Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

An Unexamined Love

Summary: Rachel and Alex’s relationship makes a change, and the road leading to the moment of transformation is recalled.

Alex made a career out of walking into buildings from which other people, sane people, fled in terror. She was the one who showed no hesitation and no fear in the face of doorways into scary realities. Now, however, she stood on the wide path and stared at the door not ten feet away, and tried to work up the courage to go inside. As she stared, other people went up the stairs without hesitation. One woman held the door for a man with a walker, and they both disappeared a few seconds later. Of course they weren’t afraid. They didn’t know what was waiting on the third floor. She wet her lips, steadied herself, and walked forward.

It was just after three on Thursday, October the tenth. Alex wore the dress uniform of the December Harbor Fire Department. She crossed the lobby and walked to the stairs, so focused on her destination that she didn’t notice the people admiring how debonair she looked in her suit. Rachel had told her enough times, but she didn’t really understand the appeal. It was a uniform, and yes it was a bit dashing. But she didn’t understand the kink. She was still more than willing to wear it now and again for Rachel’s entertainment.

She offered a nervous smile as she approached the desk of the mayor’s assistant. He smiled when he saw her coming and picked up the phone. “Mayor Hood-Colby? Your three o’clock just arrived.”

Alex stopped in front of his desk and tried to affect a nonchalant pose. “Afternoon, Simon.”

“Hello, Alex. Congratulations.”

“Don’t congratulate me yet,” she said.

He grinned as the door behind him opened and the mayor appeared. She wore a cream-colored suit, her hair up, and she raised an appreciative eyebrow when she saw Alex’s outfit.

“You clean up well, Chief Crawford.”

“Thank you, Madame Mayor. And thank you for doing this.”

“Are you kidding me? I’m honored. It’s one of the best parts of my job, and this time I get to do it for someone I consider a friend. Is Rachel…?”

“She’s coming from the hospital. And she had to pick up the witnesses. She called just before I came in to say she’s on the way.”

“Excellent.”

They walked away from her office and down the hall, which terminated in a large window separated into nine panes. Through it they could see the harbor side part of town. The ferry was in, a massive building-sized ship that would soon enough break away and slowly power toward the mainland with its passengers. Alex realized her hands were shaking and she rubbed them together to make it less noticeable. Patricia noticed anyway.

“Nervous?”

“No. Nope. Not at all.” She exhaled sharply. “You got married twice, right?”

Patricia laughed. “Technically three times. Once to my husband, once in a civil partnership with Jill, and then I married her properly when the law passed. I was nervous every time.”

“Even the second time? To Jill?”

“Yep.” She rubbed Alex’s arm. “Just relax.”

Alex nodded but doubted she would be able to follow that advice very well. She looked toward the stairs as if there had been some clue, some indication of who was about to appear, but she knew it was just coincidence that Rachel appeared less than five seconds later. She had changed out of her work clothes, exchanging them for a white blazer over a knee-length white gown. She grinned when she saw Alex and Patricia waiting for her, and she lifted her hand in greeting as she increased her speed as much as possible without breaking into a run.

“Here we go,” Patricia whispered.

Alex took a deep breath and released it, remembering their long road to this moment as Rachel and their witnesses approached.

January
“Did you like it?”

Rachel’s eyes were wet. “No.”

“Bullshit.”

“What do you want me to say? Yes? You want me to say I liked kissing another woman?”

Alex shrugged. “She’s a beautiful woman. I’m sure she’s a good kisser. If you’d said yes, I would have thought you were being honest. But you lied. Which means you liked it a lot. You must have liked it a hell of a lot.”

“So you’re trying to trap me now.”

“No…”

“There was no right answer to that question, Alexandra! No matter what I said, it ends with you yelling at me. I’m just so sick of you yelling at me!”

Alex was resting her hands on the kitchen island. “And I can’t speak to you without raising my voice. So maybe we shouldn’t speak to each other.”

“Fine by me.” She walked to the fridge and looked inside for something to eat, then let the door swing shut. “I’m going out.”

Alex nodded to indicate she’d heard, but she didn’t offer anything to the new conversation.

“Do you want anything?”

“I want a lot of things, Rachel.”

