Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

12 Days of Squire’s Isle Christmas: 9 Lives

The 12 Days Continue!

Summary: The island’s former first lady struggles to find something appropriate for her girlfriend while sticking to a budget. (for other stories the feature Laura and Alicia, you can find them here!)

Laura Hawkins felt as if she’d lived a number of different lives, most of them secret and a lot of them full of well-intentioned lies. Her childhood was her first life. She was a happy child with loving parents and for the most part it was an uneventful decade. When she was a teenager growing up in the eighties and realized she was more attracted to girls than boys, she started her second life. She continued to date boys using a peculiar algorithm based on her own observations combined with whoever her friends decided was attractive. Her third life was in her twenties when she went to college and it was acceptable to experiment. She had what she considered to be her first sexual experience with the manager at her first job. She was a waitress and they had sex in the manager’s office after they closed for the night.

Her fourth life was on Squire’s Isle, back in the closet and wearing the banner of someone who “just didn’t date a lot.” Then she met Jameson Dugan, one of the most powerful men on the island, and he asked her out to dinner. She would have been a fool to say no regardless of her orientation. She’d been living on frozen dinners and the idea of a night out was appealing. And James was wonderful company. He whisked her off to Seattle, where they had a surprisingly skimpy meal atop the Space Needle. They went for a walk afterward and he revealed his true intentions asking her out.

He was being groomed to become the town’s mayor. His family had a chokehold on the office, and he was just the next in line. He knew they would change their minds if they knew he was gay. “I don’t want to presume, but I had a feeling about you. I’ve seen you around town, and my brother’s wife mentioned seeing you at Outskirts. So I have a proposition for you.”

Thus began her fifth life. She was brought into the embrace of the wealthiest family on the island and within a few years she did indeed ascend to the lofty heights of first lady. She lived in the nicest house, she ate the finest meals, and she wore the nicest clothes. She and James each had their private dalliances in Seattle and Vancouver. James was a nice man, a sweet confidante, and she thought she’d finally found a place where she could be happy.

Then one day her sixth life appeared on the front step. Alicia Ryan was a cab driver in town, but the promise of a steady paycheck rather than bustling around for fares had brought her into the fold as the Dugan family’s personal driver. One day she’d read aloud from a lesbian romance novel while they waited for the ferry, and their mutual arousal had led to a mainland encounter that changed their relationship forever. Their affair quickly became the most fulfilling relationship Laura had ever had, and she started to hate the fact she had to hide what they had.

Laura and Alicia had been together four years when James had his heart attack and threw everyone for a loop by announcing his plan to retire. While his family convened to decide which member would take his place in office, James threw tradition out the window and voiced his support for his deputy mayor Patricia Hood-Colby to take his place. In the past the sitting mayor’s recommendation was gospel, and this time proved no different. Despite a hard-fought campaign by a Dugan decoy, Patricia won the election and James stepped down.

Laura fell into her seventh life with a mixture of relief and dread. She could be with Alicia, but the luxury to which she had become accustomed was gone. She and James divorced and she reassumed her maiden name. Alicia officially invited her to move into her home, a corner apartment that was spacious but still felt like a prison cell compared to the house Laura had just left.

She was once again on a budget, looking for a job to help support herself rather than relying on Alicia’s meager paycheck. Alicia had also lost her job, since the new mayor decided not to keep her on as a driver, but she had kept her hack license up to date and she was back to driving a cab. Laura was working as a dispatcher, taking calls and then sending Alicia where she needed to be.

It was a few days before Christmas and she was taking the afternoon off to shop for Alicia’s present at the mall in Burlington. They had set a firm limit of twenty dollars and even after a year of being good with her budget she was finding it difficult to remember the limitations of her bank account. Her credit card called to her from her purse telling her that she’d always been able to use it in the past without much thought. Why not just slip the plastic across the scanner and get Alicia something she truly deserved…?

No. They didn’t need to have another argument about money. She hated when they fought because she knew she was completely in the wrong. Alicia was the one doing the lion’s share of the work and Laura was doing the majority of the spending. She had no defense other than habit. The urge to break the rules was just because it was her first real Christmas without the deep Dugan pockets and she was feeling the strain of it.

Laura wandered the mall for an hour and found nothing that was both worthy of Alicia and less than twenty dollars. She knew there was a little wiggle-room… they weren’t counting tax, shipping charges if they bought online, and so on, but Laura had taken so many indulgences with Alicia’s wiggle room that she wanted to stay within the boundaries they’d arranged.

Part of her was ashamed that Alicia was so much better at keeping to a budget. She was nearly forty-six, but Alicia was only thirty. Then again all of Laura’s budgeting had been done for her the past few decades. She just mentioned to James that she wanted to go shopping and old family money was funneled into her pocket. All the money she and Alicia had was from the sweat of Alicia’s brow and the throbbing pain in the small of her back. She drove from just before dawn until after dark, her daylight hours occupied with getting tourists from one spot to the next. Laura felt guilty for every dollar she spent, even if she did spend it on Alicia.

