Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Almost Home

Summary: A typical morning in the Hood-Colby household.

Patricia’s alarm went off with a quiet buzz, prompting her to open one eye before she fished her arm out from under the blankets to quiet it. Jill stirred, but Patricia stroked her arm and shushed her back to sleep. It was five minutes before five, and Patricia perched on the edge of the bed for a moment before she sacrificed the warmth of her bed. She turned on the stereo as she passed, the volume turned low so it would wake Jill gently rather than all at once. By the time she got out of the shower, Jill was up and standing at the closet door.

Jill held up a charcoal suit. “I need to iron this if you want to wear it today.”

“You iron, I’ll cook breakfast?”

“Deal.”

Patricia kissed the back of Jill’s neck as she pass, brushing her hand against the back of Jill’s nightgown before slipping on her robe. “Coffee?”

“No, milk. I’ll get a cup of coffee on the way into work.”

“Okay.” Patricia left the bedroom and turned on the hallway light to illuminate the living room enough for her to avoid stubbing her toe. She remembered the first night she and Nicholas spent in the house, the towers of boxes from her parents house and his apartment stacked like sentries in the spacious living room. She had left the bedroom for a glass of water in the night and knocked over one of the towers, tensing as it smashed to the ground and certain that it would be filled with something breakable and irreplaceable.

She turned on the kitchen light and cinched the tie of her robe. A quick check of the fridge revealed that breakfast would be oatmeal. Brown sugar for Michael, blackberries for Jill. She put the milk on the stove to boil, got out the rest of the ingredients, and made a cup of instant coffee for herself. She rested her hip against the counter and inhaled the smoke, eyes closed, drifting off as she remembered gripping the handle of the stove door.

“Nick… cut it out.” She smiles as she says it, squirming playfully to get away from him. He presses against her from behind, still nuzzling her neck as he begins to lift the back of her skirt. “I have to focus on cooking.”

“You can turn the heat down.”

“You can turn the heat down,” she counters, sighing as his finger slips into her underwear. She isn’t really in the mood, but she dreads becoming a stereotypical cold wife. She’s only twenty-one, far too young to be bored with sex already, and she knows that she might as well give in. The fight from refusing would last a lot longer than just letting him do what he wants. So she turns the heat down and presses back against him, and he chuckles against the side of her head as he pushes her underwear down.

She looked down at the stove and saw the milk was ready. She added the oats and berries, stirring as she yawned. She could hear the shower running from the other end of the house, the quiet hush of water in the pipes, and she smiled.

Jill is only wearing a towel when she leaves the bathroom, her skin still wet and her hair slicked back away from her face. Patricia is in bed and swallows hard at the sight of her. She pushes herself higher on the mattress, back propped up against the headboard, and smoothes the blankets down over her lap. Jill looks at the door, thinking of Michael as always.

“You’re sure? I can still dress and just go home…”

“I’m sure. I want you here. I want to wake up with you.”

Jill smiles and ducks her head. “I’m not such a pretty picture in the morning.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” She points at the dresser. “There are T-shirts in there you can borrow if you want something to sleep in.”

“Thank you.” She keeps the towel on until she’s pulled the faded Squire’s Knights T-shirt over her head. She reaches under the hem and tugs the towel away, still nervous about being naked in the house. She turns off the lights and then crawls under the blankets. Patricia embraces her, and Jill kisses her neck, her cheek and her lips.

Patricia whispers, “Still nervous?”

“It’s easier in the dark.” She runs her hands along Patricia’s back. “You can hold me tighter if you want.”

Patricia kisses Jill’s hair and holds her tighter.

She set the oatmeal aside to cool, finished her coffee, and went down the hall to tell Jill her breakfast was ready. The shower had shut off during her reverie and Jill was already at the ironing board when Patricia returned to the bedroom. Jill had put on a lavender blouse under a purple cardigan, but her legs were bare. Patricia shut the door behind her and gave a quiet whistle.

“Gawker,” Jill said. “I’m almost done with your pants.”

“Thank you. Your breakfast awaits, cooling on the counter.”

Jill affected a squeaky, childish voice. “Unless someone’s been eating my porridge.”

