Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Permanent Residents

Summary:  A day in the life of Nicole Bronwyn, as she considers her unique relationship with Amy and Kate.

She moved slowly, carefully keeping an eye on her prey as she slipped through the sliding door onto the deck. The osprey was perched carefully on a fat branch with its head turned toward the bay. The wings were a gorgeous blend of blacks and grays that looked like the lapels of a tuxedo jacket against the bird’s white breast. Carefully she brought her hands up from her sides, slowly, trying not to disturb the air as she found the perfect angle. She saw the slight drop in the animal’s body that indicated it was about to flee and knew she only had milliseconds. She took the shot.

The osprey pushed off the branch and spread its wings in a wide fan, swooping out away from the island as Nicole lowered her camera. She clucked her tongue against her teeth and looked at the display. She thought she had missed the perfect picture but realized she had captured the moment when the osprey took flight, leaning forward with wings outspread and deadly talons spread wide as they released from the perch. It was a shot she couldn’t have timed even if she wanted to and she smiled at her good fortune.

When she went back inside, she heard Kate preparing to cook something in the kitchen. Amy had already left for work so they were left to fend for themselves at breakfast.

“Did you get it?” Kate asked.

“I did.” Nicole went into the kitchen and stood behind Kate, wrapping her arms around her girlfriend to hold the camera out in front of her. “Lucky shot.”

Kate said, “Wow, that’s gorgeous.”

“Isn’t it? Happy accident.” She turned the camera off and put it down on the counter away from the stove. “It’s nice to know immediately that the shot worked out, but I miss not knowing for a while. I miss being in the darkroom a week later, developing some film, and realizing I’d accidentally captured something like that.”

Kate said, “I never thought I’d hear you preaching against instant gratification.”

Nicole grinned. “Well, instant gratification does have its perks.” She kissed Kate’s neck and walked into the dining room. They were both still in their pajamas, Kate with baggy pajama pants and a T-shirt while Nicole preferred boxers and a thin-strapped tank top. Kate had her hair pinned back and was wearing her glasses. The glasses weren’t new, but Kate’s willingness to wear them instead of her contacts was new. Only a few years earlier she’d worn them only as a last resort and complained that they made her look old. Sometime around her last birthday she started taking the contacts out as soon as she got home from work. Amy mentioned she looked good in them, Nicole backed up the compliment, and Kate took the opportunity for comfort over vanity.

Nicole picked up her camera and aimed it at Kate’s profile. The morning light was coming in through the sliding glass door to provide a golden glow to her nose and chin.

“Don’t even think about it, Bronwyn.”

“Why not?”

“No makeup.”

Nicole blew a raspberry. “It’ll be for our personal collection.” She snapped the picture and Kate flipped her off. Nicole smiled and saved the picture. “So what’s your plan for today?”

Kate sighed. “Fun things. I’m going to call the state’s Agriculture Department to talk about the gypsy moth infestation on Orcas Island, then I’ll write that up for tomorrow’s edition. You?”

“I’m going to Butler at nine-thirty, then at five Callie and I are going to do some nature photography.” She looked past Kate, the open floor plan of the house giving her a line of sight past the dinner table to the living room. She was still amazed that she’d set down roots, that she had a job and a protégé. To her settling down was like Kate and her glasses. It was something she fought for as long as possible but, once she gave in, she couldn’t imagine a different path.

Kate said, “Do you want to meet up with me and Amy at Coffee Table Books for lunch?”

“That sounds perfect. I’m going to go get dressed.”

“Okay. Breakfast should be ready in a few minutes.”

As Nicole walked out of the kitchen she brushed her hand over the small of Kate’s back, eliciting a shiver and a happy purr from her girlfriend. She chuckled as she headed upstairs to her room. She had chosen the room above the garage at the top of the stairs, with Kate next to her. The largest bedroom was at the head of the hallway. Ostensibly the room was Amy’s, and they all considered it her personal space, but it was where they congregated on the nights they all slept in the same bed. She left the bedroom door open a crack and went to the closet to choose her outfit for the day.

Sometimes it took her by surprise, how the things that made her happiest were the same things that would have sent her running a few years earlier. A permanent home, a job in a small-town photography shop, a committed relationship. Maybe someone would think she was ‘cheating’ by being with two women. Hell, a few years ago, she would have agreed with that person. But the actual experience of building a polyamorous relationship showed her that it was just as complicated as a more traditional pairing.