Rachel rolled her eyes. “Christ. I know I’m the one who did wrong. I know that. But we could discuss this rather than just acting like a pair of whiny brats.”

Alex pushed away from the counter, turned, and headed for the bedroom. “I’m going to work early. I’ll grab something to eat on my way to the station.”

“Maybe you should just stay there.”

Alex stopped in the middle of the living room. “Are you kicking me out?”

“Why would I want to live with someone who so obviously doesn’t want to be here?”

Alex wanted to scream, wanted to shout at her, but she knew that would only make things worse. She nodded slowly. “Fine. I’ll pack a bag.”

She was almost to the bedroom when Rachel said her name, a tone of reconciliation in her voice, but Alex ignored it. She shut the bedroom door and dropped to her knees to get the bag out from under the bed, but instead she put her face down against the blankets and began to cry.

Late-September
Alex was in a DHFD T-shirt and drawstring pants, in the midst of sweeping up the kitchen, when she heard a truck engine rumble to a stop outside. She didn’t pay much attention to it, assuming it was either someone going to the bank across the street or one of her volunteers coming in to lend a hand. It was late enough in the afternoon that it wouldn’t be unusual for a couple of them to spend a few hours working the station in case a call came in. She put aside the broom and headed for the stairs when she heard a familiar voice from her past echoing through the bay.

“Where the fuck is the half-assed chief of this penny-ante operation?”

She hurried down to the ground floor, knowing who she would see but still thrilled when he appeared in the flesh. Standing behind him was another face she hadn’t expected, but she tamped down her thrill and grimaced at the men.

“Why don’t you set yourself on fire again, see how quickly I respond to your call? You lard-ass son of a bitch.”

Chief Patrick Leary and Lieutenant Wayne Murray strolled across the bay toward her. Murray had indeed put on a few pounds since her last visit, but he looked damn good in a muscle-hugging T-shirt and jeans. Leary’s hair had gone full white, and he had a bit more jowl than she remembered, but both men made up for the changes by retaining their beautiful shining smiles. Alex grabbed Leary’s hand and pulled him into a hug, smacking his back twice before letting him go. She turned to Murray and held up a warning finger.

“Murray, if I can still breathe when you hug me, you’re doing it wrong.”

He took the challenge and lifted her off the ground, making her squeak before he finally let her go. She stumbled a bit, one hand on his arm to steady herself as she looked at her former coworkers.

“What are you guys doing here?”

Leary said, “You sent us an FYI instead of an RSVP. You honestly think we’d miss your wedding, Crawford? After all, you’re going to need a bridesmaid.” He patted Murray’s arm.

Murray puffed out his chest. “I do look resplendent in aquamarine.”

“I’ll just bet you do. We’re keeping it small, though. Just the two of us at City Hall, getting married by the mayor, then a quick reception afterward. Although we’ll need witnesses…”

Murray held his hands out. “We can be witnesses.”

Alex said, “Hold on. Are you just doing this for free cake at the reception?”

Leary solemnly said, “We would go to far greater lengths than this for free cake.”

Alex chuckled. “Then if Rachel agrees, you are hereby invited. How long are you on the island? Can you stick around and have some dinner?”

“Twist our arms,” Leary said with a grin.

“I’ll call her, let her know we have guests.” She caught Murray staring at the fire engine and her smile widened. “Go on, big guy. I know you want to check it out.”

He knocked his fist lightly against her shoulder and walked over. Leary gestured for Alex to lead the way to the stairs and lowered his voice.

“How are things going between the two of you? I know you had that rough patch at the beginning of the year…”

“Ancient history. We’ve been in counseling since February, and we’re doing great now. We talked about how we could always postpone or cancel the wedding if the counseling led in that direction but honestly we’ve never been stronger. The only change I’ve been itching to make is moving it earlier.”

Leary smiled. “Good. That’s good to hear. I was worried about you two.”

“So was I, for a while there.”

March
Rachel cried out, her hands flat on the kitchen counter as she rocked her hips forward and then sagged back against the cabinets. She whimpered quietly in the aftermath of her orgasm, chuckling self-consciously as Alex leaned back and dutifully pulled her underwear and scrub pants back into place. Her lips were wet and she licked the moisture away as she stood up and pulled Rachel against her for a kiss. Rachel moaned hungrily, lifting one thigh between Alex’s legs and rubbing it as their tongues brushed together. She reached for Alex’s belt buckle and worked her pants down.

