The Christmas Boat
by Geonn Cannon
Nadine hurried out of the bathroom, still wrapping the towel around herself as she rounded the foot of the bed. She grabbed her ringing cell phone and silenced White Christmas mid-tune. She didn't even need to check the ID; she knew who it was. "Hi," she said as she dropped onto the mattress. "Tell me you're back early."
"Almost," Miranda said. "We're waiting for the ferry to start loading."
"You're still on the mainland?" Nadine said. Her voice had reached near-whine levels. In the year she and Miranda had been together, this past week had been their longest separation. Miranda had gone to the annual Broadcasting Convention in San Diego. Nadine, worried people would see it as favoritism if she got an extra week off before Christmas, had reluctantly turned down the invitation to go with her.
After two days, she had started to regret the decision. After a week, she thought she would go crazy without seeing Miranda, touching her, being with her as soon as possible. The condo was gorgeous, comfortable, home, but it had been cold and empty without Miranda.
"How have things been there?"
"Cold," Nadine said. She crossed her legs and reached down with her free hand to massage her foot. The bedroom floor was always freezing and it was even worse now. She squeezed her toes and said, "Snowy. We got so much snow! Six inches on Friday."
"Wow!" Miranda said. For most places in the northwest, six inches was nothing. But Squire's Isle hardly ever got more than an inch or two of fast-melting snow. "Any troubles?"
"No," she said. "The roads have been icy, but being on my bicycle has been easy enough. Most people keep the sidewalks swept and salted."
Nadine crossed her legs and bounced one foot. "How was the convention?"
"Dreadful. I spent the mornings being bored to death in the convention hall and the evenings flipping through the channels in my hotel room. I missed you."
"I missed you, too," Nadine said.
"You're the one who wanted to stay behind."
"Believe me, I regretted it immediately."
"You better have," Miranda said. She paused and Nadine closed her eyes, picturing her in her car, squinting against the morning sun and chewing on her bottom lip. "I should go..."
"No," Nadine said. "Just stay a little longer."
Miranda chuckled. "We're not even saying anything."
Nadine blushed. "I know. But..."
"I can stay on a little longer."
"Oh, I heard you on the radio earlier."
"Really? How was I?"
"Not as good as live. But I'm sure I'm the only one who noticed."
Nadine laughed. In previous years, the DJs had rotated the 12-hour Christmas Eve and Christmas Day shifts. Last year had been Hoagie and Willa, this year was supposed to have been Leah and Nadine's. But then Ben Jones, the weekend DJ, had come up with an idea that would let them all off the hook; an automated play list could be set up interspersed with pre-recorded station identification by the DJs. Nadine, Hoagie, Willa and Leah had all recorded thirty minutes worth of chatter and Ben's program would play them at certain intervals during the day.
The idea had seemed brilliant at first. Then Nadine realized her Christmas would be spent alone at home rather than sleeping in with Miranda. But nevertheless, her snippets were recorded and she had no reason to go in. So she had spent the morning baking cookies, setting up their Christmas turkey and decorating the living room for their party later. She glanced at the clock and said, "Your ferry is about to start loading, isn't it?"
"Your ship has come in."
Miranda laughed and said, "Yeah."
Nadine bit her bottom lip. "Thanks for calling. I'll see you in a couple of hours."
"Okay. Love you."
"I love you, too."
They hung up and Nadine turned on the clock radio. <i>I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus</i> was playing and she went back into the bathroom to blow-dry her hair. She dried off and finished getting dressed in time to hear her own voice coming from the radio. She paused and listened to herself.
"Good morning, people of Squire's Isle. Happy Christmas and Merry Holidays to everyone. No matter what you celebrate, I hope you're celebrating somewhere warm this Christmas Eve. We're continuing with the non-stop Christmas music; in the next hour we'll have John Lennon with <i>Happy Xmas (War is Over), Feliz Navidad,</i> and a certain song about a certain hippo. Thanks for making this Elf your holiday music helper."
