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12 -

When it came time to decide between pursuing the mob and helping Nadine, Rucker turned back. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder as he passed his deputy. White didn't need anything else; he jumped into the squad car and peeled off after the fleeing former mob. Rucker dropped to his knees next to Nadine and pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket. He whipped it once and carefully eased Nadine's hands away from her face. He winced when he saw the bloody slash between her eyebrows. He covered the wound with the handkerchief and pressed down to staunch the bleeding. "What the hell happened?" he asked.

"I don't know," Miranda said. "She just fell down. She, she just *fell.*"

He looked down and saw the pieces of her glasses. A chunk of concrete from the construction site on the corner lay a few feet away. He growled and said, "Help me stand her up." They each took an arm to support her and, keeping his cloth pressed to Nadine's face, Rucker motioned towards his car with his chin. Halfway across the street, Nadine's entire body went limp and threatened to drag Miranda to the ground. Rucker hooked an arm under Nadine's and took most of her weight onto his shoulder to keep her upright. "She's fainted."

They managed to get her into the backseat of the patrol car. Miranda squeezed in next to her and Rucker transferred the cloth to her hand. "Hold this to the wound as tight as you can, okay?"

Miranda only nodded, too afraid she would burst into tears if she spoke. She sat with her legs folded underneath her on the seat, terrified to look under the handkerchief for what she might find. Rucker rounded the front of the car and slid behind the wheel. "What happened? What the hell was that?"

"Someone threw a damned rock," Rucker growled. He peeled away from the curb and flipped the switch for the siren.

As they passed the front door of the station, Miranda looked up and saw Hoagie and Billy standing on the sidewalk and watching them past. Both looked dumbfounded, lost. Miranda, fingertips wet with Nadine's blood, felt an insane thought that they better not be broadcasting dead air. She cursed herself for such an idiotic concern and turned away from the window to focus on her friend.

The hospital was only four blocks away, but it felt like the trip took them all day.


An hour later, Nadine opened her eyes and immediately wished she'd kept them shut. The blinds were open, sending shafts of the twilight sun like napalm across her face. Her head was throbbing, both at the temples and between her eyes. When she brought her hand up to probe the painful migraine, she found a piece of gauze between her eyebrows instead of the familiar bridge of her glasses. Judging from the sounds all around her, she wasn't in a personal room. That was good; whatever had happened wasn't bad enough that she needed to be admitted. She turned her head out of the sun and cracked an eyelid to look for a call button. A doctor appeared at her bedside before she managed to find the button.

The doctor said, "Glad to see you're awake."

She had opened her eyes, but without her glasses the world was a miserable blur. The doctor's voice was vaguely familiar, but Nadine blamed it on her job; she'd probably spoken to half the people on the island, if not more. She asked, "What happened?"

"It seems you were hit in the face with a rock. Piece of concrete sidewalk. Can you sit up?"

Nadine nodded. "If you help me." The doctor wrapped her hand around Nadine's forearm and helped her pivot into a sitting position. Nadine winced as another lance ran through her forehead and she touched her temple. "Am I okay?"

"Other than a pair of shiners and the massive headache, yeah. I think you'll be just fine." She slipped a penlight from her pocket and said, "Look here." She swept the light up into Nadine's eye, held it and then dropped it back down. She repeated the gesture with the left eye and nodded at whatever she saw. "You didn't pass out... you just fainted from the shock of what happened. Completely normal reaction. As for the wound, the glasses saved you. There will be kind of an ugly mark for a while, but when it's healed you won't even see a scar. The headaches can be dealt with by taking aspirin. I wouldn't recommend anything stronger at the moment, but if the aspirin doesn't help, you can see someone about a prescription."

"Okay," Nadine said.

The doctor moved towards the door and then paused. She pulled the curtain and walked back to Nadine's bedside. "On a personal note, I listened to your show most of the day. I would have called in, but... I saw what had happened to you and started worrying about patients refusing treatment. I couldn't come out publicly, but when you showed up here, well... I do hate having to do it under these circumstances, but I'm gay."

