Authors: Berengaria Brown
“Gods, yes,” replied Goa.
Shiloah paced back and forward happily, measuring, sketching designs, and planting some markers for the ends of the garden beds.
It hadn’t taken Orna and Shiloah very long to get the house organized the way they wanted it, and then they had spent several days working hard on their soaps as they had several large orders to fill, which would use most of their existing stock. But at the end of the week, their work was up to date and they decided to choose the area where they’d plant the new rose garden. They wanted it close to the house but not at the front or sides where it could be easily seen from the road.
The backyard got a lot of sun, which roses thrive in, and with the river nearby, water would never be a problem. All they had to do was choose a large enough space for the number of bushes they intended to grow as some roses didn’t tolerate being with any other plants, although they did well with other roses. So the rose garden would be quite separate from other trees and shrubs.
But while Shiloah measured contentedly, increasingly, Orna hunched her shoulders, looked around jumpily, and watched the hill that hid New Thimphu.
“What’s wrong, Mama? Aren’t you excited about the new rose garden? We’ve wanted to extend our production for a long time. This garden will be ideal, and we can get someone else to help us if the work is too much for just the two of us.”
“I can’t stop thinking something will spoil your happiness, just as my husbands were taken from me. Shiloah, we’ve been selling rose soaps and ointments in the store in Green Ridge for years. Someone could easily work out that you’re not a new person, but have been making these products for a long time. Then they’ll hunt until they find the community, and we’ll all be imprisoned and killed, just as your fathers were.”
“But, Mama, no one knows it’s us who make the soaps. The company name is Fragrant Roses. We never use our personal names on any of the paperwork. That’s a community rule. Everything is done through the post office boxes. Every business is always anonymous. Only the IRS knows who owns the company, and we’ve always paid our taxes. George and Wang have never used our names, never used anyone’s names about the products in the store. All they ever say is it’s from the community, not even whether their contact is a man or woman. No one will know it’s us. Now that we live here, if anyone ever asks us, we can say we thought the roses were a wonderful idea and are seeing if we can grow them, too.”
“How can we trust these people? Just because Dorji and Ngawang have been safe so far, that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to be safe or that you will be protected. I’m worried, Shiloah. I couldn’t bear it if Goa and Songstan were torn from you as Bhuwan and Tshering were taken from me.” Orna burst into tears and ran into the house.
Shiloah stood in the yard, stunned. Her mama never ever used her husbands’ names. Never. She’d also used George’s, Wang’s, and Stan’s proper names, too. Which showed she was dreadfully upset. “I need to talk to Father Yeshe. But first, I’ll make Mama a soothing cup of rose hip tea.”
* * * *
Shiloah invited the monk to join them for supper, and his gentle, calm, good sense seemed to make Orna feel more relaxed about the situation. They all had a good time eating and talking, catching up on the news of mutual friends and sharing anecdotes about the days when the community was first settled. Shiloah felt her worry about her mama slide from her shoulders under the grace and wisdom of the old man.
Later that night, she woke up feeling cool. Usually, she was warm in bed with a man pressed on each side of her. But this night, they’d both rolled slightly away from her, so she sat up to pull the burgundy blanket over herself. A tiny sound pierced the silence, and she sat still, listening. There it was again, just a faint whimper.
Shiloah crawled down the big bed to the foot then climbed out, not wanting to wake either man. Her long nightshirt was sitting on the chair where one of the men had thrown it when they’d undressed her, so she pulled it over her head and padded barefoot out of the room and down the hallway.
The bedroom next to hers had two single beds in it and closets where the men had stored some of their possessions. Traditionally, the main bedroom always belonged to the woman. She was free to refuse her men, so they always had another room where they could sleep when she wanted privacy. Beyond that room was another bathroom, then the large corner room that was Orna’s. Shiloah waited outside her mama’s bedroom door.
Orna’s sobs were muffled, but to hear her mama crying almost broke Shiloah’s heart. She flung open the door and ran to her mama, pulling her into her arms and hugging her. “Oh, Mama, please don’t cry. If it upsets you so much, we can stay inside, never go out, not grow roses, give up the business. Anything is better than you being so sad. Please, Mama, please don’t weep.”
Shiloah hugged her mama to her as if she was the mother and Orna the hurt child. And Shiloah knew her mother was hurt, that the loss of her husbands had been a terrible trauma for her made worse by having them come home so broken in health and spirits, only to watch them die.
She felt the solid presence of Goa and Stan standing behind her, their big hands resting on her shoulders.
“Orna, if being here is too hard for you, too painful for you, we’ll give up the farm and move back into the community. We’ll tell Sompel we’d rather stay inside and work at whatever jobs are available. You’re our responsibility now, Orna, and it’s important to us that you’re free to be happy. We can meet with Sompel tomorrow and arrange to move back underground. You and Shiloah can return first thing tomorrow. We’ll find someone you can stay with until Stan and I can move everything back,” said Goa.
Orna raised red, puffy, tear-drenched eyes to Stan and Goa. “But–But… But being here was your greatest wish. You were both so excited to be farming again.”
“That’s true. But if our family isn’t happy, it’s not worth it. You are part of our family now, and your happiness is very important to us.”
“Father Yeshe explained that my fears are unreasonable, but I still worry. I keep remembering what the people said and did to Bhuwan and Tshering. How they said our way of life was evil and depraved and that they weren’t real men because they shared a woman. How can it be right for women to share a man yet wrong for men to share a woman? That doesn’t make sense!”
