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Hoagie was the one who finally answered. "We won't let them get you, Nadine. Trust us." He headed for the door and saw Billy anxiously ringing his mop with both hands. He paused and motioned downstairs with his head. "Come on, Billy. You wanna lend a hand?"
Billy nodded and said, "Anything for Miss Butler, Mr. Hogan."
Hoagie slapped him on the back and they ran to the stairs. As they passed Sue, he hooked his arm in her elbow and said, "I'm going to assume you want to leave, right?"
She looked nervously between Hoagie and Miranda. "Um... y-yes?"
"Not a problem," Hoagie said. "I totally understand. When we get downstairs, Bill and I are gonna make sure you get out okay."
Sue exhaled and said, "Thank you, sir."
Billy took the time to pull his mop free of the bucket as he hurried to follow Hoagie down the stairs. He brandished it like a sword, flinging droplets of soapy water against the walls. They could hear the glass front doors rattling as the people outside tried to fight the locks. Hoagie thought the locks would hold, but it was only a matter of time before one of them shattered the glass.
Hoagie ushered Sue towards the desk. "Call Sheriff Rucker and get him down here *now*! Billy, give me your mop."
Billy tossed the mop across the room and Hoagie snatched it out of the air. He spun around and moved towards the door, rapping the wooden end against the tile floor. Each crack sounded like a shotgun blast. The people at the front of the crowd saw him coming and began backing away from the doors. Hoagie swung the wet end of the mop at the doors and shouted, "All right! Back off and shut up!" When the din had died down, he said, "You are not getting into this station! You are not going to damage this building any further and you are most definitely not going to harm Miss Nadine Butler. Have I made myself crystal clear?"
A few heads nodded and Hoagie lunged forward. The crowd gasped and a few more of them scrambled to get off the front lines. He waved the mop once more for good measure, making sure no one was could tell if he was bluffing. Sue moved up behind him and ducked the swinging head of the mop. "The sheriff is on his way," she said, watching the crowd with wide eyes.
"Good," Hoagie said. "I look forward to having a nice little chat with him." He stepped forward and twisted the lock open. "Stand back! We're just letting this lady out so she can go home. Stay away from the doors." The crowd stepped into the street and Hoagie found himself wishing for a convenient garbage truck to come by and solve the problem for him. He opened the door wide enough for Sue and she stepped gratefully outside. "Tell Miss Butler that I'm pulling for her, but... I-I just..."
"She'll understand," Hoagie assured her. "Go on, get somewhere safe."
Sue ran off and Hoagie shut the door before anyone could get any bright ideas. He stepped back, keeping the mop by his side. He looked at Billy and said, "Well, looks like we're going to have us a good old-fashioned standoff."
"S'okay," Billy said. "I didn't have no plans today anyway."
Hoagie smirked and patted the man on the back. He couldn't help but feel a little remorseful. He was happy to help Nadine and all, but he had really been looking forward to napping at his desk.
Miranda had been left alone in the bullpen, Nadine entombed on the other side of the broadcasting booth. She pulled a chair from a nearby desk and sat down next to the glass. She leaned forward, resting one arm on her knee and keeping the other attached to her phone. "Nadine, I wish you had talked to me about this."
"Yeah, right," Nadine scoffed. "Like you would have let me get anywhere near this booth if I had told you what I'd planned?"
Miranda sagged back against the chair and looked down at her feet.
Nadine sighed. "I'm not saying this is the most brilliant idea I've ever had. But I had to do *something*, Miranda. Can you at least see that?"
"I can," Miranda relented. "I think it's either the bravest or the craziest thing I've ever seen. And I promise you, Nadine, as long as you're in there... I'll be out here for you."
Nadine put her hand on the glass and closed her eyes.
"I'm not crying."
"No, Nadine... dead air..."
Nadine's eyes snapped open and she turned around. The song had ended and they had been broadcasting silence for the past fifteen seconds.
She closed her phone and slid her chair back into place. She slapped the headphones on, missing one ear entirely as she jabbed the on-air button with her thumb. "Whoa, hey, sorry about that folks. We're having a bit of excitement here at the station... seems a couple of uninvited guests are trying to get in the front doors. But don't you worry. I've got some great friends here watching my back and we're not going down easy. Right now, I'm going to answer a few more of your calls. You're on the air with the Pixie. What's your name?"
