Summer Heat by Anne Azel

Summer Heat
by Anne Azel

Part 1

Robbie had been restless since they had returned to the cabin four days ago, Janet thought as she looked out the window to where her lover sat on the porch. Robbie had always been on the move, filled with a surplus of energy and ideas, but now it was different. Her actions were random and lacking purpose. They shared the same bed but they had not made love since Robbie’s release from prison. On the surface, life went on but the happy teasing, joking and banter did not include the moody figure who paced from room to room.

Janet sighed and walked across the livingroom and up the hall to their daughters’ bedroom. She paused at the door, Reb was making the soft baby noises of sleep but Ryan’s figure was still and quiet in the darkness. “Ryan, love, are you still awake?”

“Yeah.”

Janet walked in and sat on the edge of Ryan’s bed.

“Has she come back yet?” asked Ryan casually, although worry made her voice rough.

“About half an hour ago. She’s sitting out on the porch,” said Janet. She knew Ryan wouldn’t sleep until she knew her mother had returned from the run Robbie had suddenly decided to take.

Ryan nodded and relaxed a bit. For a minute there was silence. “I didn’t support her like you did,” she confessed. “I was kind of mean to her.”

“Yes, you were,” agreed Janet honestly, then went on to lessen the sting, “But I think your mom understands. Your relationship with your mom is still pretty vulnerable.”

“I shouldn’t have stopped calling her Mom,” sighed Ryan, the tears now evident in her voice.

“Well, that is easy to fix. Just start calling her Mom again,” laughed Janet.

“She might get angry. Maybe she doesn’t want me as her daughter anymore,” came the anxious reply.

Janet took Ryan’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Maybe, and maybe pigs can fly! Come on, Ryan, if you know anything by now it is that your Mom worships the ground you walk on! Get out of bed!” commanded Janet, pulling on Ryan’s hand as she stood. “That’s right! Now march out there and tell your Mom that you’d like to build that boat she gave you for your birthday!”

“What if she says no!” demanded a panicky teen.

“Then I’ll be running outside to see the flock of pigs fly over the lake,” snorted Janet, giving Ryan a push in the right direction. “Go on Ryan, here is your chance to help your mother. She needs you, sweetheart.”

***

Robbie looked moodily out across the lake. When she had first come here the horizon seemed endless. Now the trees seemed to have grown in close around. “Hi, Mom,” said a voice from behind her. Robbie’s heart skipped a beat as she leapt to her feet and spun around. Ryan was in her arms almost immediately.

Robbie held her close and rubbed her cheek against Ryan’s soft hair. “Hi, Ryan,” she managed to get out, although her voice was cracking with emotion. Robbie pulled back but kept her arm around her daughter’s shoulder. “It’s a nice night.”

Ryan nodded. “You enjoy your run?”

Be open, be honest! Don’t make the same mistakes a second time! Robbie warned herself. “It helps control my panic. I can’t seem to get over the fear of being confined,” she confessed.

Ryan turned and looked at her, searching for something in her mother’s eyes. “If we built that boat you gave me for my birthday, we could take it out on the lake and then you could really feel free,” suggested Ryan nervously.

Robbie’s emotions almost crumbled under the surprise offer. She smiled through tears that rolled down her face. “You know, Ryan, that would be just about perfect!” She pulled her daughter close and thanked whatever powers there might be for giving her yet another chance to bridge the gap between herself and her daughter.

Ryan pulled back awkwardly. “Well, I’d better get back to bed, Aunt Janet is enrolling me again at Bartlett tomorrow.”

“Sure,” smiled Robbie, and she leaned forward to kiss her daughter on the cheek. Ryan gave her Mom one more hug and then hurried off to bed. Robbie sat down on the stoop again and watched the stars reflected in the still, deep waters of the lake, as she wiped the remaining tears away with a shaky hand.

“Hi, can I join you?” asked Janet, coming out with two cups of tea.

“Sure,” said Robbie, feeling the tension returning to her frame.

“Nice night,” remarked Janet, sitting down next to Robbie but leaving space between them. That’s the way things were now, close but not quite one. They sat for a long time watching the changes in the early summer night.

Then Robbie put down her cup and, still looking out at the lake, she said, “I need to ask you something. I need to know.”

“Okay,” agreed Janet, mentally bracing herself for what might be coming. Don’t leave me, Robbie!

“Would you have slept with Alberta if you hadn’t had the surgery? Is that what stopped you?”

Janet absorbed the blow to her senses for a few seconds. “I think if it had gone that far it would have been a factor, Robbie. So much of what we are as women is tied to our concept of our bodies. But it didn’t. That evening, I was very vulnerable and the moment was very sexually charged. I never planned to kiss her, and I never would have slept with her. When I did kiss her, I told her right away that I’d made a mistake. That you were my soulmate.”

The figure beside Janet was stiff and quiet. “Ryan wants to build that boat.”

“That’s a good idea,” replied Janet, fighting for emotional control. Oh God, Robbie, don’t do this!

“Yeah… I’m having trouble with all this, Janet. I thought I’d found everything that I could possibly want in life and then suddenly it all just turned to sand and ran through my fingers. Hell! I don’t even know who my father is! Who I am, anymore!”

Janet turned to kneel in front of Robbie. “Do you know that I love you? Can you believe that?” she asked.

Robbie looked down at her feet. “I know what you went through to get me out of there. I don’t know if that was loyalty or love. Alberta and you…”

Janet leapt to her feet and jumped down the stairs to pace angrily back and forth. Then she stopped in front of Robbie. “There is no Alberta and I! There never was! Can’t you get that through your thick head?” she stormed. “I kissed her. I shouldn’t have. It wasn’t fair to you or to her. I’m sorry but damn it all, Robbie, I’d had it! I don’t often feel sorry for myself but I’d gone through cancer and struggled with the insecurity of losing a breast. Out of the blue, I find out my wife is being arrested for a murder that she didn’t trust me enough to tell me about. Then I had to cope with the press and your refusal to talk! I was kicked out of my church and my job! I was beaten-up for loving you by a bunch of skinheads and had you yelling at me and accusing me of sleeping with another woman! I’m sorry I kissed Alberta, it was a lousy thing to do to her and you but damn it, I am NOT super woman and I’ve had enough, Robbie! Enough!”

Turning on her heel, she stormed up the stairs and into the cabin and left a stunned director sitting on the steps. For a long while nothing made sense. Then the list of things that Janet had given her registered one after the other. Christ! They fired her! Teaching was Janet’s life; that must have been devastating for her. I never questioned why she had time off. I just presumed she’d taken a leave! God, I’m arrogant! Okay, Robbie, here it is, bottom line. You can either walk away because she kissed Alberta and told you, or put it behind you and try to make a life with Janet and the kids. What’s it going to be?

As if there was any question!

***

Janet had a blistering headache. One of the worst she had ever had. Nice play, Janet! Oh all the times to feel sorry for yourself this had to be the worst! If Robbie wasn’t planning on leaving you, she is sure to be now! She rooted around in the medicine chest but could not find any pain killers. Then she found a bottle the doctor had given Robbie after she hurt her knee last year. It was almost empty but there were a few pills left in the bottom. In relief, she swallowed two and got ready for bed.

Her head started to swim and she felt dizzy and disoriented. Oh no, she thought and went to get the bottle to read the label. Now you read the label! Sure enough, the pills had codeine in them! She knew from past experiences that codeine caused her to have a drug reaction and pass out. I’d better get to bed and sleep this stuff off! That was the last thought she had for a while.

***

Robbie got up and straightened her back that had stiffened in the damp, cool air. Okay, Robbie, it’s time to stop wading knee deep in self pity and get on with life. She entered the cabin, locked the door and turned off the lights, using the brilliant moonlight to find her way to the bedroom. Laying on the floor was the ghostly figure of her wife. In her hand was an empty pill bottle with two white pills spilled out on the floor. Robbie’s heart lunged and stopped.

***

“Damn it, woman, if you aren’t the worst patient I’ve ever had to treat I don’t know who was!” grumbled George Drouillard, as Robbie fought to get out from under the paper bag he was holding over her mouth and nose.

“W..What?” asked Robbie in confusion, becoming aware of a room full of people. George Droullard leaned over her with a paper bag on one side and Ryan with a bloody tissue held to her mouth stood on the other. “Ryan! What happened?!” exclaimed Robbie, sitting up and almost sending George on his back side.

“You happened. I was trying to help Mr. Droullard hold the bag on your face and you socked me!” complained Robbie’s daughter good-naturedly. “You hyperventilated and passed out. Boy, did you lose it when you thought Aunt Janet had killed herself!”

“Janet!” screamed Robbie, as she bounded over the back of the couch and ran into the bedroom.

George Droullard looked at Ryan and shook his head. “Now that’s where your artist’s temperament comes in, Ryan,” he observed, nodding his head wisely.

“Aunt Janet says the Williams are like olives; we’re nice but we take a lot of getting used to,” smiled Ryan.

George laughed in agreement. ” You know, she was just as wild the night Jim Ableton put you into the boards at the skating rink. If Lou Enrico and Bill Perkins hadn’t pulled her off, I was a thinkin’ we’d have been taking Ableton out of the rink feet first!” Ryan smiled, pleased that her Mom had come to her defense with the same intensity that she had fought for Janet’s life. By the time Ryan had leapt out of bed, her Mom had already called out Doctor Perkins and the Bartlett Volunteer Fire Department.

“Mary,” George called over to his wife who had come along when she had heard that Janet had tried to commit suicide. “You’d better be making some sandwiches to go with that tea. I know the guys aren’t going to want to leave Robbie in the state she’s in, her bein’ one of the boys and all.”

Mary waved and laughed and happily took out a few loaves from the cupboard. She couldn’t be happier than to find herself in a kitchen with an entire room of hungry people to feed. Several O.P.P. officers emerged from the bedroom with Doctor Perkins and through the window Mary could make out the arrival of several more cars by the glow of red and yellow emergency lights that flashed on several vehicles. That would be the Ladies’ Auxilliary come to lend a hand with the emergency and find out what was happening.

***

“Janet!” cried Robbie, bounding into the bedroom and almost knocking down the two police officers who were trying to find out what happened.

“Easy, Robbie, or you’ll be hyperventilating again!” warned the local doctor, Bill Perkins. “She’s fine.”

Robbie sank to her knees by the bed and took Janet’s limp, cold hand in her own. “Janet, sweetheart…”

Green eyes opened a crack with effort. “What has my favourite olive done now?” she asked sleepily.

Robbie looked up at the doctor. “It took me awhile to wake her up enough get some sense out of her but it seems she had a headache and was out of pain killers so she took two of some I had prescribed for you. They had codeine in them and Janet is allergic to codeine. It knocks her for a loop. Give her twelve hours for the stuff to work through her system and she’ll be fine,” explained Perkins with a grin.

Robbie visibly slumped with relief and placed her head on the bed. “Oh God! I thought she’d done something drastic because we’d had a fight,” Robbie admitted.

Perkins patted Robbie on the shoulder. “She’ll be fine, Robbie. It was just an accident.” He signaled to the police officers and the three of them left the room, Perkins closing the door to give the women some privacy.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” Janet said, her voice slurred with sleep.

“I’ve never been so afraid. I think I panicked,” admitted Robbie, kissing the small hand that her own was intertwined with.

Janet laughed softly. “So I hear! I love you, Robbie Williams!”

Robbie looked up so their eyes met. “I love you too, Janet Williams,” she smiled and leaned in for a kiss. Janet was asleep again before the kiss had ended. The Bartlett Fire department, two O.P.P. officers, one doctor, and two children, one with a fat lip, were served tea and sandwiches in the living room while Doctor Perkins explained to everyone’s relief that it had just been a misunderstanding.

Some time later, Mary stuck her head into the bedroom to find Robbie lying curled up beside Janet, both women fast asleep. She saw to Reb and Ryan getting back to bed and then shooed the men home again in the pre-dawn sky.

The women did the washing up and left a plate of sandwiches and squares for the family before they left for home too. “You know, Mary,” observed George as he drove, “Them two are very much in love.”

“Really, George,” Mary commented.

The sarcasm was lost on George. “Yup, almost as much as I love you, pretty-thing,” he chuckled, taking Mary’s hand in his own. Mary leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder. She was a very lucky woman.

***

Janet woke to the happy sounds of her family.

“Up, Obbie! I want up, peas!”

“Up it is, Reb, voom, voom Rebair coming in for a landing in Highchair Airport!” came Robbie’s voice over Reb’s giggles.

“Hey, Mom, should I wake Aunt Janet? She’s supposed to take me into Bartlett and enrol me again.”

“No, let her sleep, Ryan, I’ll take you and Reb in. Do you want cereal or toast for breakfast, because that’s all I can cook?” came Robbie’s voice, and Janet smiled sleepily, feeling a hummy sort of warmth spread through her being. She had her Robbie back. Her eyes closed and she slept peacefully for the first time in a very long while.

***

Robbie and Ryan dropped Reb off at the Bartlett Day Care and reassured Lily Chen that Janet was fine. All of Bartlett knew, of course, about the incident the night before. Some had heard it on their police scanners, some from husbands in the Bartlett Volunteer Fire Brigade, and others at the donut shop that morning.

Now daughter and mother walked side by side down the still empty halls of the school. “Ahhh, Mom, you’re not going to make a scene are you?” asked Ryan nervously.

“Scene? What do you mean?” asked Robbie tightly.

“About Aunt Janet getting fired. I can tell you’re mad cause your clamping your jaw.”

“Stupid, damn Bored Trusses! I ought to …”

“Mom!”

Robbie stopped and glared down at her daughter who glared right back at her. “My other Mom is pretty cool and she can fight her own battles,” Ryan said quietly.

Anger flashed across Robbie’s face to be replaced almost immediately by a slow smile. “Okay, kid, I’ll be good,” she promised. Ryan looked relieved and they continued up the hall to the school office.

As they entered, Carolyn Carr came out from behind her desk and hugged Ryan and then Robbie. “Oh, it’s wonderful to see you two back! Welcome home! How’s Janet?”

“She’s fine. We left her to sleep in. Things got a little hectic last night,” admitted Robbie, as a blush crept up her neck.

“Mom went postal,” Ryan giggled.

“So Burt told me,” laughed Carolyn. “That is so sweet, Robbie,” she said, giving the embarrassed actor a poke.

“Robbie, Ryan! Hey, how’s Janet?” called Milka, as she came out of the principal’s office and hugged each Williams in turn.

“She’s fine,” offered Ryan. “She always was. It was Mom here who had the problem,” snorted Ryan.

Robbie gave her daughter a dirty look as the three laughed at her expense. There was a time when that would have set her temper off but now, well, it just made her feel like she belonged.

“I’m here to enrol Ryan. We can’t stand having her around the house all day,” Robbie growled playfully. “We’re willing to pay for you to take her off our hands.”

“Nice, Mom!” exclaimed Ryan, snuggling into Robbie’s side as her mother wrapped a protective arm around her daughter to reassure her that her words were just in fun.

“Well, come on in then and we’ll see to the paper work. Looks like we might get some rain today. We sure need it! It was a really dry spring.”

***

Robbie let Rufus outside to run when she got back to the cabin. Then quietly, she stole into the bedroom to check on Janet. “Hi,” came a sleepy voice from the tangle of sheets.

Robbie dropped to her knees by the bed and leaned over to place a soft kiss on Janet’s cheek. “How are you feeling?” she asked softly.

“Take your clothes off and get in here and I’ll show you,” whispered Janet, reaching up to draw Robbie down into long, sensual kiss.

They spent the morning in bed, talking out their feelings and reclaiming each other’s bodies with slow, burning passion. Eventually, hunger drove them out for a leisurely lunch by the fire. Now they lay on the couch, Janet tucked between Robbie’s long powerful legs, her head resting on the actor’s chest.

“Looks like there could be a storm brewing,” observed Janet. “I’d better fill the oil lamps in case we lose power tonight.”

“Hmmm, I’ll bring some extra wood in for the fire before I leave to pick up Ryan and Reb…Janet, about your job, I don’t think they had a legal right to…”

Fingers came up to caress Robbie’s lips. “I know. I did think about taking them to court, Robbie. But I just don’t want to bother with anymore lawyers and reporters. It would be such a hassle and I’m not sure I would want the job back under those sort of conditions. It’s hard, but I’ve got a little saved and I can get on the supply pool at the local public highschool. It might give me some time to finish writing that novel!” she laughed.

Robbie wrapped her close, knowing that the loss of her career must have hurt Janet very deeply. “You don’t have to worry about money, damn it! What is mine is yours, you know that! You are far too qualified to be supply teaching at the local highschool!” she grumbled.

“I know you’re rich, Robbie, but I don’t want to be kept. I want to have an independent income. It is a matter of pride. Nor am I so arrogant that I think I’m too good to work in the classroom. That is after all where the real job is done!” protested Janet, giving Robbie a kiss for being so protective and loyal.

“Hmmmm, that tasted nice,” purred Robbie, stretching her frame like a cat. “Come here.”

***

“Janet, do you know how to teach the talented as well as the gifted?” Robbie asked, her voice husky with love making. They were now on the rug by the fire, having found the couch way to restrictive for their needs.

“Well, my degree is gifted education and that includes both the academically gifted and the creatively gifted. It really shouldn’t because talent is a totally different process of thinking than gifted. The academically gifted are very logical and methodical in the thought processes that lead them eventually to understanding. The talented, however, tend to work backwards. They start with this spark of an idea and then make it happen. We really need to do a lot more research into what makes people talented.”

There was silence for a minute, then Robbie slid over Janet and scooped a handful of ash from the fireplace, spreading it evenly over an area of the hearth. Janet smiled; if ever there was a definition of a truly creative thinker it was her Robbie. She got that intense look and then just did whatever she needed to achieve the concept which had materialized in her imagination. Janet realized that genius made Robbie a tyrant to work for, but it also had made her and her companies the amazing successes that they were.

Robbie, totally absorbed in her ideas, was unaware of the mess she was creating. With a dirty finger she put a dot on her ash canvas. “Okay, here we are and here is Long Lake,” explained the director, adding a line with her finger. “Down here is Saw Mill Road. My plan, as you know, is to tear down the mill and build a state of the art studio complex there. Real high tech stuff. Down here, east of Saw Mill Road, is Kettle Lake. I’m going to run a road around it and subdivide it. A lot of people will be moving into town and Williams Construction is going to put in a pretty nice subdivision here. There will be park land around the lake to protect it from overuse, and a public dock. We’ll have a rule that people can’t use motor boats on the lake too. Gwen is going to love it! She’s from the north you know.”

Janet leaned over and kissed her ash covered lover. She did love this woman so very, very much! Robbie took a break from her ideas to return the kiss. Then went on. “I shared this cell with a woman who had killed her boyfriend cause he had been cheating on her. We got talking about comic books and Greek art and things and I got this idea…don’t laugh now…what if we built a school for the talented that would be affiliated with my studio?”

Janet blinked, then blinked again. Robbie waited. “Are you serious?”

“Well, yeah. Would it be really hard to do? I figure you ought to be able to handle it,” stated Robbie cavalierly.

“Me!?” exclaimed Janet.

“Who else. It will be a lot easier for you now that it will be your only job,” Robbie pointed out.

Janet lay back and laughed. Robbie smiled, liking the feel of the warm body vibrating with mirth beside her. “You are such an olive!”

“Well, will you help me start The Kettle Lake School for the Talented?” asked Robbie, leaning absently on an ashy hand.

Janet looked up with sparkling eyes. “Only if you have a bath before you make love to me again, Robbie Williams! You are an absolute sight!” Janet laughed.

“Hmmm, so does my new principal give back rubs?” purred Robbie, leaning in to kiss Janet and unintentionally spreading the ash to her partner.

“Hmmm, sounds good,” whispered Janet.

***

Robbie was a little late arriving at the school to pick up Ryan and Reb. She blamed it on the thunderstorm that was now under way. Picking up Reb, she ran with Ryan to the car where a very worried Rufus sat with his large orange muzzle pushed through the window that Robbie had left down a bit for him. A soggy pile of Williams piled into the car and Rufus licked each of his humans in greeting.

“No, Rufus! No, lick,” ordered Reb sternly. Rufus’ ears dropped. He looked so pathetic that Ryan reached back and petted his massive, shaggy chest.

“It’s okay, Rufus. You’re a good dog,” she said.

Reb smiled up at her massive canine buddy. “Ryan said you are a good dog, Rufus!” she bragged. At the sound of “good dog” Rufus barked happily into Robbie’s ear. The director’s startled reaction almost put their truck in the ditch.

“So when does the good part come in?” grumbled Robbie. “I should have left him in a snowbank!”

“No, Obbie. Rufus is a good dog!” Reb declared, defending her pal from the criticism.

Robbie and Ryan laughed. “You’re right, Reb. Rufus is a perfect dog,” agreed Robbie, as she pulled out of the long school driveway and put them on the road for home.

A pair of pale male eyes watched from an old pick-up truck hidden in the bush. On a scrap of paper, a strong hand wrote the time of the Williams’ departure in big, clumsy numbers. On the sagging seat beside him, was a messy pile of pictures torn from various newspapers of the Williams. The hand reached up and put the vehicle in gear. It bumped out on the road and followed at a safe distance. When the Williams tuned off down their lane, the rusted, grey truck kept on going.

***

The storm produced sudden downpours of rain that lasted only a few minutes and were absorbed into the dry soil instantly. But the sky lit up with lightening. Neon forks crackled across the sky or arced to the ground and sheet lightening lit up the heavens, silhouetting the black rolling clouds.

Of course, the power went off. Robbie lit a fire while Janet got a few oil lamps going. The kids were teasing Rufus in boredom. “Eh! Leave poor Rufus alone,” warned Robbie, as she poked at the logs irritably, feeling trapped by the storm. Janet came to the rescue. She had a plate of hotdogs, several long handled forks, a basket of buns and a bag of marshmallows. The mood of the Williams immediately improved as they settled to their cook out on the livingroom floor.

When they had all eaten, Janet began to tell them a story. “The False Faces are spirits of the woods. There are many of them but the most powerful are Broken Nose, Spoonmouth, and Blower. When you walk in the forest, they will often play tricks on you, tripping you up with a fallen branch hidden under the leaves, placing a muddy puddle under your mocassin or warning the animals that you have come to hunt.

“Once Manitou and Broken Nose argued about who was the greatest god of the First Nations. Broken Nose took a stick and carved his image into the land. Then he bounced about bragging about how powerful he was and the greatest of all the False Face spirits. Manitou smiled quietly and raised his hand. Slowly, the earth responded to his command and lifted up high into the sky forming the great Rocky Mountains.

“Broken Nose was so full of himself that he didn’t notice until he turned around and slammed face first into the mountains. That is how he got his broken nose and that is why our masks of him always have a crooked nose! Broken Nose cried a river of tears filling up the holes he had dug and forming the Great Lakes in the process.”

“Is that a true story, Mom?” asked Reb, her eyes big with wonder.

“It is one variation of an ancient myth,” responded Janet, letting her daughter crawl into her arms sleepily.

“I like Miffs,” concluded Reb.

