Winter Snows by Anne Azel

Winter Snows
by Anne Azel

Part 1

Robbie watched the first real snow of the season drift down onto the black waters of Long Lake. She was tired. Bone tired. The last few months had been hell. A non-stop merry-go-round of hospital visits for radiation treatment, working on the new scenes for the film, editing, dealing with the traumatic issues of radiation sickness and flying in that damn helicopter back and forth to catch time with Janet and Reb.

The worst was over now but she wasn’t sure their relationship had survived intact. Huh, what relationship! After the surgery, Janet would no longer let Robbie near her. Oh, they kissed and even hugged at times but they slept in separate beds. At first, it was because she needed time to recover from the surgery. ‘You understand Robbie, I’m really tender.’ Then it was; “I’m too sick and weak, please don’t” or else ” the radiation levels in my body liquids are too high!” When she started to lose her hair, Robbie was banned from the bedroom altogether. “I don’t want you to see me like this!”

Robbie placed her forehead against the cold windowpane. She felt guilty for feeling resentment. After all, Janet had gone through hell and had never complained. If she needed space, well, that was to be understood…but there was a growing worry in Robbie’s gut that the love they had shared, so briefly, was never going to be the same again.

She hadn’t seen Janet naked since before the surgery and it was beginning to look like she was never going to! Nor had she seen Janet without the series of scarves and hats that she had bought from the store that specialized in that sort of thing. Robbie sighed, I gotta be patient. Janet is too special a part of my life to give up on! Yet, tonight when she had arrived, she found that even Reb had been sent away. Reb was the only bright spot in her visits recently and now she wasn’t even here! The bleep of Robbie’s phone brought her out of her moody thoughts.

“Robbie.”

“Robbie,” came Gwen’s quiet voice, “There is a jet helicopter on its way for you. There’s been a serious accident in London. An explosion in the school lab. Ryan’s in a coma.” Robbie sank to a chair, her knees too weak to support her as a shock wave of fear ran through her. “Robbie?”

“How bad is it?”

“I don’t know, Robbie,” came Gwen’s concerned voice. “Bad. The ‘copter will take you straight to the hospital. It should be there in about half an hour.”

“Thanks, Gwen.”

“Keep me posted, Robbie.”

“I will.” Robbie snapped the phone shut. Her world seemed to be crumbling around her.

Janet fussed with her short hair once more. It was still very short, a sandy fuzz really. Would Robbie hate it? Lots of women cut their hair short these days. Robbie’s was fairly short. Janet bit her lip. You can’t put this off any longer. She had discussed it at length with her councillor. Either Robbie was going to be able to handle the fact that Janet had only one breast or she was going to be really turned off by it.

It wasn’t fair to keep Robbie away. She had been such a rock. She’d been patient and kind and a second mom to Rebecca. Janet could see the hurt in her eyes each time she gently pushed Robbie away. It was so hard. Robbie was beautiful, vibrant and whole. She worked with people like Tracy Travelli. Why would she want to stay with Janet, now? There were even hints in the gossip columns that Travelli might be more than a friend of Robbie’s.

But tonight was going to be different. She had wonderful news to start with; the doctor had told her that there was every indication that they had got all the cancer. She’d made Robbie’s favourite meal and she’d asked Mrs. Chen to babysit so that they could have a special night together. She started out, then at the last minute put the Blue Jays baseball cap on that Robbie had bought her. Once they had talked a bit, when some of the tension that had developed between them had lessened, then she’d be ready.

“Hi, what are you looking at?” asked Janet coming up beside Robbie as she stared out at the gathering night.

“I’m looking for the helicopter. I’m leaving,” stated Robbie tensely.

“What! You only just got here!” exclaimed Janet, sounding more annoyed than she’d intended.

Robbie swung around her eyes flashing and her face tense with stress. “So what! You don’t give a damn if you see me or not!”

“That’s not true! Look Robbie, I don’t need…”

“Yeah, well, I’ve got some needs too!…”

Janet felt her own temper snap. “I think your needs were well taken care of by Tracy Travelli, or didn’t you think I’d heard the rumours?!” countered the smaller woman spitefully.

Robbie turned pale, started to speak and then stopped as the bug-shaped shadow appeared over the trees, bright yellow eyes searching for a landing spot. Without a word, Robbie pushed past Janet and slammed out of the house to catch her lift to London, a city west of Toronto.

Janet stood in shock at the window and watched her go. My God, the rumour was true! Robbie was having an affair with her lead lady! Janet turned and looked around the room, hearing in her memory the happy banter of the good times they had enjoyed together there. Now there was only the tick, tick of the mantel clock to break the silence. On weak legs, she walked over and sank into a chair. It was over just like that. Robbie had left her.

It had been almost three weeks. Some days the young teenager would move or her eye lids would flutter but Robbie knew now not to get up false hope. They were, as the doctor explained, spontaneous, involuntary movements.

Ryan had been mixing some sort of rocket fuel together without the knowledge or consent of the school and the accidental explosion had thrown the girl through a wall. The back of her skull had been cracked and there was considerable swelling of the brain. Tests indicated no brain damage but the girl was not coming out of the coma.

Robbie had worked with her every day. Exposing her to music, reading to her, having her smell different odours or rubbing different textures against her finger tips, anything she could think of to stimulate Ryan’s brain to unlock her consciousness. Nothing.

Robbie lifted the small hand. Ryan had long fingers like her own. They were strong, capable hands for a little girl. “I guess you’ve had to do it on your own, haven’t you, kid? I was never there for you. You see, I’m your mother. I was just, eighteen when I had you. I was pretty confused at the time, wild, ya know. I never meant to hurt you, Ryan! I thought I was protecting you from the stigma of who I was. I loved you, you see…” Robbie stammered to a halt, realizing that she’d been talking out loud like, she some times did with Reb.

She wished Reb and Janet were with her. She missed them and needed them. She wished she hadn’t yelled those things at Janet. Robbie blinked back tears as she looked at the still form of her daughter. She placed her head down on their clasped hands and tried to think of something that she had not yet tried to help her daughter. “Water,” came a faint, gravelly voice.

Robbie scrambled to her feet and ran to get a nurse.

It was late and the weather was nasty. Robbie drove like a maniac through the night, her mind trying to make sense of the warring emotions inside her. All she knew for sure was she hurt inside like hell and needed to be with Janet. How long had it been since she had walked out? Three weeks, maybe? She’d just left Janet to cope by herself. Damn it all to hell! What had she been thinking off!

The windshield wipers struggled to keep back the thick, wet snow. Icy ridges were forming on each side narrowing Robbie’s view with each sweep of the blades on the rented car. Just another kilometer and she should see Janet’s mailbox at the end of her lane! Suddenly, the lights caught the shape of something brown and huge on the road in front of her. Robbie slammed on the brakes, sending the car’s light rear end spinning around so that the wheels caught on the gravel shoulder. The car slid off the road and broadsided the hard packed snowbank left by the township plough, coming to an abrupt stop.

Janet stood at the window. There was nothing really to see. The outside lamp revealed a near white out. It was cold too, the wind howling through the trees. A true, Canadian snowstorm, Janet sighed. Fortunately, it was a weekend, so classes would not be too badly upset by the snow. Still, she would need to get in touch with the duty teachers and make sure everything was under control. Going back to her job full time had helped to fill the void in her life after Robbie had left. Her work allowed her to push back, for a little while, the loneliness and pain that were her constant companions now.

It had only been snowing an hour and already there was several inches on the ground. Janet checked again to make sure she had matches and candles handy and a good stock of wood for the fireplace in case the power went off. Then she wandered back to the window. Where was Robbie tonight? The possible answers to that question made her gut twist with pain.

Robbie leapt out of the car and checked on the snow covered road. No blood. Whatever, had loped across the road, she had managed to miss it. There was a movement to her right and she turned and gasped. Then she took a second look and laughed. There sitting by the side of the road was the biggest, scruffiest, ugliest dog that she had ever seen in her life!

It had long rusty hair which was knotted with burrs and clumps of mud and ice. It had long legs like a sloth and a face, what could be seen for hair, like a bull dog. One ear went down and one went up and its tail, when it stood up and wagged it, seemed to lean to one side. Robbie walked over to the beast in question. “You almost scared the hell out of me! You know that?” A tongue hung from a huge, smiling mouth.

The dog was skin and bones. Robbie remembered Janet telling her that the summer tourists often lost pets in the woods and simply went back to the city without them. “Well, that car isn’t going anywhere tonight.” She looked back at the dog. “You’d better come with me. I’ve walked out on too many lives already,” Robbie explained bitterly and took off the belt from her coat to make a makeshift collar and leash. Together, they trudged up the road to Janet’s lane and then waded through the snow to the cabin.

It was freezing and Robbie could barely see ahead of her. Now that she and the massive dog had turned down into Janet’s lane the snow was much deeper. She had to climb over a ridge of snow left by the plough at the end of the driveway and then wade through two foot drifts that ridged the driveway where the snow blew between the pines and built up. Had she wandered off the path? She should be able to see the lights of Janet’s cabin by now! She began to realize that her decision to leave the safety of the car and try to walk through the storm had been a poor one. All she wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep!

It was running into the back end of her own truck that alerted Robbie to the fact that she had found the cabin site. Carefully, she edged along to the front of the vehicle, walking blind in the heavy, wind wiped snow. Shit! No lights! Janet must be away. She followed the log wall around to the porch and tried to look in the front window. Nothing, the curtains were closed. Damn! She went around to the door, the big dog close at her side seeking warmth. The door was locked. Fishing into her pocket she hunted for the keys. Cold, numb fingers barely functioned. Had she left her keys in the ignition? The dog snorted in frustration and scratched at the door sensing the warmth inside. Maybe she could find something to break the window, she thought and turned to head for the wood pile just before the sharp crack of the rifle shot shattered the air around her.

Janet was just finishing putting some hot coffee into a thermos when the power went out. Well, that was good timing, she thought, tightening the lid into place. She felt her way across the room to where she had left the matches and candles. Then froze when she heard a thump and muffled footsteps outside. Oh boy! Janet lived alone in an isolated setting and although she loved the solitude of her private lake, she was aware that it left her rather vulnerable. She tip toed over to the phone. Dead.

Fear now grasped at her heart. Okay, don’t panic, Janet, she told herself as she heard someone trying to clear the ice and snow to see through the window. She ducked and crawled on her hands and knees over to where she kept her grandfather’s old twenty-two. With care, she pushed a number of cartridges in place and then quietly opened the back door to circle around behind the intruder. Through the heavy snow, she could just make out two large black figures trying to get in the door. One suddenly turned and came at her! She fired.

Robbie fell face down in the snow and the huge, big dog landed playfully on top of her. “Don’t fire,” she managed to yell above the wind. “I’m not armed!”

“Robbie?!”

“Janet?!”

“Oh my God!” Janet ran over and knelt by the body of the tall woman. “Are you all right?”

“I don’t know. Did you hit me?”

“Of course not! I shot in the air to try and scare the intruders off!”

“It worked,” muttered Robbie rolling over in the snow and sitting up. Janet brushed snow from Robbie. Then she looked up into a big, shaggy face that was sitting near by.

“What is that?!”

“Rufus, meet Janet. Rufus is my dog. I think it’s a mix of Tibetan Massif and Tree Sloth.”

“Your dog!? Come on, let me get you inside. I think the cold is affecting your reasoning.”

Robbie reached out and grabbed Janet’s arm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean those things! I…”

Janet reached down and gave the snowy, cold woman a quick hug. “I had it coming. Come on, you’re freezing!”

By the firelight, Janet could get a better look at Robbie and the massive dog. She was shocked by what she saw. Robbie was soaked through and the light jacket she had been wearing had been little protection against the harsh elements. She tugged the clinging coat from the woman’s shoulders and had her sit near the fire while she ran to get towels and blankets.

Returning, she gently stripped the clothes from the woman she loved, and replaced each item with tender kisses. Robbie moaned with pleasure and pulling Janet close she kissed her with desperate need. Her hands hesitantly moved across Janet’s back and pulled her sweatshirt up so that cold hands could stretch across warm flesh. Janet shivered with the touch and then pulled back to let Robbie watch her undress.

It looked… weird, Robbie concluded, to see a woman with one breast and only an angry red scar curved around where the other should be. Then Janet was back in her arms and the touch of her warm skin sent the waves of passion back through Robbie. “I’ll understand, Robbie, if you don’t want to,” Janet whispered emotionally into the actor’s ear.

For an answer, Robbie pulled Janet down with her to the rug and made slow, passionate love to her in the rich glow of the firelight. Later, they lay in each other’s arms too exhausted to continue but still touching, nuzzling and kissing with a desperate need to be close. “I’ve missed you. I tried phoning Gwen but she wouldn’t tell me where you were just that you’d been called out of town on an emergency. I was so worried, Oby! Is everything all right now?”

Silence, while Robbie tried to find some way to explain. “No. We need to talk but…not just yet, not tonight, okay?”

“Okay. Hmmmm, I need to get Reb. The house is starting to cool and she’ll get cold in the nursery. She’ll have to sleep here by the fire with us. Is that okay, Robbie?”

Robbie’s eyes lit up! “Yeah, go get the ankle biter!” she smiled eagerly.

Janet laughed and gave her lover a hug. “She’s missed you terribly.”

A sleepy bundle wrapped in a blanket was carried out by her mom. She took one look at her Oby sitting by the fire and launched herself from her surprised mother’s arms. “Oby, you come back!”

Robbie caught the diving child out of the air much to Janet’s relief and spun her to the ground. “Hi, Rebel. Want to see the dog I brought you?”

“What?!” gasped Janet, but it was too late. Robbie and Reb were all ready playing with the big lump of wet, smelly fur that was passing itself of as a domesticated dog. Janet sighed, bowed to the inevitable, and went to get a tinfoil dish of Cherrios and the left over end of a rump roast for the dog now that the canine mountain had rested and warmed itself by the fire. It would have to do until they could shop for some decent food for the poor animal.

The household routine was a complete washout. The power had come back on in the early hours and Reb, who had played with Oby and Rufus for hours, was put to bed at dawn near to exhaustion. Janet then insisted that Robbie have a shower because she smelt very much like a wet dog. Robbie in her turn insisted that she needed her back washed by her lover.

Janet ran slow, soapy fingers down Robbie’s back, curving their path back and forth across rippling muscles. She scooped Robbie’s cute butt in both hands and leaned forward to plant a nest of kisses between Robbie’s shoulder blades. Robbie turned around and stood looking down at Janet. What Janet saw made a pool of hot lust form low in her being. Robbie’s dark hair was soothed back off her face and pearly beads of water trickled over muscles of steel.. Robbie was simple breath taking. Eyes the colour of tropical seas traveled over Janet’s exposed body.

“I like your hair like this,” Robbie moaned softly, reaching a graceful hand up to play with a truant curl of dark gold. “You look like a pixie.”

“Are you comfortable with this?” asked Janet looking down at her scarred and flat right chest.

Robbie lowered her head and kissed along the red line that marked the incision. Then she looked up at Janet. “You are very beautiful, very exciting, and everything I have ever dreamed of having. I wish you hadn’t had to go through this but it makes no difference to us. What I love is far more than the package. It is the woman whose soul fits so perfectly with mine.”

Janet felt a ball of tension that she had been holding tightly in her heart unravel. She poured a liquid herbal soap on to her hands and painted it gently over Robbie’s body. Robbie returned the favour each woman teasing the other to new heights. It ended with them in bed loving each other way into the morning.

Janet lay in the crook of Robbie’s arm, her one arm running down Robbie’s body and her fingers gently playing in the soft hairs above the actor’s sex. Robbie’s arm was wrapped around Janet, stroking a flat, hard belly. “I had a child.” Robbie announced to the ceiling she was staring at.

Janet froze in shock and then rolled over to look at her lover. “A girl. I called her Ryan. She doesn’t know who I am, but I’ve supported her all these years.

“She was in a lab accident in school,” Robbie managed to continue, as tears dripped from the corners of her eyes.

Janet placed a gentle hand on Robbie’s chest. “Is she all right?”

“Yes, but she was in a coma for over three weeks. Her skull had been cracked.”

“Oh Robbie, I’m so sorry! You were emotionally not ready to take on yet another crisis. Oh my poor love!”

“It was hard. I felt guilty because I was part of Reb’s life, but I’d never been part of my daughter’s.”

“Why, Robbie? Why didn’t you raise your daughter?”

“After, after the really bad time in my life, I was really mixed up. I thought I’d be going to jail and I just went wild. I dropped out of university at seventeen and just lived; wild parties, wild times, anything. When I found I was pregnant, I just hid away. I didn’t want her to have to grow up with the stigma of being my daughter. I thought I was doing her a favour. It still haunts me now, what I did back then. That’s why I don’t feel I can offer you anything permanent. I’m always waiting to pay for what happened.”

Robbie’s body was stiff with tension and the effort it had taken her to tell Janet. “So what do you want to do now, Robbie?” Janet coaxed softly, as she painted patterns with a finger on Robbie’s chest.

“I…I…don’t know.”

Janet sighed inside. This was going to be harder than she thought. Robbie had these huge walls of defense, not to protect herself, but to protect others from her. “Robbie, you can’t keep beating yourself for things you did wrong as a child! How old are you?”

“Thirty-two.”

“So all this happened almost fifteen years ago. Let it pass, Robbie. It’s time to stop hiding and live again. Look at all you have accomplished since then! You have added so much to our world. Robbie, we love you and just like you stood by me, I would stand by you, no matter what, because I know what you are now. I am so impressed with what I see in your soul! Robbie, it is you that I would leave my daughter if I were to die.” Janet felt the spasm of fear run through Robbie. “Shhhh, it’s okay. My first check up was okay.”

Robbie wrapped Janet in her arms and rolled the smaller woman over her own body, holding her tight and burying her face in Janet’s soft hair. “I don’t deserve you,” she muttered.

“Hmmmm, yes, you do, my silly olive! So are we going to fetch Ryan home?”

“Yeah, I just don’t know how to do that.”

“We’ll work it out. Does she look like you?” asked Janet, trying to steer the tense woman into safer waters.

“No, well, she’s got my build but she’s got your colouring.”

“Mine!?”

“Yeah, dark green eyes and sandy hair. She’s kinda cute,” Robbie concluded, with a blush. “She’s smart as a whip too and a good athlete. My grandmother had that colouring; maybe she’s a throw back.”

“Who was the father?”

“My university professor.”

“Shit, Robbie! You were seventeen!” the teacher in Janet reacted with contempt.

Robbie shrugged, “He was killed a few years later in a car accident. He was drunk.”

“Good riddance!” Janet responded angrily.

Robbie rolled over and gave her a kiss, “Hey, you’re cute when you are defending my honour but I told you, I was wild.”

“I don’t care!” snorted Janet.

Robbie looked deep into Janet’s eyes. “She’s had a lot of …problems. She doesn’t get on too well with other kids and she’s always trying things she shouldn’t and getting in trouble. Are you sure you want to take on a kid like that?”

“Robbie, I’ve got a whole school of kids like that!” laughed Janet.

Ryan wiggled her toes, played piano with her fingers, touched her nose with her eyes closed and did all the other silly exercises the doctor insisted on. She had already told the specialist that her responses and reflexes were, as always, above norms. He now knew that to be true.

“You are an unusual girl, Ryan, with a particularly hard head!” laughed the doctor. Ryan didn’t laugh. It had nothing to do with hardness, she was just fortunate enough that the lambdoidal suture had opened to release the energy of the impact rather than her skull crushing in, which was by far the more common injury. Clearly her, sutures were not knitted as closely as one would expect for a girl of fourteen. She must ask to see the x-rays.

“Ryan?” asked a blond haired woman looking around the corner, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were here, Doctor. I came to visit Ryan.”

“That’s okay, I’m just leaving,” responded the doctor. “I’ll sign your release papers for tomorrow, Ryan, and arrange with the nursing station to have someone pick you up.”

Ryan nodded. “Thank you, Doctor.”

The specialist continued his evening rounds and Janet entered Ryan’s room. “Hi, I’m Janet Williams.”

“Billy-the Kid’s widow. You’re the principal at Bartlett. I’d like to go there,” responded Ryan seriously. “Did my mother send you? I had assumed that the lab explosion might have been the last straw and I’d be asked to leave. This will be my third school. My mother tends to pick schools based on the strictness of their program rather than their academic excellence.”

Janet blinked. She was used to precocious children, but Ryan Williams was something else! “I have been sent by your mother, yes.”

“She usually sends the detective that works for her law firm. He hates me,” explained Ryan honestly.

“Why?”

Ryan considered this. “Well, I tend to treat him like a dork, and I’m not very co-operative. He tries to boss me around.”