"James." The voice was that of a teenager, not many years since it had cracked at puberty. "I-I... my name is James," he repeated.
"Hi, James, thank you very much for calling."
"Am I on the air right now?"
"You are. Would you prefer not to be?"
"No, it's okay. I just... I wanted to ask if you were really happier. Being out, I mean."
"I am," Nadine said. "With everything else I'm going through right now, it's a... relief to not have to worry about hiding it anymore." There was a pause on the other end of the line and she said, "James, are you still there?"
She smiled and said, "Take your time. You don't have to do or say..."
Nadine closed her eyes. "Have you told anyone else, James? Anyone at all...?"
"No," he said. He was sobbing quietly into the phone.
"James, listen to me. Find someone to talk to. Not me, I don't know you. Find someone you trust, a counselor, a teacher... anyone who you think will listen without judging and will help you figure this out. You've made a big step, but you've got a hard road, okay? You need to talk to someone."
"Promise me, James."
He sniffled and said, "I promise. Thank you, Nadine."
"Thank you for calling, James." She switched off and thought for a moment. Finally, she said, "James, if you're still listening, I wish you the best. I hope you find someone to support you because it's hell going through this alone. I've had someone wonderful holding my hand since this all started. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say I owe... my life to her." She turned in her seat to face Miranda. She had her head down and was wiping at her cheeks. Nadine smiled and turned back to face front. "If she's listening, I want to say... thank you to her. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you."
She cleared her throat and said, "Okay, uh... we're going to continue with our theme with a little mellow music. I'm going to dedicate *Bridge Over Troubled Water* by Simon and Garfunkel to my guardian angel. Stay tuned and keep listening to KELF."
She switched the song on and stood up. By the time she reached the door of the booth, Miranda was already there. Without thinking about defense or keeping the lines firmly drawn, she pulled the chair out from under the knob and pulled the door open. She fell into Miranda's arms and hugged her tightly, feeling Miranda's wet cheeks against her hair.
Holding Miranda, she felt something inside of her. It wasn't just seeing Miranda's house, it wasn't just the fact that she was gay. Kate was right, there was something there. She cupped the back of Miranda's head and whispered, "Thank you so much, Miranda."
Sheriff Rucker's squad car cut through the crowd like a knife, his siren bleating every few seconds. He parked at the curb outside the station doors and stepped out of the car. The crowd hadn't dispersed, but they were considerably more under control than they had been a few moments ago.
At the sight of the tan uniform and badge, Hoagie unlocked the door again. He held the door and handed the mop back to Billy. "No one gets in here but me or the Sheriff."
"You got it, Mr. Hogan. Ain't no one gonna hurt Miss Butler on my watch."
Hoagie smiled and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Rucker was already standing in front of the door and examining the buckled frame. "How many people were trying to knock this down?"
"Handful of 'em," Hoagie said. He scanned the crowd, but couldn't definitely point at any one person. "Can't name anyone specific, though."
"Problem with mobs," Rucker said. He scratched his cheek and said, "I already got them all on disorderly conduct, public nuisance, blocking a public roadway. I might as well add vandalism to the charges."
Hoagie smiled and said, "Glad you could make it, sheriff."
"Better than paperwork, son," he said. He scanned the crowd with Hoagie and said, "Why don't you explain what's going on?"
Before Hoagie could speak, another voice cried out, "Some madwoman has taken over my station!"
Hoagie and Rucker both turned towards the new voice. Thomas Dugan was hauling his six-foot-four frame out of his car. He pushed aside protesters that got in his way and planted his considerable bulk in front of the shorter, thinner police officer. "Sheriff," he said as he smoothed down the front of his suit, "I want to know what you plan to do about this."
Rucker didn't seem intimidated by the behemoth currently looming over him. He placed his hands on his hips and calmly said, "Well, until I have a little more information, Mr. Dugan, I'm not sure what I can do. I had my deputy down here watching things, but he was called away. Mr. Hogan here was just about to explain exactly what was going on when you interrupted."
Hoagie explained it as best he could. He recapped the morning meeting, and the leave of absence Nadine had apparently been slapped with. Dugan scoffed and stepped in. "She should have just been fired, saved everyone all this trouble. No last show, just a severance check - a generous severance package, I should mention, Sheriff - to avoid all of this ballyhoo."
