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In the five years she'd been managing KELF, Miranda Powell had never been out the front door before eight. She remained in her office until Leah Nettles, the night DJ, arrived before she allowed herself to leave. Leah had never been late, but Miranda liked to be prepared for every eventuality. She didn't want to leave Hoagie alone to deal with a no-show if something ever did happen. Leah and Hoagie traded places in the booth at nine, and Leah usually showed up anywhere from ten to thirty minutes early.
When Leah arrived at 8:55, Miranda was still on the phone, scribbling on her blotter as the station owner, Thomas Dugan, barked in her ear. "Yes, sir," she said. She looked up as Leah appeared in her doorway, waved, and began gathering her things. "Yes, Mr. Dugan. I wanted to talk about... yes, sir. No, I wanted to talk about..."
She leaned back and rubbed her temple with two fingers. "Yes, Mr. Dugan." She put the phone down and cursed. She'd called him with a distinct purpose in mind, but somehow he had managed to shift the conversation to budget and advertising and the various little day to day things he liked to hear about. She was sure it made him feel like a part of the business, but it ate a hole in the end of her day, every day.
She jotted down a number on her desk blotter and pushed away from her desk. She grabbed her purse and jacket and headed out into the bullpen. Leah was leaning against one of the desks, watching Hoagie through the glass. Tonight, the disc-jockey was wearing a torn denim skirt, fishnet stockings and a bright purple blouse that Miranda thought would actually look nice under the proper blazer.
"Is he having a good show," Miranda asked as she joined Leah at the window.
"I don't know," Leah said. "I just like watching him. It's like the zoo."
Miranda smiled and caught a glimpse of their reflection in the glass. Like one of those magic eye pictures, it was hard to ignore once she'd noticed it. Standing next to Leah, she looked like a high school principal. She tightened the jacket around her flowered blouse and straightened her shoulder-length blonde hair where the phone and her coat had mussed it.
"I'm going to head out. Have a good show."
"Okay, Miss Powell." She headed for the stairs and nearly made it before Hoagie called after her to wait up.
She paused and he hurried to catch up, working his arm into the sleeve of his jacket. "I'll walk you out," he said. He followed her downstairs, through the dark lobby and out to the cold street. He waited as she tested the front doors to make sure they locked behind her. Leah could still come out, but no one would be able to get in until she showed up to let Willa and Simon in.
She turned and, as she suspected, Hoagie was still waiting for her. She forced a smile and rubbed her hands together. "Cold out here," she said.
Hoagie nodded. "Yep. You need a ride someplace, Miss Powell? My car is..."
"I'm fine, Hoagie. I'm... waiting for my ride. Should be here any second."
"You want I should wait with ya? You never know what could happen."
"It's December Harbor, not New York," Miranda said gently. She'd been born and raised on Manhattan; Squire's Isle was physically and metaphorically about as far away as you could get and still be in America. "I think I'll be okay. Thank you, though."
He stuffed his hands into his pockets and started to walk away, looking so dejected that she felt the need to offer the poor guy a little bit of consolation. "It was a great show tonight, Hoagie," she called after him.
He turned and smiled. "It sure was. Good night, Miss Powell."
She waited until he had disappeared around the corner before she started walking in the opposite direction. Hoagie was sweet, but she'd have to do something to dispel the unfortunate crush he seemed to be developing on her. She slipped the Walkman from her coat pocket and slipped the earpieces in as she walked into the parking garage. The radio was, naturally, already turned to KELF. Even if she didn't work there, it was really the only station that got any reception on the island.
"Good evening, owls and owlettes. This is Leah," the overnight DJ's sensuous voice informed her. "I'll be with you from now until the wee dark hours. So settle in, get comfortable and get ready to feel the day melt away. Because I promise, I will not play anything that will make you jump out of your shoes. Your pants, on the other hand..."
Miranda smirked and made a mental note to officially chide Leah the next day. Sexual innuendo was fine, so long as it was kept to a minimum. Lately Leah had been treading just a little too close to that fine line. Miranda unlocked her car door and slid behind the wheel of her car.