Alex pulled back from the kiss and furrowed her brow, turning her head away as Rachel sought to recapture her mouth.

“Wait, wait…”

“Bedroom?”

“No,” Alex whispered. She corralled Rachel’s hands and leaned back, pinning Rachel’s thigh between her legs. “We were fighting.”

Rachel smiled. “And now we’re not.”

“No. That’s not good, Rachel. I shouldn’t have instigated this.”

“I don’t mind.”

Alex said, “I do. Dr. Kellogg told us we were doing this. We avoid fighting by fucking, and that way nothing gets said. You’re mad at me. I shouldn’t respond to that by going down on you when you’re trying to make dinner.”

“It’s always worked in the past.”

Alex shook her head. “A month ago we were living apart. It doesn’t work. If I have to fight with you once a month for the rest of my life in order to spend the rest of my life with you, then I’ll do it.”

“I don’t like it when you’re angry with me.”

“Same goes for me, when you’re angry. But we can’t just fall back on sex to solve our problems. So if you have something you want to say to me, say it. Let’s work it out with our pants on.”

Rachel laughed quietly and rested her hands on Alex’s chest. She knew what they had been arguing about before her pants were yanked off, but she was aware that it wasn’t the true reason she was angry. She ran her tongue over her bottom lip.

“I feel like you’re still punishing me for what happened with Zoe. It’s nothing major, nothing you’re even doing consciously, but sometimes I feel like you look at me, or you make a point, and at the back of your mind you’re saying ‘I win this, because you kissed another woman.’ Sometimes I feel like I’m never going to make up for it.”

“There’s nothing to make up for, sweetheart. Not anymore. You apologized, we had our blowout… I know it won’t happen again. I know you only did it because I’m not exactly the best–”

“No. It wasn’t your fault.”

“But it wasn’t entirely yours, either.” She cupped Rachel’s face. “I’m not punishing you, Rachel. I’m sorry if I made you feel like I was, even inadvertently. What you did… was wrong, yes. It hurt me. But it also woke me up. I think it woke both of us up. It made us both realize how fragile this was. It made us pay attention. And now we can fix the weak points so we’ll be stronger than ever.”

Rachel brushed her lips over Alex’s. “I do love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“Fight over?”

Alex smiled and nodded as they resumed their kiss.

“Then may I please make you come?”

“Ooh, I like that.” Alex pressed tighter against Rachel, brushing her lips when she spoke. “Ask me again. Put a little beg in it.”

“Please, please, please,” Rachel whispered, moaning as they kissed and Alex began moving against her thigh. Alex flattened her hands on Rachel’s ass and thrust slowly against her, her smile fading when she was no longer able to hold it thanks to the things Rachel was doing to her. She turned her head and kissed Rachel’s neck, holding her tight as they moved against each other.

August
Rachel tied the sheet at the back of Alex’s neck, adjusted it so that it covered both her shoulders, and then began to run her fingers through the shaggy black locks. “So how short are we going this time?”

“I was thinking going the full chrome dome.”

“I’ll need to get some different clippers.”

Alex chuckled. “You’d actually let me do that?”

“It’s your head. And it’ll always grow back if you don’t like it or it feels too weird. I do like having something to grab hold of.”

“Then for you, I’ll keep it the usual length.”

Rachel smiled. “Maybe if it was the beginning of summer.”

Alex said, “Aha. I’ll keep that in mind for next year.”

The first time she cut Alex’s hair, she was worried about making it look weird and accidentally cutting off Alex’s earlobes. After that trim, she got into the habit of finishing each haircut by stroking Alex’s ears, running three fingers along the shell of them just to confirm they were still intact. It was such an odd comfort that she soon found herself doing it during quiet moments; at dinner, watching TV, cuddling in bed… Alex liked it as well, or claimed to, and Rachel had accepted it as a quirk that all relationships picked up after seven years.

She had become a pro at cutting her lover’s hair. She liked spending the time with her, exploring one part of her body that she ordinarily didn’t pay much attention to. Alex hated dealing with her hair, so Rachel was happy to take over the duties of shampooing it when they showered together. At the moment she was trimming off a bit of the excess as she decided how she would go this time.

