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Hoagie parked his 4X4 in his regular spot in the employee's lot and climbed out of the cab. On most days, he wore jeans and a t-shirt to work. Nothing fancy, but with a semblance of professionalism. Today, he was wearing a baseball cap with the edge of the brim worn down to fringe. He hadn't bothered to shave and had picked his muddiest pair of hunting pants to wear. His plaid shirt was ripped and stained and both sleeves were rolled up to show he wasn't all blubber.
As he rounded the corner of the building, he pulled a cigar from the pocket of his shirt and lit it up. He blew a smoke ring and grabbed the shoulder of the first person he saw. The protestor was a thin man in a green sweater carrying a placard that read: "Homosexuality is a SIN!" The man stepped aside and nearly fell over when he saw Hoagie's size. He swallowed the lump in his throat and tried to move away from Hoagie. "Afternoon, sir."
Hoagie held onto the man's collar. "Howdy." He hooked his thumb towards the radio station and addressed the crowd with a thick drawl. "Y'all gonna stick it to that gay lady who works in there?"
The man cleared his throat. "Y-yessir. When she comes out after her show, the plan is."
"All right, well, make sure you save some. Me and my buddies are gonna want our fair share. I myself want her fingers."
The man's brows knit together. "Fingers...?"
Hoagie winked and moved his cigar to the corner of his mouth. "Mm-hmm. Yeah. Love breaking fingers. Love the sound they make."
The protester's face went pale and the placard began to tremble. "Oh...! Oh, no, we're... w-w-w-we're not planning to be violent! Oh, no, sir. No, sir. Oh, heavens." He wiped the sweat from his brow and looked frantically for someone to back him up. "We're simply going to... s-shout at her." As he said it, Hoagie could tell the man was desperately trying to figure out how he was different from this behemoth.
"Good!" Hoagie slapped the man on the back and almost knocked him flat. "More for me and my friends."
"Yep. Big ol' boys. We're gonna show her what's what. You can't just come onto Squire's Isle and do whatever you want." He smiled and waggled his cigar with his tongue. "Yeah, it's gonna be a hoot and a half."
The man spun around and disappeared into the crowd. Hoagie crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the wall. Within a few minutes, the good church-going folks began to disperse. Most of the people looked at him with fear as they dropped their signs and scurried for the nearest automobile. Some just pretended they had gotten tired, put their arms down and casually strolled away.
But Hoagie remained, twirling his cigar, tapping his foot as if impatiently waiting for his friends to show up and cause a ruckus. When he was alone on the sidewalk, he crushed the cigar under his heel and stooped to pick up the remains. He dropped it into a squat trash bin - KEEP THE STREETS OF DECEMBER HARBOR CLEAN OF LITTER!, the golden brown plaque on the side read - and headed inside.
The receptionist looked up as he walked in. "Good afternoon, Mr. Hogan! I thought I saw your truck drive past a few minutes ago. What kept you?"
"Just keeping the streets clean," he smirked as he continued to the stairs.
Nadine rubbed the back of her neck and looked at the clock. Nearly five. Hoagie was usually... She turned in her chair and, sure enough, there he was, hunched over at his desk. She was a little anxious about his silent entry. Usually he knocked on the glass, made faces at her, barged into the booth for the last five minutes of her show... The fact that he was at his desk...
She closed her eyes and clasped her hands in front of her. *Not Hoagie,* she prayed. *I think I can take everyone else turning on me, but not Miranda and not Hoagie, please.*
The song faded out and she turned on the mic. "That was *Ruby Tuesday* by the Stones, and according to the clock, that will be the end of my show today. That old loveable lug, Joe Hogan is right outside the door, ready to hop in here as soon as I'm gone and... and please, guys. Give him a break and leave him alone about me. Just let the man play music." She sighed and said, "That's a wrap for me. Thanks for everyone who called in to support me today and to everyone else... well, not much I can do for you. Hope you find something else to listen to on the way home from work."
