Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Singularity

Summary: Zoe is resigned to spending her birthday by herself on an island full of lovers.

MAY 24

Zoe startled awake, pushing the pillow off the edge of the bed as she groped blindly for the telephone. She sat up with one leg twisted under her as she answered, looking around for anything that would tell her what time it was. She managed a single syllable of speech before the person on the other end of the phone cut her off with a loud cheer.

“Happy birthday, sis!”

“Sara? What time is it?”

“It’s seven-oh-two, same as every year. The exact minute you were born, the time I was saddled with a snot-nosed little albatross for the rest of my life.”

Zoe collapsed back in bed. “Sara, it’s seven-oh-two in New Hampshire. I moved to Washington, remember?”

There was silence on the other end. “Oh, shit, Zoe. What time is it there?”

“Four.”

“In the morn– oh, man, I’m so sorry.”

Zoe smiled. “Don’t beat yourself up. I appreciate the blind devotion to tradition. Call me back in three hours.”

“Will do. Sorry. I completely forgot you’d moved to the other side of the country. Stupid time zones. Um. I’ll let you go back to sleep. Good night, Zoe.”

“Night, Sara.”

She hung up and put the phone back on the nightstand. She flopped back onto her pillow, tugged the blankets up to her shoulders, and tried to drift back to sleep. She tossed and turned for a while, eventually drifting off and waking again when her sister called back at the appropriate time. This time Zoe welcomed the call, talking to Sara as she got dressed and brushed her teeth. She turned on the speaker and propped the phone up against the edge of the sink.

“So you have big plans for your big day?”

“Well.” She bent down and spit her toothpaste into the sink. “I don’t have to go into work.”

“Are things still awkward for you there?”

Zoe made a non-committal noise. “No. I mean, yes, but it’s all coming from me. Dr. Tom has been so amazing about it. I just make myself scarce when her fiancée shows up.”

On New Years, she had made the mistake of kissing her fellow doctor, Rachel Tom. She knew Rachel was in a relationship, but it seemed like they were just going through the motions. Together because they were used to being together. She took a shot, she tried to shake things up by showing Rachel there were other options out there. Alas, the plot had backfired. Her kiss had indeed woken Rachel up, but it made her realize how much she loved the woman she was already with. They were currently engaged, and the wedding planning was the talk of the hospital.

“Well, all you can do is power through it. Any other romantic prospects on the horizon?”

Zoe scoffed and rinsed out her mouth. “Yeah. Millions. Hundreds. That’s why I went after the woman with a girlfriend. I just love me a challenge.” She turned off the bathroom light and carried her sister’s voice into the bedroom to dress. “‘Come to Squire’s Isle, it’s a lesbian dreamland!'”

“That’s not what the brochure said. Was there an actual brochure?”

“No. But the website was glowing with praise about how open and equal the island was. Hell, last year we elected an openly-gay mayor. Her wife? Elementary school teacher. No one cares. No one protests outside City Hall or the school. No one has to worry about being discriminated against because of their sexuality. I just wish someone had mentioned everyone already paired off. I feel like the last one standing in Musical Chairs.”

“Poor baby. You’ll find someone eventually. People don’t mate for life.”

“Seems like they do here. Okay, sis, I have to shower and get dressed before I head out for my day of singular fun. Thanks for calling. I love our birthday talks.”

“Me too. And feel free to call me in the middle of the night, too. It’s only fair.”

Zoe smiled. “I’ll keep that in mind. Love you, Care Bear.”

“Love you, too, Zuzu. I’ll talk to you soon.”

She dropped the phone on her blanket and stepped around the foot of the bed. She pushed open the curtains on the window that had been one of the apartment’s many selling points. It had three sections separated into quarters, and the twelve panes cast early morning sunlight directly onto her bed. When she fell asleep with the curtains open, she would wake to the sight of the island’s green back rising into a crystal blue sky. When she’d toured the house, she’d thought about the women she would bring back, how they would wake up and see such beauty. They would be so overwhelmed that morning sex would be sure to follow.

