Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

No Time Like the Present

Summary: Nadine gets hit by a shock that packs a wallop… and sends her on a little trip.

Nadine had to use her shoulder to muscle open the door to KELF’s storage closet, coughing at the dust even as she dispelled the spider webs with a sweep of her hand. She searched for a light switch, discovered the pull-chain hanging down from a bare bulb, and tugged it to discover that the bulb had burned out long ago. She wiped her hands on her pants, wishing she had some sort of rag so she wouldn’t have to compromise her costume. She wore a charcoal gray blazer and jeans with sneakers, her hair swept back away from her face, and a thicker-framed version of her own eyeglasses. Since Miranda pointed out she didn’t look terribly different from her usual self, she added a nametag that identified her as Rachel Maddow so she wouldn’t have to explain it all afternoon.

Of course she would have preferred explaining it to everyone at the party than be down in the catacombs of the station’s building. They were having their costume party a week early to take advantage of it being Friday, and she had remembered the boxes of records she wanted to take home over the weekend so she could sort through them before Monday’s show. So she got the keys from Billy and decided to go get them while Hoagie went to get more beer. “And she was never seen or heard from again,” she muttered. “Sheesh, this place…”

She was in charge of the station’s annual Halloween Show, and this year they were tying it in with the island’s Hocus Pocus Shindig. The event began as a yearly occurrence back in the sixties, but slowly fell out of popularity until it was called off in 1994 due to a budget shortfall. When the town recovered, the Shindig was one casualty they didn’t bother to revive. Now, twenty years after the last observation, Mayor Hood-Colby had announced it would be reinstituted. The unofficial theme was retro, a throwback to the sixties and the nineties (“What about the sixty-nineties?” Miranda had asked, prompting a playful swat on the rear from her wife), and Nadine wanted to recreate an era-authentic show. That meant playing cassette tapes and, if she could find them, actual 45s.

Nadine took out her phone and used the screen as a flashlight, scanning the shelves with it as she looked for the music collection. There was a lot of history in the three aisles, but she didn’t want to spend too much time in the basement. She wasn’t scared of the dark but she was certainly afraid of spiders that might take umbrage at their privacy being invaded.

She found the boxes marked with “MUSIC A-F” and blew the dust off the cover. After thirty or so seconds of coughing and wiping her glasses on the hem of her blazer, and removed the lid and used her phone to peer inside. “Ha! Jackpot.” She put her phone down in the box and used its sideways-cast light to try reading the names on each sleeve. Her glasses were too dusty and her phone was a poor light source. She looked at the bare bulb, thinking that maybe it was just loose. There might be a glimmer of life left in the thing.

There was a stepstool in the corner and she dragged it over under the outlet. She reached up and twisted the bulb. There was a spark so sudden that she yelped in surprise, jerked her hand away, and lost her balance on the stool. Dread clenched her chest as she crashed down, grabbing the shelf in an attempt to slow her tumble, and she ended up landing on her ass instead of her head. Unfortunately her salvation had been a box, and when she hit the ground she pulled it down on top of herself. Music older than she was hit the crown of her head and the room lit in a flash of white light, her glasses knocked askew so that her vision was blurred as she slumped against the wall.

“Deanie?” She rubbed the knot on her head as Miranda’s silhouette blocked the hallway light coming in through the door. “Land sakes! What in the world happened to you?”

“Ow. I took a tumble.”

“Looks like it. Gosh, here. Let’s sit you up and have a look at it.” Miranda knelt next to her and smoothed down Nadine’s hair. “Are you sure you’re all right? We could call up the doctor…”

“No, it’s just a bump. Of course if you want to kiss it better…”

Miranda was quiet for a moment and then chuckled nervously. “I gotta be careful with you on-air talent types, huh? Always teasin’. Why didn’t you just turn on the light?”

“It burned out fifty years ago.”

Miranda scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. This building wasn’t even around fifty years ago.” She stood up and reached for the chain. Nadine started to warn her about the short, but Miranda tugged the string and the bulb came to life without hesitation.