Nadine smiled. "I know."

The doctor blinked. "What? How could you...?"

Nadine squinted. "I'm not sure without my glasses, but you *are* Doctor Tom, aren't you?"


"You treated my gi... my former girlfriend. Kate Price? When I showed up, you treated me like a spouse, not a concerned friend. I had my suspicions then, but... Well. Suffice to say, I'm not exactly surprised."

Dr. Tom cleared her throat and said, "Well. I guess I am talking to the town expert."

Nadine groaned and said, "Oh, God, I *am* going to be the town's poster lesbian, aren't I?"

Dr. Tom laughed and said, "You can leave whenever you're steady enough to walk. In the meantime, some of your friends are in the waiting room. Should I let them in?"

"Just Miranda for now."

Dr. Tom smiled and said, "Would've been my choice, too. Just a moment." 

She left, and the sounds of the ER filtered in. She closed her eyes, sick of seeing the world as a fuzzy half-image, and listened for the sound of Miranda's shoes on the tile. She heard someone yell at a doctor, a file clattered onto a desk and someone grumbled about how expensive their crappy coffee was.

She didn't realize she had almost fallen asleep until she felt a hand on her elbow and Miranda quietly spoke. "Dean? Are you awake, hon?"

She opened her eyes. Miranda was a woman-shaped blob a few steps from the bed. "I'm fine. Headache like you wouldn't believe, but... yeah." She closed her eyes and rubbed her temple. "And it doesn't help that I can barely see anything..."

"Would these help?" she asked. She held up Nadine's glasses. The rock had broken them in half at the bridge, but someone had wrapped it with tape to hold them together. "I had to do *something* while I was waiting... Billy picked them up and brought them from the station and a nurse gave me the tape. I, uh, I hope you don't mind looking like Steve Urkel."

"Thank you," Nadine said. She touched the tape and slipped the glasses back on. If nothing else, it would help hide the gauze on her face. She looked up and blinked as Miranda and the rest of the world came back into focus. The glasses felt remarkably fragile and the lenses seemed to be scratched from their meeting with the pavement, but all-in-all, a much nicer picture.

"It's much better, thank you," she said. She took Miranda's hand, using her as balance so she could slip off the bed. Her arm wrapped around Miranda's waist out of instinct and neither of them pulled away from the intimacy of the new position. "Did Rucker catch whoever threw it?"

"No. The crowd broke up as soon as you went down. Deputy White went after them and handed out a bunch of citations for misdemeanors like disturbing the peace. But no one owned up to throwing the rock."

Nadine sighed and said, "Probably too much to hope for, voluntarily turning themselves in. Cowards."

Miranda smiled and said, "You up to walking?"

"With some help, yes," she said. She clapped her hand over Miranda's and slid off the bed. She felt steady enough to walk on her own, but it felt much better using Miranda as a crutch for the moment.

They stepped out of the curtained-off area and Miranda led her to the small waiting room. As opposed to the one upstairs, the ground-floor room had a picture window and two lamps that flooded it with light. Nadine was grateful her friends hadn't been trapped in the tiny, dark waiting room upstairs and smiled when she saw Kate.

She looked like she'd lost ten years since that morning. She was dressed in a white blouse and blue slacks, her hair done up with a pin. She'd put on make-up and other than the slight worry in her eyes, looked a hundred percent better. Nadine hugged her and said, "You should be in bed."

"Yeah, right," Kate scoffed. "Matilda called me and told me you'd been hurt."

"Who's Matilda?" Hoagie asked.

"Inside joke," Kate smiled. She kissed Nadine's eyebrow and said, "I'm glad you're okay. Do you need a ride or...?"


Miranda said, "I'll give her a ride home... i-if she wants."

"Yeah," Nadine nodded.

Kate's smile widened and she hugged Nadine again. She whispered into her ear, "Took my advice, huh?"

