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“Girl, you know that isn’t good for you,” Daphne wiped the sweat off of her forehead as a pale, young woman dragged an impossibly old dresser out of the back room. “You shouldn’t be working so hard in this heat.”
Mariposa smiled wryly at the older woman. What heat? It was the middle of February, and a particularly cool one at that.
“You can only stay in bed for so long,” she replied after a long moment of silence that coated every inch of air between them like a miniature haboob. “It feels good to move.”
Harrumph. Daphne opened her mouth to push the issue and then closed it again. If there was one thing she’d learned about the girl since they’d moved in it was that Mariposa was even more obstinate than her mother-in-law. Since being pushed into making a particular decision had never worked for Daphne she had little reason to believe that it would be effective on someone who acted so much like her.
“Will you at least come inside and eat some lunch?” Most of the vegetables weren’t ripe yet, of course, but Daphne had gathered what she could from their backyard garden to supplement the last of their dried food. It would be nice to have fresh meals again for a few months. She leaned heavily on her cane as she slowly stood up and brushed the dust off of her tunic.
“Are Felix and Wilma back yet?” They were honestly too young to be bringing water back on their own, but neither Daphne nor Mariposa was physically capable of performing that chore at the moment. Daphne’s knee had slowly but steadily grown more painful, while Mariposa’s confinement was a much less permanent one.
“No, but they should be soon. Come in and have some tea with me while they wait.”
From the outside the house had changed very little in the last four years. No one had expected Daphne and her family to stay more than a fortnight, but once they realized they’d need to live with Mariposa at least through the winter Ephraim and Isaac had constructed a temporary shelter for the animals. In bitterly cold weather they would be invited into the house, of course, but three rooms was already a tight squeeze for the five adults, two children, and two territorial cats who needed the warmth even more.
Lemon lasted an hour in the lean-to that first night before his howls woke up the household. The mule didn’t mind sleeping away from the noisy humans, but a dog who had spent his first 8 weeks curled up next to his siblings and the next seven years keeping Daphne company was not about to be separated from her.
“Ambrosia is not going to like this,” Mariposa had said as Daphne lead her old companion to her corner of the room.
“I’ll keep them separated,” came a groggy reply. Within minutes Daphne and the dog were sleeping, his head tucked under her arm. Within hours the cats had learned to avoid that corner of the room for fear of encouraging the yellow beast to lick them, and after a few days they’d negotiated an uneasy peace. The storage room where Daphne and her sons slept was Lemon’s territory. The rest of the house belonged to the cats, although they pretended not to notice when he walked in and out the front door.
A soft whine interrupted Daphne’s walk down memory lane. An orange tabby had her old friend pinned to the floor, and as Daphne walked into the main room the cat paused for a moment before going back to his grooming rituals.
“That’s what you get for rolling around in the dust,” she teased as Apple began washing the dog’s ears. The mixture of pleasure and embarrassment on his face tickled the corners of her mouth. Daphne had hoped they would adjust to one another once conditions in Mingus grew worse and she knew they wouldn’t be returning for a long time, but she never expected the cats to become so comfortable around him that they began imposing their sense of hygiene on a creature who would honestly much rather avoid a bath.
It was an easy lunch to cobble together. Daphne had mixed up the bread dough as soon as the first streaks of daylight painted the sky, so all that was left was washing the vegetables and setting out the plates as Mariposa started heating up water for tea and checked on the baby.
When the table was set Daphne glanced at the stone out of habit. She’d set it on the kitchen table to catch the morning sunlight in the hope that it would charge up enough to turn on today. No such luck. The inbox was empty and there were no new messages. In fact, it didn’t look as if anyone had logged on in months.
Sometimes messages popped up when you least expected them to, though, and more than once Daphne had read a half-finished letter that later disappeared from view. The HantaFlu, as people had begun calling it, seriously disrupted the lines of communication in the capitol. For nearly a year there hadn’t been any messages from President Whyte at all, and even when the senate began meeting again it had taken another year for them to resume regular communications with the colonies.
That is what New Arizona was, after all. Or at least what it was supposed to be. Peoria might be governing herself for now, but Daphne had no illusions about who would really be in charge if the soldiers returned. Her adopted home had neither the weapons nor the manpower to stop them.