The storage room was flooded with light, but Nadine was focused on Miranda’s costume. She was wearing a formless green dress with a mantle across the shoulders, her blonde curls pinned back so it didn’t overwhelm the paper tiara she had perched above her bangs. The costume, hair style, and makeup was completely different from what she’d been wearing five minutes earlier.

“What happened to the Gillian Hunt costume?”

“Whose costume?” She held out her right hand to help Nadine up, but she was focused on Miranda’s left hand.

“Where’s your wedding ring?”

Miranda’s puzzled expression faded into one of genuine concern. “Deanie, you know I’m not the marrying kind. How hard did you hit your head?”

“Pretty hard, I guess,” Nadine muttered. She took Miranda’s hand. “What’s the general test of concussions? Name, date, location? Nadine Powell, October 25, 2013, December Harbor, Washington. Squire’s Isle.” Miranda’s face was now completely devoid of humor. “What? Is it the twenty-sixth?”

“Hon, Powell is my name. And you’re off by about half a century on the date.”

“1963?”

Miranda put her hand on Nadine’s forehead. “1962. Come on. I think the doctor is upstairs. I’ll have him take a look at you.”

Nadine frowned, but she allowed herself to be escorted out of the storage room. They walked upstairs and Nadine slowed down in the lobby so she could look out the glass front of the building. Vintage cars were parked at the curb like shiny bubbles, all sleek curves and rounded headlights. The street was even vaguely different. To her surprise and shock, Butler Photography wasn’t yet established. She swallowed the lump in her throat and looked to see Miranda looking at her with concern.

“It’s okay. Just a little shell-shocked, I guess.”

“I guess,” Miranda said. “Come on…”

They continued upstairs and back into the party. Nadine stopped at the threshold and took a moment to drink in the sights. At first she thought everyone had changed into period dress, but everything was just too authentic, nowhere near ironic enough to be a prank. She spotted Amy standing off to one side with Kate, who had her hair down in an oddly-conservative plait and was dressed in a farm girl costume. She had thick cat eye glasses and held her red plastic cup with both hands, shyly keeping it up near her chin where she could take a sip without moving her hands. Apparently she’d come to the party without a costume, or else she chose to dress up as a dowdy wallflower.

Miranda startled her by putting a hand against her forehead. “You look really pale. I think we should skip the doctor and just take you direct to the hospital.”

“No. Just… I-I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”

Kate spotted her and waved, and Amy turned to see who it was. They made their way over and Amy smiled. She was dressed like a scarecrow. “Hey, there’s the choicest of voices.” Her expression grew concerned. “You look a little peaky. You okay?”

“I think she got shocked something terrible when she was downstairs. Fell right on her bottom. I want the doctor to take a look at her.” She scanned the room. “Where is that hubby of yours, Amy?”

“Oh, he’s around here somewhere…”

Nadine blurted, “Husband? You have a husband?”

Amy raised an eyebrow. “Why wouldn’t I have a husband? Something unmarry-able about me?”

“Not that I can see,” Kate said. She tried to affect a teasing tone, but she immediately took a sip of her drink and Nadine saw the truth. Kate was acting shy because she had feelings for Amy, but they weren’t together. They were in the closet, and Amy was in a sham marriage, and they had never gotten together because… because… Miranda was telling the truth downstairs.

“Holy shit. It’s 1962.”

“Whoa! You sure you didn’t intend to dress as a sailor, young lady?” Amy said. “Such language.”

Miranda leaned closer. “Dean, I am really starting to be concerned for you.”

Amy said, “There’s my man. Nick! Nick, can you come here a second?”

Nadine turned and felt the blood drain from her face. Nicole Bronwyn broke away from a conversation with a man Nadine didn’t recognize and made her way over. She was dressed as a cowboy, her hat tilted back on her head so it didn’t shade her face. Her hair was cut extremely short, and Nadine knew she had to be wearing an uncomfortable binding device to make herself look flat-chested. It was hard for Nadine to breathe just looking at her and, as she approached, it clicked that she wasn’t cross-dressing for the holiday.

“Nick is a…”

“Everything okay?” Nicole said in a voice huskier than Nadine remembered. She… he?… looked at her and narrowed his eyes. “Ooh. I don’t like the looks of your color, Miss Butler. Eat something that disagreed with you?”

