Indian Summer by Anne Azel

Indian Summer
by Anne Azel

Part 1

The hot summer that had transformed itself into the colours of fall had lingered on into warm, lazy days of Indian Summer. It had been over ten years since the lodge on Long Lake had been restored and Janet and Robbie Williams had settled down to operate their studio and the College of Film and Animation and raise their family. There were three homes on Long Lake now, the lodge, the small cottage that Janet had owned and that was used by David and Elizabeth Potts and another cottage that Dawn and Aliki had built some summers ago after their wedding. It was about that cottage that Janet was thinking when the phone rang.

Janet picked up the phone on the second ring. “Hello.”

“Hi Janet, it’s Brian-the-long-suffering. I need to speak to T-Rob.”

Janet smiled. Brian worked as Robbie Williams’ right hand man in her large and highly successful movie production company. He was a notable film director and producer in his own right but even after nineteen years of working for the company, he lived in awe of Robbie’s legendary temper and creative genius.

Janet looked out the window to the view of her wife’s tush as she leaned under the hood of the 1956 Buick that she was rebuilding. “She’s sort of up to her hips in work at the moment, Brian. Can I give her a message and have her phone you back later?”

A moan came from the other end of the phone. “It’s rubbing off! You are aiding and abetting an AWOL creative genius. I know what she is doing, she is working on that damn car. That is all she can think about these days”

“It’s Sunday, Brian. Even creative geniuses get a day off now and again,” Janet laughed.

“It’s not the weekend here in Australia. It’s Monday and I have big Monday problems on the film set.” Janet could hear the crackle of wrapping as Brain unrolled his stomach tablets. When Brain started eating digestive pills like candy it meant he really did need to speak to T-Rob.

Janet sighed. Robbie and she never seemed to have time together anymore. There was always something and at the moment Robbie was pretty annoyed with her. “Hold on, Brian. I’ll get her.” Janet put the phone down and headed out of the huge, log home that once had been her great grandfather’s and that Robbie had bought and restored for them. She hoped this did not mean that Robbie was going to have to fly to Australia. There was such a lot going on at the moment. There were some issues that she and Robbie really needed to work through and the family was all coming up for Thanksgiving. Plans had to be worked out for Mac’s wedding to Stewart Farton in the spring.

Robbie was deep in thought as she worked on the old car’s engine. The thoughts had nothing to do with the carburettor that she was trying to remove. They were about her interpersonal relations. This time of year was always bad. This was when she and Ryan had fought and Ryan had walked out, but it was particularly bad this year because Janet didn’t trust her anymore.

“Robbie?”

Robbie started and her head smashed against the raised hood of the car. “Shit!”she muttered, and emerged rubbing the sore spot at the back of her head.

Janet smiled and shook her head but then stood on her tip-toes and kissed Robbie’s cheek. “You okay?”

Robbie smiled. “Yeah. I was thinking and didn’t realize you were there.”

Janet gave her partner a quick hug and immediately felt Robbie stiffen. She tried not to let it bother her. Okay, she had been wrong to have arranged the surgery while Robbie was away filming but she had been hurt and jealous and had handled things badly. Robbie just had to understand that this procedure was so very important to her and her emotional healing. “Brian’s on the phone. It sounds like he has a serious production problem.”

Robbie nodded, dropped a quick kiss on Janet’s forehead and headed over to the house with long strides as she wiped the grease from her hands on a rag. When Janet came in, she found Robbie sitting at her desk in her office, glasses on the end of her nose reading the fax material that was coming through from Australia. Janet left her alone. When Robbie focussed on a problem it was with the same intensity that she did everything in her life. She would not wish to be disturbed.

It was a good time to head over the College of Film and Drama of which she was the director and see to a bit of paper work herself. First, however, she headed down to the lake to let their daughter, Rebecca, know where she was going.

Reb was in the process of trying to train Dufus how to follow a scent. A few years before their old dog Rufus had passed away, he had managed to corner Walt and Mary Higgins’ prize Golden Retriever and do the act. The Higgins were still trying to get over the shock of this violation of their full bred animal. The injection of prize winning genes seemed to have no effect whatsoever on the results. The three puppies looked exactly like Rufus – big, orange, hairy, and ugly with a crooked tail. David and Elizabeth had taken one, Aliki and Dawn another, and Dufus had stayed to replace his dad Rufus.

“Reb, Honey, I am just popping over to the school to do some paper work. Obbie is on to phone to Brian. Could you let her know where I am?

The beautiful sixteen year old looked up with a flash of a smile that melted hearts. “Sure Mom. I think Dufus has the idea now.”

Janet looked down. Reb was holding a sweater covered in mud and dog slobber that looked a lot like Robbie’s. “Is that…”

Reb cut her mother off quickly before she could get going. “Obbie said I could use it. I thought I’d better practice with Obbie’s stuff first because she is the one who always goes missing.”

It was said as a joke but Janet could see the worry in her daughter’s eye. Being a family of both wealth and fame had not been easy. They had gone through some dark times together. She pulled her daughter in for a hug and kissed her head. “You are quite right and I love you for thinking of it. Does Dufus have as good a nose as Rufus did?”

Reb looked at the big, hairy animal sitting obediently at her side. “I think so. He picks up a scent and gets on a trail easily enough but if a squirrel crosses his path we’ve had it. Dufus hates squirrels.”

Janet smiled and gave her daughter another hug before heading up the path that would lead behind the house to where a large garage housed their vehicles. She drove down the road with a smile on her face. They might have their problems but generally life was pretty good.

Major Ryan Williams pulled her jeep into the driveway about a half hour later and sat looking around the corner of the house to the lake. The teen with the dog was Reb she realized with a jolt to her guts. Ten years and everything had changed. She swung out of the old vehicle in one smooth motion and headed down to where her sister stood working with Dufus. She’d kept in touch, of course, through letters and email, but she hadn’t really seen the her sister in years. The school pictures she got periodically were just some stranger. Reb was frozen in Ryan’s mind as a strong willed, rebellious six year old.

The dog growled dangerously and took two quick steps towards Ryan. Ryan stopped.

“Stay,” Reb commanded and looked up at the tall, stern soldier on the path above her. “Can I help y….Ryan?! Ryan!” The teen ran up the hill and jumped into her sister’s arms as she used to when she was six.

Ryan held her close trying to hide the emotion she was feeling. “Hi kid. I’ve missed you.”

Reb was crying. “Ryan, I can’t believe it is you! I have missed you so much! I knew you’d come home someday. I just knew it!”

Ryan stiffened with tension and stepped back a little from her sister. Gently, she wiped a few tears away from the teen’s face with her finger. “I don’t know how long I can stay,”she cautioned. “Aah, I don’t know if I am going to be welcome.”

Reb put her hands on her slim hips. “Of course you are welcome, Ryan! You’re part of our family. Obbie frets all the time about you not being here. She loves you, Ryan.”

Ryan nodded with a smile that reflected insecurity. Her eyes were dark and filled with pain. She tried to sound nonchalant. “So who is here? Aaah, are the Pateases here yet?”

Reb looked up with sharp, penetrating eyes. “Oh shit. You’ve come back because Mac is getting married, haven’t you?” Ryan didn’t say anything. Her jaw locked in a determined line. “Ryan, you can’t!”

Eyes the colour of ice met Reb’s. “Watch me.”

“Oh boy, this is going to be another one of those Williams’ things that the tabloids love to write about.” Reb sighed in frustration, waving her arms in the air dramatically.

Ryan couldn’t help herself, she smiled. “So who is here?”

“Just Obbie at the moment.” She saw Ryan stiffen and went on. “Mom is at the college. She’ll be back in an hour or so. Obbie’s on the phone with Brian so that is good for a couple of hours of yelling. Come on, I’ll sneak you into the house and we’ll figure out someway of letting them know you are here.”

Janet cleared her desk of a few items of paperwork that had been on her mind and then headed back to the house. She was anxious to know whether the problem that Brain was having with production on location in Australia would become a problem for them all. Deep in thought, she almost bumped into her daughter who was standing in the doorway positively squirming with excitement.

“Shhhhh! Mom, you are never going to guess who is here!” Reb stage-whispered.

“Who?” Janet asked, already visualizing an evening with Robbie in a temper and some poor house guest cringing in the corner as she was pulled into the kitchen by her daughter.

An officer stood up as she entered. “Hello, Aunt Janet.”

Janet stopped dead. Her mouth opened, closed, opened again and nothing came out. Then she simply gave up and ran to her adopted daughter and held on tight, crying.

Ryan was embarrassed, feeling emotional and flustered. She tried to cover up with a joke. “Hell, so far everyone who has seen me has cried.”

Reb pulled some tissues from a box on the counter and handed them to her mom and then stood close at her big sister’s side. “Ryan is a major and she just got her doctorate in physics like Aunt Elizabeth.”

Janet stepped back and dabbed at her eyes as she gave Ryan a look over. “You could have told us. All those letters from all over the world. We had no idea what you were up to in the military.” Ryan smiled but said nothing. Her work over the years had been classified information. “Does your Mom know you are here?”

Ryan shook her head and smiled at her kid sister. “From what we can make out she’s having a conference call with Brian and some others. Things must be working out because she hasn’t sworn or yelled now in several minutes.”

Janet rolled her eyes. “You wait here.”

Janet walked into Robbie’s office and found her partner pacing back and forth barking instructions at poor Brian and his assistants. Much to Robbie’s surprise, Janet reached up and placed two fingers over her lover’s mouth. “Brian? This is Janet. Listen, love, we have a guest and I need Robbie right away. Do you think you can manage without my wife?”

“Sure, sure, no problem, Janet,” Brian babbled in relief. T-Rob has spent five minutes solving the problem and an hour and a half yelling about it.

Janet hung up and looked at Robbie. Robbie crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow in question. Janet touched her partner’s arm reassuringly. “Ryan’s in the kitchen,” she said softly. Robbie swayed, blinked, gasped and made a beeline for the door. Janet followed at a more reasonable pace.

Robbie came around the corner and into the kitchen so quickly that Ryan instinctively felt under attack and stepped in front of her little sister. The two Williams stood looking at each other. They had different colouring but the same bone structure and build. There was no doubt they were mother and daughter. Reb gave her stubborn sister a gentle push from behind. Ryan stepped over to Robbie. “I’m home, Mom.”

Robbie wrapped her daughter into her arms and held onto her silently. So many emotions were running through her body that she felt light headed. Quietly, Janet signalled to Reb from the doorway and they left Robbie and Ryan alone holding each other.

“I’m sorry Mom.” Ryan’s voice was rough with emotion. ” I felt I had to prove something to you. I was wrong. Can you forgive me?”

Robbie held on even tighter. “Yeah, you were wrong but you were a kid and I was the adult. I acted like a horse’s ass. I’m sorry too.”

“You going to let me go?” Ryan asked, laughing nervously.

“No, you might be a dream and I don’t want to lose you.”

Ryan hadn’t come home for this. She hadn’t thought it possible that they could mend any bridges. It had just happened when she saw her mom again. Now that it had, Ryan felt an incredible need to protect her mom and make sure she was never hurt again. “You are never going to lose me, Mom. I…I’m your daughter.”

Robbie forced herself to step back and give Ryan some room. “Yes, you are and I’m proud of you.”

Devilment sparkled in Ryan’s eyes for a second like it used to when she was a teen. “You don’t know much about me.”

Robbie reached out despite herself and touched Ryan’s cheek. “I don’t need to. You are my daughter. I love you and I know what sort of person you are. Whatever you have done with your life, it would be what is right and honourable.”

Ryan smiled and swallowed hard. The tears slowly ran down her face despite her fight for control. “Thanks Mom.”

Robbie wiped away her own tears and tried to pull herself together. “Sit down. Have you eaten? No? I’ll make you something…”

Ryan laughed. “No way! I want to live to see tomorrow. No one in this family willingly eats your cooking. How about I make something and you see to brewing some coffee?”

Robbie looked stubborn. “I can cook.”

Ryan pulled her in for a hug. “No, you can open a can and burn toast.”

Robbie laughed. “Okay, you get something then. Look at you. You’re all grown up. Captain?”

“Major, bran new.”

“That’s good, Ryan. Are you going to be a career soldier then?”

“Five more years. I just got my doctorate, Mom, in astrophysics.”

Robbie sank with shock onto a kitchen chair. “You’re a physicist?”

“Yes, and I think a reasonably good one.” Ryan smiled, pleased that her mother was clearly over whelmed with her achievement. Her mom looked far away like she was in shock.

“A scientist. I always wanted to be a scientist,” Robbie mumbled.

Ryan came up behind where her mom sat and bent to wrap her arms around her mother. She whispered softly, “I know, Mom. You’d have been a good one too but you had me instead.”

Robbie kissed the strong hand resting on her shoulder. “No regrets there. You were the best thing to come out of my youth.”

When Reb stuck her head in a half hour later she found the two of them munching subs and drinking bottled beer.

“Can I have some?” she asked, bouncing in and taking a seat beside her sister.

“Sub, yes, beer no,” Ryan laughed, and handed her sister half her sandwich.

Reb pulled a face at her but took the sandwich eagerly anyway. “I’ll probably choke to death with nothing to wash this down with,” she warned.

Robbie got up. “I’ll pour you some milk. Ryan, could you make a few more of these? I’ll go get Janet.”

“Sure, Mom.” Ryan turned and tipped Reb from her chair. “Come on teen-slug give me a hand.”

Reb gave her a playful punch. “Hey, who are you calling a, teen-slug, starched-shorts!”

Robbie left them pushing and shoving their way to the fridge and went to find Janet. She needed to see Janet. Ryan was home. She found her in their bedroom folding laundry and tackled her to their bed, giving her a big hug and kiss, forgetting in her happiness for a moment that things had been a bit awkward between them recently. “She’s wonderful,” Robbie stated less than modestly.

“Yes, she is,” Janet agreed, smiling about as broadly as it was humanly possible to do.

“Come and have lunch with us.”

“I didn’t want to disturb you. I thought you and Ryan would have things to talk about.”

Robbie bounced up and pulled Janet to her feet. “Hey, we are both her mother. We want you there. We are a family. Reb already snuck back in. I think she has glued herself to her sister.”

Janet laughed and wrapped an arm around her lover as they headed out of their bedroom. “That little monkey. I told her to give you two some time alone.”

***

Aliki sat on the edge of her chair in the livingroom of their Toronto house trying with some difficulty to have a sensitive talk with her grown adopted daughter, MacKenzie. “Aaaah, I know, Stewart’s parents are not very comfortable about your parents being two gay women. I….I don’t have to give you away, Mac. I mean, I could just sit with your mom and we could ask your Uncle David to give you away.”

Aliki swallowed. She had been really proud to be asked to stand in as Mac’s father, replacing her brother who had killed himself when Mac was only a child. But yesterday, she had accidentally over heard Mac arguing with Stewart on the phone about it. After a night of tossing and turning she had decided to broach the topic with Mac. She wished she could ask her partner and Mac’s other adopted mother, Dawn, what to do but Dawn was away on a speaking tour and wouldn’t be back until tomorrow.

Mac looked up in surprise and then blushed deeply as she realized that Aliki knew that Stewart’s family were ashamed and embarrassed of her family. “Aliki, I’m going to tell you what I told Stewart. I am neither ashamed nor uncomfortable about the fact that my aunt and my parents are lesbians. I am sorry that caused his homophobic family problems but nothing would make me deny my family who love me. Not even him.”

Aliki squirmed and felt the red creeping up her face. “Aah, he is going to be your husband. You know, he has to come first in your life. I…I mean, we’ll understand that.”

Dark, Salish, First Nations’ eyes flashed. “I wouldn’t. As well as being proud of my gay parents, I am also mixed race. You and Mom have raised me to be proud of my Salish heritage. Where do I draw the line with Stewart’s family? Do I say, you don’t have to accept my parents for what they are but you do have to accept what I am? I don’t think so. What I am bringing to Stewart’s family is a little social tolerance and a wider view of this world’s variations. They can accept that or stick it up their asses.”

Aliki laughed. “Damn, I’m glad we raised you to be a lady!”

Mac flushed. “Well, it’s true.” Flustered, she resorted to the language of her youth when the trauma of seeing her father’s death had left her unable to speak for many years. She signed, I love you, to Aliki.

Aliki signed back, I love you too. For a while they sat quietly, enjoying the comfort of the bond of love they enjoyed as family. Then Aliki pulled her courage together and broached the other issue that was on her mind.

She started hesitantly. “Aaah, Stewart seems nice. He’s got some good goals and will be a responsible partner.”

Mac nodded. “Yes.”

“Sensible , level-headed guy.”

“Yes.”

Aliki waved her hands in frustration. She was no good at subtlety. “Don’t you find him as boring as grass growing?” she asked bluntly.

Mac snorted. “Oh God, yes!”

Aliki looked at her in confusion. “Then why the hell are you marrying him?”

Mac suddenly went sober and looked at her hands for a minute while she organized her thoughts. “Some years ago, I met my soul mate, Aliki. There is no doubt in my mind about that, but it didn’t work out between us. Sometimes it just doesn’t.” The young woman shrugged her shoulders sadly. “Stewart is a good friend. He is responsible, caring, and he loves me. He knows how I feel and he can live with that. He’ll provide me with companionship and children and we’ll be happy enough.”

The scientist looked at her daughter with shocked and worried eyes. She wished desperately that Dawn was here to handle this one. She was way out of her depth. “I don’t want you settling for second best. You tell me who this soul mate is and I’ll go fetch him,” she growled.

“You can’t do that!” Mac laughed coming over to sit on the arm of the chair and give her aunt and adopted mother a hug. “You can’t make someone love you. Besides, it is not a he, it is a she.”

Aliki swirled around and looked at her daughter with blue eyes wide with shock. “You have never dated a girl! It’s always been guys. How could this have been going on without me knowing?”

Mac shrugged. “I never wanted another woman. I…It just wouldn’t have felt right.”

Aliki was near the free babble stage by now. “You and this woman, you’ve…” She made some gestures of frustration when the words failed her and then jumped instead into another trail of thought. ” I mean have you with men? No wait!! I don’t want to know!” Aliki leaned back and tried to gather her thoughts, wiping the sweat that had appeared on her upper lip away with her hand. “Oh boy.”

Mac chuckled at Aliki’s distress. She was a wonderful person and Mac adored her but Aliki was awfully straight for a lesbian. “No, I didn’t sleep with her and no, I haven’t with any guys either. Well, you know we’ve…”

“Don’t tell me! Don’t tell me!” Aliki ordered in a panic, getting up and retreating to the other side of the room.

Mac slid from the arm of the big, over- stuffed chair into the seat that Aliki had just vacated. It was still warm and there was a lingering scent of spice that was very much Aliki. It felt like a secure hug. She smiled at her mom but said nothing. Her parents were intelligent and wise and she had been expecting this question. It was easier with Aliki who always had trouble expressing personal issues well. Her other mom would have asked disturbing and thought- provoking questions and that would have been much harder.

Aliki pulled herself together and tried again. “Warning bells are going off in my head here, Mac. It seems to me that staying single would be better than marrying someone you don’t love.”