She smiled and went to the dresser. She found her baggy red sweater and pulled it on over her t-shirt. She turned off the radio on the way out of the bedroom, humming "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer."
The ride from the mainland to the island took about eighty minutes with multiple stops at other islands between Squire's and the mainland. An hour and a half after Miranda's call, Nadine started finding reasons to go to the front door. She would spread salt on the walkway, listening for the crack of the ice that meant it was working, and then stood at the front gate and watched the road for signs of Miranda's car. She would go back into the house for five minutes and then walk back outside to check the sky to make sure it wasn't going to snow again.
On one of her return trips to the house, she heard a car pushing through the slush of the road. She turned, heart pounding, and smiled when Miranda's car turned into their driveway. She crossed the lawn, her feet sinking into the drifts and filling her shoes with snow, and caught up with Miranda as she climbed out of the car. "Baby," Nadine gasped.
She jumped into Miranda's arms and kissed her cheeks and lips. "I've missed you," Miranda sighed. They held each other tightly before the cold got to them and Miranda lowered Nadine to the ground. They walked into the house together and Miranda kicked the door shut behind them.
With the warm air around them, safe in the privacy of their own home, Miranda turned and pressed Nadine against the wall. Nadine hummed as Miranda kissed her, melted against the wall and hooked her leg over Miranda's hip. "Mm, Randy," Nadine gasped. Miranda smiled; it was a nickname only used in the heat of passion. Nadine had originally used it not realizing the name had a sexual connotation. When they realized, they both decided it would be a good secret name between them.
Miranda nuzzled Nadine's neck. "How long until the party?"
Nadine opened one eye to check her watch. "I told Kate to be here at one-thirty."
Miranda sighed and ran her hand over Nadine's sweater. She toyed with the ironed-on reindeer face and Nadine smiled. "Tonight?" she said, kissing the corner of Nadine's mouth.
"Mm, Santa will have to wait, huh?"
Miranda whispered into Nadine's ear, "Unless you want to dress up..."
Nadine shivered and kissed Miranda's cheek. "Get off me before it's too late to stop."
Miranda smiled and pulled back. She scanned the living room and finally noticed the decorations. Tinsel was strung over the top of each doorway and stockings hung over the never-used fireplace. The tree was aglow with white lights, which caught the sunshine and gave it a halo of natural light. There was the smell of shortbread cookies wafting in from the kitchen. The entire place felt so much like a home that Miranda wanted to cry. She clutched Nadine's hand and finally said, "Oh, honey. The place looks great."
"Well, I had to--" The doorbell rang and she frowned at it over her shoulder. "--had to do something while you were gone. There's no way Kate is this early." She left Miranda's side and went to answer the door. She cracked the door before she opened it all the way and uttered a quiet, "Oh..."
Miranda joined her and saw their guest on the front porch. Nathaniel Butler was still the strapping, muscular man he'd been at their first dinner, but now he actually met their eyes when he looked at them. It had been six months before he even spoke to her, another three before he called her by her first name instead of Ms. Powell. Nadine smiled and put her hand around Miranda's waist. "Hi, Daddy."
"Nadine." He nodded to Miranda and gestured with the package in his hands. "Your mother wanted me to drop this by since we're not having a party at the house this year."
Nadine took the present and said, "Oh... um, can you wait on a minute?" She handed the present to Miranda and disappeared into the house.
Miranda watched her go and turned back to Nathaniel. He looked as uncomfortable as she felt and drummed her fingers on the sides of the box. He forced a smile and rocked on his heels as she looked down at the tag. "To Nadine and Miranda" was written in cursive. She smiled, still happy about the fact that he was referring to her by name, and searched for something to say. "It's cold, huh?"
He looked at the snow on his boots. "It's been staying above thirty the past couple years. Guess it's our turn for a cold snap. Someone salted this porch, huh?"
She nodded. "I guess Nadine did. I've been out of town."
