Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Whispers Down the Lane

Summary: The entire island has theories when Jill is spotted trick-or-treating without her lovely wife.

A veil of cobwebs was artfully draped across the entrance of Coffee Table Books so they wouldn’t tear every time the door opened. Jill Hood-Colby, wearing a medieval red gown with a gold sash tied around her waist. Her hair was center-parted and crimped into waves where it fell across her shoulders. Her daughter, Isabel, was clinging to the end of the sash instead of Jill’s hand. Her costume consisted of an oversized hippo head and a grey onesie.

            Amy Warren smiled from the cash register when she saw them and motioned Jill to the far end of the counter away from the line of costumed customers. Not long after Isabel started speaking, the little girl had dubbed her “Aunt Amy.” She suspected it had something to do with her unlimited access to cookies and other sweet treats, but she accepted the title proudly.

            Amy’s costume was a Rockford Peaches uniform with red tights under the surprisingly short skirt. Jill noted the length with raised eyebrows.

            “Were the skirts that short in the movie?”

            “I don’t think so.” Amy smoothed her hand over the material. “I think it’s a casualty of the ‘sexy whatever’ Halloween tradition. Women can’t be anything unless they’re a sexy-something. Nicole is usually better at avoiding that stuff, but she didn’t realize how short it would be.”

            Jill grinned. “You ladies all bought each other’s costumes again?”

            Amy nodded. “Yep. Nicole got me this, I got Rosie the Riveter for Kate, and she got Ruth Bader Ginsberg with a crown for Nicole.”

            “Wow, looks like you had a theme going. Tough ladies through the ages.”

            Amy flexed her arm, then looked down at Isabel, who was eyeing the baked goods behind the counter’s glass.

            “I’m not sure you two have a theme, unless there was a princess character I don’t remember in Dumbo…”

            “I’m a hippo!” Isabel said.

            “Oh, excuse me,” Amy said. “I can definitely see it now.”

            Jill said, “Isabel didn’t want to do a group thing this year. She wanted to be a hippo, because she loves hippos.” She nudged her daughter’s arm with her finger. “Do you want to teach Aunt Amy something about them?”

            Isabel lifted her chin. “The hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal, after elephants and white rhinos. They mostly eat grass and prefer to live in the water.”

            Amy raised an eyebrow. “Wow, I did not know that. How many hippos do we have around here?”

            “Six.”

            Amy laughed. “I’ll keep my eyes peeled. We haven’t had many trick-or-treaters but… if it’s okay with your Momjay…” Jill nodded and Amy crouched to retrieve a fun-size package of M&Ms from under the counter. “We have a few things set aside for our very special customers.”

            Jill said, “Isn’t that nice, Isabel? What do you say?”

            “Trick-or-treat,” Isabel said, holding out her bag.

            Amy laughed and put the candy in her bag. “I think tonight that counts. Happy Halloween, little hippo.” She looked at Jill again. “Do you want a snack, too?”

            “Yeah, we actually came in to take a breather. We’ve been walking around since before the sun went down. Could I get a chai tea?”

            “Coming right up. I’ll bring it out to you.”

            “Thanks, Ames.”

            Jill guided Isabel over to a booth by the window. Isabel clambered up onto one side of the table and Jill sat across from her.

            “You having a good time, Izzy?” Jill asked. Isabel had her candy bag on the seat next to her, neck bent so she could peer into it. “Hey. Not until we get home, okay? Just like we promised.”

            “Okay.”

            Isabel was sitting on her feet and folded her hands on the table in front of her. She chewed her bottom lip and looked out the window at people passing by on the sidewalk. Jill was once again stunned, as she was several times a day, that this beautiful little girl existed because of her. She’d given birth to a tiny screaming child who was now a storehouse of information on hippos – at least for this month – and was currently daydreaming about the sugar coma waiting for her in the morning.

