Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Could’ve Beens, Nicole Bronwyn/Amy Wellis/Kate Price

Summary: A message from someone in her past keeps Nicole from sleeping soundly.

In her dream, Audrey McClellan was seated on the edge of her bed in the barracks, feet planted on the floor. She was wearing boots and her fatigue pants with a light brown T-shirt on top. Her hair was up as it almost always was, and she was shuffling through a stack of photographs from Nicole’s portfolio. Nicole was standing to one side of her, thumbs hooked in her belt as she watched. After a moment she moved her hands to her camera and lifted it.

“Hey. McClellan.” Audrey looked up. “Let me take your picture.”

Audrey raised up just a little and smiled at the lens. Nicole held the camera up, her finger poised over the snap. She waited and Audrey stared until, finally, her face relaxed into a more natural grin.

“Well, are you gonna take it or–”

Nicole snapped the picture mid-sentence and smiled as she lowered the camera. “Sorry. A little trick I have. When people know they’re going to be photographed, they pose. I hate posed pictures. So I wait a few seconds and the pose kind of evaporates and I get a much better picture.” She looked at the preview screen on the back of the camera. “Yeah. Lovely.”

Audrey put down the pictures and stood up. She stepped into Nicole’s personal space, the camera still between them, and brought her hands up. She stroked Nicole’s neck, pushed up into her hair, and said, “How about we take a few candids?”

Nicole shifted under her blankets, drawing up one knee as her hand moved over the crotch of her underwear. She tugged her T-shirt up over her stomach and rubbed her palm against the smooth skin before drifting back down. In the dream they didn’t have to worry about anyone catching them, although the element of getting caught was part of the thrill. There was no Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and no one’s career was on the line. In the dream, they didn’t stop themselves.

She stretched her left leg toward the foot of the bed, her right knee still bent, and she used two fingers to rub herself as she imagined how their quick seduction would have gone. She saw herself peeling off Audrey’s T shirt, bending down to kiss the swell of her breasts as she reached back to unhook her bra. They fell onto the bed, one of Audrey’s legs coming up to wrap around Nicole’s hip. In bed, Nicole pushed a hand up under her nightshirt and cupped her breast, pinching the nipple.

The line between dream and consciousness blurred further until she woke up panting. She arched her back and lifted her hips to meet her hand, then realized how ridiculous it was to make herself come when she had two willing women sleeping down the hall.

Nicole managed to back down off the edge, still breathing heavy and aware of her sweaty skin. She kicked the blankets away, adjusted her clothes, and slipped out of her bedroom to venture down the hall to the master bedroom. She paused just outside the door and listened, then twisted the knob and stuck her head inside. Kate and Amy were curled up on one side of the large bed, leaving room enough for two other people on the far side of the bed.

Nicole knew that she would be welcomed if she wanted to join them, knew that either or both would have given up a few minutes of sleep to take care of her itch, but they were far too adorable to disturb. Kate had one arm slung across Amy’s waist and their fingers were laced together. From the beginning of their admittedly unique arrangement, she’d believed Amy and Kate had a special bond that excluded her. They invited her into their bed, their home, and their lives, but every now and again she knew they needed to just be with each other. Sensing this was one of those times, she backed out of the room and softly closed the door behind her.

She went downstairs and retrieved her laptop from the coffee table. She turned the armchair in the living room so she could look outside, propped the computer on her lap, and logged on. The email was right where she had left it, all those hours ago. Read, but so far without reply. She moved the cursor over, clicked, and chewed her thumbnail as she stared at the message again.

Nick!

Guess who! Well, I guess the email address kind of gives it away. I’ve missed you like hell! Not a lot of time, but I wanted to drop you a letter to let you know I’m back stateside and here to STAY this time. That’s right, chick, you’re talking to a civilian right now. Or you will be, if this is still your email address. Right now I’m settling back in, trying to adjust, all that fun stuff. But one of these days I’m going to have to track you down and buy you a drink. We left a lot of stuff over there in the sand. Might be nice to pick some of it back up. You never know, right? Like I said, lots to email and not a lot of time to do it all. Hope to hear from you soon!

Lots of love,
Audrey McClellan
(no rank! Whoo!)

Nicole had no idea how she would respond to the note. On the one hand, it was clear Audrey was expecting to hook up. A few years earlier she would have sent a reply with her address and then waited at the front door in nothing but her finest underwear until Audrey showed up to take it off of her. During all her travels, every city she’d called home for however long, she’d had girlfriends. Casual hookups, women who didn’t care if Nicole wanted to commit because they had their own relationships going on the side. She’d broken it off with everyone when she decided to try monogamy, an experiment that ended in heartbreak, but that had left her truly single for the first time in her adult life. She came back to Squire’s Isle, reunited with Kate and Amy, and started building their amazing life together.

Audrey McClellan, though… she was different. Nicole met her when she was working as an embedded photographer, riding along in Humvees to get action shots of the troops. She didn’t know if Audrey had been assigned to escort her around or if they simply gravitated toward one another out of a mutual attraction. Whatever the reason Nicole found herself with an honest-to-goodness crush for the first time since high school. She could tell Audrey felt the same for her, and for several days tried to get her to make a move.