As Mick Jagger began his plaintive call to Angie, Miranda pulled from the parking garage with Nadine Butler on her mind. So what if Nadine didn't have plans for the weekend? It wasn't fair to just saddle her with this responsibility two days before the faire started. The fact she was saddled with it just because she was single, and that Nadine *knew* that was the reason, could potentially be a problem. She could sue them for discrimination.
Nadine never would sue, of course. But it gave Miranda an idea. She drummed her hands on the steering wheel and began to script the call she would make to Dugan first thing in the morning. This time, she was sure their conversation would go a lot differently.
Nadine took a shower after dinner and crawled under the covers in her pajamas. She picked up her work bag and dug around until she found the notes Miranda had left there during her show. The first note - "Think of medieval-type songs to play during the fair" - wasn't very helpful. She scribbled down *Scarborough Faire* by Simon and Garfunkel in the margin, thought for a moment and then shook her head. She'd think of more, she was sure. If not, Billy could lend a hand.
The other notes were just there to let her know some of the acts that would be performing at the faire. It offered the names, pronunciations and a brief overview of what they did so Nadine could talk about them on the air. Jugglers, swordfighters, jousting tournaments, belly dancers... She raised an eyebrow at that last one; maybe this assignment wouldn't be so bad after all.
The last post-it was a note that stockades would be employed during the faire should any 'dastardly evil-doers' need to be contained. Nadine smiled and said, "Please let me put Hoagie in a stock. Oh, please, oh, please." A sweep of headlights across her wall broke her concentration and she glanced at her watch. Nearly ten o'clock. She put aside the notes and dropped her satchel to the floor as she slipped down on the couch cushions.
Despite the cancellation of their trip to the mainland, she was actually starting to look forward to the faire. Maybe she could get Kate to dress up as a fair lady. It had been a while since they had played dress-up...
She reached up and turned off the reading lamp that curved over her couch and threw an arm over her eyes to protect against any more headlights sweeping past the living room window and waking her. She was asleep inside three minutes.
The next morning, Friday morning, was the day before the Squire Days festival officially began.
Nadine was up at eight and did a bit of research online. She managed to find only one more medieval-themed oldie - *Knights in White Satin* by the Moody Blues - and answered emails until ten. Two were from Kate - "I forgot to tell you twice, so I might as well email you while I'm thinking about it" sort of messages - and the rest were fan mail. She replied to as many as she could before it was time to go. She shut down the computer and headed upstairs to Kate's before she left. There was no answer to her knock, so she assumed Kate had already left for work.
She retrieved her bike and walked it to the street, getting a good start before she jumped onto the seat and headed across town. As she waited to cross Spring Street, a couple of people called out hello and waved. She gladly waved back and thanked them for listening. When the street was clear, she rode across and turned south, taking her away from the radio station. She had left early to pass the city park and see the Squire Days festival grounds before she had to spend the entire day there.
She parked her bike on the sidewalk and looked out over the sea of colorful tents, the wooden fences being erected and the three horse trailers already on-site. She had a horrific imagine of the park suddenly festooned with little presents from the knight's rides and made a mental note to bring a change of shoes.
The park looked small as you approached it, but it spread out the farther you went in. The KELF booth was usually somewhere near the front, but she couldn't see it anywhere. Satisfied, she climbed back onto her bike and rode the rest of the way to work. The roundabout trip had cost her almost a mile and her legs were burning. She was grateful for the burn, though; it was pretty much the only exercise she got, so she liked to do as much riding as possible.
She had to veer around a construction site at the corner next to KELF and waved her apology to the construction worker tearing up the sidewalk. He waved back and she made it the rest of the block without running into any concrete chunks. She chained her bike outside and went into the fantastic warmth of the station's lobby. "Whoo," she exhaled as she unwound her scarf. "I didn't notice how cold it was until I came in here! Morning, Sue."
Sue, the plump and perpetually smiling secretary, held up a sheaf of little yellow papers. "Morning, Miss Butler! Miss Powell wanted me to let you know about these memos. A bunch of people have been calling in about the renaissance faire. Turns out a lot of them decided to give it a chance just because you're going to be there. That must make you feel good, huh?"
Nadine took the memos and shrugged. "Kind of makes me feel bad for Hoagie," she admitted as she went through the memos.
"Oh. Oh, right," Sue said. Her smile faded and she said, "Boy, I hope he doesn't get offended..."
