Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Power Struggle

Summary:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and throughout December Harbor

Every house had gone dark; the island was without power

But the ladies who live there found no reason for fright

For they all had other ways of making Christmas bright.

The storm spent all of Christmas Eve building up, growing in strength and meandering up and down the Strait. Forecasters didn’t seem to know if it would keep going north or stay squatting right where it was. After sunset, when the children were nestled all snug in their beds, it finally decided to drift northwest and began pelting Squire’s Isle with sleet and freezing rain. Tourists had taken the travel advisory to be back on the mainland as early as possible, and the residents were wise enough to have abandoned the streets before the first icy darts began falling from the sky.

On the western edge of town, Jill Hood-Colby woke up within minutes of the power going out. She remained on her side until she determined she hadn’t been woken by Isabel crying out or a ringing phone. She still checked for the baby monitor even though they hadn’t used it for over a year. When she realized that the disturbance had been the heater shutting off, she looked at her phone and saw that it wasn’t charging.

“Sweetheart.” She brushed the hair out of Patricia’s face. “Power’s out.”

“The whole town?”

Jill said, “I haven’t looked yet.” She kicked the blankets out of the way and swung her feet onto the floor. “I’ll go check on Isabel.”

Patricia reached for her phone. “I’ll start making some calls.”

Jill wrapped an afghan around herself as she headed down the hall to Isabel’s bedroom. Their tiny little baby was now two years old, a fact brought home when she began trying to escape her crib on a nightly basis. They eventually decided the time had come for the transition from crib to bed, something Jill was absolutely fine with up to the moment she started crying in the furniture store. She sat on the foot of a fluffy pink cloud of a bed and sobbed piteously as Patricia crouched in front of her and stroked her hands and hair until she was cried out.

Now, the battery-powered nightlight revealed the beautiful wooden bed they’d chosen for Isabel. It was mahogany painted blue to go with the room, with raised edges on two sides that would emulate a crib. Isabel was lying on her side, her hand near her mouth but the thumb free and dry. Jill approached quietly and tucked the blanket tighter around the slumbering baby… no, the toddler.

Patricia tapped a fingernail against the doorframe. She had dressed quickly but she lacked makeup and her hair was smashed under a cap. “It’s the whole town,” she whispered. “I’m going to see what we can do from City Hall. Hopefully we can have this settled by the time everyone wakes up.”

Jill stood and tiptoed to her, kissing her cheek and lips. “Drive safely. The weather was saying the roads would be icy.”

“I’ll go slow, I promise.” She looked past Jill at Isabel. “Tell her I love her when she wakes up.”

“Always.” She kissed Patricia again and told her to go.

Patricia went downstairs and wrapped a scarf around the lower half of her face before she went outside to the car. The cold hit her like a slap and she shuddered until she was safely inside the car with the heat going. She dialed her phone and then placed it in the holster next to the stereo as she navigated her way out of the drive to the gated entrance of their property. She was grateful they rarely closed the gate; odds were good it would’ve been frozen shut if they didn’t.

The phone rang twice before it was answered by Alex Crawford. “Hello?”

“Alex, sorry to wake you up,” she said. “This is Patricia. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the power seems to have cut out.”

“I was just on my way in to see what needed to be done.”

“Okay. I’m on my way to City Hall. You can get in touch with me there if you need anything.”

“Be careful, Patricia.”

She eyed the road outside their property. “Yeah, you too. We’re going to need all the care we can get tonight. Stay safe, Alex.”

Spring Street was famously steep, and she didn’t feel the need to risk taking it. She drove north and then cut across a straighter street that would still take her directly to City Hall. Every block she passed looked abandoned, the streetlights and Christmas decorations all darkened by the storm. She could see a fine layer of ice forming on every surface.

As she drove past Sandpiper Condos, she braced herself for what was certain to be an extremely long and trying day.

