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5 -

Kate did, as Nadine suspected, go straight to bed as soon as she got home. But instead of sleeping, she merely lay on her back and stared at the ceiling. She laced her fingers together on her stomach and thought about the meeting. Everything in the meeting had been as boring as she'd suspected it would be; traffic concerns, questions about the city's new garbage pick-up schedule, a lively debate about recycling bins.

And Nadine came out of the closet.

God, if she was anyone else... if it had been anyone but Nadine... if infinity. The simple truth was that she wouldn't even hesitate to write about it if it had been anyone else. Finally, she threw off the covers and walked to her laptop. She'd once said she wouldn't do Nadine any favors. No special treatment in columns. She bit her bottom lip and began to write.


She covered the decisions and debates that had gone on, forced herself to sound excited about garbage handling, before she got to the library debate. She typed a few words, mentioned Nadine Butler's 'impassioned' plea to keep *Sparks of Love* on the shelf and then hesitated. She finally closed her eyes and said, "No one reads this damn column anyway." Reluctantly, she began to type.

"The big surprise was when local celebrity Nadine Butler came out as a lesbian during her retort in favor of keeping the book on the shelves. No agreement was reached on *Sparks of Love*'s future in the December Harbor Library."

The required 1,000 words later, she was still writing. She filled up two pages, hoping to bury the word lesbian with as much pointless blather as possible, and then sent the whole thing off in an email with a note that told her editor to revise it as he saw fit. She stared at the "Message Sent" page with a feeling of betrayal. "Et tu, Kate?" she murmured. No, that was hardly appropriate; at least Brutus had waited for someone else to strike first.

She leaned forward and ran her fingers through her hair. She scratched at her scalp with her fingernails and finally pushed her chair away from the desk. She shut off the laptop and walked back to bed.

She crawled under the covers and closed her eyes as a more appropriate quote came to mind. "To bed, to bed there's knocking at the gate! What's done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed..." She pressed her face into the pillow and slept.


The editor of the paper hadn't been at the town meeting, but several people had already called in to make sure he was aware of it. A few of the emails in his inbox that late night were letters to the editor about this 'stunning revelation.' When Kate Price's email arrived with her Town Hall report, he found himself smiling evilly, knowing how she'd tear into the story like the headliner it was. *You wanted front page, Price,* he thought. *Here's your ticket.* He clicked it open and felt his smile fade as he read through it. He sighed, opened a document and rewrote it. He sent an email back to Kate: "Nice try. I know the city beat is dull as dirt in a town like this, but next time actually go to the meeting. You missed the best stuff relying on word of mouth!" He printed out his version of Kate's story and carried it down the hall.

He had plenty of time to make the early edition.


*Front page of the Squire's Isle* Register, *Sunday Edition:*

Local Disc Jockey Nadine Butler revealed last night she is a lesbian

Last night's town hall meeting got an unexpected jolt of excitement when Nadine Butler, the KELF disc-jockey known as 'The Pixie,' came out of the closet. The surprise announcement came during yet another diatribe by Mrs. Eleanor Nelson, whose most recent attempts to ban the book *Sparks of Love* from the shelves at the Squire's Isle Public Library inspired the popular local celebrity to break her silence.

Ms. Butler could not be reached for comment.

There was no mention of the recycling decision and the Fire Chief's resignation was relegated to one sentence near the end of the column.


Due to a malfunctioning oven, a bout with insomnia and fate's cruel sense of humor, Amy Wellis was the first person in town to read the news. She picked up the paper as soon as it settled on the front stoop of Coffee Table Books and waved at the seventy-year-old 'paperboy' as he continued down the street. She locked the door behind her and unrolled the paper in search of coverage of the baseball game. She was sure that imbecile sports writer had gotten her name wrong, she just needed to confirm it before...

She froze when she flipped the paper over. The story was below the fold, but in big enough print to draw the eye. Her jaw dropped as she read over the article and then saw the byline. "Kate...?"

On their way to the ball field, Amy had broached the subject delicately. "Look, I'm not asking for me, just... trying to confirm a feeling. Is Nadine...?"

Kate had hesitated but finally admitted that yes, Nadine was gay. They'd been in a relationship for three years and they were both very much in the closet. How in the world could that conversation and this article be less than 24 hours apart?