She switched off the mic and stood up. By the time she got to the door, Hoagie was waiting. "Miss Butler," he said.
She looked over his outfit and said, "Casual Monday, Mr. Hogan?"
"Hoagie," he said. "I'm always Hoagie to you, Pixie." He nudged her with his elbow, almost sending her flying against the wall, and headed into the booth.
Miranda was on her way and spotted Hoagie's apparent assault. She watched him disappear into the booth and snapped, "What the hell was that? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Nadine laughed. "That was just... Hoagie being Hoagie." Miranda still looked confused, so Nadine shook her head and said, "Forget it, never mind. You ready to head out? Run the gauntlet?"
The door to the booth opened and Hoagie stuck his head out. "Oh, by the way, ladies. The crowd downstairs won't be a problem."
Miranda blinked. "They just... left?"
"I politely asked if they would mind vacating the sidewalk." He smiled and shrugged. "What can I say; I'm a people person."
Even if she had stopped to think about it, Nadine still would have done it. She lifted herself onto her tiptoes and grabbed the lapel of his shirt. She pulled him close and pressed her lips to his cheek. She got a stubble burn on her lips, but it didn't matter. When she released him, Hoagie staggered back a step and touched his now beet-red cheek. "Well, hell, woman," he finally managed. "If you'd just let the paper get a picture of you doing that, all your problems would be solved."
Nadine smiled and said, "Thank you, Hoagie."
He ducked his head and went back into the booth. Nadine sighed and wiped at her eyes before turning back to Miranda. "Well, I guess if the coast is clear, I don't need back-up. Thank you."
Miranda hugged Nadine and said, "Be safe. Let me know if you want a safe place to sleep tonight. I live in Sandpiper Condos; gated, no way anyone is getting in."
Nadine pulled back, but left her hands on Miranda's hips. "Thanks, but I let them keep me from my bike. I won't let them chase me from my home. Thank you for everything, Miranda."
"I aim to please. I..." She hesitated and then said, "I've read *Sparks of Love,* too. I thought it was a great book."
Nadine's smile didn't waver. She shrugged and said, "See? Like I said, reading a book doesn't make you gay. Just means you have taste." She looked at her watch and said, "I should... I-I should get out of here. Thank Hoagie again when he takes a break, will you?"
Miranda laughed. "Thank him? I may give him a raise."
Nadine moved her hand to Miranda's wrist and gave it an affectionate squeeze. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow."
Miranda nodded and patted Nadine's hand. "I'll make sure the sidewalk is clear before you show up."
Nadine thanked her again, gathered her things and headed for the stairs. When she was gone, Miranda sagged against the wall and pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes. She had been so close to saying it: "I have something to tell you. I know where you're coming from. I'm gay." One, two or all three, it didn't matter. She could've said *one* of them. At least to let Nadine know she wasn't alone.
Telling Nadine, of course, was wrapped up in a lot of baggage, however; she had never said the words out loud. Her parents had died when she was in college, a year before she'd had her first fling with another woman. It had been another two years before she realized how serious her flings were, how serious her feelings were.
She'd never had to come out to the rest of her estranged family, had never had to say the words to another human being. Getting a woman home for the night was a matter of feeling her out and choosing the right words. Her encounter with the fair girl had been typical. Lingering glances, a slight raise of the eyebrows, a way of saying 'You, too?' with body language.
But now that Nadine needed her, she wasn't sure she could actually form the words. She was such a master of reading the signs that when it came to the words... she was lost. *Dear God,* she thought as she watched Nadine leave. *It's been almost twenty years. Am I still this scared to admit it to myself?*
She rubbed the back of her neck and retreated to her office to avoid answering the question.
Nadine parked Kate's car in front of the *Register* offices and reluctantly went inside. There were only a handful of desks behind the front counter, and none of them occupied, so Nadine didn't feel the need to hide her face. The receptionist hadn't reacted to the sound of the bells over the door, so Nadine quietly cleared her throat and gently rapped her knuckles on the desk.
