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Nadine, flush from her conversation with Kate and out of breath from pushing her bike to its limits, rounded the corner like the leader of the Tour de France. The protesters lined the sidewalk across from KELF, held at bay by a blue sawhorse and Deputy Randall White's patrol car parked at the curb.
She rode past his position and the voice of the crowd rose as one. Nadine waved to White as she went past and parked her bike next to the rack. The deputy climbed from his car and started across the street. One of the protesters with a particularly booming voice shouted, "What you're doing is unnatural!"
White turned and walked backwards as he shouted back, "At least she's having sex!"
The protester, a whippet-thin college kid, naturally shrank back from the ex-soldier's gaze. White faced forward again and stepped onto the curb, a sheepish smile playing on his wolfish lips. "Sorry about that, Miss Butler. That was crude of me."
"Oh, hell, no," she said. "If I had the guts, I would've said the same thing. Or... something less crude."
He smiled and tilted his head towards the crowd. "I'll be out here as long as I can, make sure they behave themselves. No matter what, though, I'm going to be here when you get off at five to keep the peace."
"Thank you. It means a lot."
"Just doing my job, ma'am. Have a good show."
She thanked him again and they separated; her to the front door of the station and him back to his car. As soon as she stepped into the heat of the KELF lobby, the sweat on the sides of her face began to evaporate. She swept a hand through her hair and smiled at Sue. "Morning, Sue."
Sue was immediately on her feet, hands fluttering around her collar. "Oh, Nadine, was that *you* on the phone yesterday? I am so sorry, I had *no* idea. Can you ever, ever forgive me for..."
Nadine moved quickly around the desk and hugged Sue. "Shh, shh. It's all right. I'm fine. Everything worked out fine."
"A-are you sure?"
"Absolutely. No hard feelings."
Sue exhaled and brushed a hand across her forehead. "Okay. Thank you, Nadine. I'm so sorry."
Nadine assured her everything was fine and then went upstairs to the office. The round table they used for their meetings had been set up to one side of the cubicle maze and Hoagie was already in his seat, head down, eyes closed, apparently asleep. Nadine dumped her coat at her desk and headed towards Miranda's office at the back of the room.
She stopped at the door at took a moment to admire her boss. She was wearing a red suit, something she'd worn before, but something about it seemed different. Miranda seemed softer, more... *there* than she'd ever been before. Nadine wondered if it was just the typical reaction to being in someone's home late at night seeing someone's bathroom. Knowing she was gay could also be a part of it.
Miranda finally looked up and caught her lurking. She smiled faintly and went back to her work. "Hello, Nadine."
Nadine had to fight to not flinch at the coldness in that voice. She cleared her throat and said, "Hi. I-I went to see Kate this morning."
When Miranda looked up, her eyes had softened a bit. "How is she?"
"Doing better. They'll probably release her later tonight."
Miranda breathed a sigh of true relief and straightened her back. "That's wonderful. Are you going back to the hospital later...?"
"I planned to go after work."
"Tell her I said hello. We only met once, but..."
"I'll tell her. She'll be glad to know you're thinking of her."
Miranda nodded and said, "Okay. I'll start the meeting in a minute." She took her seat and resting her head on her hand. She began massaging her temple and Nadine couldn't hold back anymore.
She glanced at the table where Hoagie was still sleeping and stepped into the office. She rounded the desk and lowered her voice to a whisper. "Miranda, is everything all right? A-are you uncomfortable because of what you told--"
"No," Miranda said softly. She reached out and took Nadine's hand. "I don't regret telling you. But... We have to talk privately. I've asked Willa to take the first few minutes of your show, so we'll speak after the meeting, okay?"
"Okay... something we can't talk about at the staff meeting?"
"No," Miranda said again. "I'm sorry, Nadine. We should go out there..."
She stepped back and let Miranda stand up. They walked out of the office together and Nadine tried to ignore the niggling voice at the back of her mind, tried to brush off the familiar chill of everything about to go wrong.
As they walked towards the table, Leah Nettles arrived in the bullpen. She was dressed in a ragged white t-shirt and jeans, her black hair hanging limp in her face. She was the youngest DJ at the station, but her outfits usually cut an extra ten years off her look. Nadine politely waved hello and paused when Leah waved her over. "Nadine, come here a minute."