"Shh," Nadine admonished. She kissed Kate's cheek and said, "I'm glad you're doing better. Stay awhile. I want to talk with you some more before I go." Kate nodded and turned to Hoagie and Billy. She embraced them both and poked Hoagie in the chest. "Shouldn't you be on the air, Joseph?"

Hoagie shook his head. "I got Simon to come in and cover for me."

Miranda and Nadine both said, "You talked to Simon?"

"Yeah..." Hoagie said slowly. He looked between them and said, "I talk to him all the time. The hard part is getting that guy to shut up. Why? What's wrong?"

Nadine laughed and touched her throbbing head. "Nothing, Hoagie. Nothing at all." She tightened her grip around Miranda's arm and leaned into her. "Let's go home. I've had a really, really long day."

Hoagie finally looked down at their linked arms and raised an eyebrow. "Whoa... wait a minute. You? And you? Are the two of you...?"

"Yes, Hoagie," Miranda said. "I'm gay, too."

He glared at Billy, as if it were his fault, and said, "See? I knew I shouldn't have supported this. All the eligible women, gone! Right from under my nose, in one fell swoop!"

Nadine wrapped her free arm around Hoagie's waist and said, "Aw, you big lug. We can double-date sometime. I'm sure at least a couple of the women on the island are bisexual."

"Gotta be one or two," Miranda agreed.

"Oh, hardy-har-har. We've created a couple of lesbian vaudeville comics..."


Hoagie gave them a ride back to the station so Miranda could pick up her car. Nadine put her bike in the lobby where it would be locked up and safe until she was able to come back and retrieve it, then curled up in Miranda's passenger seat. "Do you want to just go home?" Miranda asked. "You haven't eaten anything all day..."

"I'm not hungry. Just... yeah, home. I'll be fine on the couch."

Miranda frowned. "What?"

"I don't have a bed."

"Then I'm not taking you home."

"Miranda, it's fine..."

"No, it's not. You have a head injury." She pulled out of the parking garage and said, "I'm taking you to my place. You can take the bed, *I'll* take the couch."

"Are you sure?" Nadine murmured.

Miranda reached across the console and touched Nadine's forehead. "You're burning up. Your head must be throbbing like hell. You're going to sleep in an actual bed and that's final." She turned back to the road and said, "So it's final. No arguments?" She glanced over and saw that Nadine's eyes were closed and she was using her hand as a pillow against the window.

Miranda smiled and headed for home.


She walked Nadine into the house and directed her to the bedroom. The sun had gone down, leaving the sky beyond the window a deep crimson-yellow melt. Nadine, in her haze of pain and tiredness, Nadine only got the vaguest idea of what the room looked like. She did see a large queen-sized bed flanked by antique wooden nightstands, but all she cared about was the mattress underneath her when Miranda sat her down.

She watched with disembodied interest as her shoes were untied and slipped off. "Socks on or off?" Miranda asked.

"Off," Nadine said. It hardly mattered, but as long as Miranda was offering to keep touching her...

Her feet bare, Miranda glanced up at Nadine's blouse and cleared her throat. "Um... y-you could probably take care of..." She gestured at the rest of her clothes.

"Yeah," Nadine said. "Probably."

They stared at each other for a moment. Miranda was the one who lost the staring contest, by looking towards the dresser in the corner. "There are some pajamas in there. Probably... too big for you." Nadine was four inches shorter than Miranda and would most likely be swimming in her clothes.

"Okay. Thank you, Miranda. For everything."

Miranda smiled and kissed Nadine's lips. "No problem," she whispered. "I'll be in the living room if you need anything. Anything at all."

She stood and walked from the room, leaving the door opened a crack, and headed for the living room to catch up on her work.


Nadine ran her hand over the pillow and briefly wondered where she was. She touched the sheets, rolled onto her back and looked at the dark window over the dresser. After a moment, she remembered why she had a headache - much milder now - and where she was. The condo was dark, cool and quiet and she wondered for a moment if Miranda might have left.