"Kate, what did you do?" she breathed.


Tamara Butler put down the plate of eggs and brushed past her husband. "Did you want bacon today, dear?" she asked him softly. He didn't respond, but she hadn't really expected him to; Nathaniel Butler always wanted bacon, no matter what the doctor might say. Tamara had long since given up fighting him on it. As much as she hated it, a heart attack was the only thing that would convince him. And the shape he was in, any heart attack would be mild. So what? Some people needed that swift kick in the rear end.

She hummed as she laid the strips in the pan, moving about the kitchen as she waited for them to begin sizzling. When she returned to the table, she saw Nathaniel hadn't moved except to fold the paper under his hands and turn his head towards the window. "Honey-dear, your eggs are getting cold."

Nathaniel pushed away from the table without a word, turned on his heel and walked out of the kitchen. Tamara frowned and, as the bacon finally began to hiss at her from the stove, she read the large-print headline that had stopped her husband in his tracks. "Oh, Nadine. Nadine, my dear, now everyone knows..." She balled her hand into a fist and pressed it against her cheek as she began to cry silently.


Miranda Powell didn't want niceties, she didn't even really want the bare minimum of kindness. What she wanted was this woman out of her condo as soon as possible.

While the interloper was in the shower, Miranda went around the apartment and gathered the strewn clothes. She separated her bra from the stranger's - whatever her name was... Sara? Kara? - and tossed the pile at the bathroom door. She paused and fingered the collar of her robe. "Find, uh, finding everything all right?"

"Yeah!" the cheery voice said. "Can I use this toothbrush?"

"There's an unopened one in the drawer," Miranda replied. She thanked the dentist for always giving her a new one when she went to visit him. She pushed her limp, unwashed hair out of her face and grimaced at how many times her hand got stuck in the strands. She tried to loosen some of the rat's nest her hair had become in the night. The ringlets that had looked so wonderful yesterday were now obstacles for her to unravel in the shower... if she ever made it.

There was a thump at the front door and she checked her watch. *Damn it, you strange person, get out of my bathroom!* She walked to the front door and glanced through the peephole to make sure it was indeed the paperboy. She spotted his back disappearing through the gate and unlocked the door. The paper was resting neatly on her welcome mat and she snatched it up before anyone could see her robe or, even worse, her hair.

She shut the door just as Sara/Kara came out of the bathroom. She was wearing nothing but an open robe, shamelessly flaunting her body in the house of a total stranger. She ran her hands through her still-wet hair, almost mockingly, and said, "Do you have any coffee?"

Miranda turned the paper over and over in her hands. "Uh, no... no. I, uh, actually have to get to work."

"On Sunday? What are you, like, a priest or something?"

This said without a hint of irony. Miranda almost asked if the girl had misunderstood some of the 'oh, my God's that she had yelled the night before but instead shook her head. "Nope. Just busy." She walked towards the kitchen and paused. "Look, I don't want to sound rude, but... what's your name?"

"Jennifer," the girl said without a hint of embarrassment.

Miranda blinked. *Good God, I must have been* blitzed *last night...* She nodded and said, "Okay, Jennifer, sorry... but... could you get dressed and... go?"

"Sure, no problem," the girl said. She turned and went towards the bathroom to gather her clothes.

"That was easy," Miranda said. As she pulled the rubber band off her paper, she idly wondered how many one night stands this girl had taken part in. College student, away from school for the weekend. God, she probably wasn't even gay. Would go back to school with a great story about how she'd finally 'experimented.' It would explain some of her ineptitude... Miranda smirked as she scanned the main headline of the paper.

Jennifer came out of the bedroom as Miranda was preparing to look at the second half of the front page. Miranda pushed the paper aside and turned to face the girl. God, she looked young. *College-age*, she reminded herself. *No matter how young she looks, she's at least college-age.*

The girl had found the uniform shirt she'd been wearing at the renaissance faire and was fiddling with the catches on her trousers. Miranda glanced at the clock and struggled to find something to say. Finally, she said, "Do you need a ride back to the park?"

"Nah, my friends have a place near here. I was looking forward to seeing some of the island, anyway, so I'll just sightsee for a while, have someone drop me by my car later." She leaned across the counter and forced a good-bye kiss from Miranda. "I had a great time."