“You forgot to put on your pants, Baby Bear.”

“No, I need to iron mine, too. I think all our unwrinkled clothes are already at the other house.”

Patricia nodded. They weren’t officially moving into the mayor’s residence until January, but James and Laura Dugan had already moved out to ease the transition. Some of their furniture was already in the new place, along with boxes of books, CDs, DVDs, and kitchen supplies they wouldn’t need. The house was still furnished and they had a closet full of clothes, but it was too empty. It felt like a model home: unlived in. Patricia assumed that was why she kept getting assaulted by unexpected memories. Just standing in the doorway, looking toward the bed, was enough to remind her of a moment sixteen years earlier when she’d stood in the same spot.

She presses her hand against the door. Nicholas is already in bed, watching TV, and Patricia almost feels bad interrupting. If it turns out to be a false alarm… but his attention is already on her, and she smiles sheepishly as she runs her hand over the swell of her abdomen. “Nick, I-I think it’s time.”

He leaves the television on when he rushes her out of the house, too focused on her to care about little things like that. When they get home four days later, Patricia laughs at the fact that everything is exactly how they left it but nothing is the same. They hadn’t decided on a name, going back and forth between a couple before they decided on Joseph. But the moment he was placed in her arms she knew that was wrong.

“Michael.” She had stroked the soft strands of hair off his forehead and known the name was right. “Michael.” Nicholas had agreed with her – mother’s intuition and all – and steps back as Patricia carries their son into the house.

“Welcome home, Mike,” she says as she holds him up to see the living room.

Jill picked up the pants and held them out so that the legs dangled. “How do they look?”

“Perfect.” Patricia undid her robe and slipped it off her shoulders. She tossed it at the foot of the bed, which she just noticed Jill had made, and reached for them. Jill pulled them out of her reach.

“Want me to put them on you?”

Patricia raised an eyebrow. “Sure.”

Jill knelt in front of her, and Patricia braced one hand on Jill’s shoulder and stepped into the pants. Jill tugged them up, pausing to brush her hand over the cheek of Patricia’s rear end before she fastened the button and pulled up the zipper. She stood and Patricia smiled, kissing her softly and running her fingers through hair that was still wet from the shower. The kiss ended, but Patricia stepped closer and brushed her nose against Jill’s.

She knows how much she owes Nicholas. He could have made life very difficult for her. She is the one who had an affair. He hadn’t done anything wrong. But he told her that she could have the house, and she could have full custody of Michael. He was going to join a dental practice on the mainland. Her life will continue as normal, just without a husband. She tries to imagine it as she walks through the house, then she sits on the couch and tries to prepare herself for Michael’s return from school. He still doesn’t quite understand why his father is leaving, but he knows it was something Patricia did. He’s not mad. He just wants to know why she doesn’t just say she’s sorry and fix things.

If it was that easy, she knows she would do it. She would apologize to Nicholas, cancel the divorce proceedings, and she would fake her way for the next few decades like a pro. People have been doing it for centuries, why should she be any different?

But she knew the die had been cast. She will make the best of it, and she will raise Michael to the best of her ability. She has word on a job opening at City Hall, with the potential for promotion. It would be a steady paycheck and more reasonable hours than selling real-estate. Michael needs some kind of stability in his life. She only knows one thing for certain, though…

She’s a single mother. She’s never, ever going to risk falling for anyone else again. Especially not a woman.

Patricia brushed her thumbs over Jill’s cheekbones. “Can you imagine how hard I would have fallen for you if I hadn’t been fighting it?”

Jill smiled. “You’d have been pancaked on the ground.”

“Straight through the ground and into the center of the Earth. Out the other side to China.” She kissed Jill’s eyebrows. “I love you so much, Jill.”

They heard Michael’s bedroom door open and close. A few seconds later, the bathroom door shut with a definitive slam. Patricia winced, smiled, and kissed Jill’s top lip. “Put on some pants and go get your breakfast. And thank you for making the bed.”

“Sure thing. Enjoy your pants.”