***

When Janet came out from tucking Reb in her bed, she found Robbie and Ryan playing poker for pennies by the fire. “Aunt Janet, come and play with us!” Ryan called.

Janet smiled. “No thanks, Ryan, I never play cards.”

“Ahhh, come on schoolteacher, live a little,” Robbie teased.

“No.”

“Afraid of being beaten?” grinned Robbie, poking Ryan, who giggled. “We’ll, go easy on you, won’t we, Ryan!”

Janet stood arms folded tapping her foot. A lesson was going to have to be taught here. “Okay,” she said, walking over and sitting on the floor with the others around the sled coffee table. She took the cards from Ryan’s hands and shuffled them as quick as the flash of lightening outside. She spread the cards out in an even row on the table with a sweep of her hand and pulled out the Ace of Hearts. With a flip of the last card, the row turned over and Janet swept them up again.

While Robbie and Ryan watched in open mouthed fascination. Janet added the ace, shuffled and dropped the deck to the table. The top card flipped up; it was the Ace of Hearts. She shuffled again and dropped the cards to the table. Remaining in her hand was the Ace of Spades. Then she reached over and removed the Ace of Clubs from Ryan’s hair.

Lastly, she laid nine cards down in three rows of three cards. Janet turned over the centre card; it was the Ace of Diamonds. Picking up the cards to shuffle again, she noted with an evil smile, “You might recall that my grandfather was a professional gambler. Shall we play for who does the chores next month, ladies?”

Robbie looked at her daughter across the table. “Ryan, I think we just got ourselves into a whole lot of trouble!”

The game went on for a few hours. Janet would let them win for a while and then quickly win everything back again. During it all, she would perform different card tricks to Robbie and Ryan’s delight. By the time Ryan said good night, she owed her Aunt and second Mom a life of servitude! Janet picked up the cards once again and shuffled them professionally. “Okay, Robbie Williams,” she grinned cruelly, looking across at her mate, “now we play strip poker.”

***

Janet played to win. The room, warmed by the fire and bathed in soft light, was charged with sexual tension as her lover, with each loss, slowly stripped off each article as Janet watched with hungry eyes. When she had her lover naked before her, Janet placed the deck on the table and cocked a finger. “Come here NOW,” she ordered, in a husky whisper. Robbie, her lean muscular body highlighted in red firelight, slipped across the table and into Janet’s arms.

They made love well into the night, finally falling into a deep, relaxed sleep in the early hours. At five thirty, Robbie’s bleeper went off.

Janet sighed as she felt her lover slip from the bed and fumble in the darkness getting into her fire-fighting gear. “Well, at least their timing is getting better. You be careful!”

Robbie leaned over to place a kiss on Janet’s forehead. “No fire could be as hot as you, my love!” she teased and was gone.

***

Robbie drank deeply from the water bottle. She was on her second, trying to replenish the water that the work and heat of the fire had sucked out of her. She stood leaning on Larry Butler’s bulldozer, on the edge of a tired group of Bartlett Volunteer Fire Fighters.

Bush fires were a bitch, she allowed, wiping at the sweat that had etched black trails of soot down her face. Her skin felt scorched and tight. She must look like hell. She’d better clean up a bit before heading back to Janet and the kids.

Blue eyes scanned the fire break that she and the others had created over the last ninety six hours.

With Pulaski shovels, Council rakes, chainsaws and the bulldozer, they had cleared a strip of land through which the fire could not burn. Then they had used Drip Torches. They were canasters with goose necks containing wicks that drew up a gasoline/kerosene mixture. These were used to set back burns to consume the material that the approaching fire would need to feed on. The fire break had done its job. The fire had been stopped on this front and that meant that Bartlett was now relatively safe. Beyond the brown strip of barren earth, charred trees still smoked and cracked with heat. The ground was blanketed with ash like new fallen snow.

Robbie thought most people would find a burnt out area like this an eyesore. She didn’t. She liked the stark landscape, the soft ash and warm land. She liked the charred patterns in the wood and the red of glowing embers. She watched with an artist’s eye as the surreal world faded in and out in swirls of blue smoke.

It made her feel good, having done her part to protect lives and property while the fire burnt its course. Robbie finished the second bottle of water and pitched the empty plastic container into the garbage bag tied to the back of the bulldozer. Her stiff, sooty Bunker fire jacket and pants squeaked as she settled into a more comfortable position against the side of the bulldozer. She smiled at the others. The Bartlett crew had become family. Hell, they’d lived in each other’s space for the last two weeks as they rotated through shifts with other crews. They had practised as a team together and had now proven themselves out in the field, trusting each other with their lives.

Did she trust Janet that deeply? Once she had. Now she wasn’t sure. That bothered her. She know she should trust Janet. Janet had risked everything to get her out of jail. Janet loved her and she knew that she loved that little blond nearly to distraction. She’d made the decision to move on, to leave all the crap of those days behind. Yet she knew there was a little worm of doubt that still burrowed through her subconscious.

The rumble of a truck engine brought Robbie back to reality. Like the other tired fire-fighters around her, she straightened. Fire-tanned and dirty, they reflected the tired pride of all heroic fighters. Ryan swung out of the truck and looked around at the sooty faces. It was her Mom’s flash of white smile that identified her from the rest. Ryan trotted over. “Hi! Did you have fun?” she asked. “I sure wish I could have fought the fire.”

“I don’t think fun is quite the word but I feel pretty smug about being able to help out. That is when I can summon enough energy to think at all,” confessed Robbie.

“I got to help co-ordinated all the crews. The District Chief would give me the work sheets and I’d get on the radio and dispatch crews to different areas,” bragged Ryan excitedly.

Robbie squeezed her daughter’s shoulder with pride. “Yeah, I know. I recognized your voice,” she acknowledged, as they waited their turn to swing up into the back of the truck. “You did a great job!” Ryan blushed with pride. Pleasing her famous mother meant a lot to her.

“Aunt Janet is working at the field centre in the Lion’s Hall. They’ve set up a hospital and field kitchen. The food that is shipped out to the crews was prepared there,” explained Ryan.

“Hospital! Were there that many hurt?!” asked Robbie in concern.

Ryan nodded. Aunt Janet told me yesterday that they had already treated over fifty,” bragged Ryan.

“Fifty!”

“Well, only nine were humans,” Ryan admitted, ” The rest are animals that Greta Corry and the girl guides keep rescuing. That’s their job. We have a deer in a pen in the baseball diamond! Can we keep her, Mom!? She’s got smoke inhalation.”

“Sure! We can have smoked venison next Christmas,” Robbie joked.

“Mom!” Ryan laughed.

***

Janet looked up as the tired parade of fire-fighters entered the hall like she always did, searching for Robbie. She knew her lover had been working the other side of Indian Gorge and would take her breaks at the Town Hall in Harriston. But she always looked anyway. She missed her partner and worried about her. A major forest fire was a dangerous situation even for well-trained experienced fire-fighters, never mind amateurs like Robbie. Ryan came back each afternoon and told her where Robbie was and what she was doing but still she worried.

Then, there she was, tall and quiet behind Ryan. Wearing her fire gear and covered in dirt and sweat, Janet thought she had never seen anyone look so damn sexy! The other members of the Bartlett crew hugged wives and greeted friends. Ryan had gone off in search of food and Robbie stood looking uncertain and perplexed.

Janet smiled. They’d been “Outed” by Lucier and the media, so what had she to lose. Putting down the tray she was carrying, she walked over to Robbie and gave her a big hug and a kiss. The well of silence around them was almost deafening as everyone froze in surprise and stared.

“Hi, love,” Janet laughed, her voice echoing in the big, quiet room. “I’m so happy to have you back!”

Robbie’s face lit up with a big goofy grin and the worm that had been digging tunnels of doubt in Robbie’s mind keeled over and died.

***

The four of them sat at a wooden table in the hall eating Sloppy Joes and drinking chocolate milk while they each told their stories. “I got to feed the deer and the cats and Miss Corry got needles in her hand from the pork-pine and she called it a…”

“Rebecca!” warned Janet, with a warning look. Reb gave her mom a broad grin, then stood on her chair and whispered in Robbie’s ear.

Janet frowned. “Oh a no good porcupine! Eh? Well, that is bad!” laughed Robbie, hugging her little daughter. The other Williams laughed too.

“Hi, ladies!” smirked a voice from behind them and a flash went off in their faces as they turned. “Guess who the city papers sent up here to cover the fire? This will make a nice little follow-up to your release, Robbie,” smiled Lucier. Janet grabbed Robbie but would not have been able to hold her back if it hadn’t been for a big meaty hand suddenly wrapping around Lucier’s camera and yanking it from his hands.

“Hey!” protested Lucier, as his film was ripped out. This protest was cut short, however, when he was picked up by his collar and the seat of his pants and carried out the back door to a round of applause from everyone in the room.

There were several decisive thumps and a wail of pain, and then the wall of a man sauntered back in again. Jim Ableton walked over to the Williams’ table. “Don’t for the life of me know what this town sees in a queer like you, Williams, but I owed you one for bouncing that kid of yours off the boards at the rink,” he growled. “No hard feelings,” he said, offering his hand.

Robbie took it, surprised to find her own large hand buried inside Ableton’s. “No hard feelings,” she agreed, then amended, “until I kick the shit out of your boat in the Bartlett Regatta this September!”

“Ain’t gonna happen,” laughed Ableton, pounding Robbie on the back and walking away.

Janet gave Robbie a look. “What?!” the director asked innocently.

“You just couldn’t let it lie could you?”

“No!” the Williams all answered together and the table of four broke into gales of laughter.

From across the room, pale eyes looked up, watched for a few seconds and then dropped once more to an empty plate. Soon now. This damn fire had delayed his plans but soon now all would be back to normal. Then he could put his plan into action. The man smiled.

The Williams went home and Ryan amused Reb while Janet took Robbie for a shower and then tucked her into bed. Robbie, warmed by the water and relaxed by Janet’s touch, was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow. Janet watched t.v. with the kids, sending each off to bed at their respective bedtimes. Then she gladly locked the door, turned off the lights, and crawled into the bed that she planned on sharing with Robbie for the rest of her life.

***

The next day, Robbie slept in and Janet took the kids to school. “I should be working!”sulked Ryan. “They need me on the radios!”

“You need to be in class,” Janet answered firmly. “We only just got you enrolled again and then you were away for another two weeks! Honestly, what sort of mother are they going to think I am?!” grumbled Janet.

“I had to fight the fire!” protested Ryan. “I’m part of the crew!”

Janet smiled and patted the knee beside hers. “I know, love. But the fire is almost out and most of the crews have been sent home. It’s only burning along the shoreline near the gorge now. I think they can manage without you.”

Janet dropped them off outside the school, courage failing her when it came to walking into the building that she had once thought of as her own domain. Ryan seemed to understand and made no comment as she took her little sister’s hand and, waving good bye, disappeared into the building. Janet watched them go, then slipped the truck into gear and headed back to the house. Another lazy day with Robbie sounded just about perfect! Maybe this being unemployed wasn’t so bad after all!

***

Hey, about time you got back!” called Robbie from the kitchen as she chewed on a piece of burnt toast.

Janet waved her hand in front of her face and squinted her eyes as she looked through the smoke. “Did you bring some of the brush fire home with you or have you been cooking again?” she asked dryly.

“I burnt the toast,” Robbie smiled, happily crunching on a burnt offering.

“Well, don’t eat it!” scolded Janet, as she opened a window to air the place out. “There must be enough smoke in your lungs already! Here sit down and I’ll make a proper breakfast for the two of us!”

“I love you,” Robbie smiled, kissing Janet on the forehead as she changed places with her in the kitchen. Robbie sat on the bar stool and watched while Janet efficiently made scrambled eggs and toast.

“You know what?”

“What?” asked Janet, as she dished the eggs over the golden toast she had just made.

“The lodge is ready! You want to go over and have a look?!”

Janet looked up into eyes glistening with excitement and smiled. Robbie was just a big kid at heart. “I’d like that,” she responded, kissing the end of her lover’s nose.

They ate and talked and then left the dishes in the sink while they went to get the canoe out of the shed where it had been stored for the winter. They lowered it into the lake and clambered in. “You remember the first time we did this?” Robbie asked.

“Ah ha, You’d twisted your knee slipping on Reb’s rubber ducky and I was stuck with you. As I recall, oh wanton woman, you made a shameless play for my ex-boyfriend!”

“Did you a favour,” grinned Robbie, without remorse. “You’d have ditched him anyway.”

They canoed on in silence, listening to the steady swish of the paddle through the water and the cry of a raven in the trees. “I think I loved you from the moment I saw you,” Robbie confessed suddenly.

“You had a funny way of showing it!” laughed Janet. “I know I was very attracted to you!”

Robbie suddenly stood up in the bow, turned around and walked back in the canoe. “Robbie! What are you doing!?” asked Janet, using the flat of her paddle to balance the canoe that rocked wildly in the water.

Robbie knelt down and leaned across the spreader to take Janet’s hands in her own. “You are the single most important thing in my life. When you came into my world my black and white existence exploded into technicolour! I love you, Janet Williams, with every ounce of my being!”

Janet settled her paddle into the canoe. Then, carefully, she slid over on top of Robbie as the actress dropped back into the bottom of the canoe. They lay there together, drifting slowly in the wind as the blue sky and warm sun blanketed them in peace.

***

“Oh Robbie! It’s…It’s beautiful!” exclaimed Janet, a later, as she turned around and around in the living room. The massive room was dominated by a fieldstone fireplace that now reflected the multiple colours of the earth after its sand blasting. The huge log beams that stretched across the room shone honey with layers of fresh vanish. The log walls were a soft cream of natural wood and the floor reflected their images, it was so highly polished.

“Probably could do with some furniture,” observed Robbie philosophically.

Janet reached up to capture yet another kiss. “You are wonderful. Show me our bedroom,” she whispered.

Their room was at the corner of the house. One large window looked through the tall pines to the lake and the other through the trees to where a small stream tumbled down the hillside over mossy rocks to feed the lake. Janet peaked into the walk in closet and the master bathroom that had a sauna, and a sunken tub built for two beside a window of one way glass that looked over a shaded hillside of white and purple trilliums. Tears overflowed and ribboned slowly down her face. Robbie wrapped her close.

“It’s like a dream. It is all true, isn’t it, Robbie?” Janet sniffed into her favourite shoulder.

“You bet it is, lover. I’m going to move my family here and live the picture perfect life with you at my side.”

Janet looked up. “What about my house? I don’t want to sell it to strangers and I don’t want it to stand empty either.”

“I was thinking about that. You know it would make a good summer place for Elizabeth. She likes how clearly she can see the stars up here and….”

“Robbie! You are a genius! It would make a perfect wedding present for David and Elizabeth!”

The body Janet was holding went cold and still. “What wedding?” said a deep, deadly quiet voice.

Janet looked up into storm-dark eyes and reached up on her tiptoes to kiss stiff lips. “I think that David and Elizabeth’s friendship, if left alone, will blossom into a very special kind of love and you know that David would want to do the honourable thing!”

“You are just saying this to scare the shit out of me!” rumbled Robbie.

“No, I’m saying this so you have lots of time to get used to the idea,” countered Janet.

“I won’t,” sulked Robbie.

Janet gave her over-protective wife a hug. “Yes, you will once you realize that David makes Elizabeth happy. Come on, worry wart! We need to get back and clean up that kitchen!”

***

“Ryan, over here!” called Debbie, as Ryan moved the soccer ball down field. With a swift side kick, Ryan shot the ball across to her friend, who drilled it into the net.

“Way to go, Deb!” Ryan said, running up to pat her school chum on the back.

Thanks!”

“Okay, girls, time to head for the locker room,” called Jean Bissell, who had been hired to fill Milka Gorski’s teaching job.

The two teams walked off the field, replaying the game and teasing each other. Ryan waved over to Reb who, with the other children, were going for their morning walk down the driveway with Mrs. Chen. An old grey truck pulled out from the school parking lot and slowly came down the lane. The truck went past the children and then stopped.

Ryan watched curiously as the man got out and walked over to talk to Mrs. Chen The next instant, he had hit her, knocking her to the ground, and had grabbed Reb into his arms and was running for the open truck door.

Ryan started to run. She cut across the field at an angle at top speed. As the truck slowed to make the turn out onto the main road, she came alongside, grabbed hold of the truck’s side and did a pony-express mount into the flatbed.

Lily Chen sat up dazed and watched the grey truck disappear down the road as the other students and Jean Bissell ran over to help her and to gathered up the remaining children.

***

The police and a very upset Milka Gorski were waiting on the beach as Janet and Robbie paddled across the lake. Janet could feel the panic and anger rolling off her mate when she saw the police.

“It’s okay, Robbie, don’t be upset. You are innocent and they are not here to arrest you,” she reassured her partner. Robbie, paddling in the bow, nodded stiffly but did not answer.

Despite the reassurance she had given Robbie, she could feel her own insides turning over with worry. For Milka to be here, something serious must have happened at school and that meant that one of their daughters was in trouble.

Robbie leapt out of the canoe and pulled the craft high up on the beach before helping Janet out. “What’s going on?” she demanded, holding Janet’s hand as she faced the police.

It was Milka who answered. “Janet, Robbie I’m so sorry. Reb’s been kidnapped! It happened when Lily was walking the children down the lane. A truck pulled up and the driver got out and hit Lily, grabbed Rebecca and drove off.”

“Is Lily alright?” Janet asked, her voice shaky with the strain of dealing with the gut wrenching blow to her emotions that Milka’s news had brought.

“Yes, but…”

“Where’s Ryan?” Robbie demanded.

Milka looked absolutely sick. “She was out in the field playing soccer and witnessed the kidnapping. She ran after the truck and swung into the flatbed as the truck slowed to turn out on the road. He’s got both of them.”

“Shit!” groaned Robbie, pulling the shocked body of her wife close to her. “Don’t worry, Janet, we’ll get them back. He’ll demand money and we’ll give it to him. Whatever he wants.”

The adults walked up to the cabin and Robbie let them in. Rufus greeted them with an uncertain wag of his crocked tail and a low growl as the faithful animal sensed their stress. “Shhh, Rufus, whispered Janet, reaching out a shaky hand to reassure the huge animal.

“I’ll use the cell phone to contact our lawyers. We’ll want to leave the cabin phone free in case he phones.”

Janet sat on the edge of the couch and looked up at her partner. “W..What if his motivation was not kidnapping. W..What if he’s…”

“Don’t even think it! L..Let’s plan for what we can deal with and pray that it’s nothing worse,” suggested Robbie, rubbing her lover’s back. “It’s going to be okay, Janet,” she reassured. “It’s got to be!” But inside she felt like a bomb had gone off.
Part 2
Friends quietly came and went during the day bringing casseroles, sympathy and their love. Meals were warmed and served, lawns cut, dishes done and countless amounts of tea consumed. Janet and Robbie ate little, talked less and were unaware of much of the quiet support that went on around them. They were grateful not to be alone, yet too overcome with horror to interact with those around them. Mostly, they sat together on the couch, holding hands and waiting for the phone to ring, but it never did. The hours ticked on endlessly.

To the south, the head of the fire had been checked by the fire barrier that Robbie and the Bartlett Fire Department had cleared. But to the west, along the shore line of Lake Superior, a flank fire still stubbornly edged forward, fed on the high temperatures and dry air. It was hoped that the fire would be stopped by the natural fire break of the Indian Gorge. Still, the Bartlett Volunteer Fire Department had been called out again that afternoon, and as a precaution, they had assisted in the evacuation of The Bartlett School for the Gifted. They were stationed there now, to protect the school building should the flank fire not be checked.

Janet and Robbie were aware of all this and it added to their own worry. Somewhere out there their children were being held prisoners. They could only pray that they were at least safe from the fire. The police force too was stretched to its limit in dealing with the extra responsibilities of the fire emergency. And that meant virtually no one was involved with looking for the two missing children.

Milka had returned to the school and run pictures off Reb and Ryan on the photocopier before they were evacuated. The teachers had handed them out to firefighters and rescue personnel working in the area. The evening news province wide had broadcast the children’s pictures and requested the public’s help. The national and international news services were pouring into the town seeking stories about the famous Williams family and the kidnapping. And The National Tabloid, that evening, even managed to run a front page story about the curse of the Williams Family.

Moe Singh removed the tabloids from his store in disgust and from David Potts’ Variety Store that he and his staff were manning while David was in Toronto with his brother. The town rallied around Janet and Robbie, protecting them from the media. They had learned a lot since the spring in dealing with the press. By common agreement, no one talked. Other than that, there was little anyone could do at this stage but wait.

***

Late in the night, the last of their friends left, leaving Janet and Robbie alone. Janet sat staring into the fire. Her mind numb with shock. She tried not to think about what might have been done to her daughters. Robbie was right, they had to look on this as a kidnapping for now and

not let the panic of uglier realities take over in their hearts and minds. It was hard though. It was so terribly hard! The house was so empty and quiet without the girls. Half the fabric of their existence had been torn from their world and stolen away in a blink of an eye. Tears rolled silently down Janet’s face. It was not knowing that was the worst. Why the hell didn’t the bastard phone?!

Robbie had slept some, sitting by Janet on the couch and holding her tight. She woke before dawn, however, and paced back and forth. She refused to let her mind dwell on what might have been done to her daughters. If she did, she’d go mad. Instead, she used her reasoning powers, trying to figure out a course of action. There had to be away to help her girls. There just had to be!

Janet woke up from a fretful sleep aware that Robbie had stopped pacing. The tall woman turned as Janet sat up and blue eyes met green. “He turned left onto Highway 11. Ryan wouldn’t panic. She’d use her head and that means there is a good chance that she left a trail for us to follow!”

“What?!” exclaimed Janet, getting to her feet.

“I’m sure of it, Janet. There will be a trail. Ryan is no fool!” reinforced Robbie, as she got out the cell phones and checked the batteries. “I’m going out to look. You stay here and wait for that bastard to phone. I’ll report back every half hour.”

“Robbie, be careful!” Janet urged.

Robbie nodded, pulled Janet into her arms for a hug and kissed her head. “We’ll find them. I promise,” she whispered, and was gone. Janet stood at the screen door and watched her soulmate back the truck around and head down the driveway. If anyone could find their girls she had no doubt it would be Robbie. Pulling herself together, she got paper and pen out and made a list of questions to ask if the kidnapper phoned. She planned for different scenarios and worked out how she would handle it. Robbie and the girls were counting on her and she meant to handle the situation to the best of her ability if the kidnapper phoned. Robbie was right, they were going to get their girls back!

***

Robbie stopped the truck along the shoulder of highway 11 and taking her flashlight and phone, she started walking. Half a mile down the road, she found a small square of blue and gold cotton tied around an old rusty bolt. Blue and gold were the Bartlett school colours! What had Milka said? Ryan had been out in the field playing soccer! Was it part of a sports bib that Ryan had been wearing to identify what team she was on?

She flipped her phone open. Janet answered on the first ring. “I might have found something. I won’t be able to tell until I go farther down the road. I found a small piece of cotton that is stripped in the Bartlett school colours…”

“Part of a sports bib?!” interrupted Janet excitedly.

“Maybe. Ryan might be dropping them out of the truck. I’ll go on down the road and see if I can find more. You phone Jean Bissell and see if Ryan was wearing one during the soccer game.”