So far she hadn’t been able to take advantage of the built-in aphrodisiac. She sighed and left the window open. Just because her hypothetical-slash-imaginary partners couldn’t enjoy the sight, she wasn’t going to deprive herself.

#

Zoe decided to spend the morning playing tourist. She’d been on the island for less than a year, and she was still finding new things to love about it. The streets of town nearest to the ferry lanes were flooded with people, dozens of cars and bicycles and motorcycles clogging the ordinarily sedate streets. Zoe walked along the backstreets to avoid pedestrians, then turned east and let herself be absorbed into the crowd.

She was approaching Coffee Table Books – both an indispensable source of caffeine as well as a treasure trove of free paperbacks – when she spotted a woman she vaguely recognized as the bakery’s owner. She had just stepped out of a doorway that Zoe assumed led to a living space behind the shop, dressed for a day of sailing in white pants and a blue-and-white shirt. Amy. That was her name. Maybe she was single.

Zoe slowed down and watched from across the street as Amy put a cooler in the back of a brown sedan, brushed her hands on the seat of her pants, and twisted to look back at the door. A second woman with thick black hair held back by a clip emerged in the process of transferring a pair of sunglasses from the scooped neck of her T-shirt to her eyes. Amy stepped forward and kissed the corner of her mouth, then turned back to the door.

“C’mon, Nick. You don’t hurry up, we’re leaving without you.”

A third woman, brunette like the first but with a fuller figure, emerged in a T-shirt that complimented every one of her curves. She held up her hands in apology as Amy got into the passenger seat of the car. The first brunette got behind the wheel, and Nick got into the backseat. Just before they pulled away, Zoe saw Nick lean forward between the seats. Amy turned to face her and they gave each other a brief but unmistakably romantic kiss.

“Oh, now that’s just unfair!”

As soon as she realized she’d spoken aloud, she looked around to see if anyone had overheard. Fortunately most people seemed too caught up in their own things to pay attention to her, and she quickly began walking again. She was happy when anyone found love, and no matter what their arrangement they seemed to make it work. But two girlfriends? That was just greedy.

On First Street she bought herself an ice cream cone and ate it as she walked closer to the harbor. She considered going to Seattle. Treating herself to a real night out. See a show, hit a club, meet someone, maybe get a hotel room… She rested her elbows on the railing and sighed as she licked the vanilla of her treat.

She wasn’t the kind of person who needed to make her birthday something special. Hell, if pushed, she would say that she preferred the quiet days the best. A nice meal in her own apartment and maybe a movie. Then to bed with a good book. It had just been a while since she went to bed with an actual living, breathing woman that she was starting to fear it would never happen again.

Two years since Stephanie. Two years since the breakup heard throughout Nashua. She’d just gotten out of a four-hour surgery, scrubbed up to go home and crash, walked in and discovered that everything from the past five years had evaporated. The skeleton of their life was still present, of course, but the small signs of cohabitation… Steph’s pillow, the stack of books on her side of the sofa, the pictures hanging behind the TV. It was all gone. Half the closet was empty. Even Baxter was gone.

That wasn’t so bad. Zoe had never really liked the gecko. But everything else, the absence where once there had been a life? That hurt. That cut to the bone.

The next three weeks comprised The Negotiation, the verbal battle that carried over into all parts of their lives. Stephanie had spent months building up the courage to leave and, when she finally did, she was through talking. She didn’t seem to understand that Zoe needed some closure of her own. One night Zoe had gone to Stephanie’s new apartment, cursing herself for being the Bad Romance cliché, and pounded on the door until someone finally answered. “Someone” being the new woman Stephanie was sleeping with.

Zoe knew she shouldn’t have been surprised. Stephanie wasn’t the kind of person to end one relationship without having something else waiting in the wings. So she cut loose from Zoe, drifted into the arms of the New Skank (Zoe was sure she was a perfectly lovely young woman but she refused to honor her with any kind of real name), and Zoe was left behind in the dust. A discarded prop from part of Stephanie’s life that hadn’t worked out.