“Bangs?”

“Bangs?” Alex echoed. “My hair is nowhere near long enough for bangs, and that’s no accident.”

Rachel chuckled. “Come on, nothing major. Just a little sweep you can push out of the way. Like Rachel Maddow.”

“Aha. I get it. This is all for role play purposes. If I have to be your Rachel Maddow, you have to be someone for me.”

“I’m game. Who do you have in mind?”

“Sandra Bullock.”

Rachel laughed. “Which character?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

She finished the haircut and offered Alex the mirror. “Look how pretty you are.”

Alex tilted the mirror so it was focused on Rachel. “Oh, my God, I’m gorgeous!”

Rachel chuckled and brushed the hair from Alex’s shoulders, then reached for the broom. She swept the trimmings into a dustpan as Alex removed the sheet. Once the floor was clean, she carried the pan to the back door.

Alex said, “Hold on a second.” She caught up with the scissors and opened the door. There was a gentle breeze, and Alex smiled as she took Rachel’s ponytail in hand.

“What are you doing?”

“Just a little… trim.” She cut off the very tip of the ponytail, keeping it as even as possible, and caught the shorn hair in the cupped palm of her other hand. “Take the scissors, please?” Rachel took them, and Alex picked up some of her own hair from the pan. She cupped her palms together and held them up. Rachel realized what she was doing and grinned. Alex stepped outside and opened her hands so the wind could take their hair. Rachel stepped up behind her, arms around her waist and chin on her shoulder.

“Birds could make nests with that.”

“Mm-hmm. That’s what I’m thinking. And then the nest will decompose and it’ll become mulch, and it’ll feed a tree… and we’ll always be part of this island. Both of us together.”

Rachel nuzzled Alex’s neck. “I love you. That’s so much better than a wedding.”

“I agree.”

Rachel turned her head and spluttered. “You have little hairs all over your neck.”

“I should take a shower to clean off.”

“Fortunately that is a service we provide at this salon. Right this way, madam.”

Alex chuckled. “You know, you really could start a salon. My hair looks amazing since you started cutting it for me.”

“I already have a salon,” Rachel said as they went down the hall to the bathroom. “But I am very selective with my clients. As of right now, I only have one customer. I think that’s all I’ll ever need.”

“Pretty shoddy business practice,” Alex said.

Rachel grinned. “It’s working so far.” She pulled Alex to her as she shut the bathroom door and dragged her toward the shower.

late-March
Alex stepped off the elevator, and looked both ways down the hall before she chose to go left. The nurse’s station was a set up like a fort in the center of the floor, positioned in the crossbar of an H that connected the two bars of patient rooms. A doctor with shiny black hair was standing with her back to Alex as she approached. “Excuse me.”

The doctor turned. She was gorgeous, with shockingly blue eyes and an easy smile. By some instinct Alex already knew what she would see when she looked at the name badge.

“Dr. Hudson.”

“Yes?”

Alex swallowed the lump in her throat. “I’m looking for Dr. Tom.”

Realization slowly crept across Zoe’s face. “Oh. You’re Alex.”

“Yeah. I’m meeting her for lunch.”

Zoe closed the file she was working on and turned to the nurse. “Could you tell Dr. Tom her partner is here? I think she’s in with Mr. Lawrence.”

The nurse left, and Alex was alone at the desk with the woman who had kissed Rachel on New Years’ Eve. Zoe carefully capped her pen, tapped her finger against it, and then met Alex’s gaze without flinching. “I’ve never had a chance to apologize to you.”

Alex pressed her lips together, her teeth clenched as she managed a smile. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I do worry about it. This is a very small town, and I did something reprehensible. I’m ashamed of my behavior. If I was in your position, I’d definitely…” She looked down at her sneakers. “I’m not going to spoil for a fight, and if you say you’re not angry I’ll accept it. I just wanted you to know that I’m embarrassed by how I behaved. I had been drinking. I had been doing a lot of that, actually. Kissing your partner was just one dumb decision on a pile of them.”

“You have to work together. If I make a big deal out of it, it could make things awkward for her at work. I won’t do that to her.”

Zoe nodded.

“But you’ll understand if you’re not invited to any more parties at our house.”

