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Chapter One, Orchids in the Snow

I had no warning, no flash of intuition, at the moment I met Samantha Catherine Dearden that she was about to impact my life. On the other hand, I suppose if I had known her smile was a gateway into a world of casual regard for many of my accepted values, I would probably have quickly and politely retreated into the safety of my predictable life. Or what I thought was safe and predictable.

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It was a Thursday, one of my two volunteer days at the Barksdale Air Force Base Thrift Shop. The 1982-83 school year had started and we'd been busy with mothers bringing in boxes of clothes out-grown during the summer months. My four hour shift was over and I was mentally reviewing several errands I needed to run as I walked out into the warm, but pleasant sunshine. Mid-September had finally brought welcome relief from the record heat that had lingered past Labor Day.

The thunder-like rumble of one of the resident B-52 bomber aircraft drowned out the surrounding sounds so I didn't hear the young woman and child talking when I first approached my station wagon.

I did notice the silver Mercedes convertible next to me, and it was then I realized the woman was trying to coax a three, maybe four year old girl into the sports car.

"I don't want to go doctor's," the child said and leaned against my back door.

The woman glanced at me with the universal frustrated mother look. "Kelly, please get in the car," she said, for what was apparently not the first time. "You're in this lady's way."

I stopped and smiled sympathetically.

The little girl pressed closer against my car and shook her head. "I don't want 'munation."

I admired the child's beautiful strawberry blonde hair done in a pixie cut. It contrasted with her mother's chestnut pageboy.

"Immunization," the mother corrected. "And whether you want it or not, doesn't matter. Get in the car. I'll get you an ice cream cone after we see the doctor." She motioned toward the seat again. "My apologies," she said to me.

I held my keys in the palm of my hand and remembered similar scenes with my own children. "No problem. I've been there myself, although a while ago."

The child looked at me, hoping for support. "Don't want shots." Then she smiled, the kind of smile a photographer would try to produce for a portrait. "I like ice cream. Chocolate."

I spoke in what should have been a persuasive manner. "Me too, and your Mommy will get you some right after you see the Doctor."

The little girl shook her head once more.

The woman sharpened her voice. "Okay, Kelly, if you don't get into the car by the time I count to three, I'll put you in myself!"

Kelly looked at me with a question in her blue eyes.

"One," her mother said.

I leaned down and whispered in Kelly's ear. "I think she means it."


Kelly nodded, and as "three" was being formed, she scrambled into the seat.

The woman moved quickly to buckle her in. "I'll be out of your way in just another second," she said. "I appreciate your patience."

"Oh, I'm in no hurry," I said and saw she wasn't wearing a ring on her left hand. "Nice car. We don't have many of those around here."

She closed the passenger door and grinned. "Thanks. This is what you get when you have a good divorce lawyer and your husband feels guilty about running around on you with a younger woman."

"Oh," I said, blankly.

The woman moved to the driver's side. "Thanks again," she said over the top of the car, before she slid into the seat and turned on the ignition.

Kelly threw me a kiss as they drove away, and I waved as I wondered who the woman was. Barksdale was a sizable base, but a small community where no one remained unknown for long; definitely no one who drove a car like that. Her clothes looked expensive, too, not the sort a junior officer's wife could afford. She might possibly be one of the nurses assigned to the hospital or perhaps a guest passing through. That would explain the lack of a wedding ring. Anyway, it didn't really matter and I had my errands to run. At least, I didn't think it mattered.

I went to the Base Exchange, ran by the dry cleaners and was stopped when I heard someone call "Andrea!".

It was my good friend, Kay Hayward, another colonel's wife, who reminded me once again of the bake sale on Tuesday. As we discussed the arrangements, I suddenly remembered I hadn't given the Officers' Club the final count for the wives' luncheon on Wednesday. I knew I should have made a written list of things to do. My family often teased me for being overly organized, but the truth was, I needed the kind of structure a neatly printed list provided.

The Officers' Club was on my way home and it wasn't quite five o'clock, so the large parking lot was nearly empty. A new assistant was working in the catering office and she didn't know where the paperwork

After she nervously fumbled through a stack of folders on the desk, we finally found the correct one. I caught an error in the seating arrangement and we managed to stretch a five minute task into thirty. I left the office and was walking toward the entrance to the Club when a woman said, "Well, hello again."

The woman with the memorable car, Kelly's mother, was standing at the telephone table. She was putting something back into her taupe leather purse while talking on the phone and motioning me over. I was ready to go, but it would have been rude to ignore her, and if she was new to Barksdale, I might as well see if she required any assistance getting settled.

"I'll be off in a second" she mouthed.

She finished her conversation and smiled in a way that reminded me of my own daughter, Tricia.

"Fancy seeing you again so soon." She reached out her hand. "It must be a sign. I never did introduce myself. I'm Sam Dearden."