"Well, that's a smart girl..." He pursed his lips and looked out over the street. He was about to say something else when Nadine returned carrying a package of her own. She handed it to her father and said, "This is from both of us. It's for you and Momma."
He took the present and tucked it under his arm. "I'm sure she'll appreciate it."
Nadine moved back into the protection of Miranda's arm and said, "Thank you for stopping by, Daddy."
He grunted and said, "It's Christmas, after all. Merry Christmas, Nadine. Miranda."
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Butler."
"Merry Christmas, Daddy."
They watched him walk back down the path to his car, making sure he didn't slip on the ice, and waved good-bye as he pulled away. They closed the door and Nadine took the present from Miranda. "I have got to find out what they got us."
Miranda exhaled and said, "I was sure you would want to wait until tomorrow."
"Do you want..."
"No! I just meant I would've fought you. Open it!"
Nadine carried the package into the living room and put it on the coffee table. She peeled off the nametag and stuck it on Miranda's shirt. She peeled back the tape on one side and slid out a small wooden box. 'NADINE & MIRANDA' was burnt into the wooden lid over a carving of a sailboat. "Oh, my God," Nadine gasped. She opened the lid with shaking hands and said, "Oh, my <i>God</i>."
Miranda looked at the tiny, fragile wooden sailboat nestled inside the box. The sail was real cloth, the hull of the boat painted red and white. Nadine picked it up and Miranda saw that the deck had intricately detailed props like ropes, a capstan and a tiny little captain standing on the stern. Nadine turned it over in her hands and said, "Daddy used to carve these all the time, out of driftwood."
"As Christmas presents?" Miranda asked. She fingered the fabric of the sail, marveling at how realistic it looked. Not like a toy, but like a boat seen from a distance.
"Uh-uh," Nadine said. She was frowning, the tiny scar between her eyebrows twisting with confusion. "No, not for Christmas."
Miranda frowned. "What?"
"He said the fine fabric was the woman and the wood was the strength of the man. Neither did much alone, but together they could harness the wind. He only gave them as wedding presents."
She closed the box and ran her fingers over the names carved on the lid. "Oh, my God, Miranda."
Miranda kissed Nadine's temple and brushed her hair. "You gonna be okay?" she whispered.
"Yeah," Nadine said. She turned and kissed Miranda's lips.
There was a knock at the door and Nadine groaned. "We're going to have to hang a do-not-disturb sign on our front door."
Miranda pecked Nadine's lips one last time and said, "Find a place to put the boat. I'll get the door."
Nadine carefully carried the boat to the mantle while Miranda headed to the front door. She smoothed down her blouse and smiled as she opened the door on Kate Price and Amy Wellis. "Hi! Merry Christmas!"
Kate held up her armful of presents and pies and said, "Help!"
Miranda took the presents and leaned in to peck Kate's cheek. "Glad you could make it! Come on in, get warm."
Kate stepped inside and Amy stepped onto the porch. They exchanged a quick, awkward hug, forced to contend with the presents in Miranda's hands and the casserole dish in Amy's. They went inside and Miranda kicked the door shut. She told Amy she could set up in the kitchen and carried the presents into the living room. She knelt to add them to the stack under the tree. She noticed there were a few more since the last time she'd been home, but didn't have time to investigate before Kate and Nadine came in from the kitchen.
"I told you she'd bring pecan pie," Nadine said.
"A woman after my own heart," Miranda said.
"Amy cooked them all," Kate said. "She's amazing in the kitchen."
Amy smiled shyly and shrugged. "What can I say? Everyone wants a goddess in the kitchen and a..."
"A tight-lipped girlfriend in front of friends," Kate interrupted.
They laughed at that and Miranda said, "So... presents first? Or lunch?"
"Lunch," Kate said. "I'm about to starve smelling Amy cook all morning."
"Lunch it is," Miranda said. "Dean, want to help me serve?"
Nadine nodded and they all went into the kitchen to prepare their meal.