“Heh. Yeah. Anyway, um. I’m glad I had a chance to finally say this to your face.”

Alex nodded. “Me too. And…” She fought the next words, but they had to be said. “Apology accepted.”

“Thank you.”

Rachel approached and looked from Alex to Zoe. “Um. Everything okay here?”

“Everything’s fine.” Alex took Rachel’s hand. “You all set? I could wait.”

“No, everything’s covered for now… uh, Zoe. If you could check in on Mr. Patterson?”

Zoe nodded. “I’m going that way in about five minutes.”

“Aces. Thank you.”

“Enjoy your lunch, ladies.”

The group separated, with Rachel and Alex moving toward the elevators while Zoe went the opposite direction. Rachel moved closer to Alex and lowered her voice to a whisper.

“I am so sorry. You didn’t have to talk to her. You could have met me downstairs in the caf.”

“Don’t be.” She squeezed Rachel’s hand. “I’m glad we had a chance to talk.”

July
Alex opened her eyes, blinked at the window, and then turned her head toward Rachel. She was lying on her back, hands under the pillow, staring at the ceiling. She rolled onto her back and slid her hand over the stomach of Rachel’s night shirt. “Hey. Can’t sleep?”

“Hey. No, I was just thinking.” She rolled over as well so they could face each other. “I want to take your name.”

“I thought we agreed that it would be too much hassle. You’re Dr. Tom.”

“I know. And I appreciate you understanding that I needed to keep my name. But now… I think I need to be Rachel Crawford. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, this is just the first time you caught me at it. After what I did to you, I want a confirmation that we’re partners. A ring is a ring, and the certificate is a piece of paper, but if I take your name I’m changing part of who I am to reflect what we mean to each other. And I feel that marrying you… I am changing who I am. I’m making myself into one half of a whole. I want to be Rachel Crawford.”

Alex brushed her thumb over Rachel’s cheek. “Well, how am I supposed to say no to that? I would love it if you took my name. Besides, it wouldn’t work the other way.”

“What’s wrong with Alex Tom? Not butch enough to have two boy names?”

Alex found Rachel’s hand and linked their fingers together. “Nah. I kind of like that we can find our own way in this wedding stuff. If you were a man you’d have certain tasks, and as a woman I’d have certain tasks… you’d certainly wear a tux, I’d be in a dress. It’s nice we don’t have to surrender to the traditional claptrap unless we want to.”

“I definitely want to wear a dress.”

“You’ll look dashing,” Alex predicted.

Rachel kissed her. Alex slid closer under the blankets, their legs tangling as Rachel squirmed to get out of her T-shirt. She straddled Alex and sat up to undo her bra, and Alex sat up to kiss between her breasts. Rachel ran her fingers through Alex’s hair and kissed the top of her head.

“There are other gender roles we don’t have to succumb to, you know,” she whispered.

“Like what?” Alex said, looking up with her cheek against Rachel’s breast.

“Like which one of us gets to wear the strap-on.”

After a moment of silent contemplation, they both lunged for the toy drawer with a shriek of laughter from Rachel as they grappled for the same prize.

mid-May
Rachel arranged her overnight schedules to coincide with Alex’s, meaning they would both work through the same nights and sleep through the same days. It was noon when she stumbled into the bedroom, squinting as she pulled the curtains and undressed. She covered her head with the pillow and burrowed deeper into the blankets, still struggling to fall asleep when she heard the front door open. Alex came in, kicked off her shoes, and fell fully-clothed on top of the bed.

“Watch out!”

“Jesus Christ,” Alex grunted. “Baby. I didn’t know you were under there.” She dug through the blankets and kissed her shoulder and face. “I’m half-dead.”

“Me too. You smell like smoke.”

“Sorry. There was a little flare-up at Joe Lack’s. No one hurt, just an oven fire that got out of control. Everything’s fine.” She twisted and fought the bedding. “Let me under there with you.”

Rachel let her in. They cuddled for a bit, and soon Rachel couldn’t even smell the smoke.

“Stay,” Rachel whispered.

“I will if you will.”

Rachel slipped her hands under Alex’s T-shirt, stroking the warm skin. She murmured blissfully and brushed her face against the smooth material of the shirt. She listened to the beat of her heart and soon enough the sleep that had evaded her since she got home finally came.

