Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

In Every Port

Summary: Before Nicole Bronwyn came home to Squire’s Isle, first she had to learn how to settle down.

The flight from Cairo to Chicago had seemed endless. She had spent four days in the middle of the desert, in a hotel with a broken shower and an iffy air conditioner, on what had to be the hottest days of the year. When her assignment finally ended, she found herself stuffed into a sardine can with two hundred other stinky, sweaty fellow humans for the thirteen hour flight home. But finally, Nicole Bronwyn was back where she belonged.

The yellow blouse that had been crisp and fresh in Egypt was a wrinkled, sweaty mess by the time she finally entered the lobby of her apartment building. It was unbuttoned over a white T-shirt that had also seen better days. She was wrapped in dirty laundry and was trying with all her might not to acknowledge that thing she had been smelling since the airport was, indeed, coming from her. Good thing I told Dana I would arrive too late for her to pick me up, she thought. It was bad enough that the cabbie had to smell her; being trapped in a car with that smell might have sent Dana running for the hills.

She dragged two monstrous suitcases behind her, their wheels drumming loudly on the lobby’s tile floor. Her dark hair was limp and lifeless, hung in a sloppy noose of elastic to keep it out of her face. The bags under her eyes were hidden by a pair of sunglasses, making her feel like a celebrity trying to slip past the paparazzi.

Egypt had been hell. Literally minutes after landing, Nick had been spotted by Sheriti, an old business and personal acquaintance. Sheri had been born in England to Egyptian parents, moved to Cairo and then returned to England to start climbing the corporate ladder. They had met when Nick sold some photos to the newspaper where Sheri was editor. That first meeting had consisted of few cocktails, a shared cab back to the hotel and nature had taken its course. After that, they had continued to meet now and again. Whether Nick had photos to sell, or if they happened to be in the same town itching for a quick and dirty reunion, they didn’t let one world affect the other.

Of course, Nick wasn’t exactly on the market anymore. Sheri had latched onto her and suggested they get to the hotel as soon as possible. Nick had politely declined. Sheri had asked if that night would be better. Nick had been forced to reveal the awful truth: “I’m sorry. I’m in a relationship.”

Sheri hadn’t exactly turned into an iceberg, but her shoulder could have been a little warmer on their shared cab ride. Nick apologized, and Sheri accepted it, but their conversation had been stunted. They had parted with an agreement to share a dinner sometime during their stay in Egypt, a date neither of them kept, and Nick had been stuck under a dark cloud ever since.

The elevator was an ancient model, with a pull-down grate instead of a door. She stepped inside, stretched up to grab the door handle and bent low to pull it down to the ground. She latched it and pressed the button for the third floor. The depression didn’t come from her confrontation with Sheri. It came from the realization, heretofore ignored, that she would have similar situations waiting for her all over the world.

Before meeting Dana, she had been quite the player. She had gone all over the world for various photo shoots, gathering pictures for her coffee table books and for various news services. She had never felt the need to settle down. All she wanted was satisfaction, and if she could get that from a series of different women around the world, then why not? Wasn’t variety the spice of life? She had Simone in France, Brigit in England, Zoe in Australia and Kimberly in Japan. Then, of course, there were Kate and Amy in Washington. The island was Nick’s home away from home, the one time a three-way relationship had actually worked out. It would be hard to say goodbye to that, but for Dana, she was willing. The downside was that all of her relationships, all around the world, would have to be dealt with.

She sighed at the thought and raised the elevator door again. She pulled her luggage into the apartment, but left the bags immediately inside the door. No need to drag them all the way to the bedroom at the moment. Besides, the wheels rolling across the hardwood floor would wake Dana. She stood at the threshold of her home for a moment, her base of operations, and was surprised by how a lot of tiny changes had completely changed the look of the place.

A knitted afghan, worn and ancient, was balled up in the corner of the couch where it could easily be drawn over two exhausted bodies for the last half hour of a movie. The table behind the couch had always had the little brown lamp, but it had never been on when she came home before. Nick had never needed or wanted a light left on for her, but standing in the dimly-lit apartment, she suddenly saw the appeal. There were other things – a handful of framed photographs on the mantle, an extra pair of shoes next to the elevator, a magazine that Nick would never read on the coffee table – that revealed that Nick was no longer the sole owner of the space, not the ruler of her roost.

In the past, a woman bringing a toothbrush over was enough to make Nick claustrophobic. She had once broken up with a long-time booty call because the woman had the audacity to bring in the morning paper and read the comics before Nick got out of the shower. The rule had always been “My apartment, my stuff.” But as she walked into the kitchen, she spotted a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame souvenir oven mitt hanging from the cupboard handle. She had never even been to Ohio.