“Your mother was very worried about you,” Janet said.

“My mother doesn’t give damn,” came the quick response, eyes cold and flashing.

So the girl wasn’t as immune to feelings as she let on. “That is a hypothesis that I don’t think would hold up to testing. You have fallen into the trap of making emotional assumptions rather than evaluating the evidence. You don’t know your mother,” responded Janet, fighting fire with fire.

The chin went up in anger but Ryan checked the retort, looking instead at the petite woman by her bed with some interest. “Do you know my mother?”

“Yes, very well.”

Ryan laughed. “Not as well as Tracy Travelli!” she giggled, tossing the Saturday scandal rag in front of Janet. The picture was of Robbie leaving the studio, after promoting her new movie, with her arm around Tracy. The headline read: First Celebrity Gay Wedding? The colour drained from Janet’s face. She picked up the paper and read: Reliable sources have told us that Tracy Travelli and Robbie Williams became more than just friends during the shooting of Williams’ new film about one of Napoleon’s mistresses. Was the leading lady getting personal coaching from the famous actor/director/ playwright?

“That bitch,” Janet muttered and then blushed as she realized that she had spoke out loud.

“Which one?” asked Ryan happily.

Robbie leaned over her desk in fury. “I want to know where this information came from!” she growled, slamming her fist on the gossip newspaper that lay on her desk.

“I might already know,” drawled Polenski, looking up at the angry face from where he sat in the visitor’s chair.

Robbie calmed immediately, and sat down. “Tell me,” she ordered in a quiet voice, edged with ice.

“There’s been a small town reporter by the name of Lucier asking a lot of questions about you. He’s even tried, unsuccessfully, to access files. We think he got wind of your …ahhh… relationship with Travelli and sold the gossip to the tabloid. Travelli was pretty vocal about you running out on her.”

Robbie sighed and rubbed her eyes. “This couldn’t have come at a worse time for the film and for me. Let’s see what we can do to put the wraps on this thing.” Robbie spun at her desk and punched a code into her phone. “Hassan? Robbie. Listen, I need some damage control. Get Travelli on some of the talk shows to deny that she is gay. She’s smart enough to know if she lets this one out of the bag her image as the Latin Bombshell just fizzled.” Robbie hung up and turned back to Polenski. “Get the law firm to talk about a lawsuit. We’ll try to put the scare into them.”

Polenski nodded and got up and left. Robbie was already on the phone to Travelli. “Have you seen the paper?” she asked angrily without bothering to introduce herself.

“We look cute together!” came the sassy response.

“Latin Bombshells don’t fuck gay women, Tracy,” Robbie told her coldly, tapping her pen angrily on her desk. “I’m arranging to get you on some talk shows to deny the story. Be good, your Oscar is riding on this performance. I also need you to be seen around town with a male. Pick up some sucker and promise him marriage, okay?”

“But Robbie! I meant no harm!”

“Just do as I say and maybe, just maybe, we can salvage your career and my film!” snapped Robbie, hanging up.

Robbie clipped off her private phone from her belt and pressed one. At the other end, at the Victoria Hospital in London, Janet took out her phone from her purse. “Hello.”

“This is Robbie. A scandal rag has just published an article about Tracy and me…”

“Yes, Ryan was just sharing it with me,” Janet cut in sarcastically, pulling a funny face at Ryan who had her hand over her mouth trying not to laugh.

“Shit. I never slept with her, Janet, after I got to know you,” clarified Robbie.

“Thank you for splitting those semantic hairs for me and letting me know in this manner,” responded Janet, with polite acidity.

Silence. Then a voice laced with pathetic insecurity muttered, “I love you.”

“We’ll discuss it,” was the response, as Janet hung up.

Ryan laughed merrily. “Wow! Did you toast her buns!”

“Let’s change the subject. How long have you known who your mother really was, and how did you find out?” demanded Janet, her foul mood sending her on the offensive. Ryan straightened, and prepared to tell all.

“For a long time, I didn’t care who she was. But last year, I began to wonder why my surname was Williams. Whoever was supporting me had money that was for sure. So I started with a list of possibilities, and the most obvious were the Williams sisters. Then I accessed birth certificates and bingo, mine turned up with Robbie Williams’ name on it. But that didn’t mean she was supporting me, so I snuck into the school office one night, and went through the files to see who was issuing my tuition cheques. It was a law firm that also represented Robbie Williams. So then I hacked into…”

“Don’t tell me any more,” Janet cut in dryly, holding up a hand. “There is no doubt that you are your mother’s daughter!”

Robbie paced around her apartment, picking up things and putting them down again. Maybe Janet had decided to go back to her cabin instead of coming here?! No, she wouldn’t leave Reb. Maybe she’d had an accident! The highway between London and Toronto was fast, busy and dangerous this time of year. A new knot formed in Robbie’s stomach. Then she heard the whoosh of her elevator and she walked over to wait nervously by the door.

The doors opened and Janet stepped out. Robbie shifted from one foot to the other, trying to think of something to say to make it better. “Ahhhh, hi,” was what she finally managed to get out.

Janet slipped out of her coat and dropped it on a chair and then turned and walked into Robbie’s arms. Robbie wrapped her in tightly, filled with emotional relief.

“That really hurt and embarrassed me, Robbie,” Janet said, her voice muffled and strained.

“Oh God, love, I’m so sorry!” groaned the actor.

“Come on, let’s sit down. You want to make me a cup of tea? I’m exhausted. Then I want to know the truth, okay?” Robbie nodded and kissed Janet’s brow gently.

“I’ll get the tea,” she whispered and disappeared down the hall. Janet watched her go with sad eyes. Was it too much to expect that Robbie Williams could settle down and live a family life?

“Ahhhh, I told you Tracy and I had a relationship years ago.”

“Yes.”

“Well, after the funeral, I had a one night stand with her,” confessed Robbie uncomfortably.

“You’d made a pass at me that weekend,” Janet pointed out, dryly. “Were you going to service both of us?”

“No!” protested Robbie, looking up from the tea mug that had held her attention fixedly. “I’d struck out with you and…and I guess my ego was bruised,” she finished lamely. Janet said nothing. “It never happened again. I….I just sort of walked out on Tracy and came to you. She was pretty hot about it and did some talking and that damn reporter, Lucier, got wind of it, and sold the story to the tabloid. I’m really sorry, Janet.”

“Me too, Robbie,” responded Janet honestly. For a while there was an uncomfortable silence between them. When Janet thought that she had made her point, she continued with a sigh. “Your daughter, Robbie, is an olive out of the same bottle!”

Robbie looked up in shock, ” She’s fooling around?!!”

Janet laughed and shook her head, “No, at least not yet, but I’ve got to tell you, this child of yours is a hellion!” Janet settled back and Robbie listened intently to all Janet had to report. Then, they went on to discuss what they needed to do next.

“Okay, here is where we stand,” said Janet, brushing her fingers through her short hair and pacing back and forth across the living room. They had been discussing the issue for several hours now and were on their second pot of tea. “You will call a press conference and admit to having a daughter, explaining that it was a youthful indiscretion. You have recently learned that the father was killed and so you felt it was okay to recognize the daughter that you have been secretly supporting all these years.

In the mean time, I’ll slip Ryan away so that she does not get the opportunity to give a press interview herself because God only knows what that child would say! I’ll keep her under lock and key, figuratively not literally, at Bartlett until this thing blows over!”

“I’ve really fucked up, haven’t I?” Robbie sighed miserably from where she sat, elbows balanced on her knees, staring at the carpet.

“Well, one good thing about this whole mess is it will help to bury the story about your relationship with Travelli,” snorted Janet.

Robbie was on her feet, eyes flashing, “I did NOT have a relationship with Travelli! I love you, damn it!”

There was a moment of startled silence, and then Janet started to laugh, falling into Robbie’s welcoming arms. “You are such a charmer, you are!” she giggled.

Robbie squirmed awkwardly, “Well, I do love you,” she muttered defensively.

“Then I’m a very lucky woman,” sighed Janet, reaching up on tip toes to place a soft kiss on Robbie’s lips.

Robbie smiled, “No, I’m the lucky one. Want to go to bed?”

“Thought you’d never ask,” came the response as Janet buried her sleepy head into Robbie’s chest. Robbie picked the woman that she loved up, and carried her through to the master suite.

“Do you think it will be on Entertainment?” asked Ryan, looking up from the book she was reading, as Janet drove her up to Bartlett in Robbie’s truck the following Friday.

“What?” asked Janet, her own thoughts miles away with her partner.

“Do you think Robbie’s press conference where she announces she got knocked up as a teen will be on Entertainment?” repeated Ryan, patiently.

Janey gripped the wheel firmly and set her jaw. “Ryan, please do not resort to crudity as a means of defense. It is in poor taste. I can understand why you harbour some resentment towards your MOM, you don’t know her yet like I do. You need to understand that your mom is a very private person and today will be a real ordeal for her. Like you, she often hides her very gentle soul behind a tough facade.”

“I’m not like my…like Robbie!” snapped Ryan.

“You have her build and looks despite your colouring and you do seem to display a number of similar personality traits, although I’m sure in many ways you are very different.”

“I wish Elizabeth was my mom. She is a worthwhile person not a movie star,” Ryan said with contempt.

Janet laughed. “You’re mom is far more than just a beautiful face! You’ll see.” Ryan returned to her book. It was Stephen Hawking’s, Universe. Ryan was definitely not your ordinary fourteen year old.

Janet thought about the dinner that she had prepared for Elizabeth at Robbie’s apartment. The woman was so nervous that she had dropped her shoulder bag twice getting into the living room. With Robbie she had talked physics, Janet amazed at how readily her lover could keep pace with the complex maths and theories that Elizabeth was explaining. Janet had a good mind, but she only understood a general overview of what they were discussing.

With Janet, she was stilted and formal until she learned that Janet had a master’s degree in gifted education, then the academic had asked her one question after another, absorbing information like a sponge. By the end of the evening, the conversation had become almost relaxed and normal.

Robbie had declared the evening a roaring success, saying that Lizzy had really warmed to Janet and relaxed in her company. Janet had opened her eyes wide in disbelief, but Robbie had assured her that Elizabeth had been known not to speak at all at social gatherings and so the night had been a real success.

“Robbie, what happened to your sister? Why is she so introverted?”

Robbie had become distant immediately, “It’s part of the bad times. I don’t want to talk about it,” she had said stiffly and gone out to stand alone in the roof garden while Janet was left to finish the dishes.

****

Now here was another generation of Williams carrying scars! Janet looked over at the young girl. She was lean and tall for her age. Wearing blue jeans, and a green sweat shirt, under a waist length parka, she was every inch your average teen, a little conservative perhaps.

“When would you like to meet your mom?”

“Never,” came the response from behind the book.

“I think tomorrow would be a good time. It’s Saturday so I’ll make brunch for us all, and you can spend the day at the cabin getting to know each other. That will give you the rest of today to settle into Bartlett and give your mom time to recover from the press interview.”

“Whatever.”

Janet’s voice took on an authoritative tone. “Ryan, please don’t use that expression. It is not allowed at Bartlett. It carries with it a degree of bored insolence that is not an attitude that is tolerated at our school.”

Ryan looked at Janet ready to rebel, then hesitated. There was something about the no nonsense honesty that Janet had with her that she liked. The principal didn’t talk down to her. Besides, she wanted to go to Bartlett, and getting on the bad side of the principal was not the way to do it.

“Sorry,” she said, closing up the book and looking out the window. Time for a little role playing. “I guess I’m just nervous about meeting…mom. Ahhhh, she’s so beautiful and talented maybe she won’t like me,” sighed Ryan, dramatically.

To her surprise, Janet burst out laughing. “You are JUST like your mother, at times, girl!”

Robbie steeled herself and then walked into the room that had been set aside for the entertainment press. She walked to the front of the cluster of reporters and stood before the bunch of mikes. “I am happy and proud to finally announce the birth of my daughter, Ryan.” Flashbulbs went off in her face, blinding her for a second, the bored group expecting yet another promotional release, surged forward with interest.

“She was born fourteen years ago, and I have supported her secretly until this year. Learning of the death of her father, I was relieved to be able to recognize Ryan as my heir. Ryan recently, was involved in a serious accident that left her in a coma for three weeks. I have been with her during that time and am very relieved to announce that she has made a complete recovery and is now on her way to my home.”

“Ms. Williams, who was the father?”

“No comment.”

“Was the child born out of wedlock?”

“Yes.”

“Ms. Williams, how does Tracy Travelli feel about you bringing your daughter home?”

“I haven’t discussed the issue with Ms. Travelli. The rumour that she and I were involved in a serious relationship was simply not true.”

“In your father’s will, the first grandchild inherited a fortune. Ms. Williams, will you make a claim on Billy-the-Kid’s estate now that you have acknowledged that you had the first Williams’ grandchild.”

“No. Thank you for your time. No more comments.” Robbie turned and with relief made for the door followed by a barrage of questions. Thank God that was over!

She took the elevator back up to the administration floor and walked down the hall to her office. Gwen had a phone under one ear and another in her hand. E-mail was flicking up on her screen. “Start with line two, Robbie, it’s Alexandria. Then line one, it’s Brian. I need a raise.”

“I’ll build you a house in the country instead, on a lake. The kids will love it!” answered Robbie on her way through to her office. “Order the helicopter, I’m heading north.”

A house on a lake?! What was that crazy woman up to now?! Gwen thought, shaking her head and turning back to her phone console.

It was late afternoon. John Bartlett, the supercilious jackass, and used car salesman that chaired the Broad of Trustees, resettled himself in the chair across from Janet’s desk. He had been waiting when she got back from settling Ryan into the Maplewood Dormitory. “You understand that the Board does not want to interfere, Ms. Williams, in your personal life, especially at this time when you are still recovering from cancer surgery, and grieving the loss of a fine man such as your husband.”

Then why are you here? Janet thought sarcastically while maintaining a neutral expression on her face.

“But I’m sure you understand that as head of the school it is important that you set a high moral tone. We understand that your sister-in-law, Robbie Williams, has been staying at your place and well, she’s an actress! And well, there is talk that she is perverted. And now on the way here, I hear it announced on my car radio that she has an illegitimate child! Ms. Williams, do you feel this association is setting the right tone?”

Janet only just stopped herself from going over the desk and ripping the idiot’s throat out. She smiled. “My sister-in-law is well liked in this town, Mr. Bartlett. She is truly a talented and intelligent lady. I don’t know what would make you think she is perverted. She lives a very upstanding life…”

“Ms. Williams, she is gay! That is a disgusting sin!”

“Mr. Bartlett, this is the beginning of the twenty-first century. Here at Bartlett, we teach tolerance. Ten per cent of all populations, whether lions, seagulls or humans are homosexual. It is a natural variation. I do not object to your religious stand that such behaviour is a sin. But please, do not force your views on me, my school, or the students. And above all do not feel that you are in a position to judge other people’s life styles. I remind you that in Ontario discrimination against homosexuals is illegal and that this province now recognizes gay marriages, adoptions, and benefit rights.”

“Well, I don’t approve!”

Janet shrugged. “Actually, Ryan Williams has just been enrolled at Bartlett by my sister-in-law. I just picked Ryan up and brought her up to the school today. I think that can only do our school good. It is, to start with, good and free advertizing. And, looking at Ryan’s C.A.T. scores, we are dealing with a child that is in the top one per cent. She will do our school proud.”

“I…ugh…well, the Board will be monitoring the situation to see if there is any impact on the school’s image and our enrolment,” Bartlett finished stiffly, getting up. “Good day, Ms. Williams.”

“Good day,” Janet responded, standing but letting The Chair see himself out. Horse’s ass, she thought.

****

At the end of a hard day, Janet went to pick up Reb at day school and Rufus from his pen that Robbie had bought and had set up behind Janet’s office window. I’ve acquired more dependents lately than Rufus has fleas, she thought, as she strapped Reb into her car seat. Rufus jumped in beside Reb effectively filling up the back seat. When Janet got home, she almost cried with relief to see Robbie coming along the porch to meet her.

“Hi, love,” murmured Robbie into Janet’s ear, as she wrapped her in her arms. “You look tired. I’ve asked too much of you lately. You need rest; you’re still weak from all you’ve gone through. Are you eating properly?”

Janet snorted and poked Robbie in the ribs. “You, Williams, wouldn’t know a well balanced meal if one was put in front of you!”

“Hmmm, I just worry about you,” fretted Robbie. “You get in out of the cold, and I’ll bring in the rat and her pet rug.”

It was great to be sitting with Robbie in the peace and quiet of the cabin and to feel, for a change, really healthy. Tired, she conceded, she was, but it was a good sort of tired. “You nervous about meeting Ryan tomorrow?”

“Yeah.”

“Be patient, okay”

“I can do patient!” Robbie protested.

“No, you can’t. But try. She’s got a lot of resentment that has built up over the years.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Robbie?”

“Hmmmm.”

“I need to talk to you professionally, principal to parent,” explained Janet, getting up and going over to her desk to slide out Ryan’s Canadian Achievement Test results.

“Oh boy, she couldn’t have got into trouble that quick! Do I have to sit at the desk?”

Janet pulled a face and came back and curled up again next to her lover. “Ryan tests off the scale in some areas, Robbie. Particularly in maths and logical thought.”

Robbie’s stomach contracted in worry. ” But she gets good marks at school!” she protested.

Janet looked at her with disbelief. “I meant, Ryan is very bright. She is actually testing in the top one per cent.”

“Maths and logic, huh? She’s going to be another egg-head like Lizzy.”

Janet rolled up the report and swatted Robbie playfully on the knee. “Robbie! That is just the sort of bigotry I have to fight every day, please don’t bring it into my home!”

“So what does this mean?” asked Robbie, taking the report and becoming serious.

Janet watched Robbie’s eyes moving as they scanned the data. When they stopped, Janet answered. “She certainly will need some enriched programs to challenge her mind. We’ll want to provide her with a lot of support. This is too good a mind to waste. Ryan has had a lot to face and has not had the security of a stable family life to fall back on. We’ll want to track her pretty closely.”

“I don’t want my kid labeled!” snapped Robbie, eyes flashing with rage.

Janet’s voice went cold. “We don’t label kids. We educate and encourage them to be good citizens. Trust me to do my job right, Robbie.”

Robbie sat forward, placing the report on the sled table and leaning her elbows on her knees. She balanced her chin on her hands and stared at the fire. “It’s hard not to try to over protect her. I want to be part of her life.”

Janet swung her feet to the ground and wrapped an arm around Robbie. “You’ve got to move slow, Robbie, or she will resent you even more than she already does. Trust the school to help her adjust, okay?”

“I trust you,” stated Robbie sincerely, kissing Janet softly. ” Hey, it’s time for bed, love. The doctor said you’ve got to get lots of sleep. ”

Janet laughed and pulled Robbie to her feet. “We can go to bed but we’re not sleeping! I’ve got a lot of nights to catch up on!”

Robbie kicked a piece of bacon around with her fork. “Ahhh, you like your room, okay?” she asked.

Ryan shrugged, “It’s okay.”

Robbie nodded and swallowed the bacon that had finally been captured by her fork. “Ahhh, you feel okay, not getting headaches or anything?”

Ryan put down her knife and fork neatly on her plate. “No, I’m fine. That was a great brunch Aunt Janet, thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Ryan,” responded Janet, as she scraped the last of the scramble egg out of the Winnie the Pooh bowl and fed it to Reb.

“I’ll go clean up Reb,” suggested Robbie, quickly getting to her feet at the possibility of escape.

Janet stayed her with an out stretched arm. “I’ve a better idea. I’d like to spend some time with Reb. While I was having treatments, I wasn’t always there for her. Why don’t you and Ryan get out the snowmobile from the shed and go over to the Lodge. You can show Ryan what you are doing over there. I think she’ll find it interesting.”

“Ahhh, okay,” said Robbie, looking trapped and awkward.

Janet gave her a push towards the back door. “You two have a good time and I’ll see you back here in a few hours,” suggested Janet, giving Robbie a meaningful look and then turning it on Ryan. Robbie smiled weakly. Ryan scowled. Oh boy, this is going to be a long day, thought Janet!
Part 2
“Watch out for the wolves!” called Janet, as the mother and daughter waded reluctantly through the snow towards the tool shed. “Ted Potts saw a pack up the other side of Blackberry Rock just the other day. If you’re lucky you might see them!”

“Aunt Janet has a funny concept of good luck,” observed Ryan dryly, as she watched Robbie unlock the shed. “Can I drive?”

“Do you know how?” asked Robbie, entering the shed, and going over to unscrew the cap on the gas tank.

“Sure, the last school you dumped me in had winter survival classes.”