            She reached out and put her hand on top of Isabel’s. “Hey. Isabel? Can you look at me?” The girl tore her attention away from the window and focused on Jill. “Do you like where we live? The big house. You like your room?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Yeah.” Jill rubbed her thumb over the girl’s knuckles. “Well… what would you think if you had a different house? And a different room? Would that be okay?”

            Isabel looked confused. “I like my room.”

            “I know, sweetie. But sometimes, things happen and you don’t get to keep the things you like.”

            Amy approached the table with Jill’s tea, and Jill sat up straighter. “Hey,” Amy said. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt. Your tea.”

            “Thank you.”

            “On the house.”

            “Oh, you don’t have to–”

            “I insist. Happy Halloween.” She smiled at Isabel. “I hope you get lots of candy tonight, little hippo.”

            “Me too!”

            Amy chuckled and, after lingering a moment longer than necessary, turned and left them alone.

            Isabel reached out and wrapped her hand around Jill’s fingers. “I might like a different room, Momjay.”

            Jill smiled at how grave she sounded, and put her other hand on top of Isabel’s. “Yeah? I think sometimes change can be a good thing.”

#

The Farmer’s Market on Front Street had been transformed into a haunted maze sponsored by KELF Radio. Scarecrow Nadine and Tin Miranda Powell were selling tickets, with Nadine occasionally posing for a picture or signing someone’s candy bag. There was a lull in traffic so they were currently sitting behind the table looking out over the harbor. A lot of the boat people had decorated their slips so kids could trick-or-treat on the water, and the result was a spectacular and spooky light show.

            “My parents would let me go out there, but they weren’t thrilled about it,” Nadine was saying when her phone buzzed again. “I think they were both scared I would fall in so they were always super anxious.” She picked up the phone and read the text.

            “I wish I’d grown up here.”

            “I don’t,” Nadine said, typing out a text. “You grew up as a city girl. That made you the woman I met and fell in love with. I’m not willing to take any chances on that.” She put her phone down and took Miranda’s hand. “It would’ve been nice to say I’ve known you all my life, though.”

            Miranda squeezed Nadine’s hand. The phone buzzed again and Miranda smiled. “Amy again?”

            “Yeah.” Nadine read the new text. “She’s positive there’s something going on with Jill and Patricia. She asked if I noticed anything. Like we hang out with them every night or something. I haven’t seen either one of them in months.”

            “I saw Patricia… um… two weeks ago? She was at the post office.”

            “And you didn’t tell me?!” Nadine said with mock outrage. “I’m texting her to just let it go.”

            Miranda scratched the side of her nose. “What makes her think they’re having an issue?”

            “Jill is out trick-or-treating with their daughter, and Patricia is AWOL. Maybe because she has a really important job…? If she’s not working late, she may just be too tired to run around all night. I sit in a chair and talk into a microphone for a couple of hours, and even I’m exhausted right now.”

            “Aw, poor baby. Up past your bedtime?”

            Nadine pouted her bottom lip and put her head on Miranda’s shoulder. Miranda patted her straw wig and glanced toward the street. She spotted a princess and a hippo in the glow of a streetlight.

            “Oh, speak of the devil. Isn’t that Jill and Isabel?”

            The Hood-Colbys in question were approaching, candy bag swinging from the younger one’s hand. Nadine sat up straighter and smiled.

            “Hey, beautiful ladies. Are you having a good night?”

            “Hi, Pixie!” Isabel said.

            “Hey there, lovely!” Nadine waved at her. “I hope you’re getting lots of candy.”

            Jill said, “All kinds of goodies. We thought we’d take a swing through here. It’s not too scary for her, right?”

            “No, no, it’s all-ages,” Nadine promised as she tore off a red ticket. “Keep that handy. We’re going to have a raffle and the winner will be announced tomorrow on my show. The winner gets a coupon book.”

            “Ah, very cool.”

            Miranda said, “Where’s your lovely wife tonight?”

            Nadine side-kicked her foot under the table. Miranda ignored it.

            “Oh, she’s… she’s feeling a little under the weather tonight.”

            Nadine kept her smile but couldn’t help but feel a twinge in her chest. “Oh. That’s too bad. Nothing too serious, I hope.”