 

 

 

It was close to one in the morning when Nadine woke up to use the bathroom and clicked on the hall light as she passed. It took her a moment to realize it hadn’t come on, so she took a step back and flicked the switch up and down a few times to make sure it wasn’t sparking. She sighed and went back into the bedroom to retrieve her phone. She used the light to navigate through the house. She took a detour to the living room and looked out at the rest of their community. All the lights and decorations had gone dark.

When she finished in the bathroom, she checked to make sure Orson was comfortable enough in his little puppy corner, then retrieved another blanket from the linen closet. She brought it to bed and draped it over Miranda. Miranda stirred and lifted her head off the pillow.

“What…?”

“Power is out,” Nadine said as she crawled under the blankets.

Miranda grumbled and collapsed back onto the mattress. “Great.”

Nadine snuggled close to Miranda and smoothed the blankets out over them both. “Hopefully it will be back on by the morning.” The station had a generator, so they would still be able to broadcast, but she wondered if anyone would be able to hear the show. She decided not to waste the night worrying about it. They would deal with everything they needed if the lights were still out in the morning. For the time being, they didn’t need lights to sleep, and they could keep each other warm under the blankets until the sun came up.

 

 

 

Kate Warren was actually awake when the power went out. She was downstairs writing by the light of a single lamp when it suddenly clicked off, startling her out of the tunnel vision she’d been trapped in. She had a few days before the deadline, but she still wanted to get it done as soon as possible. She saved her work and closed the laptop to preserve the battery, then went to the front door and peered outside. She could see their neighbors down the street, a row of dark houses where once Frosty and Rudolph had been shining earlier.

When it became clear that the lights weren’t coming back on, she went back to the couch and turned off her laptop. She went upstairs and let herself into Nicole’s bedroom. She was curled in the fetal position under a single blanket. Kate crawled on top of her, rubbing her arm as she kissed her partner’s cold cheek.

“If you’re trying to warm me up, you’ll need less clothes.”

“Power’s out,” Kate said. “C’mon. We’ll go sleep with Ames tonight.”

Nicole said, “That sounds great.”

“I’ll get Big Comfy.”

She left Nicole to get extricated from the bedding and change into pajamas more appropriate for the cold night ahead. She freed the much-coveted blanket Big Comfy from the hall closet. It was huge, plush, and capable of covering the bed in layer upon layer of toasty goose-down warmth. None of them could agree on which bed it should live on, so they kept it in the closet and only brought it out for special occasions. Kate decided that a night without heat definitely counted.

Amy was lying on her stomach when they slipped into her room. Nicole went to the left while Kate moved to the right. Amy woke when the blankets were lifted.

“Kate? Nikki?”

“Power’s out, no heat,” Kate said. “I brought Big Comfy.”

“Ooh. Good girls. Get in here, warm up.”

Nicole spooned Amy from behind. Kate embraced them both, guiding Amy’s head down onto her chest after a quick kiss hello. Nicole made sure they were all completely covered by Big Comfy, then kissed Amy’s hair and Kate’s lips. As Kate fell asleep, she thought that with their combined body heat and the added insulation of Big Comfy, they would probably wake up as the warmest three people on Squire’s Isle.

 

 

 

Zoe Hudson checked under the bathroom sink, in the kitchen cupboards, and in the small room she used for storage until she finally had enough candles to light up the entire living room. When she returned, Ava Gleason had just finished lighting the first batch of candles. She was still wearing just the T-shirt she’d put on after rolling out of Zoe’s bed. Zoe still couldn’t believe Ava was here, that she was standing in her living room with her hair mussed from sex.

Ava looked up when she caught Zoe staring. Her eyes were green-gray, a startling combination that initially made Zoe doubt the reality of her profile picture. But Ava was just so gorgeous and so funny that she decided she didn’t care what she looked like. Eventually their emails and chatting graduated to Skype, and she discovered that Ava really did have eyes that looked like a forest on a foggy day.

“Oh, good, you found more.”

“Yeah.” Zoe handed her a few and began setting them up. Ava clicked the lighter and touched it to each wick.