"Yeah," Miranda said. She put the paper back down. "Me too."

She waited until Jennifer had left before she pushed away from the counter. She started the coffee and headed into the bathroom to take her shower. With her hair to contend with, the coffee would be done by the time she finished.


Kate threw on a t-shirt and boxer shorts as she cursed at the bare walls of her apartment. "Son of a whore, fucker, bitch-ass..." She threw open the door of her apartment and stormed downstairs as she started creating new curse words to describe just what she thought of her editor. She tried the door on Nadine's apartment and found it locked.

She knocked just under the gold number 4 and said, "Dean? Dean, it's me, it's Kate." She looked down and scanned the ground for signs of a newspaper. Did Nadine get the Sunday paper delivered? Had she already picked it up and read the article? Did she think that Kate had... She redoubled her efforts. "Nadine!"

A door opened behind her and she turned as if she'd been caught trying to break in. A woman Kate had seen several times tested to make sure the door was locked and slipped out of the foyer without a second look towards Nadine's apartment door. A heavy book bag hung from the woman's right hand, a cell phone firmly fixed between her left hand and her ear.

Kate turned back to the door and pressed her forehead against the cool, blue wood. She closed her eyes and lightly slapped her palm against the door frame. "Nadine... Nadine, open the door. Please, Nadine."


Poodle, the big brown mutt he'd rescued from the pound, stood proudly in front of his easy chair. His club-like paws were spread, his muscles coiled, ready to spring in either direction depending on where Hoagie went. Hoagie scratched the dog on his block of a head and shuffled his feet across the living room carpet. Poodle followed, wagging his tail and keeping his eye fixed on Hoagie's hand lest a treat appear there.

The gnawed- and peed-upon remains of the newspaper lay on the floor in front of his easy chair. Poodle circled Hoagie and sat in front of his treasure. He planted himself next to it, chuffed loudly and looked up at Hoagie as if expecting a reward.

Hoagie gently pushed the dog's snout to one side as he dropped into his seat. "If you ate the sports section again, you're going back to the pound. And I'm tellin' them you got rabies." Poodle grunted and huffed, sending a stream of saliva onto the sleeve of Hoagie's robe. "Lovely. Dumbass." He sighed and held the paper by its dry corners.

When it fell open, he spotted the word 'lesbian' and locked onto it like a homing pigeon. "KELF... what the hell?" Seeing it was foolish to try and fold the paper to read it, he leaned forward and spread it out on the floor in front of him. Poodle, of course, rose from his haunches and moved to piddle on the laid-out paper as he had been trained. Hoagie pushed the dog away again and tried to read the truly yellow journalism. "Lesbian, popular radio disc jockey came... "Nadine...? *Nadine*?!" He wrapped his beefy fingers around his chin and leaned back in his chair.

Nadine was a lesbo? Hol-ee shit. He rubbed his stubble for a moment and pictured the Pixie with a certain famous actress, chuckled to himself and bent down to read the rest of the article.

He was so engrossed that he didn't notice the dog's shadow until the article was covered with another coat. Hoagie groaned and shoved the dog away. Poodle whimpered and went into the kitchen with his mighty shoulders slumped. He didn't know why his master was getting so angry. The paper was on the floor! What was a poor housebroken mutt to do?


After a shower and a twenty minute battle, Miranda came out of the bathroom with her blonde hair glistening and restored to its natural state. She had combed it out of her face and dressed in a pair of white cotton pajamas that felt wonderful against her skin. It finally felt like a brand-new day. Everything had been washed away; the fair, the one night stand with... God, what was her name? Jennifer? No, something... Kara? It didn't matter. It was over, she was clean, her hair was normal and so was her life. She poured herself a cup of coffee and sat at the counter.

She scanned the articles and her eyes were immediately drawn to the letters KELF. "Hey, front page," she said. She laid the paper out, folded it and turned it around in her lap to read the below-the-fold article.

She made it halfway through the headline before her face went pale and she was groping for the telephone.


A peacock would have said it was as proud as Eleanor Nelson that bright winter morning. She wore her best Sunday suit, had her hair up in a lovely bun and had even broken out her mother's favorite broach. She all but strutted into the Senior Ladies Sunday School classroom, her dress flaring with each step, her knowing smirk hidden below the brim of a white hat adorned with fancy flowers.