"Ah, screw him," Nadine said. She winked and said, "He left me in the lurch. I hope his feelings do get a little hurt."
Sue cackled and slapped her hands together. Nadine jumped at the sudden, sharp sound, but quickly recovered and laughed along with Sue. After a moment, Sue's laughs turned into coughs. Nadine moved to pat her on the back, but Sue waved her off. "No, no, you go on upstairs. You have to be famous!"
"Work, work, work," Nadine said. "See you in a couple of hours."
"Hear you before that," Sue said, pointing over her head with a giggle.
Nadine went upstairs and dumped her things on the desk. She made her way to the back of the bullpen to Miranda's office. Through the glass door, she could see Miranda was talking into an earpiece connected to her office phone and was about to leave. Miranda glanced up just as Nadine was about to turn around and waved her into the room. Nadine stepped inside and waited patiently for the call to end.
Miranda Powell's office was the biggest and most personal in the building, but geography had denied it a window. She corrected this architectural faux pas by taking photographs of the town from the roof, having them professionally combined into a poster-sized panorama and hanging the picture behind her desk. In a lighted frame, the effect was surprisingly effective.
The rest of the office was spartan to the extreme; a desk, two chairs for visitors and a couch next to the door. Someone had brought her a plastic plant when she was promoted, but Nadine swore the fake leaves were drooping and near-death despite their artifice. She waited by the door until Miranda finished her call and motioned at one of the seats. "Morning, Nadine."
"Hi, Miranda. What's up?"
"I talked to Thomas Dugan this morning."
Nadine tensed. "The station manager?"
"The very same," Nadine said. "I told him about the Squire Days situation; how Hoagie and I kind of left you in the lurch just because you were single."
"It wasn't *entirely* because of that, was it?" Nadine asked.
"No, the fact that you are our biggest celebrity did play a pretty big part. But you and I both know that the only reason I gave in to Hoagie so quickly is because you're single and you probably wouldn't have plans."
Miranda shrugged and leaned forward. "The fact is, it could look like discrimination. You *could* sue us."
Nadine sighed. "I would never do that. I might grumble and--"
"No, you don't understand," Miranda said. "You could sue us. I pointed that out to Mr. Dugan, along with the fact you often get saddled with crappy assignments, and he finally agreed that it wasn't fair. So, in order to appease you, you'll be getting paid time and a half for the faire."
Nadine blinked. The Dugan family owned most of December Harbor and half the island, but they were renowned for having some of the tightest pockets to go along with their wealth. Offering time and a half was unheard of. "Wow. Thanks, Miranda."
"I'm not done," Miranda said with a perfectly evil smile. "I pointed out this was an ongoing thing. We get a job no one else wants, it generally goes to you. I pointed out that you're definitely the voice of the station, if not the face of it. Once again, he eventually agreed that you deserve a raise."
"A raise?" Nadine said. She was smiling now, leaning forward slightly. "That's... that's wonderful."
"I don't have the exact numbers yet; we're still haggling on that part. But I thought you should know it was in the works."
"Yes, thank you. You didn't have to."
"Consider it a thank you for being our sacrificial lamb for everything we ask of you. And hey, if it makes you smile a little bit at the faire, all the better."
Nadine laughed. "You have my word."
She slipped out of the office and went back to her neglected desk. She took the memos Sue had given her and thumbed through them again. Looking forward to seeing you, I wasn't going to go but now I'm already buying the tickets, so on and so forth. She smiled, still amazed after all this time, that she actually counted as a celebrity in this town. An idea sparked and she looked around until she found Billy.
He was emptying a trash can nearby and she crossed the bullpen to meet him halfway. "Hey, Billy, I might need your help a little more than usual today. Are you going to be sticking around?"
Nadine patted his arm and thanked him as she headed to the booth. She loved Billy; he had been homeless when they hired him, living outside the station and asking for money for lunch. When Nadine actually saw him go into a restaurant and use the money for lunch - with a tall cold glass of milk instead of any of the various liquors the restaurant offered - she struck up a conversation.