They met online. Zoe didn’t feel any shame about that; it was 2015, and online dating was as commonplace as going to a bar. Her only hesitation had been the knowledge that even if she found someone, the odds were against her living nearby. Her fears had been confirmed when she began exchanging emails with Ava. Kennewick was still technically in Washington, but someone driving down Main Street and taking a wrong turn could end up in Oregon without realizing it. Three hundred miles across the whole of Washington state, and that was before she even boarded the ferry in Anacortes. When Zoe did the math on that, she decided to let Ava down easy and break things off before they got too serious.

Her plan hadn’t worked out very well, and it was a failure she would always be grateful for.

Ava was a postal worker. She had just turned thirty. She had ended a relationship when her partner cheated on her and joining the website had been her way to get back out there without actually going to the effort of leaving the house. She and Zoe were connected through a shared appreciation of David Bowie’s music – just one of the incredibly common factoids that the site’s algorithm used. “Do you like spicy food? I also like food! We should be together forever!” But the ensuing conversation revealed they had more in common than Ziggy Stardust.

Three months into emailing, Zoe dropped what she was afraid would be the final nail in their coffin. “I kissed a woman who was in a relationship. I know what you went through, and I would hate for you to think you were getting involved with someone who was willing to cheat. It was a move of desperation and something I’ve regretted ever since even though it didn’t go any further. I just thought you should have all the facts.”

Ava had taken it hard. There were some harshly-worded emails for a few days after the revelation, but eventually Ava decided that she could forgive the misstep. She thanked Zoe for her honesty and asked if she was still interested in pursuing a relationship with someone who lived so far away. Zoe agreed wholeheartedly, and they officially became a couple.

Now, six and a half months after they started chatting, they were finally together in person for the first time. Ava offered to drive out for Christmas despite the fact the weather was turning, and Zoe tried her best to make it worth her effort. Fridge stocked with all Ava’s favorite things. An actual Christmas dinner, with pie and ham and turkey, waiting in the kitchen. It all turned out to be for nothing, because the only time they hadn’t been touching each other was on the drive from the ferry lanes to Zoe’s apartment.

They’d done things together online. Mutual masturbation, dirty emails, but nothing could have compared to actually holding Ava in her arms. She could only afford to get away for the Christmas weekend, and most of her time would be spent traveling. Zoe was aching to meet her but insisted it might not be worth it. “One night,” Ava said, “just over twelve hours. I would drive twice as far even if it was just six hours.” Zoe agreed and met her at the ferry lanes, and they shared their first kiss amid the crowd of tourists and holiday visitors.

Ava was a phenomenal kisser. She was a little shorter than Zoe, so she instinctively stretched up to make up the difference. The kiss was supposed to be chaste, a greeting that fit with how long they had been together. Instead it was a testament to how long they’d gone without touching. Zoe had dreamt about kissing Ava, and from her response, it seemed Ava had some of the same dreams. She was a phenomenal kisser, and when Zoe had started to pull away, Ava grabbed the collar of her coat and said, “Wait, just a little more,” before taking her lips again. Zoe had smiled and given in to the request. In the car, Ava said, “I know we promised we would wait…”

“We don’t have to wait.”

Ava had exhaled sharply and nodded. “Good. Good, good.”

They started in the hallway, where Ava’s boots and bags were still where she had dropped them. More clothes led down the hall to the bedroom, where they had spent the entirety of the storm getting to know one another. Zoe had been mid-orgasm when the lights cut out, throwing them into darkness and shutting off the music that was playing. Now the house was cold, and Zoe doubted there would be any ferries back to the mainland in the morning.

Zoe stepped behind Ava and stroked her shoulders. “I’m sorry about this.”

“You can’t control the weather. The forecast said this was a possibility, so I knew the risks.”

“Still, I’m sorry you got stuck.”

“I’m not.” She turned and slipped her hands under the open halves of Zoe’s blouse. “I wouldn’t have planned it this way, but I’m not going to complain about it. Maybe I’m the one who owes your island an apology. Maybe this was my fault. I wanted to stay here so badly that I brought the storm with me to lock it down.”

Zoe smiled and stroked Ava’s skin. “I think they’d understand that.”