She stood and tugged the hem of her pajama shirt down to cover herself. Miranda's clothes had proven baggy on her, but they were workable. She had chosen just a shirt, since it was long enough to reach her mid-thigh, and stumbled to the bathroom.


In the living room, Miranda was on the edge of the couch finishing up the latest in a series of phone calls. She heard the toilet flush and tensed, unused to hearing that sound in her house, and smiled. Nadine was awake. She turned her attention back to the caller. "No, it's all right. No, it's nothing. Thank you for calling me and I'm sorry for getting back to you so late. Yes, everything seems to be fine. Okay. Okay, you too. Bye."

"Am I interrupting?"

"No," Miranda said. "I was just..." She turned around on the couch and the words died in her throat. Nadine was standing in the hallway door, wearing only a white pajama top. The bottom buttons were undone and Miranda spent a moment trying to determine if that was a shadow or... something else... before she turned away and began blushing bright red.

"Should I not have worn this?" Nadine asked. She had tucked the cuffs of her sleeves into her palm. She looked puny in the giant shirt, her hair mussed from sleep, and Miranda just wanted to grab her and hold her and make sure she knew everything was all right.

She bit her lip and finally said, "No. That's, uh... a good choice. Come over here and sit down for a minute."

Nadine walked over and sat on the couch next to Miranda. She rubbed her temple and looked at the sprawl of papers that lay around the quietly-humming laptop. "What is all this?"

"Work. Does your head still hurt? I have some aspirin..."

"It's fine," Nadine said. "I'll live with it a while before I knock it out with aspirin. What are you doing?"

Miranda turned to her laptop. "Well, it seems that during your broadcast today, I missed a bit of work. And before you apologize, I'd much rather spend the day in your booth with you. It was... it was the time of my life."

Nadine smiled sleepily and rested her chin on one fist. When she crossed her legs, Miranda was distracted by a flash of thigh and cleared her throat. "Anyway, I was catching up on some of my voicemail. When Clifton Gail called in, he neglected to mention that he was friends with Joe Lack. They had a talk and... Joe Lack's Pizza is again offering to promote your show."

"Lucky me," Nadine said. "What does he have to lose; it doesn't cost anything to promote a non-existent show."

Miranda pressed on. "I also received calls from Chin's and Duck Soup. They're both considering advertising on your show again."

"Miranda, I love you for doing all of this, but... I don't have a show anymore."

"You don't understand," Miranda said. "After you got hit with a rock, it was like... you might as well have gotten shot."

"Gee, thanks," Nadine said.

"Deputy White cited a handful of people, but far less than there actually were in that crowd. He only had five or six on record when I called him earlier. Everyone else they've spoken to claim they were at work or home all day. He thinks they're afraid of being grouped in with rock-throwing homophobes."

Nadine smiled. "The homophobe part, they don't mind so much. The rock-throwing part, though..."

"Scoff if you will, but Chin's and Duck Soup called *me* asking about advertising again. Your show has proven you have support in this town. They're afraid of losing business by turning their backs to you. Your show today has done more good than we could have hoped."

Nadine rubbed her temple. "I know it's just the headache talking, but... I don't *have* a show, Miranda."

"No, not tonight," Miranda said. "But tomorrow? Who knows?"

"Dugan won't back down. Hoagie told me that Dugan wanted me arrested for that stunt I pulled today. You've got a silver tongue, Miranda Powell, but I don't foresee you talking him out of that."

"We'll see," Miranda said. "Right now, we've got seventy-five percent of your sponsors back. Tomorrow I'll start calling the others. Now that I know what buttons to push, I'll see if we can get every damn one of them crawling back with their tails between their legs. Then we'll see about getting your show back."

"Kind of putting the cart before the horse, aren't you?"

"Dugan won't give us the horse until we prove we have something for it to pull."