She had been up for hours, detailing how she would drop the little bombshell she'd been holding onto all night. "Well, ladies, I suppose we'll *all* have to be careful. Some of *those people* are on the island... what, haven't you *heard*?"

She took her regular seat, balanced her handbag on her thighs... and was crushed when she discovered that her juicy bit of gossip had already made the rounds all over town. It was already in the newspaper for goodness sake!

Getting scooped ruined Eleanor's entire weekend.


Nadine was wide awake by the time the newspaper thumped against her front door. She opened the door a crack, already crouching, and snatched the paper as if she expected an attack. She slammed the door, put the chain back on and carried the newspaper to the couch. She dropped it on the coffee table and stared at the exposed REGI of the paper's name.

She finally picked it up and unfolded it in search of Kate's column. The paper fell open and the headline caught her eye. Lesbian. Nadine Butler. KELF. By Kate Price. "Damn you, Kate," she hissed. She ripped the paper in half and threw both halves down. The rage was tempered by the fact that several pages of newsprint aren't very aerodynamic; they fluttered uselessly to the floor at her feet.

She kicked aside the page that had landed on her left foot and went into the bathroom. She turned the faucets and stood by the tub to undress. When she was naked, she climbed over the edge despite the fact the tub was only half-full and sat down. The water rose over her stomach and she sank lower until she felt it slip like a gloved hand over her breasts. The breasts Kate had licked and nibbled less than twelve hours ago.

She reached up and stopped the faucet before the tub overflowed, lounging, letting her body go weightless. Her head and shoulders were the only thing above water and she contemplated sinking down completely. See how long she could hold her breath. Watch bubbles rise from her tear ducts. "Crying air," she used to call it.

From the front of the apartment, she heard Kate pounding and pleading at the front door. She thought about plugging her ears, but instead pulled her glasses off and laid them on the edge of the tub. She took a deep breath, lifted her feet from the opposite end of the tub and slowly sank under the water.

The sound of Kate's pleas faded into a hollow throbbing noise. The world transformed into a weepy blue haze. She ignored everything; her thoughts, the chill of the water and the unmistakable sound of Kate still calling from the front door. All she noticed were the bubbles rising up from either side of her nose.

Crying air.


Kate sat with her back against the door, hands clasped behind her neck and head bowed. She was waiting, half-hoping, for the door behind her to open and send her sprawling. It was the least she deserved for what she'd done. When she heard footsteps in the foyer, she assumed it was the student across the hall returning for something and didn't bother looking up. The footsteps paused directly in front of her and a woman said, "Oh."

Kate looked up. The blonde woman was standing just inside the front door, pulling off her sunglasses and looking down at her. Kate cleared her throat and said, "Can I help you?"

"My name is Miranda Powell. I'm..."

"Nadine's boss," Kate said. She pushed herself to her feet. She brushed off her rear end with one hand while presenting the other to Miranda. "I'm Kate Price, the..."

"The reporter," Miranda said.

The way she said it left no doubt in Kate's mind that she'd seen the article. She blushed and looked away, ashamed.

Miranda glanced at the door. "Is she home?"

"If she is, she's not answering for me. Not that I blame her." She looked over her shoulder at the door and then forced a smile to Miranda. "You're more than welcome to try. I have to go murder my editor."

"For what? If... you don't mind me asking..."

"He completely rewrote my article. He..." She paused and said, "You... read the article, right? You didn't actually think..." She didn't know why what this stranger thought mattered so much, but she had to make sure it was clear. "I would *never* do that to Nadine. Not for some stupid column. You have to understand that."

Miranda opened her mouth to speak, but then closed her mouth. She shrugged and shook her head. "I... don't know you enough to answer that."

Kate nodded and finally stepped to one side. "Well, I-I don't know if she'll answer you, but I think you'd probably have a better shot if I'm not here. It was nice meeting you, Ms. Powell."

Kate stepped around Miranda and left the foyer. As the front door swung closed, Kate glanced back at the tall, beautiful blonde who had been Nadine's boss for the past five years. Her initial thought - "Why didn't Nadine ever mention how gorgeous she is?" - was quickly followed up with the realization of why Nadine had never brought up her gorgeous boss.

