A Young Desert Rose, Chapter 14

  • Posted on October 1, 2020 at 2:56 pm

Note from JetBoy: It’s been about six months since the last chapter of this story has appeared. As usual, we ask that if you have yet to read it, please go to Chapter One and start there, otherwise, you’ll be completely at sea. If you have been following the story, visit the Chapter Links for a handy summing-up of the plot to get yourself up to speed.

This particular installment is all plot, no sex. If that’s a problem, we suggest you seek out a different story.

 

By Sunnybunny

Heather saw very little of Angie in the weeks following Mama Maven’s passing. She understood — tried to, anyhow. The child was in pain, the kind that needed time and patience to heal… if it ever could.

Another scar on Angie’s heart. Heather wondered if the young girl had room for many more. A wild rose growing in the midst of a desert, that was how some of the townspeople described Angie, and Heather wondered how much longer a girl her age could endure under such arid conditions before she was swallowed up for good, lost beneath the shifting sands…

The whole county attended Mama Maven’s funeral, dressed in their Sunday best. In Oasis, that meant sterling silver bolo ties, button-down shirts with pressed jeans, and sun-bleached hats. Heather had neglected to pack anything dressy in the flight from her old life and was relieved to be able to wear her newest pair of jeans and fit in with the others. The blouse wasn’t ironed but looked okay tucked in and modestly buttoned. She didn’t bother with makeup or gel for her hair, knowing the heat of the afternoon would have her sweating through both.

It was a lovely service, Heather knew that Mama would have been touched by the turnout. Flower arrangements lined the mahogany casket, surrounding her in a sea of brightly-hued petals, with a special floral arrangement at the foot of the box forming a makeshift headstone of many colors.

Mama Maven wasn’t just well-liked in the community, she was loved. She and the diner she owned were fixtures in this small town, just like the sheriff or the fire department, and her passing would likely be a landmark event in the history of Oasis. Heather could practically hear how the woman’s family, friends and neighbors would refer to her passing in the years to come.

“That happened just around the same time Mama Maven passed away. God rest her soul.”

“It was a year or two after old Mama Maven died, bless her.”

“…just before Mama went on up to join the rest of her kin in heaven…”

Heather’s reverie was interrupted when she spied Angie in attendance, hovering with her father just off to the side of the open grave. She was dressed in a floral-patterned frock that looked brand new. Her golden hair was gathered behind her head, interlaced into a long, elegant braid that hung to the middle of her back. Heather had never seen the girl’s hair done in anything more complicated than a messy ponytail until now. The effect was striking, giving the townspeople a glimpse into the woman she would one day grow into.

Angie stood before her father, his callous hands juxtaposed over the gentle slope of her shoulders, massaging them. He bent down from time to time, murmuring into the child’s ear, something only she could hear. Whatever it was, her expression never changed, as if she hadn’t heard him at all. She stood with her back straight, shoulders squared like a brave little soldier. Her eyes shone, fixed on the casket as it was lowered into the earth, the only suggestion of the storm that was surely raging in her mind and heart.

One by one, each mourner collected a fistful of dirt and scattered it into the mouth of the grave. When it came to Angie’s turn, she shrugged out of her father’s embrace, his fingertips gliding across her neck as she went. Stooping, she collected a handful of earth, modestly tucking the back of her dress against the breeze as she made her way to Mama Maven’s final resting place. She looked into the deep hollow of earth, and Heather saw the faintest hint of Angie’s lips moving, perhaps murmuring a prayer, or one final goodbye. The dirt made a muffled sound as it rained down onto the lid of the coffin. Angie turned away, the child’s cheeks streaked with sand and tears, avoiding Heather’s attempt to catch her eye when she maneuvered back to her father’s side. Travis Lawrence tried to settle his hands back onto her shoulders, but she twisted away, showing signs of genuine revulsion to his touch.

Heather’s turn came.

Collecting a measure of soil from the mound, which she clutched in a tight fist, Heather took the first hesitant steps toward the graveside. There, the pit looked unnaturally deep, wretchedly dark. How could they possibly lay such a kind and compassionate woman to rest in such a terrible place? Tears stung at her eyes and she knelt hurriedly, letting the dirt trickle through her fingers. The bottom had fallen out of Heather’s stomach and the full gravity of her friend’s passing settled in. Mama Maven was gone, truly gone. There would be no more homemade ice cream parties or dancing to old tunes late into the evening. No early morning rush with Maven shouting orders from the kitchen, or long cigar breaks on the back step.