            “No, no, just… just, um, probably a stomach thing. Upset stomach.”

            “Aw. Give her our love, okay? Can’t have our fearless mayor laid up.”

            Jill gave a smile even Nadine had to admit was odd. “She’ll be glad to know you’re thinking about her.” She squeezed Isabel’s hand. “Okay, honey. You ready? Let’s go see the monsters.”

            They said goodbye again, and Jill led her daughter into the market. Nadine and Miranda watched them go, and then looked at each other before they faced forward again. Nadine wasn’t smiling anymore. She picked up her phone and scrolled through Amy’s texts.

            “What’s wrong?”

            “There was something Amy overheard that made her really worried…” She found the text and showed it to Miranda.

            “This one? ‘JHC talking to daughter about leaving-slash-moving to a smaller house.’ Why would the mayor move into a smaller house? The town pays for that residence.”

            “The mayor wouldn’t move,” Nadine said. “Maybe Jill wants to know if… if the… if Isabel would come with her when she moves out.”

            “So she… Dean, come on.”

            “You come on!” Nadine tried to keep her voice low. “You saw her face when she said Patricia was ‘under the weather.’”

            Miranda wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, that was odd… She was evasive.”

            Nadine held up her phone. “Amy said Jill looked like she was heartbroken.”

            “Dean… let’s not jump to conclusions, okay? It’s… maybe they’re just having a fight. Couples fight. Maybe Jill took Izzy out so they could have some time away from each other. A little breathing room. It doesn’t have to be so dire.”

            “Maybe. I don’t know. I hope not.”

            She picked up her phone and considered updating Amy, but decided against it. She didn’t know why the possibility of the Hood-Colbys getting a divorce hit her so hard. Maybe she thought it would be contagious. Just having the word uttered within earshot would infect their marriage. It was something too scary to think about, even on Halloween.

            She reached out and found Miranda’s hand. She gripped it tightly. “I love you, Miranda.”

            Miranda squeezed, seeming to understand what was going through her wife’s mind. “I love you, too, Dean.”

#

“I’m not going to throw another one if you miss this.”

            Rachel Crawford nodded to show she understood the stakes. She kept her hands on her knees, leaning forward slightly in anticipation of moving her head. Across the aisle, her wife Alex took another piece of candy corn from the open bag on her table. She telegraphed her toss and lobbed the candy as gently as possible. Rachel nearly fell off the table in her attempt to catch it in her mouth. It bounced off her cheek, so she twisted her body in the hopes it would land on her shirt so she could salvage it.

            “You’re terrible at this,” Alex laughed.

            “I blame the thrower.”

            “Hey now. It’s a poor player that blames her teammates.”

            Rachel walked over and sat beside Alex, taking out some candy to eat without the ceremony. “Whatever. My mouth has other talents.”

            Alex chuckled lewdly and slipped an arm around Rachel’s waist, pulling her closer. “I think when we get out of here, we should take advantage of these costumes and you can prove your skills.”

            “Oh yeah?” Rachel reached up and pinched the knot of Alex’s tie. “The way you’re looking in this vintage suit, I might not be able to help myself, Mr. Addams.”

            “You don’t look half bad yourself, Morticia.” She leaned in for a kiss, but stopped herself. “Whoops, child approaching.”

            Rachel looked and saw Jill arriving at their station, smiling apologetically for ruining the moment. “Happy Halloween, life-savers. Sorry if we have bad timing.”

            “You have perfect timing,” Rachel said. “We have all this candy just going to waste. Someone has to take it off our hands.” She pointed at Isabel. “Could you help us out?”

            Isabel grinned and held out her bag. “Trick or treat!”

            “You two look amazing,” Jill said.

            “So do you!” Rachel said. “Princess Buttercup? So is Patricia dressed as Westley or the Dread Pirate Roberts?”

            “Uh… neither… she’s, she didn’t dress up this year.”

            Alex said, “Party pooper.”