“Nuh…” She swallowed the lump in her throat and the room seemed to sway and swim underneath her feet. “I need to lay down…”

Miranda said, “My office has a couch.”

She was escorted through the party, mind reeling as she was escorted into the office. She sat on the couch and Nick sent Amy to get a damp washcloth. He knelt next to her and used his thumb to lift her eyelid, examining her pupils. “You must’ve gotten quite a wallop, huh?”

Nadine stared at him. He was Amy’s husband, but she knew that underneath the costume it was still a woman’s body. Nicole was living a lie so she could be with the woman she loved. There was something so brave and dashing about that, so selfless and honorable. He noticed her watching and narrowed his eyes.

“Dean? You still with me, hon?”

“You wanted to be a photographer…”

Nick seemed startled. “Uh.” He looked at the others gathered in the room. “No. I took some pictures when I was younger, but I-I didn’t…” He shook his head as Amy came back with the cloth. “This is about you, Miss Butler.” He folded it and eased Nadine back so he could put it on her forehead. “If your confusion doesn’t clear up in the next few minutes, we’re going to take you to the hospital and give you a whole once-over. Maybe even keep you overnight just to make sure we’re not missing anything that could turn out to be important.”

“I’m… I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“Well, we’ll just give you a few minutes alone so you can get your gears right. If you need to throw up. Um…” Miranda offered the trash can and Nick put it next to the couch where it would be within reach. “Here you go. It’ll be right here.”

Nadine smiled. “Thank you. Um. Could Kate stay for a second?”

Kate looked surprised. “Me? Why me?”

“I want to talk to you about something.”

The others filed out of the room and Kate shifted her weight from one foot to the other until the door was closed. “I hope you’re okay, Dean.”

“Me, too. Kate, you work for the paper, right?”

Kate snorted. “I’m… uh, I guess technically I do. I just fact-check the articles and I write the little blurbs under the photos. You know that.”

“But you wanted to be a reporter.”

Kate shrugged. “I guess. I mean, I went to school for journalism, but I-I, it wasn’t…” She chuckled. “I didn’t, I wasn’t up to par with the men.”

“Bullshit.”

“Nadine!”

She could tell the shock at her language wasn’t feigned. She reached up and took the rag off her head. “Were we ever together? Romantically?”

Kate’s eyes went wide behind her glasses and she looked at the door. “I thought… we said…” She smoothed a hand over the front of her skirt and tucked her bottom lip behind her teeth. “I mean, we did… that thing… together.” Her ears were bright pink, and the color was rising from her collar as well. “We said it w-wasn’t anything, just a game. That’s all it was.”

“You’re in love with Amy.”

“Stop!” Kate reached up and touched her hair. “No. No, I most certainly am not in…” She shook her head. “She’s a woman, and what you’re saying is just… wrong. Please stop. You hit your head and you’re not thinking right.”

Nadine rubbed her face. “This is so fucked up.”

“Language!”

Nadine had used the word to see if Kate still flinched when she cursed, and she definitely did. She could be a good actress, but it looked like now she was starting to get angry at Nadine’s continual usage of “blue words.” That could only mean it wasn’t an act. She sat up and closed her hands around the wet cloth. Her forehead felt clammy, and she saw her reflection in the glass frame over one of Miranda’s awards. She was still dressed like Rachel Maddow, but when she looked down she saw that her name tag was missing. “Who am I dressed as?”

“Yourself. You didn’t want to wear a costume.”

“Oh.” Jeans and a blazer. “Do people know I’m gay?”

Kate looked like she’d been struck. “We’re… i-it’s… God, it’s like someone broke your switch! We don’t talk about it, Dean, but yeah. We know.” She looked down at her cup. “I think you’re incredibly brave. I wish I had half the… well…”

Nadine took a deep breath. “One day you will. One day we’ll all be… who we are without worrying about it. You and me and Miranda… Amy…”

“Amy?”

“Yeah. You and she will be an item.”

Kate swallowed a lump in her throat. “Well. Whatever happened in your brain, I think I like it.”