Nadine glanced at Miranda and crossed to meet Leah halfway across the bullpen. "Hi, Leah," she said. "What's up?"
"Not much," Leah said. "I just wanted to let you know I've got your back. Hundred percent."
"Thanks, Leah. That means a--"
"And also, I don't know if you're seeing anybody, but if you want a date some Friday or Saturday, give me a call." She slipped a piece of paper into Nadine's hand.
Nadine blinked. "You're gay?!" She resisted from asking if it was some kind of prerequisite for working at the station when Leah laughed.
"No, I'm not gay! I'm curious, though. So if you'd like to hang out, get a little wild, give me a call." She winked and brushed past Nadine. As Nadine looked down at the phone number on the slip of paper, Leah squeezed her ass.
Nadine squeaked and jumped forward. She spun around and saw Leah smirking, tongue sticking between her teeth as she trotted towards the meeting table. Nadine followed her, surreptitiously dropping Leah's phone number in the garbage. She'd been there, the experimental fling. Maybe fun in her twenties, but not now. Leah would have to find her own guinea pig.
She walked across the room and took a seat next to Hoagie. She nudged him gently and he sat up immediately. He blinked sleepily at her and rubbed both eyes with the heels of his hands. "What, I'm up, I'm up." He sniffled and said, "We ready?"
"We are," Miranda said. She glanced at Leah and said, "Are you okay with the early start time, Leah? We didn't wake you or anything...?"
"Like I sleep," Leah scoffed. "I'm fine, boss lady."
Miranda nodded and began straightening her notes. "Okay, first order of business is... oh." The door to the booth opened and Willa slipped out to join them. She and Simon alternated which of them attended the meetings and it looked like this time he had won the coin toss.
The meeting got underway with discussions about contests, station identifications, one or two complaints (not related to Nadine) that had come in. They discussed an upcoming concert and decided that they would be broadcasting from the concert. Hoagie raised his hand as volunteer to do that duty, but Nadine had the sinking sensation that, despite the controversy, she would end up going in his place.
After a quick resolution regarding who would fill in for Ben that weekend - Leah volunteered - the meeting broke up. Hoagie headed for his desk, where he promptly dropped into his chair, put his head down and resumed his nap. Leah spoke briefly with Miranda, turned with a swish of her hips and rubbed Hoagie's head as she headed out of the building. She was gone as quickly as she'd appeared, leaving with only a waft of perfume to show she'd been there at all.
Nadine stood just as Willa was heading back to the booth and they ended up face-to-face. Nadine forced a smile and said, "Willa... thank you for covering the first part of my show. I know you... don't agree with me or..."
"I don't agree with what you are," Willa said curtly, "but I've always thought of you as a friend. So... here." She reached into her pocket and slapped a pamphlet into Nadine's hand. "Read that when you're ready to change your life for the better. Despite this little bump in the road, I have always liked you, Nadine."
Nadine waited until Willa had walked away before she looked down at the pamphlet. "Reparative therapy, a way to a happier, healthier, holier you," she read.
The cover showed a male and female couple huddling in front of a horse, looking blissfully happy and undeniably heterosexual. "I guess I'll go straight. I've always wanted a horse like that." She resisted the urge to rip the paper in half and instead stuck it into her back pocket. She went into Miranda's office and said, "You wanted to speak to me about something...?"
Miranda had just poured a small white pill into her hand. "Yes, please... close the door?" She popped the pill and Nadine felt a twitch. She wondered how long it would be before she could see someone pop a pill without worrying. She closed the door and took one of the seats opposite Miranda's. The foreboding chill had returned. She crossed her legs and tried to remain casual. "What's wrong? Miranda, if I did anything last night that..."
"Stop blaming yourself," Miranda said. Nadine was struck dumb by the déjà vu of the moment; it was exactly what she had told Kate in the hospital room. Miranda continued. "Last night after I dropped you off, I got a call from Mr. Dugan."
Nadine leaned back in her chair and braced herself. "This won't be good. Will it?"
"No," Miranda said softly. She had yet to meet Nadine's eyes. "He called to say that Joe Lack was indeed pulling his sponsorship. There was a... a miscommunication, I suppose." She rubbed the bridge of her nose and said, "But he's not alone. Also pulling out are... Chin's, Yolk Folks, Duck Soup Restaurant and... Dean, I'm so sorry. Gail's pulled out, too."