Nadine grinned and leaned toward Miranda. They kissed, slowly and tenderly, seated next to each other on the couch like a married couple. Nadine shifted and faced Miranda fully, deepening their kiss. Miranda opened her eyes and looked down at the shadow between Nadine's thighs.

She pulled back and closed her eyes. "Um... y-you still want to do the waiting thing. Right...?"

"I do," Nadine whispered. She sounded more than a little sad that she was the one making them wait. She kissed Miranda's cheek. And repeated more firmly, "I do."

"Then... and don't take this the wrong way... but maybe you could put on some damn pants..."

Nadine laughed and moved her hands to her lap. "You pervert."



"Put your pants on."

Nadine got off the couch and went into the bedroom to get dress. Miranda watched her go, admiring the way the pajama top bunched around Nadine's ass, and picked up a folder. She sagged against the back of the couch and fanned herself. She didn't mind waiting, not for someone like Nadine. But if she wasn't careful, the waiting was liable to kill her.


They made dinner, Nadine back in her jeans, in Miranda's fully-stocked kitchen. She made chicken Caesar salad from ingredients in her fridge and smiled sheepishly at Nadine's awe. "It's just food."

"You're talking to a woman who eats leftovers three days out of the week. Believe me, this is gourmet."

They divvied up the tasks, with Nadine taking care of browning the chicken while Miranda prepared the eggs and the bowls of lettuce. When the chicken was done, they added it to the salad and carried their bowls to the kitchen table.

Through the living room window, the stone wall of the neighborhood only partially blocked the impressive view of the island's majestic peak. The island wasn't mountainous by any stretch of the imagination, but the slope did stand out impressively against the full moon.

They ate quietly, occasionally laughing about something that had happened during Nadine's last show, but soon fell into comfortable silence again.

When half their salads had disappeared, Miranda twirled her fork and said, "So do you think this would count as a date?"

Nadine examined the table carefully and chewed her mouthful before she answered. "Yes. But only because we prepared it together. Automatic date right there."

Miranda smiled and put her fork down. "I love the way you look at things. It's... it's gotta be why you're so popular. You're just..." She rubbed her forehead and looked down at her salad. "I-I-I don't know," she said, suddenly flustered. "You really make me feel good when I listen to you, Dean."

"I love when you call me Dean."

Miranda blushed and they both went back to their salads. Miranda, chewing her bottom lip, said, "And you are absolutely sure that you want to wait for the sex part of the relationship?"

"Absolutely sure," Nadine said, a bit of sadness in her voice.

"Okay. Just making sure."

"Of course, making out on the couch after dinner doesn't constitute sex in my book."

Miranda's eyes widened. "Me neither."

Their forks made quite a racket as they rushed to finish their meal.


They touched each other when the lights were out. Nadine's lips were traced by soft fingers and Nadine explored the sweet spot behind Miranda's ear. With all the lights out, the mellow blue moonlight offering the only guide, they took stock of everything they'd never noticed or had ignored about the other woman. The way Miranda's fingers were slightly bowed, the little mole on Nadine's cheek that Miranda had noticed but never really thought about.

Clothes were loosened, but not removed. Nadine was the one to finally call it quits, gently easing Miranda back and kissed her soundly. "I should..."

"Yes, quickly," Miranda gasped.

They kissed again and Nadine said, "I think I'm going to fall in love with you soon."

"It's about time you caught up."

Nadine smiled in the darkness and said, "I'm going to bed."

"Go, before I run after you panting like a dog."

Nadine slid off the couch and walked to the hallway. "You don't need pajamas or...?"

"I'm fine," Miranda said. "Good night, Nadine."

"Good night, Miranda."

Nadine paused in the bedroom door and looked into the living room. She half-expected to see Miranda's silhouette coming down the hall after her, but nothing stirred at that end of the house. She fought the urge to tell Miranda to come to bed with her, ached for her to join her, but she knew it was for the best. She reluctantly closed the door and went to bed.


