Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

The Greatest Gift

Summary: While Amy is at work, Kate and Nicole decide to have an evening by themselves.

by Rita Fei

by Rita Fei

 

The two small buildings in their backyard had been listed by the real estate agent as playhouses, but since they didn’t plan to have children and didn’t know anyone who did, Amy and Kate agreed that Nicole could use the space as her darkroom. Kate was initially nervous about carving out specific spaces for themselves in the house, but that was a remnant of living first in an apartment and then in Amy’s incredibly cramped space behind Coffee Table Books. The house had more than enough nooks and crannies for them to plant their flags in certain places. Kate colonized the desk between the kitchen and living room, while Amy was thrilled to have the entire main bedroom for herself.

Kate crossed the backyard when she saw the red light over the darkroom door was off. She knocked and Nicole called her in. The room was separated into sections by sagging garlands of photos that had been hung to dry. She examined a few of them and smiled when she saw one that had been taken by Amy. She and Nicole had fallen asleep in Amy’s bed, and sometime during the night they had rolled away from each other to lay back to back. Their hair was fanned out on the pillows between them, and Amy had very carefully rearranged the strands so it made a single dark wing connecting their heads.

Nicole saw which one Kate was examining. “I love that one. Amy has a great eye.”

“You must be rubbing off on her.”

“I don’t think talent is contagious.”

Kate smiled. “Skill, then. How much longer do you think you’re going to be in here?”

“Maybe twenty-five minutes.”

“I was thinking of going out for dinner in a little bit. Would you like to join me?”

Nicole looked back at her and smiled coyly. “Are you asking me out on a date?”

Kate chuckled. “Maybe.”

“I’d love to.”

“Excellent.” Kate looked around the darkroom and crossed her arms over her chest. “This red light is so beautiful. You know, in high school, in the newspaper offices? We had one of these. We had three photographers, and one of them was a girl named Lucy. I used to fantasize about what I would do if I ever saw her go in there by herself. I never would have done anything even if I had the chance. I didn’t want to ruin the fantasy by finding out she was straight. But still… I thought about it a lot.”

Nicole cocked her hip toward Kate and lifted the hem of her shirt to show off her curves. “Want to take a chance…?”

“Will it ruin your work?”

“Uh. It might.”

Kate said, “I’ll take a rain check, then. I’m going to go get ready. And you probably want to wash up before we go out. Say an hour?”

“An hour would be good. Yes.”

“I’ll see you then.”

Nicole said, “Just the two of us?”

Kate said, “Yeah. Amy’s still at the shop.”

“Poor baby.” She looked at the clock. “She left more than twelve hours ago. She’s going to run herself ragged.”

“It’s the busy season. Everyone wants Skyhoppers, Christmas cookies, cakes… and the free books are perfect last-minute gifts.”

“I still feel bad that this whole past week she’s either been hard at work or passed out in her bed.” She turned as an idea occurred to her. “We could treat her to something when we’re on our date.”

Kate nodded. “Like what?”

“We could bring her some food, or give her a fifteen minute break. Shoulder massage or let her lie down on that couch in her office. What good is having two girlfriends if they don’t have your back from time to time?”

Kate chuckled again. “Exactly. Okay. I’ll think of something while I’m getting ready.”

Nicole said, “Butch. Wear something butch.”

“I’ll see what I can find.” She winked and blew Nicole a kiss. “I think we should hang the picture of us in Amy’s room when it’s ready.”

Nicole nodded. “That’s what I was thinking.”

“Great minds. See you in a bit.”

Nicole left the darkroom twenty minutes later and went upstairs to wash up and change for their date. She found Kate seated at her desk, dressed in a suit and tie. Her hair was slicked back and gathered in a tight, discreet bun at the nape of her neck. She smiled when Nicole came in but didn’t look up.

“Butch enough for you?”

“Hm. Ninety-nine percent.”

“What will get it to a hundred?”

Nicole kissed the top of Kate’s head. “Hopefully you’ll put it on when we get home later. I’m going to go get dressed.”

“I’ll be here.”

While Nicole was getting ready, Kate tried to think of something they could do for Amy. She knew without a doubt that Amy wouldn’t leave with them to get dinner. When Coffee Table Books was getting slammed, she wanted to be there in case her relatively new manager needed to tap out. She still wasn’t over the loss of Stephanie, who had foolishly decided to “better her life” by “going back to college.” Amy was livid about the apparent desertion. “Sure, it’ll improve her life. But did she even think about how it would affect me? I bet she didn’t.”

So if they brought her a sandwich from the deli down the street, as impersonal as it seemed, Amy would treat it as the truly thoughtful gift it was. Plus they could spend a little time with her in the office, chat during the slow periods, and give her a chance to vent about any headaches that had happened during her long day. Their time and attention was an easy gift to give, but she knew how much it would mean.

Kate glanced up when Nicole came down the stairs, but she slowly straightened in her seat and turned to fully appreciate what she was seeing. Nicole, the queen of sweatpants and jeans, was wearing an actual dress. A slit ran up one side to reveal her thigh, and Kate unconsciously wet her lips at the sight of it as Nicole posed on the top step. Her hair was down, simply styled, but she looked like an actress at a movie premiere.

