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The crick in her neck woke Nadine around eight Monday morning. She sat up stiffly and rubbed the soreness in her neck away, searched for her glasses and checked the clock on the wall. She stood up and stretched, groaning as her bones popped loudly, and undressed. She dumped her clothes on the closed toilet seat, pulled the curtain and turned on the shower.
She stood still under the spray and let the cold water assault her face. She opened and closed her mouth several times, ran her hands through her hair without bothering to shampoo it and finally turned off the spray when her fingertips had turned to prunes. She left her dirty clothes in the bathroom and walked dripping into the bedroom where she and Kate had so recently made love (for the last time?).
She pushed thoughts of Kate out of her mind and opened her closet. Miranda had rescued her from working Squire Days, but she still had to do her radio show. She dressed in a pair of old jeans and a ragged Dash Warren concert t-shirt.
She went to the living room and hazarded a peek through the blinds. There were no reporters in the courtyard (Kate had already said everything they needed) and there were no protesters marching back and forth in the street. If she didn't know better, she would've said it was a normal day. She released the blinds and stepped back. Okay. Maybe it wasn't as bad as she thought. It would be a tempest in a teapot, already blown over after yesterday.
She took a deep breath and went to the front door. Maybe everything would be all right after all.
As the door swung open, she was aware of an incongruous flash of white from the corner of her eye. Her front door, once a solid, beautiful royal blue, was now marred by bold, angry strokes of white paint.
Four letters, stretching from one side of the door to the other, huddled tightly together to fit the misspelled word between her door jams. She stared at it for a moment, trembling hand on the doorknob, and felt something twist inside of her. It was anger, it was frustration, and most of all it was the fact that someone had defaced her home. It was the first place she'd lived by herself, the first place she paid for herself. And some ignorant hate-monger had violated it.
She took a deep breath, held it, and finally stepped out into the foyer. She forced her hand to close the door quietly and stepped away without looking at the hateful graffiti. She walked barefoot out the back door of the foyer and towards the complex's swimming pool.
The pool was closed up for the winter behind a low black gate, the door latched with a heavy padlock. Rather than circling the entire perimeter of the fence, she stepped onto a brick ledge and jumped over. She rounded the lip of the pool and glanced down at the thin layer of half-frozen, scummy water at the bottom.
She remembered a day last summer, it had to have been ninety degrees, when she and Kate had taken advantage of the pool. Crystal-clear water, bright sun and playing Marco Polo and splashing each other in defense against the sun beating down on their shoulders. There had been a lull, no one else in the pool and no one else in the courtyard, when Kate had kissed her.
That day had been so perfect. The water, the sky, the heat on her face and the chill on her toes and a slippery-wet Kate in her arms. Now, the sky was gray, the wind was howling and the pool was filled with black grime and piles of trash had accumulated in the far corners. She shuddered at how quickly things could change and jumped the other side of the fence.
The manager's office was a small brick building at the back of the complex. Nadine followed the concrete path and knocked lightly on the door. Through the half-circle of glass set at eye level, she saw the large red cotton ball of Miss Wozniak's hair as it bobbed away from her desk.
The door swung open and revealed an elderly Jewish woman looking up at her. She was wearing her typical outfit; a red vest, red trousers and a flowered blouse with a flared collar. She lifted the glasses that hung on a chain around her neck, aimed the frames at Nadine's face and tutted in recognition before stepping back and wandering back into the office.
"You want something?" the woman said over her shoulder. "People always want something if they come here before rent time. Never early, not with their rent checks."
Nadine cleared her throat and stepped into the peppermint-scented office. A pegboard covered with a second skin of notices and Post-its decorated the wall directly in front of the door. The desk held a computer, but the typewriter was front and center, obviously where the landlady pounded out all of her "TO THE RESIDENTS" notices. Nadine said, "Miss Wozniak, I was... wondering if, uh..."
"All day, the girl thinks she has." She rounded the back of her desk and leaned forward. She cocked her hip and made a 'get on with it' motion with one hand.
"When Mr. Alonzo painted the doors last year... d-do you think he still has some of that paint left over?"
"You chip the door or something? Kick it in?"
