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Daoine Maite was decidedly not for tourists. Sean Penney, the owner, seemed to treat his pub's harbor-view position with disdain. The bar stood at the head of Front Street, forming a dead end in front of the marina entrance. It was a stone building, the upstairs restaurant inviting people in with soft lights, big windows and a romantic aura. The restaurant was called Clurichaun, named after an Irish fairy said to always be drunk. Their sign had an image of a small leprechaun smiling, a frosty mug in one hand and the opposite arm wrapped around a tall jug of wine.
Whereas the restaurant welcomed tourists with open arms, the bar downstairs was a different matter. The entrance was located off to the side, around the corner from Clurichaun's front door. The only indication that it was a public house was the small sign hanging at the top of the stone stairs. It read simply "Daoine Maite" with a hand pointing down with no indication of what might be waiting below. The few tourists who saw the sign usually ignored the pull of their curiosity and went with the welcoming, well-lit restaurant.
If one took the time, however, to go down the four steps and push open the heavy wooden door, they usually found themselves unwilling to leave. Dark wood paneling closed off all the walls, making the place feel small and homey. Lanterns burned on every table and Penney seemed to always be behind the bar. He was a huge Irishman, a cartoon leprechaun blown up to human-size. His shirtsleeves were rolled up to his elbows, his red-orange hair thinning on top. When he let out a laugh, it filled the small room as its own entity.
The wall across from the door was taken up by a stage. From six in the evening until whenever they got tired, a band called the Keeners performed traditional songs. They tried to stick to Ireland folk songs, in honor of Penney and his bar, but they occasionally wavered to Scottish, English, and Whatever-the-hell-sounds-good-ish, as they had once proclaimed to a particularly rowdy crowd.
On most nights, Daoine Maite was seen as a haven to escape the flood of tourists. Tonight, however, even the regular patrons were being turned away at the door by a small handwritten sign. Written in Sean Penney's unmistakable chicken scratch, it read: "Sorry, folks. Private party in progress. Come back tomorrow, I'll buy ya a pint. S.P."
Inside, the room was full of actors and former actors. Dana sat at the bar with Lucy, letting Sean fill up another mug. "How many's 'at make fer ya?" Penney asked.
"Not near enough?" Dana said.
"Ah, I hear ya." He handed the mug back to her and said, "Be careful headin' home, girl."
She nodded and returned to her table. Hunch was leaning forward, the source of his nickname was the fact that he never seemed to sit straight up, and jabbing his finger against the wooden table top. Each jab produced a short, thick knock. "So I'm standing there, full costume, sweatin' down my ass, knocking on that stupid door. Miss Tina Pool was <i>supposed</i> to open it for me, so I could give my speech. Well, the door <i>finally</i> opens and who's standing there? Paulie!" He leaned back and gasped at his audience as he had then. "Paulie isn't in my scene, I think." He tapped his temple and said, "And my scene wasn't for another eight minutes. I wasn't supposed to've been knockin' t'all!"
The barmaid laughed. "What'd you do?"
"I bowed politely to Paulie and tol' him I'd left something at home and I'd be right back."
The crowd erupted with laughter, even those who had heard the story before. Dana slipped into a chair next to Hunch and he put an arm around her shoulders without thinking. Hunch was harmless, married and would never make a move on her no matter what she did or said. The arm was just a sign of camaraderie; Hunch was one of the actors who'd been let go.
"I'm goin' ta miss the ol' place," Hunch sighed. "Lots'a stories in that theatre. And celebrities! You know Brad Pitt?"
"Yeah?" the barmaid said, eyes twinkling with anticipation.
"Well, we once had a guy who was an extra in a Brad Pitt film."
"Oh, you!" the barmaid laughed.
He hoisted his glass and drained it. "More liquor, my dear! Keep us lubricated so we don't have to think of our predicament for one more night."
The barmaid sashayed off and Hunch tightened his arm around Dana's shoulders. "How ya doin', kid?"
"Me?" she scoffed. "Hell, I still have a job. Don't worry about me."
"It'll be you and a bunch of snot-nosed know-nothings," Hunch scoffed. "I knew you would get to be a star, but not like <i>this</i>. Hell, girl, anyone could be a star if they didn't have any competition." He picked up the dish of peanuts, crushed a few in his beefy hand and tossed the nuts into his mouth. "You deserve better."
She reached up and squeezed his hand. The barmaid returned with a full mug and Hunch toasted Dana with it. "To forgettin' a little longer."
She looked at the empties the barmaid was clearing off. "You sure you should still be drinking?"
"I am not yet drunk, so yes. I should still be drinking."
