Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Every New Beginning

On New Year’s Eve, Jill Hood-Colby and Rachel Tom both have encounters that could change their relationships forever.

“You’re listening to KELF, the island’s home for classic rock. You remember classic rock, don’t you? When artists didn’t have to dress in meat suits or choreograph elaborate dances in their concerts to distract you from the fact they were singing through a machine? Sorry, sorry, I’m not going all old fogey on you. I just love the music that was new when my parents were kids. I am Nadine Butler, your Pixie, and I am indeed pulling double duty today. I’ll get to leave here after my regular shift, relax for a few hours, and then I will be back here for the New Years Eve countdown. I think I’m a victim of reverse favoritism.” She chuckled. “I kid. The truth is, as long as my wife is keeping me company, there is nowhere I would rather be tonight than with you fine folks. So settle in and get ready for an all-Dean day to end your year. Stick around.”

 

Jill could just barely hear the radio that was playing from the ceiling speakers. She was seated as far from the door as possible, but she still felt a burst of cool air every time someone entered or left Coffee Table Books. The drizzle outside was part of the reason the place was so packed; people lingered over their coffee, reading the news or emails off their phones. She found it funny that people joked about being promised flying cars in the twenty-first century when real life was pretty darn futuristic.

 

During her people-watching, she noticed a man near the counter who seemed to be seeking out a place to sit. He was out of luck if he wasn’t there to meet someone; every booth and every table was occupied and no one showed signs of getting up in the near future. She considered the remnants of her coffee and the crumbs on her napkin, guilt urging her to raise her hand and motion him over.

 

As he got closer she realized why he had caught her eye. His sandy hair was neatly trimmed but long enough to reveal it had a bit of a curl to it. He had olive skin and small green eyes, and when he arrived at the table, he offered a smile that was distractingly familiar. If his hair was a little longer, and if he was just a little more slender in the torso, she would have thought he was Patricia’s twin brother. She motioned at the empty chair across from her.

 

“I’m going to leave as soon as I finish my coffee. No reason we can’t overlap a little.”

 

“Thank you. I was about to just crouch against the wall.”

 

Jill looked at the people still at the counter. “You might have just been the first of many. Heat, plus the ambient warmth of the stoves mean that this place is probably as cozy a nest as we’ll find today. I’m Jill.”

 

He nodded and extended his hand across the table. “Jill Hood-Colby. I know. I voted for your wife.”

 

“Oh.” She still wasn’t used to the idea that she was a pseudo-celebrity on the island despite the fact all their friends had spent the last year with Patricia’s name planted on their lawns and pinned to their lapels. She shook his hand. “Well, she appreciates the vote.”

 

“I voted for her, and her wife graciously provides me with a place to sit. It’s karma.”

 

She smiled. “I suppose so. Or just a small island, one or the other.”

 

He laughed. “Noah Crain.”

 

“Pleasure to meet you. So if you voted that means you live on the island…?”

 

“Sort of yes, sort of no. I live island-adjacent.” He let that linger for a moment before he took pity on her. “I have a houseboat.”

 

“Ahh. So it must be really freezing out there.”

 

He shrugged and looked toward the window. “It’s fine as long as I stay below decks. And once I get to work, we have big industrial heaters that will make me wish for the cold.”

 

“What do you do?”

 

“Carpentry. I work for Beverly Meade…?” Jill tried to place the name, but she wasn’t familiar. “We do household fixtures. Cabinets, cupboards, doors, that sort of thing. The sort of thing that no one really thinks about but everyone needs.”

 

“Oh! Doors and cabinets… we have those in our house.”

 

“See?” He smiled. “But see, now the conversation is lopsided, because you don’t have to do the biography. I know you’re a teacher. Elementary school, right?”

 

Jill nodded. “Yes. Fifth grade. When we get back after winter break, we’ll be using The Phantom Tollbooth to learn about figurative language.”

 

“That sounds fun. I loved reading, just not in school. It seemed like the moment reading became an assignment, I lost all interest in it.”

 

“A lot of the kids feel that way, too. That’s why I’m trying to use the lesson to enhance their enjoyment, rather than making it work.”