"Gail's?" Nadine breathed.
"It's... something to do with his father. I don't know. I don't... it doesn't matter. Dugan is furious. He says that if we can't advertise during your show, we might as well... n-not run it at all. Dean, he wants..."
The chill had transformed into a block of ice, hanging just behind her ribs and freezing everything it touched. "I'm being fired. Aren't I?"
"No," Miranda said firmly. "He said you were last night, but I managed to talk him down. It's a... a temporary leave of absence."
"Please," Nadine scoffed. "You and I both know that if I walk out that door, I'm not coming back in here. Not to work, not ever again. And we both know I'm being fired because I'm gay."
When Miranda finally looked up, Nadine was shocked to see she was crying. "Yeah. Basically, yes, you are."
"That's wrong, Miranda. That is..."
"You don't think I know that, Nadine? I haven't slept the past two nights because I have been fighting this tooth and nail. But I can't fight forever and I can't sacrifice my own job, Dean. You have to know I fought as hard as I could just to get this suspension."
"I know you did," Nadine said softly. She stood up and said, "Thank you for fighting a little for me, Miranda. It means a hell of a lot."
"Don't do this to me, Dean."
"My name is Nadine."
"*Dean,*" Miranda said firmly. She stood up and said, "Sit your ass back down."
Nadine reluctantly took her seat and Miranda leaned forward across the desk. "You are my friend. If I hadn't proven that before, I did last night. As long as I have this job, you're going to have an advocate. I won't let you go without fighting, but you have got to back off. Just for now. Give Dugan a little win so he'll be more willing to give in a little in a week or so."
Nadine closed her eyes. "I'm tired of waiting for another week or so. I'm just so tired, Miranda. I may have come out accidentally, but... hell. Maybe I *wanted* out. Maybe I finally got sick of it and forced myself to do it subconsciously. I don't know. Freud would have a field day with it, I'm sure."
The music that had been filling the room as white noise suddenly cut off and Willa Lamb's voice took its place. "That was *Life on Mars?* by David Bowie and no, you're not hearing things. I'm still Willa Lamb and I'm just filling in for Nadine Butler for a couple of minutes. She'll be here with you soon with music by Bob Dylan, Manfred Mann and War. One of us will be here to take your calls after these commercials."
Nadine frowned at the wall-mounted speaker. "What did she just say...? You just said..."
"It's your last show," Miranda said. "Before the suspension kicks in. It was Dugan's idea, actually, since you were coming in anyway for the staff meeting. He said that it was the least he could do for your listeners."
"So he admits I have listeners but not that people want to hear me. Great."
Miranda opened her mouth, perhaps to apologize again, and closed it before she could say anything.
Nadine stood up again. "Well, I guess I better get in there for my swan song."
She left before Miranda could call her back. As she walked towards the booth, she let her eyes pass over the bullpen one final time. Hoagie, asleep at his desk. Billy washing off the white marker board that listed current long-running contests and upcoming concerts. She saw her jacket draped over her own chair, something so familiar and every-day that it almost made her cry to think it might be the last time she'd see it that way.
She pushed down her emotions and opened the door to the booth. Willa already had her things gathered and stood as soon as Nadine stepped inside. "Thank you for filling in for me, Willa."
Willa nodded and stopped at the door. She turned and said, "You will think about that program, won't you, dear?"
"Yeah. I'll think on it a lot," Nadine said. Willa walked out and Nadine waited until she was almost to the stairs before she continued. "I think it's funny, though." Willa turned. "Gays and lesbians are the ones who are shunned, who are treated like we have a disease... and straight people are the ones who are doing all the converting." She smiled sweetly. "It just seems bizarre to me."
Willa huffed and disappeared down the stairs.
Billy turned from the board and smirked. "Good one, Miss Butler."
"Need any song times?"
Nadine glanced at the microphone, at the currently dark on-air sign and said, "No, Billy. Not today."
"Awright, Miss Butler. You just let me know if you change your mind."
She went into the booth and shut the door. She looked at the knob and bemoaned the lack of a lock. She scanned the room and spotted the chair Simon used for the morning show. She grabbed it and unfolded the seat, made sure it was sturdy, and jammed it under the knob so no one could get in. Her heart was pounding in her chest as she rounded the table and took her seat.