"No," Nadine said. "It was... i-it was vandalized."
Miss Wozniak sighed, put a hand to her forehead and uttered a string of curse words in Yiddish. She turned around and waddled back to her desk. "Little *pupiks*. Ought to be strung up by their toes and hit with sticks. Like that piñata." She looked at Nadine and squinted. "Are you Mexican? Gonna be offended about piñata?"
"No," Nadine said. "N-no, I'd... trust me, I'd be the first one in line with the stick."
Miss Wozniak nodded and clapped her hands together. "Okay. I'm going to fill out a work order for you..."
"No, that's..." She cleared her throat. "If I could just get a can of paint from the custodian's shack, I'd rather do it myself."
The tiny woman looked at Nadine over her glasses. "You don't have to, dear. Custodial work is part of what you're paying for with your rent, you know."
Nadine nodded. "I know." The truth was, the thought of Mr. Alonzo seeing that word on her door... "I know. I don't mind doing it myself."
Miss Wozniak held up her hands and said, "All right. Okay. You want to save me having to call Alonzo, fine by me." She opened the drawer and withdrew a key ring. "The paint cans are on the bottom shelf. Royal blue, but yeah, you know, you know."
Nadine had to step forward to retrieve the key. She glanced down and saw the Sunday paper on Miss Wozniak's blotter, open to the crossword puzzle. The puzzle was at the back, but of course she had to have seen the front page. When Nadine didn't pull her hand back, Miss Wozniak followed her gaze and made a rude noise at the back of her throat. "Wouldn't line the birdie cage with that trash," she said as she thrust the keys into Nadine's hand. "Don't pay any attention to them people, none at all. Useless, is what those people are, just useless." She closed Nadine's fingers around the keys and her voice softened. "Go take care of your door, dear."
"Thank you," Nadine said quietly. "I'll bring the keys back... a-and the paint."
"Good, good," the manager said. She moved to sit down and Nadine headed for the door. She was about to leave the office when Miss Wozniak suddenly said, "My daughter is gay, you know."
Nadine had her hand on the door knob and turned, eyes wide behind her glasses. "W-what?"
"My daughter. Lovely girl. Gay." She made air quotes and said, "I think they say she's one of those 'lipstick lesbians.' Very attractive. I'm just saying." She held her hands out and shook her head.
"Does she... live on the island?"
"Alaska. Just around the corner, dear! Think about it! I'm not saying you have to marry her, but I would never charge my own daughter rent, wink-wink." She leaned back in her chair and waved at the door. "Go! Paint your door!"
Nadine left the manager's office and closed the door behind her. Alone on the walkway, she actually surprised herself by laughing at the landlady's attempts. Spray-painting hooligans aside, she would at least be able to look back fondly on Miss Wozniak trying to hook her daughter up.
She crossed the lawn to the tiny custodial shack and found the appropriate key on Miss Wozniak's key ring. Inside, behind a sea of cobwebs and a stack of unused sheetrock scraps, she found a can of royal blue paint. On a second, higher shelf she found some paintbrushes that weren't stiff as a board and stuck one in her jeans pocket.
She stopped at the office to drop off the key and had to accept Amanda Wozniak's telephone number - "Just in case!" - before the landlady let her leave. She was still chuckling as she walked back into the foyer, looking down at the telephone number with an Alaska area code as she returned to her apartment.
When she looked up, she realized that her door had not gone unnoticed. Kate was standing in front of the door like a sentry, hands to her side and clenched into fists. Nadine was about to back away and put off a confrontation, but she decided she would have to face Kate sooner or later. She put the paint can down and said, "Nice, huh?"
Kate's shoulders jumped slightly at the sound of her voice, but she didn't turn around.
Nadine crossed her arms and said, "D-I-K-E. You'd think if someone had managed to go this far with their hate, they'd at least bother to learn the correct spelling." Kate still didn't answer, so Nadine continued, "I only got one paintbrush from the shed, but you're welcome to lend a hand." She stepped up next to Kate and finally looked at her. She was shocked to see tears flowing down Kate's cheeks, her face red with rage. "Kate...?"
