Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Conversations in a Bakery

Summary: Nicole Brownyn meets a young woman and has an important conversation; Nadine and Amy have a heavy talk; Amy calls her girls.

Nicole spotted the girl when she came into the shop, perking up at the object dangling against the front of her sweater. She watched as the girl ordered and took her drink and cookie over to one of the booths in front of the window. She took the camera case off, sat the camera down on the table with the twin lenses facing the interior of the shop, and began rooting through her bag. Nicole smiled. Most people would just see a camera and ignore it unless the girl put it up to her eye, but Nicole knew better. She knew the girl was going to take candid shots of the customers.

She gave the girl enough time to settle in before she slid off her stool and made her way over. The girl had a textbook and a spiral notebook out on the desk, copying information from one into the other, and she didn’t notice Nicole’s presence until she cleared her throat. The girl jumped slightly and looked up, eyes wide.

“Hi. Sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude, but that’s a Rolleiflex.”

“Yeah…”

“Sorry. I’m a photographer myself. I’m just so thrilled to see someone your age who knows a camera isn’t just something that comes for free on their phone. May I?”

The girl nodded, and Nicole slid into the booth across from her. She also gestured for Nicole to pick up the camera, which she did with the proper reverence. “This is an amazing camera. Birthday gift?”

“Saved my allowance.”

“For how long?”

“Three months.”

Nicole smiled. “Worth it?”

“Hell yeah.”

“Good girl.” Nicole held the camera close to the edge of the table and peered down into the viewfinder. Twin-lens cameras didn’t require the photographer to hold the device up to their face to snap the picture, so it was perfect for capturing candid shots. “As soon as the camera goes to the face, people get stiff.”

She didn’t realize she’d spoken aloud until the girl responded. “Yeah. I got some good shots at the mayor’s watch party on Election Day.”

Nicole nodded. “So you like the twin-lens?”

“Oh, yeah. No shutter lag. I use it to take pictures of boats and whales, stuff like that.”

“Sweet. Oh… I’m Nicole Bronwyn, by the way.”

She offered her hand, but the girl just stared at it. “Nick Bronwyn?”

“That’s the name I use in the papers, yeah.”

“Oh my gosh. You’re awesome.”

Nicole grinned. “I don’t know about that…”

“I do! I used to cut out your pictures and hang them on my wall. And your book…”

“You looked at my book?” She thought of the graphic images in the book and almost blushed. “How old are you?”

“Old enough that I had to get creative in how I got my hands on it. But it wasn’t pornography. I mean, yeah, there were boobs and butts. But it was art. Clothes would have just gotten in the way.”

Nicole smiled. “What’s your name?”

“Callie. Callie Markus.”

“Well, Callie Markus, I’m really happy to see the island is still growing photographers.”

Callie looked out the window and gestured with her hand like a game show model. “How could it not? I’m surprised everyone doesn’t grow up to become a painter or something. Of course, the school doesn’t really help.”

“Still no art class?”

“Art class, yes. But no photography class. I got a job over at Butler Photography and I’m learning the ropes over there, and it might look good on a college transcript.” She shrugged. “Of course, if I don’t get a scholarship…”

“Could I see some of your pictures?”

Callie nodded and dug through her bag. Nicole didn’t expect much due to the ragged edges of the old canvas bag, but the camera should have tipped her off that this was no ordinary girl dabbling in picture taking. She withdrew a professional-grade leather portfolio and reverently handed it across the table. Her hands were shaking and she balled them together in her lap as she chuckled.

“Showing Nick Bronwyn my pictures, I’m suddenly aware of how amateur they are.”

“Everyone’s an amateur at first,” Nicole said. “You should see mine. I took a lot of pictures of my feet.”

“By accident?”

“No. I thought I was being avant garde. These are so good…” She paused on a photo of six planes in the air. “How did you do this one?”

“Six exposures, and then I just blended them together into a single shot. I had to use the computer.”

“There’s no shame in that. Not these days.” She pointed at a boy who had featured in four pictures so far. “Boyfriend?”

“Michael.”

Nicole smiled. “He’s cute.”

Callie hunched her shoulders. “Do you really think they’re good?”

“I think they’re fantastic, Callie. What grade are you in?”

“Junior.”

“So you’re definitely going to start thinking college soon.” She spotted the pen Callie had put down when Nicole joined her. She picked it up and wrote her number across the top of the notebook page. “That’s my cell. If you need anything, a pep talk or someone to give you a recommendation, give me a call. Hell, if you just want to talk about photography, give me a call. I work at the paper, so if you want a couple of freelance jobs I’ll toss you what I can.”

Callie was shaking. “Are you serious?”

“You have a Rolleiflex,” Nicole said. “You’re not messing around. And these pictures… I wish I’d taken pictures this good in high school. In fact, these pictures make me hate you a little bit.” She winked to show she was joking. “There are far too many things in this world that rely on knowing the right person or being in the right place at the right time. Now you know me. I’m not saying it’ll win you a Pulitzer, but the least I can do is help you get your foot in the door.”

