Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

The Next Generation

 

Summary:

A new firefighter hired by Alex Crawford spends the day exploring her new home.

Author’s Note: Let me be clear before the story even begins: NO ONE is being replaced. This isn’t a reboot or a sequel or anything like that. I’m not abandoning a single character from Squire’s Isle. But with Tales from Squire’s Isle Vol 2 being locked down, I knew that whatever story I wrote next would be the first story in a new collection. That was a lot of pressure to put on the Hood-Colbys or the Powells. So I thought about the people I never show. The other couples, the people who work with/around Amy and Alex. Newcomers to the island, people who have been there for years, and a surprise appearance from a couple of people who haven’t been seen in a while. You might not immediately recognize their names, but they’re old friends. So just relax! None of your favorites are in danger. All this story has done is introduce people who might start showing up in other stories of the island.

 

 

Shireen Essa parked under one of the apple trees on Spring Street. Her truck was facing the harbor, so she took a moment to take in the scene before getting out. The island was so much tinier than she was used to. She braced herself for a small town when she answered the call for a new firefighter, but even her overblown imagination hadn’t prepared her for just how insular the town would be. She only had to drive for five minutes before she was surrounded by trees and fields. Another ten minutes would take her to the eastern shore of the island. In the three months she’d been living there, she’d occasionally felt claustrophobic when she realized how much of an undertaking it would be just to visit the mainland. Still, if it was a prison, at least it was a gorgeous one.

In addition to how small it was, there was also the fact there weren’t any mosques. She was far from devout and hardly religious. She could go years without going to a mosque. But the fact that there wasn’t one on the island didn’t bode well for a large Islamic community. Even now, with the flood of tourists fresh off the boat to throw off the curve, she didn’t see a whole lot of color.

It was fine, though. It was good. The island was accepting and friendly. She liked her new boss, who had taken her on a tour of the station after their interview. When they shook hands and parted, Shireen had walked to the curb and stood with her hands in her pockets to take in the neighborhood. It felt right. It felt like a place she could call home. And even as she moved aside to let a group of vanilla-skinned tourists pass, she felt like this was where she belonged.

Shireen crossed the street and went into Coffee Table Books, even though the line was out the door. If she waited for a lull in traffic she would’ve been there all day. The bakery wasn’t alone on the island, but it certainly didn’t have to worry about competition. She was confident it could have stayed profitable even if it was in Seattle amid four dozen similar establishments. It was cozy and comfortable, with great coffee, and the booths provided a great place to people watch.

But the biggest draw, at least to Shireen, were the books. The bakery was L-shaped, with the main business taking up the majority of the space. But around the corner, tucked away out of sight, were the books that gave the place its name. When she first arrived on the island she’d spent a good five minutes trying to find price tags before someone told her about the unique setup. Every book was free with a purchase from the bakery. It started as a way for the owner to get rid of the leftover inventory when she converted the space from a bookstore, but locals started bringing their own books to replace what they had taken. In the years since, it had grown into an informal lending library. Tourists could pick up something to read without worrying about when they could return it. Locals could get rid of some clutter in their homes. And from all accounts the owner had accepted this section of her shop would always be filled with shelves and dusty books.

Shireen browsed the shelves as she waited to see if the line shrank any. The day after she came to the island she discovered a memoir by a San Francisco firefighter who also happened to be a lesbian. She’d felt so guilty taking it that she bought nearly ten dollars’ worth of pastries and cookies that she gifted to other people waiting in line. The book had been amazing, so now she took every opportunity to explore the shelves at length.

When she finally resurfaced with a book that intrigued her, the line was more manageable. She joined the people waiting for surface and thumbed through her latest discovery until she reached the counter. Isaac was on duty and they smiled at each other as she closed the book and made her usual order: an apple tart and a soy vanilla latte. Isaac was literally the first person she’d met on the island. Five minutes off the ferry and in need of a caffeine boost, she’d followed the horde to the closest oasis.

Isaac Meacham had lived on Squire’s Isle for five years, moving there from a more conservative part of the country. The same day he arrived, he told her, he’d gotten his first tattoo. The day after that, he sent an email back to the people he’d left behind and came out of the closet. He called it the most cowardly thing he’d ever done, but there was no way he could have done it face-to-face to each person. Some of them never responded. Others expressed their support and joy with his announcement.