Kate finally looked at her, eyes wide and haunted. She shook her head back and forth before she finally said, "I'm so, so sorry, Nadine. I'm... I'm sorry." She pushed Nadine aside and ran up the stairs to her apartment. Nadine watched her go, shocked into silence, and winced when she heard the door slam.
Part of her wanted to run upstairs, grab Kate and hold her. But another, bigger part of her was glad that Kate was suffering, too, after that damned article. She sighed and knelt down to pop the lid on paint can. Let her suffer alone for a while, she decided. She dipped the brush into the paint can, took one last look at the words scrawled on her front door and went to work covering it up.
Miranda hadn't gotten any sleep the night before. Every time she ended one call, the phone would ring again and she'd speak to an advertiser, one of the other DJs or Thomas Dugan calling to yell at her some more. No, she hadn't known Nadine was gay. No, she didn't think it should have any bearing on her job. Yes, she knew what the public reaction would be. No, she didn't think she would reconsider.
The hardest part of the situation was dealing with the other DJs. Willa, fine and church-going Willa, found the whole thing scandalous, but promised not to say anything on the air against Nadine. Miranda thought it was important that the station show a united front and Willa agreed.
Hoagie, the one she was the most concerned about, seemed uncomfortable but willing to go along with it. He hesitantly asked if he needed to act differently around Nadine, but Miranda assured him there would be no call for that. By the time seven o'clock rolled around, she had already been up for two and a half hours fielding calls. She changed into a fresh outfit and headed out to her car.
Work, she thought. Where a thousand memos were probably awaiting a return call. She sat behind the wheel of her car for a moment and took a deep breath.
She would have to be an idiot not to realize the... what, irony? Here she was, in the middle of a maelstrom of words like lesbian and scandal and homophobia. There had been nights when she had woken up screaming from nightmares about this exact situation, but about herself, her own sexuality. The fact that it was all coming down on Nadine... poor, sweet Nadine, who had never hurt anyone in her life. It seemed so unfair.
Staring at the trellis that marked the end of her driveway, she made a decision. So long as she was in charge, no one was going to turn against Nadine. Dugan wanted her fired, but Miranda flat-out refused without a damn good reason. Willa Lamb, the morning DJ, was planning to call in sick to work until Nadine was let go, Miranda assured Willa that *she* would be fired before Nadine.
If anyone on the island wanted to stop listening to the station... well, Miranda had never forced them to tune in anyway. The station would survive losing a few homophobic listeners. There were always the tourists, a steady stream of new listeners who arrived fresh and unsullied every afternoon.
Her mind made up, she checked her rear view mirror and finally backed out of the driveway. She was being spared her worst nightmare only because someone else - someone she truly cared for - was taking the bullet for her. The least she could do was catch some of the shrapnel.
Nadine's t-shirt and jeans were speckled with blue paint by the time offensive four letters had been obliterated. She gave the door an extra coat just to make sure no ghosts would appear before sealing up the can and looking up at Kate's door. She bit her lip and finally trudged up the stairs like a kid being sent to bed without supper.
She stared at the gold number five and then finally took that last fateful step forward. She knocked lightly just under the peephole and then stepped back so Kate could see her.
After a short delay, the door swung open and Kate looked out from her dark apartment. Nadine looked down and spoke to Kate's sneakers. "I was wondering if I could borrow your car because I'm not really looking forward to riding my bike across town with everyone... staring at me and... if you don't want me to, that's fine, I can..."
"Here," Kate said.
Nadine looked up and saw the keys dangling from Kate's hand. She took them and finally looked into Kate's red eyes. Kate, seeing an opening, said, "Dean, you have to understand, it wasn't me, it was the editor. I had to say *something* about it and I buried it in the back and I was sure no one would even *read* the damn thing and... and my editor just slaughtered the entire damn thing and I... when I saw it I... Nadine... please..."
"I know you'd never have done that to me on purpose," Nadine said quietly. "But my worst nightmare has your byline underneath it. I can't think past that right now. I'm sorry, Kate."
Kate nodded and leaned against the door. "Have a good day, Nadine."
"You too," Nadine said softly. She turned and practically flew down the stairs, eager to get outside before she let the tears come. She walked through the courtyard, past her hooded flowers, and brought her hand up to wipe the tears off her cheeks.