 

He smiled and Jill was struck again by his resemblance to Patricia. It wasn’t as apparent up close, but she could still see hints of what had confused her.

 

“I’m sorry. But you only know Patricia through the election? You’re not a cousin or anything like that?”

 

Noah lifted an eyebrow. “Not that I know of.”

 

“Sorry. It’s just you bear a slight resemblance to her. It’s the eyes, I think. And the hair.”

 

“Oh. I never really noticed anything.” He touched his cheek and then self-consciously dropped his hand. “I suppose there are worse people to look like.”

 

Jill nodded. “Oh, yes. Much worse. So are you spending the whole day freezing out on your houseboat?”

 

“No, actually. I’m going in to work.”

 

“On New Years?”

 

He shrugged. “It’s not really, ah… It’s sort of a side project. I’m working on a sailboat.”

 

“Ah.” Something clicked in her head and she smiled.

 

Noah seemed to recognize the expression and faked an exasperated sigh. “Yes, yes. My name is Noah and I’m building a boat. I’ve always loved boats, and the past few years I’ve been working on one of my own. Don’t start buying flood insurance.”

 

Jill chuckled. “Sorry. You probably hear it all the time. Was it due to your name, or…?”

 

“In spite of the name, actually. I didn’t want to hear a thousand ark jokes, so I kept it secret. I didn’t have boat pajamas or posters on my wall. But whenever I got a chance to go out onto the water, I took it. Finally I just decided to throw caution to the wind and do what I loved.”

 

“Good for you. I’m sorry I laughed.”

 

“Ah, don’t be. You earned it by offering me a seat. And it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I’ve had people give me animal crackers, stuffed animals, all sorts of things.”

 

“When I was a kid, one of my foster brothers was named Mario. It was a family name, and he had just started kindergarten when the game came out. I lived with him when we were nine, and already he’d heard enough plumber jokes to last him a lifetime. The poor guy.”

 

Noah winced. “Wow. Kids are always going to be jerks, but it sucks when fates conspire to make teasing so easy. If I ever had a kid, I would name him something normal. Like Ichabod.”

 

“Ichabod Crain,” Jill said, pretending to consider it. “Kind of has a ring to it.”

 

“I’d just warn him to stay away from people on horseback.”

 

Jill laughed. “So you said ‘if.’ Are you not planning to have kids?”

 

“Wow, the conversation got deep.”

 

“That’s the price for sitting with a teacher. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. I’m just curious.”

 

He shrugged. “No, I don’t mind. I’m not planning on kids, or even getting married any time soon. I enjoy being on my own. I make a good living for one person, and when I finish my boat I’ll be able to head off whenever I want without worrying about people counting on me back at home. It’s selfish, I know, but–”

 

“No, actually. There’s nothing inherently selfish about deciding how you want to live. Just because you’re able to get married and have children doesn’t mean you’re obligated to.”

 

He laughed nervously. “Well, again, that’s where you suffer from being famous. I’m sitting here dismissive of getting married when you and your wife have only just gotten the ability to marry each other. And I’m shrugging off the idea of having children where you… well, you can. Of course you can. But where it could happen accidentally for me, it would be a financial burden.”

 

She smiled. “Actually, Patricia and I have decided we’re going to look into the possibility of having another child.”

 

“Ouch. I’m sorry. But that’s what I mean. I feel like a tool because I have the ability and choose not to, but you have decided you want to and have to jump through hoops.”

 

Jill looked down into her coffee, pausing before she took the final swallow. “You don’t have to apologize for being a man, Mr. Crain.”

 

He shook his head. “I know. But I would help you if I could.”

 

Jill blinked. “What do you mean?”

 

He stared for a moment, and then shock crossed his face. “Oh, God. I didn’t mean… I didn’t mean anything like that. I just mean, I wish there was an easier way for you than spending thousands of dollars for treatments that may not work. When I could do it accidentally for the price of a couple of drinks at the bar. It’s like breaking a butterfly upon a wheel.”

 

Jill smiled. “Alexander Pope. But that actually refers to doing something complicated to achieve something unimportant.”

 

“Damn. Never quote poets in front of a teacher.”