In a heavily put-upon voice, the receptionist finally said, "How may I assist you?"
"I'm looking for Kathryn Price...?" She glanced towards Kate's desk out of habit, but it was as empty as its neighbors. Her computer screen was dark and the area had the feeling of long abandonment.
The receptionist confirmed her feelings by saying simply, "She didn't come in to work today."
"Oh," Nadine said. "Okay, thank you."
She turned and made it all the way to the door before the receptionist said, "Hey! You're that DJ..."
She pushed the door open and rushed across the sidewalk to Kate's car. She ducked behind the wheel and pulled out in front of someone, waving an apology in the rearview mirror as she sped away from the curb. When she glanced in the rearview mirror, she saw the receptionist standing in the door of the *Register* offices, watching her with a mixture of shock and disbelief.
Nadine drove the rest of the way home hunched over the wheel, wary of pedestrians and other drivers. She'd let her guard down; Hoagie had cleared the jackals from her front porch, but they were still hanging around, still circling. She pulled into the parking lot without any further incidents and parked in the same spot she'd left that morning. She locked the door and spent the entire walk up to the building debating what to do.
She stepped into the foyer and looked at the key ring in her hand. She looked at her freshly-painted door, and then looked up at Kate's door. She sighed and decided it was better to talk to her now rather than later.
She went upstairs and knocked on Kate's door. "Kate?" No reply. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and glanced down at the ground floor. She flipped the keys into her palm, stepped closer to the door and listened for sounds of movement within the apartment. "Kate, it's me. It's Nadine. I have your keys." She looked down and saw the standard apartment key for the building. "Oh... that's why you didn't go to work." She kicked herself and said loud enough for Kate to hear, "It's got your apartment key on it; if you leave, you won't be able to lock the door behind you."
Again, no reply. She paced between the top of the stairs and Kate's apartment, rubbing the back of her neck. Finally, she gave up and fished her cell phone from her pocket. She dialed Kate's number and leaned against her door as it rang. To her surprise, she could hear the quiet sounds of *Sealed With a Kiss* playing from within the apartment. She turned on her heel and pressed her ear against the wood. Definitely the ring tone she'd chosen for herself.
She growled and snapped the phone shut. "Fine," she murmured as she singled out the apartment key. "Hide from me. I don't give a damn."
She slipped the key into the lock and raised her voice again. "Kate! If you're in there, I'm coming in." She turned the key and pushed the door open. The apartment was darker than it had been that morning, the sun taking up the opposite side of the sky. The curtains were all drawn and long shadows stretched across the cluttered living room. There was no music playing, no television or any hint someone was hiding in the bedroom.
There was a small table next to the door meant for the mail and Nadine dropped the keys there. "Kate! I'm leaving the keys right here."
She had the door halfway closed before something hit her. She wasn't sure what it was, but she opened the door wide and looked over the apartment again. She wasn't home or at work, she didn't have her car... in a town as small as December Harbor, she *might* have walked someplace. But then why would her door have been locked?
The couch faced away from the door, creating a make-shift wall between the 'entryway' and the living room. Nadine glanced into the kitchen before she rounded the arm of the couch and glanced down.
Kate was curled on the couch in the fetal position, both hands tight against her stomach. Her face was deathly pale, her lips hanging slack. There was a beer bottle standing on the edge of the coffee table, but the real show was on the floor: an empty brown pill bottle and a wide pool of vomit.
Kate was not breathing.
Nadine threw herself backward and hit the coffee table. She drew in a sharp breath and let it out in a scream loud enough for the downstairs neighbor to call the police.
"KELF Radio, your place for the hits."
Nadine blinked and pulled the phone away from her ear. As she stared at it, uncomprehending of how it had gotten into her hand, a paramedic brushed past her and disappeared into Kate's apartment. She ignored his passage and put the phone back to her ear. "Wh-who is this...?"
"This is Susan, the KELF radio receptionist. How may I direct your call?"
