Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

12 Days of Squire’s Isle Christmas: 11 AM Priorities

 Second Day of Squire’s Isle Christmas

Summary: Jaime and Leah have incredibly hectic schedules, but there’s one hour with a priority that can’t be ignored.

 Jaime Morgan glanced at the clock and tried to summon her patience. Tamara Butler was pacing along the aisle, pausing to examine a votive before moving on and reading the labels on the candle display. The Squire’s Isle Chandlery was still striving toward a profit, but it had been around long enough to gain a loyal customer base among the local residents. Mrs. Butler was one of them, and Jaime would have hated to shove her out the door. The clock ticked again, now resting two dashes away from the hour, and she looked toward the door with growing anxiety.

“Finding everything all right, Mrs. Butler?”

The white-haired woman smiled at her. “Oh, yes, I’m just fine.”

Jaime tucked her bottom lip into her mouth and looked toward the door again. “It’s just that… I usually take my lunch around this time…”

“Oh! Oh, of course. Gosh.” She checked her watch. “I can’t believe I lost track of the time like that. I’ll come back this afternoon…?”

“Lovely,” Jaime said, smiling with relief. “Thank you for understanding.”

Tamara waved her hand dismissively. “Of course, of course. I’ll forgive you as long as you send out one of those email newsletters as soon as the new batch is done. Deal?”

“Absolutely.”

Tamara left the store as the clock clicked over to eleven, and Jaime eased out from behind the counter to follow her to the door. She made sure Tamara was already out of view before she clicked the lock and flipped the sign to “closed”; she would have felt insufferably rude doing it the moment the sweet older woman had left. She also hated closing the shop to tourists, who made up almost eighty percent of her business, but there were certain priorities and rituals that had to be considered. She rushed past her displays, the candles she had made standing next to handcrafted ornaments made by artisans who lived on the island, and arrived in the back room just as there was a knock on the alley door.

She unlocked it and stepped back to let Leah inside. She smiled. “Hello, you.”

“Hi.” Leah pecked her lips, leaning to one side so her armful wasn’t between them. “Hope I didn’t keep you waiting.”

“No, I just got rid of the last customer.”

“Wonderful. It was a crazy day at work. The past hour I’ve had my phone ready in case I had to text and cancel.”

“Oh, I’m so glad you didn’t.” She looked at the lunch Leah had brought for their lunch, eyes lingering on the carrying case with two cups from Coffee Table Books. The marshmallow poked up through a sea of whipped cream dotted with small black sprinkles. She helped Leah unload what she was carrying as she looked at the cups. “The Spyhopper is back! Fantastic!”

“I thought you might like that.”

The storage room had a small table set up for their lunches with folding chairs on either side. Jaime’s had a cushion she’d brought with her from England, while Leah’s was buried under so many blankets that it looked like an overstuffed armchair. Jaime plucked the marshmallow from the drink as she took her seat, watching as Leah deftly placed the takeout containers on the desk.

Leah worked as the mayor’s Chief of Staff, transitioning into the position after working as her campaign manager for much of the previous year. Jaime was working to get her shop off the ground, and any time she wasn’t working was spent crafting the candles she sold. With their jobs and Jaime’s daughter Pamela, they hardly had any time to themselves. The idea of a truly romantic date was out of the question unless they specifically carved out the time. They decided that lunch would be their moment, and they figured out a time that worked for them both. Half the time Jaime went to City Hall and they ate in the cafeteria, otherwise Leah came to the shop and picked up takeout on the way. Sometimes they cooked the night before and brought to-go boxes, sometimes they just had sandwiches. The food didn’t matter.

“So how has your day gone?”

“Wonderful so far,” Jaime said. “Business is starting to pick up. Local business, I mean to say.” She had always had the foot traffic from tourists walking down Spring Street and spotting the candles and mementos in the window. She didn’t use the word ‘souvenir’ because she felt that cheapened a thing. She didn’t emblazon things with the island’s name and throw a kitschy drawing on the side just to sell it. She crafted things that people on the island would be proud to own. Her most popular candle was the “Sea Spray Pine” scent, which she’d spent weeks trying to perfect.

