Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Waiting for My Real Life

Summary:

Alicia Ryan, December Harbor’s only taxi driver, picks up a special fare on a rainy autumn morning.

At fifteen past five in the morning, the streets of December Harbor were busier than one might expect. People commuting to the mainland woke up before the sun and lined up their cars in the lanes next to Gail’s Seafood Shack. The small yellow cab was parked on a side street, a classic throwback to the curved lines and checkerboard stripes of old movies. “DECEMBER HARBOR TAXI SERVICE” was emblazoned on the driver’s side door. Alicia Ryan sat behind the wheel with her pageboy hat pushed back on the crown of her head. The only two things breaking the illusion of having gone back in time were the fact she was reading a Kindle and her iPod was settled in a charging dock on the dashboard.

The sun was supposed to rise in about an hour, but she doubted it would be able to break through the rainclouds that had settled on top of the Strait overnight. So far they had only produced a few sprinkles and brought in some bracing winds, one last gasp of autumn before summer took hold. She liked this season the best, when it could be hot or cold or rainy all in the same weekend.

She checked her watch when the ferry arrived and noted it was a minute late. She turned off her music and switched the light on top of the car to indicate she was available. Mayor Hood-Colby’s WATER Initiative gave all the islands in the archipelago equal access to the ferries, which meant their schedule had shifted at the beginning of the year. It wasn’t that big of an adjustment, but she did have to wake up fifteen minutes earlier.

Just the thought of her lost sleep made her fight off a yawn. Laura was still at home, snug in their bed, ready to answer the phone if someone called for a cab but otherwise free to sleep. She was envious. But she knew that if she was free around seven o’clock, she could go home for a fresh-brewed cup of coffee and whatever breakfast she texted Laura to make for her. Then she would drive Laura to work and spend the rest of the day driving around their beautiful island. If there was a better way to make a living, she didn’t know what it was.

Alicia saw the ferry pulling between Squire’s Isle and its neighbor, a beacon of light in the brightening day. She put aside her book and straightened in her seat as she watched it glide perfectly into its slip, settling perfectly against the dock like it had a thousand times before. There was something magical about that moment to her. This huge ship peeled out of the darkness alit from within and settled peacefully on the shore of their little island. Looking through the windows was like seeing into another universe. People were moving toward the stairs and elevators, reclaiming their cars so they could continue on their way.

The passengers began unloading, a fleet of cars driving out and to the right along the harbor-side street. There were also people on bicycles, and a few pedestrians. It was the pedestrians she wanted, and she watched without looking as a handful of them moved across the street. Some continued past Gail’s until they were out of sight. Many of them pulled out phones and began calling for someone to come pick them up. Once again she thanked her lucky stars that Uber couldn’t really operate on the island. She doubted it would have destroyed all her business, but she would have taken a definite hit.

Then again, there were times when she wished she had a second car. Someone was walking toward her, and another visitor to the island was walking a few paces behind with a look of defeat on their face. Alicia rolled down the window and hung her hand out, motioning them both forward.

“Good morning,” she said. “Where are you folks headed this morning?”

The first person said, “Blair Avenue.” He looked back and saw the other person. “I’m a little early. If you want to go ahead…”

The woman said, “I’m going way out of town. Daly Point Road. It’s really not urgent.”

The woman started to back off, but Alicia stopped by with an upraised hand. “I can do both if you don’t mind sharing the ride. I can drop him off, then go on to Daly Point.”

They agreed and climbed into the backseat. Alicia turned down her music and pulled away from the curb. She pulled up her mental map of the island and figured the quickest way to get to Blair, a route that would allow her to cut across and cut straight down Airport Road to Daly Point. In the backseat the man offered to split the fare, but the woman insisted he only pay for his actual part of the trip. When they arrived at his destination Alicia decided she would just reset the meter and give the woman a small discount. Her trip was going to be expensive enough as it was; Daly Point was pretty far from the ferry lanes.

Alicia dropped the man off and collected her fare, then continued on. “I can put on some music if you’d like. Over a thousand songs on my iPod, I’m bound to have something you like.”

The woman chuckled. “Anything is fine. Just… nothing from this millennium. I don’t know what’s happened to music.”

“Me neither.” At a stop sign she opened her music playlist and scrolled. She had them sorted alphabetically by genre and era, so she settled on ‘CLASSICS – LAURA PICKS. “I feel like an old fogey every time I bring it up.”

“No, it started when I was a teenager.” She tilted her head to look closer to Alicia. “You too, probably. We’re about the same age. Half our life has been boy bands and pop garbage.” Otis Redding began singing about the dock of the bay, and the passenger moved her head to the melody. “Damn, this song. It’s poetic, right? So many of these old songs have so much poetry to them.”

Alicia said, “Absolutely. Joni Mitchell.”

“Oh, God. Do you have any Joni Mitchell?”

“Do I have any Joni Mitchell…” Alicia muttered in mock irritation. “Who does this lady think she’s riding with?” She switched to ‘Both Sides Now.’ “Gotta start with the classic of classics.”