After lunch, they retired to the living room for presents. Nadine and Miranda took the couch while Kate took position by the tree and handed out gifts. When each woman had a present, they started tearing at the wrapping paper. Nadine was careful to keep her paper intact, pulling the tabs of tape up and unfolding the wrapping like some intricate reverse origami. Kate tore hers open and Miranda was somewhere between the two. Amy used her fingernail to tear the paper and wadded up each piece as it came off, forming a small pile next to her thigh.
Miranda had bought Nadine a pair of forest green slippers, for those cold mornings when her toes became ice. "They're as much for me as they are for you," Miranda assured her. Nadine thanked and kissed her before taking off her shoes and replacing them with the slippers.
Kate received a box of stationary - "From the Desk of Kathryn Price" - to replace her To Whom It May Concern pad. The pens were inscribed with her initials and she actually grew teary as she thumbed through the stack of notepads. She hugged Miranda and Nadine before she began exploring the contents of the set; pens, three personalized notepads and envelopes all in a lovely box.
Nadine had gotten Miranda a footbath with massaging jets. Most days, Miranda came home and begged for a foot rub before she was good for anything. Nadine assured her that she didn't mind the foot rubs and Miranda assured her they would continue. They would just be a little more frivolous from now on. Nadine shivered and nuzzled Miranda's cheek.
The package from Nadine and Miranda for Amy was a box of assorted fruit teas. Other than the people in the room, it was a little-known fact that Amy hated coffee despite owning a coffee shop. She preferred to drink tea. She squealed happily at the gift and began exploring the different varieties of tea the box offered. Miranda said, "That's a great gift, Nadine."
Kate smirked. "I guess we can see who the shopper in the family is."
Miranda said, "Hey, cut me some slack! I've been out of town!"
"That's right," Kate said. "The convention. When did you get back?"
Kate raised her eyebrows. "This morning?"
"Mm-hmm. About fifteen minutes before you showed up, actually."
Kate put down her stationary set and said, "Amy, let's go for a walk."
Amy, Nadine and Miranda all looked at her. "What?" Nadine said.
Kate took Amy's hand and helped her up. "We're going downtown. Drive around for about an hour."
"We'll be back for the parade," Kate said. "But... we're going to get out of your hair for about an hour." She put on her coat and said, "Miranda <i>just</i> got back. Tell me you don't have ideas on how to spend an hour to yourselves."
Nadine blushed and Miranda rubbed the back of her neck self-consciously.
Kate kissed Nadine's cheek and said, "We'll call before we head back."
"Have fun," Amy said, having finally caught up with what was going on.
They showed themselves out and Miranda smiled at Nadine. "You know they only left so we can have sex."
"Right," Nadine said. She stood up and pulled Miranda off the couch.
"It doesn't make you feel a little... self-conscious?"
Nadine was walking backwards, pulling Miranda towards the bedroom. "Do I sense a little performance anxiety, Miss Powell?"
"No..." Miranda said.
"Well, then. Let me welcome you back to the island the Hawaiian way."
"When you come back to the island... you get a nice lei."
Afterwards, on top of the covers, Nadine kissed Miranda's throat and rolled to the side of the bed. She pulled on her boxer shorts and her brand-new slippers before hurrying out of the bedroom. Miranda propped herself up on one elbow and watched Nadine's ass all the way into the hall. When Nadine returned, she was carrying the little box she'd gotten from her father. She climbed under the covers and opened it again.
"The sail is the woman?"
"It provides all the power, while the man - the wood - provides the strength and foundation."
"Wedding presents," Miranda said. She bent and kissed Nadine's shoulder.
"This is huge, babe."
Nadine wiped her cheeks and kissed Miranda's forehead. She put the boat on the nightstand, far enough away from the alarm clock so it wouldn't be broken in a fit of snooze-buttonitis. She scooted down and hugged Miranda. "We should get dressed before Kate and Amy get back."
"She said they'd call."
