Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Baby Steps

Summary

Nadine’s parents give her and Miranda the anniversary gift of a Valentine’s weekend in Seattle, where Nadine and her father have a long overdue conversation.

 Miranda went downstairs to get two complimentary breakfasts and brought them back upstairs. Nadine was still asleep, curled in her little ball on one side of the bed, and Miranda placed a cup of coffee on the nightstand. The hotel room was awash in pale light. Through the window she could see the neighboring building and, if she tilted her head, the soaring metal cranes by the harbor. Miranda brushed the hair out of Nadine’s face and watched her until the smell of the coffee began pulling her back from unconsciousness. When she began to stir, Miranda picked up Nadine’s glasses and placed them in her hand just as it went searching.

“Mm. Morning.”

“Good morning. Happy Valentine’s day.” She bent down and kissed Nadine’s cheek.

“Mmm.” She turned her head and kissed Miranda’s lips before slipping her glasses on. “What time is it?”

“A little after six. You told me not to let you sleep in.”

Nadine grumbled and pushed herself up. “That was Nighttime Nadine. You can’t trust anything that bitch asks. Thinks she knows how much sleep Day Dean needs.” She was wearing a thermal undershirt with the collar open. She grasped her coffee with both hands and brought it to her face.

Miranda said, “Nighttime Nadine does have her perks.”

Nadine smiled at her through her bangs. She sipped her coffee, wet her lips, and said, “What?”

“Hm?”

“You’re staring at me.”

Miranda said, “I’m allowed.”

“Yes. But I can tell you’re thinking about something specific. What?”

Miranda rubbed Nadine’s leg through the blanket. “I was just thinking about how you love everybody. Your friends, your coworkers, even the tourists who come to the island. You give your love to absolutely everybody. But you, the person who has love and a smile for everyone you meet… you chose to love me just a little bit more. A little bit deeper. That’s humbling. And amazing.”

Nadine put her coffee aside and cupped her wife’s face to kiss her. “I’ll always choose you.”

Miranda rested her forehead against Nadine’s. “Happy Valentine’s day, baby.”

“You too.”

They stayed together for a long time, Miranda’s hands under Nadine’s arms, leaning against each other until Nadine looked at the clock. “I suppose if I’m going to have time for a shower and breakfast, I should hurry up.”

“Yeah. I’m meeting your mom downstairs in half an hour.”

Nadine kissed Miranda once more before she scooted out of bed. Miranda followed her into the bathroom and put on her makeup as Nadine stepped into the shower.

“What are you and Mom planning to do today?” she asked over the spray of water.

Miranda said, “We’re going to the Woodland Park Zoo. They’re supposed to have some kind of Valentine’s Day themed celebration. Should be nice. How about you and your father?”

“He wants to see the Great Wheel. He hasn’t been in town since it opened, and…”

“Yeah,” Miranda said, looking in the mirror to make sure Nadine was okay. She had ducked her head under the water and was working the kinks out of her hair. Her face was neutral, but Miranda knew how upset she was.

The reason behind their trip wasn’t just Valentine’s Day. A week earlier, Nadine’s mother arrived at the radio station just after Nadine went off the air. Miranda loved Tamara Butler. She was a smaller, greyer version of Nadine with the same whip-sharp sense of humor and easy smile. That afternoon her smile had been more forced, and she toyed with the collar of her turtleneck as she asked if there was somewhere private she and Nadine could talk. Miranda gave up her office and squeezed Nadine’s shoulder on her way out as a signal that she was there if she was needed.

“What’s wrong, mama?”

Tamara sighed. “It’s your father. You know that if he had a nail sticking out of his forehead, he’d either wait for it to fall out or start wearing a hat to cover it up.”

“Daddy’s sick?”

“Daddy’s getting older,” Tamara said. “There’s nothing going on you need to worry about, no serious illness you need to brace yourself over, but he’s showing his age. He’s getting tired faster. He’s spending less time at the store. That’s one of the reason I went ahead and hired that Callie girl. She’s been amazing, by the way.”

Nadine smiled nervously. “Okay.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to stress you over this. But the time is coming when your father won’t be able to travel. Even going to Seattle would be out of the question. So before it gets to that point I wanted to be sure we got one last real vacation just so he could see it one more time before he got stuck on this island. So we wanted to ask if you and Miranda would like to join us on Valentine’s Day.”

Nadine said, “The four of us, in Seattle?”

“Our treat, of course.”

“Mom…”

“Don’t argue with me, Nadine. It will be our anniversary gift to you girls. If you want to pay for dinner or something once we’re there, fine. But this is our treat.”

Nadine sighed, well aware that she’d already lost. “Okay. And yes, of course. We’ll find someone to take care of Orson.” She took her mother’s hands. “Are you sure he’s okay?”

“He’s fine. He’s just getting older, like we all are. We just want to make sure we take advantage of the opportunity while we can still enjoy it.”

