Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

12 Days of Squire’s Isle Christmas: 5 Desperate Measures

Summary: Zoe Hudson dreads the approaching holidays as a single woman on an island full of couples.

Christmas was coming.

            Zoe couldn’t even think of those three words together without a sense of dread encroaching. The hospital put up decorations right after Thanksgiving. Pilgrims became Santas, and turkeys turned into trees. Strings of tinsel circled the doorways, and a really intricate drawing of sleigh bells appeared in the top corner of the whiteboard. They were doing a Secret Santa at work, and she pulled aside the nurse who was running it and asked if she could maybe make sure she didn’t choose Rachel Crawford. Way too much baggage there.

The town was appropriately decked out, and she gave in to the seemingly obligatory tree in her front window, but it didn’t really feel like Christmas to her. It was cold out, the decorations were all up, all the right songs were on the radio, but it seemed like just an ordinary season. Maybe it was because she was so far from her family. It was her first real holiday out of New Hampshire; the year before everything had still been new enough that she didn’t even realize it was Christmas until the day was upon her. Now she was settled and she was aware.

And she was aware of just how alone she was.

She hated being single on the holidays, and Christmas seemed even worse than Valentine’s Day. There were carolers, goddamn carolers, who sang outside her door. She wondered what they would do if she opened the door and stood there alone. Would the fa-la-la-la-las get stuck in their throats? Would they awkwardly shuffle their feet and smile as they walked on to the next house in the hopes they’d find a family to sing to?

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t tried to find a girlfriend. She’d tried like hell. Even online dating crossed her mind, but she couldn’t even investigate because she didn’t want her computer to have even a minute-long record of her visiting one of the sites. She could imagine what it would entail, anyway. Name, Zoe Hudson. Age, thirty-six. Profession, doctor. And then she’d write some silly biography, she would put up a picture, and one of two things would happen. She would sit and wait for responses that never came or, more likely, she would be forced to wade through a sea of psychos who would make her swear to a life of asexuality.

Even worse would be the losers who ignored the “lesbian” to message her anyway. She’d been with men before, one moron with a selfie wouldn’t convince her to give it another try. But oh, how they tried. They tried and they tried, certain that their magic junk would sway her to the straight and narrow. That was pretty telling, wasn’t it? Straight and narrow.

Zoe rested her hands on the laptop just below the keys, staring at the dating site she honestly couldn’t remember navigating onto. She moved her finger along the trackpad, tapped “women seeking women,” and then quickly skipped out. She returned to the safety of her homepage and leaned back to rub her hands across her face. She wasn’t going to sign up for a damn dating service. She wasn’t going to put her profile on the internet and hope someone inoffensive happened across it.

Of course, what if there was someone like her on the site? Someone driven to the point of desperation, someone who would leap at the chance to be with someone normal like her?

She moved her hand back to the keyboard, then pulled back as if she’d been burnt. She put the laptop on the couch next to her and stood up. She wasn’t quite that desperate yet. Maybe in a few weeks, or a few months, if she was still single then. But god, the prospect of still being single well into 2014 was enough to make her distraught. She thought she was done with the single thing when she left New Hampshire and came to the Pacific Northwest, bright-eyed and eager at the possibilities of living on one of the most gay-friendly places in that quadrant of the country.

The reality, of course, was a little less kid-in-candy-store and more last-person-to-Black-Friday.

In 2007, the island was just like any other American small-town. People went to school, did their work, went home and went to sleep to do it all again the next day. It was in a more liberal part of the world so if a woman happened to walk down the street holding another woman’s hand, no one thought much about it. Then one day, a disc jockey came out of the closet. She did it so publicly that the “moral leaders” of the town decided to make an example of her. They tried to take her job away, but she refused to lie down and die.