"Shh," Miranda whispered. "We can spare ten minutes."
Nadine smiled and put her head on Miranda's shoulder.
When Kate and Amy returned - scarves wrapped around their eyes until they were sure everyone was decent - they opened the rest of the presents; a ginger- and lemon-scented hand care soap for Amy, a robe for Miranda, a leather aviator's cap with earflaps for Nadine, leather gloves for Kate. At five, they all bundled up and climbed into Kate's car to ride down to the ferry lanes.
They parked along Spring Street with a bevy of other vehicles and hiked up to the ferry lanes. It was already starting to get dark and a row of sailboats were lined up out in the harbor. Miranda led the way onto the bleachers that had been set up outside Gail's Seafood Shack and they sat in a row; Miranda, Nadine, Amy and Kate. When a cold gust of wind blew over them, Nadine wrapped her arm around Miranda's and pressed against her. Miranda wrapped her arm around Nadine's shoulder and rubbed her arm against the cold.
Nadine marveled at the easiness of it all. A year ago, when she'd been in the closet, she would have just braved the cold for fear of people reading into two women cuddling like this. Now, no one around them even batted an eye. It was far from the norm, people still reacted when they discovered she was gay, but she now felt she could introduce Miranda as her girlfriend without making front page news. She squeezed Miranda's hand and pressed her face into the warmth of her coat.
As they waited for the festivities to begin, they chatted idly about the weather and the goings-on at the radio station. Nadine had packed cookies in a Ziploc bag and handed them out, then offered extras to the people seated around them. When the sun was low in the sky and it was starting to get dark, the restaurants behind them turned on their white Christmas lights.
Mayor Jameson Dugan was greeted with tepid applause as he stepped onto the main platform. He waved to the crowd and bent over the podium, tapping the microphone with one gloved finger. "Good evening, people of December Harbor! I am your mayor, Jameson Dugan, and welcome to the annual lighted boat parade!" Another round of applause, this time far more enthusiastic. "In a few moments, those lovely boats lined up behind me will begin rolling toward the ferry dock. The participants will be announced by our emcee, the lovely Leah Nettles from our very own KELF."
Leah waved from her seat and Nadine and Miranda both whistled for their coworker.
Dugan continued, "If you'd like to vote for a winner, ballots are available inside Gail's Seafood, Joe Lack's Pizza and any of the fine stores along the promenade here. Vote before midnight tonight and our winners will be announced on Thursday. Now, ladies and gentlemen, the lighted boat parade!"
He blew a whistle and turned to the harbor, waving both arms over his head. The first boat in the line came to life with red, green and white Christmas lights dotting its hull. A giant plastic Rudolph on the deck rising over the ship's wheel. The captain was dressed in an elf costume. He waved as the ship turned slowly to present its opposite side. Happy Holidays was written in lights on the side with a wreath forming the 'O.' Leah introduced the captain and his ship for voting purposes and the crowd applauded.
One by one, the boats came forward and presented their decorations. Leah named them all, the crowd applauded appropriately. Rudolph was a popular choice, mostly for the added light his nose provided, but there were also Grinches, Santas, elves and an assortment of gingerbread characters.
The last boat of the evening was the Santa's Sleigh. It came all the way to the dock and deposited Santa and Mrs. Claus on the island. They waved to the crowd as they made their way to the waiting fire truck for their trip to the hospital. Nadine wasn't sure who had Santa duty this year, but last year Joe "Hoagie" Hogan had gotten the honor and had been, in Nadine's opinion, the best Santa she'd ever had the honor of watching.
Leah thanked everyone for their enthusiasm and reminded them to vote before she put down her microphone. Kate whispered and Nadine and Miranda looked over. Amy had fallen asleep with her head on Kate's shoulder. "Do you want to wait for a ride?" she whispered.