Mac saw the pain in the older woman’s eyes and got up immediately and came over to hug her gently. “But I do love Stewart. He is a fine man. I might not love him with the intensity and passion that I loved another but I do care very much for him.”

***

The Williams clan had stayed up late talking, freely at times as family do, and awkwardly at other times because they were strangers after ten years. Finally, Reb went to sleep with her head against her sister’s shoulder and they all decided to call it a night. Sleep did not come easily though to the three adults. Ryan lay in her old room that still reflected the interests of her teenage mind and pondered the bridge that had been crossed in coming home. It was one she never thought could ever exist again. It was strangely comforting on one hand and rather unnerving on another.

Robbie tried sleeping but tossed and turned until Janet turned on the light and handed her partner a script. “Read and don’t think about Ryan. That’s an order.”

Robbie had smiled sheepishly and taken the script, settling down and letting Janet use her for a pillow while she focussed without understanding on the pages. The sun was rising when she finally went to sleep, her head resting next to her lover’s.

Ryan woke to find Reb snuggled in beside her. She scrunched up her eyes and mumbled cheekily, “Go away, you are not my type.”

Reb laughed and gave her big sister a playful nudge. “Actually, I’m into males. Ian Fraser to be exact. I’m a black sheep bouncing along the family rainbow.

Ryan pulled herself up to lean against her headboard and gave her face a rub. Then she pulled a face. “Males! Ugh! Pervert!”

The two of them laughed. Then Reb sobered. “I shouldn’t laugh. This is serious, Ryan.”

Ryan went still and anger clouded her eyes. “How serious?”

Reb rolled her eyes. “We are NOT sleeping together, Ryan! I’m talking about the family. Having a family that glows rainbow colours in the dark is hard enough to explain. Try explaining that one of my moms has been arrested for murder and is not only my mom but my aunt, that my other mom is a Williams because she married both my father and my aunt, that my other aunt has won the Nobel Prize in Physics but can’t drive a car, and that my sister wears army boots! How am I going to explain all that to Ian Fraser?”

Ryan smiled. “We are a bit eccentric.”

“Eccentric!?” Reb spluttered. “We are the only people I know who have their own page each month in the Tabloids. The spring edition had Obbie running away with her co-star and Mom threatening to reveal all in a feature movie if she didn’t come home.”

Ryan laughed. “Knowing what I do about Obbie’s early life that would be some block buster.”

“My point exactly!” Reb finished, flopping dramatically back on a pillow. “I love you all dearly but Ripley’s Believe It Or Not has nothing, I repeat, nothing on you lot!”

“So do Obbie and Aunt Janet know you are seeing this guy?”

“Sort of. They know I’ve met him a few times at the riding stables. He wants to take me to the Fall dance and that means bringing him home. The last guy I brought here went home crying because Obbie was standing on the porch railing rehearsing a scene from Galaxy Wars using a tree branch as a laser sword and Mom was trying to wash Rufus in tomato juice in a tub because he’d said hello to a skunk. Billy thought it was alien blood and ran most of the way home. He still avoids me and that was in the third grade!”

Ryan smiled at her sister who lay sprawled at the end of the bed. “Tough one, kid. Maybe you could tell him that the insanity is not genetic but a curse brought on us by aliens after the Galactic Wars.”

Reb pulled a face. “Big help you are! And now I suppose you are really going to mess up my life by causing a scene about Mac’s engagement to Stewart Farton.”

Ryan looked shocked. “No scene. Mac is just not going to marry him.”

Reb wrapped an arm over her eyes and moaned pathetically. “I’ll have to resign myself to being an old maid or join a convent and dedicate my life to God!”

“God wouldn’t have you,” Ryan laughed unsympathetically. “You are a little rotter.” She slid from the bed wearing only her undies and a t-shirt and stepped into a pair of sweat pants. “Come on, I need coffee before I can solve the problems of the world.”

“Holy shit! It’s a Willy Jeep!” The words penetrated Janet’s sleep just enough for her to register that her Olive was up and active. There was no doubt about it, the Williams family were just like olives, really wonderful once you got used to them – but they took a lot of getting used to. She heard the pounding of feet as her lover ran down the hall and the slam of the screen door as she headed outside. Janet smiled and slipped deeper into sleep.

Reb stood at the kitchen counter pouring Ryan and herself a second cup of coffee and looking at Obbie sitting in Ryan’s jeep pretending she was driving through a minefield. Various vooms and kabooms drifted through the window. “Your mom has found your jeep. She’s behind the wheel and seems to be having a fantasy that might lead to an orgasm.”

Ryan got up from the breakfast nook and came over to have a look. “You know you are far too worldly for a sixteen year old.” She looked out the window. “Okay, so you might be right. I’d better get out there before she ruins my seat covers.”

Reb smiled. Ryan just wanted to be with her mom. “Whatever you do, don’t give Obbie the keys to the jeep. Mom will never forgive you!” The warning came too late. Ryan was already gone.

Janet sighed and let the dream of a sleep-in fade as she opened her eyes to see her indignant younger daughter standing at the end of the bed. “The creeps drove off and left me here!”

“Forgive them, Reb. It was the jeep. Obbie and Ryan are beyond human reason once they see a collector car.”

Reb sighed. “Well, it will give us a chance to have a mother and daughter talk about the older man in my life while they are gone. Here, I brought you a mug of coffee to help you wake up.”

Janet was already awake, however. The phrase, older man in my life, had brought her to a sitting position and full alert. “Older Man?” she inquired, in a tone she hoped sounded calm and reasonable.

Reb gave her mom a look and then climbed on the end of the bed to sit cross-legged. “Mother, I am very mature for my age. How many sixteen year olds do you know who have visited their mom in prison, been kidnapped, and survived a firestorm? And those are only the highlights of my life.”

Janet was not to be side tracked. “Who is this older man?” she asked, annoyed to see the shake of her hand as she took a sip of her coffee.

“Ian Fraser. He is eighteen. He is working up here for the year with the forestry services. At the moment he is planting trees. You remember, I met him at the stables. His parents immigrated from Scotland five years ago. Ian just finished his first year of university at Guelph. He wants to be a vet too but he has to earn some money to finish his undergraduate degree.”

“Eighteen!”

“That’s only two years difference!” Reb protested.

“There is a significant gap between being sixteen and eighteen years at this age.” Janet sighed, feeling her stomach tie in a knot.

Reb frowned. “I know, I know. I have just heard the lecture from my sister.” Her voice changed to sound just like Ryan’s as she mimicked her sister’s words. “Reb, the difference between sixteen and eighteen is the difference between virginity and carnal knowledge.”

Janet held up her hand. “Stop. I don’t even want to go there. The difference between sixteen and eighteen is jail. Keep that firmly in your mind. Well, that and your Obbie will skin him alive if he does anything he shouldn’t. Now tell me all about this fellow.”

Reb smiled and relaxed. Her mom was going to be cool about it.

The jeep motored along the highway with Ryan and Robbie sitting side by side, grins on their faces as the wind whipped their hair about.

“She’s a 1943 Willy MB with a four cylinder L-head and side valves and a three speed syncromesh transmission. She’s built like a little tank with heavy steel channel sides with five cross members and one K member. Her grille is made from welded flat iron bar,” Ryan explained, yelling over the wind. “You can tell she is a 1943 Willy MB by the small headlamps inside the grille, the two pane windshield and because the spare wheel and jerry can is located on the back panel.” Ryan looked around happily at the familiar territory of her childhood as her mother drove. “Slow down and turn off here to the right.”

Robbie slowed and pulled into an overgrown logging trail that cut a slash through a secondary growth forest. They bumped along slowly, enjoying testing the old vehicle’s ability. Some twenty minutes later, they came into a clearing filled with tall grasses and milkweed. Robbie killed the engine and Ryan swung out, looking around with pleasure.

“This was Lover’s Lane when I was a kid. But I used to come here and look around for artifacts. It was a lumber camp at the turn of the century but over there,” Ryan pointed towards a rocky outcrop, “There is an old mine shaft or something. They must have been looking for nickel or gold, I should think.”

Robbie nodded, feeling strangely shy and at a loss for words around her grown daughter. There were so many things that she needed to ask, to resolve between the two of them. “I never meant to force you to leave.”

Ryan turned to look at her mom. “You didn’t. Oh yeah, I was pissed about you getting all upset about me joining the armed forces, but that was just window dressing.” She pulled a length of grass free and stuck it in her mouth enjoying the bitter- grain taste.

Robbie looked at her hands on the wheel. “So why then? Why did you leave?”

Ryan swung back into the jeep and nervously played with the edge of the window frame. “I had to prove that I could do it on my own. That I didn’t need you.” Robbie felt she had been hit. She swallowed hard and blinked back tears. Ryan continued unaware of how much that statement had hurt. “I loved being with you, Aunt Janet, and Reb. But there was still a part in me that was so angry that you hadn’t been there when I was a kid. I guess I felt that if I allowed you to pay my way that I would never know for sure if I would have been a failure if you hadn’t always been there to bail me out of my problems.”

Ryan felt a tightening in her chest. Spilling her guts was harder than she thought. “Even before I knew who my mom was, you were always sending down your people to take care of me and get me out of trouble. I was a royal fuck-up but you and Aunt Janet brought me home anyway. I was so afraid that I would fail and you would send me away.”

Tears rolled slowly down Ryan’s face. Robbie reached out and took her daughter’s hand, kissing it softly. “You meant the world to me. I would have never sent you away. I was very proud of you.”

Ryan nodded. “I knew that on an intellectual level but emotionally there was this little, hurt kid trying to prove she wasn’t a failure and deserved your love.”

Robbie turned with tears in her eye. “Ryan…”

“Mom it’s okay. It wasn’t anything you did or didn’t do for me. It was something I needed to do for myself. I made a mess of my childhood by being bitter and angry and lashing out at authority in anyway I could. You and Aunt Janet gave me unconditional love and I realized that the problem wasn’t the system putting me down but my attitude restricting my opportunities and future.”

Ryan’s mouth settled in to a confident, determined line so like her mom’s. “So I needed to try again. All by myself, to be the success I should have been all a long. That’s why I joined the armed forces. To prove myself. I wasn’t running away from home, Mom. I just wanted to walk through your door again, this time as a success.”

Robbie nodded but no words came out. She buried her face in her hands for a few seconds and tried to get her emotions sorted out. She needed to do it right this time; needed to understand things from Ryan’s point of view as well as her own. “I…I think I understand. I….I have missed you very much. I love you Ryan and I am very proud of what you have achieved – on your own.”

Ryan smiled broadly. “Thanks, Mom. I love you too.”

That was about all the emotion and sensitivity that the two of them could handle. Robbie wisely tried to lighten the conversation. “So, Mac and her family will be here tomorrow. I imagine you two will have a lot of catching up to do. Are you going to be able to come back for her wedding in the spring?”

Ryan’s hands tightened into balls. “That’s the other reason I am here. There isn’t going to be any damn wedding in the spring!”

***

Aliki had picked up Dawn at the airport the next day and they had enjoyed a pleasant evening as a family. Mac had cooked a special meal and the three of them had talked and laughed as Dawn related some of the experiences she’d had while promoting her latest publication. Now she and Aliki were alone in their room and instead of the passion they usually shared when they had been separated for a time, Aliki paced and fidgeted about.

Dawn looked up from the book she was reading. “You want to tell me what is on your mind, Lover?”

Aliki nodded and sat down on the edge of the bed. “I think you should ask Mac to delay her wedding.”

“What?!”

“I don’t think she should marry Stewart. She is in love with somebody else.”

Dawn smiled sadly and took her partner’s hand. “Yes, I know.”

“You do?! Do you know it is a woman?”

“Yes.”

“How come everyone knows this but me! Who? I’m going to wring her damn neck for hurting my little girl.”

Dawn leaned forward and gave her partner a hug. “She has always been in love with Ryan Williams.”

“What?! They’re cousins damn it! I’m going to have that Ryan’s head on a platter. What the hell was she doing corrupting Mac? What did she do with our daughter?”

Dawn reached up and put her hand gently over Aliki’s mouth. “She did nothing and that was the whole problem. Ryan was never anything more than a good friend and then she went away.”

“This is Robbie’s fault. If that damn sister of mine hadn’t argued with Ryan…”

Dawn flopped back against the pillows in frustration. She’d had enough. “Aliki, shut up. You are ranting and making no sense at all.”

Aliki’s mouth snapped shut but she looked at Dawn with cold, blue eyes snapping with anger. “Now listen to me. You can’t make Ryan love Mac. Nor can you ask me to try to have Mac delay the wedding. I am not comfortable with Mac’s decision either but it is her decision and we need to give her support and understanding.”

Aliki looked rebellious and sounded sulky when she spoke. “I only want her to have the depth of love that we have.”

Dawn smiled and sat up to hug the woman she loved. “I know, Aliki.”

***

David leaned across the car seat and made sure his wife’s, safety belt was done up. “Now don’t fuss David. I have done up my belt carefully.” Lizzy smiled at him.

David blushed. “I just know you are inclined to have your thoughts on other things and forget all about putting your belt on.”

Elizabeth smiled softly. “Is Quasar hastened into his car harness okay?”

David looked back at the big, orange dog that took up most of the back seat. “Yes, he’s fine.”

“I am looking forwarded to spending a few days with Robbie and the family. Imagine little Mac getting married this spring. Doesn’t it make you feel old?”

“It does. There will be a new generation coming along soon, Lizzy. You know, not that I am a judge of these things,” David said, as he started the engine and pulled out of their underground parking spot, “but I always thought that Mac and Ryan made a rather nice couple.”

“I have to admit that I too suspected that would have been the case but I suppose it was totally illogical of us to assume Mac would be a lesbian just because Ryan is,” Elizabeth reasoned.

David frowned. He knew that Robbie had not been happy about Ryan leaving years ago. “Does Robbie hear much from Ryan?”

Elizabeth sighed. “Just some brief emails once a week and a letter or card a few times a year. She seems to have travelled quite a bit with the military. She never tells Robbie much, and of course, you know Robbie, she just gives Ryan the basics in return. Janet gets so frustrated with those two. Janet writes long newsy letters to Ryan, I understand. And Reb writes to her sister as well. I know Robbie has invited Ryan home on many occasions but Ryan always has a reason why she can’t come.”

“It is a damn shame.”

Elizabeth tried to look relaxed as David merged onto the freeway that would take them north. “Yes, it is. Ryan, you know, has a brilliant mind. She would have made an excellent mathematician. I was very disappointed when she enlisted. I had high hopes for her in a field related to my own.”

David nodded and reached out briefly to pat his wife’s leg. The world of academics dealing with string theory and the possible origins of the universe itself was a small, prestigious group. There were few who could understand the mathematics or grasp even on a lower level the complexities of a possible all-encompassing energy theory. It would have been nice for his Nobel Prize winning wife to have had someone in the family she could talk to about these things.

“I wonder if Ryan keeps her violin up. She could have made a career in music too. She is a Williams all right, multi-talented.”

“Janet says she does.” But Elizabeth had started to jot down neat rows of equations on a pad of yellow paper in her lap. David let their conversation lapse, knowing that it was Elizabeth’s practice to work on her own research in the quiet of the afternoons. Instead, he gave his full attention to his driving. He too was looking forward to being back in the small northern town of Bartlett that had been his home for many years. He hadn’t seen his brother who now ran the local grocery store since Christmas. Their family had grown and they all had separate interests that kept them apart. He was glad that it had become a family tradition to gather each spring and fall for a few days together.

***

Ian and Reb sat hand in hand on the bench in the back room of Potts Grocery Store and listened to David’s brother Ted spin his tale. He’d had to go and serve a customer and had only just returned, wiping his hands on his white apron as he came in. “Now you were asking about the old mine up where the lumber camp used to be. I don’t know how much truth you can put into it but the old folks used to say that a meteorite struck there years ago and melted the ground around about. My great Papa and your mom’s granddaddy, Rebecca, used to brag how they saw a river of gold. ‘Course, no one took them very seriously. They were both good story tellers, if you know what I mean, especially ifin they’d had a few Johnny Walkers as a way of limbering their throats.”

Reb snuggled closer to Ian who was trying his best to look manly. “Do you think that really is a gold mine, Ted?”

Ted considered this for a second. The emerging whiskers on his chin made a rasping noise as he ran his finger over them. “I don’t figure as there could be. I’m thinking any number of people must have checked it out while they were lumbering up there at the turn of the century. And I’m sure others with the gold itch have had a look since. No, I figure it’s just an old tale. Not many people know about it now. How did you to come to hear of it?”

“Ryan told me.”

Ted looked both surprised and delighted. This was a good piece of gossip by the sound of it. “Ryan? Have you heard from Ryan then?”

Reb nodded. “She’s here. She arrived yesterday. She is out with Obbie in her jeep at the moment so Mom sent me in to pick up the groceries.”

Ted beamed. This was good gossip that would have people popping into his store all weekend once the word got out. “Well, I’ll be tarred and feathered, Ryan Williams back home again. That girl used to play a mean fiddle at the firefighter’s ball and George Drouillard said she would have made a fine firefighter like her mom. Not much you Williams are afraid of by all accounts.”

Ian beamed down at his girlfriend. “We’d better be getting the groceries in the truck, Rebel. Then we’ll have time to catch lunch at Maria’s before you have to head back home.”

Ian held the door for Reb and they took seats in a quiet corner of the café. Maria waved from behind the counter and Reb smiled and waved back. The Williams family had frequented Maria’s since they had first come to town and Maria looked on them as extended family. Having a famous actress and her family drop in for lunch occasionally was very good for business too.

Once they had their order, Ian broached the topic that had been on his mind. “When can I meet your family?”

Reb nervously played with her napkin. “Aah, well, soon. Actually, they will all be here this long weekend. It is sort of a tradition for the clan to gather.”

Ian smiled. “It might be a good time to meet them then.”

“Well, I don’t know.”

The young man’s frustration showed on his face. “Rebel, you said you couldn’t come to the Thanksgiving dance at the hall unless your Mom had met me and said it was okay. How is that ever going to happen if I am not allowed to see your family?”

Reb pulled a face. She was going to have to tell him. “It’s just, well, they are a bit…unorthodox.”

Ian got a suspicious look on his face. Clear, intelligent, grey eyes met hers. “How so?”

This was it. Reb sighed. “My mother is married to the actor/director Robbie Williams. Yes, they are a lesbian couple. My big sister is a genius. I am not exaggerating, she really is. She is a major in the armed forces. She has just come home after ten years. Oh, and she also has a doctorate in physics and plays the violin beautifully. My aunt is Dr. Elizabeth Williams the woman who won the Nobel Prize for her work on naked singularities. My uncle owns the grocery store and Ted is his brother. My father was the racing driver Billy-the-Kid. He was killed on the track when I was two. And my grandfather was the local gambler. Other than that we are perfectly normal family. Oh, I forgot my other aunts. They are a gay couple as well. One is Dawn Freeman the writer and her partner is a forensic anthropologist and an RCMP officer.”