October 10, 2013
Alex barely remembered anything the mayor said. She was too focused on Rachel’s expression, the moisture in her eyes, the lash that was resting on her cheek… She reached up and flicked it away, and she heard Patricia chuckle in the middle of what she was saying. She remembered her vows, even if she didn’t remember saying them. Rachel’s vows were burned into her mind: “They say an unexamined life isn’t worth living. I think an unexamined love is just as much of a waste. Earlier this year, I took a step away from us and took a hard look at who we were and what you meant to me. I’d never done that before. I had just fallen for you and then let the world carry on. It would have been enough for me, but I’m glad I had a reason to really examine who we were as a couple.

“I hate the idea that a couple is ‘made for each other,’ that they were formed and crafted in some lab to be a perfect match. I don’t think there’s any one person made for another person. But I do think that a few lucky people find someone who completes an equation inside of them. My fears, my scars, my anger, my bad memories… so much of it is soothed by who you are. You make me feel safe when I don’t know I’m feeling scared. You weren’t made for me. But you are still a perfect fit.”

Patricia was looking down at her notes, blinking rapidly. Murray and Leary were also studying the floor. Patricia finally managed a smile, rubbed at her eye with what she hoped was nonchalance, and then spoke in a tremulous voice. “Do you have the rings?”

Alex said, “Do you need a minute, Madam Mayor?”

“Shut up and take out the rings.”

Alex grinned, her own face shining from tears, and took her ring from Murray. He’d accepted her offer to be her bridesmaid, while Leary was acting as Rachel’s groomsman. They handed over the rings, and Rachel and Alex exchanged them.

Patricia’s smile widened even further. “Then it is my honor, and my pleasure, to pronounce you married. You may kiss.”

Alex wrapped her arms around Rachel and kissed her, and Rachel leaned back with her leg hooked on Alex’s hip. Murray cupped a hand next to his mouth and hooted, while Patricia and Leary applauded. When they parted, Rachel sagged against Alex and hooked her fingers under the lapel of her jacket as if hanging on so she wouldn’t fall.

Patricia said, “I’m honored to present you, for the first time, as Alexandra and Rachel Crawford. Congratulations.”

Alex pecked Rachel’s lips again, then they both accepted hugs from Leary and Murray. They also hugged Patricia, and Alex confirmed she and her wife would both attend the reception at their home that night. Patricia assured her they wouldn’t miss it for the world. Leary offered to drive one of their cars back to the house so they didn’t have to separate right after the wedding, and Alex gratefully handed over her keys. Once they were outside, they watched as her former coworkers crossed the lawn to where she had parked, and they held hands on the walkway where Alex had tried to summon up the courage to go inside.

“What are you thinking?”

Alex didn’t have an answer, but she smiled and told the truth. “I don’t know. I just keep hearing the word ‘married’ in my head. I’ve never liked it. I thought it was… possessive.”

“And now?”

“Confirming a partnership of equals.”

Rachel tightened her grip on Alex’s hand. “Sounds good to me.”

Alex bent down and kissed her wife. “Me too. Come on. Let’s go change and get the house ready for the reception.”

October 13, 2013
Rachel took the chart of the table, checked the particulars, and knocked on the door as she pushed down on the handle. She had the trick down pat, fingers on the handle, shoulder to the door, chart in the other hand so she could examine it as she walked into the room. She had the details in her head as soon as she spoke. “Mr. Curtis. How are we feeling today?”

“Little under the weather.”

“Well, that’s what we’re here for. I’m Doctor…” She stopped and a slow smile spread across her face as she realized what she’d almost said was wrong. It was her first day back after an extended honeymoon, which was spent on Vancouver Island. She hadn’t had time to process the changes she would have to make in her working life.

Mr. Curtis raised one bushy eyebrow. “Is there something wrong on the chart?”

“No. I’m Dr. Crawford. I just have never introduced myself that way before. I got married last week, and this is my first day back.”

He smiled. “Well! Congratulations. You’re going to have to get used to that new name quick.”

“It’s okay,” Rachel said as she continued examining the chart. “I’ve got plenty of time. The rest of my life.”

He smiled, and she hooked the chart on the foot of his bed so Dr. Crawford could begin the examination.

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