“Okay. The kidnapper hasn’t phoned. The fire has jumped the gorge and is spreading towards the school. You be careful!” Janet reported quickly, not wanting to hold Robbie back.

“I’ve got my fire gear in the truck. I’ll be careful. I love you,” Robbie finished, and snapped the phone shut. She marked the place where she had found the material with a small pile of stones then broke into a run back to the truck.

Moving slowly along the side of the road, Robbie used her highbeams to search the shoulder ahead of her in the predawn light. Had she missed it? It would be easy to do so in the poor light or if the bolt had bounced or rolled into the bush. Should she turn back or go on? Then she saw it!

She pulled the truck to a stop and got out. Another torn piece of material tird to an old bolt about a kilometer down from where she had found the first. She smiled and bent to make another pile of stones. Way to go, Ryan! She thought.

Janet reached for the phone and had the receiver to her ear before the first ring had finished. “Hi. I found another one. Ryan is leaving a trail alright!” came Robbie’s voice, sounding confident and proud.

The voice spread like a cooling lotion over Janet’s stress. “Jean said she was wearing a blue and gold stripped bib,” reported Janet. “The fire is out of control, Robbie. They managed to save the buildings at Bartlett by pumping water directly out of the lake and onto the buildings but the woods around is gone. It’s spreading in a long finger along the shore heading north. I can smell the smoke here.”

“Are you safe?” asked Robbie in worry.

“Yes, as long as the wind doesn’t shift. If it does I’ll leave a message on our house phone with our cell number in case the kidnapper phones and head into Barlett. George Droullard is organizing the Lions Club in case they have to evacuate Barlett,” explained Janet.

“Don’t stay there too long if you need to get out,” ordered Robbie.

“I won’t,” promised Janet.

The trail led Robbie back to Long Lake Road. The son of a bitch had the nerve to take the road right past their house! Robbie cursed and followed along the lane, her eyes beating back and forth looking for scraps of material. At the fork, Robbie found one of Ryan’s socks. The truck had turned left away from the long driveway leading to their cabin and heading down past the lodge towards the end of Long Lake. The lane, Robbie knew, would join the Lakefront Road where Larry and Flo Butler lived and right in the path of the advancing fire!

“Janet, I’m near you, love. It looks like the bastard took them down Long Lake Road and then cut west. I think he must have headed up towards Lakefront Road. I just found one of Ryan’s socks. She must have run out of bib.”

“Robbie, That area is on fire!”

“Yeah, well our kids are up there. I’ll keep reporting back to you,” stated Robbie, and snapped the phone shut. She was not going to let Ryan down again if she had to go to hell and back for the kid!

Robbie could see the orange glow of the fire to her left as she turned right onto the Lakefront Road. She came to a stop and got out into air misty with blue smoke. Sitting on the road was the other sock. Robbie set her jaw and got back in the truck and headed off again. Close now, she thought, she could feel it!

***

Ryan hit the truck bed with a thud that knocked the wind out of her. Curling into a ball, she huddled under the back window so that she would not make an easy target and tried to get air back into her lungs. Funny it seems so easy when I see people in Mom’s movie’s do that! she mused, rubbing her bruised knees. She licked her dry lips and fought back the fear that flooded through her body on an adrenalin rush.

What would Mom do? She’d leave signals. Ryan ducked her head out of her sports bib and with shaking hands tore it into bits. I sure hope the school is going to be reasonable about this! she thought. Wrecking or losing sports equipment was almost a capitol offense at Bartlett. She could almost hear Bissell going on now about the three R’s of the equipment room: RESPECT, RESPONSIBILITY, and RETURN.

With a shrug of resignation, Ryan tied the first piece of cloth to a rusty old bolt that she had picked from a soggy cardboard box in the flatbed. She tossed the first marker over the side of the truck hoping that the driver would not notice. She looked up. Through the cab’s back window, big blue worried eyes looked down at her. Ryan managed a smile and waved at Reb. She could see her sister mouth her name but the roar of the old truck drowned out any sound.

The driver turned and swore, grabbing Reb by the arm and pulling her out of sight but not before Ryan had seen the pain in her little sister’s face and saw the tears spring to Reb’s eyes. Anger boiled inside Ryan’s guts. No! Stay calm! Reason! She ordered herself, That’s what Mom would do. She prepared another marker and threw it over the side. You are not going to win, you bastard!

Ryan had gone through her pieces of bib and had thrown out both socks as they bumped along. She could smell the fire now and as she threw her last sock over the side she thought she could see heavier smoke snaking through the trees to the south. Oh shit! This is not good! she thought.

Instead of tossing the last sock over the side as she had done the other markers, she balled the fabric up and tossed it off the back so that it lay on the road and not the shoulders. If the fire did come this way, maybe the fire wouldn’t burn the marker if it was laying on the road. For the first time, her fear grew from the realization that she and Reb were in very deep trouble with no one to help them out.

Ryan swallowed hard and took a deep breath. Stay calm! Stay focused! What should I throw next? Not my shoes, I might need them if we get a chance to run. Not my clothes if I can avoid it, that would be asking for trouble with a jerk like this. Okay, first the watch, then I’ll rip the pocket and collar off my shirt, Ryan planned.

She grabbed on to the side of the truck with one hand as they bounced off Lakefront Road and onto a rutted track through the bush. Quickly, Ryan threw her watch over the back of the truck. Hoping that someone would see the entrance to the trail. Okay, Ryan, you must be getting close to the place where this guy is taking you. No one is here to help you and Reb so think of what to do next. Her green serious eyes surveyed the dirty truck bed and its contents. In a partly, broken quart basket, she saw a handful of rusty tools.

Ryan crawled over and searched through awkwardly as she bounced around in the back of the truck over the trail. Her hand closed around a long, heavy iron wrench. She knew she could not over power the man once he was out of the truck. The only time he was going to be vulnerable was when he opened the truck door and led with his head as he got out. She had to be ready to hit him then. No hesitating, no checking the swing, just hit him! she coached herself. Her hand ached from the tension in her muscles as she held the wrench tightly. She could smell the rancid stench of her own fear as the sweat trickled down her back.

The truck slowed and backfired. It turned slightly and came to a jerky stop in front of a run- down old trailer. For a second, there was silence. Ryan braced herself. The door of the truck creaked open and Ryan saw an unkept mat of greying hair. She hesitated, then brought the iron wrench down on the man’s head with a glancing blow.

The man gave a cry of pain and lashed out at her. The blow caught Ryan on the bridge of the nose and filled her eyes with tears. “You fucking bitch!” the man yelled, grabbing Ryan by the hair and pulling her over the side of the truck. She landed with a thud on the ground and the wind was knocked from her lungs.

“You get out of the truck.” She heard the man order and heard Reb crying as she was dragged from the floor of the cab. Ryan forced herself to her knees and Reb squirmed from the man’s grasp and fell crying into her big sister’s arms.

“Shhhh, it will be okay, Reb. You’ll see. Our Mom’s will find us. I know they will,” she tried to reassure the small terrified child. Ryan didn’t think she had ever been so scared. Her hand shook as she stroked Reb’s dark locks. She looked up to see the angry man towering over them rubbing his ear.

“You’re going to get yours before this is over, you bitch,” the man vowed, as he grabbed Ryan roughly by the arm and pulled her to her feet. He half dragged, half carried them to the trailer and pushed them inside.

Ryan’s heart was now pounding in her chest. She realized that by leaping on the truck, she could very well have put herself in a situation were she could be raped and murdered. Her eyes searched the small shabby interior for a weapon and she tried to think past her fear to what she should do next.

“Mommy! I want my Mommy!” sobbed Reb.

“You take that brat and get in the washroom. You make her stop crying, you here, or I’m going to make her stop. You got me?” snarled the kidnapper.

Ryan nodded and wrapped Reb closer as she backed towards the closet sized washroom. She stepped in and closed the door not sure if she should be relieved or more concerned that she was now trapped with no escape. She could hear the man wedging something against the door. For the time being anyway, they were safe.

She sat down on the cracked toilet seat and tried to think what to do next. “Hush, Reb, you’ve got to be quiet so we don’t back the bad man mad. Hush,” she whispered. Reb stifled her tears slowly and clung to Ryan as tightly as she could.

When Reb was calmer, Ryan took stock of her surroundings. The small space barely had room for a toilet and a small sink with a storage area below it. There was a yellowed window but it was too small for Ryan to squeeze through. She might be able to push Reb through, but then what would the small child do? She could smash through the aluminium wall but the man would hear her and, no doubt, would stop her in a way that she would regret. She bent around Reb’s small body and looked under the sink. A piece of dried, cracked soap, a balled up stiff piece of rag and a rusted can of insect spray was all that was there.

Reb whimpered a protest as Ryan reached to grab the can. “Shhh, it’s okay, Reb. I think we’ve got a way out of here.” She shook the can and sprayed into the sink. Her heart pounded with relief as she realized that the can still had lots of pressure and repellant in it. It wasn’t exactly pepper spray, but it would buy them some time.

They sat there the whole night, cramped, hungry, and miserable. The reek of the toilet was nauseating and there wasn’t even water in the tap. The smell of frying bacon and eggs that evening added to their misery. Dressed only in her light gym outfit, Ryan was shivering with cold and fear by the time the sun started to rise. Several times the evening before, she had heard the man’s angry voice . She couldn’t make out the words but it sounded like he was arguing with someone on a phone. That meant he might not be working alone. Ryan knew, now that it was light again, that she was going to have to act quickly before any others arrived.

“Hey! My sister is sick! Hey! Come on! You’ve got to do something!” Ryan yelled. She held the can of insect spray in her hand and winked at Reb who sat wide eyed with fear on top of the sink cabinet where Ryan had put her.

Ryan heard the barrier being removed and the man, looking angry and rumpled with sleep, opened the door. Ryan stretched out her arm and sprayed the insect repellant directly into the guy’s eyes. Then she kicked him aside with her foot and wiggled past him. She looked around madly, saw the cast iron frying pan still sitting dirty on the cold propane burner and grabbed it. No hesitation, this time, she slammed the kneeling man as hard as she could over the head. He didn’t even moan. He just dropped to the floor.

Stepping over him, she scooped Reb from her perch in the cramped bathroom and made for the door. She ran to the truck and slipped a startled Reb along the seat. “Don’t worry, Reb! We’re out of here!” Ryan smiled, and reached for the ignition. No keys! Oh shit!

“Hang on, Reb! I just have to see to something,” Ryan smiled, and forced herself to step back out of the safety of the truck. Her nerves were at a breaking point as she silently, stepped up into the trailer once again. She expected that at any minute the angry man would pounce on her. She stood in the doorway and surveyed the space. No keys. She couldn’t see him putting them away in a drawer and since it was clear he had slept in his clothes it was likely that he had the keys in his pocket. Ryan edged forward and looked over the small counter.

The man lay on his belly on the floor of the trailer, his head to one side and his mouth partly open. Drool dribbled down the prickily facial hair on his chin. What if he grabs me? Ryan wondered, as she slowly knelt beside the man. Her heart was pounding in her chest. If he moves I’m going to have a heart attack and die right here!

She felt his pocket. The keys were a hard lump beneath the material. I wonder if I killed him. Oh my God! I’m a murderer and now I’m robbing a corpse! Swallowing her disgust, she wiggled her hand into the pocket and pulled out the keys. Then, quick as a jack rabbit, she hopped out of the trailer and ran for the truck again. Shaking with fear, she slammed the door shut and put the keys in the ignition, turning the key with trembling fingers. The engine turned over and died.

Oh God! I’m going to wet myself! Ryan moaned silently, as the sweat ran down her neck. Calm. Don’t panic or you’ll flood the engine, she commanded herself. She pressed down on the gas and turned the key. This time the engine caught! Crying with relief, Ryan turned the truck around and headed back down the trail leaving the still body of their kidnapper on the floor of the old trailer.

***

Robbie turned back, fighting the panic that was growing in her heart. Somehow she had lost the Ryan’s trail. By now, she should have found another marker! Either she had missed it or Ryan was no longer able to leave a trail. That thought made her heart convulse in fear. With the back of her hand, she wiped the sweat from her upper lip. Christ! This was a thousand times worse than being in prison.

Now ahead of her, she could see the head of the fire . Blue-black smoke billowed into the sky and fire blazed behind. While she stared, a tree caught and a ribbon of flame raced up the trunk and set the branches into a blaze of fire. How far away? Maybe a few miles. Time was running out! Then she saw it! A narrow over grown trail to her left. She stopped her truck in the middle of the road and got out. Yes, a vehicle had gone down there recently. The weeds and grass were flattened into two tracks from the tires. A flash caught her eyes and bending, she picked up Ryan’s watch from a clump of tall grass.

Setting her jaw, Robbie turned and ran back to the truck. She slammed the vehicle in gear and turned into the brush path bouncing along as fast as she dared. Coming around the corner, she came bumper to bumper with a beat up old chevy. She was out of her truck in a split second and was pulling the driver from the truck in a near blind anger. Then realized that she had hold of her daughter. “Ryan! Love! Are you alright? Did he hurt you? Reb?”

“No, I’m okay. Reb’s in there. She’s okay too but scared,” Ryan sighed, from the safety of her mother’s arms. Robbie pushed Ryan gently away. “We’re in trouble. Get Reb out and into our truck. Where does this road go?”

“It’s a dead end. It goes to an old trailer,” Ryan said, as she fished Reb out from the floor of the truck. Reb slid from Ryan’s arms into Robbie’s.

“Obby! I want to go home. I want my mommy!” the little girl wailed.

“It’s okay, Reb. We’re all going home,” soothed Robbie, as she listened to the phone in her hand connect. It was answered right away.

“Robbie?!”

“Yeah.”

“Where are you? What have you been doing? I’ve been so worried. You’ve got to get out of there!”

“I’ve got them, Janet. Both of them,” cut in the director, half crying with relief. She held up the phone to Reb’s ear.

“Mommy! Mommy! You come get me, mommy. I want to go home!” cried Reb.

Robbie pulled the phone away from the upset child. She could here Janet crying and trying to sooth her daughter at the other end. “Listen, Janet, we are in a real fix here. The fire is only about two miles behind us. There is no going back. I’m on a track off to the east of Lakefront Road. Ryan said it comes to a dead end and there is an old trailer down there. Do you know the spot?”

Janet fought to get herself under control. Her voice, when she spoke, was surprisingly calm and controlled. “Yes, I know it. Lakefront dead ends about ten kilometers farther on and the fire is likely to catch up to you. It seems to be fingering along the shore line pushed by a wind out of the south. So far it has only spread about a kilometer inland. They are evacuating Bartlett though. Listen Robbie, go back to the trailer and head due east. Follow the ravine. It will lead you to Beaver Creek. I will meet you there with the canoe and we’ll paddle back down to Long Lake. Go quickly, Robbie! There is very little time!” Janet finished, the panic cracking through into her voice.

“We’re on our way. Don’t worry, Janet. We’ll met you at the creek,” responded Robbie, snapping the phone shut and swinging into action. “You two get in our truck,” commanded Robbie, as she got into the old grey vehicle and reversed it into the bush. She jumped out and ran to their truck and hopped in, putting the truck in forward and moving off.

“He’s down there. I…I hit him on the head with a cast iron frying pan. I…I think I killed him, Mom,” confessed Ryan in a shaky voice, as she buried her face into Reb’s neck and hugged her little sister close.

Robbie couldn’t take her eyes away from the rough path, but she nodded, reached out and squeezed Ryan’s knee. “You did what you had to do to save Reb and yourself, I’m proud of you. Don’t worry,” reassured her mother.

Ryan nodded but said nothing. They broke clear of the trail and came out into an overgrown clearing in which sat a small run down trailer. “He’s in there!” Ryan exclaimed, “He was lying on the floor!”

Robbie nodded again but said nothing. She saw the ravine sloping down behind a crooked outhouse and headed straight for it. The truck smashed through the flimsy structure and went head first down a steep embankment into an empty flood gorge. Robbie wheeled the truck around on the opposite bank and dropped it down onto the dry river bed. Popping the truck into low gear, she moved forward steadily. Smashing through fallen branches and thumping over rocks. Ryan held on tight to Reb and tried to protect her head as they swung about violently inside the cab.

“Shit, Mom, the owner of this truck is going to be pissed,” Ryan observed dryly, as branches scraped the paint off the sides and they left their muffler behind on a rock.

“Don’t swear. And the owner is good and pissed, believe me!” responded Robbie, with a playful growl.

They traveled on for several kilometers until the truck stuck fast in mud. “Out!” ordered Robbie, and Ryan did as she was told as quickly as possible with Reb clinging in silent fear to her. Robbie ran to the back of the truck and slipped into her fire gear. She dumped a knapsack of supplies and used her jackknife to cut the corners out of the bottom. “Here turn around,” she said to Ryan and slipped the knapsack on her daughter’s back. Then she lifted the now screaming baby from Ryan’s arms and stuffed the stiff child non too gently into the make shift baby carrier.

Robbie rubbed Reb’s head and looked into her little daughter’s eyes. “Reb, I know this is scary but it is okay, we are going to find your Mommy now. You be good for Obbie, okay?”

Reb looked up with big, fearful eyes brimming with tears but she nodded silently. Robbie smiled and dropped another kiss on the child’s head. “Ryan, I’ll carry the gear. You follow with Reb. The wind is coming around to the east. We are in big trouble. Let’s move!”

Ryan did not need any more encouragement. She followed her Mom at a quick pace down the dry, rugged ravine.

***

Janet phoned Milka to let her know what was going on. Then she got the first aid kit, some other needed equipment and ran for the canoe. Using powerful strokes, she cut the canoe swiftly through the water along the east side of Long Lake, turned into Moose swamp and steered through the lily pads until she got to where Beaver Creek drained into the bog. Thank God the creek was fairly deep and slow moving, she thought, as she pushed on. Even with the dry weather, the creek still was about four meters wide and one deep. Hang on Robbie, I’m coming! Janet thought, and gritting her teeth, she gave it everything she had to move that canoe upstream.

The sweat dripped steadily down Janet’s face and the muscles in her arms burned with effort. How far had she come? Maybe four or five kilometers. The smoke had turned the world around her misty and it felt heavy on her lungs. Stopping, she took out one of the towels she had brought, wet it in the creek and wrapped it around her lower face. A wind stirred around her and

the woods ahead cracked and snapped like a bonfire.

Janet looked up in horror as the tops of the trees, visible beneath the rising smoke, flashed into flame one after the other. My God, the trees are crowning! It’s a firestorm! The wind was blowing furiously now and the air she sucked in was oven hot. A few kilometers ahead of her, where she knew her family waited, was a solid wall of fire. She watched, mesmerized by the sheer power of the natural force unleached ahead of her. Oh God, what have I led them into!

The fire roared and swirled in licking tongues of orange and red, devouring trees and sucking in the air from the defenseless forest around. Animals charged in panic. Natural foes forgotten, as they fled from one of nature’s greatest enemies. Skags, trees and branches on fire, crashed down spreading a carpet of fiery death that flooded out across the bush. It was hypnotic and terrifying, powerful and mad. Only a few kilometers in front of Janet, the world had become a scene from hell and within it her family.

Ten minutes later, the worst was over. Ahead of her, were less than half an hour before there had been a green forest, there now burned slowly the blackened sentries of hundreds of years of growth. Janet felt numb. Her mind refused to deal with the enormity of what she had just witnessed and the consequences to her family if they had been caught in there.

Like a robot, she picked up her paddle again and moved the craft forward towards the devastated wasteland. Her arms smarted as she stroked and looking at her hands with disinterested eyes, she registered that her skin was red and scorched. The message did not cause any reaction but remained a disconnected observation. Her shock at what had just happened was too great. With stubborn determination, she did the only thing that she could think to do and that was go on.

Sometime later, she was in the burnt-out path of the fire. Around her, through the veil of smoke, fires still burned in patches and trees smoldered, cracked and twisted in the heat. Her world had been reduced to black and white like a fussy old t.v. Painfully, she tore another towel in strips and wetting them in the blackened water, she wrapped her blistered hands awkwardly. Then she picked up her paddle and moved on. Not far now. The ravine would be less than half a mile ahead.

It was slow going, burnt and burning branches and tree trunks had fallen across the creek. Some, she slid under, others, she was forced to pull the canoe over. More burns, more delay, tears now stained her sooty face. She still moved on.

It was after one such portage, that she looked up and her heart simple ceased to beat. A low agonizing groan escaped from her open mouth. There laying on the bank of the river, one arm outstretched over the water, was the blackened fire eaten remains of a human. Janet stared in horror at the charred bones, the raw meat and black cavities. Someone tall. Robbie! With staggering steps, she forced herself forward, leaving the canoe wedged against the ashy shore.

Her whole body shook with cold shock. She made herself look. A belt buckle, remains of shoes. Men’s shoes! It wasn’t Robbie. Janet’s lungs sucked in air through the damp, dirty towel. I’m sorry, whoever you are, but thank you, God. Thank you! It isn’t Robbie! She stumbled back to the canoe through the knee high water and grabbing the gunnels, she half pulled, half floated the craft passed the burnt remains and continued on her way.

She knew now what she was likely to find. But still she went on. They were her family.

***

Robbie and Ryan hurried on. They had only stopped long enough for Robbie to tear her shirt to bits and wrap the strips around their nose and mouth. Reb had gone quiet and didn’t look very well. Robbie was very worried. When she looked back, she could see the orange glow of flames now off in the distance. Then ahead, she saw the trees thinning. They must be close now to Beaver Creek.

The attack came from her right sending her crashing into the embankment. She looked up just in time to see a man swinging a heavy stick at her head. She ducked and took the blow on her shoulder. Her heavy Bunker jacket was just enough padding to prevent a broken collar bone but the pain still brought Robbie to her knees.

By now, Ryan had managed to slip out of the knapsack that she was using to carry Reb and place her sister on the ground. Then she made a flying tackle at the man’s legs who had already stuck her mother once. He came down with a curse and Robbie was up in a second and helping Ryan pin the kidnaper to the ground.

It was the wind suddenly switching direction that warned Robbie. The fire behind them was sucking in the air building towards a firestorm. The air was heating rapidly. “Run! Run for the creek!” she screamed, pulling Ryan up and pushing her forward. She grabbed up Reb into her arms and ran after her teen daughter.

They broke into the open at the bank of the creek. Maybe three meters wide and half a meter deep. Not much but their only chance, Robbie evaluated. She pulled a package from her pocket and ripped it open to pull out a fire tent. She didn’t need to say anything to Ryan and Reb. They had practiced with her many times both at the station and in their own livingroom.

Ryan splashed into the water and tucked her feet under the elastic edging of the aluminium foil fire shield. She dropped into the water and pulled the thin protection over her, holding the elastic edging down with her hands. It formed a small pocket of air until she would have to duck under the water completely. Robbie knelt down and tucked Reb underneath. Trusting Ryan to do what was needed to try and protect her little sister.

