her a vaguely apologetic half-smile. Dawn smiled back. She'd been confused by the ambivilent gesture the first time he'd given it to her, particularly with the way that his eyes seemed to unfocus for a moment when he did it. When she'd realized what was going on, she'd laughed out loud, alone in the privacy of her own room.
When Jonas gave her that smile, he gave it to her hairline, avoiding both eye contact and the risk of staring at some other, more prurient part of her body. What made it so funny was that Jonas was a dyed-in-the-wool gentleman of the old school. Dawn could have stripped naked and thrown herself at him and gotten nothing more than a polite and embarrassed refusal. The next time she'd seen that smile after recognizing it for what it was, she'd been unable to hide her smirk. Over Jonas's shoulder, his wife Holly had given a smirk of her own as if to say that she knew her husband well enough to find it amusing too.
As she watched Jonas swim, Dawn lamented that Jonas was such a gentleman. He wasn't quite forty and had kept himself in great shape for his age. He wasn't built like Thule, who lifted weights to relax, but she could see the muscles rippling under the skin of his arms and back and imagine what it would be like to be scooped up in those arms and held against his firm chest.
Realizing where her thoughts had gone, Dawn sat bolt upright. If Jonas hadn't been under water, she would certainly have alarmed him with the abrupt motion. As quickly as she could, she gathered up her things and fled into the guest house.
Ever since she'd gotten involved with Thule and Marigold, Dawn had known she was in uncharted romantic territory. There were no hard and fast rules for how you were supposed to behave when your boyfriend and girlfriend were away at college together. But, she was pretty sure that lusting after her girlfriend's stepfather while living under his and his wife's roof was right out.
Pulling her cell phone out of her purse, she decided she was going to have to do something soon. She just didn't know what.
Thule Roemer was tired. He'd thought he knew what it meant to be tired last year when he had to juggle finishing high school, two jobs, two girlfriends, and an elaborate revenge plot. Then, he'd come to MIT, the college whose unofficial slogan was, "Grades, friends, sleep: pick two." Unfortunately, the slogan had little advice for the freshman who was balancing a new business and also the star witness in what was already being called the trial of the century (in spite of it only being 2001.)
It felt like he'd just closed his eyes when his cell phone rang. Of course, Thule always seemed to be waking up with that impression.
Glancing at his alarm clock, he saw that he'd been asleep for nearly two hours. The alarm was set to go off in another twelve minutes. He cursed whoever had robbed him of those twelve precious minutes before flipping his phone open. He didn't bother to sit up.
"Yeah," he said groggily.
"Thule, it's Dawn. Have you got a minute?"
He wanted to say no. He could get back to sleep and have another nine blissful minutes of oblivion before he had to get up. But, this was Dawn. She called only once a week or so. If he couldn't give her twelve minutes, what sort of a boyfriend was he?
"I've got twelve before I have to head to my next class," he said. "What's up?"
"I need to see you two. I'm going crazy."
"Crazy horny," admitted Dawn.
Thule laughed. He couldn't help it.
"Thule," said Dawn, her voice strident. "It's not funny. I caught myself fantasizing about Jonas today."
Thule stopped laughing, "I'm sorry, Dawn. I'm not laughing at you really."
"What's so funny, then?"
"Wildcat, I don't even have enough energy to think about sex right now. In between work, the trial, and class, I'm going on about three hours of sleep a day. If I tried to fuck you, I would die."
"Oh..." said Dawn. "What about Marigold?"
"If I tried to fuck her, I would die too."
Dawn laughed, "That's not what I mean. Do you think she would have time to visit with me?"
"Probably," said Thule. "She's only going to Harvard."
"Could you ask her?"
"You're going to have to ask her yourself," said Thule. "I'm in my dorm room."
"You have a dorm room?"
Thule nodded into the phone, "It saves like twenty minutes each way and makes sleeping between classes practical."
Dawn made a sympathetic noise, "Is MIT really that tough?"
"Not exactly," said Thule. "It was tolerable until nine-eleven. Our CEO had been predicting something similar since the last attack on the World Trade Center. All of a sudden, we're antiterrorism specialists. We can't hire good people fast enough. We're packed in like sardines. Joe's a great CEO, but only a moderately good people person. Right now, he's got two dozen ex-FBI agents and a dozen ex-Mossad agents glaring at each other across the aisles. I have to help or it's all going to implode."
Dawn made another sympathetic noise, "Do you have any idea when you'll have some free time?"
"Summer," said Thule automatically. "Maybe a few days around Christmas. I really don't know. I wish I did."
"Hey, don't sweat it," said Dawn. Thule could hear her forcing herself to be cheerful. "Will you have time to come by and give me a hug if I come to see Marigold?"
Thule chuckled, "I'll make sure of it."
Dawn sounded a little bit happier, "I love you Thule."
"I love you too, Wildcat," said Thule. "And Dawn..."
"When you call Marigold, I wouldn't mention the whole 'lusting after Jonas' thing. Our girlfriend needs enough therapy she's not getting as it is."
As he closed the phone, his alarm clock began to beep insistently.
"Shit," he moaned, sitting up and slapping the clock. From the desk they shared, his roommate stared at him. Thule had yet to sit down and talk to the young man. One of these days, they would have to be properly introduced. Not today, though. Today, he had to get to class.
Dawn called Marigold on her cell phone. Marigold was at the house in Cambridge and had plenty of time to talk. Dawn told her story again, omitting the part about Jonas.
"Oh, sweetie," said Marigold. "I wish you had called last week."
Dawn's heart sank, "Why?"
"I'm unbelievably busy getting ready to go to Ghana."
"Ghana?" asked Dawn. "Why would you be going to Ghana?"
"I'm going to help Dr. Anton oversee the creation of a program to grow genetically modified crops."
"Like... Frankenfood?" asked Dawn.
Marigold laughed, "Yeah. Except that I would get some mighty harsh looks around here if I called it that."
"You mean the stuff when you put rat DNA in tomatoes?"
Marigold laughed again, "That's what protestors say we do. Nobody mixes plant and animal DNA for actual planting. All we're doing in Ghana is planting some legumes that can survive the harsh weather better and have more protein than normal."
"I don't know," said Dawn uncertainly. "I just remember hearing a lot of bad stuff about genetically modified food."
"Me, too," said Marigold. "But, I'm learning not to believe everything I hear just because it comes from someone who thinks they're saving the world. I've done as much research as I can on this without going into the field and I think it might be what I really want to do."
"Instead of being a doctor?"
"Yeah," said Marigold, sounding a little bit sad. "Doctors can only save one person at a time."
Dawn sighed, "Now, I feel bad for wanting to interrupt your grand adventure. How many millions of people are going to starve to death to feed my lust."
"God," said Marigold. "There's something really hot about the way you said that. I wish I had time to do something about it."
"Me, too," said Dawn.
"Well, do something about it soon. If you don't, Jonas might start to look good. And, I don't think my mother is as amenable to sharing as I am."
Dawn was too dumbstruck to answer. Fortunately, Marigold didn't seem to notice. Instead, she said, "You must have somebody you can drag into bed in case of emergency."
Dawn thought about it, "No one comes to mind."
"What about Scott? You two seemed to be hitting it off pretty well this summer."
.... There is more of this story ...