The headphones fit her so well, disturbing her glasses a little but not enough to be distracting. She rested her finger on the on-air button and closed her eyes. They had backed her into the corner; Willa, the protesters, Thomas Dugan... now it was time to show them that the Pixie could fight back.
If it was going to be her last show on the air, she was going to make it count. She hit the on-air button and began to speak.
Miranda splashed her face with cold water in the tiny private bathroom next to her office. Tears had been threatening all day and, until the confrontation with Nadine, she'd been able to hold them off by shouting into the phone at Thomas Dugan. But being forced to be the messenger, telling Nadine she'd have to be off the air for an indefinite amount of time, had finally broken down her defenses.
She splashed a little more water on her face to be presentable and went back into the main office. She was in time to hear the tail end of a commercial for the charter flight services before Nadine's voice came on.
"Honey?" Tamara Butler said as she entered the back room of the photography studio. "Do you have the packet for Erin Williams?"
Nathaniel looked up from the table and cleared his throat. "Yeah, right here." He walked to the counter and began rifling through the bags of developed film. She walked past him and switched on the radio underneath the film developer. "What are you doing?" he asked without looking around.
"Hush, I want to listen to Nadine a little."
He made a growl in his throat and finally found a packet marked Williams. He carried it into the other room as his wife angled the antennae towards the ceiling. "Good morning, everyone. My name is Nadine Butler and, if I sound a little subdued today, it's for good reason. You see, I'm going on a 'temporary leave of absence' from my job. And we all know what that means: I got canned." There was a flushing toilet noise and she said, "Thank you to Hoagie; hope he doesn't mind me borrowing his sound effects."
Hoagie hated waking up with someone touching him, especially if he didn't remember going to bed with anyone. He cracked an eyelid and looked at Billy. "What do you... oh. You need to clean here or..."
"No, Mr. Hogan," Billy, the only person who never called him Hoagie, said. "I think something's about to happen with Miss Butler."
"Is she all right?" Hoagie asked. He stood, immediately awake. He looked around the room, half-expecting to see the protesters had gotten in.
Billy looked uncertain, but finally he nodded. "I think so. Physically, least-ways. But... I don't know if she's all right in the head."
Hoagie started towards the booth just as Miranda flung open the door to her office and began running in the same direction.
Deputy White's car pulled away from the curb a few minutes before Nadine began broadcasting. A call had come in and Sheriff Rucker was tied up at the office. He figured that nothing would happen so long as Butler was safe and sound inside the radio station, so he radioed that he was answering the call. Rucker agreed and told him to be sure to return before she went off the air in case the protesters hung around.
As he drove past the clump of bodies in the street, someone in the back pulled out a portable radio. He tuned it to KELF and, as soon as Nadine introduced herself, the assembled picketers began to boo loudly.
In Coffee Table Books, KELF was played loudly during Nadine Butler's program and there was a special on pink "I Support the Pixie" cookies. Amy Wellis was pulling another sheet of the cookies out of the oven when someone in the main room began shushing the patrons. She walked out to see what the commotion was in time to hear Nadine announce that it was her final show.
A chorus of boos went up from the patrons of Coffee Table Books and Amy smiled. She rang the service bell on the counter and said, "Pixie supporters, listen up. I've got a way to let her know we're here for her..."
Kate grimaced as she was angled into the wheelchair. Her stomach still felt like it had been doubling as a speed bag while she was unconscious and she held herself like a pregnant woman as she sagged in the chair. The nurse put a hand on her shoulder and assured her the doctor would be there in a moment with the discharge papers. Kate nodded and, when the nurse had left, wheeled herself back to the bed.
She leaned over the railing and found the television controls. She punched a few buttons until she found the combination that turned on the radio. She tuned it until the static cleared and heard her girlfriend - no, ex-girlfriend - speaking loud and clear.
Her smile was short-lived, however, as she listened to what Nadine had to say. By the time Dr. Tom arrived, she was staring at the speakers in disbelief. The doctor looked at Kate, listened to Nadine and then gasped as well. Kate looked up at her, finally noticing she wasn't alone, and smiled proudly. "That's my ex-girlfriend for ya."