All around them, people were reminiscing about their careers at the Rose. They had to be pressing the fire code to its limits, but Sean wasn't about to kick any of them out. Dana felt crushed on all sides, surrounded by people but still alone. She drained her glass and extricated herself from Hunch's arm. As she walked closer to the bar, people smiled at her, stopped her to offer a hug or kiss her cheek, but all of them had their own circle of friends. She never hesitated, never joined in a conversation. No one offered her a seat and the seat she'd had next to Hunch had already been filled.
She rounded the edge of the stage until she reached the small corridor that ran along the back of the bar. The bathroom doors were marked, naturally, as "Lads" and Lassies." She knocked on the women's room door, listened, and then stepped inside. The bathroom was small and cramped, with only enough room for a toilet and a sink. She turned on the faucet and splashed her face, trying to stay awake and also to wash away any remnants of her tears. It was pushing one in the morning and no one wanted to be the first to end the party.
She had spent a good half hour crying on her couch before she decided it wasn't doing anyone, least of all her, any good. She was one of the chosen few who'd been kept on at the theatre. The others needed her support, needed to know they weren't being rejected on all fronts. So she'd thrown together an outfit and got there just as the Keeners were leaving the stage after their first set.
She wiped her face, dried her cheeks with a few squares of toilet paper and stepped out of the bathroom just as the Keeners were returning to the stage. They immediately began a round of "I'm a Rover" that got the entire bar stomping their feet.
Regan Duffy, the lead singer, had shoved her red hair under a cap that was pushed low over her eyes. She was wearing a white t-shirt with no bra, her gray slacks held up by thick black suspenders. As she carried the bar through the sing-along song, sweat poured down her cheeks and strands of hair slipped free of her cap. She caught Dana staring and gave her a wink on the line, "She raised herself up with the greatest of pleasure, she raised herself up and she let him in."
Dana blushed and returned to her seat. Hunch was in the midst of another thrilling tale of backstage life and Dana eased his mug away from him. Despite what he said, he wasn't the gentlest drunk and he wasn't the best judge of when he'd had enough. The barmaid took the half-full mug and carried it away.
"Where's my drink?"
"You cut yourself off," Dana said.
"Oh, right," Hunch said. "Anyway, the costumes were late, so I didn't get a fitting..."
Dana listened as the band continued playing. For some songs, Regan sang them in the traditional Irish rather than translating. She gave each song her all, bowed her head on the ballads and threw herself around for the more raucous songs. By the time the band took another break, Regan's shirt was soaked. If the room had been any more sober, she would've had a hard time breaking away from the hands trying to grab her as she came off stage.
Hunch was practically comatose and the rest of the table was morosely contemplating the peanut bowls. Dana slipped away and followed Regan to the bathrooms. She knocked on the door again and this time it swung open. Dana smiled and let herself be pulled inside.
Regan kissed Dana hungrily. "You weren't singing along," Regan complained as she worked the button of Dana's pants.
"Kind of a down night," Dana said.
"I'm down with... down..." Regan smiled. She pinned Dana to the wall and worked her hand into the open fly of Dana's jeans. Dana spread her legs and kissed Regan's sweaty throat. Regan purred and stroked her fingers against Dana's panties. "I thought you weren't going to come."
"That's still to be determined," Dana gasped. She spread her fingers on the wall and pressed her hips against Regan's hand.
"You know what I mean," Regan said, her voice thick with Irish brogue. "When I didn't see you out there during the first set, I was broken-hearted."
Dana kissed Regan's lips and moved her hands to push her jeans down. "Not naked," Regan said. "I still have to go on stage."
"Your nipples are showing through your shirt."
Regan looked down and hissed, "Shite."
Dana laughed and cupped Regan's breast. "Everyone's too blotto to notice."
"'Cept you," Regan said.
Dana smiled. "You'd be pissed if I didn't notice."
"Right you are, lass."
Her pants around her thighs, Dana closed her eyes and tilted her head back. Regan knelt down, kissing Dana through her shirt. She knelt on the bathroom floor, kissed Dana's thighs and then pushed her panties aside. Dana gasped and pushed the hat off Regan's head. She grabbed a handful of bright red hair and pushed her forward. As she panted, Regan brought her hands together as if in prayer and pushed the extended tips of her index fingers against Dana's pussy lips.
Dana cried out and thrust her hips against Regan's hands and mouth. Regan was a pro; she knew right where to touch, when to back off, how to drag out every instant until Dana was sure she could take no more. And then... and then... Dana covered her own mouth, her eyes closing as she screamed into her palm.
Regan nuzzled Dana's thighs until she stopped quivering. She stood and smiled as she tugged Dana's pants up. They kissed and Dana said, "What, no tit for tat?"
"Not tonight, love. Gotta get back out on stage."
"You might want to change shirts. Or at least get some underwear."
Regan laughed as she opened the door. "What, and throw away all those tips and free drinks I'm gonna get?" She pinched her nipples through her sweat-soaked t-shirt and grunted as she backed out of the bathroom.