Nick sighed and undid the bottom button of her blouse, untucked her T-shirt, and stripped both of them off. She draped the sweaty clothes over her shoulder and opened the refrigerator to see if there was anything to eat. Tupperware containers held leftovers of meals that had taken place in her apartment without her present. She didn’t have time to think about it too hard, since the cool air suddenly washed over her. She sighed, opened the freezer door and sagged forward with her eyes closed.

She finally opened her eyes, took one of the Tupperware containers of Chinese food out of the fridge and dropped it onto the counter. She kicked off her shoes and perched on the stool, unwrapping a pair of chopsticks from the drawer. She picked lazily at the chicken and rice, interested only in silencing the growl in her stomach before she went to bed. Ah, bed. That huge queen-sized monster that she had once had all to herself. Funny how eager she suddenly was to give up fifty percent of the real estate to another person. She had always sworn that her bed, on her turf, was sacrosanct. She might have fifty lovers out there in the world somewhere, but home was home. Even when she hooked up with someone in Chicago, she insisted on using their apartment, their bed.

Until Dana. They had met at a restaurant, both dining alone. Nick was fine with the idea of eating alone at a table for two, but Dana had meekly asked if she could join her. Fine, whatever, she was attractive enough. They talked, hit it off, and Nick suggested they share a cab back to “your apartment,” leaving it up to Dana whether they went home together. She didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Groping in the backseat, a fierce first kiss, and a race upstairs to Dana’s fourth-floor walk-up. By the time they got undressed, they were both right on the edge. Their first time had been on the floor of Dana’s apartment, followed by a quick breather and then an encore in Dana’s bed. It was business as usual for Nick.

But that was where “the usual” stopped. The following night, Nick had gone out to a bar and found herself wondering where Dana was. If she was on the prowl again, if someone else might have picked her up. It took Nick two hours and three drinks to realize that she was jealous. So she had gone back to Dana’s apartment building and buzzed to see if she was home. She was, and invited Nick up for a drink.

After their second night together, when Nick woke to realize she had spent the entire night, Dana had suggested an actual date. Dinner, drinks and a movie. It went against Nick’s religion, but there was a movie she wanted to see. And she hated going to the theater alone. “Ticket for one” just sounded so depressing. So she had agreed.

That first date ended with a chaste kiss and a promise to call. Nick imagined all the calls she would have to ignore, and wondered how long it would be before Dana got the point and faded into the background. The day after their date, Nick was shocked to find herself dialing Dana’s number and setting up a second date.

More movies followed. Their restaurant dates soon grew into quiet dinners together at one apartment or another. It was during a DVD marathon that Nick, realizing it was too late for Dana to head home, first offered her bed to another woman. Three months later, Dana was practically moved in and all Nick worried about was whether she had enough closet space.

What happened to ‘I need my freedom’? What happened to ‘my space is my space’? She didn’t regret Dana moving in. She was just dumbfounded by her acceptance of it. When did I become Miss Domestic? When did I become the kind of woman who has a girlfriend waiting at home? And when did I decide I liked being that kind of woman?

“When you met Dana,” she said quietly. She stuck the chopsticks into the rice, rubbed her palms against her thighs and stood up. She returned the Chinese food to the fridge, unzipped her jeans and pushed them down her legs. She dumped them and her shirts into the hamper next to the bedroom door and walked in her socks toward the bathroom.

“Mm, Nick?”

“Shh, baby. Go back to sleep.”

Dana was a silhouette in the darkness, lit from behind by the streetlight outside. Her auburn hair was mussed from sleep, and Nick could picture her eyes half-open and struggling to focus without her glasses. “Hi. Welcome home.”

“Thanks. I have to take a shower…”

“Come here first.”

“Dayne, I stink.”

“I don’t care.” She held out her hand and Nick couldn’t resist. She walked across the room, very aware that she was only in her underwear, and knelt down next to the bed. She took Dana’s hand, kissed the knuckles and then kissed her lips. Dana jerked her head back after the kiss. “Goddamn it, baby…”

“I told you,” Nick chuckled. She climbed into bed on top of Dana and smothered her. “You asked for it.” Dana squealed and Nick squirmed under the covers.

Dana slapped at Nick’s shoulders. “We’re going to have to wash these sheets now.”

“Or burn them,” Nick said. Her leg slipped between Dana’s and she realized her lover was sleeping naked. “I missed you.”