After that, a fresh start didn’t seem like such a bad idea. Enter Squire’s Isle, a lesbian paradise in the Pacific Northwest. Or so they said. To a single woman, it was more like an endless parade of pain. Everywhere she turned was another woman in a happy, committed relationship. She watched a woman on a bicycle riding down the boardwalk, trailed by another woman who was walking a beagle puppy on a leash. She twisted toward the harbor to see if Bakery Amy and her girlfriends (so selfish!) had arrived at the harbor. She looked toward the ferry docks and…

She cursed under her breath as she quickly looked away. Alex Crawford and Rachel Tom were at the end of the boardwalk.

It was a small island, and she and Rachel often had overlapping shifts. They’d worked together and run into each other in the locker room all the time. They handled the awkwardness like mature adults. Rachel didn’t hold any grudge about the kiss, and Zoe let it be known that she would never do anything so idiotic ever again. It was water under the bridge. But when it came to Rachel’s partner, it was a whole other story.

Alex Crawford was the island’s fire chief. She was brawny and tough, and she looked like she could take care of herself in a fistfight. Today she wore a lightweight polo shirt that showed off the wiry muscles of her arms. She didn’t bulk herself up like those alarming bodybuilders, but it was obvious she had taken her firefighter qualifications seriously. She was tough, strong, and she knew Zoe had made a move on her girlfriend.

As nice as Alex was sure to be, Zoe didn’t relish the idea of spending much time making small talk with her.

She ducked off the main boardwalk around Gail Seafood Shack’s outdoor deck, hurrying down the wide alley. She went around a flight of exterior stairs, peeking over her shoulder to make sure Rachel and Alex weren’t following her. The only thing worse than running into them would be getting cornered. The alleyway ended in a pizza parlor with an open door. She stepped into the warm smell of cooking pizza, slid into a booth, and twisted to watch the mouth of the alley.

Seconds ticked by until, at last, she saw Rachel stroll casually from one side of the alley to the other. Alex followed behind, one hand resting on Rachel’s hip as she listened to whatever her partner was saying. Then, as quickly as they’d appeared, they were gone.

Zoe relaxed against the side of the booth. The clerk smiled at her from behind the counter, his head framed by Africa on the map of the world painted onto the wall.

“Hiding from someone?”

“No. Just pretending to be James Bond.”

His smile widened. “That’s always fun, I guess. Can I get you anything?”

“I. Um. No. Sorry. I won’t take up the booth–”

“Ah, that’s all right. Catch your breath. Make sure those goons are really gone, not just lulling you into a false sense of security.”

She grinned and relaxed again. “Thanks. I appreciate it.” She glanced at the cooler next to the cash register. “And I actually will take a bottle of ice tea.”

Zoe was most of the way through the tea before another customer entered. She wore checkered pants, a sleeveless white shirt, and her curly blonde hair was pinned back.

“Hey, Molly. Same as usual?”

“Yeah. Do you have any cheesy breadsticks?”

“I got a couple. I’ll throw ’em in, on the house. Just cause I like you.”

“You’re a peach, Kevin.”

She rested her hands on the counter, hip cocked, and Kevin went through the swinging doors into the kitchen. Zoe, from her position in the booth by the door, had an excellent view of Molly’s backside. She noticed it because of the apron string that had been tied into a bow in the small of her back, the two wide loops dangling down over the smooth curve.

Or… hell, she wasn’t going to justify herself to her own mind. She noticed because it was a damn fine ass.

Molly glanced over just as the thought passed through Zoe’s brain, and she smiled shyly as she took another drink of her tea.

“Hi.”

“Hey.”

Molly drummed her fingers on the counter. After a moment, she spoke again. “I work next door. Gail’s.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Small pizza is usually good to get through the afternoon shift in the kitchen. Kev is nice enough to make one with a different topping on each slice. You’d think a bunch of chefs would take it easy on the poor guy, but no.”

“How many different toppings do you get?”

“Five. Pepperoni, sausage, ham, mushrooms, and plain cheese.”

“Nice of him to go to the trouble.”

Molly nodded. “Yeah. I’m Molly.”