“Thank you so much. I’m… I’m…”

Nicole smiled. “Don’t thank me. I haven’t done anything yet. But you’re welcome in advance.” She tapped the top edge of the camera. “Take care of this thing.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Ooh, no. No, if we’re going to be friends, it’s Nicole. Ms. Bronwyn, if you absolutely must. Nick if you’re in a rush. But never, ever ma’am.”

“Noted.”

“Consider that your first lesson. It was nice to meet you, Callie.”

Callie laughed breathlessly. “You too!”

Nicole slipped out of the booth and glanced back as she walked to the door. Callie had her elbows on the edge of the table, both hands holding back her hair, staring at the phone number written on her notebook page as she laughed incredulously. Nicole smiled, grateful she could offer any kind of help to an aspiring photographer, and turned around just in time to avoid a collision.

“Oh! I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Nadine Powell offered a tight smile and stepped to one side so Nicole could get past. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“Looks like we were both guilty of that. Sure you’re okay?”

“Mm-hmm.”

Nicole was used to the disc jockey being more effervescent, but everyone had off days. “Okay. I’ll see you around.”

“Sure.”

Nadine watched Nicole go, her smile vanishing into a thin, angry line as she continued into the shop. She had tried to be personable, but she was fuming. Pissed off, and hurt by proxy. Amy was just coming out of the kitchen, and Nadine signaled to get her attention.

“Dean! Kate said you were acting weird this morning… everything okay?”

“I don’t know. Can we talk? In private? I have something I need to tell you.”

Amy’s smile wavered. “That sounds ominous. Uh, sure. We can talk in my office. Come on back.”

Nadine stepped around the counter and followed Amy through the kitchen. The office was a small closet at one end of the kitchen that spanned the space between Coffee Table Books and Amy’s apartment, an effective blending of the two parts of her life. She leaned against the desk as Nadine closed the door behind them.

“This is really hard for me to say. I didn’t know if I should say anything, but if I was in your place I’d definitely want to know.” She took off her glasses and covered her suddenly-wet eyes. Amy was instantly up and holding her in a hug.

“Hey. Geez, what’s going on, babe?”

“Kate is cheating on you.”

Amy froze. “She’s what?”

“Miranda and I saw her last night. She was with that photographer, Nick. The one who has been staying with you the past few months. We were leaving Gail’s and we saw them walking together. I thought it would be nice to go say hi, but Kate kissed her. It didn’t look like it was just a friendly smooch, and it didn’t look like the first time. I’m so sorry, Amy.”

“Oh.” She rubbed Nadine’s back between the shoulders. “Oh, honey. Nicole and Kate are… allowed.”

Nadine frowned, her face looking naked and young without her glasses. “What do you mean, allowed?”

Amy sighed. “The three of us have a… thing. A few years ago when Nicole came back to the island, the three of us had a little fling. It was going to be a one-time thing, but we didn’t expect the feelings to crop up the way they did. So when she came back to stay, and we invited her to live with us until she found a place of her own, it was just a natural progression.”

“But… both of them?”

“I don’t understand it, either. I can be the most jealous woman you’ve ever seen. But I love Kate and Nick, and I love that they love each other.”

“It can’t be equal.”

Amy shook her head. “No. None of us claim it’s equal. I love Kate more, and Nicole hurt me too much for me to ever give her my entire heart again. Nicole loves Kate, but they would never work by themselves. If it was anyone but Nicole… or anyone but Kate… I’d say it was impossible. Somehow we manage.”

Nadine said, “So when Nicole moved in with you… she wasn’t just a houseguest.”

“She is. She’s looking for a place of her own. But in the meantime, yes, she’s sharing our bed.”

“Whoa. I didn’t expect that.”

Amy chuckled. “Well, we’re not exactly broadcasting the information. This town might be open-minded but I think there are limits to what people will accept. So you can tell Miranda, of course, but–”

“Not a word,” Nadine promised.

“Oh, honey.” Amy stepped close and hugged her again. “Thank you for looking after me. It means a lot that you would come down here to protect me.”

Nadine exhaled. “Yeah. And to be honest, this is a much easier pill to swallow than the idea of Kate cheating on you. It tore me up inside trying to figure out how she could do such an awful thing. But this…” She grinned. “It’s not entirely out of the blue.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. When Kate and I were together, the subject of a threesome came up once or twice. I was always the one who resisted it. I guess we just didn’t have the right person.”

Amy blushed. “Well. I don’t know. All I know is that I never saw myself being in love with two people at the same time. The idea seemed tied together with cheating, so I just never… but it’s great. And you know what the oddest perk of it is?”

Nadine wrinkled her nose. “If it’s something sexual…”

Amy slugged her shoulder. “No. I’m not quite that open with you, numbskull. Although there are things that Kate doesn’t like to do…”

Nadine’s eyes widened. “You mean the…” Amy nodded. “She still won’t do that? What a coward!”

“Right? But when I want it, Nicole is more than happy to oblige. And while Kate won’t do it, she’s more than happy to watch.”

Nadine’s cheeks flushed red. “Hoo. I think the heat from the kitchen is getting to me.”