In the half minute that had past, the smoke had thickened quickly, nearly blinding Robbie. The air had become super heated and before she took a deep breath and ducked under the water, she had reacted in surprise as the torn bag that was still in her hand burst into flame! It was hard to stay under the shallow water. Even with her eyes closed, she was aware that the swampy water around her glowed orange, reflecting the savage fire rolling over them. Her back and legs stung as they caught the impact of the blast-furnace heat.

She struggled to get deeper in the now soot filled water. Her lungs ached. She held her nose and breathed in, as she had been trained to do, forcing the oxygen that remained in her mouth and throat down into her lungs, then released her nose and exhaled just a little bit to get some of the built up of carbon dioxide out of her system. She was in terrible pain now and she could feel herself close to blacking out. Please God, let Ryan and Reb live!

Ryan pulled Reb under her as she had been taught and Reb dutifully clung to her big sister’s neck. “When I tell you, Reb. Take a deep breath and don’t ever let go no matter how much you want to!” Ryan instructed earnestly. “This is for real, Reb. You do just as I say. It’s important.

Now! Big breath!” ordered Ryan. The air that Ryan sucked in, not a second later, felt like fire in her lungs. She crouched in the water with Reb clinging under her and the fire tent stretched over her back. When she couldn’t stand the heat any longer, she sank lower, pulling the struggling Reb with her. She jammed he elbow on the edge of the fire tent to keep the corner from blowing up with the fire-wind and used her freed hand to clamp her hand over Reb’s nose and mouth as she held the two of them close to the bottom of the bog.

The water warmed until it felt like a hot bath, Reb’s little body stopped struggling and went limp.

Ryan count off the seconds. Two minutes! She broke the surface with a gasp but made sure the fire tent still formed a protective dome around them. Pulling Reb up, she shook her gently in the darkness. No reaction. Ryan’s heart lurched. Oh God! I’ve downed Reb! She took a breath of the sweltering, oxygen depleted air and breathed it into Reb’s mouth. Once , twice, three times…

The small body started to struggle. “No, Reb, you got to hold still. The fire has burnt over us but it’s still really hot. We have to wait a bit yet. You know like we practiced.”

“I scared, Ryan,” Reb whimpered.

“Me too,” choked Ryan, in the smoke that now seeped under the wet fire tent. “Hang on!”

Ryan waited another two minutes, then cautiously she lifted the light aluminium blanket. The area around them was completely burnt out. The heavy smoke had dissipated and now a low misty blue surrounded them. Ryan pulled her wet cloth more firmly around her nose and mouth and sucked in air that after what they had just gone through, tasted surprisingly fresh. Reb clung to her like a barnacle, looking around in fear with big reddened eyes.

Ryan gave her a hug. “You were so brave, Reb! I was really proud of you! Wait until I tell the guys down at the fire hall! Now listen, I have to find Mom. You sit here under the tent and wait for me, okay?”

“No! Ryan, no go!” Reb bellowed, tightening her grasp on her big sister. Ryan didn’t have time to argue. She had to find her Mom. She just hoped that what she and Reb were going to find would not be something that would live in their nightmares forever more. She pushed off the fire tent and stood knee deep in water, Reb still wrapped around her chest.

Looking around, she could see no one. Panic rose up like bile in her throat. She sloshed through the water, pushing hot debris out of her way and squinting in the smoke. Then she saw the blackened body, washed up on the opposite bank. “Mom?” she called, afraid of going over to see what she might find. “Mom?!” she called again, louder this time, the fear edging her voice.

“Ryan?” came a harsh croak.

“Mom!” cried Ryan, splashing over to the black form. Robbie’s Bunker outfit was almost completely burnt through. Her hair that had just started to grow out was singed.

A face black and distorted with pain looked up from the ash. “You and Reb, okay?” Robbie whispered with effort.

“Yeah. Some small burns, that’s all. Reb is scared shitless,” Ryan stated, easing down beside her Mom and wandering what she could do to help.

“It’s okay now, Reb,” Robbie reassured. “Your Mommy will be here soon.” She hid her fear that perhaps Janet had been caught in the firestorm too. “Ryan, you watch, Reb. Wait here until, your other Mom gets here. She should be here soon,” she got out. For a few seconds she rested, the air wheezing as it left her lungs. Then, she continued. “Ryan, I love you. I’m really proud of you. Tell Aunt Janet I hurt. I promised always to tell her,” Robbie’s voice faded out.

Ryan sat beside her Mom afraid to touch her and cause anymore pain. She held Reb close to her and adjusted the rag over her nose and mouth. Then she quietly, told Reb about how they were going to build a sailboat and win the Bartlett Regatta this summer. All the while her eyes swung back and forth, checking her mother’s breathing and looking down stream for her Aunt Janet.

Around their huddled forms, the roasted earth cooled, cracking and popping with released heat. The light smoke twisted into ribbons that threaded through the burnt out trunks of trees and the ash settled in a snowy carpet. It started to rain. The smoke and debris from the fire had salted the water laden air from off the Great Lake and created its own weather and death. Ryan shifted closer to her mother, protecting her body and Reb’s from the big, heavy drops of dirty rain that formed craters in the ash around them until the world was pocked and streams of ash drained into the creek and swirled away in silver ribbons. Ryan had never felt more exhausted and alone.

Then the phone rang. Ryan leaned forward eagerly and undid the flap on Robbie’s torn pocket. The phone came out damp and dirty but still miraculously working!

***

Janet had got the canoe as far as it was going to go. Ahead of her was an obstacle course of burnt and smoldering trees that had fallen across the creek. The rain that had started a few minutes before was steady now. Heavy splatters that stained everything in grey streaks of wet ash and smoke. She sloshed back through the water and shouldered her knapsack onto red hot, stinging shoulders. She pulled her phone out. She hadn’t dared to use it before in case it slowed Robbie from running from the fire. The phone rang and rang. Janet could feel the cold ball of despair building in her cut when finally she heard a click and a hello.

“Ryan?! Is that you? Are the others with you? Are you alright?” Janet demanded, trying to keep the panic from her voice and staining to hear over the static on the phone.

“Aunt Janet, where are you?! I need you! Reb is asleep and Mom is unconscious. We are at the base of the ravine!”cried Ryan in relief.

Tears rolled down Janet’s face too. “I am only about thirty meters down river from you. I’ll be there soon. Hang on Baby, everything is going to be okay now,” sobbed Janet, holding the phone with shaking hands.

The thought of her family pushed back her exhaustion and she scrambled forward through the debris. “Mom, I can hear you!” came a voice from up ahead. Then Janet was there wrapping her children in her arms and looking down with worry at where Robbie lay wheezing in the mud.

Her children still under one arm, Janet twisted to reach out and touch her lover. “She said to tell you she hurts,” Ryan reported in concern.

Janet nodded, biting her lip. She leaned down and kissed her lover’s dirty brow. “Hey, you in there?

Eye lids opened with effort. “Janet? Knew you’d come. Missed you.”

“I missed you too, my silly olive,” she whispered.

Robbie managed a horse laugh. “I feel more like Olive Oil!”

Janet smiled tenderly. “Hang on, I’m going to see if I can reach anyone on the phone. There is so much junk in the air reception isn’t very good.” Janet tried Bartlett numbers first. No luck. Then she tried the province emergency number. Someone answered but the static was so bad conversation was virtually impossible.

Janet leaned over Robbie. “Sweetheart, do you think you could walk to the canoe?”

Robbie nodded, saving what breath and energy she had for the grueling task that she knew she would need to do to help get her family out of there. “Okay, I’m going to help you up. Ryan, could you help Reb?”

Ryan nodded, worry for her Mom etched on her face. “Obby sick,” Reb said. “You make her better, Mommy!” the little girl ordered fretfully.

“I’m going to, Hon,” Janet reassured both her daughters as she helped Robbie to her feet. “You go ahead, Ryan and I’ll bring Obby along presently.”

Ryan nodded and lifting Reb up on her shoulders, she headed off leaving deep prints in the ash.

Janet turned and looked at Robbie. “How bad is it? I can’t tell what is coat and what is you.”

“I hurt. I’ve got some blistering on my back and legs that’s for sure,” she stopped to catch her breath, “But mostly my lungs are bad…..help me out of my Bunkers, okay. I’ll be lighter … and it will be easier to move.”

Janet nodded and with a grimace helped Robbie peel out off her burnt firefighter outfit. Thank God she had it on! It had saved Robbie’s skin from really serious burns, Janet thought. She discarded the burnt material and could now see that Robbie’s back and legs had been burnt extensively but at least it seemed to be mostly first degree burns with more serious second degree in some places, as the director had said. Robbie was suffering from smoke inhalation however, and was in terrible pain. Infection was also going to be a great concern. She pulled her own t-shirt off and insisted that Robbie slip it on to keep the dirty rain from infecting her wounds.

They traveled slowly, Janet being very careful that Robbie did not scrap or get anymore dirt into her blistering skin. Robbie just trying to get enough oxygen into her inflamed lungs to keep on going. They moved on, Janet talking softly offering encouragement and love and Robbie stifling the groans and gasps of pain that ripped from her throat when she stretched her puckered and dried skin too far. They were a long time in reaching the canoe.

With Ryan’s help they lay Robbie on her stomach in the bottom of the canoe and placed a ground sheet over to keep as much of the rain as possible off her. They tucked Reb in the bow and then wadded through the water together, pulling the canoe along through the fallen debris. Reb was fretful and Robbie cried in pain each time they had to scrap the canoe over a fallen trunk that blocked the creek. Both Ryan and Janet kept stumbling in fatigue but neither complained. They just pushed on. At last, they came out of the worst of the burnt tangle and could get into the canoe themselves.

Janet took Ryan’s arm and whispered, “Down around this bend is the burnt body of a man on the right bank of the creek. I….It’s not very pretty. I don’t want Reb to see him. When we get to the corner, I need you to distract Reb until we are past.”

Ryan nodded. “It’s probably the kidnapper. He jumped Mom in the ravine and they fought. But when Mom realized that the fire was coming, we all made a run for it.” Janet squeezed her oldest daughter’s arm. She was quite the kid and Janet was very proud of her.

“You get in the bow with Reb. I’ll take the stern,” instructed Janet. The blond wadded along the gunnels and reached in to touch her lover’s hot face. “How are you doing?”

“I hurt,” Robbie mumbled, barely conscious.

“Not long now,” Janet promised. Janet stabilized the craft as Ryan settled into the canoe, kneeling in the bow with Reb in front of her. Then Janet, leapt in lightly, pushing off with her one foot as she stepped in. They picked up their paddles and started the next leg of the journey home in the pouring rain.

***

Robbie woke to the sound of hospital machinery and her sister’s quiet voice. “Robbie, hi, how are you feeling?”

Slowly, Robbie managed to get her eyes open. “Janet, the girls?” she managed to ask.

“They’re okay. David has taken Ryan and Reb to Burger King. Janet is sleeping over at the motel. I insisted that she try to get some rest. She’s been sitting at your side for the last forty-eight hours until the doctor told her you were out of danger.

“I don’t feel out of danger, muttered Robbie. “Tell Janet, I love her and not to worry,” she muttered as she drifted off into sleep again.

***

The next morning, she opened her eyes to find, Janet was there. “Hi, lover, how are you doing?” the smaller woman asked leaning over to peck Robbie’s lips.

“You call that a kiss!” protested Robbie sleepily.

“Hmmm, I can see you are better!” smiled Janet, leaning forward to do a better job of the hello kiss.

“Yeah, I feel a little better. Help me escape before the night nurse comes back on duty. She’s gunning for me!” Robbie demanded earnestly.

Janet’s eyebrows went up. “What have you done?!”

“It wasn’t my fault! If that chocolate bar hadn’t been sticking out of her pocket and if she hadn’t just told me gleefully that the kitchen was not going to be open for another ten hours I wouldn’t have stolen her chocolate bar and eaten it while she was getting me another pitcher of ice water!”

“Robbie!”

“I was hungry and it was the middle of the night!”

Janet laughed. “You are impossible! I’ll buy you some chocolate bars so you can pay her back tonight. The doctor said another few days just to make sure the infection in your lungs has settled down.”

“I want to go home!” Robbie protested pouting.

“Me too!” Janet agreed. “Just a couple of days, love. You wouldn’t believe the cards and flowers that have come for you. I told the hospital staff to share some of them with patients who don’t usually get flowers. There are a few messages from fans that we need to discuss by the way! Who is Sweetchops, who will proudly wear a tatoo of your name over her heart forever?!”

“Really?! Did you get her return address?” teased Robbie.

“Over my dead body! You belong lock stock and barrel to me, Robbie Williams and don’t you forget it!” warned Janet with a laugh.

“Hmmm, I won’t,” promised Robbie, reaching up to pull Janet down for another kiss.

***

Robbie lay on the couch propped up on pillows, covered with a fresh sheet and feeling in a daze. When had all this happened? Janet was in the kitchen with David sharing recipes and making peanut butter cookies. Elizabeth was at Janet’s desk loading a physics program that she wanted to work on, Ryan was sprawled on the floor reading the plans for the boat they were going to start building next week, and Reb was motoring a toy race car around Rufus who lay contentedly by the couch.

She supposed there must have been hints that she was developing an extended family life but somewhere along the way she had missed it. Janet’s small cabin looked absolutely packed. They really needed to move over to the lodge as soon as possible. Damn! I’m happy, she thought, as a grin spread across her face. She looked up and met Janet’s eyes. She knows what I’m thinking,

Robbie thought.

Janet blew her a kiss and the smile on Robbie’s face spread even wider. What a year it had been! But it had brought them all together in an invincible family bond. Robbie thought contentedly. What could go wrong now!?

A brief firm knock came at the door and Janet wiped her hands on a tea towel and went to answer it. “Alberta!” Janet squealed with delight and wrapped her arms around the new arrival and gave her a quick hug. Robbie was up off the couch and standing behind Janet in one swift movement.

“Hello, Janet, it’s good to see you again. Robbie,” Alberta finished formally, offering her hand stiffly to the director.

There was a slight hesitation before Robbie took the hand in a firm and brief handshake. “Hi Alberta,” beamed Ryan, coming up too the tall, quiet woman’s side.

Alberta reached an arm around the teen and gave her a hug. “Hi, kid.”

“Alberta! Alberta!” laughed Reb and Alberta bent down to stroke the head of the little child that was wrapped around her leg.

“Hi, Reb. Would that be Rufus I see over there? Are you two still best friends?”

Big serious eyes looked up at Alberta. “Rufus and Ryan are my best friends,” she corrected. “Ryan is going to build a boat and take me on it!”

“Really, that’s great, Reb!” laughed Alberta.

Janet bumped the sullen Robbie aside. “Come on in, Alberta. You know David and Elizabeth. I’ll put the kettle on while Robbie gets you settled,” she finished turning to give Robbie a meaningful look.

Robbie smiled weakly and gestured to Alberta to follow her over to the conversation area around the fireplace. She indicated a single chair well away from the one Janet usually used for Alberta to sit in. “So what brings you here?” Robbie asked bluntly with a tone that just barely past for friendly.

“I’ve been sent up to retrieve and identify a body that Janet reported to the police. I thought it would save the constable and me a lot of aggravation if I just stopped in here and asked for directions,” Alberta stated.

Robbie nodded, feeling somewhat more relaxed but still suspicious of Alberta. Damn the woman anyway. Why doesn’t she just leave us alone!

“Here we go, tea for everyone. And you are in luck we have freshly baked peanut butter cookies.

David and I have been comparing recipes. This one’s David’s and it is great!”

Alberta took the tea that Janet offered and a cookie from the plate that Elizabeth brought around.

“Hmmm. These are super! I won’t mind the recipe too, David.”

David beamed from where ha sat on the edge of Elizabeth’s chair. “I’ll write it out for you right now before I forget,” he said, getting up and bustling off to the kitchen.

I’m going to throw up! Robbie thought disgustedly.

“David can turn his hand to anything,” Elizabeth stated proudly, her eyes sparkling as they followed David into the kitchen.

“Alberta, you must stay for dinner! Robbie is going to heat up the barbecue and we’re going to have burgers,” Janet said, finishing handing the girls their milk and coming to sit next to Robbie and leaning her back against her lover’s chest. Come on Robbie, relax! I love you! Robbie’s arm dropped protectively around her but she didn’t say anything. Janet filled in the silence. “So how are you? We were concerned when we read in the papers that you had almost been drowned!”

No, we weren’t. We were delighted! A good dunking is what you deserved for coming on to my wife! Robbie thought grumpily.

“I took your advice, Janet, and went home. Despite getting myself and Dawn almost killed, it was the best thing I ever did! Thanks for forcing me into it!” Alberta stated, in the straight forward, sincere way she had of talking.

“You’re welcome,” smiled Janet, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “So who is this Dawn. She’s someone special isn’t she?”

Alberta blushed and swallowed. “Yeah, she’s special,” she admitted softly, looking into her tea cup.

“Is she married?” asked Robbie, dryly and got a annoyed poke in the ribs from Janet.

Alberta looked up and blue eyes met blue in open hostility. “No, she is not.”

“Robbie why don’t you see about the barbecue, Hon, and I’ll show David how to make my home made burger sauce. Ryan, could you take the canoe and show Alberta where to find the mouth of Beaver Creek?”

“Sure thing, Mom!” Ryan stated, swallowing the last of her milk and getting up off the floor where she had been sitting. “Come on, Alberta, it’s a great day for a canoe.”

***

After Alberta and Ryan were safely out on the lake, Janet turned to Robbie who was moodily cleaning off the grill of the barbecue with a steel brush. “Robbie…”

“Don’t start! I am very grateful that she helped get my miserable hide out of prison and took care of my family when I couldn’t, but Sweet Jesus, she made a play for my wife!” snapped Robbie, using more force than was necessary to clean the grill.

“That jealous, huh?” Janet said, leaning on the porch rail arms crossed. The steel brush stopped dead.

“What?”

“You know, jealous, insecure because you don’t think you can measure up,” said Janet indifferently.

The brush dropped with a clang and Robbie was towering in front of her. “I can measure up just fine!” the director growled.

Janet snuggled into Robbie’s arms. “Well, I thought so. That’s why I married you because I knew that I’d never meet anyone else who could measure up to the love that I found with you but maybe you don’t feel the same way. Maybe there is an insecurity about your…abilities that makes you so jealous of even harmless competition.”

“I’m not jealous!” protested Robbie.

“Good, because I think you and Alberta could be friends if you two would just relax in each other’s company,” smiled Janet, standing on her tiptoes to kiss Robbie’s throat.

There was silence for a moment while Robbie responded in kind. “Janet?”

“Hmmmm?”

“You just baited me and reeled me in didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

Blue eyes sparkled down into green. “Okay, I’ll be good. But I don’t have to like her!”

Janet grinned. “You won’t be able to help yourself. She’s nice. But she is not you, Robbie. I love you. You remember that. Alberta isn’t even in the running and she knows that.”

Robbie beamed arrogantly. “Yeah, I’m pretty good, aren’t I ?” she joked, wiggling her eyebrows.

Janet wet a finger tip on her tongue and ran it down Robbie’s nose and onto her lips. “We’ll see just how creative you can be tonight with that sore back of yours,” Janet responded, as Robbie’s lips lowered to claim her own.

***

Dinner turned into a merry affair and ended with everyone going for a walk along the lake shore on Robbie’s jogging trail to see the newly renovated lodge. On the trip back, Alberta and Robbie found themselves some distance ahead of the others.

“I’m sorry, about the girls being kidnapped, Robbie. That must have been hell for you and Janet especially after what you had just come through,” Alberta said, attempting a conversation awkwardly.

“It was awful. We felt so helpless and ..and hell, it was our kids!” Robbie responded. She’d try. She had promised Janet she would try to talk to Alberta.

“Yeah. I imagine it was the publicity over your arrest that gave the guy the idea to try a kidnapping. There were enough pictures in the paper to i.d. the kids and in a small town like this it wouldn’t be hard to work out your schedule in order to pick a good time for a grab.”

Robbie nodded. “I’ve got some plans. I want to drop out of the public eye. It’s not good for my family to have to hide from the media all the time. I want to work behind the scenes more.”

“That’s good. Janet and your kids, they are pretty special. She sure loves you very deeply. You are lucky,” Alberta stated.

“Yeah, I am.”

They walked a while in silence. ‘I met someone out west. She has a daughter too,” Alberta surprised herself by saying. Why was she disclosing such intimate information to Robbie? It was strange, despite the antagonism between them, she kind of liked Robbie.

“You two hit it off?” asked Robbie.

Alberta nodded. “Ever since I was a little girl, I fought to be some one. To get away from the ranch and have a life where I could use my mind and expand my horizons. I left guilty because I didn’t want to be a mother to my brothers, or a house maid for my father or a good wife to some rancher. I felt I’d shame my family if they knew I was gay. Then, well, something happened that led to some pretty bad blood between my older brother and I and I just left and didn’t go back.

Janet made me realize that I had to face those ghosts in order to really move on,” Alberta explained.

“Yeah, she’s good at that sensitive stuff,” agreed Robbie, stooping to pick a handful of wild blue berries from a low bush growing in a crevasse of a flat rock outcropping. She shared the tasty treat with Alberta.

“Thanks. Yeah, she is. Then I met Dawn and Mackenzie. You know, I mean, I think I might be in love but…well… there were other issues to deal with and..and I just wasn’t ready for a serious relationship.”

Robbie stopped and looked at Alberta. “You panicked and ran, didn’t you?”

Alberta sighed and looked over the lake. “Pretty much,” she admitted miserably.

“You gotta go back,” Robbie stated bluntly, as a way of showing her support.

“Going to. My brother’s getting married in the fall. I told her I’d see her then.”

“Good. You can work it out then,” Robbie shrugged.

Alberta nodded and they walked on, the two women figuring that they had pretty well exhausted the subject and straightened out the problem. Robbie decided that Alberta wasn’t so bad now that she had a girlfriend of her own.
Part 3
Ryan sat on the snow mobile seat and watched as her Mom took her turn hand sanding the decking of the two person sailboat that they were building. It had been fun working with her Mom and she thought that she understood her famous mother a lot better now.

“Mom?”

“Hmmm,” answered Robbie, as she worked the wood with capable, strong hands. Since the fire, she had finally found time to write and to move her family over to the lodge. Things were going well with the business and the foundations were in for the new studio and school. She was about as happy as a person had any right to be.

“How old were you when you lost your virginity?” Ryan asked conversationally.

The sandpaper in Robbie’s hand slipped off the end of the wood and caused her to lurch forward. She came back up stiff with fright. “What?!”

“Your virginity, it can’t be that long ago that you can’t remember,” teased her daughter.

“I remember just fine! I was forty-five!” responded Robbie, feeling panic growing in her stomach.

“Mom!” sighed Ryan, with a smile. “You are only in your early thirties and I’m fifteen.”

“It was an act of God!” protested Robbie.

Ryan snorted. “Come on Mom, how young were you?”

“Too young!” Robbie stated emphatically.

Ryan looked down at her hands sadly. “Do you regret doing it and having me?”

Robbie put down the sandpaper that had somehow got all crunched in her hand and walked over to where Ryan sat. She slid in beside Ryan on the snowmobile bench and wrapped an arm around her daughter. “No, never. But I do regret greatly not being mature enough to care for you and provide you with a decent childhood. I will regret that to the day I die,” Robbie answered honestly, leaning over to kiss Ryan’s head. Ryan smiled and hugged her back.