“Yeah, I heard. Um, Zoe.” There was just enough room between the booths and the counter that they both had to stretch to shake hands. Zoe’s fingertips were wet with the cool sweat of her iced tea bottle. The moisture created an odd frisson, making Molly’s skin feel like silk against hers. “Oh. Sorry about that.”

“It’s fine. Nice to meet you, Zoe. Have you ever been to Gail’s?”

“Yeah. It’s terrific. I like the crab bisque.”

“It’s a favorite. Come in again sometime. Let me know when you’re there and I’ll make you something special.”

“I’d like that. In fact, maybe I’ll come in tonight. It’s my birthday.”

“Happy birthday!”

“Thank you.”

“Are you doing anything special?”

Zoe shrugged. “I’m coming to Gail’s for a delicious fish dinner.”

Molly laughed. “I’ll do what I can to make it extra-extra special.”

Zoe looked down into her bottle, winced, and then tilted her head to the side as the words tumbled out. “Are you seeing anyone?”

Molly looked at her again. The silence stretched long enough that she was about to apologize, but then Molly shook away whatever had been holding her and coughed quietly.

“No. Not, um… no. I just got dumped not long ago.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, it’s… no.” She shrugged and looked down at the counter between her hands. “Sorry. I’m not really ready to–”

“Hey, I understand. I got dumped, too. I know you need time after something like that. I don’t even know if I’m ready for a relationship. I just thought I would ask. No harm in asking, right?”

Molly smiled. “Usually not. I’m flattered, though.”

“Well.”

The silence grew again. Kevin came back with the pizza and a smaller box of breadsticks. Molly paid him, held the box against her hip, and turned to face Zoe.

“It was nice meeting you, Zoe. Zoe what?”

“Hudson.”

Molly held out her free hand. “Molly Page. It was nice meeting you.”

“You too. Good luck with your recovery.”

Molly laughed. “Thanks. You too. Have a good birthday.”

“I’ll try.”

She watched Molly go, sighed, and stared at her now-empty tea bottle.

Kevin, behind the counter, said, “It’s your birthday?”

“It sure is.”

“Congratulations! You get a free slice or your choice of dessert.”

Zoe almost passed on the offer, but how often do you get a free meal? She slid out of the booth and went up to the counter to see what was available.

#

One slice of Oreo Cookie Ice Cream Cake later, Zoe finally left the pizza place. She was nearly to the alley, oblivious to the open door of Gail’s kitchen, when she heard Molly calling her. She stopped and turned as Molly came hurrying out of the back of the restaurant, her forehead and upper lip beaded from the heat of the grill. Her hair was covered by a floppy white hat, and Zoe wondered why that wasn’t a kink. The sexy chef… there was definitely potential there.

“I was thinking. No one should have dinner alone on their birthday. And neither of us is looking for anything serious right now. We’re both just…” She looked away, scanning the harbor as she searched for the words. “We’re just used to being with someone. To having someone within arm’s reach, you know? It’s not a big deal. It’s just dinner. If you want.” She winced and looked down at her feet. “Sorry. I’m not really good at asking people out. I’m asking if you want to have a no-strings, casual date with me. Because you’re beautiful, and it’s your birthday, and I’d hate myself if I didn’t offer to spend it with you.”

Zoe didn’t know how to begin, so she went simple. “Yeah. Sure.”

They both fumbled for their phones before Molly gave up and took Zoe’s. She entered her number and handed it back to her.

“I’m here until about eight. I hope you still come by and let me cook for you. And afterward we can figure something out.”

“Sounds good. Thanks.”

Molly smiled. “I’ll see you tonight.”

Zoe nodded and watched as Molly went back into the kitchen. She pushed her hair out of her face and looked around to see if anyone had witnessed the awkward exchange. She seemed to have gotten lucky. She gave the other people on the boardwalk a scan to make sure Alex and Rachel hadn’t lingered before she started walking again.

She had a date. A casual, no expectations and no stress date. She breathed deeply and chuckled under her breath.

So far, not a bad birthday. She couldn’t wait to see what the night had in store.

Your email is never shared.
Required fields are marked *