            Jill laughed without much conviction. “Yeah. I know.” She looked into Isabel’s bag. “Whoa, you guys are pretty generous. Izzy…”

            “Thank you,” Isabel said.

            “You’re very welcome, sweetheart!” Rachel pinched the ear of Isabel’s hippo hat. “This is adorable. So cute.”

            Isabel said, “Do you want to hear a hippo fact?” Rachel opened her mouth to answer, but Isabel was already reciting one. “Hippos look short and fat but they can outrun humans with no problem.”

            “Wow, that’s impressive!” Alex said. “The fact, and her remembering it. That’s really smart, Isabel, good job.”

            The girl beamed proudly up at Jill, who tapped her cheek with one knuckle.

            “Okay,” Jill said, “we’ll keep on moving. You two are probably eager to end your shift and get on to your own party.” She winked as she ushered Isabel away.

            Alex smoothed a finger over her painted-on mustache. “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about, Mrs. Hood-Colby. Have a good Halloween.”

            “You too.”

            Jill disappeared around the corner. Alex looked at Rachel, whose smile had faded into a look of concern.

            “Everything okay?”

            “Hm?” Rachel blinked, and the expression was gone. “Yeah. Everything’s fine…”

            “Said the liar. Come on. Something was rolling around in there.”

            Rachel sighed and shook her head. She leaned in close and lowered her voice. “‘She didn’t dress up this year’?”

            “Yeah… what’s so strange about that.”

            “It’s not what she said, it’s what she wasn’t saying. She looked down at the ground when she said it. She tripped over her words. She looked… I don’t know…”

            Alex frowned. “What are you saying? Do you think something’s wrong with Patricia?”

            “I… I don’t know. But when you and I were having our issues, and people saw me at the grocery store or at dinner without you, I did the same thing. ‘Oh, she’s at home’ or ‘she had to work late.’ It didn’t matter what I said, the body language was the same. Isabel is, what, four? Five? This is her first real trick-or-treating memory. You think Patricia would just sit that out?”

            Alex looked in the direction Jill had gone. “She seemed okay…”

            “When she was talking to, or about, Isabel. Body language. I don’t know what’s wrong, but there’s a reason Patricia wasn’t with them.”

            “I’m sure they can work it out.” She put her hand on Rachel’s knee. “I mean, we were able to work it out, and you only had a stubborn, cranky asshole to work with.”

            Rachel put her hand on top of Alex’s. “The only stubborn, cranky asshole I want to fight with. Mi amore…”

            Alex leaned in. “You know how I get when you speak French…”

            “Actually, I think that was Italian.”

            Alex was closer. “Sh,”

            Rachel leaned back, making Alex lean even farther. “Maybe even Spanish…”

            Alex smiled and stopped Rachel’s speculation with a kiss.

#

In the shadows between two streetlights, Rosie the Riveter was pressed against the wall outside Coffee Table Books by Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Nicole, in her judicial gown and crown, had unzipped Kate’s jumpsuit to work her hands inside. She was staying on top of the white T-shirt but what had started as a peck and a quick tickle was on its way to becoming something much more intense. Kate was trying to keep watch for pedestrians but the things Nicole was doing to her neck made it difficult to keep her eyes open.

            She was about to suggest taking it inside – the door to Amy’s old apartment was only a few feet away, and there was a couch they could use – when she heard voices.

            “Chill out, RBG,” she said.

            Nicole took a step back and tugged at her lacy collar, blocking Kate from the street so she could fix her jumpsuit. They were presentable by the time Jill and Isabel were close enough to be recognized. Jill smiled when she recognized them.

            “It’s the rest of the Warrens! Your lovely partner told me about your costumes. You both look amazing.”

            Nicole said, “Why, thank you very much. And you’re the loveliest Buttercup I’ve seen in a while. But I think the little hippo has us all beat.”

            Isabel held out her bag. “Trick or treat.”