"Ballyhoo?" Hoagie said.
Dugan sighed and slowly said, "It means a ruckus."
Hoagie frowned. "I know what it means, you patronizing twit, it's just a stupid-sounding word."
Rucker held up his hands and said, "Gentlemen. Please. Now, I know you're not going to like hearing this, Mr. Dugan, but at the moment I don't think there's anything we can do."
"According to Mr. Hogan here, Miss Butler was allowed one final show. Did you agree to that with the station manager?"
Dugan huffed and crossed his arms over his chest. "Well, yes, we spoke briefly about..."
"Okay," Rucker interrupted. "Mr. Hogan, how long is she usually on the air?"
"Eleven 'til five," Hoagie said. His smirk said that he knew exactly where this was going.
Rucker looked at his watch and shook his head. "Well, there you go, Mr. Dugan. So far all she's guilty of is doing her job. The job you paid her to do, that you gave her permission to do one last time."
Dugan gestured at the building. "I did *not* give her permission to do this! I have a serious complaint with the, the, the content of this program!"
"File a complaint with the station manager and it will be addressed in a timely manner," Rucker said, "It's the way you handle all other complaints, so I don't see why this should be any different."
"If I could add, Sheriff?" Rucker nodded and Hoagie turned to the owner. "In your own words, Mr. Dugan, you don't know a darned thing about being on the radio. Said it when you hired me. You told me that you'd always be a hands-off boss. Said you'd be happy to let us follow our inspirations to make our shows the very best. It's how I became Hoagie and how Nadine became the Pixie."
"You cannot possibly think I meant..."
Rucker stepped between the men. "Okay, Mr. Hogan's assertion aside... it sounds like there's really nothing you can do, Mr. Dugan. If you'd like, I could make sure she doesn't attempt to re-enter the premises tomorrow morning."
"Tomorrow," Dugan scoffed. He put his hands on his hips and glared at the building. "Damn it. Fine. It's not worth it. Let her get her kicks, so long as she's gone tomorrow." He aimed a finger at Rucker and growled, "But I'll remember this, Rucker. Remember whose name is on your paychecks!"
Rucker frowned. "That would be your *brother's* name, wouldn't it?"
Dugan ignored the question and spun on his heel to storm back to his car.
Hoagie chuckled and said, "Thanks, Sheriff."
Rucker turned to him with a totally straight face. "Everything I said was the truth, Mr. Hogan. There's nothing I can do legally." He held the glare for a moment and then let a smile slip free. "It sure felt damn good to tell him that, though."
Hoagie laughed. "You're a good man, Sheriff. I almost wish I'd voted for ya. No offense."
"None taken. I never listen to your show."
Hoagie laughed and slapped the sheriff on the back. "You're all right, bud."
The sheriff returned the smile and resisted the urge to rub his shoulder. He was pretty sure it wasn't dislocated, but he'd sure like to be positive before he did any heavy lifting or crowd control.
"This is Nadine Butler and, if you're just joining us, we're having a special show today. Since I came out on Saturday, I have been met with hate, prejudice and anger. I'm trying to turn some of that around today by drawing together supporters. I've lost my advertisers, so this will be my last show on the air unless there's some sort of miracle. I'm counting on all of you out there for that miracle.
"If anyone out there is in the closet and wants to come out, please... call me. Come out here, on my show. The number is 232-KELF. Give me a call." She glanced across the board at Miranda. After their hug finally broke up, Miranda had asked to come into the booth. Nadine had barely hesitated. They had replaced the chair under the door as an added precaution against anyone trying to pull her out. Miranda had brought in her chair from the office and promised to remain until the end of the day.
Now there was no doubt; they were in this together.
They shared a smile and Nadine said, "Right now, we're going to clear off some of the call board so you *can* get in. If you try to call and get a busy signal, keep trying. I'm answering these as fast as I can. Just call back and we'll get to you."
She hit a button to send the feed to music and spoke to the caller on Line One. "Hi, you're on KELF with the Pixie."
"Hi, Nadine. Ah... Miss Butler. Sorry. I feel like I know you. But, um, my name is Clifton Gail, the manager at Gail's Seafood Shack? I just wanted to let you know my father is the one who pulled sponsorship, not me."