Ian said nothing. He blinked. Blinked again. Then asked cautiously, “You are joking, right?”

Reb felt her hackles going up. “Wrong.”

Ian looked stunned and a little weary as if he suspected that he was being lied to. “You are telling me that THE Robbie Williams is ONE of your mothers and that THE Billy-the-Kid was your father…and you have an aunt who won the Nobel Prize on Physics…and half of your family are lesbians?”

Reb gritted her teeth. “Yes.”

The young man considered the truth of this. “I had heard that Robbie Williams had a place up this way near the Film College. So you’re rich?”

Reb felt her anger mounting as each of the standard response came out. Why couldn’t anyone just accept her and her family as just people like everyone else? “I’m not. Certainly my family is.”

Ian looked up and saw the tension and emotion in Reb’s eyes. Okay, this was going to be really, really freaky but it was Reb’s family. “Aah, my dad won a bowling championship once,” he joked. Reb laughed and Ian joined in. The tension was broken.

“So you think you can handle this?” Reb asked, feeling some of the tension leaving her body.

Ian frowned and took a bite of his Club House sandwich, chewing it slowly while he tried to come to terms with all of this. He answered honestly. “I don’t know, Reb. They sound awfully – different, and rather intimidating. But I think I should be given the chance to try.”

Reb nodded, her face set in cautious lines. “I’m very proud of my crazy family, Ian. I don’t want them hurt and I won’t have them judged. I have no time for gay and lesbian bashers.”

Again Ian took his time in deciding how to respond. “To be truthful, Reb, I have always felt I was pretty liberal about such things. I have always maintained a live and let live attitude. I can’t say I understand why one would be interested in the same sex but I figure it is none of my business. I have to tell you though, I have never mixed socially with anyone who is a gay or lesbian or at least if I socialized with any I wasn’t aware of it. So I have no idea how I’ll react. I can promise you one thing though, I won’t make a scene or anything.”

Reb looked out the window for a second and regained her composure. This was not easy. She wondered if she would stay with Ian or if she would have to go through this conversation over and over again through her life. She shook her head. “Believe me, if you don’t make a scene you will be one of the few people there that doesn’t.”
Part 2
Robbie turned off the light and gave Janet a kiss on the cheek before rolling on her side away from her partner. Janet frowned; enough was enough. “Robbie, turn the light back on we need to talk.”

“I’m tired,” came a pathetic moan from deep under the covers.

Janet snorted, “No you’re not. You are a coward. Come out, you big suck.”

There was a thrashing and mumbling in the dark and the light snapped on. Robbie sat with her back against the headboard, arms crossed and looking grumpy.

“We need to talk about my breast surgery…”

“I don’t want to talk about it!” Robbie slipped down under the covers, panic written all over her face.

Janet sighed and looked at the mound of bed sheets and shook her head. This was the woman who had won academy awards and ran a film empire. She gave the mound a poke. “I regret to inform you that the problem with my breasts is not going away so you will just have to face it.”

The mound didn’t move. Janet’s face hardened into troubled lines. She was just about to make a cutting remark when she heard a sob. “Robbie? Lover, what’s the matter?” Janet slid down and wrapped her partner closely in her arms. “Robbie speak to me.”

“I didn’t want you to have that surgery. I didn’t want to go to the hospital again and see you in pain. It was awful. It never bothered me that you’d had to have a mastectomy. Why did you do that? When I got the call I just freaked…I love you damn it!”

For a while, Janet held her complex partner tight and tried to sort out what was going on inside her. When she spoke it was quietly, tenderly, trying to make her partner understand why. “I know you never wanted me to have the corrective surgery, Sweetheart. I know that you really had a hard time with me going through the cancer treatment. Sometimes it is just as hard on the care givers as it is on the victim. I understand that. But do you think my being seriously ill so early in our relationship made you a little over protective?”

Robbie considered this. She didn’t want to have this discussion but Janet was helping to make it easier. Still her answer came out between sobs. “Yes. You are the best thing that has happened in my life. I can’t bear the thought of losing you. Sometimes I have nightmares…I don’t mean to be over protective.”

“I know, lover. It is understandable that you would feel that way because you went through a really traumatic time with me just when we our love to each other was developing. I have some emotional issues too from that time, Robbie. Do you want me to tell you about them?”

There was a moment’s hesitation while Robbie fought her demons, then she rolled over and pulled herself up into a sitting position. She pulled a tissue from the box beside the bed and wiped away the tears. Then she pulled Janet into a hug. “Okay, I want to hear what you have to say.”

Janet got comfortably nestled inside her lover’s arms. “It’s not about appearances, Robbie. You have been wonderful about that. I still get a little insecure but you have been nothing but a pillar of strength. Robbie, cancer is like a violation of self. You don’t want it inside you taking over and growing in your organs. Even though I won that battle and have gone ten years, there is still that fear deep inside that it’s there and I might have to go through that horror again.”

Robbie pulled Janet closer into her arms as if to shield her from her memories and dropped a kiss on her wife’s head. Janet snuggled closer. “Sure having a mastectomy was hard on the ego. And having to wear a prostheses is so uncomfortable and awkward. But it is so much more than that, Robbie. Every time I change, or have a shower, or have to stop to fit the damn prosthesis into place, I am reminded that I had cancer and that it could come back again. It was more than a loss of a breast, it was a continual reminder of what the cancer did to me – what it still could do to me. I needed to have the surgery so I could be whole again. Not on the outside but on the inside. I had to show the cancer that I could recover completely, that it was never going to leave its mark on me. Can you understand that, Lover?”

“If it was that important to you, I would have understood. You didn’t have to have to arrange it while I was away filming,” Robbie muttered in a voice laced with hurt.

Janet kissed the strong, capable hand that rested on her shoulder. “I was wrong. It was a really immature thing to do. I…I was jealous.”

Robbie’s head shot up in surprise and she looked down at Janet with eyes wide with shock. “What?!”

“You were acting again and with Colette Cummings. The two of you have such chemistry – passion. And she has nice breasts.”

Robbie was flabbergasted. “I only took the part because my other leading lady was too banged up from her car accident to act. Time is money and I couldn’t find anyone else suitable for the part on such short notice. You know I don’t want to act.”

Janet blushed. “I know, Robbie.”

Another thought suddenly hit Robbie like a sucker punch. “You don’t think I had an affair with Cummings do you!”

Janet wiggled with embarrassment. “No, not on an intellectual level, but I guess emotionally – I mean, I am married to one of THE Willams and it happens to be the one that has been voted most sexy woman of the decade not to mention your list of conquests before you met me…I can’t explain it…I know you wouldn’t cheat on me…I just felt so insecure seeing you act with another woman on screen.”

Robbie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It was bad enough that Janet didn’t trust her to be at her side while she was having her reconstruction surgery but she didn’t even trust her to be faithful “You don’t trust me!”

Janet pulled away and rolled from their bed in frustration. She paced around their room in irritation on the edge of tears. “Damn it, Robbie, listen to what I am telling you. I am insecure. You would be too if you had a disease that could kill you before you could see your kids grow up or have the life you want to have with your partner. Yes, I acted childishly in accepting a surgery date while you were away. It was stupid and unfair and I regret it. I owe you an apology but damn it I needed this breast reconstruction. I need to remove the sign of what the disease did to me. I need my confidence back that I am a healthy, whole woman. I need to be able to look in a mirror and see me not the effects of cancer. Please Robbie, I need you to understand this!”

Robbie slipped from the bed and took Janet in her arms. “I’m sorry. I was so caught up in my own issues I didn’t listen. You’ve been trying to tell me all along but I was afraid of you being in the hospital again and I just wouldn’t look past that.” Shaking with emotion Robbie kissed Janet’s head. “I let you down and that allowed the mistrust to grow.”

Janet kissed her lover’s neck softly. “I never believed that you would cheat on me Robbie. I was just- jealous. I’m sorry.”

Robbie nodded. When the call had come from Janet telling her that she would be having surgery in the morning, Robbie had dropped everything and chartered a jet to get her back to Canada immediately. She had arrived shortly after Janet had been taken back to her room from Recovery. Janet had been in pain those first few days and Robbie had been near sick with worry. She know intellectually that there was very little danger in the process but emotionally she just couldn’t deal with Janet being back in the hospital and having to go to doctor appointments. It brought those terrible days when they were fighting the cancer back again in a rush of emotion. Everything that was good in Robbie’s life had come because of Janet. She couldn’t imagine life without her partner.

For a few minutes they just held each other, glad that they had cleared the air of a few of the issues. Janet waited until she felt Robbie relax in her arms and then asked, “I want to show you what they have done.”

Robbie nodded but the look on her face was so tragic and pale that Janet almost laughed. She bit her lip and busied herself slipping out of her sleep shirt. You had to tread softly with Robbie when it was her emotional side she was revealing. For all her bluster, joking, and tempers, Robbie was an unbelievably emotionally fragile person. Robbie trusted Janet with her soul and Janet did her best to protect it at all costs.

To Robbie’s relief there wasn’t much to see. The old scar of Janet’s mastectomy ran around the base of where her breast had been to up under her arm. She had been fortunate in that her skin had remained healthy and there had not been too much scar tissue to remove before placing the expander into place. The expander, Janet explained, was placed under the pectoral muscle after the scar tissue had been removed. The expander had a small tube and a fill ball with a metal backing placed under the skin below the implant. Each week or so, Janet had to go into the hospital and have 60 ccs of saline injected into the implant through this small ball. The implant already had 250 cc of solution in it when it had been put in place and Janet thought she would need about twice that to be a B cup.

Robbie swallowed and ignored the cold sweat down her back that made her shiver. This was what Janet needed and wanted and that was all that really mattered. If Robbie had not made such a fuss about it every time the subject had come up over the last ten years probably Janet wouldn’t have felt she had to accept a date for the day surgery while Robbie was out of town. Gently and nervously, Robbie reached out to caress the swelling that would be Janet’s new breast. Her hand barely touched Janet’s skin before it withdrew. “What if it pops or something?”

Janet laughed. “It won’t. It is quite durable.”

Robbie nodded. “Okay, okay, aahh, is there anything else?”

Janet knew there were all sorts of things yet to discuss including the surgery that would be coming up in a few months to remove the expander and replace it with a saline implant. Her other breast too would be reshaped to match her implant. But Robbie had handled about as much as she could. Although she was trying to put on a brave front, she was pale and shaky and cold to touch. “There is one more thing.”

“What?” Robbie asked with eyes big with fear.

Janet leaned over and kissed her partner softly, wrapping her arms around her lover’s neck. “Make love to me,”she whispered, as she nibbled at the soft, warm underside of Robbie’s throat.

Robbie whimpered with need. “Are you sure it’s safe with the expander in there?”

“Trust me.”

“I do,” Robbie whispered, pulling the woman she loved down on to their bed and moving over her. Her mouth sought Janet’s breast as one hand slipped Janet’s sleeping shorts down off her petite figure. “You are so beautiful and I never get enough of being this close, this intimate with you. You are my passion, my desire and my home,” Robbie whispered, as she slipped into the warm, wet folds of Janet’s being.
The Pateases had arrived at their cottage about noon the next day and once settled, they had piled back into their van and headed around the lake to the Williams’ home. It was Aliki who noted the jeep parked by the garage and walked over to look at it.

“Most be one of Robbie’s new toys,” Dawn stated, as she and Mac busied themselves pulling Thanksgiving baking out of the back of their van.

Aliki came over to help. “I don’t think so,” she said thoughtfully, and cast a sideways look at her daughter. She changed the subject then and grumbled, “How much did you guys bring?”

“Don’t you give me any of that, Doctor Aliki Alberta Pateas. Most of this is your baking. We’ve got enough pies here to feed all of Bartlett.”

Aliki blushed. She liked cooking and when she was occupied with a problem she tended to cook more. At the moment, she was worried about Mac and she had cooked up a storm the last few days.

“I’m sure Uncle David will show up with boxes of treats too. We’ll be so fat after this holiday they’ll be able to roll us down the 400 highway back to Toronto,” Mac laughed. The laugh stopped suddenly and Aliki and Dawn turned to see Ryan standing behind them.

It was Dawn who recovered first. “Ryan! Oh Ryan, it is so good to see you, Sweetheart!” Dawn stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the tall, lanky figure. Ryan hugged her back. She had always felt close to the Pateas clan.

When Dawn released Ryan, Aliki extended her hand, a cautious smile on her face and then, forgetting her concerns, she drew Ryan in for a hug too. “I am glad you are here.”

Mac stood totally still, shock and uncertainty written all over her face. Ryan had gone from a cute devil-may-care teen to a beautiful, confident woman. Even in her old blue jeans and military sweat shirt, Ryan reeked or raw strength and sexuality. This was not going to be good.

It was Ryan who walked over to her, taking the bags from her hands and placing them back in the van. She looked down at Mac with that crooked, sexy smile that had always sent arrows of need deep into Mac’s being. “Hi.”

“Hi” Mac answered, with a nervous smile.

Dawn grabbed Aliki’s arm and pulled her reluctant partner towards the house quickly. “Leave them alone,”she whispered.

Ryan and Mac stood there, looking at each other, eyes sending messages that neither one of them could find the words to express. Finally, Ryan took the last step closer and wrapped Mac in her arms. Her head bent and she captured the smaller women’s lips with her own. It was not a kiss of welcome. It was a kiss of passion, need, and ownership. Mac gasped and Ryan’s tongue entered her being, curling, caressing with her own. When finally the kiss ended, they were both shaken, clinging to each other for support.

“This can’t be happening,” Mac groaned, clinging to Ryan’s shirt. “Not now. Not after all these years.”

Ryan lifted her head from Mac’s hair and kissed a soft, warm ear. “I love you.”

Mac pulled away instantly. “Don’t talk like that! A…and don’t kiss me like that again. I….I’m in love with Stewart. You know that. We’re going to be married this spring.”

Ryan stood legs apart and arms folded. “No, you are not.”

Mac’s eyes flashed and her jaw clenched in anger. She reached for the bags that Ryan had taken from her and placed in the van. “Oh yes, I am!” With a toss of her hair, she went to walk past the tall, arrogant woman.

Ryan reached out and grabbed her arm in a strong grip. She leaned close. “You didn’t kiss me like you were in love with Stewy Fart-on.”

Dawn pulled her arm free and glared at Ryan with contempt. “His name is Stewart FarTON. I am marrying him and you can just go fuck yourself, Ryan Williams!” She stormed off and Ryan watched with eyes filled with hurt and worry.

After the initial family greetings, Aliki pulled her half sister, Robbie, into the back hall for a talk. “What’s Ryan doing here?”

Robbie’s face hardened. “She’s come home. She doesn’t have to give any reason for being here. I’m her mother and this is her home.”

Aliki was not to be sidetracked. “Is she here because Mac is planning to get married? Because if she is I don’t want your daughter fucking with my kid’s head and messing things up for her.”

Robbie couldn’t quite make eye contact with her sister, no matter how good an actor she was. She tried evasion. “I think we should let them sort it out for themselves.”

Immediately Aliki’s suspicions were confirmed. “She is, isn’t she. She’s here to cause trouble. Mac is engaged and Ryan needs to back off. If she really cared for Mac she wouldn’t have gone away.”

Two mothers protecting their own is never a good thing. The famous Williams’ temper rose to a boiling point in Robbie as Aliki dared to lecture her on good, moral behaviour. “Don’t you go down that road, you damn hypocrite. Who was kissing my wife while I was in prison, damn you?!”

Aliki snorted in frustration and met Robbie’s stare with equally cold eyes. “I didn’t know you then and I barely knew Janet. It was a kiss, a mistake, and past history and you know it. Don’t you fling that crap at me. It is not fair to Janet.”

Robbie, stiff with anger, felt her hands ball into fists. “Don’t you tell me…”

“What’s going on here?”

Both women started and turned to see Janet looking at them with worried and annoyed eyes. It was Aliki who first recovered. “Nothing. We were just discussing Ryan being home. I’d better go see what my family is up to.” Janet watched Aliki walk off, her body language tense and hostile. Her intelligent green eyes swung back to Robbie. Robbie squirmed. The eyes narrowed. “Well?”

“She wanted to know why Ryan is here. She thinks Ryan is going to mess things up for Mac and Stewart.”

Janet folded her arms and looked at her partner. “And is she?”

Robbie felt the heat of embarrassment and frustration creeping up her neck. “Yes. She doesn’t want Mac marrying him.”

Janet nodded. “And you told Aliki what?”

Robbie now blushed a deep red. She didn’t want Janet to know that she had brought up the night when Aliki, who had been supporting Janet and using her police skills to help prove Robbie innocent of murder, had made a play for Janet. “We argued. I told her to let the kids sort it out for themselves.”

Janet looked at Robbie thoughtfully for a few seconds. She had heard her name mentioned and she was worried as to why. Better not to push she concluded and moved forward to hug her partner close. There was no hesitation this time. Robbie returned the hug with need. Janet snuggled close. “I know we haven’t seen eye to eye this last few months but you do know I love you, don’t you, Robbie?”

“Yeah, I know you do, Lover.”

“Good. And you and Aliki stay out of the kids’ problems.”

“I didn’t start it!” Robbie protested, leaning back in Janet’s arms to see her face better.

Janet reached up and kissed her partner’s lips. “Good, and now it is finished.”

While Dawn and Mac were sorting things out in the kitchen, Reb gathered her courage and tackled Janet. “Mom?”

“Mmm?” Janet replied, her head inside the freezer as she looked for some ice cream.

“Looks like there is going to be a good size gathering of the clan tonight. Ahhh, Ian has asked me to the Community Centre Dance and I didn’t want to say yes until you had a chance to meet him. So I was wondering if I could phone him and invite him for dinner tonight.”

Janet crawled out of the freezer, ice-cream in hand, and smiled at her daughter. She hoped her nervousness did not show in her voice. Reb dating both pleased and scared the hell out of her. “Yes, of course you can, Sweetie. Aah, better warn him about your Obbie.”

Reb smiled with relief. Her mom was one cool lady. “I already have. And mom, don’t call me Sweetie while he is here, okay?”

Janet tried to look serious. “Okay, Rebecca.”

Reb nodded and then went in search of her big sister. She found her outside, throwing a stick for Dufus. “Mom said I can bring Ian to dinner.”

“Great, kid,” her sister replied without much interest. Her mind was on deeper, darker thoughts.

“Ryan, don’t pick a fight and don’t wear army boots okay?”

Ryan looked at her little sister in surprise. “I know how to behave! And I don’t clump around in army boots.”

Reb smiled, gave her sister a hug and went to find Obbie. This was the one that was going to be tricky. Obbie was in her study looking stormy and preoccupied. Most people would be reluctant to disturb T-Rob when she had that look on her face but not Reb. She went in and flopped into a chair.

Robbie looked up over her glasses. “You can’t have an advance on your allowance or the keys to the car.”

Reb smiled. “We are not in negotiation here. I have already won. Mom said I could invite Ian to dinner.”

Robbie went still and her expressive eyes flashed. “I think that is a good idea. I think I should meet this guy and talk to him. His name has come up once too often around here.”