She woke the next morning to the smells of bacon and coffee, two of her most favorite things. She opened her eyes and rose, pushing aside her blankets and struggling with her jeans before she left the bedroom. She stumbled to the kitchen and blinked at the meal laid out. Fluffy, yellow scrambled eggs, strips of bacon that gleamed in the sunlight, a tall pitcher of orange juice that was rendered much less impressive by the Minute Maid carton sticking out of the trash.

Miranda finally saw her standing in the doorway and smiled. "Hi, Dean. Did you sleep well?"

"Like a rock," she said with a wry smile. Her forehead was still throbbing a little, but she was glad she hadn't taken any medication the night before; every memory was firmly imprinted in her mind. She walked up behind Nadine and embraced her from behind. She lifted herself onto her tiptoes and kissed the back of Miranda's neck. "You said you loved me."

"Did I?"

"It was a roundabout way of saying it."


"I talk for a living, remember."

Miranda said, "You *used* to talk for a living. You're the one who keeps saying you don't have a show anymore."

"That's Thomas Dugan, actually."

"Right," Miranda said. She slipped from Nadine's arms and said, "Hope you like scrambled eggs."

Nadine said, "I adore them, and this all smells delicious. But... d-do I have time to shower first?"

"Yeah, go, go," Miranda said. "I'll save you some bacon. The towels are in the cabinet by the bathroom door."

Nadine thanked her and hurried off.

"Save me some hot water!"


Kate wore dark sunglasses and a hat with a brim long enough to hide her face when she left the house. It wasn't shame that made her hide her face; she finally knew what Nadine was talking about when she said she felt free. Vanity was why she had wrapped herself up like the invisible woman. She hated how pale she looked after her time in the hospital. She hated the way she was sure people looked at her with the words "suicide attempt" on their lips when they saw her.

She had been given a few days off to 'recover from her bout with the flu.' She couldn't just sit in the apartment, especially not on the couch she now planned to sell or burn, so she went out and simply wandered for a while. Fortunately, the cold weather made her disguise necessary. After a while, she ducked into Coffee Table Books to escape the wind and get something to eat.

She ordered one of the big plate-sized cookies and a coffee from the chirpy girl behind the counter and took a seat in a booth by the window. There were a handful of customers in the shop, but it was the slow time between ferries. She unraveled her scarf and turned away from the restaurant to watch people walking by on the other side of the frosted glass.

Something tapped her coffee cup and she jumped, unaware anyone was next to the table. "Ooh, sorry," Amy said. "Didn't mean to startle you there." She held up the coffee cup. "Top you off?"

Kate relaxed and nodded, even though she'd barely taken a sip of her coffee. "Hi, Amy."

"Hi, stranger." Amy poured about a drop into the cup and set the coffee down on the table. "How are you doing?"

"Better, I suppose. I'm not thinking about it anymore. I'm still going to see a counselor, though. Once or twice a month, maybe..."

Amy frowned. "Thinking... about what?"

Kate's hand twitched next to the coffee cup. "You said 'how are you doing'? That's what everyone has been saying to me lately."

"What are you talking about?"

"I tried to..." Kate's voice trailed off and she cleared her throat. "I overdosed on pills on Monday. They got me to the hospital, but..."

From the look on Amy's face, Kate could tell she was the one person she knew who had missed the news. "Oh, my God! Are you all right?"

"Fine," Kate nodded. "Like I said. But... I don't feel like that anymore. It was... ironically, I think it was the wake-up call I needed." She smiled and added. "I'm really sorry. I just assumed everyone had heard or... could tell by looking at me."

"Well, I spend a lot of my time in the kitchen. Not a lot of gossip. As for how you look... you look gorgeous to me."

Kate looked up and saw a light in Amy's eyes. She looked down into her coffee and leaned forward. "Would you like to get dinner sometime?"