Finally, one night after dinner, Nicole got tired of waiting. She asked for some night shots of the base, and Audrey agreed to take her out to make sure she didn’t wander anywhere restricted. As soon as they were out of sight and unobserved, Nicole reached out to take Audrey’s hand. Audrey had looked down, looked at her, then pulled Nicole into the shadow of a barrack. Nicole was positive she was about to get laid, her free hand moving to the waistband of her pants even as Audrey stopped and began speaking.

“We can’t do that. Don’t hold my hand, don’t touch my knee, don’t… do any of that. Okay? Please.”

Nicole had backed up a step. “Oh. God, I thought… I was getting signals. If I was wrong…”

“No. No. Not wrong. But this is…” She sighed. “I didn’t know I’d been sending signals. It was inadvertent.”

“But not inaccurate.”

Audrey sighed. “No. No, not even a little bit. You’re hot.”

Nicole chuckled.

“But as long as I’m wearing this uniform, I can’t… be that. I wish I could.”

“Me too.” Nicole reached up to touch her cheek, but thought better of it. She tucked her thumb under her fingers and dropped her hand to her side. “I’m pretty bad at it anyway. It wouldn’t be worth getting in trouble over.”

Audrey laughed. “Yeah. I can tell by looking at you it would have been kind of shitty.” She looked out to see if anyone had wandered into the vicinity. “I’m flattered. To think you… and I’m… well, I’m just saying if we met anywhere else but here…”

“Good to know,” Nicole said softly. She looked down at her camera. “I guess I’d better get some of those shots we were talking about…”

“Oh, right. Yeah.”

Nicole wondered if she still had any of those pictures in her portfolio. She remembered trying to get Audrey into as many shots as possible so she would have something to remember her by. When her time with the troop ended, she came home but still exchanged the occasional email with Audrey. There was nothing prurient in any of the emails, nothing that would have thrown up a red flag, but Nicole could read the subtext underneath.

In a strange way, Audrey was her second-longest relationship after Amy. Even though they’d never slept together she figured it would still count. She and Amy had a huge gap in their relationship history. She had moved away, they both had other relationships, but here they were again. She knew the hiatus happened because she and Amy were horrible as a pair. They needed Kate, and Amy needed time to find her. The heart worked funny that way.

She closed her laptop and looked out the window. She closed her eyes and, either fifteen minutes or an hour later, she heard footsteps on the stairs behind her. The hall light was on when she opened her eyes, reflecting off the glass so she didn’t have to turn around to see Amy was coming down. She was dressed for work, everything but her hair and makeup done, and she paused when she saw Nicole.

“Hey. You okay?”

“Yeah. Couldn’t sleep.”

Amy changed course, slid her hand across Nicole’s shoulders, and bent to kiss the top of her head. “You should have come to snuggle. Katie was already in my room.”

Nicole smiled. “I know. I saw her.”

“Ah. Well, you should have slid in.”

Nicole tilted her head back and motioned for Amy to bend down to kiss her. When they parted, Nicole said, “I love you and Kate. You deserve a night alone.”

“You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Do you want some breakfast? I was just going to nuke something from the freezer.”

Nicole put her laptop aside and stood up. “Let me make you something. You go up and finish getting ready, and I’ll cook breakfast for both you and Kate.”

Amy said, “You sure?”

“Yeah.” She rubbed Amy’s arms. “There is something I want to talk about, when we have some more time. It’s not important, but I wanted to pencil in a little time for a powwow.”

Amy looked at her for a long moment before she nodded. “Okay.” She took Nicole’s hand. “But. You’re being all serious. I want to make sure it’s nothing bad. Kate and I both love you. You know that, right?”

Nicole smiled and cupped Amy’s face. She leaned in and kissed her, holding as long as she felt she could get away with before she pulled back. Amy sucked her bottom lip into her mouth with a sigh of pleasure and smiled.

“Just so we’re clear.”

“We’re clear. I just need to talk about a decision I have to make, and I think it’s a decision the three of us need to make together.”

Amy nodded. “Okay. Well, I know Kate’s not working tomorrow, and I could leave the store early. We could have dinner here and talk.”

“That sounds good.”

“Okay.” She took Nicole’s hand. “Forget about breakfast. Come here.”

Nicole let Amy lead her upstairs to the master bedroom. Kate was still fast asleep, and Amy guided Nicole to the side of the bed.

“Keep her warm for me, Nick?”

“Okay.”

Amy grinned and kissed the corners of Nicole’s mouth. “Love you. See you tonight.”

Nicole nodded, then pulled back the blankets and crawled under. Amy waved goodbye before she slipped back out into the hallway. Nicole adjusted the pillows as Kate sleepily pressed against her. Kate’s arms slid around her waist and, sensing the differences between her lovers, murmured, “Oh. Hi, Nick,” before she drifted off again. Nicole kissed Kate between the eyebrows and shushed her, hoping she would ease back into sleep.

She didn’t know what they were going to discuss over dinner. She didn’t know if she wanted them to tell her it was okay to have a fling with Audrey, or if she wanted them to tell her it was wrong. Audrey had been her dream girl for so long. She was the one who got away, the white whale. Whatever her girls said when she told them the whole story, whatever decision was made and whatever Nicole ended up putting in her eventual reply, she knew that she didn’t want to start a relationship with her elusive soldier.

She had everything she could ever want already, and she wasn’t going to risk that for anything.

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