“Did you love my father?” Ryan asked.

Robbie looked sad. “No. No, Ryan I didn’t. He was a university lecturer. I had a school girl crush on my teacher. I was very confused and upset at the time. I thought I’d killed my father. All I wanted to do was live because I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison.”

“Have you slept with lots of people?” Ryan asked.

“Ahhh, this is getting kind of personal,” stalled Robbie, feeling a burning heat now replacing the cold white that her face had gone when this conversation had started.

“Over the years, I’ve read about you in the tabloids, and about all the wild parties and lovers you have had. I just wanted to know how much was truth,” Ryan explained.

Robbie looked at the cement floor and played with her wedding ring nervously. “You can’t believe what you read in the tabloids, Ryan. I was never that wild. I couldn’t have been and got to where I am now. But I have had a few affairs both with men and women,” she answered honestly.

Ryan sat quietly at her side thinking things over. “Does Aunt Janet know that? ‘Cause I don’t think she slept with a lot of people before you.”

“No, she hadn’t and yes, she knows. I think she is as uncomfortable with my past as I am,”

Robbie sighed, feeling the pain of regret deep inside, where she kept the very special love she had for her partner.

“How many times have you been in love, mom?” Ryan asked, turning so that she could lean her back against the snowmobile handlebars.

“Once. When I met Janet. Before that, I’d had infatuations but never anyone I wanted to spend my life with. When I met your other Mom, I just couldn’t get her out of my system. I…It was different,” Robbie tried to explain. Christ kid! I can’t handle this. Couldn’t we have started with the birds and the bees? I’m good at diagrams! I think I’m going to throw up!

“How did you know you were in love?” Ryan asked.

Robbie’s eyes targeted in on her daughter’s. “Why?” she asked suspiciously.

“Well you know, a person gets… frustrated and…”

“Agh!”

“Are you okay, Mom?” Ryan asked, looking at her mother, who had gone a very peculiar shade of green.

“Ry..You…Ryan, you aren’t …you know?” Robbie babbled.

“Sleeping around?” supplied Ryan with a grin.

“Agh!”

“No, Mom,” the teen responded honestly.

“Oh, thank God!” whispered Robbie, sliding off the seat and onto the garage floor like a wet noodle. She leaned against the snowmobile with her eyes closed.

“Are you sure you are all right, Mom?” asked Ryan, beginning to get concerned. How about that! My Mom is a real wuss when it comes to me!

“I think so,” murmured the emotionally exhausted mother.

Ryan nodded. “You know I went out with Paul and then it got pretty heavy with Jason in the back seat of his Dad’s car…”

“What?!” asked Robbie, now looking down at her daughter not sure how she got to her feet.

“Easy, Mom, nothing much happened. I was just explaining that I’ve had some experience with guys but I’ve never had any experience with girls,” clarified Ryan.

“Agh!” Robbie responded, as she sank weak-kneed to sit on the up turned boat. “Ahhh, well, I mean do you like boys or girls or both… I mean…”

“I don’t know! That’s why I thought I’d ask you,” explained Ryan, with a worried frown. This conversation wasn’t going like she thought it would. She was beginning to think her Mom wasn’t ready to deal with these grown-up issues.

Robbie wiped her mouth with the back of her hand nervously and tried to get more comfortable on the boat. She cleared her throat several times. “Ryan, you don’t want to make the mistakes I did; be choosy and cautious. If you are not sure what sex you are attracted to then take your time and casually date and see how you feel with different partners. It should become clear to you who really excites you on all levels of your senses and who just gives you a physical response. I think you need to go slow. I..It’s an important decision. Just because your parents are gay doesn’t mean you are going to be.”

Ryan nodded. “Do you think a person could meet their soulmate and know it when they are very young?” Ryan asked.

Robbie wiped her wet palms on her blue jeans and tried again. “Yeah, I do. But I think it would be a mistake too get too serious too quickly. You need time to experience life as a “one” in order to establish who you are before you are ready to join in a partnership with someone. I think a lot of marriages of highschool sweethearts fail years later because people grow along different paths.”

Ryan nodded and stood up. “Thanks, Mom,” she said with a smile, and picked up a piece of sandpaper and started working on the boat again. Her Mom’s hand came down to rest on top of Ryan’s.

“Ryan, ahhh, the world has changed from when I was young. There is AIDS and Hepatitis B and C and…”

“Mom, I know all about safe sex. We learn that stuff in school now,” cut in Ryan reassuringly.

“Yeah well, I’d rather you…”

“I know, you don’t want me to sleep around. I don’t think I will, Mom. Like you said, I’m young yet so it is hard to know, but I think I’d like to wait for that someone special. I see you with Aunt Janet and, well, the two of you are so cute together!”

“Cute!” scoffed Robbie, pulling a face. Ryan laughed. Robbie went on more seriously. “Yeah, well if things ever get, you know, serious with a partner, if you need anything or if…”

Ryan leaned over and kissed her Mom’s forehead. “I’ll always come to you and Aunt Janet, don’t worry,” reassured Ryan.

Robbie gave her daughter a proud smile and a friendly punch and the two of them returned to their task.

***

Some time later, Robbie walked back into the lodge looking pale and kind of shaky. Janet looked up from where she was playing with Reb on the livingroom floor. “Robbie! What’s wrong?” she asked, getting up and coming over to check her mate’s forehead for a fever. Robbie had pretty well recovered from her burns but there were some that were still healing and could infect.

“I just had THE TALK with our daughter. I’m sick. I’ve got to go lie down,” muttered Robbie, heading for their bedroom. Janet smiled at the retreating figure. Motherhood looked so good on Robbie!

A short time later, Ryan came in. “Hi Mom, Hi Reb!”

“Ryan!” squealed Reb, getting up and running over to the big sister she adored. “You said we can go to see the pecker!”

Ryan laughed. “That’s woodpecker, kid. You are going to get me in trouble with Aunt Janet about the words I’m teaching you.”

Janet snorted. “As if it would be the first time!”

Ryan laughed. “Can we have some cookies to take with us, Mom?”

“Sure, Ryan. But only two each. Dinner will be in an hour or so,” responded Janet, going into the kitchen and getting a small plastic bag to stick four cookies in.

Ryan followed her adopted mother in. “So where is my other mother?” she asked.

“Robbie’s lying down,” Janet explained, as she handed the cookies over to Ryan. “She has a headache and upset stomach.

“Thanks. Yeah, that’s because we were comparing our sex lives,” stated Ryan causally over her shoulder, as she left to get Reb.

Janet’s eyes widened in shock. Suddenly, she felt the same symptoms as Robbie!

***

“How are you doing?” asked Janet gently, placing a cool cloth on Robbie’s head. Her partner groaned.

“My daughter is a teenager!” she moaned pathetically.

Janet smiled and soothed Robbie’s brow. “There, there, love. It happens in the best of families.”

“I’m not ready!” protested Robbie, wrapping Janet close.

“I don’t think any parent is,” consoled Janet, snuggling into the side of her lover.

***

“Robbie, are we running a film business here or a construction company?!” protested Brian, stepping around a ladder and over several planks that lay on the floor of the new building that would house the Williams’ Studio by next year.

“A bit of both at the moment,” observed Robbie disinterestedly.

“Look, we have a cast, and a movie to produce by next year. I don’t want to seem unreasonable here but a script would be nice!” Brian walked into Robbie who had turned to face him radiating anger. He took a step back. Oh boy! Pushed her too far.

The explosion never came. Robbie turned away and continued walking. “I’ve had a few things to handle this year,” she answered quietly.

Brian sighed in relief. Robbie had been through hell and back this last six months, that was for sure. Still, it hadn’t been to pleasant at his end of the swamp either. He’d been left with a multi-million dollar company to run and no artistic genius at the top to lead the way.

Robbie stopped to watch as a construction worker lowered a load of dry wall to the ground with a fork lift. “I have a script. ‘Harold, King of England’, will be ready for filming in England by September. We’ll bring the cast together for a read-through next week. I want as much as possible to film on location. This is a very special love story…”

“Love story! Robbie, you don’t do love stories! Harold, King of England is supposed to be a great war epic! Guts and gore and heroism. Are you s…”

Robbie laughed. “Don’t worry, Brian there will be enough mindless violence to appeal to my most rabid fan. But I think I’ve grown. I think my work is taking on a new depth of understanding. ‘Harold, King of England’ is not about a tragic hero who loses the battle that changes history forever. It is about a love story between a man and his nation. He was the last of the true English kings! That quality, that timeless love for one’s nation… is something I want to capture on film.”

Brain stood speechless, looking at the famous director whom he both loved and feared. Don’t panic here, Brian, aliens from Venus have clearly kidnapped your boss and have taken over her body. He became aware that Robbie was still speaking.

“I’m not going to direct ‘Harold’, Brian. You are. I’ve decided to become a full time producer. I want to be a backroom boy.”

Shit! It’s the change of life. She’s chemically imbalanced and not responsible for her actions! “No.”

Robbie turned around and looked at her assistant with one eyebrow arched up in annoyance. “What?!”

“No, I won’t let you leave film. Hell, Robbie, your work has set a new standard! You’re multi talented. You write, direct and act in your own movies! You’ve never had a film that hasn’t claimed awards! You can’t just stopping being the best!”

Robbie folded her arms over her chest and looked at Brian. “I don’t want to be away for months on location. I want to be here with my family,” she finished, with quiet determination.

Brian knew the look. Robbie had dug her heels in. But this issue was too important for Brian just to walk away from. “Okay, I can see that! But there has to be a compromise. How about we co-direct? I’ll do the field work and you can sit back here and be the inspiration? That way you’ll only have to do some short trips over to check on things. I can send you the rushes daily.

Well?”

“You can make your own films, Brian. You are a good director,” argued Robbie.

“I am and I do but I’m no fool, Robbie. I can make good movies but I’m never going to be in your league and I know it. I stick with your company and put up with your tyrannical ways because I want to have a piece of the action that surrounds you,” Brian answered bluntly.

Robbie blushed and turned away. “Get real, McGill!”

“You’ll think about it?”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll think about it.”

Brian smiled. Now all he had to do was convince Janet before Robbie had the chance to discuss it with her. Geniuses! Shit!

***

Gwen looked up from her desk that was placed at one end of the trailer and observed Janet as she worked at her desk at the other end. She had in a short time of arriving up here, come to realize what an equal partner Janet was to Robbie. The tyrannical director walked in and said, “I want a college level school for film making,” and Janet just quietly made it happen. When Robbie realized the talent that Janet was putting together, she was going to flip.

Really significant behind-the-camera people were going to working in partnership with academic teachers to provide a balance of theoretical studies and practical experience. They weren’t just going to study film, they were going to make films here! Janet would phone people up and they would say no and before the soft spoken school teacher had finished the person at the other end would not only be saying yes, but doing an excited gig. The lady should be bottled and sold as a secret weapon. Robbie had really lucked out on this one.

Of course, she hadn’t done so bad the second time around. Brian was just as good a director as Robbie and he was great with Gwen’s kids. When her divorce came through, she and Brian had planned a simple wedding in their new house by the lake. The house was going to be beautiful!

Brian and she had picked the plans out together and Robbie was having it built as a wedding present to the two of them. How many bosses give you a four bedroom house as a wedding gift?

Robbie might be difficult but inside she was a real sweetheart!

The door opening brought Gwen out of her daydream. It was Brian. He winked at her and the trotted down the other end of the trailer and slumped into the visitor’s chair by Janet’s desk. Janet looked up from the paper she was reading. “You’re out of luck. Gwen and I shared the last bagel with cream cheese an hour ago,” Janet smiled.

“Well, at least get your secretary to bring me a coffee and some of the home-made shortbreads you have hidden in the tin over there! I need fortifying, I have to talk to you about Tyrannosaurus

Rob.”

“Oh, you are a man in need!” chuckled Janet. “Quick, Gwen, a first aid mug of java, the man has done battle with my wife today!”

Gwen laughed and poured two mugs of coffee and brought them over to Janet’s desk. There was an evergreen stamped on the side of the mugs and arched across the top it read: Maria’s Café, Bartlett. They had a whole set that they had been ceremoniously given one night when they had stopped in as a family for dinner. Robbie preferred her Bartlett Volunteer Fire Brigade mug with the Dalmatian pup looking with some relief at a red fire hydrant.

“My hero,” smirked Gwen, kissing Brian’s head before turning to lift down the tin box of cookies.

Janet leaned back and got comfy. She had quickly got used to running damage control for her lover. Robbie though she was just getting better at dealing with people. ‘They just don’t seem as stupid as they once were or as disagreeable,’ Robbie had explained to an amused Janet one night.

“So what has Olive Oil done?” she asked.

“She’s decided to give up directing,” Brian stated.

“What?!” the two women exclaimed at once.

Janet had come bolt upright in her chair at the announcement. “Why?”

“So she can spend her time with her family,” Brian sighed.

Janet smiled and leaned on her desk. “Ahhh, that’s so sweet.”

“No it’s not! It’s a disaster for film and the arts in general! Janet, you have to talk to her!”

“I think I have a conflict of interests. I don’t want Robbie away for months at a time and I don’t want her making up to any leading lady,” Janet admitted honestly.

Brian laughed bitterly. “We all have a conflict of interests. I don’t want to lose the money or the perks that come from working on a Williams’ film. I’ve suggested to Robbie that we co-direct. I’ll do the on locations and Robbie can be her usual creative genius back home. Come on, Janet, you know she is not going to be able to survive without a project! She’ll drive everyone bonkers and Bartlett will probably tar and feather her and run her out of town on a rail. She’ll be starting fires just so she can put them out! Convincing Robbie to stay in film is an act of mercy. The government will probably give you the Order of Canada! You are the only one who can control Tyrannosaurus Rob!”

Janet laughed and shook her head. “Hey, that’s my partner you are talking about!”

Brian feigned shock. “Janet, we all love T-Rob! She provides our livelihood and takes years off purgatory for us but let’s not let her run loose in the world!”

Janet covered her mouth with her hand and tried not to laugh. Gwen was looking white and trying to signal to Brian to be quiet. Brian looked up at her in question. Then his blood ran cold as an icy whisper came into his ear. “Take Gwen for a walk, Brian, before I wrap your balls around your ears.”

Brian was on his feet immediately and was backing towards the door with Gwen in tow. “Right, Walk. I’m gone, boss!”

After the door had closed, Janet burst out laughing. “T-Rob! I love it!” she giggled. “Is that what they call you?!”

Robbie stood still and quiet. “That and ‘the fucking bitch’,” she answered coldly.

Janet looked up in surprise. Robbie was really upset! She got up and came around the desk and wrapped the stiff body in her arms. “Hey, no, don’t let it hurt you. They love you. You are their hero. They take pride in the fact that they can successfully work for someone as artistically demanding as you.”

The body remained still and unbending. Oh, oh! This has cut deep! “Robbie, why do you think Brian is in a panic? And believe me, he is! You are important to him!” She put her finger tips over Robbie’s mouth before she could argue. “No, not as a meal ticket or an easy route to fame but because he really cares about you! It’s just his silly way of expressing what is in his heart. Robbie, trust me on this. I know. I dealt with all these people when you were arrested and when you were recovering from your burns. They are very loyal to you!”

The body relaxed a bit in her arms. “He shouldn’t be using you to get at me. I won’t have it!” she grumbled moodily.

“He wasn’t using me. This is your decision, Robbie. I am not going to influence you one way or the other.”

“A co-directorship might work,” admitted Robbie. “If I could find a director I can work with!”

“Robbie!”

The taller woman arched an eyebrow and looked down at her beautiful partner. “You said you wouldn’t try to influence me!”

“And I won’t…as long as you make the right decisions,” she responded impishly.

Robbie snorted and lifted her wife up into her arms and kissed her softly. “How did I ever live without you?”

“You ate out and had affairs with your leading ladies,” Janet responded, playfully punching Robbie’s arm.

Robbie held Janet close to her. “You and the girls mean the world to me. I don’t ever want to go back to existing like that,” she confessed. Then, hesitating, she went on in a small voice. “I don’t want you hearing those things about me. It might make you leave me.”

Janet’s heart twisted in pain. Robbie was so easily hurt and inside there was a very vulnerable individual. Janet snuggled deep into the arms that held her against her partner. “I am never going to leave you, sweetheart. I love all of you! It’s a pretty great package, believe me!” she said, kissing her insecure lover with gentle passion.

Robbie smiled down into the face she adored. “Let’s bribe Ryan to babysit Reb and I’ll take you out for a romantic dinner at Maria’s Café.”

Janet gave Robbie another kiss. “Damn, if you don’t know how to give a girl a good time!” laughed Janet.

***

Due to a business trip overseas, it was a number of weeks before Doctor Alberta Pateas had the time to examine the victim that had been burnt alive. She poked around with a dental tool inside the blackened mouth of the unknown man. After she had left the Williams, she and the local Ontario Provincial Police constable had paddled up Beaver Creek and brought the burnt corpse out in a plastic body bag. The constable had thrown up three times. To be truthful, Alberta had felt pretty sick herself. The greasy, sweet smell of burnt flesh permeated your clothes, your hair, even your lungs. It was a smell that your brain just refused to ever let go.

Here at the Toronto lab, she used a trick that Doctor Bates had taught her. You wore a surgical mask and inside you slipped a bruised leaf of mint. Tom Bates kept a large pot of mint growing on the window sill for just such jobs. The smell was still over-powering but you just forced yourself to focus on the smell of the mint instead. Doctor Bates had explained that his father had been a house painter and he had always gone to work with a twig over his ear.

Alberta cleaned some more. Dental records would help identify the victim, especially if he had been in prison. She carefully noted every abnormality, filling, and missing tooth on the chart she had as she went a long. She doubted this guy had seen a dentist in a while. The fillings were old and worn and the layer of plaque was almost as thick as the soot.

She straightened up and tried to get the kink out of her back. She was not enjoying this. To start with, the guy had scared the shit out of the Williams family and that really upset Alberta. On top of that, even before the fire storm, he must have been nothing to write home about in terms of personal hygiene.

She put the used tools in the pressure washer to clean, tidied up the work area and then turned to the corpse’s hand that she had sealed in a plastic bag containing some formaldehyde. He must have tried to crawl to the water as the firestorm consumed him. One blackened arm had hung over the bank, the hand just a knob, the fingers having been burnt off. The other hand, however, had been under water and although swollen up and distended, it was in fair condition.

There were at least three finger tips unburnt where Alberta felt that they would be able to get prints off. Not in its present state, however. The skin was too soft and water-logged. Alberta took a scalpel and carefully cut around the finger just below the first phalange. The she gently peeled back the little cup of skin that had been the end of the man’s index finger. She cleaned away the soot and then slipped it over her own finger. Now the man’s print was firm and clean. Alberta had literally got under the man’s skin and taken on his identity, at least as far as the fingerprint evidence went.

She rolled the tip of her finger on the ink pad and then rolled it again from one side to the other on a finger print I.D. card. A near prefect print of the dead man appeared on the card. Alberta smiled; if this guy had a record, she had the bugger!

***

Robbie sat in Janet’s seat in the trailer and worked on the financing and equipment for the new school she and Janet were establishing. She had been stunned by the amount of talent that Janet had drawn to the program. If they could get this school up and running it was going to be The Place for learning the art of cinematography. She could hardly wait!

With a sigh, she forced her mind back on the computer screen. The easy part was the creativity. The hard part was making enough profit to pay salaries and leave enough over to grub stake the next picture. Nothing could be left to chance. She prided herself on being just as good at the production business as she was as a film maker.

The phone rang and she silently mouthed a curse. “Robbie Williams,” she identified herself.

“Robbie, it’s Alberta,” came the soft, quiet voice over the line. It made Robbie’s heart jolt. She had come to like Alberta well enough but there was still that uncomfortable fear that stemmed from her possessiveness and love for Janet and the girls. Now what? She wondered.

“I just got an positive I.D. on the kidnapper. His name is Jose Pennon. He’s got a record as long as your arm.”

Robbie felt her stomach tighten. This hadn’t been some yoyo trying to make a quick buck. This guy was a hardened criminal. He could have really hurt the kids! “Christ!”

“Robbie, I’m concerned. Pennon hasn’t ever been involved in kidnapping for ransom. He’s a cheap hired gun. Mostly, he has worked as an enforcer for dealers when they have a transaction go sour. But he’s not above making a few extra bucks popping off an unwanted spouse or the like.”

“So what’s going on here?” Robbie asked.

“Maybe nothing, but we do know that until recently, Pennon has been keeping his business in South America for the last few years. Things got pretty hot for him States side. Robbie, you just be really careful.”

“What do you mean?” Robbie asked, twisting a pen in her long, strong fingers.

“I mean, maybe Pennon was not planning to ask for a ransom. Maybe he was hired to cause you and Janet a lot of pain.”

Robbie opened her mouth but all that came out was a distorted gasp. She tried again. “You think someone hired him to kill our kids!”

There was a moment’s silence at the other end of the phone. Then, “Your mother disappeared on her way to Argentina didn’t she?” the voice asked softly.

Robbie slumped back into her chair and pushed her glasses up on her forehead to rub her eyes with her free hand. “Come on, Alberta, that’s pretty far fetched!” she argued.

“Yes. Yes, it is. But so is Pennon kidnapping kids in northern Canada. The guy has a record sheet that goes back twenty odd years. This is just not the guy’s style. Believe me, Robbie, there is more to this case. Maybe I’m all wrong, but I’d hate myself if anything happened and I hadn’t warned you. I just got this gut feeling.”

Robbie looked at the ceiling and blinked back tears. She just didn’t want this to be happening! She’d had enough. “Robbie? Are you still there?” Alberta asked anxiously.

“Yeah. Yeah, I am. Thanks, Alberta. I’ll take what you said seriously. I…I appreciate you phoning.”

“I’ll let you know if I learn anything else. Just…just be careful, okay,” came the worried voice.

“Yeah. We will. Thanks.”

***

“So which film would you pick as the best cinematography ever?” asked Ryan, sitting on the floor, carefully cutting pieces of sail cloth along a pattern.

“Mmmm.” Robbie removed the pins from her mouth, as she sat, her back against the desk of Janet’s sewing machine, pinning the pieces of sail together for sewing. “Hard one. Technology has changed so much it is hard to compare. But if you are looking at major breakthroughs in film, first on my list would be Gone With The Wind. Hell, the thing was made in 1939! It’s amazing even today.”

Ryan mulled this bit of information over. She had recently started to learn about film and was inclined to give her mother the third degree whenever she could.

“Why did you pick that one?”

“It raised film to a new height. The silhouette scene, the aerial of the troops waiting at the Atlanta train station, just the size and scope of the setting…it was just inspired. When it was filmed, there were only four motion picture cameras of that quality in the world and three were used in the filming of Gone With The Wind. Then there is the fact that it made 25% profit. That record held for thirty-five years! The film was a watershed in cinematography!”

“Because it was popular and made lots of money?” challenged Ryan.

“No! Because it was great art!” defended Robbie, reaching up and handing her efforts to Janet.