“Guess it paid off,” muttered Robbie tipping the contents of a plastic gas can down the funnel she had balance in the snowmobile tank. Snowmobiles were the winter work horses and recreational toys of Canada. They were small motorized vehicles that could carry two people, one sitting behind the other. The front of the snowmobile was mounted on short steering skis and the back on a tread for traction and power.

“If we met wolves, what would you do?” Ryan asked looking around the shed.

“Get the hell out of there,” responded Robbie tightening the gas cap back on and then checking the oil level.

“Wouldn’t you try to save me?

Robbie looked up to meet intelligent green eyes, suddenly realizing that she was on trial. “I guess I’d credit you with enough sense to be right there beside me as we headed for safety. You ready?”

“Yup!” responded Ryan, mounting the snowmobile and putting the key in the ignition. Robbie climbed on behind.

“Is it okay if I hold on?” Robbie asked.

There was a moment’s hesitation. “Sure.” Robbie held onto Ryan’s waist and they headed out. She was impressed with Ryan’s driving. She moved out of the shed and down the bank to the frozen lake with care and only opened the throttle on the flat, windswept lake. Even then, she kept close to the shoreline. The kid was no show off and used a good deal of common sense.

Half way down the south side of the lake, Robbie pointed up into a patch of thick pines. Ryan nodded, turning the vehicle around and slowing as they wound up between the trees to the lodge.

“What is this place?” asked Ryan, after she had turned off the engine, and waited for Robbie to swing off the snowmobile first.

“The lodge was built by Janet’s great grandfather over a hundred years ago. It’s been standing empty for the past forty years anyway. I bought all this land from a lumber company in the Fall and when I saw the lodge, I decide to restore it. We didn’t get too far before winter. Things were pretty wild what with Janet being ill.”

“She has cancer, right?”

“Yes,” muttered Robbie looking away.

“Is she dying?”

Robbie’s head snapped around in anger. “No! No, she isn’t going to die! Let’s go see inside.”

Ryan nodded and the two walked in silence through the deep snow to the door. Robbie got out the key to open the new hasp and lock that had been put on, Robbie having damaged the last one breaking in. “Are you gay?” Ryan asked, and Robbie’s hand hesitated on the lock.

What the hell do I say now, Robbie wondered? Well, she’s going to catch on sooner or later and Janet said it’s best to be as honest as you can. “Yes.”

“You’re in love with Aunt Janet, aren’t you?” observed Ryan, enjoying the blush that was raising in her mother’s face.

“Is it that obvious?” Robbie sighed, pushing the door open, and indicating that Ryan should go first.

“Oh yeah, a blind man could figure it out. You two give off vibes whenever you are close to each other!” snorted Ryan.

Robbie turned to look at her very mature fourteen year old daughter. “Does that bother you?”

Ryan met the look with hard, cold eyes. “I’ve been teased by the school girls all my life for being a bastard. Now I’ll be the bastard of the queer. I can deal with it. I always have,” concluded Ryan, her chin going up in defiance.

Robbie didn’t know what to say. The kid was right. She was paying for her mother’s actions. They headed up into the living room.

“Are you going to marry her?”

Robbie stopped and turned around. “I wish I could. But I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want anyone, you, a partner, anyone to have to share the consequences of …of things I did when I was young that were very wrong. Now, well, it’s been a long time and maybe I can afford to get closer to people, but I’m still hesitant to give them my name in case some day they are humiliated to know me. I’m speaking very openly here, Ryan. I hope you understand that I don’t want any of this talked about.”

Ryan nodded surprised by her mother’s candour. “You recognized me. You ought to marry her too. She’s okay. Do you think she’d have you?”

Robbie sighed impatiently to hide her own insecurity, and turned around, hands on hips, to look at her daughter again. “Cut me some slack here, okay!”

Ryan pulled a face, and clammed up, walking over to the impressive fireplace. Tracy and Doug had been made overseers of the reconstruction until such time as there was a real job to offer them. They had managed to open up and grade the road in, patch the holes in the roof and clean up the inside of debris before the heavy snows had come. “Hey, there’s been a fire in the fireplace! Look it’s still smouldering.

Robbie came over and looked. The remaining grey and scorched wood was still warm and smoking. “Someone must have broken in. Maybe snowmobilers or something.”

“Or something,” came a voice from behind them.

Turning, the two women saw a lean man in a coat way too big for him. The emblem on the sleeve was of a gasoline company. He was dirty and had at least a week’s growth of beard. In his hand was a revolver. The man laughed and sauntered forward. “Well, it looks like I’m going to have lots of warm female flesh to keep the cold out tonight, huh?” he joked stopping about three meters away.

“Stay behind me, Ryan,” Robbie ordered, pulling the stunned child by the arm.

“Eh, Ryan, you ever done it before?” teased the revolting man. Robbie felt her anger rising to a boil. Stay cool, Williams. Think! She could feel Ryan’s hand’s on her back. She reached behind and squeezed the cold hand reassuringly. Ryan latched on to her fingers tightly.

The man laughed again, looking them over from head to foot. “You’re a couple of hot bitches, that’s for sure!” he leered. “But I gotta run an errand before we can have fun so how about you two just step this way,” he ordered, gesturing with the gun barrel. Robbie wrapped a protective arm around Ryan, and pushed her on ahead. She followed close behind, walking half turned, keeping her eyes on the man. He led them across the room to a closet.

“Get inside and close the door,” he ordered. Robbie gave the closet a quick look. Realizing it would be safe, she gently pushed Ryan in and then followed, closing the door quickly after her. She heard a deadbolt pushed in place and the footsteps of the man retreating.

Beside her Ryan was trembling like a leaf. “Hey, it’s okay,” Robbie reassured her, taking her daughter by the arm.

Ryan wrapped herself around Robbie. “He’s going to rape and kill us, isn’t he, mom?!” she said, her voice shaking with emotion. Robbie wrapped her arms around her little girl and held her tight, kissing the top of her head tenderly. Inside, Robbie was terrified for them both but she knew she had to force herself to be calm.

“He thinks he is, Ryan, but trust me, it’s not going to happen. Listen to me, this is the plan. I want you to have the keys of the snowmobile ready in your hand. As soon as I get the chance, I’m going to jump him, and you are going to run like hell for that snowmobile and get help, okay?”

“I can’t leave you, mom. He’ll hurt you!” protested Ryan, showing a courage that impressed Robbie.

“Maybe, but I have a better chance of survival if I don’t have to worry about you too. You go and get help. Promise me!” Robbie demanded, rubbing Ryan’s head with her hand.

“Okay,” agreed Ryan reluctantly.

“Good. Now, worst case scenario. If I get shot and he comes after you, use the keys. Go for his eyes. Don’t think. Don’t be nice. Hurt him and get away! Okay?”

“Oh, mom!” sobbed Ryan, holding on tight.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. I love you. We’re going to get out of this!”

Then a realization exploded in her mind and sent her mad. There was only one errand that bastard could have way out here! He was going after Janet! She pushed a stunned Ryan aside, and started smashing at the door with her foot. Blow after blow. Finally, one of the boards cracked. “Help me Ryan! He’s going after Janet and Reb!” Now both Ryan and Robbie smashed against the giving door time and time again until finally the two scratched and bruised women were able to squeeze through the shattered panels.

They ran together down to the snowmobile. Robbie took the keys and yelled for Ryan to hold on. They sped across the lake at a breakneck speed. How long had they been in the closet? Fear gripped Robbie’s heart in an iron vise. She’d kill the bastard if he’d touched Janet or Reb!

****

Janet heard the snowmobile returning. Well, that hadn’t taken long. Clearly, that plan had not worked out very well. She heard footsteps on the porch, and lifting Reb from her chair, she went to open the door for Robbie.

“Well, that didn’t take…” Janet stopped mid-sentence. She was staring down a gun barrel, and behind the weapon was a very scary looking character.

“Hi, neighbour. Your pretty friends sent me over.” The man smiled, indicating with the gun that Janet should back up.

“Where are the others?” Janet asked, her heart pounding with fear for Robbie and Ryan, as she tried to think of something to do to save herself and Reb.

“They aren’t going nowhere for a long time,” the man sneered. “So I thought I’d just come over here and have an afternoon of fun. You know any real hot games, slut, huh?”

“Please, let me put my child somewhere safe,” Janet begged. “Over there in the playpen,” she rushed on, seeing the man was going to object. Slowly, she backed up and lowered Reb into the playpen and then dropped a kiss on her head. “Be quiet, Reb” she whispered, giving her a toy that she knew fascinated the child.

Then she stood up and backed to the other side of the room where Reb couldn’t see anything if things got ugly. “I’m expecting company,” Janet said. “That’s why I came to the door.”

The man snorted. “I know who you were expecting, and they’re not coming back. Now take your clothes off.”

“No,” Janet answered firmly, looking around for a weapon, any weapon. Stay calm!

“Do it!” the man yelled, taking a few steps closer. Janet circled putting the couch between them.

The man cursed, and quick as lightening, he reached over the back of the sofa and grabbed Janet’s sweatshirt. Janet gasped, and swung at him, catching him painfully on the bridge of the nose. He swore again and brought the gun down on the side of her head. Janet’s world exploded in pain and it took her a few seconds to focus. She felt her feet kicked out from under her and she went down heavily to the floor. He was on her in a second. Tearing at her clothes. Janet fought back in a panic.

Then this huge, moving fur ball came from nowhere and leapt on the man, growling and barking. The man crawled away, looking for the gun he had put down when he had pulled the woman to the ground. It was there on the couch cushion. His hand shot out and Rufus bit it. The man howled and pulled his hand back, holding it under his arm.

Then Robbie was there . Her foot caught the man under the chin and sent him flying back. She stepped over Janet and kicked again, catching the man in his kidney as he got to his feet. Then another blow smashed against his throat. The last one flattened his nose before he fell senseless to the floor.

Robbie looked back in fear. Ryan was holding a shocked and battered Janet in her lap. “She’s okay, mom. He didn’t,” she reassured the furious woman. Robbie nodded dully, too consumed with rage to speak coherently. She got the long rope that they used for Rufus’s leash and tied the man’s hands behind his back and his ankles together. Then she went to the phone. Her hands were shaking so badly that she dropped the receiver. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she dialed 911 for emergency help.

Robbie dropped down beside Janet and Ryan. She reached out a shaky hand to wipe the blood from the teacher’s face. You okay?” she asked, in a voice tight with emotion. Janet nodded.

“Here mom, you hold her. I’ll go get some warm water to help clean her up,” suggested Ryan practically. Robbie nodded obediently, too shocked and upset to think. She lifted Janet’s weak and shaking body into her lap and held onto her tightly while the woman released her emotion in deep sobs.

The O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) had come and arrested the man and carried him off. The young officer in charge tried to convince the women that they should go into town and see the doctor, but Janet shook her head. She just wanted to be alone with her family.

Their attacker had escaped from Beaver Creek Penitentiary several days before by overpowering a guard and taking his gun. He’d robbed a gas station and stolen a car and the attendant’s clothes. When he’d run out of gas, he’d flagged down a passing snowmobiler and stolen his machine after wounding him.

The police found tracks behind Janet’s house. The man must have been snooping around the night before trying to see in the windows. Rufus had barked, that must have made the convict have second thoughts about breaking in then. The women had thought that the silly dog had just been barking at a deer or another winter animal. They had been lucky, and it had left them all badly shaken.

Later, Robbie sat in the middle of the couch. On one side was Janet, her head resting on Robbie’s chest and her arm wrapped possessively over Robbie’s stomach. Ryan was on Robbie’s other side, her hand holding tightly to her mother’s arm. Reb lay on her belly across the three of them, fast asleep, and Rufus, the hero of the night, lay on the floor by their feet.

Robbie stared at the flames of the fire. How had this happened? One minute, she was a single, lone woman, cold and aloof and the next she had a family who depended on her and loved her. It was the most scary and wonderful thing that Robbie had ever experienced.

Today, had been one of the worst days of her life. If anyone raped Janet or her girls, she didn’t think she could remain sane. Just thinking about that bastard’s hands on Janet made her white with rage. She kissed each head in turn and ruffled Rufous’s fur with her foot. She pushed the horror into the back of her mind and drew peace from the warmth of her family around her. Being here with them…it was like a magical story. “Hey, guys, I think we need sleep.”

“Not alone,” protested, Janet, clinging tightly. “All together!”

Robbie laughed gently. “Right, all together. I’ll bring in the cot for Ryan that I used when you were sick, and Reb can sleep between us, okay?”

“Okay,” agreed Janet, reaching up to kiss Robbie on the ear.

Ryan pulled her cot close to her mom’s side of the bed, and when everyone was settled, Robbie turned off the lights. After a few minutes, Ryan’s hand reached out and touched her mother’s arm. “You awake?”

“Aha. You okay?”

“I guess. You sure can kick butt. Where did you learn to do that?”

“I had to train in martial arts for a few of my earlier movies. Over the years, I’ve kept it up for exercise. I’ve never competed or anything.”

“You’re a weird mother to have,” Ryan pointed out honestly.

Robbie felt hurt. She had thought they had broken down some of the barriers between the two of them. “Yeah, I guess. I’ve never had any practice at it,” she admitted.

“That’s okay, you’re cool,” concluded Ryan, and settled down to sleep. On the other side of Robbie, Janet quietly squeezed Robbie’s hand. Robbie lay for a very long time just smiling into the darkness.

The next afternoon,found Robbie chopping wood and Ryan watching. Robbie’s anger at what had happened to Janet yesterday was being directed at the woodpile. A large pile of kindling was quickly forming. Her mom was awful strong for an old person, Ryan thought. Of course she was strong too. “I could stay here,” Ryan suddenly said.

Robbie stopped chopping and looked at her daughter. “What?”

“I think I should stay here instead of the dorm. You’re always away and Aunt Janet shouldn’t be left alone. Look what happened yesterday.”

“Good point,” Robbie responded, trying her best not to break out in a goofy grin. “You think you can handle two moms bossing you around?”

“You two can’t have anymore rules than your average girl’s dorm, believe me!” grumbled Robbie.

“Well, it’s not my house and it is getting crowded. I’ll talk to Janet and see what she says. I don’t know if she’d be allowed to do that with her being the principal of your school.”

Ryan looked exactly like a disappointed child who was trying to pretend she wasn’t. “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”

“Janet has to go into Bartlett to get groceries. I thought I’d drop her off and then head down to George Drouillard’s, Small Motors. He sells snowmobiles down there. Seems to me, we could do with at least one more. You want to come along?”

“Yeah, that would be cool,” smiled Ryan.

“Good, we’ll go as soon as you have all this wood I chopped stacked,” announced Robbie, on her way to put the axe back in the shed.

“Ryan’s smile disappeared, but she climbed down off the porch and started stacking. Her mother was cool but she was also going to be a pain in the butt.

Janet looked up from behind a frozen package of peas. Robbie lifted the well used bag off, and looked at Janet’s face. Some of the morning swelling had gone down but she still had an ugly red scratch and a bruised jaw. “You okay,” she asked, gently, trying not to show how upset she felt.

“Mmmmm, fine. Thanks to you and Rufus, my heroes!” mumbled Janet, with her stiff jaw. She reached out to capture Robbie’s hand, needing her close.

Robbie shifted from foot to foot. Oh boy, what’s up, Janet thought. “I was just talking to Ryan. Ahhh, we’re getting on all right.”

“She thinks you are wonderful, and she would be right,” stated Janet, squeezing the hand. Robbie blushed.

“She asked if she could stay here instead of at the dorm,” revealed Robbie, awkwardly. “I told her that maybe you couldn’t because you are the principal and all.”

“Ryan is welcome to stay here, Robbie. She is your daughter.” Robbie smiled in relief and Janet went on. “I didn’t think she would adjust so quickly to having you as a mother but yesterday’s …events sort of pushed the issue. You understand, Robbie, that there are still going to be disagreements and when they occur, she is liable to bring out all the old hurts to use against you.”

Robbie sat down and looked at the floor. “Yeah, I guess we’ve got a long way to go. You sure you’re okay with this? Because I’ll be on the circuit promoting the film and will be away a lot?”

“Then Ryan will be good company,” grinned Janet.

“You are forgetting that she is an olive,” laughed Robbie.

“I happen to love olives,” responded Janet, leaning forward to kiss Robbie.

“Hey, I’m an impressionable kid, you know!” came a cheeky voice from behind them. “Are we going to town? Or did I get conned into stacking all that wood for nothing?!”

“You, Ryan Williams, are a pain in the butt!” growled Robbie playfully. “Janet said you can stay if you cook dinner each night, do the house work, including windows, make all the beds in the morning, and share the dog blanket with Rufus.”

Ryan’s eyes got big and she opened her mouth but nothing came out. Janet came to her rescue. “Don’t listen to her , Ryan, of course you can stay here if you feel comfortable in doing so, and we’ll discuss and come to some agreement on your household responsibilities. All right?”

Ryan’s face lit up, “Thanks, Aunt Janet. I’ll be good. I promise.”

“I’d get that in writing if I were you, Janet,” suggested Robbie, her arms crossed as she looked at her daughter with obvious affection.

It had been Robbie’s plan to drop Janet at Dave Pott’s grocery store, but the fear in Janet’s eyes at being left made her change her mind. They all piled out together. Rufus stood guard at the door, while the remaining Williams clan invaded. Ryan wheeled Reb around in her own cart, explaining to her about how neat snowmobiles were, while Robbie wheeled a cart for Janet.

They ended up buying twice as many groceries as they needed because Robbie kept throwing in junk food to supplement Janet’s well balanced meals. Janet, for her part bought extra treats and a squeaky rubber ball for her canine hero.

Word, of course, had got around town. The O.P.P. officer boarded at Greta Corry’s and she had set a new record in spreading the news of the attack and Robbie’s rescue all over town. Those fortunate enough to be in the store at the time came up to express their shock and to ask if there was anything they could do. Janet was obviously uncomfortable, and Robbie stayed close, putting a protective arm around her when anyone stopped to talk.

“It’s silly,” Janet confessed to Robbie, while Ryan was helping Reb decide which kids’ cereal had the best toy inside. “I see everyone now as a potential attacker!”

Robbie rubbed Janet’s back reassuringly. “Hey, you had a really scary experience yesterday! It’s going to take sometime to get over it.”

“The rest of you seem, okay,” confessed Janet sheepishly.

“Ryan hasn’t left my side all day. And…and, yeah, there’s things going on inside me. For one, I’m really having trouble controlling my anger. And….well, it’s made me think.”

Robbie looked up at her lover, wondering what was going on inside the complex woman. “Think about what?” she asked.

Robbie shrugged. “Just things.”

They paid for the groceries and talked to the villagers who were in line too. Robbie was now feeling like an old hand at grocery shopping. How quickly her life had changed over the last three months!

George Drouillard was a little taken aback with the Williams’ female invasion of his small motor shop. Mostly, it was men that came in to discuss clogged carburetors or snapped sheer pins. Occasionally, a woman would drop in with a lawn mower that just wouldn’t start or to pick out an outfit from his line of sports wear, but he couldn’t recall having a crowd of females in his workshop before.

Robbie sat on a snowmobile with Reb in her lap making vrooming noises, and left Ryan to give poor Drouillard the first degree on the pros and cons of each engine. She listened closely however, and was proud of Ryan’s astute questions and comments. Ryan, of course, was showing off for mom. Janet watched and shook her head in disbelief as her own little bottle of olives spilt out over the floor, and took over the machine shed. This visit was going to keep the town in gossip for a week!

“Well, Ryan, what do you think?” Robbie asked, looking up from trying a racing helmet on Reb.

Ryan considered. “The 400 series has the power and good performance but the 364 is the better deal because they’re selling off older stock. There is nothing wrong with the 364. I guess it depends whether or not we are going to compete in the Winter Carnival.”

“What?!” Janet exclaimed looking out from a rack of snowmobile suits. “Oh, no, you two.”

“Of course, we are,” grinned Robbie, and Ryan’s eyes lit up with pride and delight. Janet rolled her eyes and sighed. They’d have to talk.

“No!” Janet repeated again, looking back at the mean machine sitting on a flat trailer and attached with a temporary hitch to Robbie’s truck.

“Why not!” argued Robbie, keeping her eyes on the icy road , as they headed over to Maria’s Café for dinner.

“Mom’s sure to win!” supported Ryan loyally.

“Oby win! Oby win!” chanted Reb.

Janet rolled her eyes in frustration. “That’s just it! You will have to win or die trying. Robbie, this is a friendly, little village carnival not the Indy 500.”

“I can do little and friendly,” objected Robbie.

“No, you can’t! The Williams are competitors, and you, Robbie, are bad tempered and a poor sport.”

“I am not!” roared Robbie, startling everyone. “I just like to win,” she finished meekly.