Nadine didn't remember pulling out her phone, didn't remember dialing, but she brushed her eyes and said, "Miranda Powell, please."
"One moment, please."
There was a click and the line went to a live feed of Hoagie's show. She drew her legs to her chest and closed her eyes. She was seated on the landing outside Kate's apartment where she'd been deposited by Deputy White. Since then, it had been a blur of tan and white uniforms seen in a strobe of blue lights from outside.
A moment later, the tinny music cut off mid-lyric and was replaced by a crisp, professional voice. "Miranda Powell."
"Miranda... it's... i-it's Kate..."
"Kate!" Nadine nearly screamed.
"I'm sorry, I don't think I know a-a... Nadine?"
"Kate's hurt." She felt her tears starting again and a whooshing of blood in her ears kept drowning out Miranda's voice.
"Are you at home?" Without waiting for a response, she immediately said, "I'll be right there." The phone disconnected and Nadine pressed it against her forehead. She closed her eyes, tried to hold her breath and failed after thirty seconds. When she exhaled, a fresh crop of tears flowed down her cheeks.
She wasn't sure how long she sat there crying with her head in her hands, but she didn't come back to reality until she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Miss Butler?" She looked up into Sheriff Rucker's kind face and sniffed, wiping her cheeks with the backs of her hands. "Can you stand up? They need to take the gurney out..."
He helped her stand and moved to one side as the EMTs took Kate out of the apartment. One glimpse of the cold, pale face and Nadine turned, pressed her face against Rucker's uniform until the clatter of the gurney faded. The sheriff held her until they were alone on the landing and then patted her shoulder. He said, "Miss Butler, do you have someone who can give you a ride to the hospital?"
Nadine shook her head and tried to think. "I... n-no. Bike. I-I have a bike, I..."
"I'll take her."
Nadine spun around and saw Miranda halfway up the stairs. She released Rucker and lunged at her boss. Miranda, fortunately, had been prepared for such a reaction and braced one hand on the railing as she caught Nadine with the other. She squeezed Nadine around the waist and offered a few whispered condolences before she turned her attention to Rucker. "Sheriff, what happened?"
"Kathryn Price seems to have attempted suicide."
Miranda looked down at Nadine, whose face was pressed into the soft linen of her jacket. "Oh, God." She lowered her voice and said, "Is... i-is she...?"
"No," Rucker said quickly. "She mixed the pills with alcohol and threw up most of it. They're going to pump her stomach at the hospital, make sure all of it is out. She's going to be fine."
"I'll take her to the hospital," Miranda said. "Thank you."
Rucker nodded and headed downstairs, leaving the women alone on the landing. Miranda moved Nadine to one side and pressed her back against the wall. "Dean," she said gently. "I want you to take a deep breath and let it out." She brushed her thumbs over Nadine's cheeks and waited until she did as she was told. "Now, another." Nadine complied faster this time and closed her eyes. "Feel better? Are you okay?"
Nadine nodded slowly and covered Miranda's hands with her own. "Thank you, Miranda."
"Don't be silly. Come on; let's get you to the hospital."
The grumpy RN at the nurse's station didn't want to give out Kate's room number to non-family members. Miranda finally convinced them by saying Kate had no family on the island or anywhere nearby. "Don't you think," she said, "that she should have *someone*?" The nurse finally relented and pointed them in the right direction. Miranda thanked the woman and walked Nadine to the appropriate waiting room.
She guided Nadine into a chair and started towards the door. Nadine's hand lashed out, snagging the sleeve of Miranda's jacket. "Don't, don't go," she pleaded.
Miranda gently freed herself from Nadine's fingers. "I'm just going to find a coffee machine. I'll be right back."
Nadine nodded and moved her hands to her lap, embarrassed by her panicky clinging. When Miranda was gone, she scanned the waiting room. It was a dim, small alcove off the main hall near the elevators. She wondered why a two-story hospital needed elevators until she saw a gurney wheeled by. Naturally.