She found Kate's car in the parking lot that ran alongside the apartment building. She got in, took a moment to familiarize herself with the set-up and started the engine. The radio came to life, tuned to KELF. Willa Lamb's voice came from the speakers. "...another call. You're on with Willa and Simon."
"Yeah, I just wanna say I think this Pixie thing is sick. I'll tell ya another thing, I'm turning the radio off when you guys leave and I ain't turning it back on until Hoagie comes on. That's what I wanna say."
"That's wonderful," Willa said. "Could we play a song for you?"
"Yeah, could I hear--"
"No," Willa said. She disconnected the call and sighed into the mic. "How many different ways can we say it, Simon? Nadine Butler is not here. She cannot respond to any of your complaints, and probably wouldn't dignify them with a response if she were. Can we *please* focus on something we *can* address? The weather? The ferry schedule? Anything. Please. Okay. Next caller...?"
Nadine punched the button angrily and silenced her co-worker's voice. Great. She wondered how she would get through a six-hour shift - a show that dealt mostly with called-in requests - without going completely bonkers. She forced her mind to focus on the road, the other drivers, everything that she could mostly ignore when she was on her bicycle.
As she turned towards the radio station, she was shocked to see a crowd of eight or ten people milling about on the sidewalk. They seemed to be congregating around the bicycle rack, so she managed to slip past them without causing any alarm or uproar. As she drove past, she spotted Miranda standing at the door trying to corral them all. They locked eyes as Nadine drove past and Miranda started down the sidewalk in pursuit.
She pulled Kate's car into the parking lot next to the station, driving up the gentle slope to the second level before she climbed out. Miranda caught up with her a few moments later and said, "Nadine. Are you sure you want to come in today? We'd certainly..."
"I'm not going to let them run me off, Miranda," Nadine interrupted. "So I'll stick to the play list for once. I'm fine. Trust me."
"Okay," Miranda said. She looked over her shoulder to make sure she hadn't been followed and said, "Okay, come on. There's a back door you can use." She put her hand on Nadine's shoulder and shuffled her off towards the back of the station.
"Who are those people?"
"'Concerned citizens' from the local churches," Miranda said, her voice dripping scorn. "They showed up about half an hour ago, waiting for you to show up."
"You... don't think they would have..."
"Hurt you?" Miranda said. "No. They seemed like they would've been happy to just yell and wave their signs in your face if you'd shown up."
"No, I mean... I meant, do you think they would have painted something on my door?"
Miranda stopped and turned Nadine to look at her. "What are you talking about?"
"It's nothing. When I woke up this morning, there was... a word... painted on my door."
"I hate to guess."
Nadine winced and looked away. "Dyke. Misspelled, of course."
"Yeah, well, ignorance is all-encompassing."
Nadine actually smiled at that and waited for Miranda to unlock the back door of the station. She frowned and said, "Isn't this the emergency exit?"
Miranda pushed the door open and shrugged. "If this doesn't count as an emergency, what does?"
Nadine smiled and they stepped into the warm air of a short, dark hallway. Miranda locked the door behind them, in case any enterprising protester realized where they had gotten in. "Getting you out will be the real problem. If they were coordinated to be here right when your show was set to begin, they have to know when it ends. You may have to stay until they give up and go home."
"Great," Nadine murmured. "A prisoner in my own workplace."
"Hey, you have a desk. At least you'll finally get to use it."
Nadine rolled her eyes and they walked into the bullpen. Willa and Simon were already leaving the booth, their good-bye playing from speakers in the ceiling and the first batch of songs set to play while Nadine got situated. They paused at the door with their coats draped over their arms, watching as the pariah walked down the row of cubicles. Nadine offered a weak smile. "Hey, guys. Willa, thanks for sticking up for--"
"The calls were interrupting my show," Willa interrupted. "I, for one, don't care one way or another *what* you do." She turned and walked to the stairs. Simon watched her go, looked at Miranda and Nadine and merely shrugged. He waved good-bye as he headed to the ground floor behind his co-host.