Janet sighed. “Okay, but there will be no famous Williams’ temper tantrums, and you and Ryan have to take some lessons.”

“Reb too!” came a little indignant voice from the child’s seat.

“Oh boy!” groaned Janet.

Again the clan piled out of the truck and took over a corner of Maria’s Café. Rufus sat outside looking in the window forlornly. Janet waved to a small, wiry woman with dark hair pulled back in a bun. The woman waved back and picked up some menus to take over to the table. Janet leaned over, “Maria Enrico is the mother of Lou who runs the garage now his father is dead.”

“Lou, who is stepping out with Tracy?” asked Robbie, with a smile, making quotation marks with her fingers.

Janet nodded as her eyes lit up in greeting. “Hi, Maria. Let me introduce my sister-in-law, Robbie Williams and my niece Ryan.”

“Nice to meet you, Maria. I hear Lou is seeing Tracy, who works for me.”

“Yes, Tracy is a good girl. My Lou could do worse. I see your announcement on the T.V. You were such a proud mother!” Robbie blushed scarlet. Maria put her menus down on the table and took out a small camera. “It is okay if I take a picture? I will hang it in my café and it will be very good for business! The tourist will come hoping to see you!”

“My luck,” muttered Robbie under her breath. “Yes, I’d be delighted to have my picture taken but please, no pictures of my children. Janet, why don’t you take a picture of Maria and me together?” Robbie suggested.

Janet got up beaming, and Robbie stood with her arm over the shoulder of the little woman by the dessert counter while Janet took several pictures. Robbie had said MY children. That had sent a flood of warmth through Janet.

“So afraid to get your picture taken with the bastard?” asked Ryan, on their return. Robbie looked like she had been punched. I warned you, love, Janet thought, but said nothing.

Robbie sat down and looked Ryan in the eye. “I’m sorry. I’m so used to the pitfalls of being famous that I take it for granted that everyone understands. I should have explained. I had to explain to Janet too. I am a very rich woman, Ryan. That means all those people close to me are in danger of kidnap. I don’t want any of you to get your pictures in the paper or magazines because that means you can too easily be identified. If anything happened to you, or the others because of me, I’d go mad.”

The anger in Ryan’s eyes was replaced by confusion. “Is that why you ordered the alarm system and floodlights?” asked the teen.

“What alarm system?!” asked Janet in surprise.

“I’ve ordered a system for the cabin. If anyone tries to break in an alarm will go off, floodlights will come on outside, and an emergency signal will bleep at the police station.”

“It cost a bundle,” added Ryan, informatively. Robbie gave her a glare, which she blithely ignored.

“Robbie, that wasn’t necessary! I’ve lived there for years with no problems,” argued Janet gently, touched by her lover’s concern.

“That was before you knew me. Besides, I have to be away promoting the film and I want to know that my family is safe.” There it was again! Janet’s happy eyes met the sky blue of the actor’s. She smiled softly and Robbie winked.

“You two!” groaned Ryan, to hide her teen embarrassment.

They ordered pizza with the works and Ryan had them all in stitches trying to justify the list of school offences that Robbie listed gleefully one after the other.

“Hey. The kid had it coming. She’d been bullying the entire floor and when she picked on little Grace just because she had a stutter, I lost it! I was cool because I knew I was down to my last chance after the goldfish in the drinking fountain incident, so I just told her ever so nicely that if she took a swing at me, I’d knock her block off.”

Robbie smiled and shook her head. “And?” asked Janet.

“Well, I let her get three hits in so that I had some blood for evidence and then I decked her.”

Janet laughed. “Don’t laugh!” protested Robbie, “She broke the kid’s arm. I had to send Polenski up there to sort it out so she wasn’t charged or sued!”

“Ryan! You didn’t!” protested Janet.

“I didn’t mean too! She fell against the desk.”

“You sure you want her at Bartlett?” asked Robbie, watching Janet wiping tomato sauce of Reb’s face. Playing in pizza had been a real hit with the two year old. Rufus too had enjoyed the crusts that Ryan had delivered to her outside.

“Mom! I want to go to this school!”

They all laughed, and Robbie paid the bill, arguing that Janet had paid for the groceries.

Later, that night, with Ryan sharing a room with Reb, Robbie was able to have some private time with Janet. Janet ran a hand up Robbie’s naked chest and pulled her down for a kiss. “Mmmmm, I missed that last night” she whispered.

“Me too. I’m going to miss you terribly. Are you sure you are all right staying here?”

“I’m a little jumpy. But the security system that is being installed tomorrow will keep us all safe. Thank you, Robbie,” she answered honestly, kissing Robbie again.

“I’ll phone each night,” Robbie promised.

Janet didn’t answer; she had other more interesting ways to express her love to Robbie.

Ryan and Janet sat in the wing chairs watching the T.V. and sharing a bowl of popcorn that sat on a small end table between them. Ryan had been allowed to stay up late to see her mom on one of the late night interview shows. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, the beautiful and multi-talented, Robbie Williams!” There was much clapping and whistling, and Robbie walked in wearing an elegant, black pant suit.

The host stood and embraced Robbie, and they kissed the air beside each other’s head. “Keep your paws off my….my sister-in-law,” Janet muttered, and Ryan snorted and threw a piece of popcorn at her.

“Well, we are pleased to have you on the show tonight,” said the host once he had helped Robbie settle. “You don’t give interviews.”

“I don’t? Well, I’d better leave,” responded Robbie starting to stand. The audience laughed and the host pulled her back.

“No, I meant it is rare for you to agree to come on talk shows.”

“I’m very excited about my new movie, Desiree. It’s quite a departure in style for me and I think people are really going to enjoy it.” She turned to the audience. “Don’t forget to go see it!” The applause lights flashed over the stage and the audience dutifully whopped and cheered.

“It looks like mom, it talks like mom, but it isn’t mom,” Ryan observed with interest.

“It is Robbie, but it is another side of her. This is your mom at work, Ryan. It is all a marketing game. That’s what these shows are all about, infomercials for the entertainment trade.”

“Pretty mercenary,” Ryan said cynically.

“No, it’s no different than selling any product. Your mom has over five thousand people working for her in various companies. If she makes a film that doesn’t do well at the box office then that has repercussions right down the line. That’s a lot of responsibility and pressure that your mom is under.”

Back on the television screen the announcer brought up the subject the audience had been anticipating. “We had Tracy Travelli on here the other week, Robbie, and she was furious about the tabloid story that linked you and her romantically. I got to tell you, the men of America were very relieved to hear the two of you were still available! The laughter lights flashed and the audience giggled and clapped.

“Why how nice! What is your number? I’ll be sure to put you in my little black book!”

“Ugh” Ryan said, putting her finger in her mouth.

“Little black book! You’d better stop flirting with that man, Robbie Williams, or you are going to be sleeping in the snow when you get back!”

“So tell us about this daughter of yours, Robbie. Is she gorgeous like you?” asked the television host.

Robbie smiled softly, “She is good looking, but she has a lot more important things going for her. She is bright, funny, caring, and adventurous. I wish I could take credit for her but she got that way all by herself. I’m really proud of her.”

Ryan sat staring at the screen, a red blush creeping up her face. Janet reached over and gave her arm a squeeze. “That was nice, huh?”

Ryan scowled, “She didn’t mean it. It is like you said, just marketing.”

“No!” snapped Janet, startling Ryan. “She wouldn’t do that, not to people she cares about! Your mother plays hard but she plays fair.” Ryan didn’t respond, but Janet noticed that she wiped a tear from her eye when she thought Janet was not looking.

“So, Robbie we hear that just like Desiree, you are a real hero! What’s this my research department tells me that a criminal escaped from jail and broke into your sister-in-law’s house and you saved her!?”

Robbie went still and very serious. “Fortunately, it was the family dog that did the attacking. He bit the intruder, and I was able to subdue the criminal, and tie him up until the police got there. It was very scary, and it brings home again the need for women’s crisis centres. It is a cause I very much believe in. Abuse and violence towards women and their children has to be brought out in the open so that this sickness in our world communities can be dealt with.”

“I agree completely, Robbie. Folks, here’s a number you can call for more information or help if you are experiencing abuse in your life. And I understand, Robbie, that a portion of the profit from each ticket sale to your movie, Desiree, will go to support women’s crisis centres.”

“That’s right.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, Robbie Williams! Get out there and see her new movie, Desiree! The canned clapping and flashing lights prompted the audience. We’ll be right back after this commercial break!”

“Okay, Ryan, bedtime!” said Janet, getting up and turning off the T.V.

“Do you think she really has a little black book?” Ryan teased.

“Not if she knows what’s good for her!” growled Janet, playing along. They hugged good night and went to their rooms.

Gerald Lucier had watched the show too. He’d made a tidy little packet selling the tabloid the story about Tracy and Robbie and although they had denied it, they hadn’t sued. He’d also scooped the big papers with the story about the guy breaking into Janet’s cabin too. One of the big Toronto dailies had asked him to send in a resume.

But he wasn’t interested in a regular reporter’s job at his age. No way. He wanted his own by-line and he figured that he might just have the lead now that was going to put his name right up there! It was going to take some good investigative journalism, but digging for dirt he was good at! With a laugh he took a sip from his beer and lit another cigarette. Might as well watch the rest of the show, he thought.

It was just after three in the morning when the alarm went off and the floodlights came on. Janet jumped from her bed, heart pounding, and ran down to the girls’ room amid the wild barks of Rufus and the breaking of furniture.

A paddle, swinging at Janet’s head, was barely checked by Ryan. “What are you doing with that?” hissed Janet, slamming closed the door.

“Repelling intruders,” Ryan explained in a nervous whisper. “Do you have the rifle?

“No, it’s out there,” she whispered, jerking her head in the direction of the living room where the sounds of a massive fight seemed to be taking place.

“We’d better lock the door,” suggested Ryan, nervously gripping her paddle.

“The interior doors don’t have locks. We’ll have to barricade ourselves in here until the police arrive.” The two women looked around the room. One camp cot, a plastic crib and a diaper changing table were the main articles in the room.

There was certainly nothing to prevent an attacker from breaking through. Janet felt the sweat dripping down her back as goose bumps spread up her arms. Growls and barks came from the living room. “It’s an animal!” gasped Ryan.

Janet took a deep breath to calm herself. Animals, at least the four legged kind, she could handle. “Here, give me the paddle.”

Ryan did so, and slowly Janet opened the door. An animal, waiting in the hall, cast a menacing shadow on the wall. Janet gripped the paddle and looked around the corner. Rufus stood there alertly, ready to pounce. Seeing Janet instead of an intruder, she sat down happily and wagged her tail. Woof. Woof.

“Come, Rufus,” the dog obediently trotted down to the bedroom. “Okay, you stay here with Rufus, and I’ll go see what’s out there,” instructed Janet.

“Not likely! Mom would kill me if I let anything happen to you!”

“Someone has to protect Reb,” Janet pointed out, and Ryan nodded, recognizing the logic in this.

“Be careful!”

Janet nodded and headed down the hall. Ryan had to hold onto Rufus’s collar to stop him from running down the hall after her. Janet looked around the corner into the living room. It was a complete shambles. Then something jumped from the ledge above her head and she screamed. Rufus broke loose and charged down the hall, Reb woke up crying, the police arrived with sirens blaring, and Ryan tore down the hall, and knocked Janet flying. The intruder, a very frightened racoon, darted out the door with Rufus in pursuit as soon as the police smashed through with guns out.

Early the next morning, it was a sleepy Ryan that answered the phone. “Hi mom! Wow, did we have a night last night! We had another intruder. The police have just left. They smashed through the door with their guns out just like in one of your movies! The alarms worked really well. Rufus fought him, and you should see the livingroom, wow, what a mess!” At the other end of the conversation, Robbie’s heart started to pound with fear.

“No, Reb and I are fine but Aunt Janet has a broken nose and…” the phone was snatched from her hand.

“Robbie?”

“Janet! Sweetheart, are you all right?! My God! I’ll be home on the next plane!”

“Robbie, it was a racoon.”

There was silence at the other end for a minute while Robbie’s panic-stricken mind came to terms with this information. “What?”

“A raccoon. It fell down the chimney, and Rufus chased it around the living room.”

“How did you get a broken nose?”

“It’s not broken. It was just a nose bleed. Your daughter flattened me in the confusion.” Suddenly, Janet started to laugh, “Robbie it was like a French farce! Wait until I tell you!”

Robbie sat on the plane staring blankly at her video screen. A smile came to her lips as she replayed Janet’s tale of the Night of the Racoon through her mind again. She missed them. She missed them all terribly. “Where was she going to go from here? It was obvious that her relationship with Janet had gone much farther than a steady date. Hell, they were virtually living together! Janet was helping raise her daughter and she found herself thinking of Reb as her own.

Was Janet right? Was it time to let the ancient history of her youth go and have a real life? Or was Elizabeth right in reminding her, that for them, a commitment to anyone was exposing others to public humiliation or worse. Damn! I don’t know! I don’t want to hurt Janet or the girls but the truth is I can’t live without them!

What would be the difference really? She had long since crossed over the line. If someone did dig something up on her, Janet would be drawn into it. Okay, that’s it then, I love her and I’m going to ask her to marry me.

But what if she says no! Let’s face it, Williams, you are not easy to get along with. They’d had their fights. In fact, Janet hadn’t wanted to sleep with her because it might reflect negatively on her and Reb! So do you think she is going to marry you, idiot! A misery spread through Robbie’s soul and she looked out at the puffy, white clouds below as she blinked back tears. I love you so much, Janet!

She had been away almost six weeks now, and was very anxious to get home. Home. Funny I had never thought of my condo as home but Janet’s cabin is. Home to Janet and the girls and the furry mountain that might be a dog. Robbie smiled. When did all this happened to me?

Then the eyes turned dark and misty. Janet and the girls would be meeting her in T.O. Tomorrow was Janet’s check up. The first to see if they had got the cancer. What if they hadn’t? She felt sick at that thought. Janet had to live. She just had to. Five years the doctor had said, five years before they could be relatively sure that the cancer would not return. It was like a darkness always hovering behind them.

Robbie picked up her briefcase after putting on her sunglasses and hat. She walked to the open hatch of the plane where a representative from the airline, who handled V.I.P.s, met her and took her by motorized cart through the corridors to Customs. Here she was passed through quickly. A limo waited to take her to her office while the representative waited behind with her baggage claim tickets to collect and forward her bags after they were unloaded from the plane.

It took almost forty minutes to battle the Toronto traffic from the airport down to her office in the city core. Stepping out, she headed for the automatic doors, then turned away and walked down the street instead and opened the heavy brass doors to DeBeer’s.

She walked around looking at various displays. Then, getting her nerve up, she moved over to engagement rings. The selection was amazing. Robbie sat at a stool and a sales representative showed her various styles and qualities. Finally, her eye caught sight of the ring that she knew she had to have for Janet. It was three bands of plain gold joined as one and the centre band had six perfectly matched diamonds in a row. It was elegant and different and a quiet expression of her love. “I’ll take it,” she said.

With the small, plush box in her coat pocket, Robbie retraced her steps and took the elevator up to her administrative offices. She wasn’t sure that she would ever have the nerve to ask Janet to marry her, but somehow buying the ring was a symbol that she had at last broken with her dark past, and was stepping out into the warmth of the sun.

“Hello Gwen, I’m back. You’ve lost weight. I’ll need Brian on line one, and then get me Ernie on two,” Robbie ordered as she crossed the carpet of her secretary’s office and disappeared into her own. The voice continued a few seconds later on her intercom. “Also I want the balls of the fucking lawyer who is holding up merchandising in Britain.”

Gwen shook her head and closed her eyes. Then with a sigh she put through Brian’s call. She hadn’t seen sight or light of her boss in weeks and the woman walked in like she had been out of the office for five minutes! She wasn’t sure she was up to this!

Robbie leaned back in her chair. “Brian, it looks like Desiree is going to do well at the box office. I’ve got plans; I need to see you. Well, cancel your damn holiday. Why would you want to go to a tropical paradise like Trinidad and Tobago when it’s snowing and forty below outside? Here. Now. Bye.” Robbie hung up and clicked to line two, she had to watch her assistant director, sometimes he got ideas that he had a life of his own!

She smiled. “Hi Ernie, so are the backers happy?”

“Robbie, baby! We turned our first million the weekend it opened! I hear swords and ballroom dancing are all the rage in California!”

“There won’t be too many balls if they’re going to waltz with swords,” observed Robbie, practically. “I need you to put together a deal for me for the spring, Ernie. I’ve got some ideas.”

“What? Oh! Ideas! Now ideas I like! So when are you going to have something for me to sell?”

“Not before spring. I’m taking the winter off to write,” stated Robbie, turning to click through her mail box.

“Good, you write, in the spring, you give me something, and I sell it. I hear Brian is going to Trinidad and Tobago. I passed by on a cruise ship once. It looked lovely.”

“Brian has had a change of plans. I need a package put together before spring. Thirty million.”

“Thirty million! You want me to sell thirty million of nothing?! Am I the miracle worker?” came the excited voice through the line.

“Make it happen,” Robbie yawned, and hung up. Gwen was standing at her desk.

“Hello, Ms. Williams, I’m Gwen Smith, your long suffering and over worked secretary, who has been holding the fort around here for weeks,” Gwen opened, sarcastically. “I need at least two hours of your time, and I want it now. I’ve made an appointment for Brian to see you at two.”

Robbie swivelled back and forth on her chair excitedly. “Gwen, wait until I show you where your family is going to live…”

Janet passed her Bartlett School duffel bag up to Ryan in the back of the truck. She stowed it with the rest of the bags in the truck storage box and then jumped down. It was freezing cold, and snow was falling. It was a hell of a day to have to drive to Toronto, but there was no other choice; the ‘copter that Robbie told her to use couldn’t fly in this weather.

“Okay, let’s hit the road. We’ll drop Rufus off at Amanda Singh’s and then hope we can get through to Toronto. If we can get past the snow belt between Orillia and Barrie we should be alright.”

Ryan got in one side and Janet in the other. She looked back to make sure Reb was firmly fastened in her child’s seat and then turned on the wipers to clear the snow that had built up in the few minutes that they had taken to put the bags in the back. She put the truck in gear and they headed down the driveway that was quickly drifting in. Tonight she would see Robbie again if she had to get out and push this damn truck all the way to Toronto!

Three hours had gone by before Gwen had finished with Robbie. However, part of this time had been used up with Robbie swearing Gwen to secrecy and showing her the map of the land that she had bought. She had though Gwen would have to be bribed or even blackmailed if necessary, instead the woman had actually hugged Robbie, told her she was a God send, and promised to work for nothing on Christmas Day if necessary. Robbie had no idea that Gwen loved the north.

****

Brian had proven to be more difficult. He had quit. He announced bravely, that he was going to Trinidad and Tobago no matter what, and that he was not going to live any farther north than suburbs of Toronto. Robbie was forced to resort to blackmail and bribery before the man broke. He handed over his plane tickets to Gwen, when she told him that she was planning on moving north.

Robbie leaned back in her leather chair and smiled happily. Tonight she was going to see Janet and the girls again and as far as she was concerned that made life just about prefect!
Part 3
You could barely see the lights of Toronto through the snow. Robbie looked at her watch again. Janet and the kids should have been here hours ago. She had arrived at her condo to find a message on her service saying that the ‘copter was grounded and that Janet and the kids would be making the trip by truck.

She had tried to get them on the cell phone but they had not answered. She’d called the police. The 400 had not been closed yet, but traffic was down to one lane in some parts. She paced around the room again, dread eating at her guts. If anything had happened to her family….the elevator started rising and Robbie was over there in an instant, nervously swaying from foot to foot.

The door opened and out piled her family. “Hi everyone!” Robbie called happily, picking Reb from Janet’s arms and giving the child a kiss and a fly over her head. She pulled an embarrassed Ryan close for a hug, after she had brought Reb in for a landing. Then she turned and let Janet, exhausted from a hellish drive, fall into her arms.

“Oh Robbie, I am so glad to see you! What a trip! You’ve lost weight, love,” Janet mumbled, hugging her lover close.

“I was getting really worried,” admitted Robbie, giving Janet a quick kiss on the cheek. “Are you guys okay?”

“Sure, Aunt Janet can handle anything!” bragged Ryan.

Janet gave Ryan an affectionate hug. “Ryan kept Reb amused for hours. If she hadn’t, I’d have probably left the ankle biter upside down in a snow drift, I was so tense!”

“Well, come in. I had sandwiches and soup sent up from the restaurant. I’ll heat the soup up again in the microwave,” said Robbie.