Reb rolled her eyes. “Ian Fraser has asked me to the Thanksgiving Dance and I’m bringing him to dinner so you guys can meet him.”

Robbie felt her stomach twist into a knot. Reb had a date. She remembered Ryan’s first date and “The Talk”. The memory still made her break out in a sweat. “Aah, Reb, aah…”

Reb held up her hand. “Don’t say it! Promise me you will be good and not give him the third degree or insist on a blood test before he kisses me again.”

“Again?!”

“Obbie!”

Robbie crossed her arms and looked at her younger daughter with stubborn defiance written all over her face. Reb quickly went on. “Obbie, he is a real gentleman. He has taken a year off and is up here working with Forestry to earn money for university. At the moment, he is planting trees in the burnt-out areas. He wants to be a vet too. Please give him a chance. No rehearsing science fiction scripts on the railing and banishing a stick around threatening to slice him through, and no kissing mom in front of him.”

“You do hold a grudge. That unfortunate incident was years ago. And why can’t I kiss your mom? He does know that we are gay, doesn’t he?”

Reb ran her long, graceful fingers through her hair in frustration. “Obbie, the world knows about my famous family. I’d just rather he get used to you all – slowly. Just behave, please!”

Obbie rubbed her temple. A headache was coming on. So far this holiday gathering was not off to a great start. “If your mom has okayed it then I will be all charm and grace,”she promised and smiled weakly.

Reb got up and came around the desk to give her other mom a kiss on the cheek. “Just don’t scare him off. Meeting this family is hard enough without any of you acting more weird than you already are.”

Robbie waited until Reb had disappeared and then made a bee line to find Janet. She was with Dawn in the kitchen, Mac having been sent to cut some fall leaves for the table centrepiece.

“Who is this guy Reb is inviting?”

Janet looked up to see her partner in the doorway. “He’s an older man.”

“What?!”

Janet shrugged unhappily. “He’s eighteen and just finished his first year at Guelph University.”

“And you said she could go to the dance with this guy?! She’s just a kid.”

Janet turned from preparing the roast and looked at Robbie with annoyance. “Reb will be seventeen in a few months, Robbie. And I don’t think forbidding her from going to the dance is a good idea. We’ll set some guide lines and curfews and trust Reb to be responsible. As she often points out to us, my Olive, she is the only sane one in the family.”

“No teen is sane. They are not genetically programmed to act normal,” protested Robbie, flopping down on a kitchen chair and watching Dawn shell peas. Quick as lightening her hand shot out and scooped a few from the bowl to eat.

Dawn raised an eyebrow but said nothing. She didn’t want to get caught up in this discussion. She remembered vividly when Mac had started to date. She had practically had to hold Aliki down from tailing Mac and her date and she had a sneaky suspicion that Aliki had run police checks on some of them. The two sisters were very much alike in many ways.

“I don’t like it,” Robbie grumbled.

Janet came over and kissed Robbie’s head. “Olive, don’t judge all suitors by your wild behaviour at that age. If you had your way neither of our girls would have had a chance to date until they were thirty.”

Robbie eyed the bowl of peas gloomily and Dawn, feeling sorry for her, pushed the bowl closer. “Thirty is a good age to start dating.” She smiled, picking out a few more of the tender, sweet peas to eat.

Ryan had watched Mac from a distance. She had loved Mac since she was a kid. She just hadn’t been ready to make any sort of commitment. She had needed time and space to prove herself and she still needed time to finish her last goal before she was prepared to think about raising a family with someone.

The trouble was she wanted that someone to be Mac and it didn’t look like Mac was prepared to wait. Then there was this Stewy Fart-on. Was Mac really in love with him? Was she straight? Ryan’s jaw set in a determined line. One thing for sure was she meant to find out one way or the other.

By seven everything was in place for a nice family meal. The table was set for ten and sparkled in the candle and fireplace light with silver and glass. Most of the family were on the porch watching the last rays of light settle on the lake with before dinner drinks. Mac had disappeared into the kitchen on the excuse of checking on things as she was not feeling very sociable and Reb had gone to pick up Ian for what Robbie was calling the family inquisition.

After a few minutes, Ryan quietly slipped out too and followed Mac to the kitchen. She stood in the door way watching Mac fed Dufus a piece of turkey. “Just as spoilt as Rufus was, eh?”

Mac looked up in surprise then forced herself to relax. “Dufus isn’t too bad. Reb has a way with animals. Our Mopy, Dufus sister, was well trained by Aliki but she’s a terribly dumb animal, much to Aliki’s disgust. She’s so sweet though. Now the spoilt one of the litter is Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle David’s Quasar. That animal has no idea it is a dog. They have raised it as a spoilt child.

Ryan smiled, glad that Mac was not going to hold a grudge about the fight they’d had earlier. “I’d like a dog but it is just not possible at the moment.”

Mac nodded. “So now you have your doctorate what is the next step?”

Ryan looked over her shoulder to make sure no one had followed them. She had to pick her time carefully in telling her moms what she planned next. It was one of the reasons she had come home. There would be no keeping this quiet. “I am in the Canadian Space Program. I am training now for a shuttle flight and stay at the space station to do some research in two years’ time.”

Mac looked up with startled eyes, making eye contact with Ryan for the first time. Ryan could see the pride there but also the fear. “How long will you be gone? I mean, up there?”

“Probably three months.”

Mac smiled and nervously ran her hand through her hair. “I guess a dog isn’t a good idea. Another Williams about to make a name for herself, huh?” The laugh showed her nervousness as she turned to busy herself pouring the creamed peas into a china dish to place on a warming tray on the kitchen table. Elizabeth and David had arrived from their cottage about half an hour ago and Reb should be back any minute with Ian. Then they would eat.

“Mac, I am on leave for a month. I want to spend some time with you. You can’t deny that there was at one time something there between us. I think we need to be sure. I won’t push you…”

“Won’t push me!” Mac snorted, turning around with the bowl in her hand. “I have a month to fall in love with you and then you are going to take off to parts unknown to prepare for a trip into space, but no pressure here. Just fall in love with you and then step aside so you can get on with your life.”

“That was NOT what I meant!” Ryan hissed.

“It was just what you meant. Face it, Ryan, you are not capable of a meaningful relationship. It is all about proving yourself.”

Ryan felt her temper rising. Somehow Mac seemed to always get under her skin. She couldn’t think rationally when the woman was around. “Who made you the fucking wise woman on the mountain? You don’t know what I am capable of in terms of a relationship. I can tell you one thing for sure, I’ll give you a life of more passion and fun than Stewy Fart-on will ever be able to provide.”

Blue eyes sparkled with ice-fire as Mac ground her teeth in anger. “I told you not to call him that!”

It is not wise to bait a Williams. They can never let a challenge lie and Ryan was no exception. “What? Stewy Fart-on? That’s his name isn’t it?” The creamed peas came back at Ryan as fast as the words had left her mouth and she stood there in shock, dripping in the hot white sauce and peas.

There was a moment of shocked silence and then Ryan reached for Mac with lightening reflexes. She had meant simply to wash Mac’s face with the sauce that dripped down her but Mac danced away and slipped on the now pea and sauce splattered floor, fell, and crashed into the kitchen table that held two large warming trays laden with food. Things shifted and rattled and a plate of turkey went flying along with a bowl of roasted potatoes. Ryan went to help Mac who by now was so angry and embarrassed that she swatted Ryan away.

Janet walked in at that point with Dufus at her heel to see what had happened. “Okay, that is enough. You two are not tracking right.”

Dufus, who was on overload with the wonderful smells, had been nearly bouncing with excitement. The word “tracking”was all the excuse the dog needed. It was the command word that Reb used with him. With a bark of glee, the big dog leaped forwarded into the kitchen mess, sending the already wobbly table flying. Dishes crashed in all directions. The family came running in from the verandah.

Robbie was the first to arrive and saw the tea towel that Mac had dropped carelessly close to the burner smolder and flare. She hopped across the room and stamped it out. A cloud of smoke spread out and hung at shoulder level in the room. Meanwhile, Janet had tried to pull Dufus away and had slipped and fallen. Aliki, arriving next, had helped her up out of the mess and was holding her until she was sure she was alright. Robbie, who had been busy with the tea towel, turned to see Aliki holding Janet and in three steps was across the room. She pulled Janet away and sucker-punched Aliki with ten years of smoldering anger. Aliki, caught off guard, went sprawling, landing on Dufus, who in surprise snapped at Ryan. Ryan gave a howl of pain.

Elizabeth stopped in the doorway with David behind her. “Oh dear. David stop the family fighting while I let Dufus outside, “she ordered, totally confident that her David would sort things out. She carefully navigated around the debris to Dufus and grabbed the beast by the collar. David for his part, was wading through the smoke trying his best to separate the various warring fractions and calm everyone one down. Mac and Ryan were on the floor yelling at each other while Mac tried to stop the bleeding where Ryan had been nipped on the wrist. Janet was yelling at Robbie and trying to stop her from taking another swat at her sister. Dawn was helping Aliki up and trying to stop her from going after Robbie, and Dufus, having got over the shock of being landed on, was wolfing down slices of turkey before he had to give in to Elizabeth’s pull on his collar.

The door opened and Reb and Ian entered. Everyone froze and looked in their direction. There was a moment’s awkward silence. Then Reb said quietly, “Ian, this is my family – not necessarily on one of their better days. We don’t usually eat this informally.” At that point the smoke detector activated the kitchen sprinkler system, soaking everyone.

David had taken charge. The sprinkler system was turned off and the window opened to air the place and Dawn, Janet and Elizabeth were sent to get dry clothes for the family from the other houses. Ryan and Robbie, who could clean up and change at the house, were sent to do so and once Ryan’s wrist had been bandaged to cover the minor injury, they were ordered outside to chop enough wood for the next two years. Reb and Ian were dispatched to get enough pizza for ten and Aliki and Mac were left to help David clean up the mess.

“I didn’t mean to wreck everything,” Mac muttered. “I’m sorry.”

Aliki shovelled food onto a dustpan with a spatula. “I still don’t know what the hell happened. I think we really messed things up for Reb.”

David was busy picking up broken crockery and dropping it into a box. “I am not sure but I rather suspect that Reb enjoys complaining about the crazy nature of her family.” He looked with dismay into the box. “It is a shame it is the good set of serving dishes. I hate to see waste.”

Mac sniffled as she mopped the counters dry with a rag. “It’s just that Ryan won’t leave me alone. I am so confused!”

Aliki left what she was doing and came over and took her daughter in her arms. “Hey, don’t try to solve the issues before you have time to sort out your feelings.”

“What would you do, Aliki?” Mac asked, holding onto her aunt and adopted mom with need.

Aliki thought back to the discussions she’d had with Dawn and paraphrased as best she could. “I guess I’d have to decide what was more important: an unconventional and sometimes difficult life with someone I felt was my soul mate or a comfortable, secure life with someone I respected and loved because he loved me.”

Mac moaned in frustration. “I thought I had everything worked out.”

Aliki looked surprised. “Did you? It has been my experience that love is almost impossible to work out even after years of marriage. It is a totally irrational element that coexists in what is generally a very rational and conservative society.”

Mac giggled. “You sound like an anthropologist.”

Aliki laughed. “No, just a woman who has made all the mistakes in the book on her way to finding a wonderful partner and love. Look, Mac, Ryan is here. Don’t cut off your feelings because you feel you have made a commitment to someone else. Leave the door open and know for sure what you want, then you will have no regrets no matter what your decision is.”

“I feel I would be betraying Stewart if I did that”

Aliki considered this. “In a way, I guess, but better that than you marry him and then discover that your unhappiness is going to spread and destroy all of you. You don’t want to go through your life with a “what if”. You want to take your vows having no doubts that you are doing the right thing. Now come on, we have to get this mess cleaned up before the pizza arrives.”

Ryan stacked the wood as her mom chopped the cords into kindling. “We’re in big trouble,”she sighed.

“No, you are in trouble. I’m as good as dead.”

“Is Aunt Janet that mad at you for suckering Aliki?”

The axe shattered the wood with about twice as much force as was necessary. “She did mention something about me completely humiliating her before she stormed from the room.”

Ryan smiled unsympathetically. “You’re right, you’re dead. You won’t get any until you are too old to care.”

Robbie shot her daughter a dirty look. “Thanks. I knew I could count on you for understanding. So what is going on with you and Mac?”

Ryan sat down on the wood pile with a groan. “I am getting nowhere. The truth of the matter is Stewy…Stewart holds all the cards. He’s got a good job, he’s responsible and reliable, and he can provide her with children.” For a minute neither one of them spoke. Children were always a touchy issue in a lesbian relationship. “All I can offer her is my love and a promise that someday I’ll settle down in some sort of research job.”

Robbie tossed the split wood to Ryan, who caught it easily and placed it on the stack beside her. “You’re an officer, don’t you qualify for housing?”

“Yeah, but it isn’t as easy as that.” It was time to be completely honest with her mom. “I’m in the Canadian Space Program. I’m training for a mission that will be flown in two years’ time. I’ll be travelling back and forth between here and the United States training and then my mission will entail me staying at the space station for about three months.”

Robbie put the axe down and looked at her daughter. The silence was filled by the hammering of a woodpecker on a far off tree and the gentle lap of the lake at the shore. “You had this planned right from when you went away to university didn’t you?”

Ryan squirmed with guilt. “Pretty much.”

Robbie nodded. “I’m proud of you.” She went back to chopping the wood. She was proud of Ryan. Proud and scared of what the kid had planned but there was no way she was going to discourage her daughter in any way.

Ryan beamed. “Thanks.”

“Does Mac know this?”

The gloom returned to Ryan’s eyes. “I told her in the kitchen.”

Robbie tossed the pieces of kindling one by one and Ryan caught them, again placing them on the growing pile. “Is that why you got anointed with the creamed peas?”

“That started the argument. She feels I’m just taking a brief holiday from my life to fuck up hers and then I’ll be off again.”

Robbie frowned. “I can see why she would think that way. So why did she throw the peas at you?”

Ryan slipped from the wood pile and dusted off her blue jeans. “For calling her fiancé Stewy Fart-on.”

Robbie chuckled. “Dumb move kid.”

“So I discovered.”

As they drove, Janet had been venting about Robbie’s temper, her fear of Janet’s breast reconstruction surgery, and her ridiculous jealousy. She finally wore down as they arrived at her former home and now Elizabeth and David’s cottage. “I’m really sorry about going on and I feel terrible about Robbie hitting Aliki, Dawn.”

Dawn smiled and patted Janet’s knee. “It looked good on Aliki. The only thing hurt was her ego. Those two are so damn competitive. Don’t worry about it, Janet. There is no harm done. They are very close and love each other very much. They are just too pig-headed to admit it.”

Elizabeth blinked several times, still feeling rather dazed by the turn of events. “I don’t think I have ever witnessed a brawl before. Isn’t it amazing how quickly they can erupt. Thank heaven David was there. He is so good and can turn his hand to anything.”

Janet and Dawn looked at each other and tried not to smile. Dawn turned off the engine and opened her door. “I don’t know if that could really be classified as a brawl, Lizzy, more of a food fight.”

Elizabeth got out and nodded her understanding and Janet slid out after her. “It was another Olive event,”she sighed, “And my Olive is going to be paying big time for it.”

Reb drove and Ian sat beside her in shock. “What do you suppose happened back there?” he finally asked.

Reb shrugged. “Hard to say, no doubt we’ll hear the whole story over pizza, that is if you still want to have dinner with us.” She had asked casually but to be truthful she was pretty worried about how Ian was going to take this.

Ian laughed. “And miss the next exciting instalment? Not on your life!”

Reb frowned. “Ian, aahh, the family does not like publicity, at least not that kind. We are private people although you wouldn’t know that by the press coverage. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone about today.”

Ian looked at his girlfriend in surprise. “I wouldn’t gossip about your family, Reb. I haven’t even told my parents who you are. I have to admit it was a bit of a shock to discover that you are one of THE Williams. To be truthful I am not sure what you see in me.”

Reb took her eyes off the road for a second to flash him a smile. “Well, for one thing I’ve known you over two months now and you haven’t started a food fight yet.”

They laughed and some of the tension vanished. “So who were all those people?”

“Hmmm, lets see. The one wearing the creamed peas was my sister Doctor and Major Ryan Williams. The one bandaging her wrist calling her names was my cousin, MacKenzie. Her mom, the author Dawn Freeman, was the one holding onto the woman with the black eye. That’s her partner, Doctor and Inspector Aliki Pateas of the RCMP. The tall angry one, I am afraid to admit, is my mother the actor-director Robbie Williams, and the woman wearing the smashed potatoes on her back side trying to talk some sense into her is my other mom, Janet Williams. She’s the president of the Bartlett School of Film and Animation. The woman battling with the dog over the remains of the turkey was my aunt, Doctor Elizabeth Williams, the physicist, and the man trying his best to bring order to the chaos is my Uncle David. He’s married to my Aunt Elizabeth.”

“Ugly dog.”

“Yeah, but a great tracker if there are no squirrels about.”

“An amazing family.”

“They’re all nuts.”

“That too.”

By ten o’clock, the kitchen had been cleaned, everyone had showered and changed into clean clothes and Thanksgiving pizza had been eaten. Ian had survived Robbie’s third degree and seemed to have got a temporary Good Housekeeping seal of approval. He had formally asked Janet if he could take Reb to the dance and she had agreed on the understanding that he have her home by eleven. Most of them were now lounging in various places in the livingroom in front of the huge stone fireplace catching up on family news.

Robbie had followed Aliki into the kitchen on the pretense of getting more beer. ” Aaah, I shouldn’t have hit you. Is your eye okay?”

Aliki pulled some cold beer from the wine and beer cooler that Robbie had in the pantry. “Yeah, it’s okay. So what the hell is the matter with you?”

Robbie blushed. “Janet and I…well, we haven’t seen eye to eye on this breast reconstruction thing. She doesn’t trust me. She doesn’t think I understand.”

Aliki twisted the top off a bottle and handed it to her sister then opened one for herself. “Do you understand?”

“I understand why she feels she needs to go through this process – I guess. I just can’t handle it very well. If anything happened to Janet…” Robbie swallowed and couldn’t go on.

Aliki frowned. “Dawn and I have been in a similar situation. My work can be dangerous and as you know I’ve been hurt and Dawn and Mac have been in danger more than once.”

Robbie nodded. This was an understatement. There had been a number of close calls for all of them. She remembered vividly sitting with Dawn while Aliki’s life balanced on a thread and dealing with Aliki’s breakdown after. “Yeah, I know.”

Aliki blushed, still embarrassed about her emotional breakdown even after ten years. “Dawn and Mac came to terms with the danger much more quickly than me. I felt I had to go it alone and protect my family at all costs. I was wrong. You want to protect the ones you love but you also have to give them room to take chances and do what they feel is right. This partnership thing, I’ve discovered, is all about love and commitment without boundaries or ownership.”

Robbie ran her hand through her hair. “Janet and I haven’t talked about it yet but I know there is more surgery to come. I don’t know how I am going to get through it.”