Nadine hated wearing the same clothes two days in a row, especially after a shower, but she dressed and returned to the kitchen. "Your shower is heaven on earth," she said as she ran her fingers through her still-wet hair. Miranda turned and the smile on her face faded as her eyes locked on Nadine's shirt. Nadine looked down and said, "What is it? What..." Then she spotted it. A small splatter of blood on the collar. "Oh," she said.

"I don't suppose I could get you to take your shirt off," Miranda said, smiling weakly.

Nadine started to unbutton her blouse.

"I was joking, Nadine, you don't..."

"It's okay," Nadine said. "Can I wear your pajama shirt until I can get a change?"

"Yes," Miranda said. She breathed a sigh of relief as Nadine retreated back into the bedroom to finish undressing. Seeing the blood on her shirt had just brought back all the hellish memories of the day before. She had been so sure that some asshole had shot her... She shuddered at the memory and refused to acknowledge it. Everything had worked out fine, no need to stress herself with might-have-beens.

She scooped some more eggs onto a clean plate, added some bacon and was pouring a glass of orange juice when Nadine returned. Miranda looked her over and smiled. "Much better." They embraced and Miranda kissed Nadine's temple. "Head okay?"

"Head okay." They separated and Nadine picked up her plate. "Wow. If the 'manager of a local radio station' gig falls through, you can get a job over at Yolk Folks."

"If it means I don't have to deal with Thomas Dugan anymore, I'll go get an application today."

They sat down together and ate in the sunny niche off the kitchen. Nadine squinted into the sun and admired Miranda's view. "Wow. I wondered what was so special about this place. I mean, it's not that big. But the *view*..."

"And the security," Miranda said.

Nadine nodded and examined her plate. "Can I get something out of the fridge?"

Miranda nodded and watched as Nadine retreated into the kitchen. When she came back, she had a squeeze-bottle of ketchup and she added a small pool next to her scrambled eggs.

Miranda made a face and said, "Oh, that's it. The relationship is off."

Nadine stuck her tongue out and defiantly took a bite. "So," she said, swallowing her mouthful before she continued. "What's on the agenda for today?"

"Today, we blackmail Tom Dugan to get you your job back."

A glob of yellow egg tinted with red ketchup froze halfway to Nadine's mouth.


Nadine and Miranda walked into the KELF offices together. The front doors, damaged by the crowd the day before, were already in the midst of being repaired. There were no protesters today; as Miranda had said, no one wanted to be associated with the mob from the day before. Suddenly, everyone on the island was incredibly supportive of Nadine.

Everyone, of course, except for Thomas Dugan.

They had stopped off at Nadine's apartment so she could change into something sensible and business-appropriate. She'd finally decided on a powder-blue pantsuit. She wore an old pair of glasses that were slightly too big for her face but weren't held together with masking tape.

Nadine followed Miranda into the building and smiled to Sue as she passed. "Good to see you, Miss Powell. *Lovely* to see you, Miss Butler!"

When they were on the stairs, Miranda turned and whispered, "I just get 'good.' You get 'lovely'?"

"I'm nicer than you are."

Miranda rolled her eyes and continued up into the main offices. Thomas Dugan was already there, seated at the conference table. As Miranda made her way over, he frowned and pointed at Nadine. "What, pray tell, is *she* doing here? She is *persona non grata*."

"Nice one," Hoagie said as he approached from the bathrooms. "You got word of the day toilet paper or something?"

"Hoagie," Nadine said. She went to him and embraced him tightly. "What are you doing here so early?"

"Bargaining chip," he said. He winked at her, refusing to elaborate, and took a seat to Dugan's right. Miranda and Nadine sat next to each other and Dugan leaned forward. Clasping his hands in front of him, he looked at the assembled group. When he opened his mouth to speak, Hoagie said, "Ah-ah. We're not all here yet. Billy! Get over here."

Dugan chuckled. "You're kidding me. The *janitor* is going to sit in on our business meeting?"

"It involves him," Miranda said. When they were all in place, Miranda stood. "Mr. Dugan, we're here today to respectfully ask you to reinstate Nadine Butler at her full salary."