“Good, I’m starved. I’ll just see to getting Reb settled down. Ryan fed her in the truck. I’ll be back soon.” Janet trotted down the hall with a sleepy Reb over her shoulder, and Ryan followed Robbie to the kitchen.

She looked around at the magnificent, designer living room and the expensive kitchen. Over tired and grumpy, the wealth rubbed on old hurts. “So if you have so much money how come you couldn’t take care of me?” she asked sarcastically.

Robbie too was feeling over tired and stressed. She’d been on the move from city to city for six weeks trying to sell the critics and public on her new style of film. Before that, she’d had to deal with Ryan’s accident and Janet’s illness. “Get off my case, Ryan,” she muttered crankily, as she stuck a container of soup in the microwave.

“No! I want to know!” whined the young teen.

Robbie sighed and turned to face Ryan. “I was in a lot of trouble at the time. I didn’t want you growing up having to live down my past. I explained this to you before.”

Ryan pulled a face and rolled her eyes, “So what could be worse than getting knocked up with me. Were you turning tricks? Selling drugs? Did you murder your old man for his money?” she smart mouthed.

“I SAID DROP IT!!” yelled Robbie, heaving a bowl across the room. It smashed into pieces against the stone of the fireplace. Janet came running down the hall. Ryan had backed out of the kitchen looking extremely afraid.

“What’s going on?” she demanded looking between Ryan and Robbie.

“Stay out of this, Janet!” snarled Robbie her eyes flashing with anger. She’d gone through enough with out having to put up with Janet defending the rudeness of this brat of a kid.

“Okay. But before you discuss this matter with Ryan, could I just talk to you for a minute? Ryan, your room is the second on the right, hon. Why don’t you take your bags down there.” Ryan nodded and escaped. She had read that her mom had a violent temper. Now she had seen it, and it was pretty scary. It hadn’t been so much what her mom had said or done, it was the energy that she seemed to radiate, like a reactor having a melt down.

“Leave me alone,” snapped Robbie, banging things around noisily in the kitchen. Janet walked over to her and wrapped Robbie in her arms. The stiff body crumbled at the warm, gentle touch and she sobbed against Janet’s shoulder. Janet held her and let her get some of the tension out. Then she took a tea towel and backed up a step to wipe Robbie’s face.

Robbie took the towel from her and sniffed back the last of the tears as she dried her tears. “Damn,” she croaked out with a raw voice.

Janet smiled and rubbed Robbie’s back. “No, I don’t think it is quite that bad but you two sure pushed the envelope a bit. She was an over tired teenager, Robbie. I don’t know what happened in here, but I do know that teens have a Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. We’ve been pretty lucky with Ryan so far. She has been really willing to except a lot on faith. There will be some bad times, Robbie. You have to expect that.”

Robbie nodded. “Yeah. I really love the kid, you know… I…I guess I’ve got a lot of guilt about not being there for her. She wanted to know, if I was so damn rich, why I couldn’t raise her.”

Janet looked at Robbie. “You’ve been away a long time. She was testing. What she really wanted to know was that you still wanted and loved her. Tell you what. You clean up the mess in the living room and I’ll go clean up the mess that’s your daughter. Then you two can talk it out, okay?”

Robbie nodded, looking strained and tired. Janet reached up on her toes and kissed Robbie tenderly. “I need you, too,” she whispered and left.

Ryan had her headphones on. That was a bad sign. Ryan only put her headphones on when she was escaping. They were her sign to the world that she had an attitude and to leave her alone. Janet sat on the bed and waited. It took about thirty seconds to wait Ryan out. “She’s a bitch.”

“Is she?” asked Janet in surprise.

Ryan took off the earphones. “Look at all this!” she exploded. “Why couldn’t she take care of me! She could have hired a nurse if she didn’t want to be bothered herself!”

“I don’t know, Ryan. All I know is that whatever happened back then impacted terribly on the whole family. Robbie won’t discuss it with me either. Whatever happened, your mom has never come to terms with it. She is still very much afraid that her past will come back to hurt us all.”

“So why has she taken me in now?” asked Ryan, playing nervously with the wire on her earphone.

“Because of the accident. She thought she was going to lose you. That made her realize that you were something very precious to her, and she had already lost too much time that she could have shared with you. I think too, that she realized that children could like her because Reb did. It gave her the courage to try to be a good mother to you.”

Ryan licked her lips. “I was pretty rude.”

“The nice thing about being close to someone is that you can say you are sorry, and if you really mean it, that person will always give you another chance. How about I go see to dinner, and I send your mom in here so the two of you can talk?”

Ryan nodded and Janet gave her a hug and left. Janet blinked the sleep from her eyes and forced her weary body down the hall. She found a sad looking director puttering hopelessly around the kitchen. “Okay, your turn. Try not to throw anything valuable,” twigged Janet, with a soft smile. Robbie hesitated. “Go on you big coward. You got yourself into this one, and now you are going to have to wade out.”

Robbie frowned and headed down the hall as if Janet had forced her to walk the plank. Janet watched her go with eyes filled with compassion and understanding.

“Ahh, hi,” said Robbie awkwardly, from the doorway.

“Ahh, hi,” responded Ryan nervously, as she sat on the edge of the bed.

“Ahh, can I come in?”

Ryan nodded and Robbie went in and sat on the bed beside her. She frowned. What do I say? I’d best just tell it like I see it, as I usually would. “I didn’t like that. I didn’t like fighting with you. I didn’t like being pushed about something I just can’t discuss. I didn’t like making an ass of myself by losing my temper and I didn’t like having to come in here and try to talk to you because I’m no good at words,” said Robbie, staring at the wall.

“You’re a famous playwright,” snorted Ryan, looking at the same wall.

“I guess, I could write you a play, every time we fight,” reasoned Robbie, with a weak laugh.

“Oh yeah, then you’d get to put words in my mouth!” objected Ryan good naturedly.

“I’m sorry. I wished I’d been a better mother. I wish…well, the only good that came out of that time in my life was you.”

“I’m sorry, I acted like a jerk,” confessed Ryan.

“It’s okay. I guess we both kind of dumped on each other. You hungry?” Robbie asked, finally getting up enough courage to look at Ryan.

Ryan fell into her mother’s arms. “Don’t send me away,” she sobbed.

Robbie’s heart stabbed with pain. “Oh, sweetheart, I’m never, never, going to do that!”

“Hey, anyone for soup?” Janet yelled from the kitchen, getting a little nervous by how long the two Williams had been locked up together.

Mother and daughter came down the hall together and Janet gave a sigh of relief. Robbie lit the gas fireplace, and they sat around with cups of lobster bisque with sherry soup and herb and salmon sandwiches.

Robbie and Ryan soon got into a heavy discussion on modifications they could make to their snowmobile and what Ryan had learned about snowmobile racing from her instructor, George Drouillard of Drouillard’s Small Motors fame.

They looked up some time later, to find Janet curled in a chair, fast asleep, her empty cup in her hands. “I think Aunt Janet has had it,” whispered Ryan.

“Yeah,” sighed Robbie. “I guess I kind of left her to handle things,” she admitted, belatedly feeling a sense of responsibility.

“Yeah, the drive took us almost eight hours, and Aunt Janet white knuckled it most of the way. It was really scary out there with the white-outs. And then I had to go throw a temper tantrum,” reviewed Ryan, starting to feel a rather rotten human being.

“You and me both,” agreed Robbie. The two Williams looked very guilty as they sat watching Janet sleep.

“And we didn’t include her in our conversation,” added Ryan, keeping a list of their crimes. “That was bad manners.”

Robbie frowned. “She looks awful pale.” Tomorrow was Janet’s test, and she wasn’t supposed to get over tired if she wanted to get well.

“Do you think she’ll kick us out?” Ryan asked insecurely. Tears welling again in her eyes.

Robbie managed a weak smile, and rubbed the back of her daughter’s neck with her hand. “No, it’s not that bad, but we’ll have to think of something to make it up to her. We sort of acted like Williams creeps.”

Ryan nodded. “You help her to bed, mom, and I’ll clean up dinner. Wait until I tell the kids at school that take-out at your place is lobster bisque in sherry and salmon with herbs! Usually we send out for pizza.”

Robbie pulled a funny face at her daughter and went to pick Janet up out of the chair. She murmured softly in her sleep but didn’t wake as her lover carried her down to their room. She gently lowered Janet to the bed and then carefully stripped her down. “I can do that!” protested a groggy voice.

Robbie leaned forward and kissed a soft, warm belly. “Mmmm, let me. I’ve missed you,” she murmured.

Janet smiled, her eyes still closed. “I missed you, too.” She was fast asleep again by the time Robbie tucked the sheets up around her. She kissed Janet tenderly on the cheek, and then went to help her daughter. I have to learn to be more thoughtful if I’m was going to have a family, she concluded as she walked back down the hall. I’ve got to stop thinking like a one.

There had been words the next morning too. Robbie wanted to take Janet to the hospital and wait with her. Janet pointed out that there had been a near riot the last time she had been recognized sitting in the waiting room. Ryan said she would go with Aunt Janet and that made Robbie sulk even more. They compromised with them all going, and the three Williams waiting out in the truck until Janet came out.

Janet took the hospital elevator down to the main floor, doing up her jacket as she went. Southern Ontario was in the gasp of a nasty cold front that had sent the temperature plummeting. She crossed the lobby and slipped through the automatic doors to be hit by a wall of cold air and blowing snow. Janet shivered and pulled her collar up around her neck to protect her face from the elements.

“There she is,” blurted Robbie, “Stay with Reb,” she ordered, getting out and hurrying to Janet’s side.

Janet looked up to see Robbie dodge two cars and hop a guard rail choked with snow as she bee lined to her. She is such a wonderful idiot, Janet thought as Robbie scooped Janet under her arm. “The doctor said everything looks fine. I’ll have to wait a few days for the test results to come back from the lab but the doctor seemed fairly confident that they have got the cancer.”

Janet felt more than saw the relief flow through her lover. Robbie didn’t say anything. She couldn’t. She just squeezed Janet close to her, protecting her from the wind as the two of them made their way back to the truck.

“Well?” asked an anxious Ryan, leaning over from the back seat.

“I’m fine!” Janet smiled, reaching up to pat Ryan’s face.

“Cool,” Ryan said confidently, as if it had been a given. “Let’s go celebrate!”

Robbie arrived late at her office the next day, as some of the private celebrating that she and Janet had done had continued again in bed that morning. The elevator doors slid open to chaos. Personnel from several departments crowded the hall and angry voices seemed to be emanating from her office. “Okay, everyone, back in your cages!” Robbie snapped, from behind the gawking group.

“Williams!” someone warned, and the group hastily retreated back to their desks.

Robbie strode down to her office. Two police were holding back two very angry men. Robbie recognized one of them as Brian. The other was hard to identify with the blood spurting from his nose and the swelling of his left eye but Robbie suspected that it might be Gwen’s husband. She had met him, she thought, at the staff Christmas party one year.

A security guard bent over Gwen, applying some ice wrapped in a paper towel to her jaw. “What the hell is going on in here?!” Robbie demanded, slamming her briefcase on Gwen’s desk, and coming around to kneel by her secretary.

She had a nasty bruise on her jaw. “You okay?” Robbie asked softly, seeing the shock in Gwen’s eyes. Her secretary nodded. Robbie stood up, radiating authority. “Okay, who suckered my secretary?!” she growled.

“He did! The bastard’s been cheating on her, and when she served him with divorce papers, he came in here and hit her!” yelled Brian, as the cop held him tight.

“I’m going to sue you, you hear! I think you broke my nose!” came a nasal voice from under the blood.

“Brian, did you hit him?” Robbie asked calmly, looking at her assistant director with new respect.

“Twice!” Brian bragged.

“Good. Remind me to give you a hefty raise,” Robbie commented, and then turned to the cop holding Smith. “Officer, I will be pressing charges against Mr. Joseph Smith for trespassing, and assaulting one of my employees. We will also want a restraining order filed against him.” Robbie walked over to Smith and looked him in the eye. “If you bring charges against my assistant for protecting my secretary, I will hire a battery of lawyers to see that you go to hell in a hand basket. Officer, please remove him from my office.”

The Toronto constable smiled, and led the man from the room. Robbie turned to the other officer. “I think it is safe to release my assistant now. He seems to have stopped frothing at the mouth.” The police officer laughed, and let Brian go. He went over to Gwen immediately. What the hell has been going on around here while I was away?!

It took most of the rest of the morning to fill out police reports and lay charges. Robbie called her lawyers to represent Gwen and Brian and the company nurse to see to Gwen. She now sat leaning back in her chair with her eyes closed. Brian sat across from her.

“Okay, Brian, I’m waiting, make it good.” She sighed, tapping a finger on the arm of her leather chair.

“I got here a little early for our meeting and found him manhandling her so I hit him. He got up, so I hit him again,” explained Brian with dignity.

Robbie nodded and lifted her hand to wave him on. Brian cleared his throat. “About five weeks ago, I found Gwen crying. She’d found out her husband had been cheating on her for some time. So naturally I offered her condolences.” The hand waved again. “And took her to lunch.”

An eyebrow arched up and Robbie looked at Brian through one blue eye. “Are you fooling around with me secretary?!” she snapped.

“No! She won’t let me,” responded Brian with heated annoyance. Robbie burst out laughing.

As her private elevator rose to the top floor, so did Robbie’s spirits. She was going home to her family, Janet was well, and Christmas was coming. Robbie hummed a Christmas carol as she rode up. The doors opened and Janet was there to meet her. She pulled Robbie back into the elevator and pressed down. Then she said hello properly in a long, probing kiss. On the way back up, they tried it again.

“Voom, voom,” came two children’s voices, one baby like and the other taking on the deeper tones of adulthood. “Foot out! Lean to the curve!” Robbie looked at Janet for an explanation.

“Ryan’s teaching Reb how to race a snowmobile on your exercise machine,” she giggled, and Robbie rolled her eyes.

“Hi, Oby! Hi, Oby! Peas fly me!” squealed a delighted two and a half year old, running to be scooped up and spun over Robbie’s head.

“Hi, Reb! Hi, Ryan!” Robbie laughed, looking over her shoulder at her daughter, as she came out of Robbie’s gym room.

“Boy this place is swell! It’s just like a mansion on stilts! Wait until you see what I did to your computer!”

Robbie paled and lowered Reb to the floor. “You were playing on my computer?” she asked weakly.

“It’s okay, mom, I saved and closed all your stuff. Boy, are you messy. So you’re into special effects huh?! What until you see mine,” Ryan bragged.

Janet put a restraining hand on Robbie who was about to say something she might regret. “Show us what you’ve been doing, Ryan!” Janet cut in.

“Come on, Reb!” she called, heading down the hall to the state of the art editing room that Robbie had set up.

“If I drop her from the twenty-fifth floor will she die before she hits the ground?” growled Robbie, under her breath, as she shed her coat and boots.

Janet grimaced. “It’s partly my fault. I didn’t see any harm in her using your computer to do her homework.”

“That is NOT a computer room! It is a two million dollar editing room that just happens to have a bank of computers in it!” explained Robbie, shaking her head in disbelief as she stomped down to the room. It could be worse, at least it’s between films, she consoled herself philosophically.

“Oh boy,” whispered Janet, and followed along in Robbie’s wake.

Ryan waited until they were grouped around the main computer. Then in a circus announcer’s voice she said, “Ladies! I present the X rated Rebryan Production of Bear Facts! Okay, Reb, press the key!”

Reb giggled and carefully pressed the key that Ryan had taught her. The screen saver flashed to video mode and the music to Teddy Bear’s Picnic started to play. Little yellow Winnie the Pooh bears in red shorts waddled across the screen. In their midst was a cartoon character looking remarkably like Reb. The character sneezed and all the bears lost their shorts.

Reb broke into gales of laughter. “Play again, Sam! Play again, Sam!” Reb squealed with delight. Janet and Robbie laughed until the tears rolled down their faces.

They laughed through dinner too, Robbie telling them the story of Brian’s gallantry and Ryan and Janet telling Robbie about their trip to the grocery store near by.

“We got a grocery store around here?!” Robbie asked in amazement.

The aunt and niece laughed. “Mom, you have to see this place! They’ve got the food locked up!”

“What?” asked Robbie blankly. I don’t recall any food locked up in Bartlett, although for what you had to pay for a good, thick steak it ought to be.

“They’ve got a locked cabinet with small rolls of truffles and pate for a hundred and fifty dollars! There was this container about the size of a bread roll of black carviar from Russian sturgeon for seven hundred dollars! They had live lobsters in tanks too. I wanted to have lobster for dinner, but Aunt Janet couldn’t bring herself to condemn one. So we bought dead lamb instead! We couldn’t find toilet bowl cleaner though, could we, Aunt Janet?!”

Robbie looked at Janet. “I’ve got a cleaning staff.”

“I wanted some to take back with us,” Janet explained, as she took Reb’s spoon from her, and helped her clean up the last of her dinner.

“The manager was impressed that you had live in staff,” Ryan giggled.

“What?!” Robbie laughed, simply because the other three were.

“The manager thought we were the maid service,” Janet explained, “because I asked for toilet cleaner.

“Boy, do you live in a snobby neighbourhood, mom!” teased Ryan holding her nose in the air.

“Don’t let it go to your head, kid. I’m leaving all my money to the Canadian Tax Department.”

****

Much later, Robbie lay in bed feeling just about as happy as a person could feel with out exploding with joy. Janet lay partly draped over her body fast asleep. She grinned. What I and Janet have together is just…great! She lifted her head to drop a kiss into soft hair. Life is great!

We’ll head back up to the cabin tomorrow early because we needed to take the truck back. It’s Sunday tomorrow, and Janet and Ryan need to be back at school on Monday. I think I’ll take a month off. Practise for the winter carnival that is coming up and then it will be Christmas.

Christmas! Robbie’s eyes popped open and sleep fled. Didn’t families buy presents and things?! Damn it! What the hell am I going to get them?!

Monday morning, six girls sat around Stacy Nona in the dining hall. It was there secret meeting place before classes started. “So I’m tell you, Robbie Williams is gay!”

“Why would she want to be gay?” asked Angela, who failed to see the logic in it, “She’s really feminine and good looking. I thought only ugly girls became gay because they couldn’t do any better?”

Taira blinked in disbelief. ” Angela, your talking nonsense. At one time homosexuality was thought to be caused by over possessive, dominating mothers. We now believe that it might be genetic. You are born gay.”

“Weird!”

“No, perverted and a mortal sin! We’ve got to do something. We don’t want their kind here! Ryan must be gay too, if it’s in the genes. She’s even got a guy’s name. I say we make her want to leave this school!”

“You’re just angry because she caught you taking her lab kit and made you give it back,” observed Debbie.

“I needed it. I lost stuff out of mine and she wasn’t using hers then, anyway! She’s a bitch! She’s been kicked out of other schools, you know!”

“What for?” Angela asked, loving a bit of gossip.

“What do you think. Like mother, like daughter if you ask me. And they’re staying up there with our principal. Makes you wonder!” stirred Stacy.

“Do you mean…”

“Shhh, here she comes.”

Ryan saw the looks and steeled herself. She’d gone through enough hazings to know the signs. “Hi, guys! Some storm on Friday, huh?”

Stacy lifted her big bulk and stood in the doorway, blocking Ryan’s path. “We’ve been talking. We know what your mother is and we don’t want your kind around here.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way. I don’t know my mother very well yet, but she seems like a very nice person.”

“She’s a damn queer and so are you!” snarled Stacy, pushing Ryan back into the wall while the other girls crowded around to act as cover. “You’re going to leave here, got it! Leave! Leave! Leave!”

The blows fit on each word. Ryan could have fought back. At other schools she had but she wanted to stay here. She wanted to live with Aunt Janet and her mom, so she let the blows fall.

Robbie had just come in from doing her practice laps on the snowmobile, and had to pull off her boots and run for the phone. “Robbie.”

“Robbie,” came Janet’s professional voice, “There’s been a situation. I need you to come over to the school right away. There has been a fight. Ryan’s okay, but pretty battered around.”

“I’m on my way,” came the grim response.

Stacy and her mother were already in the office when Robbie walked in. “You gotta get her kind out of here!” Mrs. Nona was yelling. “She tried to beat up on my daughter! And Stacy said that Ryan’s the one who has been stealing all the stuff from the girls!”

Robbie saw her daughter sitting forlornly in the corner of the principal’s couch, her face bruised and her lip cut. A ball of ice filled her gut as she slid in beside her daughter and let the young girl snuggle into her. “You all right?” Robbie whispered into Ryan’s ear. Ryan nodded yes.

“I didn’t do anything. It was a hazing, mom. Stacy’s got them worked up that we are all gays.”

“Lying bitch!” Mrs. Nona yelled.