They finished lighting the candles and went to retrieve the food. They could eat some of it without warming it up, and neither of them wanted to throw it all out. They had a picnic on the living room floor with candles and their phones providing the light. They talked about everything, from the fact they had first started talking because “We’re A to Z, so between us we have it all covered,” to background information they’d never gotten around to.

When they ran out of conversation, Zoe got a blanket off the couch and sat close enough to wrap it around them both. They put their arms around each other and bumped their heads together.

“I feel like a kid at a sleepover,” Ava said.

“Hm, what did you get up to at sleepovers?”

“Masturbation under the covers, mostly.”

Zoe said, “Well, I think we’ve both done enough of that lately.” She stroked Ava’s hair. “Do they have a hospital in Kennewick?”

“Mm-hmm. And an urgent care center.”

“Maybe I could get a job there.”

Ava went still. “You’d do that? You would move across the state when you just moved here a couple of years ago?”

“I didn’t mean to scare you. It was just an idea. And if things didn’t work out between us… I mean, I wouldn’t want you to feel obligated to make it work just because I’d moved out there. But I’m sick of Skype. I don’t think I can go another six months without holding you, or just having a one-day visit. I want more. And if I have to move to Kennewick to get more, then…” She sighed. “Squire’s Isle has a lot of great things, and I love it here, but if it doesn’t have you, then it’s just a place to keep my stuff. I want to see how things go when we’re in each other’s lives all day, every day. And like I said, if it doesn’t work, no big deal, but I feel like I have to take the chance.”

Ava sat up. “Could you get my phone, please?”

Zoe laughed nervously, on the verge of breaking down. “You don’t need to call an Uber. I’ll drive you to the airport if I just freaked you out.”

“Just get my phone, Zoe. Please?”

Zoe freed herself from the blankets and retrieved the phone off the floor. Zoe turned on the screen, tapped a few keys, and turned it around to reveal a forum with a list of city names.

“What is this?”

“Right here.” She tapped the screen. “I opened that topic two weeks ago. It’s a mutual transfer forum. Kennewick, Washington, to December Harbor, Sholeh Village, Anacortes, or anywhere in western Washington. I’m waiting for someone to bite. The union, um, the union allows us to swap jobs as long as both parties agree to it, so… yeah, if someone wants to deliver mail in Kennewick, then they’ll text me and we’ll discuss it. I was going to wait until I got an offer before I told you. I didn’t want to freak you out.”

Zoe laughed and put the phone down. She cupped Ava’s face and kissed her.

“The same rules apply, Z. If things don’t work out, then they weren’t meant to be. I fell in love with the pictures you would send me of this place long before I fell…”

Zoe’s heart leapt. “Before what?”

“Before I fell in love with you.”

“I love you, too,” Zoe said. They kissed again. “Next time I get a patient who works at the post office, I’ll make up some disease that can only be cured by living east of the Cascades. Some bullshit about elevation and air quality.”

Ava laughed. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

Zoe played with strands of Ava’s hair, suddenly desperate to touch her everywhere possible. “Let’s go back to bed. I don’t think they’re going to fix this power situation any time soon.”

Ava shrugged. “Even if they do, I don’t think we’re going to need much electricity for the next few hours.”

Zoe grinned and helped Ava blow out the candles before they went back down the hall to the bedroom to continue what they’d started earlier.

 

 

 

Patricia took the phone from Tobias and tried to sound more relaxed than she felt. “Mr. McCormack? Hi! Yes, I just wanted to personally than you. You’re a saint, and I want you to know we’re going to name a street after you for this. I…” She listened and then said, “Sure, if you’d rather have it named after your dog, we can see if that works. Thank you again, Mr. McCormack. The island thanks you.” She hung up and breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay, people, listen up. Travis McCormack has graciously donated his generator to us. So we’re going to need volunteers to get Oddfellows Hall set up with it. I’m also going to need people to get the word out that it’s a warming station for anyone who needs to get out of the cold.”