It was his story that inspired her to be out from the first day on the island. She knew the reputation Squire’s Isle had. No judgments or discrimination. Gay, straight, poly, whatever you please with another consenting adult was nobody else’s business. Still she had hesitated. She’d been half-closeted at her old job because there were enough people who were iffy about discovering she was Muslim. Adding “lesbian” to the mix might have been a step too far.

When she told Isaac, he’d been thrilled. “Hiding never did me any good. Everyone I met, everyone who liked me, they were liking the mask I had to put on before I went out the door. Anyone who left when they found out who I really am, turns out I didn’t need them. I didn’t want them. Plenty of people to take their place, right?”

He handed over her coffee and nodded at her book. “Did you get a good one?”

“If not, I can always bring it back.”

Isaac winked and she stepped aside so he could help the next customer. All the booths were occupied, so she took a seat at one of the tables near the far end of the counter. Through the windows she saw that Wyatt Burke had set up on the corner with his guitar case open at his feet. She’d seen him around before, almost always near the ferry lanes or tourist shops, but she didn’t know if he had another source of income outside of busking. He was certainly talented, though. If he was still around when she left she would drop a few dollars in his case.

She looked at the counter and saw Isaac watching Wyatt through the glass. He was obviously smitten. Shireen didn’t know either of them well enough to know if they were actually dating or not, but anyone with eyes could tell Isaac was in love. Or lust. Either way, she hoped Wyatt was aware. Love that obvious was rarely easy. She crossed her fingers for them and continued to survey the room while she ate.

Instead of speculating about strangers, she found herself reminiscing about the life she’d left behind. Fled, might be a more accurate description. Janice left her for someone else and, in the aftermath, Shireen discovered that “their” friends were really just people she knew through Janice. They all drifted away after a few perfunctory calls or get-togethers and soon Shireen found herself with nothing keeping her in Spokane. She was only fooling around when she looked for jobs on the west coast, telling herself it was a form of therapy and she wouldn’t actually take the next step.

Then she heard about Squire’s Isle.

Their department had recently gone from volunteer to career. The chief was looking for experienced firefighters to come in a fill up the ranks. It was a brand-new start in an entirely new place, but it wasn’t different enough that she would have to give up the things she loved. The weather, the people, the politics. It was exactly what she needed even before she found out how gay-friendly it was. Her new chief, the mayor, the deputy, the woman who ran this bakery, and she didn’t even know how many she hadn’t met yet. It was the perfectly ideal situation.

When she finished her tart, she threw away her trash and left the bakery. She dropped a five-dollar bill in Wyatt’s case and continued past him. The ferry had come in, so Shireen walked down Spring Street to admire it. Everything about Squire’s Isle was small, close-knit, quaint, and tiny. But nine times per day, this rolled into the harbor, this beast of a ship. It looked like an apartment building turned on its side. When she got to the harbor, she could see people through the windows. People came from all over the country to whale-watch, but that was just the smallest part of what made the island special and worth visiting.

“Miss Essa.”

Shireen turned and saw Deputy Claire Curran strolling down the boardwalk behind her. She was wearing her uniform – tan shirt with dark brown tie and slacks – and her hair was pinned back. Deputy Curran was insanely imposing. Tall and broad-shouldered, she was built like an Amazon. If it wasn’t for her jewelry, she would have been exactly Shireen’s type. The badge was a big stumbling block; she could never date a cop. But the real deal-breaker was the simple silver ring on the third finger of her left hand.

“Following me again, Deputy?” Shireen said.

“Just making sure you’re staying under the speed limit.”

“I’m on foot.”

“I wouldn’t put anything past you.”

Shireen grinned. Curran had stopped her for a broken taillight her second day on the island. When she saw the fire department stickers on the back window of Shireen’s truck, she said, “Don’t worry. I won’t hold your poor career choices against you.” She was obviously joking, a point driven home when she revealed she hadn’t stopped Shireen to give her a ticket. Instead she handed over a business card with a map of the island drawn on the back. “My wife is a mechanic. Tell her Claire sent you and she’ll fix it right up. Consider it a welcome-to-the-island present.”