“That will do, Mrs. Norna!” snapped Janet, interrupting before Robbie lost her tamper. “We are here to work out what happened, not to yell insults at each other!”

“We know what happened, that girl attacked mine. There are witnesses! She’s been stealing too, and I want her out of this school! My husband pays good money to send Stacy to this school. We deserve better!”

“Mrs. Nona, the thefts at the school are indeed a concern, but they have been going on a lot longer than Ryan has been here. She is not involved in that issue. Stacy, have you any bruises, cuts or anything that need attending?”

“No, I fought the queer off, and taught her a lesson,” smirked the girl.

“Neither your language nor your tone, Stacy, are acceptable to me. If you wish to stay in the office, and participate in this discussion, then you will please talk politely or I will ask you to leave.”

“Hey, stop picking on my daughter! You’re just protecting your relatives. That’s not fair!”

A knock came on the door and Amanda Singh stuck her head in. “Sorry to disturb you, Mrs. Williams, but I have Debbie DeLuca out here and I think you should hear what she has to say.”

“Okay,” nodded Janet. Amanda walked in with a very scared looking student.

“Yes, Debbie, what is it you want to say?” asked Janet gently.

“Stacy told us if we didn’t support her story that she’d beat us up. But Mrs. Singh talked to us one day about what it is like to live with prejudice, and I don’t want to be part of that hate. Ryan didn’t do anything, Mrs.Williams! Ryan always tries to be nice. Stacy said we had to get rid of her because her mom’s gay!”

She stopped and blushed, turning to Robbie. “I’m sorry, Ms. Williams, I didn’t mean to call you a name.”

“That’s okay, Debbie, I don’t consider gay to be derogatory term. Go on.”

Debbie nodded. “Stacy has been the one stealing stuff. A lot of us knew but we were afraid to do anything in case she beat us up.”

“You’re lying! You sleep with Ryan!”

“Enough!” snapped Janet. “Mrs. Nona, some serious charges have been laid against your daughter. It would not be appropriate for me to investigate because I am related to the Williams. I’m going to suspend Stacy from school, and call a special meeting of the Trustees. They can evaluate the case and make some recommendation as to how to proceed. We’ll notify you as soon as we have set up a time for the meeting.”

“You’re going to take this kid’s word over my daughter’s?! My daughter was the one victimized here! Come on, Stacy. This damn school will be hearing from our lawyer!”

The Nonas stormed out, slamming the door behind them, leaving the room in a bubble of silence. Robbie stood, rigid with emotion. “Thank you, Debbie, for having the courage to live up to your convictions,” she said with feeling, offering Debbie her hand.

Debbie took it in a daze. “Thank you, Ms. Williams!”

Robbie turned first to Amanda and then to Janet. “And thank you for your assistance in this matter.” She reached down and helped her daughter up and left without another word.

Janet felt a massive headache forming. Was Robbie angry at her for doing her job? This was one hell of a mess and it was going to get worse, she knew. She became aware that Amanda had said something. “I’m sorry. What was that, Amanda?” she responded absently.

“Do you want to talk to Debbie? Or should I take her back to class?”

“No, leave Debbie here, I’ll need the names of the other students involved for the board. Thanks Mrs. Singh,” responded Janet, giving herself a mental shake and reminding herself that she had a job to do.

Robbie drove back to the cabin with a quiet Ryan at her side. She was having a melt down again, Ryan could see and she didn’t want to remind her mom that she was part of the cause. The truck came to a halt and Robbie slammed out, coming around, to Ryan’s surprise, to help Ryan from the truck. “Do you need a doctor?” asked Robbie, seriously.

“No, I’m okay, mom. I’m sorry.”

Robbie stopped and looked at her daughter with eyes as cold as the Arctic snow. “No, I’m sorry for exposing you to that sort of abuse.”

Ryan smiled and gave her mom a hug. “You are the greatest! Aunt Janet will work it out. We’re kind of a weird family but we are a family, aren’t we mom?”

Robbie held her brave daughter close. “Yeah, we are. Come on let’s get out of the cold.”

Mother and daughter sat drinking tea, their socked feet side by side on the coffee table and the fire blazing. “Ryan. There could be more days like today, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. I can handle it, mom. Don’t chicken out now, okay!” Ryan laughed although there was a worried catch to her voice.

Robbie took Ryan’s hand and held onto it. “I’m never going to leave you, Ryan. Doing so all those years ago was a mistake. One made for the best of reasons, but a mistake. Actually, ahhh, I was wondering how you would feel if , well, ahh, maybe, if your aunt was willing, we could, I mean I could…”

“You’re going to ask Aunt Janet to marry you?!” laughed Ryan with glee.

Robbie blushed deeply. “Well, there isn’t enough room in this place and the work at the lodge is going really well. I thought, in the summer, we all could move in over there. I don’t know how Janet would feel about that. I mean there is her job and well, she loves this house…and I’m kind of old and grumpy,” listed Robbie.

“Boy, I hope you do a better job when you ask her, mom. That was awful! You want me to do it for you?” teased Ryan to cover her nervousness. On the one hand, she wanted to be a family. On the other, she didn’t really want to have to put up with the abuse from idiots like Stacy. Living in a gay household was sure to make her a target.

“No! You butt out of this. I’ll ask her. Sometime, maybe, when the time is right. I just thought we’d do it quietly. You know, no one needs to really know. It would just be a family thing. What do you think?” asked Robbie searching her daughter’s eyes. I don’t want to hurt any of you but my love for Janet could do just that.

“So instead of you coming out of the closet we are all going to get in?” asked Ryan cheekily, hyper with the tension of having to deal with this day.

Robbie laughed. “No, but I don’t think we need to shock Bartlett too much. Let’s let them get to know us, and in time, they’ll probably figure it out for themselves.”

Ryan smiled, “Sounds like a plan,” she said heading for the washroom.

Robbie winked at her daughter, and picked up the phone, dialing the school. “Hi, Carolyn, it’s Robbie Williams, can I speak to Janet, please.”

“Hang on, Robbie,” came Carolyn’s pleasant voice.

“Hi,” Janet answered anxiously. She had just hung up from talking to the Chair of the Trustees, John, B. for bastard, Bartlett. Her headache was much worse and it was parent interviews tonight! She wasn’t sure she could handle a show down with Robbie too.

“I just phoned to tell you I think you are the greatest and that I’ll try to be objective when it comes to my daughter. I needed some time to calm down before I could say that, though!”

Janet laughed, a rush of relief flooding through her. “I love you. Ryan didn’t do anything wrong that I can see. We’ll just have to ride this storm out. The Chair of the Board is anti gay and works with Stacy’s father at the car dealership, so we’ll have to see… Don’t forget it’s parent interviews tonight. I’ll be home for dinner, but we’ll need to take separate cars because I’ll have to stay to the bitter end.

“Parent interviews? I don’t want to go! You just tell me what I need to know,” whined Robbie sulkily. The last thing she needed was to meet the Nonas in the hall tonight.

“No. You are Ryan’s mother and you need to talk to her teachers. This has nothing to do with me!” stated Janet firmly.

“Why the hell am I sleeping with the principal, then?” Robbie responded indignantly.

“Fringe benefits,” pointed out Janet with a laugh, leaning back in her seat and feeling some of the tension of the day slipping away.

“Mmmmm, like those,” responded Robbie, feeling the warmth of desire building deep in her being. “See you for dinner.”

“Okay. Let Ryan cook. I can’t face another meal of beans on toast,” Janet fired her parting shoot and hung up. Robbie pulled out her tongue at the receiver and hung up too.

****

Janet never made it home. Carolyn phoned to say she was at a meeting with John Bartlett and to please bring a sandwich when she came for interviews. The last hope Robbie had of faking a headache to avoid the evening faded. She was going to have to do her duty.

Robbie directed Reb’s spoon from her ear towards her mouth and looked at Ryan over her shoulder. “Hey, you’re a good cook”

“Mom, it’s frozen fish, carrots and stuffed potatoes! All I did was heat things up!” pointed out the ever practical, Ryan.

“More than I could do,” confessed Robbie. “Listen, is there anything I should know about before I go to this thing? Have you blown up any labs or anything?”

“Mom!”

“Just asking!” responded Robbie with a laugh and Ryan threw her napkin at her.

Robbie looked at her watch. “I’d better get going. Don’t forget to let Rufus out for a bit, then put on the exterior alarm. Make sure Reb doesn’t eat anything valuable and don’t watch Aunt Janet’s collection of dirty videos.”

Ryan snorted. “You call Simba’s Pride a dirty movie?! In this house, I have to make do flipping through old copies of National Geographic!”

Robbie gave her special daughter a hug and slipped on her parka. The last thing she wanted to do tonight was go to the damn school. She picked up the paper bag with Janet’s dinner in it and headed off.

To Janet’s surprise John Bartlett was very conciliatory. “We don’t want this to go to a board meeting, Janet. Can’t have that,” he said wiping his brow. “I don’t know if you realize this but Ted Peel owns the dealership. I’m just the manager. Ted is married to Olivia Nona, that’s her second marriage, so Stacy is my boss’s step-child.”

Janet’s face showed interest, inside she was sighing. Damn, small town politics! “If you think that puts you in a conflict of interest, John, you can let the rest of the board handle the situation.”

“No, no, Ted, he don’t want it going to the board! He came to me today after his wife called. He don’t want this leaking out to the community. Seems Stacy confessed to beating on the Williams kid and doing the stealing. She’s a smart enough kid to realize she’d better after Debbie blew the whistle on her. According to Ted, Stacy’s a lying trouble maker but you know how mothers are, they just don’t want to see it.”

“That puts us in a difficult position, John. We do need to resolve this issue. I can’t pretend that things weren’t stolen and that there wasn’t an assault here today.”

John Bartlett loosened his tie. “Look, this is what Ted wants. He said he’d shut Olivia up and move Stacy to a school in Toronto. He’ll pay for all the missing stuff, and in return, we let this issue end. I don’t want any trouble from all this.”

Janet leaned back maintaining her poker face; inside she was doing cartwheels of joy. She’d been worried all day that Bartlett would get his teeth into the gay issue and run them all out of town. Now, instead, she had him over the barrel.

“My sister-in-law is a very volatile woman, and she needs to be concerned at all times about her public image. These are very serious charges and I’ve got to tell you, she was furious when she left here today. She has the money and power to bring a team of lawyers from Toronto and crucify all of us. All I can promise you, John, is that I will do my very best to pacify her and comply with Mr. Peel’s wishes.

“I’m sure you are worried. I am. I’ll let you know as soon as I can.” After I let you stew for a few days, you rotten bastard. Janet stood. “Thanks for being so forthright, Mr. Bartlett.”

John Bartlett struggled to his feet, and left, looking a drained and worried man.

Robbie fumbled the list she had been given by a student at the door. Okay, first on the list, Mrs. A Singh, science teacher. Hey, that’s Amanda! Okay, I can handle that! Robbie headed down the hall and found the science lab. She walked in gingerly. She wasn’t used to dealing with Ryan’s schools on friendly terms.

“Hi, I’ve got the seven o’clock appointment,” Robbie said stupidly, standing at the door feeling very warm in her parka.

Amanda got up. “Hello! Come on in, have I got great things to tell you about your daughter!”

“You do!? Hey, that’s good!” beamed Robbie, walking forward, as she shed her jacket. “I can do great.”

In the end, Robbie was the last parent to leave, having stayed to hear what Janet had resolved with John Bartlett. She had been satisfied with the arrangement much to Janet relief, and Robbie had followed her home. Principal and parent walked in to find a worried daughter playing blocks with Reb.

She was on her feet in a second. “Is it all right? Can I stay?!” she asked nervously. Janet and Robbie glanced at each other, belatedly realizing just how stressed Ryan had been about the evening.

Robbie walked over and smothered Ryan in a big bear hug. “The teachers all agree that you are human and that you can stay as long as you stop eating your peas off your knife.” she joked. Into Ryan’s ear she whispered. “I am sooo proud of you!”

Janet smiled and walked over to rub Ryan’s back reassuringly. “Stacy has confessed to causing the problem and stealing. I’ve arranged for a boarding school placement for her in Toronto. That is not to be blabbed around though, okay?”

Ryan beamed, her smile the same white flash of delight as her mother’s. “Okay, Aunt Janet. I knew you’d fix it!” Janet and Robbie took off their coats and Ryan went to put the kettle on for hot chocolate.

When they were all seated around the fire, Ryan announced that she had a surprise. She picked Reb up off Janet’s lap and stood her on the coffee table. “Okay, we’ve been practising all night, haven’t we Reb?”

Reb nodded seriously, adoring eyes looking up at her big cousin. Ryan cleared her throat and Reb did too. Robbie and Janet tried not to laugh. “The letter R by Rebecca Williams!” proclaimed Ryan. “Say, room, Reb”

“Room,” giggled the two and a half year old, and everyone clapped and cheered.

“Say, Rufus.”

“Rufus!” yelled out Reb, her eyes sparkling with the attention she was getting. More clapping and cheering followed with the successful attempt at Ryan’s name.

“Okay, Reb, say Robbie.”

Reb giggled and hopped with joy. “Oby! Oby!” she chanted and launched herself at her aunt. Robbie easily picked her out of the air and twirled her over head with much laughter.

Ryan sat down with a sigh and shook her head in dismay. Janet giggled, “I think your mom will just have to be Oby,” she concluded.

Reb, now snuggled in Robbie’s arms nodded her head, and said stubbornly, “She Oby.”

Janet used the tip of her tongue to tease the corner of Robbie’s mouth. They had got the kids settled and then had shared a shower, taking turns washing each other’s hair. Now they lay warm and relaxed in bed, Robbie on her back and Janet curled around her.

“Did I tell you that Bill Anderson, he’s the Math teacher, said that Ryan is one of the strongest students that he has ever taught.”

“Yes, and you told me that Jason thought she showed talent as a cartoonist, that Amanda felt she could easily follow in her Aunt Elizabeth’s steps and that Milka was impressed by the maturity and depth of her writing,” murmured Janet running a finger over a hard, pink nipple.

“These parent interviews aren’t so bad!” concluded Robbie with a smug grin, pulling Janet in for a hug and kissing her on the forehead absently.

Janet laughed. “You can absorb praise like a sponge, Williams! Talk about smug with yourself!”

Robbie wore a grin so wide her jaw ached. “Hey, that’s my kid!”

“Shut up, Oby, and make love to me,” ordered Janet, kissing Robbie soundly.

****

Isabelle Selo unfolded the letter again that she had picked up at the post office. She read about how the investigative reporter wanted to meet her. Mr. Lucier sounded like a very caring and nice man. Yet you couldn’t be too careful. There was all sorts of perverts out there. She’d meet him in a public place and not tell him yet where she really lived.

She looked up at the big poster she had on the hall of Robbie Williams. It was the one of her dressed in a black sleeveless T-shirt, looking hot and dirty and carrying a machine gun in her long, strong hands. She liked this poster best of all although she had all of them. She liked the way the sweat beaded on the bulge of her forearm and the way her eyes shone so blue through the dark tangle of hair.

Robbie looked around the crowded room with disinterest. It was the annual Bartlett staff and trustee Christmas party, and it was a bore. Educators were conservative and nice, and they threw really well organized and predictable parties. She thought about some of the parties she had attended in the film industry and smiled.

The man, who had cornered her,was John Bartlett. He managed the car dealership, and he had been going on for some time about the possibility of Robbie’s companies buying off them now that she was settling in town. He was the Chair of the trustees, and Janet disliked him. Robbie disliked him too, just on principle because he was Stacy’s step-father.

Her mind suddenly clicked in to what he was saying. “These teachers have to understand that the tax payer wants value for their money! They’re well paid to work for ten months of the year and it’s a job anyone could do, just standing up there talking. Yet, they’re not getting the job done! Kids today can’t read or write, and that’s a fact! Now if teachers had to work in the real world…”

Robbie lost it. “What the hell do business people know of the REAL world? You sit in your office all day pushing paper with your hand-picked staff. If someone doesn’t live up to your standard, you fire them. It’s not like that in teaching, Bartlett. It IS the real world.

“You get thirty little, very imperfect kids, each one of them with a school bag full of individual needs. You want to talk about the REAL world! When have you had to deal with cases of sexual and physical abuse of children? Or the trauma caused by divorce? When have you had to deal with the Special Needs kid, the emotionally disturbed child, the lice, the neglect, the poverty, the teen pregnancies, and all the other stresses that teachers quietly deal with day after day on top of teaching!? You know dick all about the REAL world, Bartlett!”

Bartlett turned beet red and started to look around nervously, as Robbie’s stage voice carried all over the room. “Every damn adult who gets elected or spawns a child suddenly thinks they are experts on education! Bull! Get a university degree, your college training, and then work in a classroom for ten years and you’ll have something worthwhile to say!”

Carolyn came charging around the corner into the kitchen to find Janet talking to Milka about the new language guidelines. “Janet, come quick! Robbie’s telling Bartlett the truth about education!”

“Oh shit!” whispered Janet, as she put her drink on the counter, and bee lined for the living room.

“When do you think the curriculum gets researched and written? When do you think the marking gets done or the lessons planned?! When do you think the sports teams practise, or the field trips get planned or the concerts are rehearsed? Do you actually think that happens in the classroom?!”

“Ahhh, Robbie could I see you for a moment,” interrupted Janet pulling on Robbie’s arm. “Excuse us, John, won’t you,” she smiled, “I have something I need to show Robbie.”

“Of course, of course.” Bartlett smiled weakly, backing away with relief.

Janet pulled Robbie into the now empty kitchen. “What the hell were you doing out there?!”

Robbie looked annoyed and stubborn. “Telling that asshole the truth!”

Janet sighed, and shook her head, coming over to place her hand on Robbie’s hard stomach. “Robbie, teacher bashing is part of the job. No one in politics is going to admit that they don’t know what they are doing when it comes to setting up educational programs and no parent is going to admit their child is slow or poorly raised. It is always going to be the teacher’s fault.”

“But a teacher with thirty students has less than five minutes of individual time with each child a day! What can they do to solve all the problems that parents dump on them?!”

Janet frowned. “Robbie where are you getting all this stuff?”

Robbie smiled. “I read your manuscript about your first five years of teaching. It’s good. I think we’ll make a movie out of it someday!”

Janet’s mouth fell open and then snapped shut. Her jaw tightened. “Robbie, my manuscript was on disc and in my desk files. I can’t believe you would be so rude as to go through my personal things! Damn it, Robbie, it’s not finished and I’m not sure I want it published never mind made into a movie! It’s very personal!”

“Yeah, I know, that’s what makes it so damn good!” smiled Robbie, in agreement.

“Robbie! What you did was very wrong! You violated my privacy!” snapped Janet, in angry frustration.

Robbie frowned. “Why would you want to have secrets from me?” she asked, in a hurt voice.

Janet rolled her eyes and stomped a few steps away, then turned and came back. “When you were working out your plans for the land you bought, did you tell me right away?

Robbie looked sheepish. “Well, no, I needed to work it out.” She shuffled her feet and a red glow crept up her neck as she realized what Janet was saying. “I’m sorry.”

Janet snorted in annoyance. “You’re sorry I’m upset! You’re not a bit sorry about going through me files!”

Robbie looked put out, “Well, it’s a start!” she answered defensively.

Janet looked at her with cold eyes. “Never again, Robbie. Promise.”

Robbie looked resistant. “What if there was an emergency and I had to go through your things?”

“Promise!”

“Okay, I promise,” Robbie surrendered. Worry crossed her face. “Are you going to stay mad? Did I get you in a lot of trouble?” she questioned belatedly.

Janet gave her a quick hug. “Thanks for defending us teachers. Don’t ever do it again, okay!?”

Robbie nodded, relieved to get off as lightly as she had. I got to learn to see my partner’s rights. This going serious with someone takes a lot of work.
Part 4
A still sleepy principal reached out a hand from under the covers and snagged the phone. “Hello?”

“They’re here!” came the cheery voice of Mary Drouillard over the line. “George is just unpacking them now! Greta’s T-shirt order is here too. She’s on her way over. George and I have already set two aside for us!”

Janet smiled. Mary never introduced a subject. She just expected people to know what she was thinking. “What is here?”

“Why your snowmobile suits in your racing colours that Robbie ordered for the whole family! Oh! George is holding one up now! It’s lovely, black with a gold slash down each side. You are going to look super! Bartlett will be able to hold their head up with pride this year, I can tell you!”

Janet controlled her emotions long enough to say, “Really! Well, that’s great, and just in time too! We’ll be down later today to pick them up.”

Robbie came into the bedroom, drying her hair with a towel, to run into a small but mighty barrier. “You ordered racing colours?!” Janet hissed.