“Angry people don’t always think logically, Orna.” Stan sat beside her on the bed and gently stroked her hair. “Our way of life encourages stability and prosperity. When there are several husbands, a woman is always supported. When one man is busy at work or on the farm, another husband can attend to her needs and be available to help her. When there are children, there are more parents to help care for them. No son is dispossessed and homeless. Angry people see only our wealth and happiness and never look beneath these things to the fact that it’s our way of life that ensures such good outcomes.”
“The people of Green Ridge aren’t like the ones you knew, Mama. Ugyen has lived here all his long life, and no one ever spoke against him. George and Wang know the outside people and see them in the store each day, and no one complains about their lifestyle. Chevaunne takes her friends to eat at the little café in Green Ridge, and no one has ever been rude to her.”
“Father Yeshe said there had never been complaints about New Thimphu from the locals. Admittedly, they don’t know everything about us, but they aren’t stupid. They know each of the above-ground families has more men than women living in the houses. Likely, some of them have never bothered to think about us or work it out, but others must have. They see us as a quiet, self-contained community, maybe a little different, but basically harmless,” added Goa.
“Chevaunne said she wondered if some of the Green Ridge people thought we were a predominantly gay community with just a few married couples and families,” said Shiloah.
“It doesn’t matter what they think or don’t think, the bottom line is there has never been prejudice or trouble. Nonetheless, if you aren’t happy, Orna, we will move back inside New Thimphu starting tomorrow,” said Goa.
“No, don’t do that, I know how much this means to you all. I’m just a fearful old woman. Instead, tomorrow, I’ll go to the temple and spend time there meditating and speaking to my husbands. They will guide me and direct me, I know.”
They sat in there in Orna’s bedroom in silence for a long time until Orna seemed quite calm. Finally Shiloah, Goa, and Stan returned to their room. But Shiloah slept very lightly after that, and each time she opened her eyes, she realized one or the other of the men was not in bed. She guessed they were keeping watch over Orna and was once again thrilled at how wonderfully caring they were. Tomorrow, they had another full day of work ahead of them. But instead of insisting on getting a good night’s rest, they were caring for her mama. Such wonderful, wonderful men. Her heart was almost bursting, it was so full of love for them both.
* * * *
Shiloah offered to accompany her mama to the temple, but Orna wanted to go alone. Shiloah just hoped she came back reconciled to the situation. She knew Goa and Stan were serious about moving back underground but also knew how very much they wanted this house and the farm and truly believed they were safe here.
The community had a warning system installed so that the central security department in the administration building always knew if anyone approached any of the above-ground homes. Help would reach them in a matter of minutes if anything ever did go wrong, day or night. But the only people who had ever approached the houses had been locals on legitimate calls, strangers who were genuinely lost, or, on a few rare occasions, people who wanted to join the New Thimphu.
In deference to her mama’s fears, Shiloah spent the day indoors working on their business, catching up with paperwork, and shipping. When the men came in for a midday meal, she said, “I think I should take Mama into Green Ridge with Anh, Chevaunne, and Kiri and have a girls’ day out shopping and lunching. I think if she sees the locals in a casual way, she may feel happier.”
“You don’t think that may frighten her more?” asked Stan.
“No, I think if she is with a group of us, she’ll feel safe.”
“All right, suggest that to her then.”
* * * *
Orna seemed quite relaxed when she returned home that evening and liked the idea of a girls’ day out, so the following day they descended on the small township in a laughing, happy group. Anh seldom left the underground community as most of her spare time was spent with Honored Grandmother. But Kiri was known about town, and Chevaunne also had made friends. Both Kiri and Chevaunne made a point of introducing Shiloah and Orna as the new family on Ugyen’s farm, and many of the locals were pleased that the property would once more be producing crops. Several farmers wanted to talk planting and crops with them, so Shiloah was glad she’d paid some attention to the men’s discussions.
Over lunch at Chevaunne’s favorite café, a couple of women came up to speak to them, including a woman who bought their soaps and loved their fragrances. Orna tensed when the soaps were mentioned, but it soon became obvious the woman had no idea where they came from or who made them. She just liked them and wanted to talk about them. Orna relaxed, and soon, she was having an in-depth discussion about various fragrances and even considering planting lavender and jasmine bushes on the farm.
Shiloah enjoyed watching Kiri in George and Wang’s store. It was very evident how much she cared for the men and also what a great deal she knew about the stock and the entire business. Shiloah had never thought about it before, but Kiri was a born shopkeeper. She loved meeting people and talking to them, had a flair for style and layout, and was very fast with numbers. While she was giggling, her fingers were flying over the computer keys, and she always knew exactly what would suit a customer best.
Surreptitiously, Shiloah watched George and Wang. It seemed that at last, Wang was looking at Kiri the way George did. Aha! It would be awesome if they started to feel about her the way Shiloah knew Kiri felt about them. Today’s trip may have been doubly beneficial, for Kiri as well as for Orna.
* * * *
That night, as the three were snuggling in bed, Shiloah told Goa and Stan about their day out. “I really believe Mama relaxed after she saw the people weren’t threatening. I think it was a good thing to do.”
“That’s good, but if needs be, we’ll move back into the apartment.”
“Thank you for that. I know how hard that’ll be for you. But I’m hopeful it won’t be necessary.”
“Gods, Shiloah, we’d do anything for you. We love you,” said Goa, sliding on top of her and thrusting deep into her cunt.
“It’s no coincidence I call you ‘precious.’ You’re the most precious thing I’ve ever known,” added Stan, his lips closing over a nipple and sucking it into his hot, wet mouth.