She smiled sadly and headed for her car. "Yeah," she whispered. "I bet you *will* have better luck than I did..."


*This woman is Nadine's girlfriend,* flashed across Miranda's mind before she could silence it. She was gorgeous, even dressed as she was in sweats and without make-up; thin, high cheekbones that most women would kill for, luscious, dark auburn hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. Her eyes flashed hazel in the dim light of the foyer and she looked like she was on the verge of tears. After a few short words, the woman - Kate Price, as it turned out, the writer of that wretched column - left her alone.

She hesitantly knocked on Nadine's apartment door and waited for sounds of movement within. "Nadine? It's Miranda Powell. Are you in there? We need to talk." She waited for a reply and then added, "Kate isn't here."

There was a pause and then the click of a latch. The door swung open wide enough for Nadine to peek through and confirm she was really alone.

The door closed and Miranda heard the rasp of a chain being disengaged. When the door opened enough, the crack was just barely wide enough for Miranda to slip inside. "Come in. Hurry."

Miranda slipped through the crack and heard the door slam as soon as she was inside. The chain was reengaged and Nadine stepped into view. She was wrapped in a robe that dwarfed her, made her look ten years younger. She looked like a little girl who had just gotten out of a bubble bath. Her hair was still wet from the shower or bath and she was trembling. The fact that she wasn't wearing her glasses added to the image of youth; Miranda had never seen her without them. It was as shocking as if she'd answered the door completely naked.

Nadine went to the couch and began clearing the debris from the cushions. Miranda saw the destroyed morning edition on the floor and ignored it. "Sorry about... mess...," Nadine said. She tucked a wet strand of hair behind her ear, started to sit and then looked at Miranda. "I take it you read the article."

"Yeah. I have to say I was... I was kind of shocked by it."

"*You* were?" Nadine scoffed. She took a seat and pressed the halves of her robe between her knees.

Miranda sat on the opposite side of the couch and was about to ask how it had happened when Nadine started speaking. She explained how the entire thing had happened, how she had let the wrong words slip and how she'd been in a daze ever since. When she finished, she looked at Miranda. "I suppose you've been talking with Mr. Dugan..."

Miranda nodded. "He's not happy. But he can't exactly fire you just because you're a lesbian. It doesn't affect your work." Nadine nodded. "You'll have to be on eggshells for a while, but..." She chewed her bottom lip. "It's a small town, Dean. It seems like the end of the world now, but in two weeks someone will find a bottle of Rogaine in Sheriff Rucker's desk drawer and your sexual preference will be yesterday's news. I just wanted to stop by and make sure you knew that nothing was going to change at the station."

Nadine nodded gratefully. "Thanks. Thank you, Miranda." She looked on the verge of tears and Miranda looked away.

"So, this is your place..."

"Don't get jealous; I'm not interested in selling."

Miranda smirked. "Well, I'm not going to force you if you don't want to leave."

Nadine nodded and suddenly said, "Oh, God! The... t-the Squire Days! I'm supposed to broadcast from..." She turned to Miranda with wide, fearful eyes. "I can't. Miranda, please, tell me I don't..."

"It's okay," Miranda interrupted. "I figured you wouldn't be up to it, so I asked Ben to cover you."

Nadine exhaled and pushed a stray hair out of her face. Miranda lifted her hand to touch her face, but, unsure where the line of appropriateness had been drawn, let it drop back to her lap. She chewed her lip and said, "I should probably go..."

"Right. Of course. Th-thank you for coming by to make sure I was..."

"Sure, sure."

They went to the door, Miranda trailing behind Nadine slightly. Before Nadine disengaged the locks, she turned and suddenly wrapped her arms around Miranda. Miranda, unsure what the proper etiquette was, patted Nadine on the back and waited for the hug to end. She smelled like soap and water, so she couldn't possibly smell sexy... right? And of course, there was the press of body against body and the realization Nadine was almost definitely not wearing anything under that robe...

Miranda kicked herself. *God, I've really been leaning on the 'she wouldn't be receptive' excuse for ages. Now that I know she *might* be receptive, it's like I got the rug pulled out from under me.*

Nadine retreated before Miranda's thoughts could go any further, swiping at her eyes with both hands. "Ugh, look at me." She sniffled and regained her composure. "Thank you for coming by, Miranda. No matter what else happens, I'll... I'll remember that you were kind to me."