Big eyes looked out between strands of damp, tousled hair making her look a bit like Rufus. “Yeah. Are they here? I was beginning to think that they wouldn’t get here in time for the winter carnival.”

“You promised me that this would just be fun! No getting carried away! Damn it, Robbie! I was just at a Williams’ funeral where the theme was racing colours! I don’t want to attend another one!” Janet fought to control her emotions. If anything happened to Robbie, she wasn’t sure she could go on.

Robbie pushed the hair off her face, realizing that Janet was really upset. “It’s just an outfit, Janet. Team Bartlett has to look the part.” To Robbie it was just all fun. The show, the competition, it was just all part and parcel of being Robbie Williams. She wasn’t sure she understood Janet’s fears. What could go wrong?

“Team Bartlett?!” fumed Janet, hands on hips.

“Hey it’s no big deal!” protested Robbie. “It seems Bartlett has never had anyone enter the regional races before, so we are sort of the town’s team by default. That’s all. And George said all the other teams had colours so what was I going to do!” smiled Robbie innocently.

“Black and gold!” exclaimed Janet, realizing she was losing ground. Loving a Williams was no easy task. She was starting to realize why Alexandria had divorced herself from her feelings; it was probably the only way to survive.

Robbie wiggled her eyebrows. Janet threw up her hands in frustration. “I want final say. If I think it’s too dangerous then I don’t want you racing. It scares me,” finished Janet her lip quivering.

Robbie pulled her close, not really understanding but moved by Janet’s distress. “Hey, it’s just a small, friendly contest. Okay, you’ve got final say. We Williams will be good. I promise.”

Janet felt some of the tension releasing from around her heart. It was as if Robbie was just attracted to danger. She didn’t want to chain her lover’s free spirit but she did feel the need for placing some checks and balances on the woman. She had a daughter and responsibilities. She wanted Robbie to learn that she couldn’t just live for the minute. “Robbie Williams, you are an olive!” she sighed.

“Mmmmm, let’s have breakfast at Maria’s and go pick up the outfits, okay? We can go to town on the snowmobiles!” laughed Robbie, almost dancing with excitement as she hugged Janet.

Janet smiled, lapping up Robbie’s enthusiasm. ” Okay. Let’s get the kids up.

The four Williams paraded into Maria’s and stripped off the layers of snow wear, their faces red with the cold. Outside, the ever faithful, Rufus sat looking through the window and waiting for the table scraps. The family had deliberately kept the speed of their snowmobiles down so that the determined dog could keep up. Maria bustled over. “Look, look, I am second to own one. Greta brought a box in for me to sell here in the store! These colours suits me, I think!

The group turned to see Maria in a black T-shirt with a gold four centimeter stripe along the shoulders and down the sides. On the left side in gold was the logo of a racing snowmobile. Across the top it read, “Team Williams” and below was written, “Bartlett’s own!”

“Robbie…,” started Janet.

“I didn’t know a thing about it,” cut in the director. Then she smiled. “We’ll take four please!”

“Ahhh, good! They are selling like hot cakes! Greta is using them as a fund raiser for the drama society!” explained Maria bustling off. Janet looked around. Everyone was looking at them. She’d come to expect this but today the other patrons were all smiling and holding up T-shirts or pointing to the ones they were already wearing.

Janet sat down defeated. Robbie and Ryan went around signing the T-shirts. Janet looked over at Reb, who was sitting forgotten in the highchair. “We should have just driven the truck home ourselves the night of the funeral,” Janet sighed. Reb blew a raspberry and laughed at Robbie across the room. “Great! My own daughter has become an olive.”

The day of the carnival was beautiful; clear, calm, and crisp. There were games for the kids and rides on horse drawn sleds. The Lions Club was playing Christmas songs over the baseball park loud speaker and the women’s auxilary were selling hot drinks, and barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers.

Ryan went off with some school friends, and Robbie took Reb on the small Ferris Wheel with Janet, rocking the seat back and forth until Janet ordered her to stop. Then they leapt on the back of a wagon covered with straw, and rode around the lake singing Christmas carols along with a handful of other town’s people.

Back at the carnival, Janet took Reb and told Robbie that she had to go and do her half hour selling at the auxilary bake sale table. “Robbie, look around but please don’t get into trouble!” she insisted.

Robbie looked angelic. “I am here just to have fun like any other Bartlett citizen!” she huffed.

“Be good,” Janet reinforced and hurried off to help the ladies. Robbie walked along checking out the various displays set up by different companies. She saw a handmade cedar picnic table that she wanted to show Janet. They could put it on the porch or down by the lake to use in the summer.

Rounding the corner, her eyes lit up. There ahead of her was her childhood fantasy, a bright red fire engine with its yellow ladder extended! She made a bee line for it. “What about you, Walt? The volunteer fire department needs new recruits. You get to ride on the fire truck and hack through your neighbour’s roof with an axe!” laughed George Drouillard, as Robbie came up.

“Sorry, George, my back’s not up to it!” Walt responded moving on.

“You run the fire department too?!” asked Robbie in wonder, staring at the big, red, fire eating machine with dancing eyes.

“Hi , Robbie. Yup, I’ve been the Fire Chief of the Bartlett Volunteer Fire Department for about ten years now, because I’ve got the only garage big enough to keep old Betsy-Lou in.”

“I want to join.”

George chuckled and scratched a spot above his ear with a finger. “Well, Robbie, I don’t think there is a rule against women belonging but it’s never happened before. You see that ladder, there. You gotta be able to carry a full grown man down it. Not too many women can do that!”

“I can,” stated Robbie, her blue eyes radiating confidence.

“Well,” George laughed nervously. “I don’t suppose we’ll have any trouble finding a volunteer to help you with that test!

Ryan and her friends heard the excitement and came over. There was her mother climbing into yellow, rubber pullovers and big black boots. Standing up on a platform by the ladder was Dave Potts who ran the general store. “Hey, Dave, watch where you put your hands now!” someone yelled up.

“Oh dear,” flustered David, who like his brother, was a shy, middle aged bachelor. He wasn’t at all sure about being carried over the shoulder by the star who had been named one of the most beautiful and sexy women of the decade by People magazine.

“Two dollars says she drops him,” called out someone.

“Five dollars says she gets him down but he dies of a heart attack with a grin on his face!” Everyone laughed and poor David, stranded at the top of the ladder, turned beet red.

“You can’t do this, George! Every man in town will be setting his house on fire and rushing to the second floor!” More laughs and good natured fun followed as Robbie pulled on her work gloves and set her helmet in place.

“Hey, mom!” waved Ryan. Robbie looked over, saw her daughter and smiled. Ryan leaned over the rail. “You show them guys!” Robbie winked and swung up on the back of the truck and headed up.

At the top, she slung David’s arm over her head, crouched and easily lifted the stocky man up on her shoulder. The crowd cheered. David closed his eyes.

This was the hard part, and the crowd fell silent. The other volunteers stood below with the fire net ready. For a second, she was hit by the pressure that she had taken on. That was her daughter down there. She couldn’t fail and she couldn’t fall. Maybe that was what Janet had tried to make her see.

Robbie got a good grip on the ladder with one hand and another on David, placed her left foot securely on the rung and swung out and around so that her other foot slipped onto the rung below. She shifted David into a more comfortable position and headed down the ladder to cheers and whistles from the crowd.

At the bottom, a few of the volunteers helped David, weak in the knees from the experience, down off the truck. Then Robbie jumped down. “You okay?” she asked David, who sat on the fender looking very pale.

“I’m fine. Dear me, nothing like that is ever happened to me before!” he gasped. Robbie laughed and leaned forward and pecked him on the cheek. Lucier, who had missed the ladder descent, had to be satisfied with a picture of Robbie’s pucker and David’s startled face. It appeared on the front page of the paper that Friday with the caption, Hot New Firefighter.

Janet stopped dead when she saw Robbie and Ryan advancing towards her. Robbie was dressed in the Fire Department yellow pants and jacket and Ryan was wearing a fire fighter’s helmet. “Guess what, Aunt Janet. Mom carried David Potts down the fire ladder, and now she’s a member of the Volunteer Fire Brigade!” bragged Ryan. “She’s got a bleeper and everything!”

Robbie stood there with that silly grin she got when she was particularly happy with life and hadn’t a care in the world. Janet closed her eyes and shook her head. Bartlett was never going to recover from Robbie Williams and her daughter. Somehow she had to make Robbie realize that little Bartlett was not Robbie’s personal play ground.

****

Janet had to admit that Robbie had shown considerable restraint when they walked over, that afternoon, to where the races were being held in the old cow pasture, beyond the Lion’s Club house. Big trailers with bright logos down the side provided storage for half a dozen snowmobiles and a full repair shop. The drivers had teams of helpers working on their machines. Team Williams was this pathetically small open trailer with one black and gold snowmobile perched on top. Their team consisted of the Williams clan and George Drouillard with a Jerry can of gas.

What they lacked in equipment, they made up for in spirit, however. Ryan drove their team entry slowly over to the warm up area with Reb sitting in front of her. The child’s helmet she wore made her look like a little alien. Black and gold homemade banners dotted the crowd and a big cheer went up as they arrived. The Williams clan, all dressed in identical snowmobile suits waved back. How did I get to be part of another Williams orchestrated event? Janet wondered.

Janet wished Ryan luck in the under sixteen race and took Reb to find a good place to stand. Robbie stayed behind with her daughter to review their plans for the race. “Okay, kid. Remember to watch your speed into the third turn. It’s icy over there, and you don’t want to spin out,” cautioned Robbie, checking everything over once again, before letting Ryan move up to the starting line with their snowmobile.

“Okay, mom!” smiled Ryan, with a sparkle in her eye at the thought of the speed and competition to come.

Robbie recognized the look with a sudden spurt of fear. She pulled Ryan’s helmeted head close and spoke into her ear. “You be careful. I want you back in one piece. I love you!” Ryan smiled and gave her mom a quick one armed hug, then moved up to the starting line with the others.

Robbie ran around to stand with Janet at the starting line. “She’ll be okay,” Robbie reassured Janet and herself as she bounced from foot to foot nervously. Janet reached out and rubbed Robbie’s back, feeling the tense muscles under her racing jacket. Robbie was a super mother in her own strange and wonderful way.

Robbie needn’t have worried. Ryan easily beat the other kids without really feeling the pressure to push for that extra bit of speed. A good actor, she hung back and let Ryan enjoy the limelight before going over to wrap her daughter in her arms, and hug the daylights out of her.

****

The adult competition was a much larger field of competitors. Robbie moved up through the heats, coming in first each time. In the last heat, she was racing in a group of six. The most serious competitor was from Helingone, a community north east of Bartlett. Helingone had got its name from the early loggers who had wintered over there, and who swore it was several miles north of hell.

The residents of Helingone seemed to feel that they had to live down the name of their town by being fiercely competitive. They always won the snowmobile races and the summer regatta. They particularly enjoyed beating Bartlett because Bartlett’s town sign read: “Welcome to Bartlett! We might be north, but at least we’re south of Helingone!” They did not see the humour in this.

Big Jim Ableton was their number one racer. He was a logger by trade and resembled a hard wood tree both in size and intellect from what Robbie could ascertain. He had gone out of his way to pass nasty remarks about the ‘girly’ team that Bartlett was supporting. Robbie meant to wipe the course with him.

They sat in a row at the starting line, revving their engines in anticipation of the flag. They were off with a roar and a blue cloud of exhaust. Robbie let the world fall away until she was just one with the machine vibrating under her. The track tunnelled by in a blur, Robbie conscious only of what lay ahead. One by one, the other snowmobiles fell behind with each lap until it was just her and Jim jockeying for position close to the inside of the track. They came down the last stretch side by side, Robbie slowly edging forward. Fifty feet before the finish line, Jim edged his machine over, touching Robbie’s back treads with his front ski.

The tread jammed for a split second sending Robbie into a wild spin. Jim crossed the line with Robbie spinning over a split second later. She felt the snowmobile tipping and leapt off. Her body was traveling at over a hundred kilometers an hour when it hit the snow. She spun like a top, arms and legs flinging out in all directions, then rammed back first into a bale of hay.

For a second, she lay there stunned. Then she rose up like a mushroom cloud over ground zero. She was going to cut Big Jim down to size, with her two bare hands. Shaking with anger, she took several steps in that direction. Then she caught sight of her family standing there, horror written on their faces. I scared them, she realized. She smiled and waved. She’d get that bastard in the final race.

Janet fell into Robbie’s arms not caring, at that moment, what people thought. “Oh God, Oby! I thought you were dead!”

“That was cool,” Ryan said, covering her own fear in humour. “You looked just like the blades on the helicopter. Bet you hurt!”

“Oby go booboo!” Reb observed, looking up at her hero.

Robbie bent and picked the small child up. “I’m fine Ryan, really. It looked worse than it was. I was just sliding along until I hit that soft pile of hay.” In actual fact, every bone in her body had been jostled and she had some pulled muscles aching that she didn’t even know she had. There was no use upsetting her family though and ruining a perfectly good day.

“I’ll get Ableton in the final,” she promised with a smile. “I’ll be ready for his tricks next time.”

“No,” said Janet and all the Williams looked at her in surprise. “Robbie, you said I could call the shots and I’m doing so. You’re finished racing today. I’m not letting you get hurt in some sort of grudge match!”

“Ahhh, Aunt Janet…”

Robbie touched her daughter’s shoulder and she fell quiet. “I promised your Aunt that if she wanted me to pull out I would. So that’s what we are going to do. The family’s more important than the race,” smiled Robbie, burning inside with frustration. Damn! Why did I make that silly promise!

Just then Big Jim swaggered past. He reached out a hand and gave Janet a slap on the back side. “Hey, girly, anytime you want a real man in your life, you just call. I think I can teach the school teacher a thing or two!” he smirked, as he walked on. Ryan and Janet had to both step in front of Robbie to stop her from going after him.

“Robbie?” said Janet, fuming with the insufferable rudeness of the man.

“What!” snapped Robbie, with more feeling than she meant. She was about one hair’s breath away from murder. No one touched Janet. No one!

“You kick his ass good in the next race!” snarled Janet. For the second time in a few minutes, the other Williams looked at Janet in surprise. Then they all started to laugh.

Ableton had the post position with Robbie to his right. When the flag dropped, they were off to a fast start. This time, however, Robbie stayed close to Ableton just back far enough that she sat in his rear view mirror’s blind spot. Every once in a while he would take a quick look back to see where she was. I’m getting to you, aren’t I, tree stump!?

Just after the last curve, Robbie made her move, dropping suddenly to the inside and burning past Ableton. He tried to move to the outside. Robbie moved with him, keeping him right behind, in her ruts and exhaust. She kept one eye ahead of her, and one on Ableton watching out for his tricks.

Sure enough, he tried to ram her back end. She kept just that couple of feet ahead of him right across the finish line. The crowd of black and gold shirts clapped and hooted their approval. Robbie was pushed on a tide of well-wishes over to the platform to get her trophy. “Thanks, to George Drouillard and my daughter Ryan and the rest of the Williams team and a big thanks to the people of Bartlett for their support!” she yelled out above more applause and cheers.

The Williams clan, Droullards, Greta Corry, and several of Ryan’s friends all sat at one table in the Lions’ Hall and feasted on burgers. It was a tired family that hitched up their snowmobile trailer and headed back to the cabin in the late afternoon. Dinner was a plate of sandwiches by the fire, Janet holding the sleeping Reb at one end of the couch, Robbie at the other and Ryan nodding in one of the chairs.

“Don’t you ever not tell me you are hurt again!” Janet commanded, later that night as she straddled Robbie’s naked backside and massaged her aching muscles. Robbie moaned with pleasure and wiggled her back side between Janet’s naked legs. Janet leaned forward and kissed the back of Robbie’s broad muscular back. “I think you have misinterpreted my nurturing activities,” she whispered into Robbie’s ear.

Robbie growled. An arm shot up and around Janet, and the next thing she knew she was under Robbie. The director kissed her long and deep and hungrily as she lowered her hips between Janet’s legs and moved rhythmically. It was Janet’s turn to moan as Robbie slipped down and did things to Janet’s body that made her go crazy with desire. She was getting close, panting with need, when Robbie’s beeper went off.

“Nooo!,” gasped Janet, burying her head in the pillow as Robbie leaped up and ran to the closet to slip into her clothes and firefighter outfit.

“Sorry, love, I’ll be back. Save my place!” Robbie said as she hopped about getting her rubberized pants on.

Janet threw a pillow at her. Then called out as Robbie headed out the door, “Don’t do a thing, just watch! You haven’t had any training yet!”

Several hours passed, while Ryan, who had been woken by the commotion, and Janet, who was too stimulated to sleep, waited for Robbie to return. They filled in the time baking cookies for Christmas.

Finally, the fire truck, flashing red lights, pulled up at the side door. Janet was there just as Ted Potts raised his hand to knock. “Evening, Janet, we brought Robbie back on account of she was in no good condition to drive.”

Janet paled. “Where is she?!”

“The boys are bringing her along now,” replied Ted, stepping aside so that George Drouillard and Moe Singh could help Robbie in between them.

Robbie was soaking wet and an awful shade of blue. She walked along on stiff legs with her arms around each man’s shoulder for support. Looking up and seeing Janet she said sleepily, “I’m hurt.”

“Oh Robbie! Ryan put the kettle on!” instructed Janet, realizing that Robbie needed something warm in her right away.

“Why thanks, Janet, we could do with a cup of tea,” said George, “I’ll get the rest of the boys!”

The sun was showing on the horizon by the time Janet and Ryan had stripped Robbie of her clothes and got her in a hot bath and then into a sleeping bag on the sofa. She had refused to be put to bed while everyone else was drinking mugs of tea and eating fresh, out of the oven, chocolate chip cookies in the living-room.

“So Larry Butler did a little too much celebrating after the race today, and decided to take a short cut with his snowmobile over Turn Back Bay. ‘Course, the ice there is no good, every fool knows that, what with the winds. Sure enough, the ice breaks up and he’s left a driftin’. He calls his wife, Flo on the cell phone and she calls us out. By the time we get there, his vehicle had slid off into the lake and so had he,” explained George between sips of tea.

“He’d managed to pull himself up on a small ice flow but it was clear he wasn’t long for this world if we didn’t get to him. We tried a few times, but the ice kept a cracken up under us. Finally, Robbie here, bein’ the lightest, slipped into a harness and crawled out to the open water but by that time old Larry was too far gone to care. So damn if the lady doesn’t keep right on a goin’. Swims about ten feet to him, hooks him on to her harness and we pulled both of them back in.” George stopped here to chew a cookie philosophically.

“Larry will be okay. I figure he had too much alcohol in his blood stream to freeze. It was quite a night. Just like one of them Williams’ movies.” Ryan, who was sitting on the floor by her mom, looked up with pride. Janet shook her head. They finally got to bed about six. Reb had them up by seven.

The following week Robbie had to fly down to her office. “Why don’t you invite your sister Elizabeth for Christmas while you are in Toronto?” suggested Janet, as she talked to Robbie on the phone.

Robbie snorted as if Janet was crazy. “My sister?! She only leaves her secluded world to go to physics conferences and then only once in a blue moon. I’m not sure she realizes Canada spreads farther than the suburbs of Toronto.”

“Please,” said Janet. “Family is important and Ryan really wants to meet her famous aunt.”

Robbie’s voice took a pouty tone. “So what is wrong with her famous mother?” she grumbled.

Janet laughed. “Ryan adores you but you are not the scientist!

“Where would we put her? The cabin is over crowded as it is. You practically have to book ahead to have a bath.”

“I’ve got it all worked out. I asked Bill Perkins and he said we can borrow his trailer. It has a good electrical furnace and a reasonable sized bathroom. We can run a power cord from the house. That way if Elizabeth needs some private time she can escape to her trailer. How does that sound?”

Silence.

“Robbie?”

“It sounds like you had dinner with Bill Perkins,” accused Robbie.

“No, coffee at Maria’s after the drama society meeting,” confessed Janet. “Jealous?”

“Yes!”

“Good. You’ll get back here faster to me. I miss you,” reinforced Janet, knowing that you could only pull the tail of a Williams once before you are likely to get a reaction that is less than funny.

“When, between coffee dates?!” snarled Robbie, partly in jest and partly out of a real need for reassurance.

“I miss you all the time, especially at night when I reach out for you,” she whispered gently, knowing her lover would be thinking the same thing she was.

“Mmmm, I like that. I’ll talk to Elizabeth but I make no promises. I’ll phone you tomorrow. Bye, my love.”

“Bye, darling,” responded Janet with a sad smile. She really would miss Robbie terribly.