That night when she told Miranda about the conversation, she admitted she was skeptical of her mother’s claims. “We’ll just keep an eye on him over the weekend,” Miranda said. “We’ll see for ourselves and then we’ll go from there.”

Nadine was determined to have a good weekend, but Miranda knew how anxious she was. Her relationship with her father had been tumultuous to say the least. He felt abandoned when she chose not to stay in the family business, and he’d been equally disappointed when she came out of the closet. Over the years he’d shown signs of acceptance. He carved a wooden boat for their first Christmas as a couple, a quiet acknowledgement that his daughter had found someone she loved. But while Tamara welcomed her new daughter-in-law with open arms, Nathan was only as cordial as absolutely necessary. He was uncomfortable speaking to or spending time with Miranda, so they were rarely ever left alone together.

The water shut off and Nadine toweled off to join Miranda at the sink. “It’s just my father,” she said. “How bad could it be?”

Miranda smiled and winked at her.

After they were both dressed and ready for the day, Nadine looked to see if she’d gotten a reply to the email she sent to Kate the night before. It was bizarre to be off the island, almost as if they had walked through a portal to a larger, louder, crazier world. She liked to have reminders that Squire’s Isle was really out there somewhere existing without them. There was nothing from Kate, but Hoagie had emailed to let them know “some moron” had trained Orson to think he had to “go walkies” at five-thirty in the morning. “Miranda is my boss,” he said, “so I’m gonna go ahead and blame the Pixie.” Nadine sent him a reply thanking him for watching their dog, then joined Miranda for breakfast in front of the window.

They had just finished eating when Tamara and Nathan arrived. As always, Nadine’s mother greeted them both with a hug while Nathan hung back and offered a tight smile when Miranda said hello to him. He no longer made her feel unwanted or unliked, but she knew he definitely wasn’t comfortable with her. She dealt with it by lying to herself that he would feel the same about any man who had taken away his daughter. She knew it wasn’t true, but it got her through their brief interactions.

Tamara said, “Are we all ready to go?”

“I’m set,” Nadine said. “Daddy, are you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Tamara went to Miranda. “We’re going to have a great time together, aren’t we? Maybe we’ll get our faces painted at the zoo.”

Miranda said, “Yes! And maybe we won’t.”

Tamara laughed as Nadine led them out of the hotel room.

 

#

 

They went down to Pike’s Place Market to see the flying fish, then drove out to see the Olympic Sculpture Park. They hadn’t been walking very long when Nathan gestured at a row of red chairs and asked to sit down. Nadine sat next to him and tried not to be alarmed at how heavily he was breathing. The chairs were lined up facing Puget Sound, giving them a wide panoramic view of water and sky bordered by the rolling tops of islands.

She reached over and took his hand, and he looked down at her fingers as if they were the last clue he needed to solve a mystery. He sighed and defiantly lifted his chin toward the water. “So I suppose your mother got you concerned about me.”

“Did she have a reason to?”

He sighed heavily and looked around. “Hell. We’re all falling apart these days. I didn’t fuss too much about this trip because it was an excuse to see the Emerald City again. I love this place. But don’t for a minute think this is the last time I’ll see it. I’m just fine, Nadine. I’m just getting old.” He leaned to one side and reached into his jacket pocket. “Speaking of old. There is something I need your help with.” He pulled out an iPod with the earbuds wrapped around it like a noose. He held it out to her. “That girl we hired helped me get your pod-whatever on there, but I can’t get the new ones. I feel like an old fart asking her again, so you can help me.”

Nadine smiled, unwrapped the cord, and turned it on. The wallpaper that greeted her was a shot taken through the front door of Butler Photography. It wasn’t zoomed in at all, but it was obvious the focus was supposed to be on the two women who were about to walk into the radio station across the street. Nadine had her back to the street but Miranda was caught in profile, one arm stretched out to open the door for her while the other arm was resting on Nadine’s elbow. That was one of Miranda’s unconscious habits: if they approached a door at the same time, Miranda would open the door and usher Nadine through ahead of her.

“You’re just throwing me to whatever monsters are waiting inside,” she once teased.

“Damn right. I married you so I would always have a human shield handy.”

“Any monster worth its salt would aim high and take off your head anyway.” She was exaggerating, but their height difference was frequently brought up in their mock fights. “It would miss me completely. Ha, foiled.”

“It’s not my fault I fell in love with a shrimp.”

Nadine looked at the picture and tried to remember the last time Miranda had worn that knit cap, cross-referencing it with the last time she’d worn those leggings to work. In the end she gave up and looked at her father, who had pointedly turned his head to scan the rest of the park.

“What’s this?”

“Just a picture. I run a photography store. You’re surprised the camera is the first thing I learned to operate on that thing?”

She shook her head. “No, it’s just… I didn’t know you had a picture like this. Let alone made it your wallpaper.”

“Wallpaper? It’s the screen image.”

“It’s…” She smiled and gave up with a shake of her head. “It’s a great picture, Daddy.”

He nodded. “She takes care of you.”