The disc jockey locked herself in the booth for her final show, a show that had been promised to her, and used the time to reach out to other closeted people on the island. Calls started pouring in, both to support and denigrate her. Protestors lined up outside the station. Soon the police were called to keep the peace until the show ended and the disc jockey finally went off the air and left the station. In the wake of everything that happened, citizens of the island started coming out in support of the woman. The protests died down and the town was left mostly unchanged except for the fact people were free to be open about who they loved.

In the years since, tolerance had blossomed into acceptance. They elected an openly-gay woman as their mayor. The disc jockey was still on the air and more popular than ever. When Zoe decided to move away from the place with all her memories of the bad breakup, there was only one possible destination in mind. She packed her bags and headed for Squire’s Isle, ready to have her pick of the litter.

She anticipated an island full of free-range lesbians waiting to be chosen by a partner. The sad truth of the matter was that the town was already pretty much paired off already by the time she arrived. The women of the island found someone they liked and then set down roots. The mayor and her wife had even gotten married twice, once in a domestic partnership and again when the law allowed them to be officially married. She even knew of a polyamorous relationship in town, three women who were committed to each other. That was wholly and entirely unfair, but she as glad they’d found happiness. She supposed.

Then she had pulled her first desperate move. It was New Years, she was at a party being thrown by her coworker, Rachel Tom. Rachel was gay and, of course, in a long-term relationship with the fire chief. During the course of the night she thought she’d put together the clues in the right order. Alex, the girlfriend, was at work. Rachel was frequently complaining about how much time Alex spent away. Twenty-four hour shifts spent sleeping at the station, their sleep schedules overlapping so they rarely spent more than a few hours together… It was all the elements of an unhappy relationship. So she’d taken the chance and kissed Rachel at midnight.

She was not only shot down in flames, the kiss caused a minor disruption in Alex and Rachel’s relationship. Gone was the cheerful, chipper Dr. Tom and the quiet introspective version of her seemed to be settling in for a long stay. They were on the verge of breaking up and, as guilty as Zoe felt, she also thought she could be there to help pick up the pieces. She hated herself for the thought and she even had dreams involving birds of prey attacking her.

It turned out to be a moot point. In February Cheerful Rachel returned and announced she and Alex were getting married. Zoe feigned happiness with the best of them, but in her heart all she could think was “another one bites the dust.”

After that a few months passed before she got another chance, this time with a chef named Molly. She allowed herself to be hopeful that her dry spell was over, but it quickly became apparent that the endeavor was doomed from the start. Molly revealed early into the date – “in the interest of full disclosure…” – that she was just coming off a long-term relationship. Soon she revealed the breakup was because she wanted to get married and her girlfriend didn’t. Zoe didn’t have to be a genius to know Molly was still in love with the girlfriend and that the date was an exercise in futility.

She let Molly finger her in the parking lot of the restaurant, but Molly demurred when Zoe offered to repay the favor. In all it was a wholly frustrating experience that left her feeling worse than she had before she went out. She dropped Molly off at the apartment she was apparently still sharing with the woman who’d dumped her and made her promise to try working things out with the girl she wanted to be with instead of dragging other people into the drama.

Her first two attempts to find someone of her own had only led to her strengthening someone else’s relationship. She didn’t know how Molly was faring, but Rachel and Alex had gotten married in October. Rachel changed her name, and now every time Zoe saw “R. Crawford” on the duty sheet, she was reminded that she’d made that happen. She had to resist the urge to sigh out loud. She was happy for them. They were in love and that was great.

Just great.

Really fucking great.

Hooray for them.

She went into the bedroom and sat on the edge of her bed. Her phone was fully charged, so she opened the contacts and scrolled through. She almost went past Carrie before the name caught her eye and she moved back up. Carrie North. There was a possibility. She was a twenty-four year old nurse who had hero-worshipped Zoe from the moment they started working together. Zoe told the girl straight out that she didn’t have any time for a relationship, so anything they did together would be a hundred percent sexual. Carrie said she was fine with that.