"I understand his decision, Mr. Gail. It may be inconvenient for me, of course, but..."
"No, I'm not done," he interrupted. "S-sorry. I-I'm not mad at you. Far from it. The reason I didn't pull the restaurant's sponsorship is because I didn't see what had changed. I don't think you should be persecuted this way. My father had no right to make that decision; he left the business to me years ago. And, as a business decision, I'm letting you know that your show will always be sponsored by Gail's Seafood Shack. Come hell or high water, as long as I'm in charge. You've always been my favorite DJ."
She laughed and said, "Thank you, Mr. Gail."
"Thank you, Cliff."
She answered a few more calls and then turned on the mic. "Hey, everyone out there in the world. Thank you all for your calls and we're clearing the board just as fast as we can. Stick in there! We're going right back to the music right now with Mr. Bob Dylan and *All Around the Watchtower.* Stay tuned to the Pixie and keep those calls coming in, please!" She leaned back in her chair and smiled at Miranda. "Gail's Seafood Shack."
"You'd think they sold seesaws the way they keep going back and forth."
Nadine laughed and covered her mouth. "Yeah, you'd think. But I don't care. It's a step in the right direction. I know one sponsor won't change anything, but..."
"It sure feels good to know you're not alone."
"It does," Nadine said, looking pointedly into Miranda's eyes. She realized Miranda's hand was still on top of hers and debated whether or not to move it. She finally cleared her throat, squeezed Miranda's fingers, and created a task for that hand to do on the console. She set up the next song and leaned back. "Thank you again. For being here for me."
"You don't have to keep saying it."
She shrugged. "I keep being amazed by it. That you're here, that you're... that you're gay."
"Let's do something together," Nadine blurted. She looked down and said, "When this is all over, I mean. Before I go riding off into the sunset, let's... get dinner. Go the mainland and see a show or something."
Miranda glanced at the console. "What... what about Kate?"
"She broke up with me this morning," Nadine said. "Well... no. That's a little harsh. We both decided it was best to end the relationship. We'd been in a lull for a very long time. My coming out was just the last nail in a very large coffin."
"Still," Miranda said. "I'm so sorry. Three years; that must... that must suck." She grimaced at the understatement and shook her head. "In that case, Dean, yes. I'd love to do something with you this weekend." Her eyes shifted to the console and pointed at the clock. "The song is almost over."
Nadine scrambled with the mic. "Damn it...!"
"How did you ever manage this without me?"
"It's easier without you here distracting me."
Miranda held up her hands. "Hey, I can leave."
She started to stand and Nadine lashed out. She grabbed the hem of Miranda's blouse and said, "You sit your ass down, missy."
Miranda smirked and took her seat again. She put her feet up on the counter and said, "Can I make a request?"
"Troublemakers don't get to make requests."
"Boo," Miranda said.
Nadine said, "There's Pepsi in the fridge if you get thirsty."
She pressed down a button as soon as the song set ended. "Hey, there. You're still on KELF, I'm still the Pixie and I am still taking a stand. We've got some Elton John coming up, oh, how appropriate, some Kansas, Sonny and Cher and lots more. So stick with me the rest of the day, you're sure to be entertained. I'm still taking your calls at 232-KELF. Let me know what's on your mind and let me know what you want to hear. I'm Nadine Butler and you are my last hope."
Since it seemed to keep the protesters on the opposite side of the street, Hoagie had remained outside. He leaned against the wall next to the main doors, arms crossed, Billy's mop clasped in one hand. He was so busy staring down the sea of picketers that he almost didn't turn around when he heard Billy knocking on the glass door. Hoagie finally realized he was trying to get his attention and turned around. "What's up?"
"Trouble, Mr. Hogan, I think," Billy said.
He pointed down the street and Hoagie finally saw the crowd moving his way. They were walking on the station-side of the street and seemed to be twice the size of the original mob. Hoagie tightened his grip on the mop and pushed away from the mob. He whistled through his teeth to get the sheriff's attention.
Rucker, who had returned to his car, looked up and then followed Hoagie's gaze to the end of the street. He saw the second mob and was out of his car by the time the group had reached KELF's front doors.