"Sam?" I caught myself. "Oh, Samantha, I suppose."

She grinned. "Yes, of course, but I don't really look like a Samantha, do I?" She tilted her head.

"No, I guess not," I admitted. "I'm Andrea Randall." I wondered why I was standing there. "Is your adorable daughter still with you?"

She shook her head, her silver and turquoise earrings swinging with the motion. "No. We finished 'munating' and I left her at the house with the nanny. Thanks again for being so patient this afternoon. Moving into a new place is always hectic, don't you think?"

I was absorbing nanny. No one around here had nannies. "Uh yes. Yes, it is. So, you're just getting here?" I nodded hello to the Pattersons as they walked by toward the lounge, and then asked Sam where she was working.

Sam glanced in their direction and then back at me. "We've just come in from Washington, D.C., and I'm taking over the Base Resources Management Office. Listen, I thought I would pop into the bar for a beer. Why don't you come with me?"

I shook my head. I couldn't recall the last time I had just popped into the bar for a drink. "Oh no, I couldn't. I really need to get going."

"Come on," she said. "Give your husband a call and have him join us."

"Well, actually my husband isn't here right now," I said without thinking.

"Oh I understand, kids at home." She waved her hand. "Maybe another time, then."

I still don't know why I said what I did next. Perhaps it was a flash of memory of the times Larry used to call me and say, "Come on up to the Club, babe, and meet me for a beer."

"Uh no," I shook my head again. "The kids are gone from home."

"Well then, that makes it easy," Sam said with a warmth that was hard to resist. "We can make it a fast one."

Three captains in flight suits passed us, laughing at the punch line of what was probably a dirty joke judging by the quick look they gave me.

Well, why shouldn't I stay for a little while? It wasn't as if I was rushing home to make dinner for anyone. "Okay, I guess a welcoming drink would be in order and I could answer any questions you have about the area."

"Great, show me the way." Sam motioned me ahead.

The Officers' Club contained several sections with a ballroom, some smaller meeting rooms, the dining room and the lounge where I led Sam. I stopped just inside the doorway to orient myself. Larry and I usually went to the dining room, and the Officers' Wives' Club functions were always held in either the ballroom or one of the meeting rooms. I had forgotten how large the lounge was with its dark-hued, nondescript décor. Laminated tables and padded vinyl chairs filled all but the wooden dance floor. The room was designed to hold two hundred people, so the small number of patrons gave it an almost cavernous feel, even though I knew the crowd would expand within an hour.

I looked for a table, but Sam walked straight to the long, curved bar, unaware of my hesitation. She perched on a stool with practiced ease and attracted the bartender's attention at the same time.

I managed to hoist myself onto the stool without an ordeal while Sam was discussing brands of beer.

"Andrea, what are you having?" she asked.

"Oh. Well, a glass of white wine, I guess." I think the bartender would have known without me ordering; I looked like a white wine kind of woman. I reached for my purse dangling on back of the stool, but Sam waved me away.

"Oh that's okay, we'll run a tab," she said, obviously forgetting my plan to have only one drink.

I intended to keep the conversation at a polite, neutral level, but somehow I got caught up in Sam's amusing description of traveling hundreds of miles with Kelly and the nanny. Most people had difficulty in keeping their sense of humor under such circumstances. I didn't pay close attention when the second glass of wine appeared and then Sam asked about my family.

I explained that I was alone in the house because Tricia was in her sophomore year at Louisiana State University and Brian was in Minot, North Dakota, a bomber pilot like his Dad. My husband, Larry, was on a one-year assignment to Turkey because his old pal Rod, well General Stanton now, thank you very much, needed him more than I apparently did. After all, being personally requested by a general was good for his career.

Not to mention that unlike many military bases, there was enough housing available on Barksdale to permit me to remain in our set of colonel's quarters until Larry returned, I had my volunteer work, I could be near Tricia and I wouldn't have to uproot again. My yes, we had lots of reasons for us to be separated.

I found it surprising that I was revealing so much detail since I was not the sort of person who usually shared personal information quickly. It was, no doubt, the effect of the wine and when Sam suggested we go into the dining room, it suddenly seemed like a better idea than dinner alone in an empty house.

I really did mean to switch to ice tea, but Sam said I should have at least a taste of the French Vouvray she ordered. I watched the waitress pour the pale golden liquid and stopped thinking about how I hadn't had this many drinks in probably fifteen years.

The next morning, I made it into the kitchen with more strength than I expected, unclear as to how I had gotten home. My keys were resting on the counter on top of a note from Sam.

Your car is in the driveway and no, you did not drive home. Drink two glasses of juice before you have coffee. I'll call you for lunch. Fun, wasn't it? S.

She was right, the orange juice helped, but I felt like a fool and swore I would never do anything like that again. Interesting how wrong we can be about some things.