“Is there any real danger?”

“No, not really. It’s just that I can’t stand the hospital. Knowing Janet is vulnerable again…” Tears welled up in Robbie’s eyes and she wiped them away with annoyance.

Aliki came over and wrapped an arm around her sister. The fear of cancer had always been there for them right from the start of their relationship and that must be hard. “Janet’s going to be fine. You gotta believe that just like I have to believe that my family will be able to handle any danger that my job might bring their way. There are enough problems that we all have to face without looking for more.”

Robbie swallowed hard and then revealed a big part of her soul to Aliki. “Janet made my life work. Before her I was so unhappy. I can’t go it alone again.”

Aliki felt for her sister and pulled her in for a quick hug. “First, that is not going to happen. Janet is well and strong and will out live you for sure considering the way you abused your body in your wild days,”she teased. “Second, you are not alone anymore. You have family and we are all here to get you through the rough times. Now come on, people are waiting for their drinks. And Robbie?”

“Yeah?”

“Hit me again and I’ll knock your block off.”

Ryan had stayed on the edge of the group talking quietly with Elizabeth about her research until David had come to get his wife to show her how much Dufus had grown compared to their beloved Quasar. Then she had just sat quietly in the shadows, enjoying being near her family again but feeling embarrassed about ruining the Thanksgiving dinner.

After a while Mac came over and sat near her. “Hi.”

“Hi.”

Mac wasn’t sure how to approach this. “Did you really come back because I got engaged?”

Ryan looked away but nodded. “The time was right. I’d achieved what I felt I had to achieve to prove myself and I knew I had to tell my family about the mission before they heard it on the news. I knew you’d all be here…the time was just right. I’d put it off because I didn’t know what sort of a reaction I would get coming home after all this time. But knowing you were engaged…I just had to know.”

Mac couldn’t look at Ryan. She stared over at her family. “I have always loved you, Ryan. I think of you as my soul mate but you went away and you were gone for so long.”

Ryan’s voice sounded hurt and bitter. “I wrote and emailed you all the time!”

Mac snorted. “About work, not love. And I could read between the lines; you had some relationships.”

Ryan blushed. “Nothing serious.” She swallowed hard. It was none of her business but it was eating at her and she needed to know. “Are you sleeping with him?”

“No. I haven’t slept with anyone.”

They sat in silence after that and after a while Mac reached out and took Ryan’s hand. Their fingers intertwined but neither of them said anything or went any farther.

Reb was sitting on the couch with Ian, a jealous Dufus wedged between them on the rug. “Uncle David, we were talking to Ted about the old mine shaft down lover’s lane. Do you know anything about it?” Robbie shot Ian a murderous look and Reb quickly went on. “I haven’t been there but Ryan told me about it.”

It was Janet who answered. “Oh God, not the old mine shaft again!”

David chuckled. “Go on, Janet, you are in a better position to tell them.”

Janet rolled her eyes. “Reb as you know your great grandfather was a gambler. He and Ted, that was David’s grandfather, were good buddies and the town con men. Whenever they were down on their luck they would spread the rumour about a meteorite hitting up there and the river running gold after. Then they would sell shares in the mine. There must be hundreds of people with shares in that worthless mine.”

“So what sort of a mine is it?” Reb persisted.

Janet shrugged. “Granddad always said it was an Algonquian First Nations’ site.”

Mac looked up with sudden interest. “We have to go.”

“I’m in,” Dawn said, having had an interest in First Nations’ folk lore and particularly an interest in the Salish because her adopted daughter, MacKenzie’s natural mother had been a Salish woman.

“Caves, cool, I’m game.” Robbie beamed, always ready for an adventure.

Mac looked at Ryan who smiled and nodded. “We’re in on the expedition.”

“I have tomorrow off. If you are going then I’d sure like to go along,” Ian said a little nervously.

“Oh course you are welcome, Ian,” Robbie said smiling, and saw Reb beam with delight.

David made things easy for Elizabeth. “Well, you lot enjoy. Lizzy has a paper she needs to be working on and I plan on doing some repairs around the cottage. Pop by on your way out tomorrow and I’ll have a picnic lunch for you to take and we’ll see that there is a dinner for you when you get back.”

“Thanks, David. Could you take Dufus and Moppy for the day as well?” Aliki asked.

“No problem. Quasar will enjoy the company.”

The only one who looked worried was Janet. She didn’t say anything but she wasn’t sure about the mine at all. Her granddaddy had always said it was haunted. Not that she believed in any of that stuff but childhood beliefs can often haunt an adult.
part 3
It was late at night and the family members had drifted back to their various homes. Ian had left earlier right on eleven to show he could be a responsible and trustworthy date for Reb. He had liked Reb’s family although he was in a bit of a daze about spending an evening with so many famous and rich people. He thought about his parent’s modest little subdivision bungalow. It would nearly fit inside the Williams’ livingroom and kitchen. His dad worked as a floor manager in a small plastics factory and his mom had a job as a secretary in a school. What would it be like to take Reb home to meet his family?

It had been kind of weird too to be in a room that was mostly filled with lesbian women. He found, however, that in a very short time he had just forgotten about it. Who people were sleeping with was really not such a big deal as people made it out to be. He wondered how his family would react. He knew his parents were pretty liberal minded but they were of the generation that often confused bigotry for righteousness.

Mac had stayed on after her parents had left and she and Ryan had gone for a walk down to the lake. The night was clear and the stars hung close and brightly reflected in the still water. The air was fresh and crisp and Ryan hesitantly put her arm around Mac to share body heat as they sat on the wood bench by the dock.

“Wouldn’t being gay ruin your chances at getting a place on a shuttle flight? I mean, I would think NASA is very careful of its public image,” Mac asked.

Ryan squirmed with embarrassment. “I have to stay pretty much in the closet publicly. But there has been speculation in the tabloids over the years about my orientation. I just don’t deny or confirm the rumours. It is hard to have a private life when you are a Williams. People are watching to see if I can live up to the name.”

“Does that bother you?”

“I don’t know if bother is the right word. I am driven by a need to prove myself for many reasons, you know that.” Ryan wanted to be honest but she also needed some breathing space. She wasn’t used to heart to heart talks. She changed the subject. “How is the Master’s Degree going?”

Mac understood and let the conversation take a new turn. “Well. I’m just about finished my thesis on how Greek mythology has shaped our modern concept of the super hero. I hope to have my degree by the spring.”

“Then what?”

“Marriage was the next thing on the list,” Mac stated and felt Ryan stiffen. “Then I think I want to write like my Mom. I’ve already had a few short stories published in magazines.”

Ryan got up and walked to the end of the dock to stare at the heavens. Someday soon she would be up there, free floating on the edge of the universe. It was something she had wanted since she was a child. She turned to look at Mac. “If it would make a difference, I will drop out of the Space Program and ask mom to lend me the money to buy out my commission.”

Mac looked up in shock. “I would never ask that of you, Ryan. I know how much it means to you to reach your goals your own way.”

Steady green eyes looked into blue. “I know you wouldn’t ask. I am offering to do so because there is nothing in this world more important to me than winning your love.”

Mac stood up and walked over to Ryan, hugging her close. “You have always had my love, Ryan. Always. I am just not sure that is enough. I am not sure if this is just another Williams who has to win at all costs and will lose interest once she does. I’m not sure if you really do love me.”

Ryan swallowed hard. “How do I prove to you then that I love you?”

“I don’t know. I’m pretty confused at the moment, Ryan. You coming back has really turned my world upside down.”

Mac leaned her head against Ryan’s chest and could feel her strong heart beating steadily. It felt right in Ryan’s arms, far more so than when she was being held by Stewart. She wasn’t sure that she and Ryan could ever make something work between them. She knew one thing for sure now, she wasn’t going to marry Stewart because if only for tonight she wanted to know what it was like to have Ryan make love to her. She wanted Ryan to be the one, not Stewart.

“Ryan?”

“Mmmm?”

“Make a fire in the boathouse fireplace and then make love to me, please.”

Ryan wanted it to be perfect. Mac was giving her a wonderful gift and she meant to show her just how much she was loved. Ryan got a good fire going and while she waited for the chill and dampness to leave the room she lit some candles, turned on some soft music and closed the bolt on the door so they couldn’t be disturbed. She was as nervous as if this was her first time.

Mac was nervous too. She watched Ryan move about the room with hungry but also embarrassed eyes. She had often dreamed of this moment but now it was here it was so real, so intense it was scary as hell. The room above the boathouse was large and beautifully decorated with a small bar, and comfy, overstuffed furniture. Sliding doors led onto a small balcony and beyond the lake and stars blended into one.

Ryan came over with two glasses of wine and they sat close looking out at the night in silence as they drank. Then Ryan put down her glass and stood, offering MacKenzie her hand. Mac rose and Ryan took her into her arms and swayed against her to the sound of the music. Mac’s hands ran up the front of Ryan’s shirt and wrapped around her neck, her fingers gently playing with the hair at the nape of Ryan’s neck. She felt her soldier shiver with desire and decided that she liked very much that she could get that reaction from Ryan. She could feel herself wet with need.

They moved well together, bodies close and movements intimate. Finally, Ryan stopped and stepped back. She did not speak but instead used American Sign, Mac’s first language. She signed confidently and Mac blinked back the tears that Ryan would have learned and maintained this skill for her.

“I have loved you from the moment you came into my life. I have waited for the day when we were each old enough and ready to share this very special moment. You are beautiful down to the centre of your soul. I know in my heart that you are the one that I am meant to be with.” Then much to Mac’s surprise, Ryan dropped to one knee and signed. “I do not want you to answer yet because I know you need time but I need you to know before we go any farther. I love you. Will you marry me?”

Before Mac could react, she stood and gently pulled Mac close again, dancing slowly to the smouldering music. Mac cried a little, then nestled into Ryan’s arms. This was a gentle, loving Ryan that she had never really seen before. She dropped kisses on Ryan’s neck. Ryan looked down at her and her head lowered. The kiss was fire spreading passion to the wet, warm folds of her being. She was swollen and ready to the point where the need was a hurt.

Ryan was in no better shape. With trembling hands she undressed Mac slowly and her trim, golden form standing in the firelight made Ryan squirm with desire. She stepped back, reluctantly breaking contact and slowly removed her own clothes and heard the gasp of pleasure as Mac’s hungry eyes looked at her well toned and lean form.

Ryan stepped close again and the touch of their naked bodies together made them both moan with need. Dancing now as they explored each other with touches and kisses, Ryan was very aware of Mac’s excitement wet on her thigh. She couldn’t stand it any longer and stooped and picked Mac up into her arms, carrying her to the day bed. Her body lowered between the spread legs of the woman she loved and she felt the warm moisture of wet hair against her belly. “I love you. I want to make love to you. Is that still okay?” she whispered.

For an answer, Mac wrapped her legs around Ryan and reached up to capture her mouth with her own. She heard Ryan’s soft growl of need as their tongues explored – entering each other’s being, foreshadowing what was to come.

Ryan’s voice came softly as she slowly let Mac get used to the touches, the feel, and the scent of her. She nuzzled at Mac’s ear and the soft underside of her throat.”There is always a faint scent of mountain herbs to your hair. I remember your youthful body and how it used to turn me on but those memories did not prepare me for the beauty of the woman you have become.” Ryan’s lips kissed small breasts, teasing the hard nipples with her tongue and letting her hands stroke and fondle soft, warm flesh.

“Oh Ryan,” Mac moaned, bucking with need under the hard lean form.

Ryan’s hands stayed on Mac’s breasts but her head lowered, dropping kisses on a tight stomach and using her tongue to tease Mac’s navel. “I am going to make you mine, lover. I’m going to enter you slowly and gently and do everything I can to make you feel all the love that I have for you. You excite me. Your soul lies gently with mine. This is right.” As she whispered soft words of love and comfort Ryan slid down Mac’s body and enjoyed for the first time the feel and taste of Mac’s sex.

Her tongue caressed a swollen bud of desire and slipped between moist, hot lips to taste Mac’s need. She felt the petite woman shudder with want and slowly she started to slip her two fingers into warm velvet. When she felt resistance she stopped and gave Mac pleasure with the rhythmic movement of her hand.

“Mac?” she asked.

“Take me. Take me,”came the soft answering moan.

Ryan pushed through and sensed Mac’s pain, holding her close until it passed. Then she moved within her again. Slowly, gently, in the rhythm of love, she built the tension between them, whispering words of passion and need into the most intimate places of Mac’s being. With a cry, Mac grabbed Ryan tight and went over the top in a long shudder of release. Ryan remained in her, feeling the contraction of her muscles around her fingers as the aftershocks still coursed through her lover’s being. “I love you. I have always loved you and I always will,” Ryan whispered and kissed the wet, warm sex of the only lover she ever really wanted.

They lay like that for sometime and then slowly, reluctantly Ryan withdrew from the warm centre of Mac’s being. “You okay?” she asked, softly.

Mac looked at Ryan, now her lover. “I am a whole new person and I feel wonderful.” She reached up and kissed Ryan’s lips tasting herself there. The thought of where those lips had been just a short time ago rocketed sensations low into her being. “You are amazing.”

Gently, Mac slipped down underneath Ryan’s form, kissing and sucking on hard nipples and feeling her lover’s hard muscles contract as she kissed along her abdomen. Then she was where she wanted to be. She wrapped her arms around her lover’s thighs and buried her face in Ryan’s sex. Ryan on hands and knees bucked with want as Mac’s ate at her. Then fingers were pushed into her being and Ryan rode them as her lover enjoyed her sex. With a cry of release Ryan sat up contracting around fingers deep inside her. She was kneeing now over Mac’s breasts her passion wetting Mac’s hard nipples. With one last shudder she collapsed beside Mac totally spent.

Much to Aliki’s surprise she woke to the smell of fresh brewed coffee. It wasn’t often that she wasn’t the first one up in the morning. Blurry eyed, she slipped into sweats and ran a comb through her hair before heading into the kitchen. Mac met her in the doorway and gave her a big hug and then poured her a mug of coffee. “You were so right, Aliki. Thank you.”

Aliki smiled not sure what she was right about but glad that Mac was happier this morning.

“Good. ‘Bout what?” she mumbled sleepily, taking a sip of the morning brew.

“Sleeping with Ryan.”

Aliki choked and Mac rushed to pat her on her back. “What!?” Aliki managed to squeak out between gasps.

“I just got home. I stayed with Ryan last night.”

Aliki held up a hand and bounced about the kitchen in a near panic. “I never told you to do that!”

Mac laughed. “Mom said you wouldn’t be able to handle it.”

“Your mother knows! You didn’t tell her I told you to sleep with Ryan did you!” Horror was written all over Aliki’s face at the thought of having to explain this one to her partner. “Because I didn’t!”

Mac considered this. She was enjoying seeing her usually composed Mom in a state of total panic. “Well, not in so many words,”she conceded. “But you did tell me to be sure.”

Aliki sank to a chair feel weak and shaky. “Are you okay?”

Mac smiled gently and came over and wrapped her arms around Aliki. She’d teased enough. “It was the most wonderful moment of my life. I love her very much and if it hadn’t been for you I would have been too stubborn and hurt to see that.”

Aliki’s hands came up to pat Mac’s. “That’s the way it should be. So where do you go from here?”

Mac sat down and pulled her own mug of coffee over. “That’s a tough one. Ryan has asked me to marry her. I haven’t answered yet. I think I owe it to Stewart to end that relationship before I make any decisions with Ryan. I’m not sure whether Ryan and I are ready for a permanent commitment.”

“Aah, how did your Mom take all this?” Aliki asked weakly, still in a state of shock.

Dawn came in then with Moppy on a leash and their old cat Sally-slurp following along behind. “I told MacKenzie that I was very relieved to have her following her heart instead of settling for conformity.”

Moppy ran forward and stuck her big orange head under Aliki’s arm demanding attention and almost knocking Aliki’s mug of coffee over. “Dumb dog,” Aliki muttered affectionately, scratching the dog’s floppy ear. Sally-slurp jumped up and curled contentedly in Mac’s lap.

Dawn came over and kissed Aliki’s head and then joined them at the table. “You need to go wash up, Aliki. Ryan is coming over at eight to talk to us.”

The look on Aliki’s face was priceless but neither woman laughed until after Aliki had hurried off to shower. Mac’s eyes looked thoughtful. “I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment if I thought I could have the relationship you have with Aliki.”

Dawn tried to be diplomatic. “Ryan has a brilliant mind, she’s talented, and a hard worker, and I am sure she loves you.”

Mac’s sighed. “Oh she is all that alright, but she is also quick tempered, moody, driven, and totally confident that what she wants is right.”

Dawn chuckled. “She is a Williams. But Janet seems to be able to handle Robbie with no problem.”

Mac played with her now empty cup. “That’s because Aunt Obbie believes that without Janet she would totally fuck-up. I don’t have that leverage over Ryan. I’m going to have to live in the background while Ryan trains and flies off into space.”

Dawn’s eyes widened in mock shock. “Then more fool you! If Ryan is getting on with her goals then so should you. A commitment to someone does not mean that you can’t have a life of your own. Ryan has five years to serve, you use those five years to make something of yourself. If you think you can make something work with Ryan it had better be an equal partnership or you will soon get to hate her.”

Exactly at eight Ryan drove into the yard. Mac went out to meet her and they kissed holding each other close. Dawn watched from the window. It seemed so right and natural and yet she knew the decision to live an alternative life style was not an easy one. Still in Ryan’s arm’s Mac looked relaxed and happy. In Stewart’s arms, she had always looked like an unhappy, little girl clinging to her big brother.

Aliki came up beside Dawn. “I never told her to sleep with Ryan,”she protested.

Dawn smiled. “I know, Sweetheart. You just gave her the push she needed to take a chance on love.”

Aliki frowned. “What if it doesn’t work out?”

“Then it doesn’t. No what ifs, isn’t that what you told her?”

Aliki nodded.

They sat down in the morning room and waited for their daughter and Ryan. Dawn’s heart went out to the two of them when they walked in looking so happy and holding hands. Ryan clearly had raided her mom’s wardrobe for the occasion. She was wearing pressed black dress pants and a brushed cotton grey dress shirt.

“Good morning,” Ryan said formally, not able to hide her smile behind her formal manner. “I asked Mac if I could come here this morning because I wanted to tell you that I love your daughter and that I have asked her to consider marrying me. I hope you would feel comfortable in giving your blessing.”

“Oh course we would, Ryan,” Dawn said smiling before Aliki could say anything. “We want Mac to be happy. Come and sit down.

“We like you very much, Ryan. I think what we are going to ask is that you give Mac time to work things out. She is engaged to someone else as you know.” Ryan looked stormy and her hand tightened around Mac’s. “Mac needs time to be sure and to settle things in a way that will be kind and fair.”

Ryan nodded. “I understand.”

Aliki looked at Ryan with new respect. Ryan had grown up and the woman had control and better understanding of others. She had lost her chippy attitude. “You have to accept whatever decision Mac makes, Ryan,” Aliki warned.