“I think I like it too. Come sit next to me.” Kate hesitated, but she did as requested. “The town is about to do the first-ever Hocus Pocus Shindig, aren’t we?”

“It’s tomorrow night. Mayor Harvey wants to calm people’s nerves what with everything that’s happening.”

Nadine tried to remember history class. “October of sixty-two… Cuban Missile Crisis. Of course. Wow.” She took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I forgot that was why it started. People were scared the world was going to end.”

“You’re talking crazy.”

“I know. But Kate… the world isn’t going to end. We’re always scared it will, but it won’t. The world’s been around a lot longer than we have, and it’s not going to fall apart just because we don’t walk the same narrow line as everyone else. If we do what we need to do, if we follow our hearts, the world can just adjust itself. It doesn’t care about what we do as long as we’re not hurting anyone. Don’t act because you’re afraid the world isn’t going to end. Act because you know it’s going to be around tomorrow regardless, and you should be happy.”

Kate looked at her. “You’re pretty smart for a janitor.”

Nadine’s expression collapsed like a house of cards. “I’m a janitor?”

“Well… sure. What did you think you were?”

“Disc jockey.”

Kate chuckled. “Maybe in this weird fantasy land you’re stuck in, but uh-uh. Mr. Dugan doesn’t hire women. Miranda got lucky being promoted, since there weren’t any men with enough seniority to promote them above her. But on-air talent? Last woman I heard about on the radio was Tokyo Rose, and we all know what happened to her. I mean, I guess we don’t. But still.”

“I want to wake up.” Nadine rubbed her face. “I don’t like this place.”

“Do you want some water?”

“Yeah, but I’ll get it. You should enjoy the party.” She leaned in and kissed Kate’s cheek. “Thanks for filling in the blanks for me.”

“Sure. Just… maybe put the kibosh on that talk when you’re out there. Dr. Brown looked ready to toss you in the loony bin.”

Brown, Bronwyn… She supposed that made sense. “I’ll be fine. Promise.”

They both stood up and left the office. Nadine found a place to put the wet washcloth and wiped her hands on the seat of her pants to dry them off. She saw Kate approaching Nick and Amy, awkwardly inserting herself into the conversation. She remembered seeing the three of them at their housewarming, remembered how they had redefined what she considered a relationship. The thought of all that being undone was horrifying to her.

“Hey.”

She turned and saw Miranda sneaking up next to her, looking cautious. “Hi. I’m feeling better now. I’m sorry I worried you…”

“Oh, hey. No.” She put her hands behind her back. “I just wanted to be sure everything was fine.”

“I think it will be. But I could use some fresh air. Do you want to take a walk?”

Miranda looked at the party as she considered the offer and then slowly nodded. “Sure. Um… yes. Let me get my jacket. It’s cold out.”

They retrieved their coats and went back downstairs. Once outside Nadine hissed and held her coat closed with one hand to keep the wind out. Miranda surprised her by putting one arm across her shoulder and drawing her in. It was a move that she would have expected from her wife, not this sixties monstrosity, and she gave in to the urge to cuddle against her. They turned west, away from the harbor in the hopes they could avoid the howling wind.

“How are you feeling? Really, now. The truth.”

“I’m scared. Things don’t feel… like they’re supposed to. And I think that if it doesn’t come back, I’ll have to get used to things the way they are, and I’m not sure I want to do that.”

Miranda rubbed her arm. “That does sound scary. What’s different?”

“You, for one thing.”

“Well, maybe I can change myself to fit the way things are supposed to be.”

Nadine was so touched by the offer that she couldn’t speak for a moment. “Never change, Miranda. Not for anyone. But it means so much that you offered.” They reached the end of the block and turned north. “The world has to change.”

“Tell me.”

Nadine looked at her. “Same-sex marriage is legal in Washington state. And I marry you.”

Miranda stared at her. “But I’m not…” Nadine raised an eyebrow and Miranda looked away. “I don’t think we should talk about this in public. If someone hears–”

“We don’t have to worry about that. We can hold hands in public, or kiss, or go out to dinner, and no one cares. Because our mayor is a lesbian, and she’s married to an elementary school teacher, and no one blinks an eye.”

Miranda’s eyes were wet. “Sounds like you’d need a lot to change to get what you want?”