Dana laughed and made sure she didn't reek too badly of sex before she headed back out. She saw Regan's cap on the floor and picked it up. She set it on her head as she left the bathroom and rejoined the party. Regan was back onstage, out of breath, still sweaty, her hair standing in waves from Dana's fingers. "I wanna," she started to say. She swept her hair out of her face, caught Dana's eye across the bar and winked. "I wanna toss this one out to a very special person out there in the crowd who is wearin' my hat right now."
The crowd whooped and applauded and the ones close enough slapped Dana on the back as she passed. The Keeners sang a fast, nearly-incomprehensible song that was heavy on the foot stomps and made sure Regan jumped up and down as much as possible. The response was as she had expected, and soon the stage at her feet was covered by coins, dollar bills and the "Buy the Lass a Pint!" coasters Sean sold and could be exchanged free drinks.
Dana stayed until three in the morning. She gave Regan's hat to Sean and stumbled up the stone steps to the real world. As soon as the cold night air hit her, the hours spent in the pub vanished like an extremely vivid dream. She wrapped her scarf around her neck and tugged it up over her nose and mouth. Global warming, my ass, she thought, wondering how it could be so teeth-chattering cold so close to the beginning of their summer season.
She wished that she'd kept Regan's hat as she tightened her coat and bowed her head against the unseasonably cold breeze. She wasn't even going to try driving after all those mugs, and she had a decent walk ahead of her.
She knew the way home well enough to let her mind wander a bit. She crossed between the courthouse and the farmer's market, minding the "Keep off the Grass" sign and following the well-lit pathway. She thought about the fact that she was walking, at three in the morning, through what basically amounted to a dark alleyway. She had no Mace, no gun, no knife... in any other town she would basically be fair game to any rapist, mugger or attacker who happened along.
Not that December Harbor was a town devoid of crime. They had occasional outbursts of violence, a murder once or twice a year, bar fights and broken street lights and the sort of nonsense that always happens when you get a group of human beings together in a confined area. But for the most part, December Harbor was a place where a woman could walk the streets alone without carrying a weapon.
Full of hometown pride and feeling that she still needed a bit more fresh air before she headed in, she didn't turn at her corner. She kept walking, past the high school and into the neighborhood beyond. A few dogs barked as she passed too close to their fences, some motion-sensitive porch lights snapped on when they spotted her, but mostly the neighborhood felt dead.
She was about to turn around and go home when she spotted a tiny guesthouse hidden behind a larger home. There was a single lamp burning inside and she could see someone moving around through the curtains. She smiled and turned away before anyone accused her of being a Peeping Tom. Or... Peeping Teresa. Whichever.
The lamp switched off and Dana whispered a quiet "good night" to her fellow nighthawk. She turned away from the dark house, lowered her face against the cold and began the walk back to her apartment.
Gretchen was still up at three, still clicking around online. She'd printed out a couple of monologues that she thought would be good for the audition and had the added benefit of looking easy. After that, she started searching for Dana Purcell. All she found were group shots of the Squire's Knights baseball team and a few random mentions in the theatre review section.
She got tired of scrounging for info about Dana, so she typed the name of the play into the search engine. There were a few hits for vocal exercises, song lyrics and speech therapists before she found what she was looking for. The Sound of Your Voice was written by Paul Gee, who had been born and raised on Squire's Isle in the 1920s. He'd written fourteen plays in his career and all of them had been performed at the Rose. The Sound of Your Voice was the last play he'd ever written.
It had become a perennial favorite. It was performed at least once every season, from its premiere in 1936 until 1946 when "the play was visited with a horrible tragedy." The Register had the entire sordid story. At the end of Act Two, the character of Bianca Sutherland hangs herself in her bedroom. For the first time in ten years, something had gone wrong. Maura Hunter, the actress playing Bianca that year, had actually hanged herself during the scene.
When the play was revived in 1966, the paper did another feature on Maura Hunter's tragic end. The police who investigated her death had never determined whether it was murder, suicide or an accident. As far as she could tell, it had never been solved. She found a picture of Maura Hunter and was taken aback. She was gorgeous in the casually glamorous way most women from the forties seemed to be.
She was posed in a submissive pose; chin down, eyes cast towards the camera through thick lashes. Still, there was a challenge in her eyes that implied she'd have been right at home with the bra-burning housewives of the seventies.
She was dressed for the photo in a blouse with a loose lace collar, her dark hair loose around her head like a tamed breeze. The photograph was sepia-toned, but her eyes could be nothing but green or blue. She was breathtaking. Gretchen scrolled down, but couldn't find information about surviving relatives. It seemed like the only family Maura Hunter had had been the theatre.