Heather hiccuped with sobs and dragged the back of her hand across her face, leaving dark streaks on one cheek. She willed herself to feel Maven’s presence, some intangible force lingering behind with her remains that might give Heather assurance that her dear friend was at rest.

Nothing came. The beautiful old woman was with her family now… somewhere up in the clouds, perhaps. Heather even looked up into the sky, half-expecting to see her smiling down from a celestial perch. Nothing there, either. Down below, there was only the open grave and an ugly green tarp thrown over the hill of soil, surrounded by weathered tombstones. It seemed as if the whole town was decaying from the inside out, and this cemetery was no exception. The names and dates were worn away from the markers, leaving behind featureless slabs of stone jutting from the earth at odd angles like rows of bad teeth.

Nothing lasts here, Heather mused, picking her way down the trail. The flower arrangements would soon succumb to the elements. Even now the heat was taking its toll, bowing some of the more delicate bouquets. Sandstorms would gradually chisel away the elegant writing on the headstone, leaving it just another forgotten relic in a dry sea. God, so much finality… and in the end, was it even a life worth living?

These thoughts haunted Heather all the way back to her room.

She spent the next few days with Walter Gates, crammed up in his motel office. Keeping him company, she would tell herself, but in truth, it was Heather who was in need of the companionship. They passed the time by playing a variety of card games. Mostly Hearts and Crazy Eights, from a deck that was missing an ace and both jokers. They took a stab at reminiscing, sharing stories about Mama Maven, but their hearts weren’t in it and despite their best efforts, they would inevitably lapse into periods of silence that grew longer and longer until the quietness conquered all. It was a language that was quickly adopted all over town.

Without the diner, the last lifeline in Oasis had been severed.

Heather’s departure was imminent. With or without the money, she would soon be forced to flee. In truth, she had lingered for too long already, but it wasn’t the missing cash that kept her there — it was the girl. There was simply no way she could leave Oasis without saying one final goodbye to Angie Lawrence. The girl had already lost so much, been wounded so terribly by this town. Heather refused to add to her heartbreak.

***

One week later. Heather had been readying herself for a quick, quiet departure, but still hadn’t seen a trace of Angie, who had made herself scarce since Mama Maven’s funeral.

She was stretched out on the bed, a small table fan pushing the hot air around when a knock at her door roused Heather from a restless, dreamless sleep. At once, she thought of Angie and raced to grasp the knob and yank the door open, only to blink in confusion at the sight of a balding, middle-aged man. He looked equally started behind his round spectacles, eye darting from her face to her bare legs and back again. “Um, Heather Freemantle, I presume?”

She followed his gaze down and realized she was standing in the doorway wearing nothing but an old t-shirt and panties. Her hands hastily tugged down the hem of the skimpy top, stretching the thin fabric over her thighs. “Y-yes.”

“Perhaps you’d like to put on some… pants?”

“I would like that very much, yes. Excuse me!” She snapped the door closed, covering her blushing face well with both hands. Oh, God, what now? Wiggling into a pair of shorts, she opened the door again, this time forcing a smile. “Why don’t we try that again, huh? I’m Heather, and you are…?”

The man shuffled his briefcase from one hand to the other. “I’m Calvin Wynn, attorney. I, er, represent Ms. Maven’s estate. I was wondering if you and I could have a word about the inheritance.” He offered his hand forward to shake, but Heather gawked past it, dumbstruck.

“Inheritance?” she echoed. “Oh!” She snatched his hand in both of hers in an attempt to compensate for her perceived rudeness. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Wynn. I’m sorry, but what do you mean by ‘inheritance’?”

“Ah,” he started, worming his fingers into the collar of his shirt and giving it a tug. “Might we talk inside, in private?” Beads of sweat prickled along his brow and the nape of his neck, staining a half-moon shaped ring in the fabric of his top. With his dark suit and tie and the desert stretching out over his shoulder, Calvin Wynn seemed woefully misplaced. Not just a fish out of water, but a fish on the surface of Mercury — and baking just as quickly.

Heather stepped aside and he hurried in, taking up post before the AC vent in the wall, the tendrils of hair that still clung to his scalp fluttering gently in the artificial breeze. Taking up a seat on the mattress, Heather folded one leg beneath the other, then froze when she glanced toward the rumpled bed. Angie’s cotton panties were spread out on one of the pillows, and Heather’s heart nearly went into arrest at the sight of them.