"No," Miranda said. "We can walk." Nadine agreed and they whispered their goodnights. They eased their way off the bleachers past Kate and the sleeping Amy. They waved good-night and Miranda put her arm around Nadine. "It's a long walk," she said. "You sure you don't want to wait for Kate?"
"No," Nadine said. She put her hand on Miranda's stomach and said, "I want to enjoy tonight. Can't do that crammed in the back of a car." She smiled and rested her head on Miranda's shoulder.
"Well, you <i>could</i>," Miranda said. She nudged Nadine with her elbow and said, "It was nice. Kate and Amy."
"It was. They're so cute together."
"The tea was a very nice gift."
Nadine nodded. "Did I mention I loved my slippers? They're adorable. Just what I needed. Thank you."
"I have something else for you to unwrap when we get home."
"Oh..." Nadine smiled and said, "Now I'm regretting that we didn't wait for the car." Miranda laughed and Nadine tightened her hand on her stomach. "Hey, do we have time to stop by my parent's house?"
Miranda nodded. "Thinking about the boat?"
"Hard not to, with the parade and all."
"Sure, we can stop by there." She kissed Nadine's temple.
The Butlers lived in a small house not far from the condo Nadine shared with Miranda. It was directly behind the high school and security lights cast a pale, full-moon glow on the front yard. Miranda squeezed Nadine's hand and stopped at the edge of the driveway. "I'll stay here."
"No, Miranda, I..."
"This is a conversation <i>you</i> should have with him." She kissed Nadine's lips and said, "Go on. I'll be right here."
Nadine nodded and squeezed Miranda's hand. She turned and walked up onto the porch. As soon as she rang the doorbell, she wanted to turn and run. She wanted to grab Miranda and duck behind a bush. But no, she couldn't hide. She had to know if the boat meant what she thought. If it was just a boat or if it--
The porch light came on and she stepped back from the screen door. Her mother appeared at the crack of the door before she opened it wide. "Oh, Nadine! What in the world are you doing here?"
"Hi, Mama. I... Is Daddy home?"
"He already went to bed."
"Oh. Right." She chewed on her thumbnail and said, "Well... I wanted to ask him about the present he dropped off today... the s-sailboat."
"You remember what it means, right?"
Nadine nodded. "Yeah. It's... why I'm so confused, Mama. Daddy made them for wedding presents, right?"
"He spent all last week on it. Carving, making sure the mast was right, adding all those little details..."
"Mama, it's... a wedding present."
Tamara Butler nodded. "And it's for you and Miranda. You need it spelled out how he sees you?" She smiled and pinched her daughter's cheek. "God knows what turned him around, but he's accepted her. He knows you love her and that she loves you back. He knows you're happy. I guess that's enough for him."
Nadine pushed her glasses up and wiped her eyes. "Tell Daddy we'll come over tomorrow... okay? Christmas lunch, just like... old days?"
"I'm sure he'll like that."
"It won't put pressure on you or..."
"I bought enough for four," Tamara said.
Nadine laughed. "Mother knows best, huh?"
"No, honey," Tamara said. "I've been buying enough for three since you moved out. Starting last year, I've bought for four." She rose onto her toes and kissed Nadine's cheek. "It'll be good to have you back, dear."
"Thank you, Mama."
She nodded. "Good night, Nadine."
Nadine stepped off the porch and walked back to Miranda.
Nadine put her arm around Miranda and guided her back to the sidewalk. "It was a wedding present."
Miranda raised her eyebrows. "Wow. Never thought I'd see the day."
"You're not alone," Nadine said. She put her head on Miranda's shoulder and said, "Daddy made me a sailboat."
"I know," Miranda smiled. She looked up at the sky, the sounds of the party down by the dock reaching them even this far into town. "You want to head home?"
"No. I'm not cold enough yet."
"Well, when you get cold enough..."
"I know," Nadine interrupted. "You'll warm me up."
Miranda pressed her nose to Nadine's cheek and smiled.
They walked away from her parent's house under the light of the full moon, arms wrapped around each other as they walked towards home.
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