When she finally left the mall, she was still empty-handed. She drove back to the island well aware that it was four days before Christmas and future opportunities to shop were rare. She supposed she could always order something online and hope it arrived in time… or she could buy something digital and it would download immediately. They’d become lovers because of a book. Maybe an audiobook would be the perfect thing.

She was trying to think of any books Alicia had mentioned as particularly ‘must-read’ and nearly missed the sign for the thrift shop. She was in the wrong lane but she was able to get over quickly and then backtracked on side streets until she found the strip mall again. She parked and slung her purse over her shoulder as she walked inside. It was nowhere near as crowded as the mall had been, but there was still a fair amount of Christmas rush.

The clothes were hanging on racks separated only by vague generalities: Men, Women, Children, Jackets, and Vests. Shoes and accessories were on shelves along one wall, while the other side of the store seemed devoted to household items. She could see furniture at the back, where the three walls of the store were wrapped with bookshelves.

She had no idea what she was looking for. She dragged her fingers along the sleeves of the women’s blouses as she ventured deeper into the store. Alicia didn’t mind about name brands or if her clothes were new as long as they looked good and felt comfortable. She paused and held out the sleeve of a white blouse, tilting her head to the side as she examined it. No collar and slightly pleated sleeves. It wasn’t quite Seinfeld’s puffy shirt, but it definitely had flair. With the right accessories… Laura glanced toward that area of the store and her eye was caught by something hanging on the corner of one shelf.

Laura walked over and plucked up the black flat cap to turn it over in her hands. A few months earlier while she was getting ready for work, Alicia mentioned that the thing she missed the most about being the mayor’s driver was that she didn’t have the uniform anymore. “Not only did it save time in the mornings, it was classy as hell.”

The hat was perfect, and picturing Alicia’s crimson curls tied up under the back confirmed she needed it. She winced as she looked at the price tag and was overjoyed to see it was only $9.99. She went back to the blouse, which was three dollars, and she draped it over her arm. She had a little leeway so she went to the rack of vests and dug through until she found one with a black and white checked pattern. She flipped over the little tag and saw $2 written in faded ink. It was absolutely perfect, and it was in Alicia’s size. She thought about looking for more, but she didn’t want to even bump up against the limits. She was getting a great present for fifteen dollars and the leftover funds would be part of the gift.

She carried her finds to the counter, beaming as she thought of Alicia opening it and getting her uniform back after so many months of driving in her street clothes.

 

#

 

The sleeves were threaded through the vest, and they were folded together. She played the cap in the center of the chest and folded the hands over it. She put the resulting display in a bright red box, wrapped it with a ribbon, and put it under the little tree they’d put in front of the window. She was wearing black leggings and a baggy sweatshirt that hung off one shoulder, and she paused to rest her hands on the windowsill and look out at the town. There was no snow yet, but the forecast was promising they would have at least a dusting before dawn on Christmas morning. Still, there was something pristine and wonderful about the island in winter. The light had a blue tint, and everything seemed to be holding its breath. She thought she’d been able to see everything from her window at the mansion, but the walls held back more than random passersby. It also held out the spirit of the town. She may have lost her bank account, but she’d gained a real life.

The phone rang and she answered without looking away from the tableau. “December Harbor Taxi Service. How may I help you?”

“Mm, keep talking in that sultry secretary voice first of all.”

Laura smiled. “Hi. I just finished wrapping your present.”

“If you wrapped yourself, how did you answer the phone?”

“Flirt.”

Alicia laughed. “I just dropped a couple off at Sholeh Village and now I’m heading back. Things were looking kind of dead when I left the ferry lanes, so I figured I would call it a day. I got a nice tip so I thought I would see if you wanted me to pick up something for dinner.”

“No, I was planning to cook something for you.”

“I won’t say no to that. Okay… I’m about halfway home. I’ll see you in about ten minutes.”

“Can’t wait.” She smoothed her hand over the present. “I’ll get started on dinner.”

“Okay. Love you.”

“Love you, too. See you soon.”

She hung up and went into the kitchen to see what she could find for dinner. She might stumble a bit, but she was dedicated to living her seventh life to the fullest. Then when she found a full-time job and they had a little bit of money left over, she would give Alicia the life she truly deserved. No more pinching pennies at Christmas, no more counting dollars to see if they could go out for dinner. That would be her eighth life, the life she planned to keep until they were both old and gray in a pair of matching rocking chairs at the assisted living center.

Laura opened the cabinet and began examining their options. As she took down a box, she realized that even with the limitations and the relatively cramped living conditions, her seventh life was definitely her favorite. She couldn’t wait to see how Alicia improved on it in lives eight and nine, but she was definitely going to be along for the ride.

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