"No," he said. He started to stand up. "Is... that all? Are we done here?"

Miranda didn't waver. "Sit down, Mr. Dugan, please."

Dugan sighed and reluctantly returned to his seat.

"Your reason for firing Nadine was sound," Miranda said. "In a business such as this, you cannot justify employing someone who is costing your station money. Nadine had no sponsors; you couldn't very well keep her around. But as of last night, Gail's Seafood Shack, Joe Lack's Pizza, Chin's Chinese Buffet, Duck Soup Restaurant and Yolk Folks have all pledged to sponsor her show again. By the end of business today, I assure you that she will be fully-backed by her original sponsors and by the people and businesses of this town."

"She took over my radio station," Dugan said, his tone of voice indicating he knew exactly what kind of corner he was being backed into. "She turned it into her own personal soap box. You expect me to just ignore that?"

"No, sir. Last week, I put in a request that she be given a raise. I hereby withdraw that request. If Nadine is hired back, her salary will remain the same as it was before. Consider it a penalty for unauthorized content on her show."

The man twisted his chair back and forth, glaring at Nadine. "I could still fire her for that 'unauthorized content.'"

Hoagie muttered under his breath and leaned back.

"You could, Mr. Dugan. But then you'd have to find two replacements. If Nadine doesn't come back, I'll clean out my desk and leave with her."

Nadine's eyes widened. No wonder Miranda had kept the plan to herself; she never would have gone alone with this. "Miranda..."

"Nadine," Miranda said. She gave her a look that said she knew what she was doing. Nadine didn't like it, but she didn't really have a choice. She glanced at Hoagie, who was also nodded, and quieted. Might as well see how this played out. And what did Billy have to do with getting her job back?

Dugan seemed unphased. "I'll be sorry to see you go, Ms. Powell, but the sad truth is station managers are a dime a dozen. I'll find another one before too long." His lips curled in a superior, arrogant smirk as he tried to stare her down.

"But talent isn't."

Everyone turned to look at Hoagie.

Hoagie was admiring his fingernails. "With Nadine gone, I'm the biggest celebrity this station has. And if she goes, I go."

"That leaves you with a void from eleven in the morning until Leah comes on at nine," Miranda informed him. "A void that is usually filled by two very popular disc-jockeys. People might miss them enough to try out a different radio station."

"I hear KTOT comes in real clear, even from the mainland," Billy said.

"I hear that, too," Hoagie said. "I was thinking about listening to them sometime. I guess if I get fired, I'll have the opportunity."

Dugan scoffed and shook his head. "Oh, come on. You think staging a walk-out will..."

"We are not done, Mr. Dugan," Miranda said. All pretense of formality had left her voice. She leaned down and looked Dugan in the eye. "If I leave, if Hoagie leaves... you could replace us eventually. It would take a while, you'd probably lose money during the search, but you could do it. But if we go? Billy goes."

Everyone looked at the janitor. He smiled and winked at Nadine. "Miss Butler brought me here. Got me the job. It'd make me too sad to work here knowing she was fired."

Miranda smiled. "A station manager and two disc-jockeys. Easy enough to replace. Hell, forget what I said, you could probably have our spots filled by this afternoon. But where in the hell would you *ever* find another janitor to clean this building for half the minimum wage?"

Dugan's face went pale and he shifted in his chair. Miranda picked up the files she'd put in front of her chair and pushed away from the table. "Think about it. I know you have the weekend DJ filling in for Nadine today. But you better think long and hard about how permanent you want that arrangement to be."

Miranda straightened her back and said, "*Now* we're done." She motioned for Nadine to stand up and they walked towards the stairs. They hadn't gotten halfway across the bullpen before Dugan hollered, "All right! All right, *wait a damn minute.* Come back here."

Nadine looked at Miranda, completely shocked. Miranda smiled at her and turned on her heel to go back to the negotiating table.

To be continued in Chapter Thirteen

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