Nadine looked down and closed her eyes, trying to hide the hurt of what Willa had said. Miranda put a hand on her shoulder and said, "Nadine... have you ever heard Simon speak when he was off the air?"
Nadine blinked and looked up. "What? Sure, he... talked to me..." She frowned, her voice trailing off as she looked at the man's back. "You know, I don't think I can remember a time. You hired him. He must have spoken in the interview."
Miranda shook her head. "I read his resume and I hired him from a tape. You know, the more I think about it, the more I think I have never heard him speak in person."
Nadine smiled and put her hand on Miranda's arm. "Thank you."
"I didn't think about it for a whole five seconds. Thank you."
Miranda smiled and said, "It was entirely self-serving. I don't know what song Willa and Simon started, so you might be giving me dead air right now. Go. Get in the booth. Get to work."
Nadine offered a mock salute and headed for the booth. From the small speakers over the door, she could hear "A Day in the Life" by the Beatles. She stopped at the door and looked around until she spotted Billy by the water cooler. "Billy," she said, desperate for a bit of normalcy in her day, pleading for him to be the same, sweet Billy with the encyclopedic time-clock in his head. "How much longer on this song?"
He looked at her with his plaintive eyes, glanced towards the ceiling and said, "Total run-time, 5:33. Or infinite."
She blinked. "Infinite?"
"Auto-return mechanism on vinyl records. But since this is a CD, I reckon you got about... two minutes left, easy."
She felt a surge of warmth in her chest and smiled gratefully to him. "Thank you, Billy. It means a lot."
"What does?" he said. The tone of his voice told her he was truly clueless.
She struggled for a way to explain the situation as concisely as possible and finally gave up by saying, "For treating me like... me."
He looked at her like she was crazy. "Who else would I treat you like?"
It suddenly dawned on her that Billy was homeless, or had been the last time she'd bothered to check. "Billy, ah... did you... read the Sunday paper?"
"I read the funny pages," Billy said as he went back to work. "Nothing else in that paper is worth paying attention to."
*Point taken,* Nadine thought. "Well," she said. "Thank you, Billy."
"One minute left," he said as he resumed sweeping.
She nodded and opened the door to the booth, pausing when she heard his voice behind her.
"You saw me for me first."
"What was that?"
He wasn't looking up, his hands wrapped tightly around his mop, his shoulders hunched as if he were trying to hide behind it. "You saw me. Not a homeless guy. You saw me. I see you." He finally looked up and nodded at her.
She smiled, but there were tears in her voice when she said, "Thank you, Billy."
She wiped her tears as she lowered herself into the seat. She sniffled, cleared her throat and picked up the headphones from where Willa had left them.
She hesitated briefly, turning her gaze towards the harbor visible through the window. She knew, although she couldn't see them that the picketers were still down there. They would be there when she left for home and they would be there every damn day until they got to shake their fists in her face.
She finally put on the headphones and rested her finger on the microphone button. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and finally switched the microphone on. She leaned into the mic and said, "Hello, Squire's Isle. This is Nadine Butler, the KELF Pixie, and... Well, let's be honest, you more than likely have heard a lot about me this weekend. I don't want to talk about that. What I want to talk about is music. Bob Dylan, the Bee Gees, the Beach Boys and a lot more. Call in with your requests and I'll do my best to get it on the air for you. This is KELF AM 1220."
She sagged back in her chair and sent it to a commercial. As the chair swung to one side, she saw Miranda standing in the window watching her. They smiled at one another and Miranda gave her a thumbs-up. Nadine crossed her fingers.
"KELF, this is the Pixie."
"Could you play *Leaving on a Jet Plane* by John Denver?"
"We've got the Peter, Paul and Mary version..."
"Oh, okay, that's cool. As long as it's the song, it's all right."
"All right. What's your name?"
"Can I call you Al?" she asked. "Sorry, Paul Simon humor. I'll get that on for you as soon as possible. Thanks for calling."
"This is the Pixie, thanks for calling. What can I play for you?"
"Like your paint job, dyke?"
"Ah, I'm assuming since you can use a telephone that you're not a monkey."
"You misspelled it, you hooligan. Dyke has a 'y' in it."