He had recognized her voice immediately. He loved radio, and it wasn't long before he revealed his most shocking gift; he could give the exact time, to the second, of any song she asked him. After a few test runs, she decided to just take him at his word. She had convinced Miranda to hire him as the station's custodian on a freelance, day-to-day basis. He insisted they pay him only enough to buy himself dinner and lunch; he refused to get rich on a job he hadn't earned. As long as he was just working for food, it was better than begging.
He'd been a constant at the station ever since, keeping the place tidy and helping the DJs arrange their schedule with the most amount of music without cutting off any commercials. Miranda had tried to give him a raise on several occasions, at least up to minimum wage, but he refused. One day Miranda had 'slipped up' and given him a fifty dollar bill instead of a five. Billy hadn't come into work for a week after that and refused to return until they took the money back.
So he remained, working for his lunch and dinner, a storehouse of knowledge when it came to classic rock time limits, and Nadine was happy to take the credit for discovering him.
In the booth, Simon Clark and Willa Lamb were finishing up their morning show. She could see the shoulder of someone sitting across from them, but didn't bother trying to see who it was. She waited patiently for them to play their farewell music, a medley of the word "Good-bye" from various songs, and opened the door.
As she stepped inside, she smiled to Willa and Simon... and saw Kate rising from the interview seat. She tried to conceal her surprise but failed miserably. "Oh," Willa said as she looked from one woman to the other. "I was going to introduce you two, but... do you already know each other?"
"Uh-huh," Nadine said. She smiled and said, "Kate is, uh, is my neighbor. Who didn't mention she was doing the show this morning."
Kate shrugged and said, "It was kind of a last minute thing. They wanted to talk to me about that article I did on pollution and the orcas in the Strait." She shrugged and unwound herself from the wires they always draped their guests with. "While I have you here, are you free for dinner tonight?"
"Yeah, always," Nadine said. It was a battle to keep from looking at Willa and Scott for their reaction to the request. *It only sounds like a date because I *know* it's a date. They probably think it's totally innocent...*
"Okay. See you at home."
"See you at home," Nadine said. She watched Kate leave and exchanged places with Willa. Simon pushed his own chair into the corner - they had no other two-person teams - and waved to her as he headed for the door.
"Have a good show," Willa said as she closed the door behind herself.
"Thanks," Nadine said. She took her seat, rearranged a few of the things on the desktop and glanced at the clock before she switched on the mic. "Happy mid-morning, almost afternoon to all you lovely people in December Harbor and everyone across Squire's Isle. I am Nadine Butler, the Pixie, and I will be here until five this afternoon. Seems so far away, doesn't it? But I am here to take a little bit of the sting away because I am doing something special today.
"When I walked into the station, the secretary showed me all of these calls from people who were going to the Squire Days festival just to see me. That really touches my heart, truly, so... I'm going to make you guys really happy." She picked up a random piece of paper and crumpled it next to the mic. "That was my play list for today and I am throwing it out. Because all day today, I am going to be taking your requests. Give me a call, 232-KELF, tell me what you want to hear because you are taking over the radio station."
She scanned the actual play list and said, "For now, I'm going to be playing some of my favorites while I'm gathering up your requests. We've got Stevie Nicks coming up, some Jim Croce and lots more that depends on you guys. Let me know what you want to hear." She switched over to the CD and pulled off her headphones. She knew without looking that Miranda was standing outside the window watching her.
She stood up without looking and opened the booth. Sure enough, Miranda was standing right there with arms crossed. "All requests?"
"Billy will help me make sure we have time for all the commercials. We'll be fine. You worry too much, Miranda."
Miranda huffed and glanced over her shoulder. "You have to do this to me right after I tease you about a raise."
"Teach you to tease a girl," Nadine grinned.
Miranda blushed and said, "All right, fine. All requests. Why not." She motioned at the booth and said, "Go! Take some requests. I'll accept all-request, but I won't allow dead air."
Nadine saluted, only half-mockingly, and went back to her seat. She hit Line One. "This is the Pixie on KELF, what can I play for you?"
Miranda paused and watched as Nadine resumed her post. She loved the fact that the DJ faced away from the window; she would hate to explain how often she'd found herself standing, staring at Nadine's back and just... staring. She just loved to watch the woman work, loved how she leaned into the mic to make her voice deeper and more intimate.