“Wow.”

“I figured since you dressed up for me… I went femme, though. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Hubba hubba.” She stood up and held out her hand. Nicole took it and let Kate spin her. “Amazing. You look great in a dress.”

Nicole laughed. “Well, don’t get too used to it. Special occasions only.” She pressed against Kate’s chest and kissed her lips. Kate got so lost in the kiss that she kept her eyes closed when Nicole pulled away. “So what do you feel like having for dinner?”

Kate ran her eyes over Nicole’s body. “That’s a trick question, right…?”

“Funny. I was thinking the Shipwreck.”

“Oh, that place is fantastic. Yes.”

“Okay.” She extended her elbow. “Shall we?”

Kate hooked her arm around Nicole’s, shut her laptop, and let herself be escorted out by her date for the night.

 

#

 

The Shipwreck was an out-of-the-way restaurant that hid itself from tourist with a driveway partially obscured by trees. They didn’t advertise near the ferry, and they prided themselves on being a “local secret” for the fine people who lived on the island. The residents were more than happy to reward the sacrifice with loyalty. Gail’s and its ilk were fine, but every now and then it was nice to get away from the throng of tourists from the Bible Belt and the Breadbasket and just enjoy a quiet dinner with their friends and neighbors.

Kate drove. The parking lot was relatively packed, and she decided even local secrets suffered from the crush during the holiday season. She finally found a spot and prayed they wouldn’t have to wait long for a table. She linked fingers with Nicole as they walked to the door.

“Have you gotten Amy’s present yet?”

“I’m scrambling for ideas. Help?”

Kate grinned. “No help from me. I already got her the perfect gift. Whatever you get is sure to pale in comparison to the wonder of mine.”

“Ass.”

“Bitch.” She leaned in and pecked the corner of Nicole’s mouth. “Come on. You know Amy. Whatever we get her is going to make her cry and hug us and tell us we’re wonderful. With her it really is the thought that counts.”

Nicole said, “Sure. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to get her a box of crackers and tell her it’s because I know she loves Triscuits.”

“She does love Triscuits.”

Nicole opened the restaurant door and smiled when she saw who was about to come out. “Hey, look who it is?”

Nadine and Miranda Powell returned her smile, and Nadine’s eyes widened when she saw Kate. “Wah-hey, look at you. Fancypants.”

Kate grinned and hugged her friends. “Hey, beautiful. How’s the food?”

“Great as always,” Nadine said. “They seem to keep things moving pretty well. Shouldn’t be too long of a wait.”

Miranda looked into the parking lot. “Is Amy on the way or meeting up with you?”

“She’s stuck at work. Just the dynamic duo tonight.”

“Aw,” Nadine said. “Well, have fun. And our place or yours for Christmas?”

Kate said, “Ours. It’ll give us an excuse to finally put up the tree.”

Miranda said, “You don’t have your tree up yet? Not good. Santa knows a poseur when he sees one. Not good at all.”

Nicole chuckled. “Well, we’ve been extra good this year, so…”

Nadine bumped her hip against Miranda’s. “Well, we shouldn’t keep you away from the food any longer than necessary. It was great seeing you! Give our love to Amy.”

“We will.” They hugged again, and they passed each other over the threshold. Nicole looked back and chuckled. “Powells.”

“What about them?”

Nicole said, “Nothing. I was just commenting on the name. Powells.” She squeezed Kate’s hand. “Sometimes I think Amy is sad we’ll never be the Wellises or the Prices.”

“Or the Bronwyns.”

“Or any of that. Gay marriage is legal, but poly marriage is still a bit much.”

Kate nodded and scanned the restaurant. There were a few empty tables being bussed, and only a handful of couples were ahead of them in line. She guided Nicole toward one of the benches under the window and they took a seat to wait their turn. She still felt awkward being out in public with Nicole. In such a small town it was relatively common knowledge she was with Amy. They’d been dating for over six years, and they’d never tried or had a reason to hide their relationship. But then Nicole came along and threw a wrench in the works.

It was now common knowledge that the three of them were together, but Kate still felt as if every eye was on them. The town had embraced same-sex couples without blinking and yet Kate still found herself an oddity, something to be gossiped about. She brought Nicole’s hand to her lips and kissed the knuckles, more for herself than anyone watching from the corner of their eye.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Kate said, “What if we chose a brand-new name? Something that symbolizes what we mean to each other? We could just add it to our present names.” She thought for a moment. “Kate Smith Price. Nicole Smith Bronwyn. Amy Smith Wellis.”

Nicole pursed her lips. “It doesn’t have to be Smith, does it?”

“Of course not.”

“Hm. I like it. But how would we decide on a name?”

Kate shrugged. “We could let Amy do it. That could be her gift. She can name our union.”

Nicole smiled. “Can I go in on that? It would be kind of hard to top ‘changing our name forever’ with a toaster oven.”

“Depends on the brand of toaster oven,” Kate said. Nicole nudged her and Kate chuckled. “Yes, it would be a joint gift. Just like everything else we do.”

Kate took Nicole’s hand. “Do you think if you’d come back to the island, and Amy was dating someone else, we would have found each other?”