Was she desperate enough for a cross-country bootie call? No, but if she combined it with a trip home to see her sister for the holidays… it would be a nice little bonus to the vacation and she could come back to the island with a fresh outlook. She dialed the number and rubbed her lips together as she tried to think of what she would say when Carrie answered. There was no point in beating around the bush (so to speak) since they’d always been honest about what they had. But she wanted something a bit less smarmy than “Hey, do you and your sex parts have plans for the twenty-fifth?”

Carrie finally answered with a chipper, “Well, if it isn’t the prodigal Dr. Hudson!”

Zoe despised the advent of Caller ID that told everyone who was calling before they answered. “Hi, Carrie. It’s been a while.”

“Yeah! I’m shocked you got it so quickly. I think we only sent it yesterday.”

Zoe frowned. “Sent… what? I haven’t gotten anything.”

“Oh! I thought you were calling to RSVP.”

“For…”

“Our wedding! You remember McKenna?”

Zoe rolled her eyes back in her head and sagged forward, pressing the heel of her hand against her forehead. McKenna, a surgical resident with whom Zoe had a bit of a good-natured rivalry. They often competed for the same women, and they had been pretty much tied when Zoe moved away.

“Yeah. I remember her. You’re marrying McKenna, huh?”

“Yep! We sent out the invites yesterday. I don’t know if you’ll be able to make it, but we wanted to at least extend the invitation. We wanted you to know we want you here. It’s so weird, huh? You and she always competing. She said you told her I was off-limits, but she figured that didn’t count since you were gone.” She paused. “Oh, God. You’re not mad, are you?”

“No. No, I’m not mad at all. I’m really glad you guys are happy together.”

“Oh, good. McKenna isn’t here right now but if you wait… I mean, she’ll be back in about five minutes. She’d love to talk with you.”

Zoe couldn’t imagine enjoying that conversation. “No, that’s fine. Listen, I’ll let you go…”

“Hey, wait, if you didn’t get the invitation, why were you calling?”

She tried to come up with a lie. “To be honest, I didn’t even mean to call you. Your name is right underneath someone I work with and my finger slipped. You were so excited when you answered I decided it would be nice to catch up.”

“Aw. Well, I won’t keep you if you have another call to make. It was really great hearing your voice. I miss you a lot. Hey, how’d that island of Lesbos turn out for you? McKenna is pissed off that she settled down while you’re out there racking up the points. You’ve been out there for a year and a half now. You’ve gotta be up in the double digits by now.”

Zoe cringed. “Well, it’s crass to keep count.”

Carrie laughed. “Are you coming home for Christmas? I’d love to meet whoever you’re with at the moment.”

“I’m… coming home, yeah. But I don’t think I’m bringing anyone with me. We’re not really at that point in our relationship right now.”

“Oh. Well, McKenna and I still want to get together with you. We’ve got a lot to catch up on.”

“Sure. Yeah, that sounds great. Listen, I… I should go before McKenna comes home and I get all swept up with her. But it was nice talking to you, Carrie.”

“You too! Don’t let another year and a half go by without calling again.”

“I’ll do my best. Talk to you soon.” She hung up, made sure the call had ended, and growled with frustration at the screen. She put the phone on the nightstand before she got the urge to throw it, fell back onto the bed, and put both hands over her face. Maybe she was the common denominator. The island wasn’t to blame for everyone jumping into a relationship. It was just her. She bounced around and everyone she touched came down with a case of the settle-downs. She was a commitment carrier.

She fell asleep without meaning to, and her dreams were full of wedding dresses and churches that transformed into fields and large ponds of still water. She was in a boat and then walking along a shoreline, and she saw women turned away from her to look toward the opposite end of the field. She approached to see what they were looking at, and the ground shifted beneath her feet until she was facing back the way she’d come. All the women had turned without turning, and they were again looking away from her.