"Teach you to tease a girl," she muttered. "Sheesh. Like I don't have enough problems..."
Billy came into the booth two or three times before he finally accepted Nadine's invitation to sit across from her. As she took requests, she wrote the titles and artist on a piece of paper. When she had a nice, long list, she would hand it to Billy and he would write the play times in pen next to the artist name. His tongue poked from his mouth as he then re-listed them in blocks of eight to ten minutes and handed the paper back to Nadine.
She, meanwhile, kept taking requests and putting notations next to the song title to remember who had requested the song. She waited until *Guitar Man* ended and went back on the air. "This is KELF, I am the Pixie and the radio station is at your mercy this afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. That was Bread with *Guitar Man* for Erin. Hope you enjoyed that, Erin. For now, we're going to take a little pause for a commercial break and we'll be right back with more of your requests. Hang tight."
She sent it to commercial and said, "Billy, you've been a godsend today."
"I aim to please, Miss Butler," he said. He kept his eyes down and fiddled with the tip of his pen.
"I'm just telling you so you won't fight when Miranda tries to pay you tonight."
He shook his head. "I don't need nothing extra. Just..."
"Food money, right," she said. "You just want what's fair. Well, I wouldn't have been able to do this today without your help. You went above and beyond what you were hired for and we're going to pay you appropriately. It's only fair. All right?"
He finally nodded his head - a quick up-and-down bob - and she smiled. "Good. Now..." She was distracted by movement in the glass, just visible from her periphery. She turned and saw Kate standing in the bullpen, waving through the glass.
"She was here this morning," Billy said. "Willa and Simon interviewed her."
"Yep, they did," Nadine murmured. She checked the counter on the commercial break and went quickly to the door. "Hey, hon... Kate." She glanced around to see if anyone had heard her slip. "What's up?"
Kate held up a couple of bags. "Since I was in the neighborhood, I thought I'd drop in and see if you wanted to have lunch in your booth."
"It's kind of cramped in there, with Billy. And it's hectic today..."
Kate smiled. "I heard. All requests?"
Nadine shrugged and smiled. "Thank you for the offer, though. It was really sweet."
"I do what I can. Well, you might as well, take your sandwich." She handed the bag over and said, "So I'll see you tonight."
Nadine nodded and watched Kate leave for the second time that day. She glanced towards Miranda's office and saw the manager watching her. Miranda nodded at Kate's back. "Our guests usually don't come back until at least a day has passed. Who was that?"
"Kate Price. She works at the *Register.*"
"Right," Miranda nodded. She glanced at the booth and said, "I think your commercial is about to end."
Nadine gasped and ran back to her station. She looked out the window as she slipped her headphones back on. "Hey, welcome back. How were those commercials? You going to buy any of that stuff? Who knows, right?" She looked towards the window and saw the familiar green-and-white bulk sliding through the water. "Well, I can see the afternoon ferry coming in right now. All of you tourists need to know that K-E-L-F and the Pixie are having a very special show right now..."
"Okay, everyone, it's almost that time. My wrist is sore from keeping track of all your requests, so I think tomorrow we'll be going back to the old-fashioned way, if you don't mind. My thanks to my time-keeper, Billy, my thanks to everyone who called in to make sure we didn't have dead air and my thanks to everyone who listened today. Be sure to tune in tomorrow; I'll be lonesome if you don't. Good-bye, everybody."
She escorted Billy from the booth and stepped aside to let Hoagie in. "An all-request show?" he asked as he headed for the seat.
"It was to thank people for liking me better than you," she said.
He scoffed and said, "Sure, Pixie, sure."
She stuck her tongue out at him and went to her desk to retrieve her things. As she bundled up against the cold, she saw Miranda leave her office and hand Billy an envelope. She thanked him for his help, made sure he would actually take the money, and then went to Nadine's desk. "Were you planning to dress up for the faire?"
"Do I have to?"
"Then definitely not," Nadine said. "I might wear something fancier than my jeans and sweatshirt, but otherwise..."
"All right. Hoagie was going to go the full court jester route. Tights, jingle-bell hat, pointed shoes... the whole bit."
Nadine cringed. "Another reason to thank our lucky stars that I took over for him."