Janet sat at her sewing machine running the seams of the sail together, in strong rows of stitches. She winked and blew a kiss at Robbie. Robbie wiggled her eyebrows back. A silent request and promise had been exchanged between the two lovers.

“So what would you pick as number two?” Ryan persisted.

“Well, there were some incredible films that advanced cinematography: Fantasia, The Philadelphia Story, A Streetcar Named Desire, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Ben-Hur, Psycho, Lawrence of Arabia,…

“Mom!” protested Ryan, looking up with those big green eyes that seemed to look right into her soul.

Robbie smiled at her daughter proudly. “Mmmm, Psycho for major leaps forward in script writing and directing. But for the actual through the lens stuff, the next film to turn the business upside down was 2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“You’re kidding! I thought that was boring!”

Robbie gave her a stern look. “You have a lot to learn, oh child of the eighty’s. Kubrick led the way. He fathered special effects and the high-tech movies. Star Wars, Close Encounters, Alien, they are all built on his foundation. I’ve watched that film a hundred times, and every time I do, I learn something new or see another layer of symbolism. It was filmed way back in 1968, amazing,” concluded Robbie, shaking her head.

Janet, who had been listening to the exchange with interest, now asked a question. “I’ve noticed that there tends to be a group of really super movies and then a time of very average stuff. Why is that, Robbie?”

“Most years there are good films but you are right, certain times have bred a series of great films. Part of it is breakthroughs in film making, or a great director, like me, comes along…” Here the remaining Williams rolled their eyes and Ryan threw a sofa pillow at her Mom, which Robbie caught and threw back without really looking. “But times of social stress tend to promote creativity. Probably the greatest decade for film was from 1965 to 1975 when the Cold War was at its height.

“Think about it: Doctor Zhivago, A Man For All Seasons, The Graduate, 2001, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, M*A*S*H*, Patton, Summer of ’49, The Godfather, The Poseidon Adventure, Deliverance, The Sting, American Graffiti, Jaws, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and lots more! That’s a pretty impressive list! The ’90’s have had some outstanding films but that is because of a very few truly creative people. Over all it has been pretty dull,” Robbie concluded.

Janet looked over at Ryan and winked. Ryan smiled and shook her head in disbelief. “How do you remember all this stuff?” she asked.

Robbie laughed. “It’s my job. Film is what I do. You can’t create in a vacuum. You have to know where you’ve been so you can move into uncharted waters.”

They worked quietly for awhile until Ryan made an announcement. “I don’t think I’ll go to university. I think I’ll study film and become a producer.”

Robbie went very still and her eyes turned an icy blue. “You are not going to waste your life. You are going to university. You are going to study science like your Aunt Elizabeth,” she said quietly.

Stormy green eyes met her Mother’s in challenge. “It’s my life. I’ll choose. I’m not sure I want to be a physicist! What’s wrong with producing film anyway?! You do!”

Robbie got up and dusted herself off. “I would have liked to study biology. There is nothing wrong with film. But there are some pretty self-interested individuals in the industry who are not above taking advantage of young women trying to break into the business. I don’t want you involved in that crap. Your Aunt put her studies first. I…I don’t want you hurt.”

Ryan stood up as well. “I can take care of myself, I always have!” she shot back and saw her arrow hit home as her Mother’s face paled. “Damn it, Mom, don’t be so controlling. Besides, Aunt Elizabeth is more interested in sleeping with David than physics at the moment!”

Robbie’s eyes snapped around and looked at Janet. The answer to the unspoken question was written all over Janet’s face. The eyes turned back to Ryan. For a moment, everyone held their breath. Then Robbie was in motion. In three strides, she was across the room, had pulled her truck keys from the hook on the wall and was out the screen door. Janet was only a few steps behind her.

“Robbie! Robbie! Stop!” Janet called, finally catching up to grab the director’s arm as she stopped to open the truck door.

“Why? So you can lie to me again?” growled the taller woman, turning to loom over Janet.

Janet held her ground and looked up into the angry face. “I didn’t lie.”

“An omission is as good as a lie. I think you would have thought to mention that David was taking advantage of my sister!” she seethed, turning to get into the truck.

Janet slipped in between. “David is NOT taking advantage of your sister, for God’s sake, Robbie! This is just the reason I haven’t shared the information with you. When it comes to Elizabeth, you just don’t act rationally! I wanted them to have some time together to establish a strong partnership before they had to deal with you.”

“This is MY family!” Robbie roared.

“No,” Janet responded quietly. “This is our family. Or have you forgotten that?”

“Of course I haven’t! Don’t try to change the subject. You told me this guy was honourable. You said I could trust him!” grumbled Robbie, waving her arms about dramatically.

Janet sighed and sat down on the edge of the driver’s seat. “Robbie, he is honourable. Elizabeth had a hell of a time seducing him,” she revealed.

“I don’t…what?” Robbie asked in shock.

“Elizabeth seduced David. I know this because she phoned me several times for advice.”

Robbie stood looking dumbfounded at Janet. Then she turned, paced about a bit and came back to stand in front of Janet again. “Ahhh, is Bethy okay with this? I mean, are they alright together?”

“By all reports they are having a marvellous time. David e-mailed me that Elizabeth has gained five pounds. They are taking dancing lessons together and David has taken up painting spacescapes. Bethy said he is very good.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know! David can turn his hand to anything,” she quoted impatiently. “Why didn’t Bethy discuss it with me?” she demanded in a hurt voice.

Janet got up from the car seat and wrapped Robbie in her arms. “Because, you are a wonderful sister, who sacrificed everything for Bethy but you are just a wee bit over-protective,” Janet explained.

“I just want the best for her. I don’t want her hurt again,” justified Robbie weakly.

“I know, love, and Bethy knows that too,” answered Janet, reaching up to steal a kiss. The kiss lengthened.

“Thanks,” whispered Robbie, against Janet’s soft, warm lips.

“For what?”

“For not letting me drive to Toronto to pull David’s tongue out and nail it to the floor,” Robbie muttered.

“I think Elizabeth would have been upset,” grinned Janet, leaning back to kiss the end of Robbie’s nose.

“What about David’s store?” Robbie asked.

“David is staying in Toronto and becoming the manager of Bethy’s condo. David’s brother, Ted, is going to manage the store as soon as he is healed. His back is never going to be strong enough to do construction work again. It is an ideal situation for everyone.”

Robbie’s face turned grumpy once more. “Am I the last person to know?” she asked.

“No! In fact, I was stunned at what Ryan said. I don’t know how she knew!” confessed Janet.

Robbie smiled. “She probably stopped by the donut shop. They know everything there before it happens!”

Janet laughed too, then went serious. “Robbie, you can’t control Ryan’s life either. You can advise, support and protect but you can’t direct, bully or refuse. You need to talk to her,” Janet said, holding her lover close so that she felt secure.

“I want her to be a scientist,” Robbie protested.

“Not your call, Robbie,” Janet responded firmly. “She has to make her own decisions and accept her victories and her lumps like all of us.”

“I’m her mother! And I’m paying the bills!” argued Robbie, pacing again.

“Robbie that argument is guaranteed to drive a wedge between you and Ryan. Think about it, how would you react to a statement like that?” Janet stated calmly.

Robbie stopped pacing and looked up at the northern stars. The stars were so much bigger and brighter up here than in the city and there were so many more of them. Bethy liked to look at the sky up here. She was going to have to let David take care of Bethy now and she was going to have to give her teenage daughter some room to grow as well. Damn, this was hard!

Janet walked over and hugged Robbie close to her. “Please,” she said.

Robbie sighed. “Okay, I’ll talk to her. But I’m going to remind you of this conversation when Reb runs away with Jim Ableton’s son to open a Bait Store in Helingone!”

“God forbid!” snorted Janet.

***

Robbie found Ryan in her room. “Ahhh, can I come in?” she asked the teen who sat on her bed doing homework with her earphones on. Ryan nodded, stopping her music and pulling her earphones off.

To Robbie’s surprise, the teen got up and came to hug her mother. “I’m sorry. I got angry and said things that were hurtful,” Ryan admitted.

“Yeah, well, I acted like a jerk,” Robbie responded. She led her daughter over and they sat together on the bed. Ryan now had a room to herself, finished in French country oak furniture.

On the wall was a row of movie stars, both men and women. They were framed black and white promotional pictures. Robbie had each one sighed by the actor. On the chest of drawers were a set of family pictures. There was one of the four of them standing around their snowmobile at the winter carnival. The one Robbie liked best, though, was a picture Janet had taken of Robbie and Ryan’s faces as they talked quietly together. She thought Ryan liked it too.

“Listen, I really would like you to go to university but I realize that you have to do what’s best for you. I just worry. I didn’t make very good decisions as a teen and I hurt a lot of people because of it, including myself. I love film, Ryan. And I’m good at it. But by dropping out of school I closed a lot of doors of opportunity. I would have liked to be a scientist like your Aunty Bethy.”

Ryan smiled and leaned against her Mom. “Well, I hadn’t planned on quitting school anytime soon.”

Robbie wrapped an arm around her daughter and laughed at herself. “I guess I did kind of over react. Let’s make a deal. Once our school is up and running next year, you can sit in on some of the night classes as long as it doesn’t affect your marks at Bartlett. Then you can see how dull cinematography is compared to memorizing the periodic table!”

Ryan laughed. “Mom! You are impossible!”

Robbie gave her kid a hug and snorted. “And you’re not?!”

“Ahhh, I hope I didn’t get Aunt Bethy in trouble. I didn’t know that you were not aware that she was having a relationship with David.”

Robbie got up and paced about the room a bit. “I guess I’m still dealing with some emotional baggage. I’m a little over protective when it comes to Bethy. She was for a long time…very introverted and scared. I guess I just got used to riding shotgun for her.”

Ryan nodded. “She thinks you are wonderful.”

Robbie smiled impishly and wiggled an eyebrow. “Yeah well, I am!” Ryan laughed. “But if I have a fault it is that I’m over protective of my family.”

“That and you can’t cook,” teased Ryan, leaning on one elbow on the bed.

“Nope, I fixed that problem. I married your mother!” Robbie countered with a proud smile.

“You’d better not let Aunt Janet hear you say that or you’ll be eating your own cooking for a month!”

“Good point!” Robbie laughed. “So how did you know about Bethy and David?”

“Ted sort of implied it. He’s wearing a brace but he’s back in town and working a few hours each day in the store, learning the inventory and books. Moe’s clerks are still doing most of the work though. Sally and Beatrice don’t mind the longer hours though, because they can use the extra money.”

Robbie raised an eyebrow. “I gotta get out more. I’m not hearing the hot news in town!” she smiled. “You complete your homework while Janet and I finish off the sail. Then we’ll raid the cupboard because I think your other Mom has some of those cranberry muffins hidden away somewhere.”

“Cupboard on the right, top shelf, blue tin box,” Ryan stated.

Robbie threw her a look over her shoulder as she headed out the door. “You’d better not have eaten them all, you little sneak!” she warned.

“Takes one to know one,” Ryan responded, her nose already back in her books.

***

Robbie bent over Janet as her wife worked at the sewing machine and gently nuzzled an ear. “I love you,” she whispered.

Janet turned and looked up into those amazing eyes that at the moment seemed grey with worry. “Are you still fretting about Bethy?” Janet asked, before accepting a lingering kiss that sent shivers down her back. A moan escaped her lips as they parted.

“No. Well, a little. But I need to talk to you about something else. Alberta phoned me at work today,” Robbie revealed, with a frown as she shifted back and forth on the balls of her feet.

Oh, oh, insecurity alert! Janet thought, and stood to snuggle deeply into Robbie’s arms. “Can this wait until we have made passionate love to each other for most of the night?” questioned Janet, rubbing against her lover slowly.

“Ooooh, nice. But no. We need to talk,” Robbie stated firmly, stepping back. Janet frowned in concern and led Robbie by the hand over to the couch. They got comfy in their favourite spot, Robbie propped in the corner with her long legs running the length of the couch and Janet sitting in between with her back resting against Robbie’s chest.

“So what is it, Robbie?” Janet asked in concern.

“They’ve identified the kidnaper as a Jose Pennon. Seems he is a small time enforcer for drug dealers by trade. He’s been in South America for awhile, staying one step ahead of the law. Alberta’s worried because he has no history of having worked in Canada or being involved in kidnapping for ransom. She thinks someone might have fired him to hurt our kids.”

“Robbie, that’s insane! Who would do such a horrible thing?!” Janet gasped, turning to look at her lover. Robbie said nothing. She just stared back at Janet with sad, bitter eyes.

“Oh, no, Robbie! She wouldn’t!” groaned Janet. “Surely not!”

Robbie sighed and buried her head for a minute in Janet’s soft hair, taking comfort before she spoke. “We ruined her life by exposing her as the murderer of my father. She killed once in revenge. Maybe it is possible that she is prepared to do it again. I don’t know, Janet. I just don’t know!”

“What should we do?” Janet asked, curling deeply into Robbie’s arms, needing her warmth.

“I don’t know,” Robbie sighed. “Go on and hope that Pennon was working alone, I guess. But I think we need to take precautions for a while. Janet, I’m going to hire a bodyguard for the girls.”

Janet sat quietly for a minute, one finger absently drawing figure eights on her lover’s hand. “I hate the thought of that,” she finally admitted.

“I know, but the alternative…I don’t know about you but I can’t go through that again!” Robbie confessed, the tightness in her chest making her voice rough and strained.

“No. No, neither can I. It was awful. How much are you going to tell Ryan?”

Robbie sighed and hugged Janet close. “I’m afraid it is going to have to be everything. A body guard is not someone who can discreetly follow along behind.”

“No, I guess not,” agreed Janet, looking sad and unhappy.

“You know what we need?” Robbie asked into Janet’s ear.

A shiver of desire ran through Janet’s being. “Hmmm, what?”

“Cranberry muffins, toasted, with blackberry jam on them!”

Janet laughed and rolled to her feet. “You and Ryan were scheming in there, weren’t you?!” she said, offering her partner her hand and hauling the taller woman to her feet.

“Well, the subject of cranberry muffins might have come up briefly in our conversation,” Robbie admitted, with a wiggle of her eyebrows.

“Yeah, I can just imagine!” laughed Janet. “I’ll put the kettle on. You get the muffins down. They’re in…”

Top shelf, right side, blue tin,” Robbie recited.

“How did you know?!” exclaimed Janet, in mock annoyance.

“I sent in my spy to gather data before I started my campaign,” Robbie grinned shamelessly.

Janet shook her head and headed for the kitchen. One Williams was a handful. A house full of them was an impossibility!
Part 4
Robbie had phoned Polinski at his law firm the next day and he had sent up Roger Sullivan. Sullivan had been a cop in Bramford but had quit after five years and gone solo. Most of his work now came from law firms investigating damage suits or divorce cases. He had worked for Polinski once before over an incident involving the Williams’ girl when she’d broken some kid’s arm. Polinski said the kid was a spoilt brat and nothing but trouble. He would have turned the case down if times had been better but summer was his slow season.

Robbie sat at her desk and looked Roger Sullivan over. He seemed okay. Relatively fit, rather average looking, with sandy hair and pink skin dotted with freckles. He dressed conservatively and had a quiet, calm manner about him. He’ll do, Robbie concluded.

“I’m sure you have heard that our children were kidnapped,” Robbie began. Outwardly, Sullivan didn’t react, other than to nod his head in acknowledgment. Inwardly, he sighed heavily; babysitting two gay women’s kids. What a job! He should have stayed with the police force!

“There is some concern that the kidnapper might have been working for someone else. The police are looking into that. In the meantime, I don’t want my girls left alone. If Janet and I are not there, you will be. The daycare will be locked from now on and you’ll only be able to enter if you are on an approved list. Bartlett is too big a school to make completely secure, so you will need to stay with my eldest daughter during the day.

Sullivan nodded his understanding.

“Once the girls return to the house you are free for the rest of the day and of course weekends. Do you have any questions?”

“Your oldest is a teenager, ma’am. Is she going to be comfortable with this? I really need her co-operation,” Sullivan stated firmly.

Robbie smiled down at the desk, enjoying a private joke. Ryan had teased her that anyone Polinski had picked for the job would have been warned that Ryan was trouble. Robbie looked over at Sullivan. “She is not happy about it. But the kidnapping was a very scary experience for our two girls. Ryan understands that it is necessary until we can find out for sure who really was responsible. She won’t cause you trouble.”

Sullivan nodded, feeling some of the tension draining. Williams didn’t seem to be the Holy Terror she was supposed to be and the kid sounded like she was going to be reasonable. He’d give it a shot and see. “Okay, I’m satisfied. When do you want me to start?”

“This Monday. If you go into the Donut shop, Stacy should be able to tell you were you can find Greta Corry. She’s a hard lady to track down. Greta rents rooms at her place, mostly to the Ontario Provincial Police officers stationed up here. She provides breakfast too. Tell her to send the bill to me.” Robbie stood and Sullivan nodded, thanked Robbie Williams and left.

He smiled as he walked among the trailers that currently made up the nerve centre of Robbie’s new studio complex. Williams was just as beautiful in real life as she was on the movies. Wait until he could tell the guys down at the gym that he’d been away working for Robbie Williams! Their jaws would be trailing the ground. No need to tell them he was really protecting the kids.

***

Saturday morning found the Williams all in the lake. “No, Ryan!” stated Rebecca, emphatically, “I don’t want to swim with you!”

“Why not?” asked Ryan in surprise. She had been looking forward to teaching her baby sister how to swim.

“You drowned me,” Reb accused.

“Reb, I had to hold you under the water so you wouldn’t get burned,” justified Ryan, feeling rather embarrassed and hurt by her sister’s attitude. In the past, she had silently enjoyed Reb’s complete adoration. “If it hadn’t been for me, you’d be a crispy critter!”

“No swim with Ryan!” came the stubborn response from the small child as her lip curled into a pout.

Janet slipped off the dock and came over, realizing that Ryan was starting to get upset. Ryan still was easily hurt. It didn’t take much for the emotionally insecure child not to feel she was wanted. This situation needed defusing quickly. “Ryan, could you help me try to locate the old anchor we used to tie a raft to. Robbie wants to build a new one so we can swim out to it. I’ve got some idea where it was. If we can find it, we’ll tie a rope and plastic jug to it until the raft is ready.”

“Sure, Mom. What about Reb?” asked Ryan.

Janet smiled wickedly at Ryan and winked. Then she looked up on the beach where Robbie lay on her stomach on a lounge reading over her script. She wore a black bikini and her skin was lightly tanned. Only here and there were there circles of lighter skin where the deeper burns had been. She looked great! Especially from this angle, Janet concluded. Her wife had a nice ass. “Robbie, could you give Reb a swimming lesson. Ryan and I are busy.”

Robbie looked back at her family over a muscular shoulder glistening with suntan lotion. “Okay,” she flashed a smile.

“Suckered!” Janet whispered to Ryan and the teen giggled. “Come on, race you out there!” Janet yelled and pushed Ryan playfully as she ran and dived into the deeper water. Ryan was right behind Janet, her competitive Williams’ nature coming out immediately at the challenge. Robbie smiled as she got off the chaise lounge and walked down to the water’s edge where Reb sat in the sand. The two bodies sliced through the water, arriving at the dive spot at the same time. Two wet heads bobbed up and down, giggling and chatting. Robbie watched with pride and the warm, fuzzy feeling she got whenever she realized how lucky she was.

“Obby, I go too,” demanded Reb.

“You can’t, Reb,” Robbie said, sitting down next to her little daughter.

“Why?” asked Reb.

Because you can’t swim,” explained Robbie.

“Why?” asked Reb annoyingly. Why was a word that had just become Reb’s mainstay of conversation.

“Because you wouldn’t let Ryan teach you,” explained Robbie, bending to come nose to nose with the child.

Reb’s enormous liquid eyes turned stormy blue. “Ryan drowned me!”

“Did she mean to?” asked Robbie in surprise.

Reb looked confused and shook her head. “No.”

“Oh. Was it an accident?” asked the child’s adopted Mom, persistently.

Reb frowned. “No.”

“Hmmm, I don’t get it, Reb. Why did Ryan drowned you?” she asked conversationally.

“Because of the fire,” Reb explained impatiently.

Robbie looked all around. “There isn’t any fire now, Reb. It’s all gone.”

“All gone?” Reb asked for reassurance.

“Yes, all gone,” Robbie smiled, slipping an arm around her daughter.

“Why?” asked Reb.

“Because the rain put it out,” explained Robbie.

“Why?”

“Because water drowns fire,” Robbie explained patiently. “You want me to show you how to swim while Ryan is busy?” she continued before another why came her way.

Reb sat watching her Mom and big sister laughing out in the water and diving for the elusive anchor for a minute. “You no drown me, Obby,” she stated.

“Okay,” Robbie agreed happily. “I’ll be careful.”

***

Janet dived down into the cool, clear water and skimmed along the sandy bottom looking for the barrel of rocks that they used to tie a raft to as children. When her lungs started to burn, she arched her body and with strong strokes of her arms rocketed to the surface again. She hadn’t played like this in years. It was so super to be a family. Ryan was just a wonderful child. A much more stable blend of personality traits than her mother. She had her Aunt Elizabeth’s quiet logic and Robbie’s creative spark and daring.

Janet wondered if Robbie had any idea just how bright Ryan really was. She wondered if she should talk to Robbie again about Ryan’s test results and then rejected the idea. Ryan needed space to decide for herself what she wanted to do with her life. If she talked to Robbie, Janet wasn’t sure that her focused partner would not force Ryan into a life style she didn’t really want.

She looked over at her gorgeous lover as she patiently fitted water wings onto Reb. Robbie was such an amazing mixture of fire and ice it was hard to know always which way she would go. She had been wonderful about the swimsuit. Robbie had walked in and found Janet sitting on the bed crying as she looked at the swimsuit that was specially designed with a pocket for a breast mold to be added.

Robbie had sat down beside her and held her close. Then she had stripped the housecoat off her and they had made love tenderly. Later, Robbie had taken the swimsuit from the floor where it had fallen and gently slipped it on her lover with a good number of kisses and caresses. ‘You are beautiful. You excite me. And I am so proud to be seen at your side,’ Robbie had said, in such a sincere manner that Janet never felt awkward again slipping into her swimsuit. Robbie could be so wonderful.

“I think I saw it!” Ryan yelled, breaking the surface to the right of where Janet trod water. The teacher smiled and brought her focus back on the job at hand.

***

“Okay, Reb, this swimming is easy. Even Rufus can do it.” The dog in question raised a large, unruly eyebrow and looked at the two humans with mild disinterest. Rufus had no intension of going in the water. Lying in the sun was so much more fun.

“First, you have to lie on your stomach in the shallow water like this,” said Robbie demonstrating. “Then you kick your feet and move your arms. Okay, you try.”

Reb, who had watched with intense, big eyes, rolled over on her belly and dutifully kicked and stroked with her arms as she had seen Obby do. “Great, kid. Now you got to remember to keep your fingers together to scoop the water. That’s right.” Reb giggled as she splashed water all over Obby as she dog paddled, anchored to the shore by her belly.

“Now, this is what happens next,” explained Obby. She walked out deeper in the water and did the dog paddle for Reb to see. The she came back to shore where Reb sat looking very apprehensive.