She sat on the edge of the bed and thought about Audrey McClellan. That was their first true test, an even bigger tipping point than buying a house together. Audrey was a soldier Nicole met as an embedded photographer. Despite their mutual attraction the specter of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell meant they couldn’t act on their feelings. A few months earlier Audrey sent Nicole an email saying she was free, and that she was planning to visit the island.

The opportunity was obvious. She was finally getting the chance to be with the One Who Got Away. There were no regulations standing in the way of what they had wanted so badly while overseas, and Nicole spent an entire night agonizing over what she should do. She asked Amy and Kate to have a sit-down conversation about her options, even though as she explained it she knew where she would fall.

When she finished talking, Kate had looked at Amy and then at her own hands. “So this woman you had a crush on is coming to the island. After all this time, she’s free, and you can finally be together. What are you asking us, Nick? Are you asking if you can sleep with her?”

Amy said, “I think the answer is yes.”

Kate looked at her. “You do?”

Amy shrugged. “The balance has always been you and me, then her. We’re a unit, but… I think if she wants someone on the side… I think we have to be okay with that.”

“I don’t agree,” Kate said. Her voice was low and emotional, her arms crossed defensively over her chest. “It tears me up to think of her being with someone else. Is that selfish?”

Nicole could see that Amy felt the same way, even though she was willing to give the okay. She chuckled and pushed her hair out of her face.

“I can’t believe I spent a whole night worrying about whether or not this was okay. It’s obvious that it’s not.” She reached out and took Amy’s hand. “If it was okay, then there wouldn’t have been a moment’s hesitation. If it was okay I wouldn’t be here asking for permission. When Nadine and Miranda found out about us, we worked so hard to convince them we were the same as any other couple, and now here I am asking under what circumstances it’s okay to cheat. I can’t believe I thought it might be an option. I love you both. And loving you both doesn’t mean we get to play around on the side.”

Amy looked relieved. “I’m glad you think that.” She looked at Kate and smiled. “And I’m glad you feel so strongly about it.”

Kate said, “It was different before, when Nick came and went. She had her life, we had ours… but then she came to stay.”

Nicole nodded. “We’re a family. The three of us. Not exactly a conventional family, but it’s the family we made. The only family I think any of us would be happy with, frankly.”

Amy laughed and leaned forward to kiss Nicole’s lips. When she leaned back, Nicole kissed Kate and sat back to watch Kate kiss Amy. She smiled and held their hands in hers. The three of them spent that night together in the main bedroom, and Nicole once again wondered why she had ever thought she needed someone else on the side. Audrey’s return was a test, one that had served to make her realize how much she needed her ladies in her life.

She smiled as she tied her shoes, smoothing the cuffs of her slacks against her socks before standing up. She picked up her camera bag as she left the room, taking it downstairs with her so she could grab it on her way out the door.

 

#

 

Nicole followed the path of tamped-down grass, ducking under the branches until she emerged on the rocky shoreline. Callie Marcus was a few steps behind her and Nicole stepped to one side to let her see the water spreading out in front of her. Callie had graduated from high school a few weeks earlier, and she was still getting used to the idea of being free from school. Her scholarship fell through and college wasn’t a financial option, so she was making the best of a bad situation by working at Butler Photography and apprenticing with Nicole. Callie came out of the woods and stood on a large rock to take in the vista.

“Wow. I love being right here on the edge of the island.”

“It’s great, isn’t it?” Nicole said. She moved along the shore, choosing her steps carefully to find rocks that weren’t too slick or frequently lapped by waves. There was a particularly large rock a few yards away large enough for them both to use as a seat. “If we’re lucky the orcas will swim by and give us something to shoot. If not, well… you’d be a pretty lousy photographer if you can’t find something to shoot. Speaking of… look…”

Callie followed her finger to where a pair of sea otters were floating on their backs. She heard the snap of Callie’s shutter and smiled. From the moment they met the girl had the Rolleiflex all but surgically attached to her hand. The sight of the old camera had prompted Nicole to approach the girl in the first place, and it was a big reason she’d offered her mentorship. Anyone could claim they wanted to be a photographer, but only someone who took it seriously enough to buy the proper equipment was worth taking seriously.

“I wish I had a waterproof camera,” Callie said. “I bet there’s all kinds of stuff going on down there that would make great pictures.”

“Oh, definitely.”

They reached the rock and Nicole moved to the highest point. Callie sat just below her, folding her long legs up under her. She cradled the camera in her lap where it would be ready to be brought up for a quick shot. Callie had her wild red hair mostly tamed with a ponytail and cap, but it still spread across her shoulders like the wild underbrush they had just tromped through.