            Kate blanched. “Oh. We… we don’t have anything…”

            “That’s okay,” Jill said, patting Isabel’s arm. “Honey, this is Nicole and Kate. Remember, Aunt Amy is their wife, and she already gave us some candy earlier.”

            “Oh,” Isabel said, then smiled to show all of her teeth. “Happy Halloween!”

            “Happy Halloween to you!” Kate said. “Did you know hippopotamus means river horse?”

            Isabel said, “Yep!”

            Nicole said, “Huh, I thought it meant ‘really cool opotamus.’” Jill and Kate stared at her, and she chuckled, shaking her head. “Forget it. Old joke.”

            “Were you on your way to see Amy?” Jill asked.

            “Yep, we were just about to head in.”

            “Tell her we said hello and we ended up having a pretty good night. Lots of candy.”

            Nicole said, “Awesome! Way to go, little hippo.”

            Isabel ducked her head shyly.

            Jill rubbed the girl’s shoulder. “But I think we’re pushing right up against her limits. We have just enough time to get her home and into a bath before she needs to be plugged in for the night.”

            They said their goodbyes and Jill continued on.

            Nicole and Kate watched her go, and Kate said, “She seemed fine to me…”

            “You know how easy it is to hide something like that,” Nicole said. “If there is something going on, I mean. I’m still not totally convinced there is. Maybe they had a fight. Or maybe Patricia’s feet just hurt. I think Amy is jumping to conclusions and being a gossip.”

            “Her heart is in the right place.”

            “I know it is,” Nicole said, “but I also think she was really unfair sending out those texts. Would you have been so critical of how she’s acting if Ames hadn’t told us what she was afraid of? The poor woman just wants to take her daughter trick-or-treating and the whole town is scrutinizing everything she says and does.”

            Kate said, “I’m sure Amy didn’t text the whole town.”

            “You know what I mean. I’m going to talk with her about it when we get home.”

            “Not right when we get home, right…?” Her hand moved to the back of Nicole’s gown, squeezed.

            Nicole smirked. “When you put it like that, I think maybe it could even wait until morning.”

#

Isabel was exhausted enough that Jill was able to get her out of the hippo costume and into the bath without too much fuss. Once she was sure the water was the right temperature, she helped Isabel into the tub and sat on the floor with her back against the wall. Isabel was already at an age where she wanted privacy, so Jill pulled the shower curtain and took out her phone to check her messages while Isabel washed and splashed on the other side of the vinyl.

            “Momjay?”

            “Yes, baby.”

            “I like all the costumes.”

            Jill smiled. “I do, too. Halloween is a really fun night.”

            “I want to dress up like Aunt Amy, too.”

            “Okay. Next Halloween we can maybe go to Seattle, to one of the big stores, and see what they have.” Her finger paused on the screen. Next year… “But we might not be able to do anything really expensive next year. Or the year after that. Would that be okay, too?”

            “Uh-huh. I just like the costumes.”

            When Isabel was done with the bath, Jill helped her towel off and get into her pajamas. She took her into her bedroom. Isabel’s eyes were already closed by the time Jill was tucking her in.

            “I need to say goodnight to Mama Trish,” Isabel murmured.

            “We talked about that, sweetheart. Remember?”

            “Oh. Right.”

            Jill kissed Isabel’s forehead twice, then both of her cheeks. “That’s from both mommys. Is that okay?” Isabel nodded and Jill smoothed the blankets over her. “Sweet dreams, little girl.”

            “Night, Momjay.”

            Jill lingered for a moment to watch Isabel fall asleep – an unsung miracle, to see your child so peaceful – and then switched on the moon-shaped nightlight. She slipped out of the room and padded barefoot down the hall to the master bedroom.

            The lights were off, but she could still see the dark shape lying on top of the blankets. No shine of a cell phone screen. Jill was usually annoyed when she saw Patricia looking at the phone when she should be sleeping, but this time the darkness made her worried. She let the door shut behind her with a quiet click and undressed in the darkness. She draped the dress over a chair and joined Patricia on the bed, spooning her from behind.

            “How do you feel?”