“I’m going to support you with my hand just like the sand did. We’ll move out into deeper water slowly. You know I won’t let go of you, Reb, so you just relax and splash me all you want. You are really safe. Swimming feels good, Reb. Its just like when I used to lift you up and let you fly.”

This idea appealed to Reb. Robbie kept the child in the shallow water for a bit so Reb could still feel the bottom, then gradually, she drifted her small charge out into deeper water. Reb kicked and splashed in glee as Robbie spun her around in circles like she used to do over her head, when Reb was smaller. “Obby! I fly, Obby!” Reb laughed.

“No, you are swimming! Way to go, Rebel!”

“I swim by myself,” demanded Reb. Robbie caught her daredevil daughter up into her arms before the small child could wiggle free.

“No, Rebecca, you have to practise a lot first. It takes more than one lesson to learn to swim.”

Big, liquid blues looked seriously back at Robbie. “I can swim. I go swim with Ryan and Mommy,” the child stated firmly.

“Okay, Rugrat. But you have to hold on to me, okay?” negoctiated Robbie. Reb nodded, a smile flashing across her face.

Janet was just tying the line to the empty bleach bottle that Ryan held when she was hit in the face with a splash of water. “I swim, Mommy! I swim! Look Ryan, I swim. Now I can’t drown!”

The small child wore a full life jacket now and clung to Robbie by the back straps of her bathing suit. Janet laughed. “That’s great, Reb! Good for you!” praised her mother.

“Ryan, I swim with you now!” begged the now fearless child.

Ryan looked a bit sulky. “Thought you didn’t trust me?” she muttered.

“I trust, Ryan. I swim like Ryan too,” protested Reb.

Her big sister was won over by Reb’s enthusiasm. With a few strong strokes, she was beside her Mom and Robbie slipped Reb carefully from her own shoulder’s to Ryan’s. Reb wrapped her arms around Ryan’s neck and her legs around her big sister’s waist. “Go Ryan! Go! We fly!” giggled Reb, as Ryan did a breast stroke through the water around her parents.

Rufus woke with a start and ran to the end of the dock barking and growling, suddenly realizing that his cub was out in the deep water. “Hi Rufus!” came a cheery voice from out in the lake. Rufus howled in frustration, took a few steps back and then with a short run launched his big hairy body out into the water. The splash was like a small tidal wave. With huge orange paws, the fretting Rufus covered the distance between the dock and Reb.

“Easy, Rufus! You’re scratching me!” laughed Ryan, trying to push the big, worried dog away while keeping Reb above water. Suddenly, Robbie and Janet were on either side of their daughters and acted as side guards against the upset Rufus as they were all herded towards the shore by the annoyed dog.

Once on shore, Ryan looked down at the soggy mound of orange fur. “I bet you are pleased with yourself, you stupid dog. You almost drowned us!”

“No Ryan!” protested Reb, coming to her canine friend’s defense. “Reb can swim now”

Janet shook her head. Olives. She had a family of olives. “Reb, you are doing very well but you can’t swim by yourself yet. You are not to go near the water unless one of us is with you. Promise.”

Reb looked rebellious. Robbie tapped her little daughter on the shoulder and when Reb looked way up, Oby raised an eyebrow significantly. Big eyes got wider. Reb looked over to her Mother. “Okay, Mommy, Reb no go near the water,” she promised. Janet looked with relief at Robbie and then with annoyance at Rufus. “It is going to take a week to dry this monster out and the whole house is going to smell like wet dog!

“Rufus can dog paddle too,” Reb pointed out proudly, reaching up to scratch the massive dog’s ear. Rufus turned and started to lick Reb dry. The little girl giggled .

“No, Rufus!” Janet said and Robbie picked the small child up and put her on her shoulders.

“Time for burgers on the barbeque. Let’s head up to the lodge,” stated the director, and the family happily gathered up their stuff and took the trail through the trees back up to their new home.

***

The woman looked around the one room cabin that she had rented with contempt. It was like living like a savage. Why would people think coming here was a holiday? Still, the cabins were close to the lake where the Bartlett Regatta would take place. That was important. It was just a matter of waiting now for the right moment. Robbie Williams had betrayed her and for that she was going to die.

The woman smiled. She realized now that she should have killed Robbie long ago. She had been far too patient. But now that her mind was made up, she could see that it was the right course of action and had been for some time. It was foolish of her to have hired Pennon. She had wasted money that she could have used far better. Still, it was only a minor set back. The stupid fool had been killed in the fire and so had not been able to betray her to the police. The police must not know she was here. That was very important.

She laughed softly as she sorted through her bag to find her swimsuit. It wouldn’t hurt to get a better tan. That way she would not stand out as much among the summer people at the regatta. She knew boats. She had spent every summer by the lake. Boating accidents happen. Tourists can be so careless especially if they have been drinking.

She slipped her sunglasses on as she left the cabin and turned to carefully lock the door. Then, placing a straw hat low over her face, she sauntered down to the small beach that was part of the Pioneer Cabins property. This late in the season, the beach was deserted. The vast blue waters of Lake Superior spread out in front of her, sparkling in the late summer sun. Life was good, she thought, as she arranged herself on the chaise lounge and took out a book to read. Life was very good.

***

Robbie was feeling happy and mellow. She flipped a hamburger onto a bun and then walked over to join the rest of her family at the picnic table. Janet watched with amusement as Robbie piled on the hot peppers, lettuce, pickles, mayonnaise…

“Don’t even think about going for those onions,” Janet whispered into Robbie’s ear. Blue eyes slowly came around to look down into green. An eyebrow arched in challenge. A warm hand squeezed Robbie’s thigh in reply. Robbie took a big bit of her burger and chewed slowly. Life was sooo good!

Ryan looked up from wiping ketchup off Reb’s nose. Her Mom was eating her burger with a happy grin pasted on her face. This looked like a good time to broach the subject. “Ahhh, there is going to be a dance at the Lion’s Hall on the Friday night before the regatta next Saturday,” Ryan said. “John asked if I’d go with him.” .

Robbie swallowed a mouthful of burger without chewing and nearly choked. Janet patted her on the back and passed her a glass of iced tea. Robbie took a long drink, put down the glass, and looked at her daughter. “No. You are only fifteen. Who is this guy anyway?” she grumbled.

“He’s Paul and Mary Digby’s son. You know them, Mom, they run the art and framing shop in town. It’s not really a date, Mom. He’s just picking me up and we are meeting the rest of the gang there.”

“He drives! How old is this guy?!” squealed Robbie, through a throat tightening with stress. She rubbed the moisture off her palms on her shorts and started when Janet’s hand wrapped around one of her own and held on tight.

“Almost seventeen,” responded Ryan moodily. Her Mom was going to be a real jerk about this she could tell. She was going to be getting her old age pension before her Mom was going to let her date!

“Hmmm, attracted to older men, huh?” joked Janet, holding on to Robbie’s hand even tighter. “Well, if it is all the gang meeting together and if I’m allowed to come and pick you up, I think your Mother and I would feel it was okay for Paul to take you to the dance. Right, Robbie?” she asked, nudging her lover firmly in the ribs.

Robbie took her free hand and wiped the sweat from her lip. Shit this was awful! What if the guy made a pass for Ryan. She felt sick. She opened her mouth; nothing came out. She tried again, “We’ll pick you up at eleven. You’ll phone us when you get there and you are not to leave the building. Sullivan will be there of course.” Suddenly, having to have a bodyguard for her daughter seemed like a really positive thing.

“Sullivan! Ahhh, Mom!” protested Ryan.

“Ryan,” interjected Janet calmly. “This is really hard for your Mom. You know that. She has said you can go. Let’s just take this dating thing one little step at a time, okay?”

Ryan’s eyes flashed with anger but she nodded. Aunt Janet was right. Her Mom had agreed to let her go and if she pushed it she knew that her Mom’s legendary temper was likely to erupt and then she’d never get a chance to date! “Okay,” she agreed picking up her burger again.

Robbie looked down at hers with disgust. If I eat that, I’ll throw up, she thought. Janet nudged her and looked at the burger significantly. Robbie smiled weakly, picked up the burger and some how managed to get it down.

***

“She’s only fifteen,” came a voice out of the darkness of the room.

“And it’s only a town dance not a real date,” responded a voice with a yawn.

“Everything is unraveling!” the first voice complained. “My sister is sleeping around, my daughter is meeting strangers at dances…how can I protect my family if…”

The light switched on and Robbie blinked like an owl into the face of her annoyed lover. “Hold it right there, Williams! (A) your sister is NOT sleeping around! She is very much in love with a very sweet man who adores her. (B) your daughter is NOT meeting strangers; we know the family and I know John. He is a very nice boy and…”

“That’s what you said about David and now he’s sleeping with my sister!” grumbled Robbie. “What the hell is going on with my family?!”

Janet rolled her eyes and prayed for patience. For a creative genius, Robbie could be as dense as a hardwood plank at times. “I’ll tell you what is going on, Robbie. Your family is healing. Elizabeth doesn’t have to hide in fear anymore and Ryan doesn’t have to wear a chip on her shoulder because she doesn’t have a mother. They are reaching out in a very normal way for human companionship. Let them, Robbie. You’re healing too, my love. You don’t have to keep looking over your shoulder. You can plan for a future and not have to keep people at bay with your temper and sharp wit. You can be loving and caring and part of this family and community.

Robbie, you’ve got to let go of all the old baggage,” Janet pleaded.

Robbie sat silently, her back against the headboard. Tears welled in her eyes. “I’m afraid,” she finally admitted.

Janet pulled her lover down so that Robbie’s head rested in her lap. She gently rubbed her lover’s temple with the tips of her fingers. “I know. It’s not easy letting go. But Elizabeth and Ryan and some day our Reb need to make their own way in life. We’ll offer all the support, advice and love we can but in the end we have to let them decide. No one makes good decisions all the time. Our family will get a few scars along the way, Robbie. Just like we did. Are you happy, Robbie?”

“I am now, with you and the girls,” Robbie answered honestly.

Janet smiled and bent to kiss Robbie’s temple. She could feel her lover starting to relax. “See, even with the scars you acquired in life, you are still happy. So will Elizabeth and our girls be.”

“How do you know? There are a lot of really unhappy people out there!” challenged Robbie.

Janet laughed. “Because we taught them that happiness is not given to you. It’s made inside. We taught them to stand on their own two feet and live life for all it is worth and we taught them never to dwell on the scars you get along the way.”

“Did we?” Robbie asked, looking up at Janet with those big blue eyes that were so much like Reb’s.

“Well, we’ll have made a good start if we leave Elizabeth and David alone and let Ryan go to the dance,” smiled Janet, playfully wigging Robbie’s nose.

Robbie caught Janet’s hand and kissed it before it could escape. “I’ll try,” she sighed.

“That’s my Olive Oil,” smiled Janet. “I have an idea, seeing you can’t sleep.”

“What?”

“I’ll get the rest of the chocolate icing out of the fridge, you put on some soft music and I’ll show you just how kinky our sex life can be.”

Robbie smiled; this sounded like a prefect scenario for a creative genius!

***

Alberta went through her routine with total focus, reaching deep for the controlled strength and balance of mind and soul that was necessary to reach a height of perfection in a martial art. Her Sai blades whistled through the graceful flowing movements, not reaching for an imaginary opponent but through one. She made it look effortless. A deadly dance on the brink of violence, beautiful, entrancing and powerful. Alberta had never lost a tournament.

When she was finished she smiled. The missing piece of the puzzle had just fallen into place. Alberta knew who was after Robbie Williams. She looked out the window and watched as the setting sun kissed the twisted boughs of her Japanese Maple. She’d shower and change first. It was Friday night and no doubt the Williams family was unwinding after a busy week. Robbie had hired a bodyguard, she knew, so there was no immediate danger.

The feeling of contentment and peace that she always enjoyed after a serious workout, however, did not last long. An uneasiness that she had come to recognize as a warning to her conscious mind kept growing within her. She cut her shower short and dressed quickly in faded blue jeans and a white T-shirt, then she bounded down the stairs to look up Robbie and Janet’s cabin number in her phone index. She paced the room impatiently as the phone rang and the answering service came on. The tone indicated she should speak. “It’s Alberta Pateas. Be careful. I’ve got a bad feeling. Call me on my cell phone. I need to talk to you,” the doctor stated calmly.

She hung up. Alberta was feeling anything but calm. That niggle inside was working its way into a full blown alert. Alberta loped upstairs, threw a few things in a bag and headed out. She should be able to get to Bartlett by two in the morning if the weather was good.

***

Robbie paced back and forth while Janet did her best to ignore her. To be fair, Robbie had been wonderful. She had been polite and relaxed with John Digby when he had come to pick Ryan up and except for telling him three times that Ryan was not to leave the hall until she was picked up at eleven, she had been a role model for understanding parenthood. Once the car had disappeared down the driveway, however, Robbie had let the monsters inside out.

Other than a few grunts, the only two words Robbie had uttered in the last four hours would not have been found in the Oxford dictionary. As Janet worked at her lap top on organizing course requirements, she watched Robbie pace past her desk yet again. The teacher wondered whether the Courts would be lenient if she got her squirrel gun and shot the legs out from under her lover.

The pacing stopped in front of her desk. “It’s ten o’clock. You should be going now,” Robbie told her.

“It’s a fifteen minute trip,” Janet pointed out.

“So, you could be a little early!” grumbled Robbie, looking about ready to burst.

“No!” Janet said emphatically, “and don’t ask again!” Robbie looked like she was going to argue but stopped herself when she saw the look Janet gave her. Instead, she went over and looked out the window into the night, swaying back and forth on the balls of her feet. Janet considered dropping something to see if Robbie would jump out of her skin then decided against it. In the mood her lover was in, she was liable to go through the roof and turn around twice before she hit the ground, and when she did she would not be in a good humour!

At ten thirty, Janet took mercy on her partner. “Okay,” she said, snapping her lap top closed, ” I’m going. You are to stay here. Your job is to babysit Reb. I will phone you if there is any problem. Robbie, do try to relax and remember what I said, no third degree. A girl has a right to her privacy. She will tell you what she wants to tell you.”

Robbie sunk into a chair, weak with emotional exhaustion. It had been a hell of an evening. Janet came over and kissed her tenderly. “You’ve done wonderful, Obby. Not long now, okay?”

Robbie nodded dumbly, feeling anything but okay.

***

Ryan waved goodbye to several teens at the doorway of the legion and slid into Janet’s new truck, a gift from Robbie. Janet had stopped for gas in order to arrive at the appointed time but she was pleased to see Ryan waiting for her. “How’s Mom,” the teen asked as she did up her safety belt.

“A wreck,” answered Janet honestly. “How was the dance?”

“It was great! John’s nice but he can’t dance worth a damn. I think Sullivan is putting the moves on Stacy Barlow. She brought a bag of day olds from the donut shop and he got to choose first. Debbie’s got the hots for Larry Butler. Can you imagine! The guy’s a dork! Angela danced with Ted Peel junior. I think they make a nice couple. Both their Dads own car dealerships so they bonded. But if they married Angela’s sister-in-law would be Stacy Nona. I think she’d rather live in sin!” babbled Ryan happily.

Janet laughed as she rooted in her purse for her phone. Winking at Ryan, she punched in the lodge number, Robbie answered it on the first ring. “Hi love! I’ve got Ryan beside me and she seems to have had a good time. We are on our way home now. Put the kettle on, okay?”

“Was she really that upset?” Ryan asked.

“I could have wiped her off the floor with a mop. This evening was really hard on her, Ryan. Be gentle and for God’s Sakes don’t tease her! It will be easier after this, I’m sure. Ryan, your Mom, well, she has a lot of emotional issues still to deal with from her youth. Sometimes you’ll just have to be a little patient with her.”

“Yeah, I know,” Ryan said. “She’s a great Mom, you know, but I’m glad I have you too. You sort of balance each other.”

Janet smiled. “We were meant to be together. You’ll find your special person someday, Ryan.”

“Hope so,” Ryan mused, as they turned down the lane towards home.

***

Alberta tried the cabin number and Robbie’s business number every time she stopped but no one was answering. Construction had really slowed her down and she realized that she was going to have to stop for a few hours sleep before she fell asleep at the wheel. Reluctantly, she pulled into a small Motel a few hundred kilometers south of Bartlett at one in the morning.

She booked in and accepted her sparse, cold room grimly. Setting her alarm for six, she crawled into a saggy bed between sheets that were stiff with starch and damp with lack of good air circulation. She forced herself to relax. She would be in Bartlett by eight in the morning and then she should be able to find out what was going on.

***

Robbie toweled down from her shower and then slipped into worn blue jeans and a white T-shirt. Her hair had now grown back enough that she had been able to have it styled into a cut that looked almost decent. Another six months or so and it would be back to a good length. Janet liked her hair long.

She followed the smell of home-made french toast to the kitchen. Reb saw her coming and ran over for a hug. “Hey, about time you woke up!” called Ryan, as she set up the table. “I wanted to sic Reb on you but Aunt Janet wouldn’t let me!”

“I need all the beauty sleep I can get at my age,” mumbled Robbie with a yawn. Janet winked at Ryan and Ryan laughed. By the time they had shared a pot of tea last night and chatted about everything that had happened at the dance, Robbie had been near dropping with exhaustion. Her daughter’s first date had taken a real toll on the director.

Robbie grabbed her teen daughter from behind and tickled her ribs. “Laugh it up, kid. Wait until it’s your daughter, then I’ll get the last laugh!

“Hey, you two! No rough housing in my kitchen! Sit down and be good before the food gets cold,” ordered Janet.

“I got a date like Ryan!” announced Reb, who felt a need to be just like her big sister.

“Please tell me it is with Ableton’s son,” smiled Robbie evilly, looking across the table at Janet.

“I got a date with Rufus!” Reb revealed proudly. “Mommy said I could walk Rufus tonight!”

“Rufus, huh?” mussed Robbie. “I hear he’s a better dancer than John!” she teased.

Reb nodded. “He is,” she agreed loyally and everyone laughed. The family cleaned up quickly and then headed out to where the Bartlett Regatta would take place this year, at a beach back near Harriston. The regular location at the Bartlett School beach was not being used to allow the fire scorched vegetation time to recover.

The morning was spent by the Williams in preparing “Tubby”, their sailboat, for the races in the afternoon and in exploring the various booths at the fall fair. At noon, they sat under the boughs of an old maple and ate corn on the cob freshly cooked by the Lion’s Club and dipped in butter. Then, for the first time that day, they separated, Robbie and Ryan going to do some practice laps before the big race and Janet and Reb reporting to the starters’ launch to act as judges.

***

Alberta looked at her watch; it was almost noon. She had wasted a good deal of time driving out to the cabin to find it empty, then going on to the lodge to find that the Williams family was not there. A quick enquiry at the gas station resulted in the frustrating discovery that she must have driven right past the Williams, who would be at the Bartlett Regatta back near Harriston.

Alberta now pushed through the crowds along the water front looking for any signs of the Williams family. The gut feeling was growing; it was a perfect place to seek revenge.

“Alberta! Alberta!” called a voice. The scientist looked up to see Ryan standing by a boat ramp waving her arms over her head. The tall woman smiled and headed over to the young teen.

“Hi, kid. Where is the rest of the clan?” asked Alberta, trying to sound casual.

“Aunt Janet and Reb are out in that boat over there,” pointed Ryan. “Mom went to get the entry form for the race and told me to wait here. But I gotta get the boat in the water. Others are waiting to use the ramp. Can you help me, Alberta?”

Alberta could see that Ryan was feeling stressed. Several boaters were waiting with their boat trailers ready to back down the ramp as soon as the Williams’ outfit moved out. “Okay,” Alberta said. Ryan took the lines, while Alberta got in the cab and backed the boat trailer out into the water. She then hopped out and walked back to release the cable so that the boat could slide into the lake.

For a small boat, it sure is sitting low in the stern, Alberta remembered thinking, as she released the lock and the handle of the winch spun wildly. Instead of the boat sliding easily into the water, the stern dropped and the bow snapped up and caught Alberta firmly under the jaw. Alberta let her body relax and went with the blow. Even so, the impact sent her flying back into the water and knocked her senseless.

From a cluster of trees, some distance off, a tall woman smiled cruelly as she looked through a set of binoculars while people ran to fish the body out of the water. This time Isabelle had done her job right! Then the smile turned to a scowl and the binoculars lifted again to focus on a figure madly trying to get through the crowds to where the accident had taken place.

“Ryan! Ryan! Excuse me, sorry! Ryan! Are you all right?!” yelled Robbie, as she pushed through the crowd to see Ryan kneeling beside a body that looked remarkably like hers.

“Mom, it’s Alberta! She’s really hurt!” called Ryan in distress.

Robbie splashed into the water and knelt beside Alberta. “Don’t move,” she said. “Someone find the Ambulance service. We need a neck brace here!” she ordered. Alberta lay still, letting the far away sounds pass over her until her scrambled mind could start to make sense of what was going on around her.

“No, I’m okay,” she mumbled, through a jaw she thought might be broken. Damn! “Robbie?” She felt more than saw the figure beside her lean forward so she could hear what Alberta wanted to say. “That was meant for you. Pennon is Selo’s cousin. You remember Isabella Selo? She’s the disenchanted fan who ratted on you to the police. You be careful!”

“Shit,” Robbie growled. “I’ve had it with all this crap. Hang on, Alberta, we’ll get you to the hospital.” Alberta, now feeling more alert, shook her head weakly. She moved her jaw cautiously, and was relieved to realize that all the bones and muscles were still in place if severely bruised from the impact. Next, she moved her arms and legs and lastly her neck. “No, I’m okay. Just got my bell rung. Help me up, Robbie.”

“You sure?” Robbie asked anxiously.

“Yeah, bones I know,” Alberta managed to get out though a badly swollen and bruised face. Carefully, Robbie and Ryan helped steady Alberta as she got to her feet. The crowd clapped and Alberta flushed with embarrassment.

She looked at the boat. The stern was submerged in a few feet of water and the bow was sticking in the air. “Go check that boat,” she said into Robbie’s ear.

The director nodded. “Ryan, don’t let go of her,” Robbie ordered, and waded farther out to look under the canvas covering of the small sail boat. The stern was stacked with bricks. Her eyes looked up to meet Alberta’s. “Bricks. The stern is filled with them.”

“That’s a pretty lousy practical joke!” someone snorted in disgust.

“Coulda killed someone,” stated another.

“Come on, let’s give the ladies a hand,” offered a third, and people pitched in unloading the wet bricks to the dock and bailing the small craft so that it floated properly.

Robbie, Ryan and Alberta stood by and watched. The Ambulance driver wanted Alberta to go to the hospital but she chose instead to sign the waiver of responsibility and stay. Robbie offered to take her to the hospital but Alberta insisted she was fine.

When the boat was tied along side the dock safely and the mast had been stepped and the sail attached, the three walked over to where they had parked the boat trailer. Robbie squatted down and examined the winch. “It’s been tampered with. The teeth have been filed so that they wouldn’t catch.”

“Where the hell is your bodyguard?” growled Alberta, who was fighting a blazing headache that had started in her right temple.