“So,” Callie said at length, looking down to watch her fingers fiddle with the film-spool knob. “Um. Can I ask you something kind of personal?”

“Sure.”

“When did you know you were gay?”

Nicole laughed. “Wow. Straight people love that question.”

“Sorry.”

“No, it’s fine. I just think it’s funny how often that gets asked.” The wind blew a strand of hair into her face and she swept it aside. “Was there a moment when they saw someone of the opposite sex and a light bulb went off? ‘Oh, I like him, so I’m straight. Good to know. File that away for the future.’ I was attracted to girls before I knew that was different. It’s not something I had to discover. It’s something I was. I just had to accept it at a certain point.”

“Oh.”

“Why?”

“Nothing. Never mind.”

Nicole watched her for a moment and then reached out to nudge Callie’s hip with her foot. “Hey. Come on. I’m not just your photo coach, I’m your friend. I mean I hope I am. If there’s something you want to talk about, I’m here.”

“You are my friend.” Callie sighed, took off her cap, and ran her hands through her hair. “I had a dream. It was… sexual.”

“Ah. About me?”

“No. Sorry.”

Nicole chuckled. “It’s okay. I just thought that would explain why you were so quiet on the way up here. Was it someone you know?”

Callie nodded. “Yeah. Mrs. Hood-Colby.”

Nicole raised an eyebrow. “The Mayor or the teacher?”

“Teacher.”

Not the one I would have picked, Nicole thought, but still very nice. “You’re dating their son, right? Michael?”

“Yeah. I’m over there all the time. I don’t know how I’ll be able to look her in the eye.”

Nicole thought about the situation as she watched the waves rolling toward the shore. After a moment she smiled. “Oh. Can I speak frankly?”

“Please.”

“From what you’ve said, your parents aren’t exactly fans of your career path. Jill and Patricia, on the other hand, have supported you. In a lot of ways they’ve been more parental than your real family. So Jill has been your surrogate mom, and now she’s had a baby so she’s putting out all these maternal… pheromones… and you’re picking up on that.”

Callie chewed on her bottom lip. “But the dream was… very, very… not maternal.”

“You’re a teenager, Callie. You got your signals crossed. You have a close, loving relationship with Jill and your hormones threw sex in the mix because that’s what teenage hormones do. You’re not suddenly gay because you have one weird dream. Hell, I’ve had sex dreams with guys before.”

“Really? Who?”

“Kate, Amy, and I rented Magic Mike. Pick any one of those guys.”

Callie laughed. “Wow. So you’re… bisexual?”

“No. I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with any of those guys no matter how buff they are. But I can appreciate looking at a finely sculpted body as much as the next gal.”

“Was it weird watching it with your friends?”

Nicole’s smile wavered. “No. Not… not really.”

Callie brought the camera up and snapped a picture of the ferry as it came around a neighboring island. Nicole shuffled her feet and leaned back.

“Kate and Amy aren’t my friends.”

“Really? I thought you guys were real close. I mean, you live with them.”

Nicole said, “We’re partners.”

Callie looked back and frowned. “Wait, I thought… which one? I thought Kate and Amy were together.”

“Kate and Amy are partners, and I’m their girlfriend.”

Callie stared at her and then slowly panned her gaze across the water. “Whoa.”

“It’s not common knowledge. So I’d like–”

“Of course. Sure. Wow.” She pushed her hair back. “I didn’t think people really did that outside of, you know, certain movies.”

Nicole grinned. “It’s not a porn thing. It’s a relationship just like anyone else’s. We argue, we take care of each other, we support one another. It’s about more than sex. We love each other.”

“I didn’t think it worked like that.”

“I used to think the same thing. But love isn’t a finite thing. Giving it to a third person doesn’t diminish the amount you have. I love Kate and Amy. They love me. They love each other. I can’t imagine being in a relationship with either one of them alone. They could make it alone, but we’re stronger together.”

“Wow.” Callie furrowed her brow. “Telling me that was kind of a big deal, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. Only our closest friends know.”

Callie considered that for a long moment, then nodded. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Movement in the water caught her eye and she nodded with her chin. “Looks like the orcas decided to grace us with their presence today.”

Callie brought her camera up and Nicole did the same. She snapped a few pictures of the whales, then changed her angle to get a shot of Callie. The girl was framed by the water and the rocks, her face half-shaded by the trees behind them.

“It’s so beautiful,” Callie said. “I mean, you come out here away from the town, and you can really see that this whole island really belongs to the animals. And nature. We’re just, like… renters.”

