Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Her Town

 

Summary:

With the end of her first term as mayor looming, Patricia has to decide whether or not she’s going to run again.

This story was first released as part of “Tales of Squire’s Isle, Vol 2,” which includes every Squire’s Isle story from 2012-2015. You can download it and Vol 1 (stories from 2007-2012) for FREE at the Supposed Crimes website!

Jill’s sleep was disturbed by the quiet chirp of Patricia’s cell phone. The ringtone was a recording of a surfbird’s song, which was mildly annoying to wake up to. The sound amused Isabel greatly, however, and for that she was willing to suffer through the sound. Patricia lifted her head off Jill’s shoulder and rolled over to unplug the phone from its charger. She muttered an apology and Jill accepted by rubbing her wife’s back through the thin material of her nightgown.

“This is Mayor Hood-Colby…”

Jill sat up and stretched. There was no point in trying to go back to sleep, so she put her feet on the floor and curled her toes in the carpet for a few seconds as Patricia listened to the caller. Jill went to the bathroom and slipped out to check on Isabel before she came back to bed. Patricia was sitting up against the pillows with her legs crossed in front of her. She had her tablet resting on her thigh and poked it with one finger as Jill got back into bed.

“Mike is usually in the office at seven-thirty. I’ll give him a call and see if he can come out before that. Would that be soon enough? Okay. Thank you, Miss Holcomb.” She hung up as Jill got back into bed. “I wish I’d known before I ran that part of my duties would involve five o’clock wake-up calls to deal with Ethyl Holcomb’s skunk problem.”

Jill chuckled softly. “Just give her the number for animal control’s office.”

“I tried that. She likes talking to me.” She slid down, put her phone and computer back on the nightstand, and tried to resume the position in which she’d woken up. “I was having a nice dream, too.”

“You can probably catnap for a few minutes before you have to get up.”

“Mm. I have a department head meeting today.” She slid her hand across Jill’s hip. “How is the baby?”

“The baby is sleeping peacefully.”

“At least one of the women in this house will have a good night’s sleep.” She kissed Jill’s neck. “I should go ahead and get up.”

Jill kissed the top of Patricia’s head and let her go. They went through their morning routine quickly and efficiently. They showered together, shampooing each other’s hair being as close as they got to anything prurient, and Jill helped Isabel get dressed while Patricia fielded another call. When Patricia joined them in the kitchen, she paused to look at their toddler’s outfit: a pink dress under a yellow T-shirt. She was also wearing the wide-brimmed hat they used to keep the sun out of her eyes.

“I guess today was a hat day.”

Jill said, “She was very adamant.”

Isabel lifted the brim to look up at Patricia. “Hat, mama.”

“Yes, you do.” Patricia crouched and hauled Isabel up, grunting as the girl rested against her hip. There was no way their child was already too heavy to pick up and carry around. She refused to believe it was true, so she ignored the weight as she carried the curiously heavy child into the kitchen. She put Isabel in her chair and took out the picture book of animals they’d been reading with her. As she went through the animals – Isabel loved the panda, and was convinced that a cow was a big dog that said “Bark!” – Jill brought in breakfast. She ate, then took over with the baby so Patricia could eat.

“I don’t have anything to do this morning. Want us to walk you to work?” Jill asked.

“That would be sweet, yeah.”

School wasn’t starting for another week, and Jill was so focused that she had already done everything she could do at that point. She was enjoying the last few full days she would have with Isabel before she was forced to head back to class. She had her lesson plans set up. She had her class roster almost memorized, and the seating chart was officially finalized. All that remained was to make sure the classroom was ready for the horde of children that would descend upon it in a few days, and she wanted to save that for the last possible moment.

When they were done eating they put Isabel in her stroller and headed out. The walk to City Hall was under a mile if they took the shortest route, but Patricia suggested swinging by Coffee Table Books. The sun was just beginning to make its presence known. Jill shaded her eyes to look down at the mist clinging to the glassy surface of the harbor, the dark sailboats bobbing up and down in the maze of docks and walkways. Just across the street from their property, on a small strip of grass, an older man was leading a group of two men and one woman in elaborate stretching exercises. Three teenagers on bikes rode past, enjoying their last days of freedom before school started up again.