The gathered forces of her staff got to work on the requests. It was almost six in the morning and she thought she had almost all the wheels of recovery spinning. She was just the figurehead of the movement; her staff were the ones really making things happen. She would have to remember their dedication to come downtown through an ice field on Christmas morning to make sure the people of Squire’s Isle would suffer as little as possible.

Jill appeared in the doorway like an angel, and Patricia smiled instinctively at the sight of her wife and daughter.

“Hey,” she said between kisses hello. “What are you two doing here? You should’ve stayed off the roads.”

“Isabel insisted on seeing Mama. I couldn’t even distract her with the promise of presents.”

Patricia scooped up the little girl. “Aw, well, a good mayor always finds time for even the littlest constituents.” She settled Isabel on her hip. “How did you get down here?”

“Mr. Veidt was driving around checking on everyone. I asked if he would be willing to drop us off when he came by here.”

“I’m glad he did. How did it look out there?”

“Not as bad as it could have,” Jill said. “A lot of branches are down. It’s probably going to be a long cleanup.”

Patricia groaned. “Maybe I could just leave it until the election. Let the next guy handle it.”

“Unless an opponent shows up, you are the next guy.”

“Oh. Right.”

Jill said, “If you point us to an office or a desk, we can handle phone calls or whatever you need. Another set of hands is probably just what the mayor ordered.”

“Absolutely.” Patricia scanned the various faces occupying her office. “Simon, can you find something my wife and daughter could take care of, please?”

Simon looked at the couple, then reached out to take Isabel. “I have a better idea. You two have been up all night. Let me watch the baby and you can catch a catnap on the couch in Tobias’ office.”

Patricia said, “You don’t have to do that.”

“Really,” Jill said. “Being up all night is nothing new to us, thanks to Isabel. We’re fine.”

Simon said, “We’ve got things under control for now. You did everything you needed to do, and all the pieces are in motion, so… you know, let the people you’ve put to work do their jobs. And you can take a well-deserved break. Even if it’s just an hour or two.”

Patricia looked like she wanted to fight some more, but Jill stopped her. “Thank you, Simon. That’s a very sweet thought. We’ll take you up on that.”

“We will?” Patricia said.

“The idea was planted. So in fifteen minutes, you would hit a wall and be exhausted and useless to everyone. So we might as well take him up on it before he reneges.”

Simon was already focused on Isabel. “Offer retracted in five, four, three…”

“We’ll take a break,” Patricia said.

“Excellent. See you in three hours.” He grinned and carried Isabel away.

Jill took Patricia’s hand to lead her down the hall to the deputy mayor’s office.

 

 

 

Rachel Crawford didn’t necessarily have to leave when Alex did, but she knew her car wouldn’t make it to the hospital if she waited for dawn. She also knew they would need all hands on deck to prepare the emergency room in advance of Christmas morning injuries. At the moment things would be quiet, but once people began waking up and venturing out onto the icy roads, the hospital would be flooded with broken bones, sprained ankles and wrists, and all variety of injuries that came with the ground turning into a solid sheet of ice.

So she pulled herself out of the warm bed and bundled up in the dark. Alex dropped her off at the hospital with a promise that she would be careful (“I do not want to see you unless you’re dropping off a patient you heroically rescued,” she warned) and went in to begin preparations for what she hoped would only be a minor disaster.

By dawn, it was clear that the city workers were doing a fantastic job keeping everybody safe. Nadine Butler was on the radio telling everyone who could hear her that a warming station had been set up at Oddfellows Hall. The library also had power, and Cheryl Paxton invited anyone who could safely get out to come down and charge any electronic devices they might need. She clarified need in the text she sent to the radio station; at the moment, no one needed a fully-charged iPod or smartphone. The kitchen staff at Gail’s volunteered their time to cook hot meals at the community center. It wouldn’t be much, Clifton Gail warned, but it will be better than nothing.

Rachel did have to set a few broken bones and provided care for scrapes and bruises, but for the most part the morning was nowhere near as hectic as it could have been. She was at the front desk when she spotted Alex coming through the sliding doors of the emergency room, bringing a gust of frigid air in with her. She looked like a superhero in her bunker coat, her hair matted down from the helmet she’d been wearing all morning.