“No. To get what I want, I just need one thing to change.” She took Miranda’s hands and brought them to her face. She warmed the fingers with a gentle breath, then kissed the first knuckle of each hand. She turned them around, and Miranda reluctantly cupped her face. She took a deep breath, smelling an odd soap on her erstwhile wife’s skin, and exhaled shakily. “I don’t need all that other stuff. I don’t need to be able to call you my wife in public, although that would be nice… I just need you to hold my hand when you stand next to me.”

“That’s all you want?”

“It’s what I’ll settle for.”

Miranda swallowed. “I suppose if we’re married, we’ve kissed…”

Nadine laughed. “Once or twice.”

“Maybe you could show me what that’s like.”

“Are you sure?”

Miranda moved her hands to the back of Nadine’s head, leaned in, and their lips met. Nadine kept her eyes open and watched the concentration on Miranda’s face. She slid her hands into Miranda’s coat, curled her fingers into claws in the small of her back, and scooted closer to her. Miranda made a quiet sound in the back of her throat and Nadine surrendered to the kiss.

“Nadine…”

“M’randa…”

“Dean? Open your eyes, darling.”

Miranda patted her cheek and Nadine twitched as she opened her eyes. Miranda was kneeling next to her, and Billy loomed behind her in the doorway with a look of extreme concern. She was wearing a red wig and teal scrubs, the name tag dangling from her pocket identifying her as a character from their favorite TV show. She grabbed Miranda’s hand, looked at the ring on it, and laughed as she brought it up to her mouth and kissed it.

“You’re my wife.”

“Luckily enough for me, yes,” Miranda said. “You have a huge knot on top of your head. Are you okay?”

“A little dazed.”

Billy said, “You lost consciousness, Missus Powell. That’s not good at all.”

“He’s right. We should have the doctor look at you.”

“Dr. Brown?”

Miranda looked at Billy. “Dr. Crawford. Who is Dr. Brown?”

“No clue,” Nadine said with a laugh. “Oh, honey. I had the most bizarre concussion dream.”

“Tell me about it while we’re going upstairs to see the nice doctor.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Miranda helped her up, and Billy offered his arm for support. She gratefully took it and let them lead her upstairs. She stopped at the top of the stairs and looked over the bullpen. Nicole was sitting in a desk chair she had pulled over close to the window, with Kate standing behind her. Kate’s hands were on Nicole’s shoulders, and they were both talking to Amy and Hoagie. Kate saw them arrive, winked, and then noticed Nadine was being held up between Miranda and Billy. She tapped Nicole’s arm and made her way over.

“Everything okay?”

“Everything’s absolutely fine.” Nadine stepped out from between her crutches and hugged Kate. “How is everything with you and your girls?”

Kate sounded startled. “Uh. It’s going fantastic. I love them a lot. We’re all… happy. Dean? Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah. I just had a Halloween nightmare when I was downstairs. I saw how bad things could be… and how far we’d come.”

Kate smiled. “Well, then. Good for us.” She looked at Miranda. “I think I saw Dr. Crawford over there.”

Miranda mouthed a thank-you and ushered Nadine toward the doctor. Nadine put her arm around Miranda’s waist and rested her head on her shoulder.

“I’ll let her look me over, but I’m telling you I’m fine. I’m better than fine.”

“I’ll believe that when the doctor tells me so. No offense. But a head injury is nothing to let slide.”

Nadine nodded and felt a twinge of pain at the back of her skull. “You’d think my head would be used to injuries by now.”

“Don’t joke.” She approached Rachel Crawford, who was speaking with one of the new station interns. “Excuse me, Rachel?”

“Yes?”

Miranda quickly explained what had happened. “We were wondering if you would have a few minutes to just check her over, make sure nothing got shifted around.”

Rachel said, “I never wait around too long with head injuries, even if it’s just a bump.”

“You want to examine me now?” Nadine said. “It’s a party.”

“And it’s your brain,” Miranda said. “I love your brain, and I want it to be protected. Come on. No time like the present.”

Nadine chuckled and kissed her wife’s cheek.

“Honey, you have no idea how true that is.”

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