They had just started walking when someone beeped their horn. Linda Jacek pulled to the curb and got out of the car, hustling to catch up to them. She was a member of the city council, something to do with promotions and tourism, but Jill had never truly understood what her job was.

“Mayor Hood-Colby!” she said. “I’m so glad I caught you!”

“Hello, Linda.” Patricia looked apologetically to Jill, who winked and crouched to keep Isabel occupied during the conversation.

The town was beautiful, purple and pink and yellow, still cast in shadow but gilded by the newborn sunrise. Isabel had leaned forward in her stroller to look quizzically at the road curving out before them. She reached out and splayed her fingers at the harbor mists. Jill smiled, grateful that their daughter was so enthralled with water, nature, birds, trees… she occasionally played with a smartphone and she didn’t mind watching videos, but she didn’t truly engage with anything the way she did with the great outdoors.

“…about that this afternoon, okay? I’ll talk to you then.” Patricia waved goodbye to Linda and gave Jill a look as soon as her back was turned. “Office hours?” she said under her breath. “What are office hours?”

“Constructs meant to lull you into a false sense of security while you’re running for office?”

“That’s diabolical.”

They set out again, this time making it past the cemetery and almost to the elementary school before Patricia was stopped again. Grover Mullins, public works, needed to talk to her about closing down Corliss Street so his guys could fix a pothole. It had to be done before school started up or else the bus would be knocking over it two, three times a day. Patricia assured him she would see what she would do, wished him a good morning, and put her hand on top of Jill’s on the stroller handle.

“If we make a running break for it, I think we can get to Coffee Table Books before anyone else accosts us.”

“I’m willing to throw a few elbows if it comes to that.”

Patricia leaned against her. “You know, most couples would be stopped just as much, but it would be all ‘look at the cute baby!’”

“Isabel thanks you for sacrificing yourself for her privacy.”

Isabel looked up at the sound of her voice. Jill reached down and rubbed her cheek. By some miracle they did arrive at the coffee shop without further interruptions. Once inside, however, someone in a booth sat up straighter and lifted his hand to get Patricia’s attention. She kept a civil expression on her face but Jill knew her well enough to know she was moments away from murder. Jill patted her wrist.

“Double Americano, half-and-half?”

“Yes, please. Thank you.”

Patricia went to deal with the latest burden, and Jill guided Isabel’s stroller into the line. She knew Patricia expected her to be upset with the constant interruptions and, if it was an everyday occurrence she might have been. But their walks were seldom so stop-and-go, she knew there was nothing Patricia could do to prevent it, and she knew getting angry wouldn’t solve anything. By the time she reached the counter to give their order, Patricia had freed herself. They got their coffees and a milk for Isabel.

Outside the sun had fully risen and everyone seemed more focused on their own schedules than interrupting Patricia’s. Miranda Powell waved as she drove past on her way to work.

“I want to get out of here,” Patricia said.

“Long term or short?”

“Short, of course.” She brushed her hair out of her face. “Why? What if I meant long-term?”

Jill said, “Then I’d ask if we had time to run home and pack a bag before we hopped on the ferry.”

Patricia sipped her coffee and scanned the street. “Everyone in this town feels like they’re owed part of my time. Two minutes here, a couple of seconds there. I can’t even walk down the street without someone pulling me away from my family. You have school starting up next week, so this weekend is really the only time we’ll have a chance to escape. We’ll go to Seattle. See a ball game or something. We can visit Michael and see how it’s going with his dad.”

Jill handed Patricia her coffee and took out her phone. She typed with one hand while guiding the stroller with the other. “Oh! Hey, the Mariners are playing this Friday. There will be fireworks.”

“Sold,” Patricia said. “Get a couple of tickets when you get home.”

“I can get them now. Right behind home plate.”

