Disclaimer: Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Warnings: Love between women, but nothing more than a kiss this time!
Feedback: Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 Geonn Cannon
They first noticed one another the week after Thanksgiving. Caitlin Elliot rode the ferry twice every day, once at 6:10 in the morning, and again at 5:20 in the evening. She worked as a paralegal at a small law firm on the mainland and commuted home to Squire's Isle every day. She usually arrived early and commandeered one of the booths near the stairs, since they had full tables. She placed her briefcase in the seat next to her, covered the top of the table with briefs and law books and spent the rest of the hour-and-a-half-long trip working.
She hardly ever looked up from what she was doing until they had docked at Anacortes, ignoring the stops at all the other islands in the morning commute, only looking up to tell people the other seat was taken, thank you very much, and no, she didn't feel like sharing.
So it was sheer happenstance that she happened to look up from a brief on December fourth. The ferry was freezing, and she was just taking a brief pause to button her coat and fish her gloves out of the pocket. As she tugged the warm wool down over her fingers, she scanned the rest of the boat.
There were the usual assortment of early morning passengers; men in suits slumped across two or three chairs, catching a few more minutes of sleep before their work day began. Women reading the newspaper or trying to apply make-up to faces that still bore the wrinkles from their pillow. The time of day and the chill in the air contributed to the fact that almost everyone was holding a cup of coffee and the smell of fresh-roasted brew permeated the passenger section.
Caitlin was about to go back to her work when she spotted someone outside on the stern observation deck, leaning against the railing to peer down at the water. She wore a long black duster and a black wool toque pulled down low over her ears.
Caitlin watched the woman for a moment, wondering how she could stand being outside in the freezing weather. The other woman finally turned, walked back into the ferry and rubbed her gloved hands together rapidly to warm them. She was smiling, her cheeks beet red, and she looked straight at Caitlin. It was as if she knew she was being watched and had instantly locked onto the right person. She waved, revealing that she was also wearing big green mittens, and then disappeared to sit on one of the wooden benches at the front of the ferry.
Caitlin didn't wave back. She pushed the thought of the snow queen out of her mind and went back to her work.
The next time they encountered each other was just over a week later, on the tenth of December. Caitlin carried her briefcase and backpack full of law books. She had overslept, gotten to the ferry lanes late, and she felt like an absolute mess. Her hair was caught in her glasses, she wasn't wearing any make-up and she was using her coat to cover the fact she was still wearing the blouse of her pajamas. When she got to work, she would duck into the bathroom and throw on a vest and a blazer, no one would be the wiser.
She reached the passenger section to find that every one of the booths had been taken. Newspapers were spread over every table or, even worse, people were just sleeping in the seats and ignoring the table entirely. "Great," she muttered.
"You could sit here, if you want."
Caitlin turned. She barely recognized the snow queen. Today, she was wearing a fur-trimmed hat with ear flaps and big black goggles. She was sitting in one of the booths, back to the wall and her feet up in the seat. Her hands were between her knees, holding a travel cup of steaming coffee. Caitlin almost refused, but she had so much to get done and so little time to do it in that she couldn't convince herself to say no. She pushed her hair away from her glasses and slid into the booth across from the girl. "Thanks. I'm going to take up most of the table..."
"That's fine," the girl said. She watched as Caitlin displayed her work stuff like a croupier dealing cards. "I'm Rebecca, by the way. Rebecca Wray. With a W. The Wray has a 'w', not Rebecca." She smiled.
Caitlin looked up. "Cait Elliot. No offense, but I would..."
"Right, the work." Rebecca nodded and sipped her coffee. She gestured with the cup and said, "Do you want some? I have a whole thermos..."
"I really just need to focus on this, thanks."
"Okay. Thought I'd offer. Thought it would be rude if..." She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth, drew her fingers across them and mimed throwing the key away. She settled against the wall and sipped her coffee quietly.