"I... guess you'd know..."
"Yeah, yeah. Hope you washed your hands real good when you vandalized my apartment, Mr. Nelson."
"The station has a Caller ID. Your mother Eleanor will be proud of you, I'm sure. I'm just sorry for Sheriff Rucker that he has to pay her a visit now. Hello? Mr. Nelson? Guess there's nothing he wanted me to play..."
"Hi, you're on with the Pixie. What can I play for you?"
"Can you play *God Knows I'm Good* by David Bowie?"
"Oh. I'm not sure we have that one..."
"You should listen to it sometime. God knows you're good, despite the..."
"Hi, what can I play for you?"
"*American Woman,* by the Who."
"All right, I'll get that on for you. What's your name?"
"All right, Kevin. Keep listening and I'll get that on for you in the next half hour."
"You're on KELF with--"
The shouted "Homos burn in hell!" was followed immediately by a dial-tone.
"Well, at least let me finish my sentence..."
"Hi, you're on KELF with the Pixie."
"Hi. I just came over on the ferry and I was wondering what the hell was going on. What's with these crazy calls you've been getting?"
"Hazards of the job, ma'am. What can I play for you?"
"Do you have *Whiter Shade of Pale*?"
"We do, we do indeed. I'd be happy to play it for you. What's your name?"
Nadine rubbed the back of her neck and leaned back in the chair. She'd made it through the all-request portion of the show with only a handful of obscene or harassing phone calls. The phone numbers of those had been written off the Caller ID and transferred to a memo that she'd send to the Sheriff's Office at the end of the day. The list wasn't short, but it was nowhere near as depressing as she thought it would have been.
In fact, the turnout had been so good that she was debating whether or not to start a new contest. She rolled her desk over to the drawer that held their vouchers for free dinners. She pulled the drawer out and rifled through, looking for something besides the stack of "Dinner for Two, Gail's Seafood Shack" coupons. Frustrated with only the gold-and-brown slips, she glanced at the commercial clock and slipped the headphones off.
She left the booth and hurried down the hall to Miranda's office. She knocked on the open door and waited until Miranda looked up from whatever she was writing. She held up a handful of the Gail's coupons. "Hey, I wanted to try a contest, but I gave away about a thousand of these last week. We have anything different? Joe Lack's Pizza, maybe?"
Miranda scratched the bridge of her nose and looked down at her desk. "Um, no... no vouchers from there."
Miranda was bent back over her desk. "Mm-mm."
Nadine stepped into the office and picked up the stack of flyers on the edge of Miranda's desk. "Well, what about these from Spartan Café?"
"No," Miranda said. She reached out and gently took the vouchers from Nadine. She straightened the stack and replaced them before she said, "Nadine... Chin's, Spartan, Joe Lack's, they've all pulled their sponsorship."
Nadine blinked. "What?"
"They don't want you giving away their coupons. They called me at home this morning and I... had to pull the vouchers. I'm really sorry, Nadine."
"Sorry. People keep saying that to me," Nadine whispered. She looked down at her hands and shook her head. "No, never mind. I'll give away the Gail's coupons. I'm going to get mighty sick of seafood, though. Because I'm never eating at those other places again."
"Neither will I," Miranda said solemnly. "I truly wish I could fight this, Nadine, but..."
Nadine nodded. "You have to do what you have to do. I understand." Overhead, she heard the last commercial of the current block beginning and motioned over her shoulder. "I have about thirty seconds to get back to the booth."
"Yeah. I'll put in some calls, make some requests for other things for you to give away. It's not right, Nadine."
"I know. Thank you, Miranda."
She walked back to the booth, trying hard to keep her back straight and her shoulders square. It was incredibly difficult, but she managed to keep from slumping until she dropped into her chair. She put her headphones on and leaned forward against the desk.
"Hey, loyal K-ELF listeners, this is your Pixie and I am going to send you to dinner. Where, you ask? The best, freshest seafood on this coast or any coast, Clifton Gail's restaurant, conveniently next to the harbor. Just call with the correct answer to our trivia question and you could be on your way to one of the best meals of your life. Now... the question today..."
To Be Continued in Chapter Seven
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