The new crowd was led by a brunette woman in an orange sweater and blue jeans. She wore an apron emblazoned with a logo: a steaming coffee cup sitting on top of an open book. She was holding a large tray covered with blue and white napkins.
Rucker held up a hand and said, "That's far enough, ma'am."
"No one's getting into the station today," Hoagie added. "Sorry."
The woman smiled at him. "I recognize your voice. You're Hoagie, aren't you? You have such a great voice for radio."
Hoagie, flustered, said, "People, ah, people usually say I have a *face* for radio..." He looked to Rucker for help.
Rucker said, "If you kind folks are here to protest, I suggest you do so in a..."
"Oh, no," the woman said. "No, you don't understand. My name is Amy Wellis and I run Coffee Table Books. Right around the corner there... See?" She moved the tray so they could better see the apron she was wearing. "That's the logo of my store. Anyway, I called Nadine's show and came out." She had been speaking at a near breathless, but this caused her to stop. Her eyes trailed from Hoagie down to the sidewalk and she softly repeated, "I came out."
Hoagie looked positively distraught. "Congrats."
"Thank you," Amy said. She was distracted for a moment longer and then shook her head. "Anyway. The cookies. I thought Nadine could use a little pick me up, a nice show of support from her friends and neighbors. It's gotta be a nice change from..." she jerked her head towards the crowd on the opposite side of the street.
"Who're the children of Hamelin?" Rucker asked.
"Children of... oh, that's *clever*," Amy laughed. She waved at the crowd behind her and said, "When I told people in my store what I wanted to do, they loaded up right behind me to come along. They want Nadine to know she's definitely not alone in this fight."
Hoagie took the tray from her and lifted up a corner flap. "I SUPPORT THE PIXIE" was emblazoned on each pink cookie. He picked one up and gestured to see if it was all right to eat it. Amy nodded and he bit off one corner. He chewed thoughtfully and then raised his eyebrows in appreciation. "That ain't half bad. Sheriff?"
"Don't mind if I do," Rucker said. He took one and looked at Hoagie. He shrugged and said, "I don't see what harm a single care package could do." He took the tray and walked to the front doors. Billy opened it for him and Rucker handed him the tray. "Take this up to Miss Butler. Tell her they're from Amy Wellis and the Pixie's loyal supporters at Coffee Table Books."
"Will do, sir!" Billy said. He looked down at the tray, looked at the crowd, and moved a step closer to Rucker. "Sheriff, sir, you think Miss Wellis would mind if I ate one of the cookies myself?"
"Well, no," Rucker said. He lowered his voice to the same conspiratorial whisper and added, "But even if she did, I'm sure Nadine would be happy to give you one herself. There's plenty to go around, and you're earning it by protecting this door. I'd say take two."
Billy smiled and took a cookie from the tray. He read the icing, smiled, and hurried towards the stairs with the tray carefully held with both hands. Rucker watched him go and then returned to Hoagie's side. Amy and her crowd had moved away from him a little and he shook his head at Rucker. "I'm all for this broadcast thing, the whole *viva la revolución* thing Nadine's got going on."
"But?" Rucker said.
"But it's hard enough finding a date on this island," he groaned. "If Nadine outs all the eligible bachelorettes, I'm gonna have to move to Spokane."
Miranda was the first to see Billy running across the bullpen. She stood up and removed their makeshift lock in time to intercept him before he could knock. "Miss Powell!" She took the tray and Billy closed his eyes, trying hard to remember the message he'd been given. "Sheriff Rucker says these are from Ms. Amy Wellis and the Pixie's loyal supporters at Coffee Table Books. I took two of the cookies for myself. I hope you don't mind, Miss Butler."
"I'd insist on it, Billy. Thank you."
"Yes, ma'am," he panted. "I gotta get back. Guarding the door and all that."
Nadine rose so he could see her and said, "Thank you so much for keeping us safe, Billy."
He nodded. "I would be out there on the street, weren't for you, Miss Butler."
"Please, Billy. Call me Nadine. I'm begging you."
"Okay. Nadine." He nodded to her and said, "I'm here for you even if you wanna sleep with... like, animals." His words were sincere, but he grimaced at the thought.
"I don't want to sleep with animals," Nadine assured him with a laugh.