“You better not be here because you hurt yourself, Alexandra.”

“No, I’m all in one piece,” Alex assured her. “But I’ve been usurped. Shireen told me that I’d been on duty for almost twelve hours but she’d gotten a full night’s sleep, so she was taking over for me.”

“You hired a tyrant,” Rachel said. “I’m just shocked you accepted the offer.”

Alex shrugged. “I didn’t notice how tired I was until she brought it up. But I thought if you could slip away, I’d take you home so you could get some rest, too.”

Rachel said, “I don’t know. The time it would take to get home and get back… how are the roads?”

“Icy and in a lot of places impassable due to downed branches.”

A nurse who had been close enough to overhear said, “Dr. Crawford, there’s an empty bed up on three. You could take it for a little bit.”

“We need beds.”

“We really don’t,” the nurse countered. “We’re not keeping enough patients to justify it.” She looked at her chart. “We still have half of the second floor to fill before we even start on the third. At the rate we’re going, that room will be empty for a couple of hours at the very least.”

Alex said, “What would you tell a nurse who had been working as long as you have?”

The nurse said, “Good point.”

Rachel sighed. “Okay, then. I guess I’m outnumbered. But if anything happens or if you need another pair of hands–”

“I’ll call Dr. Hudson.”

“No. No, Zoe had some really special planned this weekend. Do not call her under any circumstances.”

The nurse sighed. “Okay. But it’ll need to be a huge emergency before I get your butt back down here.”

“I can accept that.” She turned to Alex and offered her arm. “Shall we?”

Alex hooked her arm around Rachel’s and led her to the elevator. As they walked off, Alex turned back to the nurse and mouthed ‘thank you.’ The nurse smiled and mouthed, ‘merry Christmas’ back to her before returning to work.

When they got to the third floor, Rachel escorted her wife to the room at the farthest end of the hall. It was empty, as promised, and Alex shut the door before she shed her bunker coat. Rachel went to close the blinds, but she hesitated when she saw the view. “Alex. C’mere. Look at this.” Alex joined her at the window.

The entire town was shining. The sun was directly overhead and caught every curve and angle of treacherous ice to make the buildings, streets, trees, and vehicles glisten like diamonds. The water in the harbor wasn’t frozen over, but ice crystals made it look even more vibrant than it usually did. Alex put her hands on Rachel’s shoulders and bent down to kiss her neck.

“Merry Christmas, Rachel.”

Rachel smiled and twisted to kiss Alex’s lips. “Merry Christmas. Come on. Let’s get some sleep.”

They stripped down as much as they felt comfortable – coats and shoes off, socks on – and climbed into bed. Rachel also hadn’t noticed how tired she was until she was actually lying down, closing her eyes as soon as her head hit the pillow. She vaguely heard Alex asking if she was warm enough and muttered ‘no.’ She meant she needed Alex next to her to share body heat, but instead Alex tucked the blankets tighter around her.

“Better?”

Rachel reached up and pulled Alex down. Alex finally got the hint and curled tightly around her, one leg hooked over Rachel’s hip. Rachel smiled and burrowed her face against the cotton of Alex’s shirt. It was wet from sweat and being out in the cold, but she didn’t mind. She sighed happily and let herself drift off to sleep. When they woke up, the power would be back on and the sun would have melted away all the troublesome ice. And if it hadn’t, and if it was still dark, then at the very least they could keep each other warm.

 

 

Patricia was the big spoon, on the inside of the couch. They had two blankets over them, both completely unconscious when there was a quiet click. This time it was Patricia who woke up first, blinking into consciousness as the lamp on Tobias’ desk came to life. A second later she heard the hum of the building’s ancient heating mechanisms clicking on. She thought about waking Jill to celebrate the return of power, but one look at her revealed she was sleeping much too deeply to disturb. Instead, she kissed her wife’s ear and settled back in to continue their nap.

She could think of worse ways to spend a Christmas afternoon.

 

 

Your email is never shared.
Required fields are marked *