Jill stepped into a skirt and Patricia zipped it for her. She sat on the edge of the bed to put on pantyhose, and Patricia turned on the vanity light to apply her makeup. By the time they left the bedroom Michael was out of the shower and in his room getting dressed. He joined them in the kitchen a few minutes later. Jill was already at the table with her oatmeal, checking her email and the news on her smartphone. Patricia had just finished making him a bowl of oatmeal, and she sliced bananas in it the way he liked.

Her breakfast was a cup of yogurt. She had lunch meetings with three members of the city council between eleven and one, and she had the feeling she was going to get full whether she tried or not. She sat at the head of the table with Jill to her right and Michael to her left. He was eating with one hand, using the other to put the finishing touches on his homework. Jill’s phone was lying flat next to her bowl, and occasionally she would reach over to scroll or to type in a response to an email.

Patricia sits alone at the dining room table. Michael refused dinner until his father came home, and none of her cajoling will get him out of the room. Nicholas had called to arrange for the pick-up of his last few things that are still in the house. Patricia pokes at her food, knowing she should eat but unable to summon the hunger. She pushes the plate away, rests her elbows on the table, and covers her face with both hands.

“Patricia?”

“Hm?”

“The car needs gas. You should probably leave a few minutes early so you can swing by the station on your way to work.”

Patricia nodded. “Oh. Thanks.” She looked at her watch and sighed. “I should probably go ahead and leave. Michael, am I taking you to school?”

“Callie’s coming by.”

Patricia looked at Jill. “I could drop you off at school.”

“It’s the last day before Christmas break. I’m probably going to eat a dozen of those sugar cookies, so I’m going to walk. Preemptive calorie burn.”

Patricia said, “So no one wants to ride with me?”

“It’s not you,” Michael said. “It’s the crap music you listen to.”

“Michael!” Jill’s admonishment was tempered by the fact she was laughing.

“Those soundtracks have won awards.”

“From people without ears.”

Jill was no longer trying to disguise her laughter. Patricia sighed and stood up. “Fine. Be that way. If I’m alone it means I can sing along.” She tossed the yogurt container in the trash and bent down to kiss Jill’s cheek. “I love you.” She touched the top of Michael’s head as she passed, since he had started cringing whenever she got close enough to kiss him. “Be good at school.”

“I will,” Jill and Michael said in unison.

Patricia got her coat and left through the back door. There was a fresh dusting of snow on the yard that made the grass look washed-out and gray. She checked her shoulder bag to make sure she wasn’t leaving behind anything important, took out her keys, and looked back at the house. She saw Jill’s hands in hers, and heard the tremor in her voice as she said, “I think you should move in with us.” She saw Michael sitting on the front porch holding back tears as she bandaged a fresh scrape.

The house had history. It had been her first real house, her first true home, and she was sad to leave it. But it had been the place where she figured out who she was and what she wanted. It was her false start, where she had regrouped, and where she had raised her son. It was her safe place where she had let her guard down and let the right person into her heart. The house had fulfilled its purpose and it was time to move on.

Jill came outside, wrapping her scarf around her neck. “Hey. You’re still here?”

Patricia smiled. “For now, anyway.”

“What?”

Patricia laughed. “Nothing. Never mind. Sure you don’t want a ride? It’s on the way to the gas station, and it’s really cold out. You can survive a dozen cookies.”

Jill rubbed her hands together and looked down the street, gauging how far it was to the school and how cold it was. She sighed and nodded.

“Okay. I’ll ride with you. But only if I choose the music.”

Patricia rolled her eyes. “Fine. I don’t know how, but somehow our son inherited his bad taste in music from you.”

Jill chuckled as she went around to the passenger side of the car. Patricia got behind the wheel and waited until Jill had picked the radio station before she backed out of the driveway. Callie was coming down the street toward the house and Patricia waved as they passed each other. She caught a glimpse of the house in the rearview mirror as she turned the corner, but then it was out of sight and behind her.

“Are you paying attention?” Jill asked. “This is what music should sound like.”

Patricia rolled her eyes and focused on the road as Jill’s choice of road music filled the car. Her irritation was mostly for show. The music was actually pretty good, and if it was the price to have Jill sitting beside her, she was more than willing to pay it.

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