"That's good, Miss Nadine. I better get back!" He saluted both women as he turned around and headed back to the stairs.
Miranda carried the tray over and Nadine wondered, "Why do people always go straight from gay to bestiality?"
"Lot of sickos out there," Miranda said. She put the chair back under the door and uncovered the cookies. "Aw, how sweet." She put the tray down on the table and picked one of the cookies off the pile. "You have fans."
Nadine smiled. "You laugh, but yesterday I was starting to wonder if anyone..." She picked at the icing on one of the cookies and shook her head. "It's really nice."
"Yeah, it..." She hesitated and turned towards the window.
Nadine glanced at the controls and saw nothing amiss. "What's wrong?"
"Do you hear that?"
"The booth is sort of soundproof," Nadine said
Miranda stood and walked to the small window that overlooked the harbor. Nadine followed her and they leaned forward to the glass together. Very faintly, they could hear a chant rising from the street. "Three... Free. Free the..." Her face broke out in a smile and she said, "Free the Pixie."
"Free the Pixie," Miranda confirmed with a smile.
Nadine blushed. "My loyal supporters from Coffee Table Books."
"Loyal indeed," Miranda said.
"They like me. They really like me," Nadine chuckled. It had been a joke, but her eyes were welling up with tears. She bit her lip and brushed her hand under her glasses.
Miranda's comeback was cut off by Nadine's kiss. Her eyes widened, her hands resting on Nadine's upper arms as she tried to decide what to do next. When Nadine's tongue flickered against her mouth, Miranda groaned and succumbed to the kiss. She pressed Nadine against the wall and returned the kiss. Nadine was a fantastic kisser; lips and tongue in just the right amount, not forceful, just right. Nadine's hands slid under the hem of Miranda's blazer and found warm flesh.
They continued to grope one another, Nadine's hands in Miranda's hair, Miranda's hands roaming Nadine's back and pushing her shirt higher and higher. Nadine groaned into Miranda's mouth and pulled her closer. She brought her leg up and curled it around Miranda's hip. Miranda growled low in her throat and broke the kiss to nip at Nadine's neck. Her hand had made the journey to the center of Nadine's back, dragging her blouse along with it, and she closed her fingers around the clasp of Nadine's bra.
Nadine felt what she was doing and suddenly went rigid. She moved her hands from hair to shoulder to ease Miranda away. "Wait, wait, wait," she gasped.
Miranda abandoned her neck, moving her lips to Nadine's cheek. "What?" she whispered. "Put on *American Pie* or *Paradise by the Dashboard Light* or something... something really... long." She snapped the clasp of Nadine's bra.
Nadine closed her eyes and said, "Yes... God, but no... no, Miranda..."
Miranda backed off immediately. She was flushed, her eyes glazed and her blouse rumpled where they had been pressed together. Nadine licked her lips, tasting crumbs of the cookie Miranda had eaten. She reached behind her back to refasten her bra as she explained. "Miranda, I'm not rejecting you, it's just... my relationship with Kate was entirely about sex. We slept together the first night we were a couple and... I-I think that set the tone for the three years that came after. You can call me an idiot, but..."
"You're not an idiot," Miranda said. "I've been there. God, have I been there... but I know exactly what you're talking about. If we... jumped into bed together it would probably cause problems down the road..."
"We wouldn't be jumping into bed," Nadine said, fingers still hovering over her lips in disbelief. She cleared her throat and said, "It would probably be on the floor here, or in your office. On top of your desk would..."
"You are really, *really* not helping, Nadine."
Nadine snapped her teeth together and smiled. "Sorry." She brushed past Miranda, feeling a bit of static that she told herself was just from the carpet, and dropped back into her seat. "The song is almost over."
"Yeah," Miranda said.
"What was your request? You... said you had a request."
"*The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore.*"
"The Walker Brothers?"
"Okay, I'll try and get that on for you. Thanks for calling and keep listening to KELF."
Miranda threw a napkin at Nadine and it hit her in the head. Nadine chuckled and put her hand on Miranda's thigh. She let her hand linger, just a little below the hem of her skirt, before she withdrew it. Miranda was sure she felt the ghost of those fingers for another few minutes before they finally faded.
To Be Continued in Chapter Eleven
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