Patricia whistled. “Sweet. I’ll make sure Mom or Callie can watch Isabel.” Jill finished ordering the tickets and took her coffee back. Patricia put her arm around Jill’s shoulder and kissed her hair. “Thank you for being so understanding about all the interruptions.”

“I knew when you ran that I’d have to share you with the whole town. At least it’s a relatively small town.”

“And you know exactly which person in the town is my first priority.”

“Gabe Hogard, right?”

Patricia snorted. “Sure. Yeah. Old Gabe, my number one.”

They stopped at the corner and waited for the traffic to clear so they could cross to City Hall. They were just about to step into the crosswalk when someone called out, “Mayor Hood-Colby!”

Patricia sighed.

 

#

 

That Friday, Patricia ate lunch at her desk in an effort to justify leaving early for their trip. She had just unwrapped the sandwich from Chaplin’s when Tobias Collins knocked on her office door. He spotted her food and began to backpedal immediately, lifting his hand in a silent apology. She waved him in. “You’re okay, Tobias. I’m working through lunch. If you don’t mind watching me eat, you can come on in.”

He entered and pushed the door mostly shut behind him. He was a tall man, broad at the shoulders, and even when he sat down across from her it seemed as if he was dwarfing her. A few weeks into Patricia’s term, Jill had shown her someone on Netflix named Idris Elba. Since that moment, Patricia had a hard time thinking of Tobias without imagining the actor. They started out as rivals; he was a ringer brought in by the Dugans to defeat her campaign. When she won, she offered him the job as her second-in-command to “keep her honest.” In the years since, they’d actually become friends.

“I’ll make it as brief as I can. This isn’t technically work-related, but… well, more future work-related. Your term is ending next year. I was wondering if you had given any thought to running again.”

Patricia took a bite of her sandwich to give herself a chance to think. When she finally swallowed, she went with the truth. “I’m not sure. Jill and I haven’t even really discussed it. I know that I should probably make a decision and announce soon. If you’re planning to run, you have my blessing.”

He smiled. “I appreciate that. I am considering it, of course. I came here to run the island, and in the time I’ve been here I’ve fallen in love with it. I would like to serve these people. But I’ve come to the decision that if you choose to run, I will remain out of the race.”

“Why?”

“Why?” He laughed and leaned forward. “Because I would lose. Because I would want to lose, if you were running. You’ve done an exemplary job here, Patricia. The townspeople love you. Everyone who works for you loves you. If you announce you’re running for re-election, the campaign will likely be over. I don’t want to waste my time on a lost cause.”

Patricia’s cheeks had warmed. She brushed her left thumb over the inside of her fingers, just above her palm. “Well, thank you, Tobias. I appreciate the thought. I’ll consider it with Jill and let you know before too long if you need to start preparing.”

“I would appreciate it.”

“And if I don’t run, I’ll endorse you for the job.”

He looked surprised. “I wouldn’t have expected that.”

“Why not? You do a fantastic job. You really do care about the island. Regardless of your friends, and the way you originally came to the island, I think you would do a fantastic job. If I do run, I hope you’ll consider staying on in your current position.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, Patricia.” He stood up. “I’ll let you get back to your lunch.”

“Thanks for stopping by. And thank you for giving me the push I need. I really do need to make a decision soon.”

Tobias stood up. “Don’t rush the decision. Whether I stay in the office I have now or move into this one, I’ll be happy.” She smiled and rubbed her thumb across the inside of her finger again. Tobias noticed and said, “Actually, I have one more question.”

“Sure.”

“You do that a lot in council meetings and when you’re sitting at your desk.” He demonstrated with his own thumb. “You run your thumb straight across the bottom of your fingers. What’s the significance, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Patricia looked down at her hand. “I didn’t realize I was doing it that much.” She used her right forefinger to draw a cursive line from the tip of her thumb and up every finger. “Thumb and forefinger are J, the other three fingers are I-L-L.”

Tobias smiled. “That’s very romantic.”

“It keeps her in my mind. Plus it brushes the wedding ring, so…” She shrugged. “We’re going out of town this weekend, and I’ll find some time to talk with her about it then.”