Shit!

She snatched up the child’s incriminating gift, wadding them into a tight ball and tucking them behind her back just as Calvin Wynn turned around to face her, all smiles and oblivious to the damning pair of panties. “Forgive me, I’m not acclimated to the climate here,” he chuckled. Loosening his tie, he settled onto the opposite end of the bed, the briefcase balanced on his knees.

“Not acclimated” was too mild a term, she thought, gauging the angry red patches spreading over the bald patch of his head and cheeks. A sunburn would be the least of his worries. Heather made a mental note to offer the man some sunscreen before seeing him out.

The clamps of the briefcase popped open with a crisp snap. Within were a mountain of papers, held together by staples and paperclips. “What these documents boil down to is what Mrs. Maven has left you. Which, to put it bluntly, is everything.” Wynn shuffled a stack of these pages into a neat stack before handing them over for Heather to peruse. It all looked very official, clinical even, detailing the rights to the Maven land, holdings and businesses that would be hers with a stroke of a pen.

By the time she was done reading, Heather’s head was spinning. Something must have shown on her face, because Wynn chuckled with genuine sympathy. “I know it’s a lot of gobbledygook on the page… probably far more than is necessary to assume ownership of an old diner.”

He hadn’t meant any offense, but Heather bristled nonetheless. Mama Maven’s place was more than just an eatery in a forgotten desert town, much more. To have it dismissed so casually was akin to a slap in the face.

Wynn paled at the blistering look that Heather gave him. His hands worried over the front of his tie, smoothing down imaginary wrinkles and tucking it back into his waistcoat. “Forgive me. That wasn’t meant to be disrespectful. I am very sorry for your loss. Forgive an old fool for putting his foot squarely in his mouth.”

Heather didn’t bother to respond, just flipped through to the last few pages, which she was expected to sign, initial and date. At last, she asked, “When were these drawn up?”

Looking unduly relieved to be off the hook, Wynn reached forward and tapped the date at the head of the page. “Here. She revised her will, leaving everything to you a few weeks before her passing.”

Heather took in this revelation, wondering if she ought to be upset. Mama Maven had told her a time or two that she ought to consider taking over the cafe someday, but Heather had never taken the idea seriously. Now she knew that even then, her ownership of the place had been a done deal. All that was required now was a signature on the dotted line.

Heather glanced up at the perspiring man. “What happens if I refuse to sign?”

The question clearly took Wynn by surprise. “Why, the property would be liquidated, and the proceeds would go to the state.” He shrugged, lips pursed. “Is that… something you’re considering, then? I won’t lie to you, I’m surprised! I’ve never once had a client refuse an inheritance before.” He chuckled. “Thought that kind of thing only happened in movies.”

His amusement was cut short. “I’m not your client,” Heather snapped, instantly regretting her hostility. Wynn visibly flinched, now seated so close to the edge of the bed that he seemed on the verge of tipping over and crashing to the floor. “I’m sorry,” Heather continued. “This is all just…” She paused, at a loss for words. “It’s a lot.”

His face reflected genuine sympathy. “I understand. We all handle bereavement in our own way. Is there some underlying issue that would prevent you from signing? From what I understand, Ms. Maven was quite taken with you. She insisted on you being her heir.”

Heir. It made her feel like a tragic character in a Charlotte Bronte novel, only the vast estate in the English countryside had been replaced by a roadside eatery in a forlorn blink-and-you-missed-it town. Instead of a strapping young landowner with polished riding boots as a love interest, she had a preteen child with scraped knees. Okay, so maybe NOT Bronte, she thought.

Heather murmured, “No, I’ll sign” Ultimately, she had no choice in the matter. That diner had been in her family for generations; it was a piece of her heritage, the town’s focal point. The idea of allowing it to become a numbered lot in an auction, to be sold and fall into the hands of strangers… it was unthinkable.

Closing her eyes, Heather was shocked by how much strength it took to open them again. This decision wasn’t going away, and there was only one move for her to make anyhow. “Do you have a pen?”

Wynn produced one, and she signed her name. Her real name. Almost as an afterthought, Heather reached for her handbag, from which she produced the necessary identification to validate her claim.

The attorney wheeled the document around, thumbing through it a page at a time to ensure everything was in order, pausing on the last one. “Your name isn’t Freemantle?” he asked, brows knitted.

“It’s my middle name,” Heather confessed.