Nathaniel stood at the front counter with Erin Williams' packet of photographs forgotten in his hand, half-turned to the sound of his daughter's voice. Erin wasn't concerned with the service; she, like most of the people on the island, was transfixed on the radio.
This is what they heard:
"Good morning, everyone. My name is Nadine Butler and, if I sound a little subdued today, it's for good reason. You see, I'm going on a 'temporary leave of absence' from my job. And we all know what that means. I got canned." There was a sound effect of a toilet being flushed. "Thank you to Hoagie; hope he doesn't mind me borrowing his sound effects. Officially, I'm being fired because advertisers have been pulling out. But since they're pulling out because of the announcement in last Sunday's paper, I'm finding it hard not to feel discriminated against.
"So, in the time since I was given this information... about four or five minutes ago... I've been thinking about what my final show should be. Would I do what I normally do? That'd be great, except I really can't. I don't have any sponsors, so I can't give away any tickets or any free dinners. I am going to play music, though. It's my job, it's what I love to do and I'm not going to stop just because of some homophobic idiots. But between songs, we're going to be doing things a little different.
"Last night, I had a talk with someone. I won't tell you who; it's not my place. But this person revealed to me they were gay. That they'd been hiding it for years." (It's at this point that Miranda left her office as if it were on fire.) "And I got to thinking about it. How many other people on this island are gay? I know there have got to be a few. I've slept with some of them." A rim shot, another Hoagie sound effect.
"I only ask because I like to know whose bullet I'm taking. So call in. If you're gay, if you're willing to fight this fight with me, call in. Announce yourself. Let people know that I am not the only one here.
"I'm not angling to put anyone in my shoes. I would not wish what I've been through on anyone. But the feeling of being out? I would not trade it for anything. I would not go back into the closet if I was given the chance. Life doesn't end with coming out. It can be hellish, yes. It can hurt you. It can cause strife, of course. I'm a good example of that. I've had a derogatory word painted on my apartment door. I nearly lost someone I love to suicide. Coming out is by no means an easy thing. But it is so much harder to do it alone.
"The phone lines are open, 232-5353. I'm Nadine Butler. I am a lesbian. And this is *Smiling Faces Sometimes* by the Undisputed Truth. Pay attention to the lyrics, folks. I'll be back after the music. You don't have to be on the air, but I'd sure like to hear from you. So please, give me a call."
She pulled the headphones off and finally turned around. Miranda, Hoagie and Billy were crowded in front of the window, gawking at her, as she had expected. Nadine picked up a Sharpie and wrote on the back of the play list. She stood and walked to the window, placing the paper against the glass so they would be sure to read it.
"I'M NOT SORRY & I'M NOT GOING OFF-AIR"
Miranda pointed at Nadine and then twirled her finger around her ear.
Nadine shook her head.
Miranda mouthed, "What were you thinking?!"
Nadine shook her head again and shrugged. She walked back to the console and put down her paper. The lines were all flashing crazily and she hit the button to answer Line One. "Good morning. You're on the air with KELF and the Pixie."
"Hi, Nadine. This is Amy Wellis. We met at Squire Days on... on Saturday?"
"I remember. Hi, Amy. Is it all right if I record this for...?"
"Yes, please, air it. Um... I work at Coffee Table Books. I inherited it from my father and I've been serving locals and tourists for about five years now. And if this changes anyone's perception, well... there's nothing I can do about it. I'm a lesbian."
"Thank you, Amy."
"Thank *you,* Nadine. I want all of your listeners to know that I'm having a special on 'I Support the Pixie' cookies. They were just going to be a fun gimmick, but I want everyone to come in and show their support of the greatest DJ in Washington State. If I could afford advertising, you'd have at least one sponsor."
Nadine laughed. "Thank you. It's the thought that counts, but money is nice, too. I'll talk to you later, Amy." She switched to line two and checked the counter on the song. She had *Quinn the Eskimo* coming up next; long enough to take at least one more call. "This is the Pixie, Nadine Butler. Who am I talking to?"
"Reverend James McCoy, from First Baptist. I run a reparative therapy class. I was listening to your show and if being a lesbian has led to such strife, perhaps you..."