Aside from the garish purple chairs, the waiting room had one table for magazines, a little lamp that was doing its best to eliminate the gloom and a TV mounted in the corner opposite the door. The television was currently tuned to a documentary on the Discovery Channel and, since she couldn't see a remote anywhere, she watched a show called Predators of the Kalahari to clear her mind.
She was aware of Miranda's return only when her fingers were curled around a warm cup of coffee. She looked down at the coffee as if wondering how she'd made it appear, then turned her head to find Miranda in the next chair. "Thank you," she said quietly. She brought the coffee to her lips and took a sip.
Miranda kept her hand on Nadine's back, moving it in slow circles that she hoped were comforting. Truth be told, she'd never been in this situation. She looked at her coffee, looked at Nadine's tear-streaked face and finally focused on the documentary that seemed to have entranced Nadine. After a moment, she had to ask. "Kate is your... y-your girlfriend. Isn't she?"
Nadine nodded slowly.
"How long have... how long?"
Miranda blinked in surprise. "All those times I made you work overtime..."
Nadine smiled weakly and touched Miranda's hand. "It's okay," she whispered. "We were... I could always have said I was seeing someone and left it at that. We were just worried about people getting nosy. And... I suppose... I could have always told *you* privately. I just... I don't know. I could never say the words out loud."
Miranda looked down, stricken by the comparison to her own thoughts on the subject, and said, "I..." She paused for a long time and finally squeezed Nadine's hand. "I w-would have understood."
"Why would she do that?" Nadine whispered. "Why would... I mean... if anyone has the right to..." She shook her head and refused to finish the thought.
Miranda bit her bottom lip. "Kate wrote the article that... the article. Right?" Nadine nodded. "This is just me talking, but... I doubt she meant for it to be presented the way it was..."
Nadine shrugged. "She said her editor rewrote the entire thing. But the bare bones *had* to be there, I mean... she had to have known what she was doing."
"Even so, Dean. Kate loves you. She could be seeing everything that's happening to you as her fault. You're in agony and, if she were blaming herself for it..."
Nadine was quiet for a moment. The English accent of the documentary narrator filled the room as she chewed over this rationale. "I guess so," she finally whispered. "God, I've been so full of myself and what was happening to me..."
"You had a right," Miranda said. "But Kate... Kate was caught in the middle, too. I assume she's in the closet?" Nadine nodded. Miranda thought back to what she'd originally felt. "Then this is probably her worst nightmare, too. She's probably been deathly afraid of someone finding out. It's like the dream where you go to school naked. Everyone knows your deepest darkest secret. And it's worse for her, because she's not only inflicted it, she's done it to someone she loves. And she had to watch it all happen right in front of her."
"I wouldn't even talk to her."
Miranda nodded and looked at the TV. Nadine put her coffee cup down and leaned against Miranda's shoulder. They sat together in the dark waiting room, jumped together when the lights came up in response to the sun going down outside, watched the documentary on the small TV and drank stale, cold coffee.
On the next commercial break, Miranda began feeling the results of all her coffee and said, "Dean, I need..." She looked down and saw Nadine had fallen asleep. Rather than wake her after the brutal day she'd had, Miranda crossed her legs and settled in for a long wait. Fortunately, the documentary was about desert animals rather than marine life.
A few minutes later, however, the option of letting her sleep was taken from her. A petite doctor stepped into the doorway and looked at them. "Miss Butler?" she asked in a quiet voice.
Miranda reached up and stroked Nadine's cheek. "Dean... wake up, dear."
Nadine stirred and looked at Miranda for a moment before she realized they weren't alone. She murmured and sat up, straightening her glasses. "Yes, I'm Nadine Butler."
"I'm Kate's doctor, Rachel Tom. We've pumped Miss Price's stomach and we're confident we've gotten all of the pills out. She made a common mistake and attempted to wash them down with alcohol, which caused her to regurgitate most of the pills. You're lucky you found her when you did. She was awake briefly when she arrived, but we were forced to put her under anesthesia for the procedure. She's resting at the moment, but you can see her briefly once she wakes, if you'd like."