Ryan looked up with calm, sincere eyes. “I could never accept that I am not the one for Mac. I have always known in my soul that we were meant to be, but I give you my word that I will respect Mac’s decision.”

Aliki smiled and reached out and squeezed Ryan’s shoulder. She liked the woman. She liked the old fashioned way she had come and asked for their approval. Stewart had not done that. He had merely announced that he had given Mac a ring and that they were engaged as if Aliki and Dawn should be thrilled.

Mac smiled. The approval of her parents was important to her. She thought of the discussions she’d had with Stewart about the awkwardness of her parents being lesbians and smiled. There wasn’t really any need for awkwardness, that was just the outer trappings of bigotry. Today felt so much better.

It was time to let Ryan off the hot seat Dawn decided. “Well, if we are all meeting at ten to go explore the cave then we’d better get a move on.” Ryan went home to change, and the Pateas family quickly got ready.

When Ryan walked into the morning room of her parent’s house three pairs of Williams’ eyes looked up at her filled with curiosity. “You are wearing my clothes,” Robbie observed with a raise to her eyebrow.

Ryan nodded and licked her lips. This was harder than talking to the Pateas clan and that had been hard enough. “I went to ask for Mac’s hand in marriage,” she admitted.

Everyone looked at her in stunned silence. “Mac has stopped throwing dinner at you and has agreed to marry you?” Reb asked in exaggerated disbelief.

Ryan blushed. “Not exactly. I have asked Mac to marry me and we’ve – expressed our love to each other. Mac has things to work out yet. I…I’m trying not to push her.”

Janet smiled. “Don’t you think asking for her parent’s approval is pushing it a bit?”

Ryan shifted from one foot to the other. She knew she was glowing red with embarrassment. Her family was not making it easy. “I…I just wanted to do things right.”

Reb giggled. “Did you get down on your knees or did you just wear creamed peas?”

“Funny kid. Your turn will come.”

Janet looked at the clock. ” You’d better go change. Ian will be here soon and then we’ll need to head over to the Potts.”

With relief Ryan made her escape and headed off to change. A few minutes later, a soft tap came at her door. It was her mom. The two women looked at each other and then Robbie took her daughter in her arms. “You are quite the woman. I am so happy for you. I couldn’t think of a better daughter-in-law to have.”

“Thanks mom. She hasn’t said yes yet though.”

“She will. She couldn’t find anyone who would love or care for her better than you would.”

“I gotta tell you that was the scariest thing I have ever done.”

Robbie chuckled and let go of her daughter. “Understood. Been there, done that.” Her face went serious. “This is your home. You remember that and you and Mac are always welcome here. We will support you in anyway we can. Now hurry up. Ian is here and we are about ready to go.”

With the three dogs running around the Potts backyard and David’s picnic lunch stored in two knapsacks, the family headed off in the Pateas van and Ryan’s jeep to explore the mine. They bumped slowly down Lover’s Lane and came out in the clearing. Everyone piled out and there was a good deal of joking about Ian being the only male in the group. With smirks and knowing looks, the women all passed him their knapsacks, canteens, ropes, and other equipment until he was nearly buried in the stuff.

Ian took it all in his stride and spreading his legs and folding his arms he laughed. “Hey, you can’t all be femmes there have to be at least a few dykes amongst you. Besides, I am more into swinging from vines and pounding on my chest than lifting and bearing.” He wouldn’t have believed a few days ago that he could have said something like that to Reb’s parents but the family had quickly put him at ease and were so open and natural about their relationships that in a very short time he simply had accepted a different world view.

“Wouldn’t you know, ladies, we gotta help the guy,” Robbie laughed, and everyone came and picked up their stuff for the expedition.

The mine shaft went straight down about twenty feet and then seemed to tunnel out north from there. One by one they each rappelled down the rocky sides until they were crowded in at the base. Robbie and Janet led the way down the tunnel of rock. It was about two metres wide and four high and seemed to be more of a natural fissure in the rock than a man made tunnel although here and there they could see that it had been widened. The roof above their heads was sometimes rock and other times just a mass of roots and dirt. In places pencil-thin beams of sunlight penetrated the gloom.

Behind Robbie and Janet came Reb and Ian, then Aliki and Dawn and at the back were Ryan and Mac. Slowly, they followed the fault along for fifty metres or so. “This must have been open to the sky back a hundred years ago,” Aliki commented.

Janet moved her light over the rock walls on either side of them. “It’s certainly no mine.”

“Maybe it’s a sink hole that washes out through this fissure,” Ian suggested.

Reb laughed. “Or that is where great-granddad’s meteorite hit.”

Dawn flashed her flashlight across the pebble and rock floor. “Look!” To their amazement, the uneven path shone with bits of gold.

“Wow!” Reb whispered.

Janet laughed. “Fools gold. Pyrite. So this was the river of gold. I wonder how many people got suckered in by those two old coots tale of riches.”

Ian looked around carefully. “You can see a water line here on the rock. I’m thinking maybe a stream runs through here in the spring with the winter run off. That is probably what washes out the mineral deposits.”

Janet sighed. “One thing is for sure, too many people got suckered with dreams of gold. I see light up ahead.” They moved on but several of them picked up some of the pyrite as a souvenir.

Dawn looked at Aliki and winked. Years ago her uncle had found gold in the Swan Hills of Alberta. The nuggets he had panned had made Dawn rich. They didn’t talk about it though. First, because they did not want the beauty of the area destroyed by miners and second, because Aliki was a little sensitive about the fact that she drew a very middle class salary for her work as a forensic anthropologist while many of the other members of her family, including her partner, were very rich. Dawn gave her partner a hug. There wasn’t enough gold in the world to replace the one she loved.

They had to take off their packs and wedge sideways to get through the long thin crack in the rock that sloped on about a forty-five degree angle. Squeezing out one by one, they found themselves on a small grassy ridge. In front of them, the cliff dropped off sharply to join hills of tall pines that undulated to the shores of Lake Superior way below. The view was simply beautiful. A hundred metres behind them the cliff rose again ten or fifteen metres to a ridge of pines reaching for the sky.

“Awesome place!” Reb concluded and they all agreed.

The cliff that rose behind them was not made of the granite rock that they had found the fault line in but appeared to be made of layers of sand stone and shale. “An old shore line or lake bottom that got lifted up at some time,” Ryan suggested, based on her one geology course at university years ago. “It is certainly lift and fold geological action. See how the stratification isn’t horizontal but is on almost a forty-five degree angle and look, are they mine shafts?”

The others looked where Ryan was pointing. They could see the normally horizontal layers of rock were on a sharp angle and that ten or fifteen dark spots on the cliff face indicated the entrance to caves or tunnels.

“Yes!”laughed Robbie, nearly bouncing with glee. “Ladies and token male, pick your cave and let the fun begin!”

They spent several hours checking out the low caves and tunnels, for some of them proved to be natural while others had been mined. Then they stopped for lunch. The conversation was the usual banter of Williams’ wit. Mac, however, was quieter than usual. Ryan kept glancing at her wondering what she was thinking and hoping against hope that Mac was not going to turn her down. As soon as the picnic was over and couples started to break up to tackle the higher caves, Ryan whispered into Mac’s ear. “I love you. Please don’t leave me.”

Mac looked up, startled to see the worry in Ryan’s eyes. “Ryan…I’m sorry…I wasn’t thinking about us.”

Ryan’s face crumbled into misery. “Oh.”

“No silly, I was thinking about the shaman cave.”

“What shaman cave?”

“Ryan! Aunt Janet’s granddad’s shaman cave.”

Ryan snorted. “By all accounts, my great granddad wouldn’t have known the truth if it was squeaking under his foot!”

Mac laughed and took Ryan’s arm. “I know he could tell a good story but it seems to me there is always a grain of truth in what the old guy said. There was a hole in the ground. It’s just that it was a sink hole not a meteor crater. There was a river of gold, but it’s pyrite. So I figure there is a First Nation site too – of some sort.”

Ryan rolled her eyes. “Let me guess, you have to find it.”

“Of course. If it is a place of the ancestors, a sacred place, then I want to see it”

Ryan opened her mouth to say something then saw the intensity of the conviction in Mac’s face and thought better of it. Learning about and respecting Mac’s mixed heritage was something she was going to have to do. “Okay. Where are we going to look?”

Mac looked out over the panoramic view of Lake Superior far below. “I’m going over the cliff.”

“No you’re not!”

Mac looked at her. Ryan squirmed as warring emotions argued it out in her head. When she spoke it sounded peevish. “I suppose you are going to tell me the Salish are natural climbers from living on the edge of the Rockies for thousands of years.”

“No. I’m going to remind you I have my advanced certificate in rock climbing,” stated Mac pointedly. “I am qualified to instruct and I have paramedic training.”

Ryan felt the embarrassment climbing up her face. “Sorry.” She hesitated and then went on. “I might need some instruction.”

Devilment flashed in Mac’s eyes. “In rock climbing or tact?”

Ryan laughed. “Can we start this conversation again. “You think the Shaman cave is over the cliff, why?”

“Because it would show courage to get there and that is important.” Mac moved over to the edge carefully and dropped down on her stomach to look over the side. The vertigo hit with force and she felt like she was sliding off the edge. Then she felt Ryan’s strong capable hands on her legs.

“Thanks Ryan.” Mac gave herself a few seconds to get used to the drop under her and then scanned the cliff face. It didn’t take long to find the spot. She could still see the faint traces of red ochre of pictographs. “We are going to need a rope.”

Reb and Ian had followed Dawn and Aliki up a rock chimney. Backs against the one rock face and feet braced against the other, they wiggled crab style up about twenty feet to a large, relatively flat ledge. The old wood supports not far inside the mouth showed that this cave had been mined and fairly extensively. Carefully, checking for cracks every so often, they moved deeper into the cave. It went in nearly twenty metres in a fairly straight line. Here and there they could see chippings along the side or cold drill bores where the miners had taken samples or had planned to branch off in other directions.

Reb found an iron hammer chisel and farther on Dawn found a rusty old oil lantern. Having come to the end without any further discoveries they made their way back down.

Janet and Robbie had chosen a cave farther along than the others but it turned out to be only a short passage. On the way down, however, Robbie pointed out a dark, low recess almost completely covered by bushes some distance away from the other caves. They had traversed the rock face carefully making their way over to the spot. The opening was several metres wide but less than a metre high so they had crawled in on their bellies side by side.

“Watch your plastic balloon thingy,” Robbie cautioned.

Janet rolled her eyes although in the sudden darkness Robbie couldn’t see. “What is the point, Robbie Williams, of getting breast reconstruction if you are going to keep reminding me I have an implant.”

“Sorry…but be careful.”

Janet gave her lover a poke. When Robbie decided to worry about something she gave it the same intensity that she did everything else. Janet moved her flashlight beam around in a slow arc. The cave was large inside, about the size of a standard livingroom. The two women crawled forward and stood up. The blackness seemed to fight back the light from their torches. Cutting the darkness in slices, they could see that the cave had been used over the years as a shelter. Smoke blackened rock and bits of charred wood marked several old fire pits. On the far side the rock rose sharply. Here someone had used charcoal to express their discouragement on the rocky wall. ‘No gold, No money, No luck. Haunted. Moran 1898.’

They circled the cave carefully but there was nothing else to see until Robbie discovered that a narrow crevice high on the far side led into another chamber. She crawled up and stuck her arm and head through so she could look around.

“It’s another chamber, Janet. Come see.”

Janet crawled up and Robbie moved aside so her partner could have a look. “It looks about the same size as this one. Lower though. It looks like quite a drop.”

“About five feet and then a steep bank down to the cave floor. I think we can do it. Do you want to try?”

“Sure.”

Robbie slipped through feet first and got herself balanced on the steep embankment. “You’ll have to be careful, Janet. It’s slippy and muddy.”

“Okay.” Janet wiggled through, being careful of her implant although she certainly was not about to admit that to Robbie. She felt Robbie guiding her legs down to the ground. The mud oozed around her boots. “Uck!”

“It looks like sediment must wash from the upper cave down into here. Careful going down.” Robbie had barely got the words out of her mouth when the ground beneath them started to crumble and slide. Their feet slipped out from under them and they went skidding down the hill in a avalanche of mud and stone.

Janet landed on her back and had the time and sense to tuck her arms over her chest and cover her face. Still, she took an awful pounding on the way down and from her shoulders down, she was deeply buried in debris. Robbie was not so lucky. She tumbled and bounced to the bottom in a wall of mud and rock and was buried.

Mac and Ryan had rappelled down the cliff face and then edged along a narrow shelf to the mouth of the cave. It was not deep, only four or five metres but Ryan could stand upright inside. On the walls were pictographs and pictoglyphs made by the First Nations hundreds of years before.

“Do you know what they say?” Ryan asked, her voice almost a whisper. The simple cave had a presence about it. A feeling of sacredness. Ryan felt very much an intruder.

“No not really. This culture is very different from my own. I could guess at some of the uses and meanings. This is a very sacred place. These female figure pictoglyphs or carvings on the floor with the hole dug in the pelvic area are fertility cult symbols.” Ryan looked shocked. “No, it’s not what you think. The hole might have been used for semen but it was more likely used for an offering of corn, tobacco, or sweet grass. It helped ensure the health and wealth of the tribe.”

Ryan nodded but said nothing. This was not her world and she had much to learn. “See here. The old fire pit has a ring of granite rock but there are also more porous sandstone rocks inside the ring. I suspect that this is a dream house. The cave front would be covered with a hide and these porous stones would be soaked and placed on hot embers to create a steam bath. The people would fast and clean their bodies and souls to enter into a dream like state to be in tune with the spirit world.”

Ryan, squatting on her heels at the entrance of the cave, looked out at the magnificent view far below. A canopy of trees in golds and reds dotted with the deep green of evergreens ran in a wide arc framing the great lake that sparkled in the autumn sunlight until it mixed with the blue of the sky. Inland a high cliff formed a necklace that separated the trees below from the craggy hills behind. It was clean, pristine and beautiful wilderness. “I don’t know how you couldn’t feel close to the spirit of the land here.”

Mac smiled. Ryan was trying to understand and that pleased her. “Over here the red and black ochre paintings or pictographs are easier to read. The dots represent days and the wiggly line water. So it was a four day trip over water to here. The circle means fire and this triangle shape an island. So they camped on an island somewhere near by. Probably that one out there,” Mac pointed.

Ryan looked at the symbols on the walls with new interest. “That is fascinating. So the First Nations really did have a written language.”

“Not so much a language as universal symbols for communication. Before the Europeans arrived, the First Nations had trading links from coast to coast and right down into Mexico. A lot of the lighter colours have faded away. They used white, yellow, red and black to represent the four directions.”

Mac looked suddenly sad. “I think the place has been violated by people who should never have been here. I’d like to do a purification rite from my own people. Would that upset you, Ryan?”

Ryan looked out over the panorama. She had no god and yet up here, with the breeze gently caressing her face, she could believe if only for a little while. “You do whatever you have to do to put things in balance again. Any little bit towards peace and harmony has to be good.”

She sat at the mouth of the cave, her back to Mac, giving her soul mate the privacy to perform the rituals that would give her and this place peace. She could hear Mac’s soft voice chanting softly in her Salish tongue and after a while she could smell sweet grass burning. Mac always carried sweet grass usually braided into a thin bracelet or woven into a hair band. She always wore her spirit bag too but this she never opened nor revealed what was inside. Ryan knew it would carry the symbols of her totem – her spirit.

After a while, the chanting stopped and Mac came and sat beside Ryan. “I am glad you came, Ryan.” Glad – Ryan’s gut crunched. Glad was not a word you used about someone you loved. If Mac noticed the tightening of Ryan’s jaw she didn’t react but kept on with what she had to say. “You made me realize that I would be endangering who I am in marrying Stewart. It would have been an awful mistake.”

“I wouldn’t stop you from being who you wanted to be.”

Mac looked out over the spectacular view with eyes darkened with worry. “I don’t know, Ryan. You are a Williams and whether you are willing to admit it or not that means you will steam ahead through life using your intelligence and talent to achieve whatever you want. I don’t see how I fit into that picture.”

“I am not asking you to fit into my picture. I just want to form a composite.”

Mac laughed and leaned over to kiss Ryan’s cheek. “You are impossible. Come on, we’d better be heading back. The others will be wondering what happened to us.”

***

Reb and Ian had continued to explore caves looking for Robbie and Janet while Aliki and Dawn had called it a day and had climbed down to the small meadow once again. They packed things up and made sure the site left no trace of them having been there and then lay down in the grass to cloud gaze.

“Ian seems nice,” Aliki stated after a while.

“Were you looking forward to having a son-in-law, Aliki?”

The scientist considered this in her logical, analytical manner. “Not Stewart. He’s a stuffed shirt. Having a son-in-law would have been alright. I’m used to males having grown up in a house with a dad and three brothers.” She went silent for a bit and then continued. “It would have been easier for Mac if she had not been a lesbian. You know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know.”

“What do you think?”

Dawn turned around so her head rested on Aliki’s strong, lean chest. “To be truthful, I am not sure what I think. Ryan and Mac are meant to be together but I am not sure that Mac is strong enough to stand up to Ryan. I don’t want to see her losing who she is. I mean, she was prepared to live a lie with Stewart. I don’t think you can ever really be happy if you are forced to be someone you are not by your partner. I’m glad she is going to end her engagement to Stewart. I am worried about her not being strong enough to handle Ryan. You bunch are all…well, olives!”

Aliki tugged gently on a piece of Dawn’s hair that she had been curling around her finger. “Hey! I’m not a Williams!”

Dawn snorted. “You all share the same blood and believe me you are an olive!”

“Is there anything we can do to help Mac?”

“No. And that’s the hardest thing about being a parent. You do your best to train them to be strong, compassionate and intelligent people and then you have to stand on the side lines and watch your kids play in their own game of life.”

Aliki thought about this for sometime as she sky watched. “I wish I had those years back so I could tell Mac what was ahead and prepare her better.”

Dawn laughed. “You and every parent on the globe.”

It was a few minutes later when Reb and Ian showed up looking worried. “I can’t find Obbie and Mom. Ian and I have looked everywhere.”

Dawn, who had got up at the sound of running feet, put her hand on Reb’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. Ryan and Mac are not back either. I imagine they are all together.” But when a short time later, Ryan and Mac arrived having, they said, gone climbing on the main cliff face, the others started to get worried too.

“Isn’t that typical of my sister to get herself lost,” muttered Aliki, scanning the cliff. “What cave were they going to explore?”

The group spent the next hour retracing their steps and calling for Janet and Robbie. As the sun had shifted off the face of the cliff the shadows had moved and changed, making it harder to find the caves. They gathered at the base of the cliff once again. Aliki looking at her watch with concern. It was nearing four o’clock. They did not have more than three hours of sunlight left.

“Reb, you and Ian head back up to the truck and telephone George Drouillard to call out the fire department. We are going to need more people. Meanwhile, we’ll start over and check the caves once again.”

Reb nodded grimly and headed off with Ian at her heels. The others watched them go, fear now eating at their guts. It was Dawn who shook them from their shock. “Come on. They would be back by now for sure. Something has happened. We need to find them before it gets dark.”