"Better than what I have," she muttered. "An overprotective mother hen for a manager and a crush on a woman who probably doesn't even remember me." She printed out a few pages of the script to The Sound of Your Voice and turned off the computer. She had to be at work in five hours. She gathered her monologue pages and turned out the lamp, glancing out the front window as she locked the front door.
A blonde woman was passing by in front of the Schroeder house, scarf wrapped around her face and hands buried in her coat pockets. Gretchen smiled, glad she wasn't the only person awake in the world, and went on to bed.
Gretchen felt like she hadn't slept a wink all night. Her eyes were gritty, her mouth felt filled with cotton and she was bone-weary. After she'd finally turned off the computer and gone to bed, she had ended up laying there for nearly two hours, staring at the ceiling and thinking about Maura Hunter. She'd heard of women who possessed a 'haunting beauty,' but there was something about Maura's eyes that wouldn't let her go. Even in the sepia-toned photograph, her eyes had seemed alive and luminous.
When she'd finally fallen asleep at five, she'd dreamt of Maura. The way her hair had fallen over her eyes in some of the photos, the way she smiled in a way that implied she knew exactly who was really in charge. In some of the dreams, Maura spoke to her. Gretchen couldn't remember what had been said, exactly, but she remembered the softness of her voice. The speaking dreams had been in color. Maura's eyes were a brilliant green, her lips a fierce cherry red. She wasn't wearing the lace collar from the photograph, but an elegant sleeveless black ball gown cut to accentuate her cleavage.
Gretchen had woken a full half hour after her alarm had started ringing. She was curled in a ball, hand between her thighs, nearing her orgasm. She bit her lip, finished masturbating, and hurried into the shower. She washed her hands and thighs, dipped her head under the shower to get rid of her bed-head, and rushed to work. She didn't feel rested at all, but she couldn't call in sick this late. She dressed in a rush and had practically ran all the way to the store, effectively destroying all the good her shower had done.
Barbara looked up as the door was thrown open. "Well, well!" she chirped with a bright smile. "Looks like someone decided to sleep in today!"
Gretchen winced and walked around the counter. "Sorry, Barbara. Kind of a long night." She put on her blue smock and took Barbara's place behind the cash register. "I'm not that late, am I?"
"Not even an hour," Barbara assured her. "I'd make you stay late to make up for it, but I don't want to keep the place open late. Count yourself lucky!"
"I do," Gretchen said. "Sorry. It won't happen again. I'll work through lunch to make up for it."
Barbara picked up the newspaper she'd been reading and said, "Don't worry. We haven't had much business anyway." She walked to the back of the store and disappeared into her office.
As soon as she was alone, Gretchen slumped forward and covered her face with both hands. If it was a slow day, maybe Barbara would take pity on her. Maybe she would be able to go home, get few hours of decent sleep and then...
Her thoughts were interrupted by the bells over the door ringing. She wiped her face with both hands, blinked until her eyes focused and then forced a smile. "Good morning," she said. "Welcome to Funky Junk." Behind the two customers who'd just entered, she saw three more heading towards the store.
It was going to be a long day.
Dana played her messages as she dressed. More drunken calls from Hunch, random people wishing her luck and asking her to call them back. She smiled, but made no plans to return any of their calls. They were acquaintances, people she knew from the Rose and people she liked, but they weren't friends. She finished lacing up her sneakers and left the apartment in the capable hands of her answering machine.
She pulled on her coat, flipped her hair out of the collar, and made it halfway to her empty parking space before she realized she'd left her car at Daoine Maite. She cursed under her breath, checked her watch and decided it would take far less time to walk to the theatre than it would to walk to the bar, get her car and then drive. She resigned herself to the walk, tightened the belt of her coat and set off towards the theatre.
When she got to Spring Street, the main thoroughfare of the town, she paused and looked towards the harbor. She remembered her thoughts last night about the island's dual nature, and it was definitely on display this morning. She could see the latest batch of ferry deliveries milling around the shops and restaurants that lined either side of the street. A few were taking photographs, angling to get the best shot of the water around countless other potential Ansel Adamses.
And then, about two blocks away from where she stood, the tourists just... stopped. It was like there was an invisible line none of the newcomers dared cross. Coffee Table Books, the free bookstore and coffeehouse that catered mostly to ferry riders, seemed to be on the edge of the borderline. Almost everything on that side of the line - the shops, the whale museum - was tourist-land. Everything on this side - the library, schools, grocery stores - was for the locals.
She crossed the street and considered the duality of her small town. The tourists tended to leave the locals alone, and the locals tended to treat tourists like a necessary nuisance. It hardly seemed fair for a town as small as theirs to have two such separate lives. But it managed, somehow, and never seemed overwhelmed by all that was asked of it. Small as it was, it was still big enough for everyone who wanted it.
She smiled and tilted her head back to the sky. *December Harbor,* she thought. *I love you.*