Nicole nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah. I like that. It’s easy to forget when we’re in town. You know, there are over four hundred islands out here but only a quarter of them have been named? And seventy-five percent of the human population lives on one of three islands? We’re outnumbered by nature three-to-one out here.”

Callie said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Neither would I.” She checked her watch. “Okay, let’s try to get a few more shots before the sunset changes all the colors on us.”

“Cool. Are we going to get some shots of that?”

“Are you crazy? Of course we are.”

 

#

 

Nicole got home about an hour after dark. Her camera bag was slung over her right shoulder and her legs were sore from traipsing through the underbrush to reach the shore. Amy was lying on the sofa, her bare feet resting on the arm. Nicole approached and tickled her soles, causing her to draw up her legs and lay her book down on her chest. She smiled up and bumped Nicole’s hip with her foot.

“Hi.”

“Hey. Where’s Kate?”

“Upstairs. Showering.” She sat up and stretched. “We were talking about going to dinner when you got home, if you’re up to it.”

Nicole grunted and slid onto the couch next to Amy. “I’m exhausted. But you two can still go out if you want.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I have some leftovers here I can eat.” She pecked Amy’s lips. “How was your day?”

Amy shrugged. “Nothing much changed after lunch. A little slow, but we like the slow days.”

“As long as they’re few and far between.”

“Absolutely.” She rested her head on Nicole’s shoulder. “Where were you?”

Nicole cradled Amy against her side and leaned back, putting her feet up on the coffee table. “I was with Callie. We took some pictures off the shore.”

Amy said, “Orcas?”

“Yes, actually.”

“Jealous.”

Nicole kissed her forehead and smoothed her hair back. “You know, Callie said something out there that made me think about how transient I had been. I thought that settling down here meant I was becoming a permanent resident of a place. But no one is a permanent resident of the island. We’re just renters, borrowing a little piece of real estate from the animals. So in a way, I haven’t settled down at all. It’s just being transient on a larger scale.”

Amy laughed. “I can live with that.”

“Thanks for giving me a place to land, Ames.”

“You’re welcome, Nick.”

They were kissing when Kate came downstairs. Her hair was wet from the shower, darkening the shoulders of her plain gray T-shirt. She leaned over the couch and kissed Amy’s temple to break the kiss, then snuck a kiss from Nicole when they parted.

“Hey,” Nicole and Kate said at the same time, and Kate smiled. “Did Amy tell you we were talking about going out?”

“She did. I’m not feeling it, but you two can go have fun.”

“You’re sure?”

Nicole nodded. “Yeah. I just want to curl up with a book or sleep early.”

“Okay. If you go to bed before we get back, you should go to Amy’s bedroom.”

Nicole smiled. “I will.”

Kate kissed Nicole, then kissed Amy’s neck. “I’m going to go get ready.”

“Okay.” Amy watched Kate go upstairs, then looked at Nicole. “Still getting used to the idea of staying in one place and putting down roots, huh?”

“No, actually. I’m used to it. I got used to it the minute you and Kate invited me to share your lives. I think I’m just getting used to being okay with it. I don’t want to go anywhere, I don’t want to pack up and see what the weather is like in Turkey. I just want to stay here, read a little, and wait for my girlfriend and her partner to get home from dinner. If I did have one desire, it would be that they would go to Gail’s and bring me back some lemon budino for dessert.”

Amy pecked Nicole’s lips. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Kate came downstairs in a maroon blouse and black skirt. She gathered Amy, and they bid Nicole a goodnight before they headed out. Nicole waited until the car was out of the driveway before she took out her iPod and scrolled through the music. She settled on Jenny Lewis and pushed the volume all the way up so it could be heard throughout the first floor of the house. She remembered Kate making her and Amy listen to the music, to one song’s sly mention of a polyamorous relationship with a reference to “her and you and me.”

Nicole had the words rolling around in her head ever since, just a quick play on pronouns. Her and you and me. So simple and eloquently put. She stretched out on the couch, subconsciously taking the same position Amy had been in when Nicole came home. She crossed her feet at the ankles and stared at the ceiling as the music played.

She didn’t know what would happen next with their relationship. None of them were interested in marriage, if that sort of ceremony could even be legal, but she knew one thing was certain. She would never have chosen the path she was currently on. If given the choice she would have run fast and far. So whatever was next, she didn’t want to know. She didn’t want the opportunity to get out ahead of herself and sabotage it.

The next step would happen when it was supposed to. For the time being she was just happy to be along for the ride.

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