 

She laughed. “Thank you for saying you would help us. It was a lovely gesture. And… you do really look like Patricia. That would be a plus when the baby came.” She realized she was considering the pros and cons and shook her head. “But… yes. That is far too much to ask just for offering you a seat in a crowded coffeehouse. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

 

“You didn’t. It came up. And for the record, you’re not asking.” He coughed into his fist and shifted on his seat. “Look, we don’t know each other. I don’t know if it would be better or worse if we did know each other. I’m just saying that instead of going broke and spending time running back and forth to a clinic, maybe you could take advantage of my… I don’t want to call it a skill. But if you want to use my potential drunk-induced accident to your benefit, I would be happy to help you out.”

 

Jill stared at him for a moment. “That’s–”

 

“Inappropriate?”

 

She chuckled. “Yeah, that too. I was going to say sweet. Kind. I don’t think Patricia is looking to have another father in the mix.”

 

“She wouldn’t. I don’t want a child, but I can help make one. You want a child, you just lack the tools. I’m a carpenter. I’m fine with being considered a tool.” He chuckled nervously. “Look, it’s a sincere offer, but it’s not one you have to take seriously. It’s open-ended. If you decide to take me up on it, let me know.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Why?”

 

“Why are you making this offer to a complete stranger? I mean, you’ve read about us in the paper, fine. But you don’t know us. Why would you just, out of the blue, offer something so precious?”

 

He thought for a moment. “You’re kind. You’re smart and funny. But most of all, I believe people should be able to choose the life they want without worrying over how much it costs to get it. I have the life I want, and I have the ability to help you get the life you want.”

 

Jill nodded slowly and then took out a pen. “Write down your number.”

 

“What?”

 

“I’ll talk with Patricia. No promises, no expectations, just a phone number so that we can get in touch if we decide to. And we’ll… we’ll see.”

 

He hesitated, then picked up the pen and wrote seven digits. He pushed it back to her. “Good luck.”

 

“Thanks.” She folded the paper and slipped it into her pocket. “I should probably go.” She stood and gathered her things, leaving a tip on the table. She buttoned her coat and faced him again. “Good luck with your boat, Noah. And thank you.”

 

“I haven’t done anything yet.”

 

She shrugged. “You know what they say this time of year. It’s the thought that counts, right?” She held out her hand. “If we don’t see each other again, I had a lovely time speaking with you, Mr. Crain.”

 

“Please, call me Ichabod.”

 

Jill laughed. “Enjoy your coffee.”

 

He lifted the glass in a toast to her as she left, moving through the crowd and stepping back out into the drizzle. She looked back through the sleet-hazed window at the back of Noah Crain’s head. She brushed her gloved hand over the pocket that held his number and considered how she would bring up the topic with Patricia.

 

“That was Simple Minds with ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me).’ A fitting sendoff to the year that was, huh? The presidential election finally came to an end, and not a moment too soon… we got a new mayor not only from outside the Dugan family but an openly-gay female mayor. I could hardly believe it when I woke up the next morning. And I got legally married to my beautiful Miranda. The year had ups and downs, but let’s not let the downs negate the ups. We’ve got more music on the way… I have carte blanche to be as esoteric as I want, so get ready to walk five hundred miles like Egyptians who have been blinded by science. This is the Pixie, and thank you for joining me on this special nighttime broadcast of my show… We’ll be right back, and we’ll be ringing in the New Year with a special rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ Stick around.”

 

Rachel Tom ventured into the kitchen and turned on the light over the sink to rinse out the glasses. In the living room their friends continued chattering over the radio commercials. Everywhere else in the country could watch the balls dropping on New Years, but on Squire’s Isle it was rung in with the Pixie. Rachel put the freshly-rinsed glasses on a rack to dry and turned to see Zoe Hudson watching her from the doorway.

 

Zoe was new to the island and the hospital, but Rachel had already learned to rely on her in a pinch. Her skin was porcelain-doll perfect, with rounded cheeks and a slightly dimpled chin. Her eyes were bright blue, contrasting her thin black hair. She was the feminine side of Alex’s butch coin, soft where Alex was muscled and hard. Tonight she was out of her scrubs and in a lightweight cable-knit sweater

 

She smiled. “Zoe, hey. I meant to tell you that you clean up nice.”