“Enjoy your trip.”

She thanked him and focused on her sandwich. The idea of reelection and having a second term had been at the back of her mind for weeks, but having it brought up out of the blue made it feel more real. She needed to decide, and she needed to do it soon.

She was almost finished with her work when Jill texted. Grandma was settled in at the house, Callie was on-call if a backup babysitter was required, and Jill had packed their bags into the backseat of the car. Patricia put the finishing touches on her last project of the day, made a note for her assistant to call public works first thing on Monday, and she headed out before anyone else could make a demand of her time. Jill had just parked at the ferry lanes when Patricia arrived. She kissed Jill hello and sank into the passenger seat.

“Long day?” Jill asked.

Patricia considered bringing up Tobias’ question, but she decided it could wait. “Actually not bad. How’s the classroom look?”

Jill said, “Not too shabby. I can’t wait to get back.” She reached across Patricia’s lap to get her bag off the floor. “I have the tickets for the game, our hotel is confirmed, and Gramma is looking forward to a whole night with her favorite member of the family.”

Patricia chuckled and put her hand on Jill’s shoulder. “Sounds like you took care of everything. Thank you, sweetie.”

“Of course.”

The ferry arrived on schedule – something Jill gave Patricia credit for, even though she had very little to do with it – and Jill drove them aboard. The trip to the mainland would take just over an hour. Patricia worked out how much time they would have before the game and determined they would have to put off seeing Michael until the morning. It was bizarre to think she hadn’t seen her son in almost a month. They had texted and emailed, but to not have him in the house was something she doubted she would get used to very soon.

Once they were out of the harbor, Jill took her up to the deck. They stood in the freezing breeze and Patricia opened up her jacket to wrap it around Jill’s body as they rolled past the tiny islands dotting the Strait. Jill rested her weight against Patricia’s body and sighed.

“I love this. The picnic was a great anniversary gift, but this is like dessert.”

Patricia smiled and kissed the side of Jill’s head. “You know…”

“Hm?”

“Nothing.”

“No, say it.”

Patricia said, “I’ll say it tonight in bed.”

“Ooh. Finally something to look forward to in bed.”

Patricia moved her hands down and poked Jill’s sides until she squirmed away laughing. They strolled along the deck until they approached Anacortes, then they went down to the car to await disembarking. The process seemed endless, but finally they were waved out into the overcast afternoon and headed out on their journey.

Jill wasn’t particular about her music, so Patricia searched their playlists for something appropriate. She chose a singer named Mckinley Black and placed the iPod in its charger. Jill managed to sit through the first verse of the first song before she started singing along. It was always subtle; first she would mouth the words, then hum the musical interludes, and thump her fingers on the wheel as if she was strumming a guitar. By the chorus she was fully singing along. “I see the sun shining where you are,” she sang, “and I see a path of seashells and roses, leading me to your door…”

People singing along to the radio had always been one of Patricia’s biggest pet peeves. But either her love for Jill overwhelmed the irritation, or Jill was just good enough to make it bearable. Either way she smiled and reached out to rest her hand on the back of Jill’s neck.

Patricia liked going to the mainland with Jill. It was one thing to see the woman she loved in their small town, surrounded by familiar sights and friendly faces. When they were in Seattle, however, everything was out of context. Jill somehow seemed even more beautiful when set against the sprawling streets and towering buildings. There was a picture in Patricia’s office of Jill holding her arms over her head to bracket the Space Needle. The wind had caught her hair and thrown it across her smile. It had been taken when they were still dating, before Patricia knew just how much this brilliant and goofy woman would end up meaning to her.

“Should we call Michael and tell him we’re coming?”

Patricia said, “No, I want to surprise him.”

Jill grinned. “Surprise-surprise, or sneak up on him to see if he and his father are misbehaving?”

“Can’t it be both?”

“We’re his mothers,” Jill said, “of course it can be both.”