He hummed in response, nodding his head, then carefully tucked everything away without further inquiry. At last, he stood and offered his hand once more. “I’ll be getting out of your hair now. I’m sorry about Ms. Maven. I didn’t know her, I confess. She existed primarily in document form with my firm, but she must have been a remarkable woman. I’m saddened that I never got the pleasure.”

Standing in the doorway, Heather watched Wynn clamber into his rented car and drive away. The sun was setting and the town was adopting its warm evening colors. She watched his taillights as they cruised beneath the broken traffic light at the intersection, then drifted out of sight. She lingered on the threshold of her cheap motel room, her head lost in a fog of thoughts.

The diner was hers now. She fished the key from her pocket and held it out at arm’s length. The fading daylight winked against the metal. Closing the door to her room and setting off, the sand bit into her bare feet as she marched across the parking lot, bound for the diner.

It had only been shut up for a few weeks, but the interior was cavernous and lonely. Of course it is, she mused, switching on the overhead lights. Its soul got stripped away.

The fluorescents hummed to life with a flick of the switch, bringing the room into sharp focus. Everything was where it had been left on that fateful evening. The dishes from their ice cream party were still in the sink, collecting flies and mold blooms at the bottom.

Shrugging into an apron, Heather set to washing up first, drying each dish and carefully returning them to the cupboard where Mama Maven kept her tableware. That done, she wandered back out into the dining area, itching with a sense of having just walked into a room and forgotten what she’d come in for.

Now Heather wondered what had possessed her to go into the diner in the first place. She’d been compelled, that was it — pulled in that direction until her feet were moving on their own accord. Now that she was here, she felt doubly confused and more lost than before.

She laid her hands on the jukebox, studying the glowing buttons and track selection behind the glass, unchanged in more than fifty years. A quarter still earned you a couple of tunes, too. A time capsule, Heather thought, smiling at the notion, then patted her pockets down for loose change, only to come up wanting. She turned back toward the counter with the idea of opening the cash register — only to freeze in mid-motion, her heart suddenly pounding in a crazed, frantic tempo.

Angie Lawrence stood near the counter, guardedly studying Heather. She was dressed in familiar clothes — a faded skort, tank top adorned with Pokemon characters and flip-flops. Her hair was uncombed and windswept from the bike ride over. She was carrying a brown paper lunch bag in both hands, folded over at the top and rolled down tightly.

“Angie,” Heather breathed, teetering where she stood.

“Sorry, I should have knocked,” the girl mumbled, averting her gaze downward as she flexed her fingers more securely over the bag, making the paper crackle.

The silence that settled over the diner was excruciating, neither Heather nor Angie having the nerve to break it. Instead, they simply averted their gaze and glanced around the room, looking from corner to corner as if something terrible would happen if their eyes were to meet.

Finally, Heather went over one of the booths along the wall, far away from the window, and seated herself, then gestured for Angie to do the same. They settled in together, chastely apart on opposite seats, knees drawn up to keep them from touching.

Angie placed the bag between them, looked up at Heather and pushed it toward the young woman.

Her brow furrowed, Heather carefully drew the bag close, then unfolded the top and peered inside. She saw a small caliber handgun, the type with a revolving chamber and stubby-nosed barrel. It looked petite, almost feminine for a firearm. She reached in and took the gun out, testing its heft. It fit well in her small hands.

“You said you needed one, right?” Angie asked, her voice just above a whisper. “For protection, against bad people?”

Heather nodded, wanting to ask how the child had obtained it, but afraid to. “Yes, that’s right. Thank you, Angie.” She replaced it within the bag and rolled it up again, putting it aside.

“There’s one more thing,” Angie replied, scooting out of the booth.

“What’s that?”

“I have to show you where the money is hidden,” she said, very matter-of-factly.

“Yes, I suppose you do.” Heather tried and failed to hide the disappointment she felt. It was foolish, stupid and she was quick to chastise herself for it. Angie was offering her more than a bag of money. It was a one-way ticket to safety. Yet now, standing in her diner and gazing at the most precious person in her world, it seemed strangely trivial.

Rising from where she sat, Heather drew close to Angie, touching the child’s shoulder. “Oh, Angie… God, I’ve missed you.”

She bent down, searching for a kiss — only to have Angie turn her head away, murmuring, “Don’t.”

With that single word, the bottom fell out of the world and Heather’s soul was caught in a downward spiral. Angie looked away, stepping out of her reach, and it was like a knife being wrenched from the young woman’s chest.