“I love the way this place smells,” Leah said softly as she looked around the shop.

Jaime lifted Leah’s hand off the table, turned it palm-up, and lowered her head to inhale deeply. “Mm. I think you’re smelling yourself, darling. You’ve been using the balsam and cedar soap.”

“Well, I wanted to smell like Christmas. And it reminds me of your store. It’s…” She shrugged and lifted her head to smell the air. “It’s spicy and sweet, and it makes me feel warm and cozy as soon as I walk in. Then again, maybe that’s the company I have when I come in.”

Jaime grinned and kissed Leah’s cupped palm. “This is the best part of my day.”

“Mine too.”

“I was thinking if you wanted to come over for dinner tonight, Pamela’s been keeping a journal of things she wants to tell you. She’ll most likely talk your ear off the entire time…”

“I don’t care. I love our little chats. I’ll be done at work around six-thirty?”

Jaime nodded. “Good.”

“I’ll call if I’m any later than that.”

“Even if you miss dinner, you should still come over.”

Leah chuckled. “I was planning on it. Should I, um, bring pajamas?”

“Well, I do intend for you to spend the night… whether you’re wearing anything is entirely up to you.”

“Hm,” Leah said.

“Hm indeed,” Jaime said. “It would be easier to arrange these evenings if you simply had a pair of pajamas at my house.”

Leah said, “It would. Maybe you’ll get me a spare pair for Christmas.”

“Perhaps I will.”

Leah chuckled and speared a leaf of her salad. As she chewed she watched Jaime, who returned her stare without flinching.

“Were you serious?”

“About your Christmas present?”

“About… keeping some clothes at your place.”

Jaime said, “I believe I specifically said pajamas. But if you wanted to keep some outfits there so you were spared the walk of shame in the morning, I believe I could find room.” She carefully chewed a bite of her sandwich and wiped her fingertips on a napkin. “I’m not talking about moving in. I don’t think Pamela and I are quite ready for that. But it would be foolish to deny that you have a place in our home and in our life.”

Leah took a moment to process that before she smiled. “Well, in that case I’ll bring some things over next time I have a chance to go home and pack a bag.”

“I do warn you, though… any clothing you leave at my home runs the risk of smelling like my candle shop.”

“Is that an added incentive disguised as a warning?”

Jaime shrugged. “Take it as you will.”

Leah stood up and leaned over the table to kiss Jaime’s lips. Jaime reached up to stroke her cheek and smiled as Leah dropped back into her seat.

“What on earth was that for?”

“Being here. I don’t know what happened when I came to this island, but I found a job I love without even looking for it, and then I found you… I never thought about having kids, but every minute I spent with Pamela is brilliant. So whatever brought you to the states – and I will get that whole story out of you one of these days…” Jaime arched her eyebrow at the challenge but said nothing. “And whatever conspired to put us here at the same time, and whatever idiotic decision made us decide to try making this work… all of that. I’m thankful it happened.”

“As am I.” She looked at the clock and motioned with her chin. “Sit. We only have fifteen minutes left of lunch, and I want to hear all about your day before we must part.”

Leah sat down and poked her fork through her salad. Once she was satisfied the dressing was appropriately spread out, she began to speak about the current tumult at City Hall and the deadlines they were trying to meet before the twin brick-walls of Christmas and New Year’s. Jaime listened intently, offering moral support when needed and suggestions where appropriate.

As much as she loved her work and her daughter, there was no doubt in her mind they demanded the majority of her time. She was glad she had found even a small window of the day for the woman who was quickly coming to mean everything to her. Even if it was just twenty minutes and a quick meal in the storage room, she knew it would tide her over until the next chance they had to be alone.

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