***

Once again the four climbed up to the caves, calling Robbie and Janet’s names and checking each cave carefully. Mac could feel Ryan’s fear like a cold mist that made them both shudder. Ryan was devoted to Janet and had easily accepted her as her other mother. Her relationship with her biological mother was far more difficult. But for all the problems Robbie and Ryan had with their mother-daughter relationship there was no doubt that Ryan adored her mother. Part of the problem had always been Ryan’s near pathological need to prove to her mother that she was worthy of being Robbie’s daughter. Mac reached out and rubbed Ryan’s back. “It’s going to be okay, Ryan.”

The response was choked with emotion. “It’s always okay but one of these times it isn’t going to be. They’ve gotta understand they’re getting older and can’t keep taking chances.”

Janet smiled. “They are risk takers just like you are but they are not irresponsible. You can be sure they would take every precaution and that they know what they are doing.” Ryan nodded, too emotional to respond. Why had she stayed away so long?

***

Dawn and Aliki stood at the mouth of a cave that they had just checked trying to decide where to go next. Aliki’s eyes darkened. This was so like her sister to get herself lost. It never occurred to Aliki for a minute that this might be Janet’s fault. Janet was the reliable, sensible one of the pair. Just like Dawn kept her on an even keel. Aliki looked down and pulled Dawn to her dropping a kiss on her partner’s head. “I’m lucky to have you. Let’s try that cave over there.”

“I’m with you,” Dawn replied, giving her worried partner a reassuring hug.

***

Reb and Ian had hurried along the rocky fissure back to the vehicles where telephone communication could be established. She flipped up her phone and pressed George Drouillard’s number. For many years George had been the fire chief but a few years ago he had stepped down and her mother had been voted in as chief. George though was still second in command. “Mr. Drouillard. It’s Rebecca. My moms are missing up at the old mine down Lover’s Lane. We came out to explore the caves and they didn’t come back. It’s getting late and we don’t have much sunlight left to look for them. Thanks. Okay. Could you stop at my Aunt Elizabeth’s and Uncle David’s and pick up Dufus. He knows how to track Obbie.”

Reb flipped the cell phone off and bit her lip in worry. “We are to stay here and wait for the guys so we can lead them to where the others are,” she explained.

Ian nodded not knowing what to do or say. Things like this didn’t happen in his family but he got the feeling in Reb’s this was not unusual. “Is there anything I can do?” He put his arm around Reb’s shoulder but feeling her restless energy and nervousness he gave her a brief reassuring squeeze and let go again.

“No. We’ll just have to wait. Dufus will find them. I hope.” She put the her cell phone away and wrapping her arms around herself she paced back and forth. Ian leaned against Ryan’s jeep and waited.

***

George called a 911 immediately and cursed his way into his rescue gear. Janet was one of them. Her family went back to the first pioneers who had settled in the Bartlett area.

The arrival of Robbie Williams in Bartlett had been a shock but also a blessing. Her companies and support had taken a small, northern community that was struggling to get by and made it a viable concern. Many of the citizens’ lives had been improved because of the Williams’ corporation.

Not that it had been an easy transition. Having an openly lesbian couple in town was to say the least awkward. George had come to accept the relationship as had the others who worked with Robbie on the volunteer fire department. She had become one of the guys and Janet and Robbie’s daughters, Ryan and Reb, had both been accepted as members of the team. It took some getting used to though having women doing men’s work. But he figured that you had to move with the times or be left behind.

There were those in town that were being left behind. You were either for the Williams or against them and that had certainly split the community. Still over all, people had warmed to her especially as she had sorta married in what with living with Janet Williams and Robbie’s sister marrying David Potts.

He headed out of his small motors shop as firefighters were starting to arrive, pulling their cars and trucks into any available space. One of the arrivals was David Potts leading Dufus on a leash. Those firefighter volunteers who lived close would ride in the truck or follow behind while those farther away would meet them at the site. George pulled open the doors on the new shed to reveal the emergency rescue vehicle that Robbie and Janet had given to the town a number of years back to help with the medical emergencies that were on the rise. More and more city folks had bought in the area and built homes or cottages, swelling the small town’s population. He knew that the Williams were also part owners in the new medical clinic that had been built in town. That was the good side of them. The down side was a lot of time and energy seemed to be spent in rescuing that family from one thing or another.

“Come on boys, we gotta rescue Robbie and Janet again. They got themselves lost up at the old caves looking for the river of gold, I suspect. You know how damn curious that family is.”

The others laughed but still took the situation seriously. Within minutes, they were on their way.

Janet had somehow spun around as she had skidded down with the debris. So when her forward movement had finally stopped she was facing head down buried up to the shoulders in mud and rock with her legs higher than her head. She tried to move her feet and discovered that other than wiggling her toes inside her boots, she was pinned tightly by the debris. The blood running to her head and the total darkness around her made her feel disoriented and kind of sick. “Robbie!” No answer. “Robbie?”

With effort, Janet managed to free one arm and then worked to get the other one out. It was slow and difficult work. Each small movement caused loose rocks and stones to rain down on her face and she was afraid of being buried alive. Still she knew she had to take the chance and hurry because if Robbie was buried she would not have long.

The cold and pain crept into Janet’s body along with fear. She could hear herself whimpering as she worked to free her other arm. The flashlight she knew was on a cord around her wrist. She was hoping it had survived and stayed on her wrist and that she could use it to locate Robbie.

Suddenly, there was a glare of light in her face that was blinding. She closed her eyes against the pain and watched the red and orange swirl across her vision as she wiggled the rest of her arm free and grasped the torch. Stones and dirt bounced around her but she was beyond fear now and just working mindlessly to free herself.

Finally the arm and flashlight broke free of the dirt and with a cry of relief Janet fumbled to get a good grip on the torch. “Robbie?” She tried to control her panic as she forced herself to move the beam in a slow arc of the room. The beam quivered reflecting her shock and nervous tension.

Nothing. “Robbie!”

Then there, she had seen something out the corner of her eye. She moved the beam back. Only a few feet ahead of her, she could see the dirty tangle of a few strands of hair sticking out of the mud. Robbie was buried.

Janet reached out as far as she could and could not quite reach the dark locks. She sobbed in frustration and fought against her imprisonment. Over and over she reached but she was just that little bit too far away. She wiggled and strained and suddenly something gave. Rock and mud slid forward and she fought in a panic to stay on top. When it settled once more, she again focussed her flashlight where Robbie lay buried. By some miracle or blessing of the gods, she had slipped farther down but on an angle that brought her within a few centimetres of her partner. There was no time to be either careful or gentle. She wrapped her hand in the hair and pulled for all she was worth. Mud and stones shifted and ran farther down the hill and Robbie’s head and shoulders, grey with mud, came clear of the muck. “Robbie?”

Janet cleared the mud as best she could from Robbie’s nose and mouth. Her partner was not breathing. Fear gripped Janet’s insides. Twisting her head and shoulders at a painful angle, she started mouth to mouth.
Part 4
He was standing there his back to her, his hands rhythmically washing his near naked body with the smoke from a bundle of sweet grass. Robbie could hear his low chant. The deep rumble of his voice, although soft, seemed to fill the chamber. She forced air through a narrow opening getting only enough to keep her going. Perhaps it was the smoke that made it so hard to breathe.

The sweet grass was pushed into the hole that was part of the carved female figure on the rock floor. Not a rape but a coupling of the man and nature. At first, she had thought him a monster. He wore a carved wood mask over his face, the nose twisted and the eyes large circles of luminescence like the inside of a clam shell. The mask was red and from it hung long black hair that mixed with the man’s own.

She tried to let the poisonous gases in her lungs leak out the way she had managed to pull the air in. It was so hard. Every cell in her body was screaming for her to suck more air in. She could hear the gurgle of her own choked breathing – a death rattle. The man had a rattle now too. He had picked it up after he had placed the burning sweet grass in place. The rattle was made from a turtle shell and was tied with leather to a wood handle worn smooth and shiny from use.

The sound it made was a sharp, pulsating beat, like the labourious beat of her heart. Would her own heart stop when the beat of the rattle ceased? Her eyes were blurry. Perhaps this was because of lack of oxygen or maybe it was the blue, sweet smoke that hung in a cloud around the figure. The smoke swirled around the man as he now danced, the slow hopping step in soft moccasins making a shhh, shhh sound. Shhh, don’t talk. Shhh, don’t breathe. Shhh, sleep.

Robbie’s eyes closed but the ache in her throat wouldn’t let her sleep. She gasped again, drawing in a painful, thin stream of life. Not yet. She wasn’t ready yet. She needed to see what the man would do. He danced on and on, the rattle and his chant a cold wind through dried branches. Shhh, shhh. His tawny skin shone with sweat and Robbie could see now that he had painted patterns on his body in red, black, yellow and white. He disappeared into the smoke, reappeared in parts and broke up again as if drifting out in all directions on the wind. He wasn’t really there Robbie knew. He was dead. She could only see him because she was half dead too. Most of her was now cold but a small, warm hand still clung to her arm. Just one spot of colour and warmth holding her back. She forced the carbon dioxide out and then gasped and gurgled down more oxygen, giving herself another minute of life.

The man stopped suddenly and threw his hands into the air with a cry of anger. Then he turned suddenly and for the first time Robbie stared directly into the face of Broken Nose, one of the many False Face spirits of the woods. She choked on fear.

The rattle was now the blunt end of a stone club. The man walked towards her. She had disturbed a sacred place. Ruined the magic. She could no longer get her breath. Far away she could her someone sobbing. “Breathe Robbie! P..Please. Breathe.”

George Drouillard and the volunteers of the Bartlett Fire Department arrived in a convoy of bouncing trucks and cars down the rutted trail. They pulled up in a fan shaped pattern in the long grass. Car doors slammed as the fire fighters got out and unloaded equipment. George walked over to where Reb and Ian stood. “Haven’t been here since I was courting my wife forty odd years ago.”

David opened the back door of the truck and Dufus bounded out, a large, orange mass of excitement. Some of the men started getting backpacks of equipment on while others unlashed a ladder to place in the pit. David brought a rope and harness over and left Reb to get the massive Dufus into the contraption. A few of the men had already headed down into the sink hole with rescue equipment by the time Reb and Ian walked the dog over to the pit.

Reb took hold of her pet’s massive head. “Dufus, you are not going to like this part but we have to find Obbie so don’t be a big suck about it. Come.” That said, she stepped on the ladder and she and Ian lifted the whimpering but docile dog over the side. Careful hands lowered the beast down beside Reb as the girl talked reassuringly to the animal as it was lowered.

Ian followed Reb down the ladder. Everyone seemed so calm and matter of fact about rescuing the two missing women that Ian was starting to suspect that, as startling as it might seem, days like this must occur quite regularly in Reb’s life.

Reb was just getting the shaking Dufus out of his harness as Ian stepped off the ladder. “Dufus, track Obbie,”she commanded and the dog gave a bark and wagged his crooked tail with delight as he sniffed the ground with mighty snorts and slobbering jowls. Dufus picked up the trail quickly and happily bounded down the tunnel with Reb and Ian in hot pursuit.

They emerged at the other end a few minutes larger to see Dufus running around the grassy meadow following Robbie’s trail, ears flapping with each bound. They ran over to where Aliki, Dawn, Ryan and Mac stood looking worried and talking to the firefighters who had arrived ahead of them.

“Where are they?” Reb asked.

Dawn looked uncomfortable. “We have checked all the caves and can’t find them. We were just discussing widening the search in case they got lost in the woods.”

Reb’s face hardened into determined lines. For a second, she looked very much like a Williams. “Dufus, track Obbie.”

The dog looked up from sniffing the knapsacks that contained the remainder of lunch and took off towards the cliffs. The others followed behind. Narrow, crumbling footpaths ran in zigzags across the cliff face. In some spots, Ryan and Mac, following right behind Dufus, had to help the whimpering dog from one level to the other while Reb spoke soft encouragement to her pet.

Twice the dog back tracked and then, picking up the scent in a new direction, the animal headed cautiously down an embankment and onto a thin trail that led away from the caves to the other side of the cliff. In a minute, Dufus had disappeared behind some bushes. The others followed as best they could. Ryan and Mac moved ahead, both having had practice in traversing rough terrain, while the others moved more cautiously in crab-like movements through the loose, sliding gravel.

Pushing the bushes aside, Ryan and Mac could now see the low entrance to the cave. Side by side, the two of them slid in. Dufus was barking excitedly at the far end of the cave but for a second the two, blinded by the sudden dark, stood still, fumbling for their flashlights.

“Help! Hurry. Please hurry!” Janet’s voice came to them from somewhere far off, muffled by the rock but still edged with the strength of fear. They hurried over and slid up the rock slope to look inside.

Janet blinked like an owl in the beams of their searching lights. Blinded, she scrunched her eyes closed and yelled out her concern. “Robbie can’t breathe right. I can’t get whatever is blocking her throat out. We’re trapped under debris. Hurry!”

“I’m coming,” Ryan stated and started to move forward and then she forced herself to stop. “Hang on. Mac has climbing and EMT training, she’ll be down in a second.” Ryan turned and moved aside. “Save my mom,”she stated.

Mac nodded and headed in. An arm grabbed her. “Be careful.”

“I will. I have a lot to live for.”

Mac slipped over the side and Ryan lowered her down the rock face until her boots sunk into the loose debris. Slowly and carefully, so as not to trigger another slide, Mac edged her way down the slope to where Janet and Robbie were buried.

“She wasn’t breathing when I pulled her free of the mud. I did mouth to mouth as best I could and she is breathing now but not well. Her lips are blue,” Janet explained, trying not to show her panic in her voice. Her heart was pounding with worry and she wanted to yell at Mac to go faster but instead she stuck to the basic information. “She can’t speak and she is only semi-conscious.”

Mac did one quick sweep of her flashlight around to make sure the bank was holding and then turned her light on her Aunt Robbie. The woman was grey and her lips blue. When she took a weak breath it was more of a gurgle. Mac forced Robbie’s mouth open wide and shone a light in. She could see the grey sides of a rock down her throat. There was no time to be polite or even careful. She pulled off her leather climbing gloves and stuck her fingers down Robbie’s throat. Robbie gagged and struggled. Mac got her one finger to the side of the stone and flipped up. The stone dislodged but did not come out. Mac pulled her hand back to use the flashlight to have another look. Robbie was hacking with the dry heaves and Mac did her best to keep her head to the side. Suddenly, Robbie gagged loudly and stone, mud, and vomit sprewed out of her aunt’s mouth in all directions.

Janet lay back into a more comfortable position and closed her eyes against the harsh light. She prayed for her partner. While her ears followed every step that Mac was taking to help her Obbie. Janet’s fingers tightened on Robbie’s arm, refusing to let go of the woman she loved.

“What’s happening?” Ryan asked, her voice tight but controlled. Mac could hear that there were others there now too.

“Obbie was sick,” she minimized, as she cleared the vomit from her aunt’s mouth with her fingers. Was she breathing? Yes, a gasp, more vomit, another breath, deeper this time. “She had a stone caught in the back of her throat. She is breathing now but with some discomfort and difficulty. Oxygen would be good.”

“I’m on it.” Ryan turned to look at the others. “We need oxygen. Mac can handle this. It’s pretty unstable in there and we don’t want to take any chances of burying them.” The oxygen was passed up to Ryan as she talked by a worried crew of fire fighters who were very fond and proud of their actor- chief and her partner. Ryan tied the tank to the line and lowered it down to Mac, who had carefully climbed up the bank a bit to get it. The soldier gritted her teeth and fought her natural instinct and training to take action and let her lover handle the situation. There was no doubt Mac knew what she was doing. She watched from above keeping a light on the three of them so that Mac would have her hands free to provide assistance.

Reb knelt, her face buried in Dufus’s furry neck at her sister’s side. “You are the man, Dufus,” she kept repeating softly, tears of relief in her voice.

Ryan reached over and gave her little sister’s shoulder a squeeze. “Thanks to your training. I’m really proud to be your sister, Reb. Don’t you worry. Mac will handle things.”

***

False Face moved towards her. Not like in a movie but in freeze- frame, disappearing in the smoke and reappearing closer. The axe was raised. Robbie would have cried out but a cold hand had covered her mouth. She couldn’t breathe. She was choking and fought with all the strength she had left. The ice fingers dug down deep in her soul and death spread roots through her being. The axe dropped. Through the blackness there was a soft female chant. A different language, Robbie thought, but couldn’t be sure. Cold rills of terror retreated from her being and warmth bubbled up like a spring. She threw up, vomiting out the evil- the death. She gasped and air heavy with the taste of damp earth entered her burning lungs. She was alive. “Janet?” she croaked.

“I’m here. Hang on, Obbie. We are going to be okay.” Tears of relief stained Janet’s face. That had been as scary as hell.

In the end, it was Ryan and Mac who slowly and carefully dug Robbie and then Janet out. Each was strapped to a back board and lifted carefully up to the chamber above. Then Ryan and Mac had climbed out, more relieved than they would like to admit to escape the unstable lower chamber.

Janet insisted that she was alright other than some bruising but George and the boys said they needed the practice anyhow and insisted on taking her out on the backboard to the medical clinic. Robbie had not yet regained consciousness but she was moving and reacting and seemed to be breathing with the help of the oxygen.

Back at the sinkhole, David and the other firefighters careful raised each of the two women up in metal cradles while Aliki and Dawn on the ladder kept the cradles steady and stopped them from hitting against the side of the sinkhole. Reb and Ian saw to Dufus who was not as willing the second time to be hauled through the air on a rope.

Once everyone was up and Janet and Robbie had been carefully packed in the back of the truck, Ryan and Reb, by mutual consent, had piled into the emergency vehicle with the other fire fighters and with lights flashing had set off to the clinic. The others stayed behind to pack up the equipment and head back to the lodge to wait for news.

A few hours later, having phoned the lodge to let them know that Janet and Robbie were going to be all right, Ryan sat with her arm around her kid sister on a black couch in the waiting room of the clinic. “You okay, kid?”

Rebecca shrugged. “I’m used to it. I was raised on adrenalin rushes evoked from family moments of terror and near panic. I hear other families associate their moms with common place things like cookies and milk. Hard to believe if you ask me.”

Ryan chuckled. “We did get cookies and milk.”

Reb rolled her eyes. “Yeah, after the crisis was over. Do you remember the time you nearly drowned me in the firestorm?”

Ryan tugged a piece of her sister’s hair. “You are not still holding a grudge, are you?”

“Oh course, I am,” she joked. ” I wonder if Ian will still be taking me to the dance at the hall?”

Ryan lifted her arm from the back on the seat and stood up and stretched. “Not much to him if a little thing like a couple of Williams nearly being buried alive bothers him.”

Reb smiled. “Good point.”

Reb picked up a magazine to read and Ryan paced around the small room. For a few minutes there was silence except for the soldier’s soft tread.

The door opened and Mac stuck her head in. “Hi, any other news?”

“The doctor said they both look in good shape but he won’t release them until he is sure mom’s breathing is okay. He said you did a great job. The stone lodged in her throat probably saved her because it stopped her from getting dirt on her lungs.”