Miranda nodded and waited as the locks and chain were pulled back. She stepped into the foyer and turned back. "Don't worry, Nadine. I'm sure everything will work out fine. Just you wait."

Nadine nodded, but was obviously unconvinced. "Thanks," she said as she shut the door. "Thanks for trying to make me feel better."


Tourists still came to the island. The ferry arrived and deposited its current quota of Midwesterners oblivious to the scandal. The people and their cameras flowed onto the island like lemmings. They were the children walking into the middle of a fight between their parents. The whispers grew more hushed, the attitudes shifted ever-so-slightly, but the tension was still there, just under the surface.

Repeat visitors noticed that the locals seemed subdued. They were slightly disappointed that their memories of a bright and friendly island were fading in the harsh light of reality. Last time, they were sure, locals had greeted strangers with a smile and welcomed them in loud, booming voices. Now they huddled amongst themselves, talking quietly and ending conversations as soon as a tourist came within earshot. The visitors all chalked it up to romanticizing memories and went on with their itineraries.

Still, nothing else really changed. The tourists snapped their pictures, went whale-watching and patiently waited for the next ferry to take them back to the mainland as they always had.

One of the tourists would later tell a friend, "It was the weirdest thing I've ever felt. It was like one of those old horror movies where you come across a small town, everyone's secretive, and then you find out there's an alien spaceship buried under the local diner. I'm just glad to be out of that place."

On the island, no one dared come out too strongly for either side. If they defended Nadine Butler too strongly, suspicions would begin to rise that they themselves were gay. But if they demonized her, they were worried about being slapped with the labels of intolerant and homophobic.

A few people did raise their voices without caring what anyone else thought. Eleanor Nelson demanded they take Nadine off the air immediately and began quietly investigating whether they could legally kick her off the island entirely. "I mean," she huffed to her tea group, "there *must* be some kind of provision in the island charter..." Most of her inquiries were to Sheriff Rucker, who by the end of Sunday afternoon had promised to use any 'exile clause' he found to get rid of Eleanor herself.

Nathaniel Butler spoke to any and all who would listen that he didn't know what had happened to his daughter, but assured them that it was nothing he'd done. If anything, he had tried to make sure she stayed on the right path, not that she'd listened, not that any kid ever did. If his wife hadn't been standing next to him, he most likely would have denied being related to her at all. Tamara, on the other hand, kept her back to the main area of the store so the customers wouldn't notice that she was crying.

Kate demanded an explanation as to why her article had been so significantly changed. Her boss reamed her about writing articles people would want to read. She argued that she should have a say over the kinds of things that went with her by-line. Her boss countered with a suggestion that she be moved to the obituary pages. Kate finally gave in. After all, what the hell good would a retraction do now? She spent the day at her desk, staring at her Far Side calendar, wishing she could bring herself to laugh.

Miranda spent most of Sunday on the phone with Thomas Dugan defending Nadine and her choice to keep her on staff. He told her that he owned the station and could fire them both if necessary. She reminded him that Nadine could sue him for wrongful termination and end up owning the station. A lot of posturing, a lot of threats and Dugan finally relented and "decided" to let Nadine stay on. For the time being.

Miranda actually had to thank him before she hung up and then resisted the urge to take another shower. Speaking with Thomas Dugan felt dirtier than sleeping with a ditzy twenty-year-old whose name she didn't even remember. No, wait, her name had been Jessica. She rubbed her forehead and decided the time had come to stop drinking at Squire Days.

Nadine spent the night in the bathtub. She wore a pair of boxer shorts and a tank top, left the bath drained, and just stared at the tile wall. She didn't want to think. She didn't want to make a decision or speak lest something else come out. "Hello, how are you today, I'm doing fine, like I was on the day I stole ten dollars from my Mom's purse when I was seven."

At eight pm, Kate resumed her vigil outside Nadine's apartment door. She left at ten, dragging herself up the stairs and into bed.

If she'd stayed twenty more minutes, she would have prevented the first act of vandalism.


To Be Continued in Chapter Six

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