Amy laughed. “Okay, well. What I was going to say, the best part of the bargain is how much solitude it gives me. I know, it sounds counterintuitive. But if I want some alone time, if I want to linger in the bath or have a quiet dinner by myself, I don’t have to worry about abandoning Kate. She has Nicole to keep her company. Same with Nicole. They can go off on a walk together, or grab dinner at Gail’s, and I can sit and veg out in front of the TV for a while. Alternatively, if I have a bad day, I have four arms to hug me and four shoulders to cry on.”

“Sounds lovely,” Nadine said. “I feel kind of silly now, coming–”

“Hey, you had my best interest at heart. I’m touched. And Nicole and Kate will be honored to know you’re watching out for us. But everything is okay. I swear.”

Nadine breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, I’m glad. I was terrified of how this would go.”

Amy tilted her head. “How do you think it would have gone? If Kate was cheating on me?”

“I’d have helped you dump all her things on the sidewalk outside the apartment.”

“Just like a good friend,” Amy said. “And if I ever see Miranda kissing someone else, I’ll…” She thought for a moment. “Well, I’ll have bigger concerns about being trapped in an alternate universe.”

Nadine laughed. “Yeah. Phew. Okay. The thing I’ve been dreading all day is over. I’m really happy for you. And for Kate. But I don’t know Nicole well enough to be happy for her, especially after I spent all day thinking she was a homewrecker.”

Amy snickered. “Well, let’s change that. Now that you’re aware of our little dynamic, let’s get together. You and Miranda, me and my gals. We were on our best behavior last time we all had a night out, so this time we’ll be able to be more open.”

“Sounds good. I’ll ask Miranda when we’re free.”

“Thank you, Nadine. It’s good to know you were watching my back.”

“Any time, Ames.” She kissed Amy’s cheek. “I’ll call you later so we can set something up.”

“Okay. Take care.”

When Nadine was gone, Amy chuckled to herself and dialed Kate’s desk at the newspaper.

“This is the Register. Kathryn Price’s desk.”

“Mm, I love it when you talk business.”

“How may I assist you this afternoon?”

“What are you wearing?”

“My hair is up in a bun, I’m wearing big giant glasses, and a tight miniskirt.”

Amy chuckled. “Really?”

“No. I just know you have a Lois Lane fetish, and I’m very happy to play it up for you. Is that all you called about?”

“No.” Amy took a seat behind her desk and put her feet up. “It seems the Pixie has a newsflash that you missed out on. Some reporter you are. Apparently someone in this town is having an affair.”

“Oh? Anyone I know?”

“Someone you know intimately. She saw you kissing Nicole. How could you do this to me? And with my girlfriend, of all people!”

“We wanted to tell you, but there was never a good time. You were either in bed with her, or in bed with me, or all of us together, and it just never came up.”

Amy laughed. “So. Nadine knows.”

“Are you okay with that?”

“Me, yeah. I’m fine with it. Are you?”

Kate sighed. “I was dreading it, but I guess it’s better she knows. How did she take it?”

“She’s just happy you weren’t cheating on me.”

“She really thought that?”

“You should have seen her, Kate. It was tearing her up, but she felt I should know. She was looking out for me. For us. And now she’s happy that we’ve found something that works for us.” She realized she was about to start crying. “I know I’ve been a little gun-shy at the thought of telling people about this, but Nadine… Nadine accepts us. I think as long as we have her in our corner, screw what anyone else thinks.”

Kate chuckled. “I agree.”

“I’m not going to put an announcement in the paper or anything. But I’m going to relax a little about the three of us going out in public together. I’ve been scared for too long. I want to celebrate the women I’m lucky enough to call mine.”

“Good. That’s great to hear, Amy.”

Amy took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I love you, Kate.”

“I love you, too. Oh, Nicole just walked in. Want to say hi to her?”

“Sure.” There was a shuffling noise as the phone changed hands.

“Hey, darling. Why do you have Kate all red-eyed and… what? Oh. She didn’t want you to know she was crying.”

Amy grinned. “Tell her I’m a little weepy, too.”

“What were you guys talking about?”

“I’ll let Kate tell you. I just wanted to say I love you.”

“I love you, too. It’s happy crying, right?”

“Oh, yeah. Happy crying.”

“Good. I’ll see you tonight. I have some news of my own. I might have become a mentor today.”

“Wow. That is good news! I can’t wait to hear all about it.”

“Want me to put Kate back on?”

“No, that’s not necessary. Just give her my love.”

“Will do. See you tonight.”

Amy hung up and rested the phone on her stomach. On her desk, right next to the computer monitor, was a framed picture of Nicole and Kate. There had been a time when she thought she would be with Nicole forever, and then a time afterward when she thought she’d never love again. Then she met Kate, who mended the wounds Nicole had made… and who had created the opening that let Nicole into her life again.

She ran her finger over the line of Kate’s cheek, then Nicole’s. “My gals,” she whispered. She chuckled to herself, put the picture back, and went to relieve a member of the front-line crew.

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