 

“You’re not so bad yourself. You should be out there where people can appreciate the effort you put in. Do you always do dishes at your own parties?”

 

Rachel laughed. “Once a wallflower, always a wallflower. Without Alex here to force me to mingle, I revert back to my old ways. No one’s offended, are they?”

 

“Offended? No. But we did come here expecting to see you from time to time. You’re the host, not the hired help. Where is Alex, anyway?”

 

“Holding down the fort at the fire station.” She sighed sadly. “People shooting off fireworks all night means that she has to be on-call.”

 

Zoe winced. “That sucks. So she’ll be getting home and going to bed around the time you wake up.”

 

“Yeah. We’re used to it. We both have crazy shifts. Sometimes it’s me working at night, it just so happens that tonight is her turn. We’ve learned to make the most of our staggered schedule.” She smiled at the memory of their mixed meals, her eating oatmeal while Alex had spaghetti and meatballs.

 

“Well, that’s no excuse to deprive us of your presence. You can leave the dishes until everyone else leaves, and I promise to help you clean up.”

 

“Thank you. I’d appreciate that. Ah, but that means I wouldn’t have an excuse to hang out here in the dark.”

 

She grinned and took Rachel’s hand. “Come on. If you need to be forced to socialize, I’ll take the job tonight.”

 

She grumbled as she was dragged back into the embrace of those nearest and dearest to her. When midnight loomed, she tapped her glass and raised a toast.

 

“We’re one of the last time zones in the world to welcome the new year, but we do it right. With laughter and love, and a promise to have more of both in the future. Thank you all for sharing 2012 with us, and here’s to 2013.”

 

“Hear, hear,” their neighbor said, and they drank. Rachel hushed everyone when she heard Nadine preparing the countdown.

 

Okay, folks, here… we go. In twenty– Okay, I won’t go that far, but now we’re at… ten!</i>” Rachel smiled and counted down with the rest of the party. Zoe was standing near her and she raised her glass to her as they reached one. A few people had noisemakers that they set off, and couples turned to each other for the traditional kiss. Rachel laughed and turned to say something to Zoe.

 

Zoe cupped Rachel’s cheek and kissed her. Rachel was too shocked to react before the kiss ended, left open-mouthed and wide-eyed as Zoe brushed her thumb over Rachel’s cheek and then turned to face the crowd. Rachel looked around as well, but it seemed like the moment had gone by unnoticed. She resisted the urge to wipe off her lips out of sheer politeness, her forced smile becoming more relaxed as she exchanged well wishes with an intern.

 

The crowd made their way out by twelve-forty-five. Zoe lingered in the living room, picking up discarded plastic cups and plates that had held cake. Rachel joined her, the two of them alone, and pushed up the sleeves of her sweater.

 

“Um…”

 

“Did you still want me to help you clean up?”

 

Rachel hesitated only for a second. “Yes. Sure. Yes, of course. Let me get a trash bag out of the kitchen.” She passed Zoe and went into the darkened kitchen, anxious to be alone with Zoe after what had happened. She got out the trash bag and turned to see Zoe had followed her again. “Oh. Uh. Trash bag.”

 

“Look, you’re upset, but I don’t know how to apologize without making it more awkward. I just thought you deserved a kiss at midnight.”

 

“Oh! It’s fine. The holiday and everything. Don’t even think about it.”

 

“Still. I shouldn’t have just… I should have asked before I just assaulted you.”

 

Rachel smiled. “That would have been nice. But it was New Year, midnight… we should just leave it at that.” Her voice was soft, almost a whisper, as if she was afraid Alex would overhear her full voice even across town.

 

“Can I just make an observation?”

 

Rachel shrugged and nodded in the same motion. “Sure.”

 

“If you were certain you didn’t want it, you would be mad. You wouldn’t be conflicted. You’d ask me to leave. But you’re not doing that.” She sighed. “I hate this. But I’ve been attracted to you since we met. And if there’s a chance… I don’t want to miss it because I was polite.”

 

“Zoe, Alex and I have been together for almost seven years now…”

 

“Seems to me like it’s time to make a decision. If you’re willing to keep on going the way you have been, or if you need to make a change.”

 

Rachel closed her eyes. Her heart was racing. “Zoe, I don’t know what to say.”