"Thank you, Dr. Tom," Miranda said.
"Thank you," Nadine echoed.
The doctor left and Nadine sat up straighter in her chair. "Was I drooling?" she asked as she wiped at her chin with one hand.
"No. But... if you'll excuse me, I've had way too many coffees..."
"Oh, God. Go, go," Nadine said.
Miranda hurried off and found the closest ladies room. She washed her hands and looked at her reflection in the glass. She'd nearly had a heart attack when she answered the phone and heard Nadine sobbing on the other end. She had hated herself, but when she arrived at Nadine's apartment to find someone else on a gurney, she had actually been relieved.
And then, when she'd been giving another chance to come out to Nadine, she'd chickened out again. "What will it take?" she asked her reflection. "She didn't have a choice. She was forced out and all she needs is a *friend.* Someone to..."
The door opened and a nurse came into the bathroom. Miranda covered her mouth and faked a cough, smiled at the pretty young nurse, and left the bathroom. She found Nadine still alone in the waiting room, huddled in her little chair like a little girl waiting outside a daycare center; alone and desperately waiting for someone to take her home. Miranda slid into the seat next to her and took Nadine's hand. "You can lean on me again," she said.
Nadine did so without hesitation. Miranda closed her eyes. Nadine nodded her head towards the TV and said, "Cheetahs can purr, but they can't roar."
Miranda's eyes opened again. "Egotistical housecats."
Nadine chuckled. After a long moment, she turned her head slightly and said, "I'm glad you're not... scared of me."
"What?" Miranda said. "Why would I be scared of you?"
"Not me. That I might... you know... turn you. Or something. Like being gay can be contagious."
"There's little chance of *that* happening," Miranda said. She could have added 'I've known I was gay for years' or 'I'm already infected.' Anything. But she kept her mouth shut. They watched the Discovery Channel documentary for a while, Nadine dozed and Miranda stroked her hair.
Finally, around ten, Dr. Tom returned and told them that Kate was awake. Nadine stood and stretched, turning to face Miranda. "Do you want to come in with me?"
"Unless you need me to be there... I think it's something you should do on your own, I think," Miranda said.
Nadine nodded. "I'll be back in a minute," she said as she followed Dr. Tom out of the waiting room.
Kate was lying on her side as before, hospital sheet pulled to her waist and her arms again wrapped around her stomach. Nadine thanked the doctor and waited for the door to close before she walked around the foot of the bed. The window was open and the moonlight was casting a pale shadow across Kate's face. Her eyes were sunken and dark, her lips pale and drawn. Nadine felt an ache just under her ribcage at the sight of her lover and nervously touched her arm. "Kate...?"
Kate's eyes opened slowly and they scanned the room for who had spoken. When she found Nadine, she blinked and said, "Dean."
"Hey," Nadine said.
"Sorry," Kate managed to say. Her voice, a voice Nadine so adored hearing sing from the shower, was scratchy and thin. She swallowed and a grimace of pain exploded across her face. She managed to relax her features and moved her hand across the mattress. Nadine met it halfway and Kate said, "Sorry... 'bout the... article..."
"It's your job," Nadine shrugged.
"Yes. Well," Nadine said. She blinked back her tears and decided not to beat around the bush. "You scared the hell out of me, Kate. I mean... what if I... hadn't come in? I almost didn't come in and... God. If I had gone back downstairs and been mad at you all night... do you know what that would have done to me?"
Kate was weeping now; quiet tears that lethargically rolled down her wan cheeks. Nadine reached up and brushed one away, letting her hand linger against Kate's cold skin. "Do you want me to call Amy? Let her know that you're..."
"No," Kate said quickly. "I don't want... anyone to... know."
"My..." Nadine hesitated and then said, "My boss knows. I called her to drive me to the hospital. She's been sitting with me since..."
"Good... boss," Kate smiled.