“You, too,” Dana said. She kissed Nick’s chin and coughed quietly. “Although… seriously. Honey, get the hell out of this bed.”

Nick laughed and rolled off the mattress. She stripped out of her panties and bra, tossed them aside and said, “Just to get the stink off and the sand out of some crevasses. I’ll be right back.”

“Okay. Wake me.”

“Okay.” Nick padded into the bathroom, took off her socks and turned the cold water on. A cold shower might defuse the chemical reactions that Dana’s naked body had started, but she was willing to take the risk just to be cold for a change. She got into the stall, rinsed out her thick hair – utterly alarmed at just how much of Egypt ended up swirling around the drain by her feet, and scrubbed herself until she could no longer smell the landfill that had been following her around all day.

She squirted a liberal amount of body wash onto a loofah and used it to erase at least one layer of skin from her body. Finally, she shut off the faucet, her skin once again pink and fragrant, and dried her hair with a towel. She dried her skin and brushed her teeth, then scanned the sink. Two toothbrushes. Some hand lotion. She picked it up, flipped the cap and smelled it. Definitely Dana’s smell. She returned the lotion to its spot and looked at the other things Dana had left in the room. Nail polish, a hair dryer, a box of floss, a bottle of her own mouthwash because she didn’t like the taste of Nick’s…

Nick shook her head and turned out the light. She padded quietly into the bedroom. The lamp on Nick’s side of the bed had been turned on, but Dana was curled facing the other direction, her hand over her eyes, her lips parted with sleep.

Nick slipped under the blankets and spooned Dana from behind. Dana murmured, put her hand on Nick’s arm and inhaled. She rolled over and smiled without opening her eyes. “Much better.”

“Yeah?” Nick said. She bent down and kissed Dana’s lips.

“Mmm. Good enough to eat.”

A shiver ran down Nick’s spine and she scooted closer. “Promises, promises.”

Dana moved her lips to Nick’s throat and lightly nibbled the soft flesh there. “You want me to go down on you?”

Nick laughed. The question was so casual that Nick couldn’t help herself. “God, baby, you turn me on.” She pulled back and kissed Dana’s closed eyelids. “Sleep. You can welcome me back tomorrow morning.”

“Okay.”

Nick pushed the hair out of Dana’s eyes and said, “I ran into someone in Cairo.”

Dana put her head on Nick’s shoulder. “Oh?”

Nick ran her hand over Dana’s bare back. “Yeah. A, uh… we were kind of an item for a while. In a manner of speaking.”

“You fucked her now and then,” Dana said. Her voice was slurred with sleep. She was well aware of Nick’s past, and she didn’t care. Everyone had pasts, why bother getting upset or dwelling on them? “Did anything happen?”

“No,” Nick said. “No, of course not. But it got me thinking. She’s not the only one. You know, out there.”

“Girl in every port.” Dana was now basically talking in her sleep. She sniffed and settled her head against Nick’s chest.

Nick nodded. “Yeah. So I was thinking about that. All those women out there.”

Dana sounded a little more awake when she asked, “What did you decide?”

“I want you to move in with me.”

Dana sat up. “What?”

“I don’t want the girls in every port. When I was thinking about them, all I was thinking about was how I could tell them it was over. I don’t want any of them anymore. I want you.”

Dana leaned in and kissed Nick’s lips. “I want you, too. It’s just… you know, your apartment has always been your apartment.”

Nick shook her head. “You spent the night here every night I was gone. Your food is in the fridge, your stuff in the bathroom, your afghan draped over the back of the couch…”

“You said I could bring that stuff…”

“I know, I know,” Nick said. She put her hand on Dana’s chest and felt her heartbeat. “I’m just saying that it’s hard for me to call this my apartment. It has been for a while now.” She leaned in and kissed the corner of Dana’s mouth. “Move in with me. Say yes. Say it.”

Dana laughed. “Fine, okay. I’ll bring some more of my stuff over tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Nick said. She kissed Dana’s lips and said, “Now, we can sleep.”

“How was Egypt?” Dana asked. Dana rolled in Nick’s arms and settled closer to her, their bodies spooned with Nick behind.

Nick crossed her arms over Dana’s chest and kissed the back of Dana’s neck. “Exhausting. Hot. I’ll tell you all about it in the morning.”

Dana lifted Nick’s hand to her lips and kissed it softly. “Night. Roomie.”

Nick laughed and buried her face in her lover’s hair. Her live-in lover. She closed her eyes and decided that the idea of Dana living with her felt right. She had spent too long with a girl in every port. She was looking forward to the thrill of having someone waiting for her back home.

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