Nicole thought about it. “I don’t know. I hope so. But I think it happened the way it was supposed to. I tried it with Amy by myself, and we couldn’t make it work. We needed to take a break until the missing piece showed up.” She smiled. “Although you and Amy make it work just fine by yourselves.”

“We do. We did…” Kate considered it. “You know, your army girl… There was a time when Amy thought you might go with her. Leave us behind. We both were afraid you might go for something more traditional. We were afraid that if you left, we wouldn’t be able to go back to the way we were before.” She looked up from their hands, holding Nicole’s gaze. “You’re more than just an extra piece. Amy and I had to fall deep enough in love to allow someone else inside. I don’t know what we’d do without you. We’d probably stay together, but everything would be completely different. Amy and I didn’t let you into something special. We needed you to create something special in the first place.”

Nicole said, “Stop. You’re making me tear up.”

Kate pecked her cheek. “I figure what better time than Christmas to make someone feel all weird and emotional in a public space?”

Nicole laughed. “Well, mission accomplished.”

They were shown to a table near the fireplace. Nicole sat down and scooted over so Kate could sit beside her. She put an arm around Kate’s shoulder and they settled in together as Nicole handed her a menu.

“You know,” she said, “there are some advantages to just being the two of us. Cuddling is much easier.”

“But I already miss having Amy’s head on my lap.”

“True. But every now and then.”

“Yes. Every now and then it’s a good thing.”

Nicole smiled. “I think sometimes Amy still gets caught up on the logistics of it. She puts her head in your lap, but then she kisses me goodnight first.” She thought for a moment and then tilted her head to the side. “Oh. Hey…” She nudged Kate’s shoulder. “That could be our gift to Amy.”

“What?”

“Alone time with each of us. You spend a night with her, have dinner, watch a movie, and I’ll make myself scarce. Then she’ll spend the next night with me. Then on the third night we can spend together properly. We could do it around Christmas. Christmas morning could be the day we reunite.”

Kate considered it and nodded slowly. “That might be nice. And it’ll give Amy a chance to relax. And we it would help drive home the idea to her that she doesn’t have to balance her affection. Spending the night with me doesn’t mean she has to match it exactly with you. Although the way this is set up means that she’ll be matching–”

“Right, but we’ll do different things. You can go out and see a movie with her, I’ll stay home with her and play a board game. Or better yet, we can let her choose the activity. I think this will work.”

Kate said, “I like it. We’ll tell her when we bring her dinner later on.”

“Excellent.” She kissed Kate’s temple and looked at the menu. “What’s good here?”

 

#

 

Amy had to face the fact that her new manager William was in no way a suitable replacement for the amazing Stephanie. He did the job well, and he definitely earned his paycheck, but he didn’t anticipate. She didn’t feel like he would survive an entire shift by himself, let alone one with a rush, so she found herself spending twelve and fourteen hour days at the bakery. She had started napping in her old apartment to save the time driving home, and part of her couldn’t help but feel as if she was suddenly single again. Kate and Nicole, happily living in their cottage near the shore while she was once again all alone in her tiny apartment.

It was peculiar. The apartment had always seemed so small to her before Kate moved in, and then Nicole joined them and it was even more cramped. Now that she was occasionally staying there alone, it seemed gigantic. She could almost hear sound echoing off the empty spaces as she kicked off her shoes and stretched out on the couch for her fifteen minute break.

She was stressed and tired and grumpy. She loved customers. She loved people. But even the most fervent cat lover would question their cuteness when faced with a hundred of them in the space of an hour. The customers never stopped, and every customer thought their order was the only important one. Amy felt that was how it should be, of course, but it took its toll on her.

Jake was the one who noticed it was past time for Amy to get her break, and he brought it up when Amy was on the cash register.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll… I’ll take ten minutes.”

“You should take thirty. You skipped your dinner break.”

Amy started to protest, but her stomach vetoed her brain. “Okay. Yeah. Thanks, Jake. Come find me if you need anything, okay? Anything at all. I’ll just be in the back.” She patted his arm, took off her apron, and hung it on a hook as she passed through the kitchen. She unlocked the door to her old apartment and pushed her hair out of her face as she went inside. Her initial reaction to seeing the lights on was frustration that she had forgotten to turn them off on her last break. Then she raised her head and saw Kate lying on the couch with her phone, and Nicole in the kitchen putting a sandwich onto a plate.

“Hey. You’re late. Your break was supposed to start eight minutes ago.”

Amy smiled and shut the door. “Hey, you two.”

“You okay?” Kate said. “You look a little…”

“I am a little.” She went to the couch and gathered Kate in her arms. “But I’m already a little less. Mm, you feel good. Nick?” She turned, and Nicole was already bending down for a kiss. “And a little less. God, I needed you two.” She kissed Kate, and Nicole embraced them both from behind. She closed her eyes and let them hold her up, supporting her in her time of need just as they always had. It was lucky they’d brought her a sandwich and not something that would need to be reheated or put in the fridge. She didn’t plan to eat any time soon.

And if she was a little late getting back to work, she felt she had more than earned an extra-long break.

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