"Reverend... if I may interrupt? It's not the fact that I'm a lesbian that's hurting me. Unless you're telling me that a straight relationship would be simple, with no fights, no disagreements and no heartache. If that's what I'll get from your 'reparative therapy,' then sign me up. I've tried being straight, trust me. You want someone to lie to herself, I'm better than you religious guys at that. But I am gay and sitting in a cold folding chair talking to a group of people isn't going to change that. Thank you for your call."
She hung up before he could retaliate and she glanced at the counter. She didn't have time to take another call, so she pulled Willa's pamphlet out of her back pocket. The happy, shiny straight people and their stupid horse smiled up at her from the paper as she unfolded it and began to read.
When Manfred Mann finished singing, she angled the microphone back towards her and hit the button to turn it on. "Hello, everyone. I'm sitting here reading a pamphlet I was handed this morning and it is *very* informative. Let me tell you some things I'm learning about myself: I am mentally disturbed. I am a 'struggler.' Apparently, I felt alienated by other women and strove to gain their acceptance by any means possible, including - and I quote - 'compulsive sexual gratification.' Wow, that... th-that is very good to know.
"On top of being gay - the stigma attached to it and the reaction to my friends and coworkers - why don't I add the fear of being told it's just because I'm mentally damaged? There's another reason to stay in the closet for a while. The guilt, the pain of going through one of these 'reparative therapies'... I've heard of them. Of course I have. When I was denying who I was, I thought a *lot* about going to one.
"The problem is this. When I was living as a straight woman, going out with men, I couldn't change myself no matter how hard I tried. My thoughts, my desires. I've known people who went through this conversion therapy. They tried to change their sexuality by force. One of them, it actually seems to have worked. He's married, has a kid, seems to be happy and I'm happy for him. The others... one of them is an alcoholic. One of them is severely depressed, still in therapy and trying to undo the damage done. I hope she makes it."
She cleared her throat and blinked away her tears. "The answer can't be found sitting in a circle munching on stale cookies. You have to find the answer inside yourself and if you try to jam your foot into a shoe that doesn't fit, you're just going to destroy your toes." She blinked and shook her head. "Maybe that doesn't make sense, I don't know. You'd have just as much trouble trying to 'reform' a lefty. You can train him, you can tie one hand behind his back, but he's still going to cut himself when he tries to shave."
She cleared her throat and glanced at the clock. "Okay. Okay, um... I'll probably have more to say on that later. Right now, I'm going to play *Why Can't We Be Friends?* Stick with the Pixie." She shut off the mic and, a moment later, her cell phone rang. She fished it out, looked at the Caller ID and frowned. She spun around in her chair and saw Miranda in the bullpen, cell against her ear. She was holding a piece of paper against the glass.
Nadine answered her phone and was the first to speak. "I'm not going off the air."
"Nadine," Miranda sighed. "What the hell are you doing? This isn't right."
"It's the best course of action."
"According to whom?"
"To me!" Nadine said. She stood and walked closer to the glass. "I have been letting people steamroll over me ever since I came out. But I'm not going to take it anymore! I'm making a stand. I have one last show; let me use it the way I must. Please, Miranda."
Before Miranda could answer, Sue appeared at the top of the stairs. "Miss Powell!"
Miranda and Nadine both turned to look. The overweight secretary was leaning against the wall and frantically pointing downstairs. "Mi-Miss Powell! You have to do something."
"What is it? What's going on?" Miranda said, holding the phone away from her ear so that Nadine could hear.
"As soon as Miss Butler started talking, the protesters crossed the street! They started banging on the glass and I managed to get the doors locked when I saw they meant to come in. But then they started leaning against the doors a-and I think they're going to try and break in!"
"No," Miranda said. She shook her head and said, "Deputy White is out there. I saw him myself when I came in..."
Sue interrupted. "No, ma'am, he's not! He left as soon as Nadine went on the air. I think he got a call, but... there's no one out there to stop those crazy people!"
"What on earth do they want?" Billy asked.
"Me," Nadine said.
Miranda turned and put the phone back to her ear. They locked eyes through the glass, Nadine's swimming with tears. She was terrified, her lower lip trembling as she spoke into the phone. "They're going to come in and yank me out."
Downstairs, something loud cracked and Sue yelped.
She locked eyes with Miranda and said, "Don't let them. Please, Miranda, don't let them get in here."
To Be Continued in Chapter Ten
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