“He doesn’t work weekends,” sighed Robbie. “Besides, his job is to protect the girls.”

“Great,” muttered Alberta, rolling her eyes.

Robbie frowned. “I need to contact Janet and let her know what is going on. She has the cell phone. We’ll need to find a pubic phone.”

Alberta nodded, seeing the logic in this. “Okay, you first, Robbie, then Ryan, I’ll bring up the rear. We are heading up to my van by the school over there.”

“Why?” asked Robbie, hands on her hips and looking rebellious, as the crowds flowed past them.

“To get my cell phone so you can contact, Janet. You just got put under police protection,” Alberta stated.

“You’re a cop!?” Ryan asked, in surprise.

“A Mounty, actually, come on,” she said, nudging Ryan on, knowing Robbie would fall in immediately.

Sure enough, Robbie was right at her side. “You don’t have an ounce of authority, do you?”

“No. But I’m all you got,” Alberta pointed out.

“So what are you? My big sister?” Robbie asked sarcastically, but she did stay at Alberta’s side as they hurried along.

Alberta stopped and looked at Robbie in surprise. Then she seemed to shake herself out of her thoughts. “Come on, let’s go. We need to warn Janet to be careful, although I suspect you are the principle target now.”

***

Isabella Selo waited, as she had been told, by the beverage tent. Everything would go well this time, she knew it. Her part had already been done. It had proven to be much more simple than she would have thought. Now all she had to do was wait for her “friend” to tell her when to act. She looked around once more. Still no sight of the person she was waiting for. She shifted from one foot to the other. Her heeled sandals were not a good choice for a northern Canadian town. Isabella loved the city. She couldn’t see why anyone would want to live surrounded by woods and wild animals. Then she saw her friend and hurried over.

“I did well, no?” she asked, with pride.

There was a moment’s hesitation, then her friend said. “Yes, very. Robbie will be looking over her shoulder now. We will play with her like a cat with a mouse! Now, I owe you a lovely meal and a few cold drinks while we make our final plans. Come!” Isabella smiled and followed obediently behind. She was not a smart woman. Had she been, she might have lived.

***

“Janet?” asked Robbie as she sat in Alberta’s van, playing nervously with a small dried bone that had been sitting on the table between the two front seats.

“Robbie! I’m so glad you called! Something happened and…”

Robbie sat up straight. “Are you and Rebecca okay?”

“Yes, but I’m sure I was deliberately pushed from behind. I almost fell between the dock and the boat but a tourist grabbed me. Fortunately, I’d already lifted Reb up onto the launch or she could have easily fallen in! Robbie, I think we have a problem.”

“I know we do,” Robbie stated, and went on to tell her about the bricks in the sailboat and the doctored winch.

“What are we going to do?” Janet asked, feeling frustrated at being out of reach of her lover and other daughter.

“Nothing at this time. We’ll just have to be really careful. You and Reb are probably safe out there but still, be on your guard. Alberta is here. Did she ever mention to you that she’s a cop?”

“Alberta?! N..no, I thought she was in forensics,” spluttered Janet in surprise, as she unconsciously pulled Reb closer to her and stroked her daughter’s hair.

“It seems she is a lady of many talents,” observed Robbie dryly, making contact with the woman that sat beside her. Alberta felt the heat rising in her face. “She has offered herself as police protection.”

“Take it! Robbie you and Ryan be careful!” Janet ordered.

“We will,” Robbie reassured her. “The race is starting soon. We’ll be safe enough out in the water. In the meantime, Alberta is going to watch our backs.”

“Okay, just be careful,” Janet reinforced and the two hung up.

“What’s this?” asked Robbie holding up the small bone, after she had snapped the phone shut.

“A scaphoid.”

“What?”

“A small human hand bone near the base of the thumb. It fell out of a box. I keep meaning to put it back,” Alberta observed.

“Jesus Christ!” exclaimed Robbie, dropping the bone on the dash. “And they say my films are blood thirsty!” Alberta raised an eyebrow and gave Robbie a look. Ryan, sitting in the back seat, laughed.

***

Janet stood at the rail, looking across the water to the crowded beach of merry makers. It was such a happy scene and yet there was one speck of real anger out there that was poisoning their lives.

***

Isabella sat in the power boat. She didn’t feel very good. Perhaps the heat or the beers they’d had with lunch. She didn’t want to say anything to Mrs. Alexandria. She had been a most generous friend and it would be insulting to say that the lunch had made her sick. She wiped a large hand, calloused by work, over her wet face. She had done well today and Mrs. Alexandria was no longer upset that her cousin Pennon had failed. In fact, she was so pleased with her that she had now entrusted her with a very important mission.

Mrs. Alexandria had said that once they had finished here, she would take her back with her to South America and she could be in charge of Mrs. Alexandria’s household. Isabella was very pleased. She would write her relatives in the old country and brag.

But first, they had to punish Robbie. She was a very evil woman. Robbie had killed her father and then somehow had framed Mrs. Alexandria for the murder! She had been rude to Isabella too, not letting her run her fan club and embarrassing her by twisting the truth when she, Isabella, had taken her story to the police about the grave. Isabella felt Mrs. Alexandria’s plan to scare Robbie very badly was a good one. It was a light punishment for all she had done but if the police would not help, then, it was about all they could do. She felt she was helping Mrs. Alexandria get some justice when the police had failed. Also, she would get revenge for Robbie Williams embarrassing her.

When they had finished here today, Robbie would always be looking over her shoulder, waiting for the next time just as poor Mrs. Alexandria must now live watching always for the police. It was fair justice. Already, Mrs. Alexandria had said, Robbie had hired a bodyguard! So perhaps her cousin Pennon had not died in vain.

“Are you sure you can drive one of these things?” Alexandria said, cutting into Isabella’s thoughts.

“Yes, Mrs. Alexandria. My uncle owed a small fishing company on Lake Erie. In the summer, I would often stay with my uncle’s family to earn pocket money.”

“Yes, yes,” cut in the tall woman impatiently. “Now remember what I told you. You must go very fast and go very close to the boat called “Tubby” to swamp it. This is a very good boat. You can get very close and then yank the wheel around at the last minute to swerve away.”

“I will not disappoint you, Mrs. Alexandria,” stated Isabella, unaware that her speech was slurred. Her head was starting to ache and her stomach was very upset. She was not looking forward to going out in the boat but she would not disappoint her new boss. Her mother, God rest her soul, would be so proud of her when Isabella was head of Alexandria’s household. Her mother never was more than Cook’s helper.

“I know you won’t,” smiled Alexandria.

***

“Are you sure you are alright, Alberta?” Robbie asked again, as she sat on the edge of the dock with her legs holding “Tubby’s” gunnels to the side of the dock. Ryan was already aboard, sitting on the sole with her back against the bulkhead as she coiled the sheets.

“I’m fine,” mumbled the scientist through stiff jaws. “You go have a good race and don’t worry. I’ll be walking up and down the shoreline to see if I can spot her.”

“Well, don’t take her on. You already look like you lost a fight with a kangaroo,” grumbled Robbie, trying to express her concern for the woman who had somehow become part of her life however unwanted at first.

“Better me than you,” countered Alberta teasingly. “At least I know how to fight and not just act like I can!”

“Mom kicked the shit out of the convict that attacked Aunt Janet,” defended Ryan. She liked Alberta but Robbie was her Mom and she was one cool lady!

Alberta eyes darted to Robbie’s. A message of pain and understanding traveled between them. Robbie reached over and patted Alberta’s hand. “Be careful,” she said, slipping into the sailboat.

“You too,” responded Alberta, giving the dory a push out with her foot.

***

Alexandria put her sun glasses on and lowered the brim of her hat farther over her eyes as she watched Isabella awkwardly maneuver the speed boat out to the lake. Her reflexes would be as slow as her thought process by now, Alexandria knew. And just to be sure of success, Alexandria had filed through the steering cable so that it was only held by a few strands. When Isabella yanked the wheel to avoid a collision with Robbie’s sailboat, the cable would snap and the boat would continue on its deadly coarse. When they fished out Isabella’s body, they would find that she had been drinking and taking drugs. No doubt to get enough courage to kill Robbie Williams. It was just so beautiful!

Alexandria turned her back and walked away casually. It wouldn’t do to be too close to the accident. She had thought at first that Isabella was going to be annoyingly stupid. The woman had argued that she did not want to help Alexandria because she wanted no part of murder. Would not that make her the same villain as Robbie? She had not known when she had recommended her cousin for the job that Alexandria had meant to hurt the children!

But Alexandria had assured Isabella that she had only meant to scare Robbie and her lover. And that she had planned all along to give the children back. It was just a game of cat and mouse to scare Robbie, she had convinced Isabella. Alexandria had carefully explained, to the disenchanted fan, how they would come here and plan a series of mishaps to scare Robbie. It would be their harmless but effective revenge. The slow and revengeful Isabella, had fallen right into Alexandria’s plans!

Alexandria smiled. She had never been fond of her children. Robbie had been an accident and the others simply to keep Philly happy. She had particularly hated Robbie. Every time she looked at her oldest daughter, she was reminded that she could have done better than the clumsy and boring Phillip Williams. A giant in business, he might have been, but his dick and his talents as a lover had been pathetically small.

***

Alberta almost missed her. She had been looking for Isabella Selo among the crowds on the beach. It was only in glancing up that she noted the lone figure walking down the dock by the boat rentals. It was the movement that registered in her mind first. The figure moved like a cat, like Robbie. Then the hair and the shape of the long, strong body registered. If it wasn’t Robbie, then it was Alexandria! Alberta cursed and pushed through the crowds to try and get closer to the figure that had left the dock and was now milling with the festival crowds.

***

Robbie and Ryan tacked around and came up to the starting buoy just as the gun went off. Robbie pulled the sheet tighter, bringing the sail in closer to the wind. The little craft heeled over and Ryan shifted to sit on the gunnel and hike over the side to keep the boat from having a knockdown.

They shot forward, the water rushing past the hull of their little craft and the wind cracking off the edge of the mainsail. Ryan looked over at her mother with a big grin pasted on her face. Robbie smiled back, her eyes sparkling with excitement. She looked over her shoulder. Ableton had dropped back to third as another boat owned by a summer person had passed him to the windward side and stolen the air from his sails. She grinned and looked back at Ryan. Her daughter gave her the thumbs up.

They came up to the first buoy and cut in close, letting the boom fly across at the last moment. Tubby shuddered, then lifted as the wind filled the sail once more, and took off. Ryan held onto a safety line and now actually stood on the side of the hull, using her body weight as a counter balance to the strong winds they were picking up farther off the shore. She laughed with glee and Robbie, at the rudder, watched the streamers on the mast stays to judge the direction of the wind to get the maximum hull speed from their little craft.

As they crossed the finish line an hour later, they were a good fifty meters ahead of Ableton, who had made a valiant effort to make up the distance between them on the last stretch. Robbie waved to Janet and Reb as they shot past the judges’ launch. Looking back at her family, it was Ryan’s warning cry that snapped Robbie’s head around to see the lifted bow of a fiberglass speed boat bearing down on them. Perhaps the pilot couldn’t see them, Robbie reasoned, and tried her best in the last few seconds to tack clear. Robbie launched herself forward at Ryan as the hull of the speed boat smashed down on the stern section of Tubby.

***

Janet had watched in horror as the speed boat had come across the bow of the judges’ launch and smashed, with a crack that shook the windows of the cabin behind her, into the small sailboat where Robbie and Ryan sat.

The settling water revealed a debris field of bits of white fiberglass and jagged bits of red plywood. There were no bodies to be seen. She stood dumbly, holding on to Reb, vaguely aware of the pilot giving orders to lower the life-raft.

***

Alberta moved closer as she followed Alexandria out across a green towards a car park on the other side. “Alexandria?”

The woman ahead stopped and pivoted around gracefully. She smiled but the truer emotion in her eyes was hidden behind dark sunglasses. “Now, let’s see if I can get this straight. You are my daughter’s slut’s lover aren’t you?”

Alberta curled her lip in contempt. “I’m Doctor Pateas. I’m also an R.C.M.P. Inspector. And you, Mrs. Williams, are under arrest.”

The ex-dancer laughed. “Really! Dear me, it is just like the movies. Did my bastard daughter write the script?”

Alberta’s eyes turned thoughtful. “Tell me, Mrs. Williams, did you ever know my father, Georgeos Pateas?”

The thin lips parted briefly in surprise. For a minute, a pocket of silence isolated them from the far off noise of the beach crowd and the traffic passing by on the other side of the park. “It is such a small ugly little world, isn’t it?” Alexandria responded at last, as she took off her sunglasses and slipped them in the summer bag she had over her shoulder. When the hand pulled back out, a small, snub-nosed revolver was in her hand.

“Why don’t we take a ride and you can tell me all about your father,” Alexander suggested in a cold, quiet voice.

Alberta tried not to show her surprise. Stupid, Alberta! How did you manage to get yourself in this situation?! “I don’t think so, Mrs. Williams. I think instead you should come with me. You are under arrest you know.”

The older woman laughed thinly. “You have your father’s panache, I’ll give you that! It is a shame that I’m going to have to hurt you in order to be sure that you don’t inform the police I am in the country.

Alberta watched Alexandra’s gun hand closely. “I don’t…

A loud crash and screams made Alberta turn her eyes towards the beach. From the corner of her eye, she saw Alexandria raise the gun and reacted before she even thought. She dived to the right and kicked up and out with her left leg. A searing pain gave evidence to the bullet that screwed its way through the epidermis layers of her left thigh.

Alberta’s kick had knocked the shot off target but Alexandria still held onto the weapon. The scientist landed heavily on her side and struggled to get back up to her feet. Alexandria held the gun on her, now looking desperate and angry.

“You stupid bitch!” the woman hissed, raising the gun once more. Alberta’s hand moved in a flash and Alexandria gave a surprised little gasp. The gun slipped from her fingers as the woman crumbled to the ground. The handle of a knife stuck out of her chest.

Alberta felt dizzy, partly due to the shook of losing blood but mostly at the realization that she had just taken a life. She looked around. No one was paying any attention to them. The crowds were some distance away, milling around and looking out at the lake. Something had happened, Alberta knew; she just hoped it didn’t involve Robbie.

A man walked across the grass heading for the parking lot. “Excuse me , Sir,” called Alberta, as she sunk to the ground, “could you get the police and tell them there is an officer down.”
Part 5
Robbie broke the surface to find herself in a large air bubble beneath the white folds of the sail. She grabbed hold of a piece of the mast and pulled Ryan up close to her. “Are you alright?” she asked, treading water and gasping for breath.

“Yeah,” coughed Ryan, reaching out to take hold of the mast as well. “You know, a kid could end up with some deep feelings of social rejection, living in this family. I don’t like to complain but this is the third time this year that someone has tried to kill me!”

Robbie was silent for a second. “You don’t regret being with us, do you Ryan?” she asked quietly, the pain evident in her voice.

Ryan laughed and reached a hand over to touch her mother’s arm where it lay wrapped around the shattered mast. “Mom, I was joking!”

Robbie smiled weakly. She hadn’t been very successful at this mother thing, she knew. She only wanted to provide the best for her daughter but somehow things always ended up like this! “Next year will be better,” she promised.

Ryan laughed. “It couldn’t be better, Mom. This has been the best year of my life. Aren’t you having fun?”

Robbie smiled. “Yeah, I’ve never been happier,” the director admitted. “Come on, let’s try to get out from under here.”

They edged their way along the mast and then dived under the folded layers of sail cloth to pop up amongst the debris. Someone gave a yell behind them and they turned to see a small rowboat making its way towards them.

“You two okay,” asked one of the officials, looking worried.

“Yeah, just cuts and bruises. We haven’t seen anyone else. Did you pick up the passengers of the power boat?” Robbie asked, as she and Ryan swam to grab hold of the rescue craft. The water was cold and Robbie was starting to feel the effects. She looked at her daughter and saw that her lips were blue and her teeth chattering.

“No. You ladies hold on and we’ll pull you over to the launch,” the man sitting in the stern replied as he reached over to take hold of each of them. “Pretty cold in there, eh?”

“Yeah,” agreed Ryan, through chattering teeth. The shock and cold was starting to affect her now.

Robbie moved closer, cocooning Ryan between her arms and the stern of the rescue boat. Ryan lowered her head to Robbie’s arm and they were silent the rest of the trip back to the launch. There, helpful hands reached to pull the two wet sailors up the stern ladder and onto the deck.

“Obby!” called a worried voice and Robbie curled an arm around her little daughter who clung to her tightly. Janet knelt beside her, with Ryan supported in her lap.

“Hi, I hurt,” Robbie smiled up at Janet, through the wet hair that plastered her face.

Janet’s eyes were filled with tears. She reached out a shaky hand and gently brushed the hair from Robbie’s face. “You two have more lives than a cat,” she joked weakly. Then blankets arrived and Ryan and Robbie were wrapped up and brought cups of hot tea while the lifeboat and launch searched for any sign of the occupant of the speed boat.

***

The Williams trooped off the launch, Ryan and Robbie feeling warmer and better after an hour’s recovery. They both had suffered some good bruising and a few scrapes but were really in good shape considering. Robbie’s last second dive at Ryan had pushed the two of them over the side and deep into the water, protecting them from much of the shattering debris.

To Robbie’s surprise it was Ableton who was there to help them down from the launch. ” Most people just dock their damn boat after the race,” he grumbled. “So are you gonna have another craft for next year?”

“Like I’m going to let you win anything again,” responded Robbie, rising to the challenge.

“You ain’t got a chance next year, queer. I’m ordering the new 822 snowmobile racer and building a new boat. You and Bartlett are going down!”

“When hell freezes over, Ableton!” teased Robbie, as Janet rolled her eyes and shepherded her family along the dock.

A police officer slipped through the crowd and came up to them. “Robbie Williams?” he asked.

“Yes,” responded the director through stiff lips. She could feel her guts tightening into a knot. Janet moved closer and wrapped an arm around her lover. Robbie, she knew, still had difficulty dealing with the police after her arrest and imprisonment.

“Could you come this way, ma’am. Inspector Pateas of the R.C.M.P. needs to see you about a matter.”

Robbie gave Janet a quick worried look and then stooped to pick Reb up in her arms so that they could move quickly through the crowds. Janet made sure Ryan was close and they followed the police officer towards an ambulance with its lights flashing, sitting near the Community Centre.

Stepping into the community centre, they found Alberta, lying on a stretcher. One bloody pant leg had been cut away and a white bandage covered a wound.

“Shit! What happened?!” asked Robbie. Alberta looked pleadingly at Janet. Janet nodded slightly.

“I need to talk to you, Robbie,” Alberta said quietly. Janet took Reb from Robbie’s arms and gave a jerk of her head to indicate to Ryan that she should follow. She led the girls over to sit on a couch by a window and wait while Alberta talked to Janet’s partner. She wasn’t sure what the news was but she knew that whatever it was, Alberta needed to deal with it one on one with Robbie.

From where she sat, she could watch Robbie’s face. She saw the shock and sorrow register there and then the caring as her partner reached out and took Alberta’s hand. She watched them talk for a few minutes and then the ambulance attendants came and took Alberta away. Robbie followed behind the stretcher but returned a short time later and walked over to where they sat. Janet looked up.

“Alexandria is dead.” Robbie stated. “So is Isabella Selo. Her body was just picked up by the police boat.” Janet reached up and took her partner’s hand, pulling her down to sit with the rest of the family on the couch. It had been hard times for them. But now the hate and secrets that had bubbled for all those years were over. She squeezed her partner’s hand and waited for Robbie to tell her story in her own way.

Janet knew later, after the girls were safely in bed, she would need to hold Robbie and help her come to terms with Alexandria’s betrayal. They had all gone through so much this year, but Robbie carried the added burden of a mother who was truly evil and a father she didn’t know. Janet realized that only in her arms would Robbie be able to find the comfort she needed after today.

***

They walked hand in hand along a beach of golden sand. The warm Caribbean breeze caressed their skin and rustled the greenery of the lush rainforest hills beside them. The waters of Englishman’s Bay glistened in aqua and diamonds and lapped softly on the beach.

“I love you,” Janet said, smiling up at her lover in happiness.

Robbie wrapped her long arm around Janet’s shoulders and gave her a quick hug. “Love you too. Are you enjoying your belated honeymoon, Mrs. Williams?”

“Very much so, Mrs. Williams,” chuckled Janet softly.

Robbie had brought Janet here a few months after the funerals of Alexandra and Isabella. It was November and the month when the Hindus on the island of Tobago celebrated Divali, the Festival of Lights. The night before, they had rented bicycles and toured around parts of the island, stopping to marvel at the fields of thousands of small clay oil lamps that lit the beautiful countryside and made it a fairy wonderland. They had got their own lamp and placed it with others to honour the goddess of light, Lakshmi, who brought love and all things good into people’s lives.

Robbie had told her about the marvelous Carnival that occurred in March and promised that they would return with the girls to celebrate with the friendly islanders once more. “You just want to see Brian’s face again when you tell him you are going back to Trinidad and Tobago and he isn’t!” Janet had laughed.

“He was pretty put out wasn’t he?” laughed Robbie. “Hey, if I hadn’t forced him to cancel his holiday to the islands last year, he might not have been there to put the moves on Gwen!”

Janet had laughed. “You can try that argument, Robbie, but I don’t think he’s going to buy into it!”

When they had returned to the small, intimate resort of Kariwak after their bike ride, Janet found a collection of items set in a bowl of orchids and ferns in their garden guest house. There was breadfruit, rice and corn, and a small canister containing two lace pillow cases.

“During the Heritage Festival down here, they celebrate weddings in the traditional pioneer manner. The wedding takes place at the old Moravian Church I showed you, and the whole community has a hand in the planning and celebration. These are the symbols that are always present. The breadfruit is a sign of the bride’s purity, the rice and corn symbols of the prosperity that the groom will bring to you and our children, and the pillowcases are part of the bride’s trousseau, showing that she comes with wealth and is an equal partner in the marriage.”

Janet looked up from the bowl with laughter in her eyes. “What a wonderful tradition!”

Robbie smiled and wiggled an eyebrow. “Well there is the “mauvais langue.” The bad talk, as the French say! The village Macos are free at weddings to make malicious remarks about the wedding party and the wedding gifts! But it is all part of the fun and no one lets it ruin the good times!”

“Robbie,” Janet whispered, moving close to her wife. “Take me to our wedding bed.”

***

Today, Robbie had rented a yacht and they had sailed around to the secluded bay. Alone, they had swum and picnicked on the beach and then had gone for a stroll along the shore.

“It doesn’t seem like it was just a year ago that I met you in Toronto,” mused Janet. “I feel like we have always been together.”

Robbie stopped and looked down at the woman she loved. “We are soulmates. Our souls are part of the same tapestry of the universe. We have and always will travel through this world together,” she promised.

Janet nestled deeply into Robbie’s arms and breathed in the heady spicy scent of her lover. Robbie buried her head in the soft hair that smelt of warm herbs on a summer’s day. The sun shrouded them in warmth, the breeze caressed their hair mixing gold stains with chestnut, and the warm sea washed around their ankles. The eternal sea. An eternal love.
The End
Continued in Indian Summer

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