The woman closed her eyes. “Brilliant.”

They quickly left the confines of town, passing the airport and heading into the undeveloped part of the island. Alicia loved this area. Nothing but long stretches of trees, rolling green land, and the occasional farm. Sometimes when the road was angled right, she could see the Strait in the distance. The original planners of their town were very strict about where the line would be. No one wanted the island to become a new Manhattan, with every strip of land accounted for and paved over. New York had carved out a small piece of property for nature to remain; the people of Squire’s Isle had carved out a small nook where they could live so that the island could flourish around them.

“Have you been to the island before?”

The woman shook her head. “This is my first time. It’s gorgeous here.”

“The drizzle helps,” Alicia said. “Everything looks magical.”

“Yeah. So I guess you live here.”

Alicia nodded. “My whole life.”

“I heard… ah, I heard that it’s a great place for… ah.” She sighed and said, “I’m from Texas, so you have to understand it’s hard for me to come right out and say something like this.”

Alicia said, “Will it help if I told you I’m gay?”

The woman smiled. “Immensely. I guess that proves the rumor is true. This is a very friendly place for lesbians to settle down.”

“And gay men,” Alicia said. “There aren’t as many of them around, but there are enough. The island is open to everyone. I’m Alicia, by the way.”

“Hi, Alicia. I’m Tara.” She looked out the window. “This is crazy. I don’t even know what I’m doing here.” She pushed her hands into her hair and leaned forward. “I’m nauseated.”

“Do you want me to pull over?”

Tara shook her head. “No. I’m not going to throw up, I promise. I just… I can’t believe this is happening. I just woke up the other morning, asked for a week off work, jumped on a plane, and now here I am. I got in yesterday but I spent the whole evening in Seattle trying to get up the courage to do this. I kept trying to sabotage myself. I left my car on the mainland because I thought if I couldn’t get a ride, then it was fate. But there you were.”

Alicia smiled. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s good. It’s probably good. It might be good.”

“Well, we have a few miles before we reach Daly Point. If you think it would help to talk about it, I could lend an ear.”

Tara looked as if she wanted to decline, but she stopped and looked down at her hands. “My best friend came out to me. Five years ago. She came out to me and said she had… feelings for me. I didn’t handle it well.” She laughed. “Okay. I handled it like shit, and it was so bad that she eventually decided to just move away and start fresh. I know it wasn’t entirely my fault she moved away. But… I’m sure I didn’t help.”

“She moved here?” Alicia guessed.

Tara nodded and looked out the window again. “I cut her out of my life.  Told her it was because I didn’t feel comfortable around her anymore, and I guess that was kind of the truth. I wasn’t comfortable with how I felt. I’d never been comfortable with how I felt.” She sniffled. “I… was… afraid. That her being attracted to me meant that I was something I’d tried my whole life to not be. Do you understand?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. Yeah.” She wet her lips. “A lot has changed since she left. I’ve changed a lot since she left. No… no, I haven’t changed at all. I’ve just stopped lying to myself. I thought that when she looked at me, she saw a lesbian, and that if she was seeing it then other people would, too. I wanted so badly to be invisible that it cost me the person dearest to me. Now I’ve put it off so long that now I’m afraid she’ll just slam the door in my face. But at least I’ll have made the effort. That will make it easier for me to sleep at night. Right?”

“I hope so,” Alicia said.

There was only one house on Daly Point; it was a small ranch-style house set far back on the property, almost entirely enclosed by trees. Alicia pulled into the dirt driveway and slowly rolled up toward the home. There was a car parked under the carport, and the lights were on. As she came to a stop she saw a shadow pass by the kitchen window. The curtains may have twitched a bit to see who was coming to visit, but she couldn’t swear by it.

“Well, here we are.”

Tara took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yep. Here we are.”

“Do you want me to stick around?”

“No. I’ve given myself enough outs. If you’re still here to drive me back, I might not even knock on the door. And if she turns me away, well… how far is it back to town?”

“You’re looking at about three miles at this point.”

Tara nodded. “Three miles in the rain. Well, it would serve me right. I’ll be fine. You can go.”

As she took out her billfold to pay the fare, Alicia took one of her business cards from the metallic card holder Laura had gotten for her birthday. She handed it over as Tara gave her the money.

“If you change your mind, I’m just a phone call away.”

“Thank you. And thank you for listening.”

Alicia touched the brim of her cap in a half-hearted salute. “Like you said, Squire’s Isle is a very friendly place. I hope you don’t have to use that card until you’re ready to go home.”

“Me too. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck.”

Tara got out of the car and turned her collar up. She glanced at the sky as if she could see the rain coming, then she walked purposefully toward the door. Alicia backed up and went down the driveway, but she couldn’t resist peeking in her rearview a couple of times just to see what was happening. She saw it all in brief glimpses, like pages torn out of a flipbook.