Rebecca kept her promise and stayed quiet for the rest of the trip. Caitlin checked her watch, realized they were getting close to the mainland, and began to pack up her things. She zipped up her backpack, locked the briefcase and slid to the edge of the booth seat. She looked at Rebecca, who had apparently spent the entire trip watching out the window at the islands they passed. "I appreciate you letting me work," she said.
"No problem," Rebecca said. "Get a lot done?"
"Enough," Caitlin said.
Caitlin started to get up, but Rebecca said, "Hold on." She pulled a cup out of her bag, poured some coffee from the thermos into it and held it out. "Here. For the rest of your commute."
"I can't take your cup."
"Please. I have a million of the things. I insist."
Caitlin took the cup, sniffed the coffee and felt her resistance fade. "Okay. Thank you very much, Rebecca Wray with a W."
"Same to you, Kate with a K."
"Actually, a C. And an I." Rebecca frowned, so Cait spelled it.
Rebecca said, "Oh! Wow, I've never heard of that spelling before."
"It's short for Caitlin."
Rebecca toasted with her coffee. "Well, it's very nice to meet you, Cait."
Cait returned the toast. "Same to you." She slipped out of the booth and carried her briefcase and backpack to the stairs. She stopped on the car level, pressed against the wall to try and cut down on the biting crosswind blowing through the boat. The exhaust fumes had dissipated and the smell of the water was strong. She leaned against the wall and breathed it deep as she sipped her coffee. It was good, very good. She blinked in surprise, took another sip and made a mental note to thank Rebecca next time they saw each other.
Their next run-in was on December twentieth, and Cait was in a furiously bad mood. Five days until Christmas and the lawyer she worked for was riding her ass about getting the case prepared for the start of the new year. She was transcribing a deposition, using a Walkman that kept skipping out. She rewound to pick up what the witness had said and felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up and saw Rebecca smiling down at her. Today she wore a dark ski mask, rolled up over her eyebrows so she didn't look like a bank robber, with a hood pulled up over it. "I didn't want to disturb you. I just wanted to say hey."
"Hi," Cait said. She hit the stop button and said, "Wait, I was looking for you." She bent down and picked up her backpack. She unzipped the outside pouch and withdrew the borrowed cup wrapped in a towel. "I washed it."
"Oh, thanks," Rebecca said. She took the cup and tucked it into the pocket of her coat. "I'll let you get back to your work. You looked busy."
"Yeah. Okay." She glanced at the front of the boat and said, "Are you going outside?"
"It's twenty degrees out there. The wind chill of a moving boat over water... you'll freeze to death."
Rebecca shrugged. "I'll come in before I'm totally ice-cubified. Besides..." She lifted her thermos. "Got my coffee."
Rebecca raised her eyebrows. "If?"
"If you get too cold, you could share my booth."
"Wow. No one ever shares your booth."
Cait said, "Have you been watching me?"
"Sort of," Rebecca said. She turned and walked backwards toward the stern of the boat. "Thanks for bringing me the cup."
"Thanks for the loan." She watched Rebecca walk away, the movement of her hips swinging the tails of her long coat behind her like a cape. Cait bit her bottom lip and went back to her yellow pad. She shook her head to clear Rebecca from it and focus on the witness statement.
Cait looked up. It was the fourth day of January, the new year, and no one had wished her a merry Christmas or even a 'happy holidays' for over a week. "Excuse me?" She recognized the hat first; big and black with fur around the face and earflaps. "Oh! Rebecca."
Rebecca smiled. "I realized that we didn't say it last time we saw each other. So, merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," Cait said with a grin. "Do you..."
Rebecca was already making her way to the far end of the ship. "Do I...?"
"Nothing. Have fun freezing your ass off."
"I will." She grinned and waved good-bye.
Cait shook her head and went back to her legal pad. "I must be out of my mind," she muttered. She sighed, tapped her pen on the pad and returned her mind to work.
They continued meeting briefly, stopping to say hello to one another or to comment on the weather. Cait found herself looking forward to the meetings and feeling upset when Rebecca didn't show up. Finally, near the end of January, Cait didn't pull out her work when she sat down. She parked herself on the edge of her booth's seat. She waited until Rebecca's familiar face appeared, this time under a purple hat with a green bobble on top. Cait waved her over and gestured at the seat opposite her.