“Angie…?” The name became a question.

The girl widened the distance between them, wandering away on uncertain feet until it became a chasm. She massaged her hands up and down the length of her bare arms, warding off chills that had nothing to do with the sweltering desert heat. Angie became a shadow against the setting sun streaming through the front bay windows, robbed of her rich color.

Heather followed at a distance, yearning to reach for the girl, but frightened to do so. Angie seemed so fragile now, as if the slightest touch would crack her porcelain shell.

“Please… talk to me,” Heather whispered.

“There isn’t anything to talk about.” The girl’s reply was a dry murmur. “After I show you where I stashed the money, you’ll be moving on. Sooner or later, my dad’s gonna notice that it’s gone. The gun, too. And there’s gonna be hell to pay when that time comes. He’ll think you did it, and maybe come after you and–” she gave her head a weary shake, a slow movement from left to right. “I can’t let him hurt you.”

Heather spied a mark on the girl’s neck, just where the shoulder met her throat. It looked recent, not something Heather would have dared to do. She’d always thought of hickeys  as tacky and gross, and time had not endeared her to the sight. Especially when she knew where this one had come from.

Perhaps sensing Heather’s thoughts or the weight of her gaze, Angie quickly covered the blemish with her hand. “My dad,” she replied, just as casually as you please. “With the whole town in mourning, there isn’t much to do at the garage, so he’s been home a lot.” She let the implication speak for itself. To avoid the inevitable question, she cleared her throat, wandered over to the front door and pushed it open, then looked back over her shoulder. “Come with me,” she said.

Heather doubled back to snatch the paper bag up before following, pausing just long enough to turn off the lights and lock the door. “Wait, where are we going?”

Angie’s bike was propped up against the side of the diner, beneath the glass windows that overlooked the main road of Oasis. She grabbed the handlebars and walked it down the path, toward Heather. Pointing into the distance, at an unseen location further into town, she said, “We’re going to the library.”

To appear at some point: Chapter Fifteen!

 

12 Comments on A Young Desert Rose, Chapter 14

  1. Lakeisha says:

    A Young Desert Rose, is my favorite read here at JuicySecrets Club. I know at some point in time the story will come to a close, I shall morn that day when it does. Until then I await with eager anticipation for chapter 15.

    Kindest Regards,
    Lakeisha

  2. jokermgp says:

    “ Not just a fish out of water, but a fish on the surface of Mercury — and baking just as quickly.”. That’s as good as anything I’ve ever read. I’m soooo glad you’ve resumed this story.

  3. Erin says:

    Thank you so much for resuming this wonderful heart touching story.

  4. Swan says:

    I’m delighted to see this story being restarted. Looking forward to more exciting chapters.

  5. kacey says:

    Thank you, Sunnybunny, thank you. I have a small inkling of how this is going to turn out, probably wrong, but we’ll wait and see. Heather and Angie have to escape together, surely, at the very least. Right?
    Can’t wait for ch.15!! 🙂

  6. Purple Les says:

    Beautiful, Sunnybunny. A wonderful chapter. Love the film noir feel to this story. The story has been very unpredictable, with twist and turns. And strong feelings for not only the two main characters,but all of them very real.

    Wondering how it will turn out. As good as reading an Elmore Leonard story.

  7. hawkbird2 says:

    Great story, but please do not wait so long before the next chapter. I am an old man and I want to see this story to it’s completion!

  8. kim says:

    good chapter. Agree with other comments.

    Kim & Sue

  9. David says:

    Thanks Sunnybunny for writing another chapter. It was well written and I loved the mystery and build up to what might happen next in chapter 15.
    Was so glad to see the post from JS. I have missed this story and look forward to many more chapters.

  10. Sunnybunny says:

    Thank you all again for being so patient <3 I cannot believe this little tale of mine is nearly complete EEK! I hope you all like the conclusion I have in mind 😛 I appreciate the kind words of encouragement and support. They keep me sane! <3

  11. Nikki says:

    Love the story.

  12. Erocritique says:

    I started following this story from the beginning, and at times I had given up hope that there would be an ending. Happily, it seems that there will be one, and it’s shaping up to be amazing. I don’t know what your process is, but the depth of your characters and the details of the environments are second to none. Greatness takes time I guess.

    I don’t know if happy endings are possible in a place like Oasis, but I’m rooting sooooo hard for Heather and Angie right now. They both deserve a win in their lives.

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