Zoe walked away from the shunning women and walked across the field. She was barefoot in a white dress, either a bride or a sacrificial virgin… and wasn’t it weird how she couldn’t tell the difference between the two?… until she reached a canyon. She got down on the ground and scooted forward, feet first, and entered the crack, sliding down until her feet touched water. She immersed herself in it, sinking lower until it capped her head and she was hovering beneath the surface. Her dress clung to her and shaped to her curves, and her feet scissored forward and back so she wouldn’t get sucked down lower. She held her breath, even though she knew she would be able to breathe underwater, and closed her eyes. Just when she thought she wouldn’t be able to hold it any longer, when she was about to surrender and take a mouthful of choking water, someone’s arms wrapped around her from behind.

She was spun in the water and soft, full lips pressed against hers. Their lips formed a seal against the encroaching water and air was pushed into her lungs. She breathed deep and pressed against her savior, spreading her legs and inviting the woman between them. The woman was naked, and Zoe’s dress rode up over her hips as they joined together. The woman held Zoe loosely in her grip, both of them swaying with the current as they shared oxygen while they made love.

Zoe woke up with her pillow between her legs, thrusting against it with desperate grunts. She was already close when the dream faded so she crossed her thighs and held the pillow in a vice grip with one hand as she finished, dropping back to the mattress with a trembling sigh. She stretched and her back popped, and she sighed again as she freed her pillow and tossed it aside.

She needed to get laid. She kept thinking she could go to Seattle, leave the small pond for a larger pool. But what if she went to that extreme, actually found someone she liked, and then they were a hundred miles apart? Long distance was almost as bad as not having anyone at all. It wouldn’t help with her frustrations. She wasn’t just looking for sex, although that would be fantastic as well. She wanted someone to have dinner with. She wanted a lap to rest her head on, someone to stroke her hair as she fell asleep watching TV. She couldn’t get that from someone who lived in Seattle. Then again she wasn’t exactly getting it from anyone in December Harbor, either.

Part of her knew the solution was simple. She just had to move again. But she dismissed that thought. Even if she could afford to move again, she wasn’t interested in starting all over. She had friends on Squire’s Isle, she had a job she loved and she really liked her little house. She didn’t want to move just because she couldn’t get laid. But what was the alternative? A life of celibacy in her cute little home?

“I need help,” she whispered.

It was late, and she could easily have just stripped down and gone to bed. She didn’t want to surrender that easily, didn’t want to give in to the slippery slope of depression. So she got up, changed out of her work clothes, and put on her shoes. She had no idea where she was going beyond “out.” She would drive around until she couldn’t stand looking at the decorations any longer, and then she would fall asleep knowing she had at least tried.

She drove west, past the mayor’s brightly-lit home, turning onto a side road that took her into the quiet corners of the island. She loved that aspect of living in a tourist mecca; the backstage part. The first few blocks of town were shiny and appealing to draw in the tourists. Then there were the schools, the banks, the post office, the parts that separated guests from permanent residents. Then beyond that barrier was the backstage area where real life took place. She drove through the dark streets looking at the lawn displays. There was something soothing about all the brightly-lit snowmen and reindeer.

Just as she was about to turn back and head home, surrendering to her empty bed for yet another night, she spotted a small building set away from the road. It wasn’t hidden, but it wouldn’t have caught her eye except for the light shining through the front windows and the lack of vehicles in the parking lot. There was one car at the far end of the building and a sign next to the door identified it as Outskirts. She stared at the building from a stop sign, then rolled through the intersection and pulled into the lot. She parked near the entrance and went quickly inside, before she could lose her nerve.

There was a large empty space that she assumed was the dance floor when the place actually had customers, and ample seating around the bar was currently not being used. A woman in a gray tank top tucked into black jeans was standing behind the bar, an e-reader lying in front of her. She smiled as Zoe took a quick scan of the room, waiting until their eyes met before she said anything.

“Well, hi there. Want something to drink?”

“In a minute. I’m still trying to figure out if this is a Twilight Zone situation. Does this place really exist?”

“For a few more weeks, at least.” She bent forward and took a bottle from beneath the bar. “Come on. First one’s on the house.”