They had just enough time to get to their hotel, check-in, drop off their bags, and change into more comfortable clothes before heading to Safeco Field. Jill was wearing a King Felix jersey, and Patricia put on jeans and a Mariners shirt before threading her hair through the back of a ball cap. Their hotel was literally across the street from the stadium. Patricia put her arm around Jill’s shoulder as they walked there, joining the smattering of other fans on the sidewalk.

“You know, Nicholas never really took me on many real dates. And after him, I didn’t exactly date a lot of women.”

Jill looked askance at her.

“I didn’t date those women, we just… went out. But I feel like I’m getting the full dating experience with you.”

“I treat my women well.”

“Yes, you do. Wait, women? Plural?”

“You and Isabel.”

Patricia said, “Oh, right, the baby one that’s always in the house.”

Jill laughed. “Yeah, her.”

The game was against the Chicago White Sox, and their seats were behind first base. Their dinner was chili dogs, vegetarian so they at least had the illusion of making a healthy choice without going for any of the stadiums aggressively health-conscious fare. The game started out mostly tame, save for Felix Hernandez hitting his twenty-one hundredth career strikeout in the fourth inning. When Jill finished her chili dog, Patricia leaned in to kiss a smear off her upper lip. Someone in a higher section spotted the kiss and whooped, and Patricia flicked a dismissive wave in their direction.

It was clear pretty quickly that the game wasn’t going to be fantastic, but they were determined to see it through to the end. Their outing wasn’t about the actual game being played; it was about having a nice night in a big city. Even when the game was obviously over, even when other fans began filtering out, they stayed in their seats. After the game, when the sky was lit up with fireworks, they finally headed back to their hotel.

“I don’t understand shooting of fireworks after a loss. Especially a loss like that.”

Patricia shrugged. “It was scheduled. Fireworks Night. Besides, it gave the fans something to enjoy.”

“Felix did pretty well.”

“He was fine.” She linked her fingers with Jill’s. “Next time I suggest a night out, I’ll peek into the future and make sure it’s a winning game.”

Jill said, “Every game is a winner when I’m with you.”

“Sweet talker.” She kissed Jill’s lips and unlocked their room. “Shower now or shower in the morning?”

“I’m beat. I just want to crawl into bed.”

Patricia said, “Thank god.”

Jill turned off the lights and walked back to the bed. “You were going to say something on the ferry. You want to say it now before we go to sleep?”

“Get in bed first.” Jill climbed onto the mattress and rolled onto her side. Patricia faced her. “I love you. I love my life, and my family. The family you gave me. Thank you so much for everything.”

Jill smiled. “I could say the same to you.”

“That’s just the preamble. The actual context is that Tobias Collins stopped by my office today because he wanted to know if I was planning to run for another term. I didn’t know what to tell him.”

Jill furrowed her brow. “You didn’t? I kind of thought it was a given.”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

“You love your job.”

“I do. I love the town, and it feels so good being able to serve it in a real way.” She found Jill’s hands under the blanket. “But I also know that it takes me away from you a lot more than I’m comfortable with. I know there are days when I’m at the office and you’re at home by yourself with Isabel. Or I have to walk away from our time together to take a phone call, or our walk is interrupted by someone who needs to talk to me. It’s not fair to you. That’s why I want to leave it up to you. If you want me to step down, I’ll find another job next year.”

Jill kissed Patricia’s cheek. “I love you. And I think being the mayor is the second-happiest I’ve ever seen you. The first happiest…”

“Obviously.”

“Right. But you’ve been working toward this job your whole life. You worked your ass off at City Hall for the honor of being the mayor. You can’t just walk away after one term. There’s so much left that you can do. I don’t even know who would run if you didn’t.”

“Tobias said he would.”

Jill shrugged. “He would be okay. But he would be everyone’s second choice. Everything you’ve said is true. You spend a lot of time at the office. You get phone calls at all hours, you have to deal with people on the street. But all of that happens because you care and because people know they can count on you. And if you get home at five o’clock or nine, it doesn’t matter because you’re always willing to spend time with me and our daughter. And you’re willing to cut your time at the office short to whisk me off to Seattle just to remind me how much I’m loved. Not that I need the reminder, but… it’s very nice.”