“Good. Ryan, I need to talk to you. Can you step out here for a minute?”

Ryan suddenly became aware of the serious frown and Mac’s worried eyes. Her heart contracted. “Sure. Back in a minute, Reb.”

Out in the hall, Mac gave Ryan a tender hug. “We put the news on when we got back to the house, Lover. The Columbia broke up on re-entry. There are no survivors.”

Mac felt Ryan’s body jerk with the shock then still. “No, there wouldn’t be.” She pulled Mac to her and held on to the small woman, needing her quiet strength and warmth.

“You go on home so you can follow the reports as they come in. I’ll stay here and bring Reb and your moms home when they are released.”

Ryan nodded into soft, fragrant hair. “Thanks. I love you.”

Mac held her close for a second before stepping back. ” I love you too. Now go. I’ll handle things here.”

Reb looked up in surprise as Mac came in the door and her thoughtful, intelligent eyes followed her cousin as she crossed the room and sat down beside her. “What’s up?”

“The shuttle broke up on re-entry. Everyone’s dead. I sent Ryan home so she could watch the bulletins on TV.”

“Oh no. Did Ryan know them?”

“I don’t know, Reb. I imagine though she identifies pretty strongly with those who have gone before.”

Reb nodded then sighed and rolled her eyes. “Another family member I have to worry about.”

Mac smiled. “I’ll be around to help. Would you feel more comfortable if Ryan wasn’t in the space program?”

“Yes, but I’m proud of her. This is something she has always wanted to do. I want it for her.”

“Think you could train Dufus to wear a space suit and track along orbits?”

Reb laughed at the ridiculous thought of a big, shaggy dog face looking out through a space helmet. “Well, they have had dogs in space before but not quite as big as Dufus. He’d need a booster rocket for sure.”
Janet, tired and sore, sat beside Robbie’s bed holding her hand. Robbie, looking worn out and a bit dirty still around the edges, looked up at her. “I’ve been thinking.”

“That is always dangerous. Please tell me it does not involve having to get out of this chair. Every muscle and bone in my body is on strike.”

Robbie’s beautiful and expressive eyes clouded with distress. “I’m sorry for dragging you in there.”

A reassuring hand squeezed hers. “Hey, we were having fun together. Good adventures, even Saturday afternoon ones, always have an element of risk.”

“That’s what I need to talk to you about.”

Janet looked at her partner and saw the determined, serious set of her jaw. “Okay. I’m listening.”

“It’s this breast thing.”

Janet rolled her eyes.

“No, wait, give me a chance. The other day you made me realize that this was important to you. Important enough that you were willing to go it alone if I wasn’t going to support you.”

Janet opened her mouth to object but Robbie raised a hand and placed two fingers gently against her lips. “Shhh, I’m only warming up. I went along because you wanted it. But I wasn’t overjoyed about the whole idea. I know it is a small risk but I didn’t want you back in hospital. I really hate you being in hospital.”

“I know, lover,” Janet said sympathetically.

Robbie squirmed a little bit. “Anyway, today it was brought home to me that you can’t protect the one you love from life. That life happens and there are no guarantees. I wasn’t protecting you, I was letting my insecurities limit you. I’m sorry. We both could have died today.”

Janet smiled. “Yeah, but we didn’t.”

Robbie smiled. Janet was about as special a partner as anyone could have. Robbie took Janet’s hand in her own. “So how about you tell me what else they have to do to you.”

Janet looked up in surprise. “Sure you are up to it?”

“Yup, I am. I want to know so I can help out anyway I can.”

Janet got comfortable, laying her head down on Robbie’s bed, pleased to see Robbie was back to a normal colour and breathing without a rasp. “Once the extender has stretched the muscle to the right size it will be removed and a permanent implant will be put in.”

“Is that process painful?”

“Not really. When the solution is first put in it is a bit uncomfortable and the muscle feels tight but it loosens in a few days. ” Janet giggled. “The worst part is it sometimes itches in there. I have to move it around a bit to get some comfort.”

“Ahhh, too much information!” joked Robbie.

“Once they put the permanent implant in place, then they build a new nipple. They usually use part of the ear lobe to do that although there are other methods. I think I can afford to lose a bit of my ear lobes.”

Robbie looked at Janet’s ears with clinical interest. “How much will they take?”

“Just a little. You won’t even notice much. The last bit of surgery will be to lift and tuck my real breast so that they match and look perky and young again.”

Robbie wiggled her eyebrows. “Perky is good.”

“I’ll have a scar around the base of the breast and also vertically up to the nibble but it will soon fade,” Janet finished.

Robbie nodded and grinned wolfishly. ” I guess I can handle this.”

Janet laughed. ” Robbie! You are so bad!”

Ryan sat alone on the couch. She’d been there for several hours watching the video of Columbia over and over – focussed on any update. From time to time the others joined her and then wandered off again to see to other responsibilities.

“You need to talk to her, Elizabeth,” David stated quietly as he rinsed a plate and put it in the drainer.

Dr. Elizabeth Williams picked it up and dried it while she considered. “I really have no experience with children. I am not sure what I could say, David.”

David wiped his hands on his apron and turned to look at his wife. When he spoke his voice was gentle but firm. “Lizzy, she is not a child. She is a young astrophysicist and by all accounts a good one. She is also your niece and has looked up to you all her life. Her mothers are not here. No one is more qualified to talk to her now than you are.”

Elizabeth looked worried but she nodded. “I suppose you are right. I can always count on you, David, to see things clearly. I’ll leave you with the rest of the dishes then and go and have a talk with Ryan.”

David smiled and his wife gave him an affectionate kiss as she went by. Elizabeth squared her shoulders and walked down the hall slowly trying to work out what to say. She quietly entered the media room and took a seat on the couch beside Ryan. “Has there been anymore news?”

“No not really. Nothing concrete.”

“I’m sorry Ryan.”

The younger woman nodded and swallowed hard. “It’s hard. They were good people. Some of the best. Their loss and that of the craft will set back the program so much. You know it can happen but when you are training surrounded by such brilliant and talented people you start to feel invincible. Then something like this happens and you realize that for all our technological knowledge, we are still flying by the seat of our pants.”

“Ryan, I can’t say that I have ever had the desire to be an explorer or adventurer but I understand why they risk their lives to push our frontiers a little farther. I like to think in my own way I have expanded the world’s understanding and experience if only with pencil and paper. Most people are content being surrounded by the familiar and the known. There are a few of us who are blessed with the ability to see a small part of the beauty that is, for want of a better word, God’s hand in the universe. There is no greater honour or responsibility than to be one of those rare few who will take us closer to understanding.

“Don’t give up your dream, Ryan. Don’t grieve for those who have been lost doing what they loved best. Instead, honour them in a special place in your soul and step up to take their place. Of all the billions of living things on this planet we are the only ones that look up and wish on the stars. Use your talents and your intelligence, Ryan, to make all our dreams come true.”

Ryan blinked back tears and looked at the aunt she loved and admired so very much. “What if Mac doesn’t understand?”

Elizabeth frowned. “Of course she will. She loves what you are. Loving someone is wanting and supporting your partner to reach for the stars. There are no boundaries with true love, that is why it always has been and always will be the most beautiful and most daring of adventures.”

Ryan smiled and leaned over to drop a kiss on her aunt’s cheek. She might have said something but just then the noise of the arrival home of the others from the clinic interrupted the moment. They both got up and hurried out to the family room, glad of a reason to end the sensitive talk.

***

Aliki and Dawn had volunteered to drive Ian back to the make-shift trailer park of forestry trailers that provided a mess and barracks for the summer workers. Ian sat in the back trying to come to terms with the experiences he’d had in the last twenty-four hours. “Do you think Reb’s moms will be okay?”

Dawn smiled. “Yes, they will be fine. They are a lucky pair though. It could have been much worse.”

Ian nodded. “I’ll say.”

Aliki frowned and glanced in the rear-view mirror at Ian. “The family would appreciate it if you didn’t talk too much about the incident or grant reporters an interview. Publicity is a necessary evil for my sister but we do like to pick and chose what we throw to the ravenous dogs at the door.”

Aliki’s words were off hand enough but the tone made it clear it was not a request. Ian took the hint. “Yes, Inspector.”

Dawn wiggled her eyebrows at Aliki at the title and was amused to see the red of embarrassment climbing up her lover’s neck.

Ian, however, was preoccupied with his own thoughts. “Reb is amazing with animals, isn’t she? I mean Dufus doesn’t just follow commands, he seems to know what Reb wants.”

Aliki nodded. “She’s got a way with animals. She’ll make a good vet.”

“Nothing like this happens in my family. I mean, I was never involved in a food fight even at school. It would never happen at home. And the only time we had a family emergency was when dad broke his wrist skiing down the bunny hill at the conservation area.”

Dawn laughed and turned to look at Ian. “Amazing as it seems after the last twenty-four hours, the family can manage to go for months on end without creating a sensation or scandal. You haven’t necessarily seen us at our best.”

Ian nodded. “Yes, Ma’am.” Aliki gave Dawn a poke at this title to get even for the face Dawn had pulled at the use of the word Inspector. Dawn chose to ignore it. Ian, unaware of the silent communication, was still talking. “Do you think it would be alright to tell my parents I met you all? We don’t know any rich or famous people and I’ve met a whole bushel of them this weekend.”

Aliki snorted. As a scientist and police officer, she was neither rich or famous. Dawn laughed. “The rich and famous are no different from anyone else. They are just fortunate to have more opportunities. Sure, I think it would be okay to tell your parents you met Reb’s family. Just be careful what you say and make sure they understand we value our privacy.”

Aliki pulled up in front of the forestry complex but kept the engine running. Although she wouldn’t admit it, she was anxious to get back and make sure Robbie and Janet were okay.

Ian opened the door and started to get out. Then he hesitated. “Would you let Reb know that I’ll phone tomorrow and see if it is okay for her to go to the dance?”

“We’ll do that. Thanks for your help today, Ian,” Dawn smiled. “Good Night.”

They waited until Ian had unlocked the door of the barracks trailer and then headed back to the lodge.

When Aliki and Dawn returned they found that the others had just got back from the clinic and David was already bustling around getting them comfortable on opposite ends of the couch and promising sandwiches, tea and homemade pie as soon as possible. Dufus, the hero of the day, was give loads of attention and extra dog biscuits and Reb smiled with pride. Everyone did their part and once enough food and tea had been consumed to fortify even the most ravenous of appetites they all settled down to sort through the events.

Dawn sat on the floor by her partner, they’re backs against the couch that Robbie and Janet shared. “Reb, Ian wanted us to tell you he’ll phone tomorrow to make arrangements about going to the dance.”

Reb’s expressive eyes sparkled with excitement as she carried refills of tea in for her moms. “Yeah? You mean I still have a boyfriend after a weekend exposed to you lot? Wow! This guy’s a keeper. He’s got nerves of steel and no common sense at all. He should be running for the hills.”

Janet took her mug with thanks and gave her daughter a playful swat. “To hear you talk you’d think we were the worst parents in the world. It is amazing that any of your friends have the nerve to come here at all.”

Reb handed the second cup to her Obbie and smiled. “I make them draw lots to see who has to come and be exposed to you. It’s called Williams’ Roulette in town. I try to be caring though. I don’t make the ones that are still under intense therapy from their last visit draw.”

Robbie snorted. “Funny! See if this household throws any more parties for your motley crew of friends.” The parties at the lodge for Reb’s teen friends had become something of a tradition enjoyed by all.

Reb dropped a kiss on Obbie’s head. “I take it all back then, because I’d really like a graduation party before we all head off to university.”

“Mercenary!” grumbled Obbie.

“Takes one to know one,” laughed Janet before taking a sip of tea.

Obbie frowned. “I gotta tell you guys this weird dream I had while I was out of it in the cave.”

Mac smiled and interrupted. “False Face came to you wearing the red mask. The sacred place had been violated. He was caught one foot still among his people and the other on the path that leads to the spirit world. This made him angry.”

Robbie’s mouth dropped open and everyone turned to look at Mac. Although none of them yet knew Robbie’s story, they could tell that Mac knew what Robbie was going to say before she had said it by the startled look on the actor’s face.

Robbie swallowed and her eyes locked with Mac’s. “He was going to hit me with an club but then he reached his hand down my throat and tried to rip out my insides.”

“He wanted your soul. He needed a way to the other side.”

Robbie looked truly uncomfortable. “Shit! I don’t believe in stuff like that.”

Mac smiled from where she sat beside Ryan. “That’s okay. There was a stone stuck in your air pipe and I put my fingers down your throat to dislodge it. That made you throw up.”

Janet looked at Mac with curious eyes. “I saw you do that. Is that what really happened?”

“Yes, that is one of the things that happened. While the rest of you were up on the ridge, Ryan and I went over the cliff and found a spirit cave. It has some amazing pictographs and pictoglyphs. It is an excellent site but I think it had been entered by people who did not respect the ways of the people.”

“Did you make things right?” Dawn asked, as she gently rubbed Aliki’s leg. Her partner still had pain from a terrible beating she had taken some years before.

“Yes. I did a purification ceremony. I think everything should be alright now.”

Reb gave herself a shake. “Oh boy! Freak me out! I’m sure glad Ian wasn’t here to hear this. He’d go screaming into the night.”

Everyone laughed and the tension was broken. Yet, somehow, they all felt in their own way that something out of balance had been made right again. The party broke up sometime later. David and Elizabeth headed back to their cabin, Aliki and Dawn took the boat over to theirs and Ryan and Mac discreetly disappeared to walk hand in hand down to the boathouse.

Satisfied that Ian would be taking her to the community centre dance, Reb headed off to bed with her faithful hero at her side. “Don’t you worry, Dufus, Ian said he doesn’t mind that you sleep at the end of the bed.”

Robbie’s eyes got big. “She’s joking, right?”

Janet rolled her eyes. “I hope so.”

Robbie gave the leg that was wedged down beside her thigh a squeeze and looked into the gentle, green eyes of her lover at the other end of the couch. “You saved my life…again.”

“You’re worth keeping around for a bit yet,” teased Janet.

“I would make passionate love to you but every muscle in my body has seized up and I think I am going to need help just getting off this couch to go to bed.”

Janet laughed. “You are such a romantic.”

“No regrets?”

“None. You?”

Robbie slowly and stiffly got off the couch and offered her hand to her partner and lover. “None. My life began with you and each passing season makes me deeper in love with you.”

Janet stood and kissed Robbie’s fingers that were wrapped around her own hand. “They have been seasons of love. Seasons of joy. Come to bed, my Olive. It’s late.”

There was no awkwardness this night. Mac went willingly to Ryan’s arms as soon as she had locked the door. The kiss was long, demanding and needy. It was only after several minutes that they parted long enough to get a fire going and pour two glasses of wine. They lay together by the fire snuggled into a pile of pillows.

Mac reached out and stroked Ryan’s tense jaw. “Are you okay, Lover?”

Ryan put down her drink and blue eyes the colour of ice fire turned to look at her. “No, I’m not. My moms could have died today, some of the best people in my program have, and all I can think of is how will those two events influence my chances with you.”

Mac lay back on the pillows and stared at the ceiling. She needed to organize her own feelings before she spoke and she couldn’t do that with Ryan’s intense and intelligent eyes watching the play of emotions cross her own. “I’ve spent sometime doing some thinking myself over the last twenty-four hours. When that news flash came across the screen, the castle of dreams I was building came tumbling down. I empathized so strongly with the partners and family who were waiting for the shuttle to land and in a split second lost everything. The cold hand of death touching so near made me physically shiver. I thought that could be me in a few years. That could be your flight.”

Ryan said nothing. She rolled over in one smooth movement and was on her feet pacing. She needed to move, to do something, anything rather than listen to her heart being rejected. “I told you. If it is too hard, I’ll leave the space program.”

Mac slipped forward and poked at the fire watching the patterns change and the colours intensify with the heat. “A number of years ago, I went to the hospital with my mom to see Aliki. I hadn’t been allowed to go for the first week because she had been in intensive care. She had been beaten so badly I wouldn’t have recognized her. I knew mom and Aliki had argued bitterly about Aliki’s decision to go undercover. That decision had almost cost her life and it did cause her to have a breakdown. She was a very long time recovering. It almost destroyed our family and my mom. I never heard my mom say a thing about it ever again. She just put her heart and soul into making Aliki better.”

Ryan looked with miserable eyes at the small figure curled close to the fire for warmth. “I know it was a bad time.”

Mac nodded. “Yes it was. Today, I saw the fear in Aunt Janet’s eyes as I worked to help Aunt Robbie. But I saw something else there. The same look I saw in my mom’s eyes as she sat by Aliki’s bed. It was courage. Not the courage to be brave but the courage to let go and let their partners be the very special people they are.”

Mac tossed her stick on the fire and turned to look at Ryan standing tall and proud just on the edge of the ring of light. That’s who Ryan was. A person who would always be stepping from the safety of the known into the unknown. “I want you in the space program if that is what you want. And if I lose you it will be to a great cause that you believed in.”

Ryan felt dizzy and realized it was because she had been holding her breath. She breathed in raggedly and came to sit beside Mac. “I learned something today as well. I learned that I have in you someone who is my equal in everyway. Who I can trust with the things and people who are the most dear to me. You saved Mom’s life. I am not sure I could have. Thank you.”

Mac blushed and turned to look at the fire. In profile Ryan could see her Salish heritage and her quiet strength. “I need to finish my degree, Ryan. That is important to me. I think I might want to go on and do my doctorate as well. I want to be a writer like my mom but I don’t want to write as she does about the tension between humans and the environment. That is not me. I want to write about the bond that is never far away between us and the spirit of the universe. I want to write about how we have only lost our way.”

“Like the spirit in the cave.”

“Yes, like the spirit in the cave. That reality is very different from your hard-nosed science.”

“Is it? I was talking to Aunt Bethy tonight. You know what she told me? She said that most people are content being surrounded by the familiar and the known. But there are a few who are blessed with the ability to see a little part of the beauty that is God’s hand in the universe. She said there is no greater honour or responsibility than to be one of those few who will take us closer to understanding. I think we are after the same thing. We are just searching in very different ways.”

Mac looked up into eyes filled with life and passion. “I love you Ryan. Will you marry me?”

Ryan felt herself smiling like an idiot. “Yes”

Mac smiled impishly as she moved closer to kiss the woman she knew was her soul mate. “I’ll ask your parents for your hand in marriage first thing in the morning.”

Ryan pulled Mac into her arms as she lay back on the cushions. “You are likely to find them still in their pj’s.”

“That’s okay. We are all family.”

***

In the cave, a soft chant mixed with the night wind and whispered to the land. “We are the first people. Our ancestors walk your forests and paddled your lakes. Their souls and hearts free. We are the people of the last age, who have stood as angry witnesses to your taking. We start at last on our journey to the home of our ancestors. We are the first people, the spirit of the land. You are one with us. This season, all seasons – forever.”

 
The End

Catch up with Williams family in Wine, Women and Good Food

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