“Isn’t that what they always say?” Zoe came inside and approached the bar, running her hand over the smooth wood before she sat down. “What is this place?”

“It’s the tattered remains of the island’s only gay bar. On the q-t. Ladies used to come here to meet like-minded ladies and then headed home for… well, whatever consenting adults do. Then the island decided to get all open-minded and progressive and we had ladies meeting other ladies in Laundromats and going out with coworkers without all the drama of wondering if they were gay. This place didn’t need to facilitate covert hookups anymore. We slowly sort of went out of favor. We still have a few regulars, but they aren’t keeping me in business.”

“Sorry to hear that. I’m Zoe, by the way.”

“Shelby.” They shook hands over the bar. “We still get the occasional rush. It’s been enough to keep me open this long, but I can see the writing on the wall. Fewer customers, less money in the coffers, it’s bound to catch up with me. I’m going to stay open as long as I can, but I’m not going to sacrifice my savings on a lost cause.”

Zoe sighed. “Well, there goes my last hope.” She flattened her hand against the side of her face, elbow on the bar. “You have any idea what it’s like to be a single woman on an island full of women who started nesting almost ten years ago?”

“Yes.”

Zoe raised an eyebrow. “You do.”

Shelby crossed her arms on the bar, hands turned in toward her elbows. She shrugged. “I live on the other side of the island. Sholeh Village. You know all the touristy, kitschy parts of December Harbor? Well, Sholeh Village is a lot like that, only with the historic crap. It’s not even an incorporated town. We’re just a little jumble of streets set up to provide for the tourists who want to come whale watching. And as far as I can tell, there’s only one lesbian in the entire place. And she comes down to December Harbor every day to bang her head against the wall to keep open a place that is no longer relevant.”

“Wow. I’m sorry.”

“Eh. I had a good time while it lasted. What do you do?”

“I’m a doctor.”

Shelby cooed. “I like that. It’s a shame you didn’t show up on a night when this place was actually busy. You definitely would have found someone to take you home.”

Zoe scoffed. “Sure. If I could find one woman in the entire place who was single.”

“I guarantee you would have.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yep. Whenever I’m here, there’s always at least one single lesbian looking for someone to read books with.”

Zoe nodded. “Unfortunately, the math doesn’t work out there. You’d need two single lesbians to make it worthwhile.”

Shelby laughed. “God, you are obtuse. Maybe you’re not single because of a dearth of available women. Maybe you’re just shitty at picking up the signs.”

Zoe stared at her. “What signs?”

Shelby stared back, smiling. “Do you think I’m attractive?”

“Yeah. Yes, you’re beautiful.”

“Would you ever date someone who was on the verge of unemployment?”

Zoe shrugged, slowly realizing her stupidity. “I wouldn’t hold it against them.”

Shelby nodded. “Okay. So. Would you like to have dinner with me some night?”

Zoe narrowed her eyes. “Seriously?” Shelby raised her eyebrows and awaited a reply. “Um. Yes. I would really like that.”

“Excellent.” Shelby stood up and tapped her fingers on the bar. “I have some food in the back. I’ll go get it.”

“Okay.”

When she was gone, Zoe frowned and tried to figure out what had just happened. She thought about her dream, the woman who had come to her just as she was running out of breath. Shelby came back with two plates, and Zoe waited until she had put them down.

“Just cold fries, I’m afraid. I have some burger patties cooking now that I know they won’t go to waste, but until they’re ready…”

“I don’t want this.”

Shelby looked up at her, stricken.

“No, I mean… of course I’ll eat this. But when I said I’d have dinner with you, I didn’t mean right now, whatever you had in the freezer. I want to pick you up. I want to get dressed up, and take you out on a date. Would you like that?”

Shelby smiled slowly. “Yes, ma’am. I’d like that a lot.”

Zoe returned the smile. “Good. Glad we got that out of the way.” She glanced at the device still sitting on the bar. “So… what are you reading?”

Your email is never shared.
Required fields are marked *