"Hey, morning," Rebecca said.
"Hey." She frowned; Rebecca's face was pale and her eyes didn't seem to want to focus. "Are you all right?"
Rebecca blinked and nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. I didn't get much sleep. Out late, up early, you know..."
"Ah. Well, I wanted to ask you a question. What do you do?"
"On the mainland," Cait said. "For a living. Some days you'll be here, some days not..."
Rebecca said, "I'm a kindergarten teacher. I work at a private school in Seattle and some days we have AM classes, some days we have PM classes. So on the PM days, the kids and I get to sleep in and I take the 10:40 ferry. In fact, that's why I stayed out late last night. I thought today was a PM day."
"Ah! Mystery solved."
Rebecca grinned. "Anything else you'd like to know?"
Yes. Are you single, are you available, are you straight, are you gay? Cait cleared her throat and said, "Yeah. How many hats do you have?"
Rebecca laughed, pushed her purple hat down so that it covered her eyebrows. "You're just going to have to keep track." She winked and slid from the booth. "See you on the mainland, Cait with a C." She chuckled and walked away, swinging her hips as she walked.
Cait watched her go, flipped to the last page of her legal pad and wrote, "Purple wool cap with green bobble. Fur-trimmed hat w/ ear flaps. Black wool toque..."
Cait's backpack was snatched from her arm as she was dumping it onto the table. "Hey!" she snapped. Every legal document, every book that she had shoved into the bag that morning ran through her head. She struck out with her free hand and pulled her punch before it connected with Rebecca's (black toque, pulled low to cover her ears) face.
"Whoa! Sorry! Sorry!"
Cait relaxed and let Rebecca take the bag. "What are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?"
Rebecca slung the strap of the backpack over her own shoulder and said, "You're not going to do work today."
"Why, pray tell, not?"
"Because it's a holiday." She hooked her arm around Cait's and walked her away from the table. "All winter, I've watched you sit there with your nose in a book the entire trip from Squire's Isle to Anacortes. So for one day, you're going to sit on the ferry and enjoy the scenery."
Cait reluctantly let herself be dragged across the ferry. "What holiday? It's... Thursday, right?"
Rebecca looked at her to see if she was joking and then pulled an exaggerated sad face. "Oh, this is the saddest thing I have ever heard. Cait, today is Thursday, February the fourteenth. It's Valentine's Day! And I absolutely refuse to let you spend the entire day with your nose in a book. This is the only hour of the day I have any control over, so I'm doing what I can."
The front of the boat had several long wooden benches, and swinging doors that led out to twin observation decks. It was there that she had first caught sight of Rebecca two months ago.
They sat on one of the wooden benches and Cait wrapped her arms around herself. Despite her jacket and scarf, and the fact that the doors to the observation area were closed, it was still freezing this close to the outside. She was terrified to think what it would be like once they actually started moving. "What are you, cold-blooded?" she asked as Rebecca flopped down next to her.
Rebecca laughed. "I just focus on the scenery and I forget about how cold I am. Mostly. The rest of the time I use my coffee to thaw out." She bent down and picked up her own bag. She pulled out a thermos, poured some coffee into the cap and handed it to Cait. "There you go."
Cait held the cup in both hands and held it in front of her lips so that the steam would wash over her face. As the ferry sounded its horn and backed from the dock, Cait realized that Rebecca had an arm around her shoulders. Due to the cold, they were alone in the section, the only two people sitting on the frozen wooden benches. Even if it was an innocent gesture, the hand on Cait's shoulder felt very intimate... maybe the most intimate Cait had been with another woman in a very long time.
She cleared her throat to change the direction her mind was heading in. "So what am I supposed to be looking for?"
"Nothing in particular," Rebecca said. "Just keep watching out the window. I should have done this for Christmas, back when there was still a lot of snow. But it'll still be okay."