Patricia brushed her thumb over Jill’s cheek.

“If you’re leaving it up to me, then I say run. Run and win, because I really want to vote for you again. I want you to have a job that fulfills you and makes you happy for at least four more years. You’ve already started making the town a better place to live, and I can’t wait to see what else you have up your sleeve. And while the town might be yours, you belong to me and Isabel and Michael. And that’s something you never let any of us forget.”

Patricia kissed Jill. “Thank you.”

“Thank you for giving me the chance to say no. But there’s no way I would ever take the job away from you anymore than you would take away my teaching. It’s part of who you are.”

“You know, I could run and still lose.”

“Right,” Jill said. “Sure. Uh-huh.”

“I could! The Mariners lost tonight. People lose elections all the time.”

Jill said, “In every single election, as a matter of fact. That’s kind of how it works. But here’s how I see things happening. In a few weeks or a month, or whenever, you announce you’re running for reelection. We make some buttons or bumper stickers. And when time comes to vote, it’s going to be a moot point because no one in town is going to run against you.”

Patricia forced a smile. “I know you’re saying that to be supportive. But isn’t that basically the same scam the Dugans had going?”

“The Dugans wanted the chair and the prestige. They kept both because they had the money to make it happen. You’re different. You’re there because you want to do what’s best for the town, and you don’t have to buy your way into the office. Everyone in December Harbor wants you there. Hell, even your opponent from the last election isn’t willing to run against you. Even he thinks you’re the right person for the job.”

“Will you tell me when it’s time to move on?”

“Isabel will. When she moves out and we find a nice little waterfront condo for our retirement.”

Patricia scooted closer. “Ooh, tell me more about this retirement condo.”

“It’ll have a little sunroom where you can read in the mornings. And it will be close enough to that church you love so you can walk to it in the afternoons. And I’ll have a little garden out back where I can grow veggies and stuff.”

“Sounds perfect.”

Jill kissed Patricia’s forehead. “That’ll be four or five terms. I think it’s a good length for a career in politics.”

“It is. It’s also a little daunting.”

“Yeah. But I think you can handle it. I can’t wait to see what our little town is like after having you at its helm for two decades. It’s going to be even more of a paradise than it is now.”

Patricia guided Jill’s head to her chest and stroked her hair. “Okay. I’ll run again. But if I ever spend too much time on work, I want you to tell me. I want you to throw my phone out the window if you have to.”

“Deal. And it doesn’t matter how much time you spend at the office or how many conversations you get pulled out of. Because I know when you’re with us, you’re one hundred percent with us. And when you’re away from us, I know we’re on your mind. That’s what matters.” She snuggled even closer, her cheek on Patricia’s neck and her face covered by her hair. “But if you ever feel the need to have another weekend like this just to prove it to me, you’re more than welcome to.”

Patricia laughed and kissed the side of Jill’s head. “I adore you more than anything, Jillybean.”

“I love you, too, Madam Mayor.”

“We have got to work out a different pet name for me.”

“Whatever you say, Madam Mayor.”

Patricia gently tugged on Jill’s hair. “Go to sleep, brat.”

Outside, she could hear the sounds of traffic, the buzz of a city larger than any she’d ever lived in. Every time she came to Seattle she had a hard time falling asleep, but Jill had a remarkable talent to shut it all out. Patricia closed her eyes and focused on the steady and slow motion of Jill’s chest. She felt each exhale on her neck and brushing through her hair. As she listened to her wife falling asleep, she found herself slipping as well. If she was mayor for another year, or another five years, or even another twenty as Jill predicted, she knew that she would never let the job come between her and the truly important things in her life. She would just have to remember the quality of the time spent with her family was more important than the quantity.

She whispered “I love you” against Jill’s hair and tightened her embrace just before she fell asleep. With any luck, they would remain entwined until morning. Even if they drifted apart she knew they would find each other again, just as they always had before.

 

 

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