“In that case, I’ll be sure to respond if your cat is ever stuck in a tree.”

Curran had laughed and rapped her knuckles on top of the truck as she walked back to her squad car. When Shireen arrived at the garage to get the light fixed, her wife Jodie was the one who came out to help her. She was petite, smeared around the hands and throat with grease, and dressed in a grungy gray tank top under her work jumpsuit. Despite all of that, she was very clearly gorgeous, and she lit up at the mention of Claire’s name.

“I see the firefighter sticker there,” Jodie said. “I hope Claire didn’t give you a hard time about it.”

“Well, she tried her best.”

Jodie had changed the light, no charge. Another ‘welcome to the island’ gift. When Shireen tried to pay her for the labor, Jodie waved her off. She rested her elbow on the edge of Shireen’s window and looked out the garage doors.

“When Claire and I first came to the island, it was a…” She shook her head and laughed. “It’s a really long story. But we didn’t have a friend in the world. All we had was each other. We came here, and the people made us feel safe. Made us feel like we were at home. When we came back to stay, we were a little less persecuted, but this island gave us somewhere to breathe. It gave us a life when we’d both given up on it. The least we can do is make it look good for other newcomers.”

Shireen said, “Well, you’ve done a great job. When I get settled in, I would love to have you and Claire over for dinner.”

Jodie’s expression changed slightly, but she covered it well. “I’ll bring it up. Claire’s not really a social butterfly, you know. But she might be up for it. Even if you are a firefighter.”

Shireen smiled as she remembered the conversation. “So, Deputy. Did your wife ever convince you to come over for dinner?”

Curran stopped and faced Shireen. “At <i>your</i> house? No, you’ll have a barbeque going, flames shooting up to the clouds, smoke filling the kitchen… if we’re getting together, it’ll be at our house. I’ll do the cooking.”

“Deal.”

Curran grinned and tossed off a quick salute before she continued on her patrol. Shireen watched her go and, as she turned to face the harbor again, someone caught her eye. A small group of women had just emerged from Gail’s Seafood Shack. She recognized one of them immediately from the newspaper and the website: Mayor Patricia Hood-Colby. She assumed the woman beside her with the stroller was her wife. With them was a bespectacled brunette who unlocked a bicycle as they finished whatever conversation they’d been having inside. Shireen wasn’t a hundred percent positive, but she thought the bicyclist might be Nadine Butler, the disc jockey who had made headlines years earlier.

She didn’t want to stare. She didn’t want to be rude or disrespectful of their privacy, but Nadine and Patricia had done a lot of work to make the island something special. They were the ones who made it the sort of place that would inspire Shireen to pack up her life and move across the state. They were celebrities not because of their jobs in the public eye but because of what they had done with those jobs. Shireen was in awe of them.

When the three broke apart, the Mayor and her family went west along Spring Street. Nadine crouched beside her bicycle and fiddled with the tire. Shireen moved toward her and tried to come up with something smooth to say as she passed. She could offer to help if the tire was flat, offer her a ride somewhere, anything really. But just before she reached them, Nadine stood up and straddled the bicycle. She looked up as Shireen approached and gave her a smile.

“Hi! Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

The voice erased any doubt as to her identity. “Beautiful island,” Shireen countered.

Nadine’s smile widened. “Amen to that, my friend. Enjoy it!”

“You too.”

Nadine pushed off with her foot and pedaled south, toward the radio station. Shireen stepped out of the way so a group of tourists could get by. She was already rethinking her comparison of Squire’s Isle to a prison. It was more of a snow globe, a preserved community untouched by the outside world. It was a special place that deserved to be protected. Now that she was employed as a firefighter, it was officially her job to protect the island and the people who called it home. It was a big job, but a worthwhile one.

When the ferry had released all of its passengers, Shireen joined the crowd for the walk back to her truck. A few more quiet days like this, morning just enjoying the sights and sounds of her new home, and she would be a complete and irreversible convert.

She came to the “mecca for lesbians” hoping she might fall in love again. She never expected she would fall in love with the entire island. This time, though, it was destined to be a love that would last.

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