The ferry rolled silently across the water, pulling around the harbor. Cait wasn't sure what she was supposed to be watching for, was mainly interested in her coffee. She looked to her right and saw a small, rocky hump of an island nearby. It was frosted with gray-white ice, and seabirds were perching on the rocky outcropping.
In the distance, Cait saw the tall evergreens of Squire's Isle's neighboring island were dazzling in dresses of green and white, sparkling with ice crystals like Christmas cards. "Wow," she said.
"I knew you would see it," Rebecca said with a grin.
Cait said, "So that's what you're doing out here... looking at the snow?"
"Yeah, mainly. I mean, it's freezing, but I can't think of a better way to spend a commute. It's just gorgeous out here. This is on our way to work, and most people who live here never take the chance to just sit and watch it."
Cait looked at Rebecca and said, "Well, I'm definitely going to look up from my notes a little more often from now on."
Rebecca grinned. "Then my work here is done."
"It was a very nice Valentine's Day gift," Cait said. "Thank you. I just wish I had something to give you in return."
"Oh, don't worry about me," Rebecca said. "I have a class with fourteen five-year-old boys who have to make Valentine's Day cards, but they still think girls are icky. So don't you worry about me not getting a card. I'll be covered with glitter in twelve hours."
Cait said, "Your entire Valentine's Day focuses on five-year-olds?"
"Au contraire! No, no, I have big plans, my dear. There is a TV dinner at home with my name on it," Rebecca said. "And I have DVDs of several TV shows that I need to catch up on."
"Well, you saved my morning, so... if you're available, and if you think the TV dinner can wait, I would love to take you out for dinner."
"Two women at dinner on Valentine's Day? Might people think we're... you know, together?"
Cait hesitated and said, "Well, wouldn't we be?"
Rebecca's smile widened and said, "Why, Cait with a C and an I. Who would have thunk it?" She twisted her lips together in an amused smile before she finally answered. "Yes, I would be happy to accompany you to dinner."
Cait hesitated and then leaned in. She kissed the corner of Rebecca's mouth, let her lips linger and then moved them to her cheek. Cait pulled back, blinked behind her glasses and said, "Which ferry are you taking back to the island?"
"The, um..." Rebecca coughed, obviously thrown by the kiss. She blinked and said, "I was going to take the 5:20."
"I'll see if I can leave a little early, meet you at Anacortes... we'll look at the scenery on the way home and go straight to dinner from the dock."
Rebecca moved a little closer. "That sounds all right. What about after that...?"
Cait pretended to consider it. "Well, it is going to be our first date. I wouldn't want you to think I was easy."
"First date?" Rebecca said. She laughed and moved away. "First date? What the hell do you think I've been doing all this time, you crazy woman? First date my ass! We've been together two months."
"Have we?" Cait said. She was smiling slightly.
Rebecca nodded. "Hell yes. Frankly, I think I'm a bit of a saint to have waited this long."
Cait blushed and looked out at the water. "Well, then I guess, after dinner, we can just see where the night takes us."
Rebecca moved close again and squeezed Cait's arm. "Good. Now kiss me like you mean it."
Cait smiled and leaned forward. She kissed Rebecca softly, then moved her hand to the back of Rebecca's head and held her for a long moment. When they parted, Cait said, "You know, if we've been dating for two months, don't you think it's weird I don't even know what color your hair is?"
Rebecca's eyes sparkled when she grinned. "What's a relationship without a little mystery?" She bumped her nose against Cait's and said, "Happy Valentine's Day, Cait."
"Happy Valentine's Day, Rebecca."
Rebecca hooked her chin toward the glass. "You should really be enjoying the scenery."
Cait kept her eyes on Rebecca. "I am."
"You bet." Cait scooted closer and turned to look at the winter wonderland again. For the first time in years, she had a date on Valentine's Day. She was going to spend an entire hour and a half watching the water and half focusing on the woman in her arms. She didn't have to worry about her boss, or the case they were preparing, or anything like that. Life was good.
And maybe, later that night, she would finally find out just how many hats Rebecca Wray owned.
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