 

“Say stop. Or say don’t… tell me not to do what we both know I’m about to do.”

 

“Zoe…”

 

Their lips met again, and Rachel whimpered. Her hands hovered at hip-length, the trash bag trailing from one like a banner on a still day. Zoe stroked Rachel’s arms and stepped closer, pressing against her. Rachel felt the edge of the trash can against her hip as her lips parted under a gentle touch from Zoe’s tongue. Zoe moved her hands across Rachel’s shoulders and teased the top button of her blouse.

 

Rachel twisted her head away, folding in on herself since she couldn’t retreat any further.

 

“Stop.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

Rachel wanted to shout yes, wanted to force her new… her former?… friend out of the house. But instead she meekly said, “I don’t know. But still… stop.”

 

Zoe stepped back, and Rachel felt like she could breathe again.

 

“I’m sorry,” Zoe said.

 

“Don’t be.”

 

“Well, one of us needs to be. And I was the instigator, so… sorry.” She looked toward the living room. “I know I said I would help you clean up, but I think it would be best if I–”

 

“Yes. Definitely. Yes.” She gripped Zoe’s wrist so she wouldn’t hurry away. “But I’m not mad. Or I am. But not at you. I’m mad because I don’t know if I’m mad or not.”

 

Zoe touched Rachel’s hand. “I understand. I’m sorry I put you in this situation, but I couldn’t let the opportunity pass. I really do think you’re an amazing person, Rachel. And I think you should have someone who is here for you. I’d like it to be me. But if Alex gives you that and I just don’t see it, then I’ll be happy. Single, but happy. I’m going to go. I’ll see you at work on Wednesday.”

 

“Yes. Yeah.”

 

She nodded and dropped her hand, letting Zoe go. She started trying to clean, but her mind wouldn’t shut up until she found her phone and dialed Alex’s number. She sat on the edge of the couch and looked at the paper plates loaded with crumbs and the empty glasses and beer bottles. She rubbed her cheek as the phone rang, closing her eyes as she moved her hand up to her forehead.

 

“Rachel? Everything okay?”

 

“Yeah. God, you were asleep, weren’t you? I’m sorry…”

 

“Don’t be.”

 

She heard the familiar click of the bedside lamp, and she got a clear image in her mind of the loft upstairs at the fire station. Two cots against each wall, separated by a night table with a lamp. Alex’s bunkers were most likely on the floor where she could simply step into them when and if it was necessary.

 

“You know I don’t sleep well when I’m on-call. Or when I’m away from you. You sound strange.”

 

Rachel blinked away tears. “Just tired, I guess. I miss you.”

 

“I miss you, too. Want to come down here and cuddle with me? I may drop you on the floor if I get a call…”

 

Rachel laughed and a tear fell free. “I’d understand. Alex, I…” She flipped through the options as if they were written on cards in front of her. I have a confession to make. I kiss another woman. I’m not sure I feel bad enough about it. She bit her bottom lip and imagined she could still taste Zoe. “I just wanted to say happy new year.”

 

Alex chuckled. “Happy new year. How was the party?”

 

“Good. Fine. I wish you had been there.” I really, really wish you’d been here. “Everyone missed you.”

 

“I’ll make it up to them next year.”

 

Silence loomed, and Rachel massaged the bridge of her nose. “I’ll let you go… you need to be well rested if any calls come in.”

 

“Yeah. You should get to bed, too.”

 

“Wake me up when you get home, okay?”

 

“Sure. Thanks for the permission… I planned to wake you and then hope you weren’t too mad about me disturbing your beauty sleep.”

 

Rachel laughed. “I love you, Alexandra.”

 

“I love you, too. Happy 2013.”

 

“Happy 2013. Goodnight, baby.” She disconnected the call and looked at the phone, sincerely hoping that it would indeed be a happy year. She knew it should have been the easiest decision she’d ever make, and the fact that it wasn’t tore her apart. She put down her phone and went to the window. The sleet earlier had turned to snow, and she could feel the cold emanating off the glass. She crossed her arms over her chest and watched the flakes tumble, knowing there was no way she would sleep before dawn.

 

She had far too much thinking to do.

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