A brunette woman dressed inappropriately for the weather approaching the front porch, the door open as the owner stepped out to see who the guest was.

Then two women standing on the grass, one in pajamas and a robe with messy hair.

Then an embrace.

Alicia smiled and smacked her palm against the top arch of her steering wheel. “Way to go, Luce,” she said. “First step taken. You’re gonna be all right.”

When she reached the end of the driveway she looked back and saw both women had disappeared into the house. She wished Tara another silent ‘good luck’ and then pulled out onto the road.

 

#

 

Alicia slid into the booth by one of the large windows facing the street and scooted the menu away. The rain was still threatening to fall, but so far it had only produced a few stray showers throughout the morning. After getting back from Daly Point, she took two other fares to Sholeh Village and the airport respectively. She spent a few minutes making sure her cab was tidy and then headed for the Spartan Café right after the lunch rush cleared out. She liked the silence of the room, when the handful of other diners hushed their voices so it wouldn’t seem like they were shouting.

She’d only been seated in the booth for a few seconds when the waitress hurried over, her black T-shirt tucked into a white apron. The logo of the café was emblazoned over her left breast. She produced an order pad and pencil as she arrived at the table. “Good afternoon. Can I get you something to drink while you’re looking over the menu?”

“How about a kiss?”

Laura shook her head. “I’m afraid we’re not offering that item anymore.”

Alicia reached up and hooked her finger in the collar of Laura’s shirt, pulling her down. “C’mere, you.” She kissed her partner and smiled when they parted. “You know I’m willing to pay extra when I order off-menu.”

Laura slid into the booth next to her. “Did you get Miss Patterson to the airport okay?”

“Yep, with plenty of time to catch her flight. Thank you for taking the call.”

“Sure.” They had a nice arrangement where Laura could accept calls for the taxi service, then text the details to Alicia’s phone. Her boss didn’t mind as long as it didn’t interfere with her duties, and so far it hadn’t even been an issue. Alicia had been worried about where Laura would end up, what she would do to make a living. After years of living the life of luxury in the mayor’s mansion, she was suddenly living in a one-bedroom apartment struggling to pay the bills.

At first she just acted as Alicia’s dispatcher, but she didn’t want her paycheck to rely on Alicia’s. “It would be like you’re giving me an allowance. I want to bring my own money into the relationship.” She put in applications at the bowling alley, the movie theater, grocery store, and any restaurant with a Help Wanted sign in the window. Spartan was the first to call her back, and she gratefully tied on the apron and accepted her minimum wage paycheck.

They’d celebrated that first paycheck with a bottle of wine. Laura had laughed when Alicia toasted her. “I’m forty-three years old, and I’m celebrating the fact I just earned an honest paycheck for the first time in my adult life. That’s kind of pathetic, don’t you think?”

“I think,” Alicia had said, “I think you spent a long time figuring out who you really are. Who you were meant to be. What you needed to make you happy. You might be in your forties, but you’re really just starting out. You’re still learning who you are.”

“Does that make you the older woman in the relationship?”

Alicia smiled. “It does indeed.”

Now Alicia reached over and covered Laura’s hand with hers. “Remember when I said you were the younger one in the relationship?”

“Oh, yes. I liked that conversation.”

“My first fare today was someone like that. She spent a big chunk of her life denying who she was. Lying to herself, making due. But I think today she was finally reborn.”

“Good for her. I hope whatever she did, it works out for her.” She turned her hand over and stroked Alicia’s palm. “I waited a long time for my real life to begin. I wasted a lot of years in a marriage that didn’t mean anything to me. Thank you for making all that waiting worthwhile.”

“My pleasure. But, uh… speaking of waiting…” She brushed her lips against Laura’s nose. “You still haven’t taken my order. That will be reflected in your tip.”

Laura smiled. “Brat.”

“Come on. Time is money. Gotta get back on the road, earn that money. My partner is kind of a gold-digger.”

Laura laughed and rose from the booth. “Bo’s’n Burger on wheat, hold the onions, crinkle-cut fries, and a Sprite?”

“Exactly right.”

“I’ll have it out right away.”

Laura hurried back into the kitchen and Alicia settled back against the booth. She wondered what was going on out on Daly Point, if the women were reuniting or just saying a proper goodbye. She admired Tara for taking such a giant leap of faith to give them closure on some very old wounds. It was brave and scary, and she really hoped it paid off in the end. Whatever happened she hoped it was what they needed to forget the pain and move on.

Laura delivered her lunch less than five minutes later, proving she’d anticipated Alicia’s arrival and had put in the order before she even sat down. Alicia thanked her with a kiss, and the café was empty enough that Laura was able to join her for a bit of the meal. Alicia even let her steal a few fries. She hadn’t wasted as many years as Laura, but she still felt like she was just spinning her wheels – pun intended – before they fell for each other. Laura rested her head on Alicia’s shoulder and Alicia smiled.

Sometimes the waiting just made the reward that much sweeter. She kissed the top of Laura’s head and continued eating her lunch.

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