            Patricia shrugged. Jill kissed her shoulder.

            It had been a week of this. At first it was just stress, but that led to insomnia, which Jill believed contributed to headaches and stomach pains. She suspected there were tinges of depression on top of the whole mix, a theory supported by the fact Patricia had barely moved since Jill and Isabel left for their trick-or-treating. Jill stroked Patricia’s arm and held her without saying anything.

            “How’d she do?” Patricia murmured.

            “She did well. She likes the costumes. I think next year she wants to do something different than a hippo.” She squeezed Patricia’s arm. “Everyone was wondering where you were…”

            Patricia turned her head, buried her face in the pillow. “God…”

            “I just told them you weren’t feeling well.” She considered what she was about to say, then just came out with it. “I… talked a little with Isabel about the possibility of not living in this house anymore.”

            “What did she say?”

            “She doesn’t care. She told me when we were walking that she hopes her next bedroom is orange, too. She loves orange. Everything else is just details to her, you know?” She stroked the hair away from Patricia’s face. “She loves you. Mama Trish. She doesn’t give a shit who the mayor is.”

            Patricia rolled over, finally looking at Jill. “It’s not just about her.”

            “I know, sweetie.”

            It was the same discussion they’d been having for a month. The year was almost over, and Patricia would have to announce her intentions soon. She could run for a third term, or she could step aside and let someone else run for office. Part of her liked the idea of handing over the reins. How long could she sit in the office before she became as bad as Mayor Dugan? But another part of her was worried about stepping aside and letting an actual Mayor Dugan replacement step into her shoes. She wanted to protect the island and its people, but based on her beliefs. Wasn’t that as bad as what Dugan had been doing? She wouldn’t have worried this much about it until 2016, when America got the worst case scenario wrapped around its throat like a noose, and now she wondered just who might be out there waiting to take over and destroy their home.

            Staying would be selfish. Leaving might be dangerous.

            The stress of it was tearing her apart and making her physically ill. She couldn’t even say goodnight to their daughter because she didn’t want to infect her in case she actually did have a bug.

            Jill stroked the hair out of Patricia’s face. “Whatever you choose,” she said, “whatever happens, I’ll be right here. I’m so proud of you, Trish, and I’m so proud of everything you’ve accomplished in your time as mayor. The island loves you. Your friends love you. And I’m sure if you reached out to some of them, they might be willing to give you some advice. Chief Crawford, Sheriff Rucker, they’re here for you. They’ll support you. They all want what’s best for this island, too.”

            “I want to give you everything. I want to give you a mansion.”

            “Is there a mansion around this bed?” Jill asked, pretending to look around. “Is it a shotgun shack out in the woods…? I can’t even tell. As soon as I got into this bed, I stopped caring about the architecture. Give me any bed with you on top it, and I don’t give a shit about what the walls around it look like. I don’t care about your title. Mayor Hood-Colby is sexy to me. Rookie Grocery Bagger Patricia is my wildest fantasy. Unemployed Patricia helping out at the elementary school office because it beats hanging out at home all day watching game shows…”

            Patricia smiled. “I love you. God, I love you so much.”

            Jill kissed her lips.

            “Mrs. Patricia Hood-Colby,” Patricia said. “That’s my title.”

            Jill pressed her face into Patricia’s curls. “That’s a good title. I really like that one.”

            Patricia put her arms around Jill. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be your Inigo tonight.”

            “It’s okay. There’s always next year.”

            “Or this weekend… if I’m feeling better. I could put it on just for you…”

            Jill said, “Oh, really?”

            “Mm.”

            “Well, that’s incentive for me to take really good care of you.”

            Jill closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling of Patricia’s fingers in her hair, the sound of her breathing. It had been a rough few days, but she felt like they might have reached the turning point. Even if Patricia hadn’t made her decision yet, Jill believed the scary part of the ordeal was over. Halloween was past, and in the morning they could start working toward getting Patricia back out of her funk.

            It was the best treat she could have hoped for.

© 2018 Geonn Cannon

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