Nadine smiled back. "Yeah. The best." She looked over the wall of electronics, the steady beep that was the heart she'd listened to on so many quiet nights. She blinked back her tears and looked Kate in the eye. "Is there anything I can do for you, sweetheart?"
Kate shook her head carefully and said, "I think I want... to sleep. My stomach feels like... I did ten thousand sit-ups."
Nadine brushed Kate's arm and nodded. "Okay. Anything else?"
"Ask the... nurse for more ice chips?"
"Okay." She stroked Kate's cheek one more time and then stood up. She bent over the bed and lightly brushed Kate's lips with her own. She moved her hand from Kate's cheek to her hair, brushing it away from the clammy skin. She moved her lips to Kate's eyes and kissed the tears away. "I love you, Kate," she whispered.
"I love you, Dean."
Nadine kissed her one last time before she stood up. She ran her fingers through Kate's hair again and said, "I'll come back and see you when you wake up in the morning, okay?"
Nadine went around the foot of the bed and slipped out. Dr. Tom was at the nurse's station and Nadine approached. "Doctor." Tom looked up. "Kate wanted... um, ice chips."
"Okay, I'll get a nurse to bring her some."
"Do you know when she can be released?"
"We're doing a twenty-four hour hold on her, just to keep an eye out for infection and we'll want a counselor to speak to her during that time, of course, to make sure she won't try this again when we release her..."
"She won't," Nadine assured her.
Dr. Tom nodded. "Still, we like to be certain before we release this type of patient."
Nadine cringed at the words 'this type of patient,' but knew what the doctor meant. "I understand."
"Will you and your friend be staying overnight? We could arrange for a room..."
"No, no," Nadine said. "We... I'm sure we'll go home at some point. Thank you, Dr. Tom."
The doctor nodded and returned to her charting. Nadine found her way back to the waiting room where Miranda was waiting. "Hey," she said.
Miranda turned and rose from her seat. "Hey. How is she?"
"She's getting better. They're probably going to release her tomorrow."
Miranda nodded and said, "You want me to drop you at your place, or..."
"Yes, please." She rubbed her face and said, "I don't think I could stand staying here all night. The antiseptic smell, knowing Kate was... No," she said firmly. "I can't stay here."
Miranda curled an arm around Nadine's shoulders and softly said, "Come on."
She guided her through the quiet corridors of the sleeping hospital and downstairs. They stepped into the cold night air and Nadine, unprepared for the sudden chill, hugged herself. She stepped behind Miranda as they walked to her car. Miranda smirked and turned around. She undid the belt on her trenchcoat and wrapped the halves around Nadine. Together they walked across the parking lot, Nadine trembling against Miranda's body as she unlocked the car door.
Nadine scooted across the front seat and Miranda climbed in behind her. She slammed the door against the winter night and cranked up the heater. They sat in the warm pocket and waited to defrost from their trek across the parking lot. Miranda said, "Almost didn't make it."
"When did it get so *cold*? It was *sweltering* yesterday!"
"I think a cold front blew in halfway through that cheetah special."
Nadine cupped her hands over her mouth and blew into them. Without preamble, Miranda said, "I talked to one of the managers over at Joe Lack's Pizza after you left today. They're going to reconsider the promotion deal. I'm going to give the others a call tomorrow and see if I can loosen them up."
Nadine closed her eyes. "Thank you."
"Eh, Lack is a pushover."
"No, not for... not *just* for that. Thank you for... for everything you've done for me the past two days. You've been so, so great during all of this when it's not even your fight. It means a lot to me."
"I have a stance in it, too, you know."
Nadine nodded. "Yes, of course. I haven't said how sorry I am that this is affecting your radio station. It's not fair that you should suffer..."
"I have a stance in it because I'm gay, too, Nadine."
The two women looked at each other, neither sure which of them was more surprised by the sudden revelation. Finally, Miranda's face split into an awkward smile and she held her hands out to either side of her face. "Surprise!"
To Be Continued in Chapter Eight
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