Nadine didn’t dare look up at him. “She does.”

“Do you know how many gay wedding pictures we’ve developed over the past few years? The albums, the announcements, the whole works. I can’t even tell you. At least as many as the normal weddings.” His hands jerked. “Damn it. I didn’t mean…”

“I know what you meant, Daddy,” she said softly.

“And now it’s legal here. And it just got legal in Alabama. I didn’t even think they allowed interracial marriage down there. Something like forty states now, and you’d have to be willfully ignorant not to see the way things are changing. And it’s just making me think about how brave you must have been to… do what you did… and when you did it. Now it’s easy, and that’s a good thing, I guess. All these kids committing suicide ‘cause of what they are, that’s gotta stop, and seeing it get accepted by so many people is a way to stop ‘em.”

He rubbed a hand over his face, and Nadine took the opportunity to put her fingers under her glasses to wipe away her own tears.

“Just… what I’m saying is… even your own father didn’t understand. But you didn’t let that stop you. Whole world was saying you were wrong but you insisted you were right. I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything that fearless in my whole life. I could have made it slightly easier on you, and I didn’t, and I’ll have to live with that. I never would have envisioned my daughter becoming the person you are now, but I’d be a fool to not be proud of you.”

Her cheeks were burning so much she was sure they had to actually be glowing. She put her arm around him, buried her face against his neck, and whispered, “Thank you, Daddy.”

“Sure. Sure.” He patted the back of her head. When she let him go and started to hand back his iPod, he didn’t take it. “I wasn’t kidding about those pod things. I only got two or three of them, but I’m missing the rest.”

“Oh.” She laughed and turned it on. “I’ll subscribe you to it. That way it’ll just download itself when you one is available.”

He shook his head. “An hour-long radio show just zipping itself into my pocket. Used to be if I wanted an hour of radio, I’d sit in front of the radio for an hour.”

“Times have changed, Daddy. You said so yourself.” She finished subscribing him to the podcast and handed the device back to him.

He grunted and wound the earbud cord around it again. “Well. Just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Doesn’t mean I hate it.” He looked at her as he put the iPod back in his pocket. “Understand?”

“Yeah, Daddy.” She hugged him, kissed his cheek, and took his hand again. “Thank you.”

Another grunt. “And I’ll try to be better with your wife.”

“Miranda. You can say her name.”

He looked at her. “Miranda. Invite us to dinner. Come by the shop with her. Make me say yes just because I’d feel like an ass for saying no. I’ll come around eventually. You chose her, so she must be decent enough. And like I said, lately I’ve seen you going in to work together.”

Nadine nodded. In the past Miranda would go to work around seven, and Nadine would show up a few hours later for her show. Now that she had the podcast they would carpool. She spent the first few hours of the day working on her podcast before she did her live show, and then she would record in the downstairs studio.

“I’ve been taking baby steps, but I’ve also been backing up some steps. I think it’s time you forced me to dig in my heels, don’t you agree?”

“I do. I really do. And I’ll do my best, Daddy, I promise.”

“Good.” He stood up with a grunt and twisted at the waist. “Would’ve thought you could see the Ferris wheel from here. How far away is it?”

Nadine said, “Not very far. I can get directions.” She opened her phone’s map.

Her father looked down to see what she was doing and grunted. “Satellites in your pocket, too. It’s definitely the future you’re living in.”

She put her arm around his waist and squeezed him. “You’re in it with us, old man. Might as well learn to enjoy it since you’re going to be here for a good long while.”

“I guess so.” They started walking back to where they’d left the car. “What was your dog’s name? Orville?”

“Orson.”

“Right. It’s quite a life you’ve made for yourself, Pixie.”

She grinned and closed her eyes. Her father never called her that; it was the nickname she had been given by her mentor when she first got interested in the radio business. He’d seen her show as a betrayal for so long that sometimes she wondered if he’d ever heard it. Now she knew the truth, and now she felt as if her father finally accepted everything about her. If there was a better Valentine’s gift, she had no idea what it could be.

“I love you, Daddy,” Nadine said, stretching up to kiss his cheek.

“I love you, too. I was thinking about carving you another boat.”

“Really?”

He grunted again. “I figure if your mother is going to keep me locked up on that island, I’m going to need something to keep me from going insane. Do you think your… do you think Miranda would like a boat, or do you think she’d want something different this time?”

“I think whatever you want to make for us would thrill her beyond belief.”

He nodded and looked out over the water, and Nadine rubbed her eyes again. She hadn’t been aware how much she needed his approval. She thought she’d gotten over his “distaste” at her life a long time ago. He didn’t want her to be a disc-jockey or a lesbian, and he only grudgingly accepted that she was happy with Miranda. It didn’t matter if he ever fully embraced her, or if he ever looked comfortable in their home. The important thing was that he cared enough to at least try.

Baby steps, she thought as they walked back to the car so they could ride a Ferris wheel together. She was very content to accept baby steps.

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