Miranda snickered and said, "I'll see you tomorrow."
"I'll be at the faire. Unofficially."
"You'll just have to wait and see!" She winked and went back to her office.
Nadine pictured Miranda wearing a wench costume and decided she would make a very nice wench, if she so desired. She chuckled and slipped the strap of her bag over her head. She looked around for Billy and saw that he was already back to work cleaning desks. "Thank you for your help today, Billy."
"Happy to lend a hand."
She headed out, said good-bye to Sue as she passed the desk, and walked out into the cold.
She expected it when she got home, she just didn't expect the ferocity of it.
As soon as she opened her front door, Kate was on her. She managed to kick the door shut and glanced at the windows to make sure the blinds were drawn as she was pushed towards the couch. She sat down heavily and Kate's hands went to her blouse. Nadine leaned back and let herself be undressed. "How come you were at the station today?" she asked as her jeans were unbuttoned.
"Wanted to see you," Kate said.
Nadine lifted her hips and Kate dragged her jeans down. She kicked them aside and closed her eyes as Kate's hands brushed her naked thighs. "Just to... spend time with me?"
"Yeah," Kate said. She occupied her tongue for a bit without speaking and after a moment said, "Why?"
"Why'd you ask?"
"Oh." Nadine cleared her throat. "I was just wondering."
Well," Kate said. She turned her head and kissed the inside of Nadine's thigh. "To be honest, I kind of wanted to christen your booth."
Nadine laughed, a wild, warbling sound due to what Kate was doing between her legs. "I think... you're going to have to give up on that dream, babe."
"A girl needs fantasies," Kate said.
She didn't talk for a long time after that.
She did spell a few words with the tip of her tongue, however.
Nadine took a shower when they finished and came out to find Kate had left. She heard light footfalls in the apartment upstairs and put her glasses back on. "Guess the date is over," she muttered. She sat on the couch, wrapped in her towel, and turned on the TV. She pulled a notebook off the coffee table, found a pen that worked and began scribbling down notes for banter between songs in the morning.
"Fair days to all... these and thous will probably be necessary..." She tapped her chin with the tip of her pencil, thought for a moment and went back to writing.
A few blocks away from Nadine's apartment, Miranda lived in the elite gated community of Sandpiper Condos. The condo was really a small living room ringed by all the other rooms, none of them very large. But the truth was, no one lived in Sandpiper for the accommodations. They came for the security of the six-foot stone wall around the property. Even thought break-ins were relatively unheard of on Squire's Isle, she was still a product of an island called Manhattan and the stone wall had been *the* selling point for her.
Miranda had arrived home and gone straight to the bedroom. She undressed for bed in the light of a single lamp and pulled a folded pair of pajamas from the dresser drawer. When she turned around, the outfit she planned to wear in the morning caught her eye. She hadn't had any problem with the idea of Hoagie seeing her in it - other than the jokes she was sure to have been subjected to - but something about Nadine seeing her gave her pause.
It was silly, she finally decided as she finished putting on her pajamas. If anything, Nadine would be even better than Hoagie. There wouldn't be any jokes or inappropriate comments... But still... it was awfully low-cut.
"Like she'll even be looking at your breasts," Miranda thought. She climbed under the covers and turned off the lamp. As she stared at the darkness of her bedroom ceiling, she thought back to that lovely dark-haired woman she'd seen Nadine talking to. The reporter from Willa and Simon's show, Kate... Prince? There was something about the way they had been standing together, their body language with one another.
She shook her head and tried to dispel the images brewing there. Nadine and the reporter were just friends, and that was all. Ever since she realized her attraction to women, she'd been seeing lesbian relationships everywhere. If half the women she suspected were actually gay, she'd be very concerned for the fate of humanity.
She pulled one of the pillows out from under her head and smothered her face with it. Nadine was straight, her friend the reporter was straight, every damn woman on the island was straight.
She relaxed her grip on the pillow and reached down to the waistband of her pajama pants. *Still,* she thought. *A little wishful thinking never hurt anyone...* She bit her bottom lip and pushed her hand lower. She touched herself through her panties and, after a momentary debate about whether it was tacky to masturbate about someone who worked for you, turned off the lamp to sin in private.
To be continued in Chapter Three
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