Elizabeth wrote a complex equation on a piece of paper and looked at it with a half smile. Physics was so beautiful, pure, loyal to the laws of nature and yet so complex in its structure. It was like dropping a stone into the pool of the universe and watching the ripples of energy create eternity. She wished people could understand enough math to be able to see that beauty. It seemed a shame that only a handful of people in the world could read God’s blueprint.

“Hi.” Elizabeth looked up with a start to see her sister standing there. “Sorry, Elizabeth, are you okay? I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Elizabeth wiped the sweat from her upper lip with a shaky hand. “It’s okay. I usually keep my door locked when my secretary has left, that’s all.”

Robbie nodded. She understood Elizabeth’s fears. “So can we talk?”

Elizabeth’s eyes focused on Robbie sharply. What was going on with her sister? She had read with some surprise that Robbie had at last recognized her daughter. She had also seen an article about Robbie saving Billy’s widow from a criminal. She was glad she lived in the relative safety of the academic world. There was no surprises. She hated surprises. “Of course. What is it you which to discuss?”

“You know how I feel about Janet, Bethy. I wanted you to know that I’ve decided to ask her to marry me. Would you like to join our family for Christmas,” Robbie poured out, before she lost her nerve.

Elizabeth blinked, then blinked again. These were not surprises, they were two whopping big shock blows to her state of well being. Robbie waited. It took the better part of half a minute for Elizabeth to recover. “Love, I understand, is irrational, which explains the lack of logic in the rest of your statements,” she observed.

Robbie nodded. Beth was right. “My daughter Ryan, would really like to meet you. She thinks science is wonderful. She has already blown up a lab and she is only fourteen. Janet can borrow a trailer. It’s like a home on wheels, so you can have all the privacy you want. The cabin is kind of small. It would mean a lot to me, Bethy.” Robbie got out, a bit of sweat forming on her own lip. She hated these meaningful conversations.

Elizabeth did not want to go. She didn’t think she liked kids and she hated strange places, but Robbie had asked her, and if Robbie wanted it then there was no choice. “If you want me to, Robbie, I’ll come.”

Robbie smiled. “That’s great. I’ll take care of you, Bethy, you know I will!” Elizabeth smiled. Robbie always took care of things. Robbie was wonderful. She knew she could trust her.

“Listen, I haven’t actually asked Janet to marry me yet, so don’t say anything, okay?”

Elizabeth frowned. “You do know I do not approve of this relationship, Robbie,” she said, doodling numbers nervously on her paper. “We agreed, that because of our past, involving others in our life was not fair.”

A cloud came over Robbie face and she sighed. “There are days when I don’t either, Bethy. I must be crazy to risk recognizing Ryan and bringing Janet and Reb into my life, but I can’t go back. I don’t want to go back. This is the first time I have been happy in a very long time, Bethy.”

Elizabeth looked down at the numbers that gave her such beauty and pleasure. Robbie should have happiness too.

“Then I will support you, Robbie. I want you to be happy,” promised Elizabeth.

Robbie drove, with a frown, through the wintry streets of Toronto. She hadn’t noticed before how truly dreary winter in the city was. The yellow-grey sky hung low and wet and the snow, piled to the sides of the streets, was pitted with dirt. My lungs probably look like that, reasoned Robbie, pulling a face. She thought about the piles of white, fluffy snow in the north and the clear blue skies. I can’t wait to get out of here.

It had been a busy week and Robbie was feeling tired. The Brian, Gwen, Joe triangle seemed to have resolved itself for the time being thanks to the company’s bank of lawyers. The film was making millions, and was being hailed as the best love story ever. Ernie was making head way in selling nothing to the backers, and she had managed to get her Christmas shopping done.

That had been by far the most exhausting part of the week. It was dangerous out there! She had no idea how frantic and ruthless Christmas shoppers could be. No wonder they threw Christians to the lions! By the end of the week, she had been quite willing to participate in that age old Roman tradition!

Now she was heading her B.M.W., her Stingray never saw winter, over to the island airport to take the company helicopter up to Janet’s. She could hardly wait! Damn, she had missed her family. The last six months of her life had been like a rebirth. Her whole world had changed from icicles to fire. The cell phone rang, cutting into her thoughts. She picked it up off the seat.

“Robbie.”

“Hi mom!” came her daughter’s voice.

Robbie felt her particular cup of joy spill over. I’ve got one great kid, she thought proudly. “What’s up?”

“I phoned to warn you. Don’t come home; dye your hair, change your name, and move to Argentina.

She might not be able to track you down there.”

Robbie’s eyes widened as she turned into the parking lot of the commuter airport. “Who and why?” she asked calmly, as she punched the button to get her parking ticket. Robbie was used to having people gunning for her.

“Aunt Janet has spent all week watching your movies. She watched the ones you directed and wrote first, and then she started on the earlier ones you acted in. She said they are works of art and clearly show that you should be locked up as a deranged and sick human being.”

Robbie beamed, “Works of art, huh?! Why am I sick and deranged?” she asked, conversationally as she found her spot and pulled in, shoving the car into park while she leaned back to talk to her daughter.

“You killed the dog in Cold Night Walking; she and Rufus took it personally,” explained Ryan. “We all sat around and cried.”

“That’s what you were supposed to do!” protested Robbie. “Is that why I’m in the doghouse?”

“Nope, you’re in trouble because of Female Marines. I quote, ‘Robbie and THAT woman have something going! That Julie Devon is all over her like a rash!’ You’re in trouble.”

“That was ten years ago!” protested Robbie.

“She has big boobs…two of them,” Ryan explained, less than subtly.

“Oh oh.”

“I’m to take Reb to the library this afternoon for Read Along. She wants me out of the house so there are no witnesses. So were you sleeping with Julie Devon?”

Robbie looked at the phone in shook. “What are you, the teen from hell?! You don’t ask questions like that!”

Ryan giggled, “Thought so, you could see the chemistry.”

Robbie snorted, “What would you know about chemistry?! No! Wait, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. I wouldn’t be able to sleep nights!”

Ryan laughed, “Bye mom! Good luck!”

“Thanks, kid.” Robbie said softly, and hung up. Oh boy, I’m in trouble. Maybe a gift. Is there a store at the island airport?

Janet met Robbie at the door as she ran up the steps, grinning with happiness. “I’m home!” she yelled, and picked Janet up in her arms to kiss her. “God! I’ve missed you!

“Mmmm, I missed you too,” smiled Janet. They kissed again. Long and slow, desire building like a tidal wave.

“Anyone around?” asked Robbie, between kisses.

“No,” came the reply. Robbie carried Janet to the bedroom.

They sat later by the fire, waiting for the kids to come home, Janet snuggled into Robbie’s side and Robbie with a possessive arm wrapped around Janet. “Ahhh, I’ve been watching your movies. They really are good.” Oh,oh, here it comes, thought Robbie. “When you made Female Marines were you and Julie Devon…well…you know?”

“Yes,” stated Robbie. She’d decided that the only way to make their relationship stronger was to be honest with Janet. She was too smart a lady not to pick out a lie, otherwise Robbie might have tried it.

“Oh,” came a disappointed and pained voice. “She’s very beautiful. Is she nice?”

“Yes, she is very beautiful and she was a real pleasure to work with. She’s up beat, funny and a hard worker,” responded Robbie, in fairness.

“ET said there are rumours that she will star in your next movie,” Janet said, rubbing Robbie’s hand with the tip of a tense finger.

“I don’t have a screen play yet. I’m going to take some time off this winter and write. I have talked to Julie though, about the story line, and leaving herself available for the role next year.” The body she was holding went strangely still.

Silence. Janet’s hand stopped moving and she held onto Robbie’s hand tightly.

“Does that bother you?” Robbie asked gently, wrapping her hand around Janet’s.

“Yes.” Janet gasped and started to shake with tears.

Robbie’s heart gave a spasm of pain. She reached around and lifted Janet into her lap and held her close. “Shhh, love, it’s okay. There is only one person I will ever need in my heart and my bed from now on, and that’s you.”

“I’m grotesque!” sobbed Janet, holding onto Robbie tightly and dripping tears down her neck.

“No, you are not! Don’t ever think that or say it again!” said Robbie sharply. She pulled Janet away and forced her to make eye contact by lifting up her head with a gentle hand. “You turn me on. You satisfy me. You have given me more joy and happiness than I thought possible! Do you really think I’m such a low life that I’d cheat on you?!”

“You dumped Tracy Travelli,” mumbled Janet miserably, though tear filled eyes.

Robbie snorted. “Tracy was a convenience. She knew it. I knew it. We were just using each other. Things are a lot different for me now. I’ve fallen in love, deeply in love. I’ve got this…family…I don’t need or want anything else,” Robbie tried to explain, although the words fell well short of what she felt inside.

“Oh, Robbie!” Janet moaned, wrapping herself around her lover again. “I love you so much! Every time you do something dangerous or go away, I feel so vulnerable. I don’t mean to be so jealous and possessive!”

“It’s okay, I kinda like being wanted,” Robbie smiled, holding Janet close. “I work with a lot of beautiful and famous people, Janet. If I act, I’m likely to do a love scene. It’s just business. Nothing more. Sure people come on to me at times, males and females. You have got to know though that you are something special, and I’m never going to risk that.”

“I love you, Robbie,” Janet declared holding on as tight as she could. Robbie made a decision. This was not how she had planned to stage it, there was going to be soft music, a shining Christmas tree, and a quiet drink. Instead, it wasn’t going to be a performance, it was going to be real, here and now with a lover with a red nose from crying.

She slipped Janet onto the couch and went and got something out of her briefcase. Coming back, she sat beside her lover and kissed her softly. “You are my soulmate. I have always loved you, and I always will. Would you do me the honour of marrying me this Christmas?” asked Robbie, her stomach a nervous flutter.

“Oh Robbie, we can’t, the kids, my job…Oh Yes! Yes, Robbie! I love you so much!” Janet responded, feeling warm and loved inside the circle of Robbie’s arms. Robbie took out a blue velvet box and slipped out the ring she had bought. With great reverence, she slipped off the band of gold that Janet wore and slipped in its place her pledge of loyalty and love. For a long time, the two of them said nothing, too overwhelmed with the step they had just taken to find the words to express what they had found together.

“It’s beautiful Robbie. Everything is so beautiful now I’ve found you,” whispered Janet softly.

Robbie smiled. She knew exactly what Janet felt.

****

Robbie found David Potts sweeping out his small general store right on closing time. “You just made it, Robbie, I was just going to put the lock on the door,” he smiled.

“We gotta talk,” Robbie said seriously, closing the door behind her, and switching the cardboard sign around so it read, closed.

“Oh dear!” exclaimed David, looking truly frightened.

Robbie didn’t look much better. But she’d proposed now, and there was no backing out. “Ahhh, I need a favour. I understand you are the Justice of the Peace in town.”

David smiled in relief. ” That’s right! I bet you want your passport signed. I can take your picture too! I’ve got the camera back there by the meat counter.”

Robbie licked her lips. This is nothing to be ashamed of Williams, just ask the man! Even if he refuses Janet said he could be trusted to keep quiet. “This is a confidential matter,” Robbie clarified.

David frowned. “Well, I don’t think I do things like that! My job is for the public record. Maybe, you should see a lawyer, Robbie.”

Robbie swallowed. “I want to buy a marriage certificate and I want you to marry Janet and me,” Robbie got out in one long sentence.

David looked stunned. “Oh, my.”

“We don’t want it to become a circus. We just want to quietly exchange vows, and adopt each other’s children. Can you do that?”

“Well, I don’t know,” flustered David. “I mean I can, but I never have. Most people go to a minister!” he stalled. Robbie looked at him, one eyebrow up in annoyance and her arms crossed. “Oh! Oh dear! I guess that won’t do, would it?” David bit his lip and then smiled. “You know, I always wanted to be a minister! I’ve got the licenses right over here! Oh, this is so exciting!”

Robbie followed him frowning. “We don’t want a lot of people to know. We don’t want it getting out to the media,” she reinforced.

David stopped and looked at her in shock. “Robbie, I would never tell a secret,” he said, indignantly.

Robbie smiled, this guy was just too cute to be true!

It was Friday afternoon, and Janet had asked Carolyn, Milka, and Amanda to pop into her office before they left. They now sat in a row in front of her desk looking vaguely worried. “Ahhh, this is a personal and confidential matter.” Janet began, feeling embarrassed. “You are not only part of my staff but friends. I want you to know that I’m gay and that I’ve been seeing Robbie Williams.”

She waited. There was no reaction. The three women just sat there with smiles, waiting. Janet cleared her throat and went on. “We’ve decided to get married and wondered if you would feel comfortable in being there.” This time there were cheers and her friends got up to hug and congratulate her.

“We spotted the ring days ago!” said Carolyn.

“We thought you’d never tell us!” groaned Milka

“When is it going to be? Can Bert and Mohammed come?” asked Amanda.

Janet blushed brightly. “Yes, of course they can come if they feel comfortable at a gay wedding. It will be on Boxing Day, at the cabin. Robbie would like it outside, so we hope the weather will be nice. Ahhh, you understand, you can’t say anything. If the media got hold of this it would be a mess, and very hard on the kids.”

“Hey, we can keep a secret! We’re your friends! This is just so neat! Who is doing the ceremony?” babbled Carolyn.

“Ahhh, Robbie is arranging something today,” Janet stalled, not wanting to mention David’s name until she knew he had agreed.

Gwen got an e-mail: This is for Brian and your eyes only, Gwen. Janet and I are getting married on Boxing Day. You two are invited. The ‘copter will bring you up. R.

Gwen shook her head, typical Williams. She didn’t have the nerve to tell her face to face! And where was she going to get a babysitter for three kids on Boxing Day?! They’d just have to go stay with their father and his new live in, because she was not missing seeing Robbie Williams getting her wings clipped for the world! She hadn’t been sure about Janet at first but she had come to realize that the quiet principal was prefect for Robbie.

Christmas was wonderful. Elizabeth, to everyone’s surprise, including her own, felt very safe and comfortable at the cabin. She liked the small coziness of the trailer too. After the rather startling noise and confusion of her sister’s family, she could lie in her bunk at night, in the northern stillness and look at the clear stars out the window. She knew many of them by their name and number and their spectrograms.

She liked Janet. She was like a mother ought to be, friendly, caring, and she could cook too! She liked that. Elizabeth tended to warm some soup in a beaker over a Bunsen burner or stick a frozen dinner in the microwave. They had real Christmas cake, and sugar cookies cut and decorated with icing. There were stockings hanging on the fireplace, even one for her, and all sorts of parcels under the tree. She was glad that she had ordered each of them a gift. It was like the Christmases she had read about but never had.

And her sister was so different! Relaxed and funny and just great with the kids. Robbie was happy at last. That made Elizabeth happy. Ryan and Reb, she found, were fun. Reb liked to sit in her lap and play with her glasses. She called her Annie Beth and her sister Oby! Ryan was full of mischief and could be quite startling in what she would say and do. She was so very much like her mother, Robbie. Yet, when Elizabeth talked about physics with Robbie, she was right there and asked intelligent questions.

Elizabeth nodded in the dark of her trailer. Yes, she liked having nieces. She must find out when their birthdays were and send them a little something each year. Why that monkey, Ryan, had even taken her for a ride on her snowmobile into town to buy extra milk and butter and introduced her to the nice looking man who owned the store. Ryan had told her that he was also the town’s Justice of the Peace and would be the one that married Robbie and Janet. There was a man who could turn his hand to anything.

Christmas Day, Ryan was banging at her trailer door with a coffee at dawn. Elizabeth slipped over to the cabin in her wool housecoat and boots and joined the family around the tree. Janet handed out the presents and wouldn’t let anyone open any until they had been all handed out. Then it was pandemonium!

Once all the gifts had been exchanged with many hugs and kisses, much to Elizabeth’s surprise, they had a breakfast of homemade braided loaves and jam made from the blackberries they had picked that fall. Then they all went to church. It had been…magical.

Janet and Reb had gone for a much deserved nap and Elizabeth sat in the window by the fire watching Ryan and Robbie, down on the lake, rolling snowballs industriously. What in the world were they up to now? Large snow balls gradually formed a semicircle on the lake near the beach. Then, at ninety degrees to the arch a second row of three large snow balls was hoisted into place. Two were placed on the top of these and then one. The semi circle now had central tower.

Elizabeth pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and watched with interest. Two wood benches from the cedar picnic table were carried down and placed inside with an aisle between them. Why they are building a snow chapel! Elizabeth realized. How lovely! Carried by the moment, Elizabeth went and got her coat and helped her sister and niece wet and polish the snow walls until they shone

blue ice.

Later, when Janet joined them, she smiled with delight as she inspected the winter fairy castle under the dome of a robin blue sky. Elizabeth, in a rare moment of insight, took Reb from Janet’s arms and indicated to Ryan to follow her up to the cabin. Janet stood with Robbie and watched the setting sun turn their chapel to soft pink then royal blue. “I love you, Robbie. Thank you.”

“I love you,” Robbie smiled, “And you are welcome.” They walked hand in hand back up to the house.

“Robbie?” came a soft voice in the dark.

“Mmmm,” came the reply.

“Why are you still awake?” Janet asked, rustling the sheets as she moved closer.

“Why are you?” Robbie evaded, kissing a bare shoulder affectionately.

“Because, I’m scared skinny about tomorrow!” admitted Janet, kissing a soft breast.

Robbie laughed. “Me too. I do film, not stage,” she admitted.

“Terrific, all we’ve gone through to get to this point, and now we both have cold feet! It’s a very big step we are taking into the unknown. There could be some real tough moments ahead for us and the kids,” fretted Janet.

“Yeah. There is sure to be. But gays have fought long and hard for the right to enjoy the responsibilities and privileges that legally married couples have always had. We would be foolish to let our fears of what society might say and do stop us from taking this step.”

“I know. We’ve never talked about money or anything. I have a mortgage and…”

“We have a mortgage and we will pay it off.”

“That’s not fair! Why should you pay my debts!?”

“Because we are not going to be a you and me after tomorrow. We’ll be a we. Janet, have you any idea how rich I am?” asked Robbie in amusement.

“Rich enough to have a spare million anyway,” sighed Janet.

Robbie snorted. “Last year, my personnel income, not that of my companies, just mine, was over fifteen million. I think we can afford to pay off the mortgage.”

Janet giggled. “What’s so funny?” asked Robbie.

“Damn, you’re a good catch!” Robbie was obliged to show her just how good.

The ice chapel shone under the clear blue, northern sky. Evergreen trees, bowed with white pillows of snow framed the scene as the guests arrived and took their places. On Robbie’s side sat Gwen, Brian and Elizabeth. On Janet’s side was Mika, Carolyn and Bert, and Amanda and Moe. Bill Perkins was there too. He fancied himself an amateur photographer, and it was his bitter sweet duty to photograph the event from the side lines.

David Potts stood proudly in front of the snow wall. Robbie had wanted to buy him a blue jacket to wear for the ceremony but he had refused. This was his first and possibly only wedding and he planned to do it right, he told her. He had braved the cold in his navy blue, Sunday best suit.

Robbie and Ryan waited nervously by him. They both wore black pants and boots and buckskin jackets in soft cream. Indian bead work in bright blues and reds formed small panels from each shoulder.

Soft Celtic harp music played as Janet and Reb, hand in hand, came down the small aisle. They wore black pants and boots too with matching white Eskimo parkas. Simple native patterns decorated the hem line in the same bold colours as was on the buckskin jackets. The four made a beautiful group as they stood in front of David.

David smiled shyly and then gathered himself together. “Who gives away, this lady?” he asked.

Janet squeezed Reb’s shoulder and the little girl giggled, “I do.” Everyone smiled, and Janet winked at her tiny daughter.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are here today, under God’s immense sky, to witness the marriage of these two fine ladies. Marriage is a sacred bond. It does not deal with gender, age or religion but with the love, loyalty and trust between two individuals, such as Janet and Robbie, who choose to join their lives together as one. If anyone knows of any reason why these two should not be wed please speak of it now.” David paused.

“Janet Jean Williams, do you take Robbie to be your lawful partner, trusting in her love, and loyalty to guide you through your life together?”

“I do.”

“Roberta Nichola Williams, do you take Janet to be your lawful partner, trusting in her love, and loyalty to guide you through your life together?

“I do.”

“If you would place the rings on this bible,” David instructed. Ryan took the two simple bands of gold from her pocket and placed them on the white leather bible that David held out. “Robbie, if you would take one and make your pledge to Janet.”

Robbie took the ring and placed it on Janet’s finger. “My love, my loyalty, my trust, always.”

Janet took the other ring and slipped it on Robbie’s finger. “My love, my loyalty, my trust, forever.”

“In this special place, made by Our Lord God, and before these witnesses and friends today, I declare you legal life partners. Please seal these vows with a kiss.”

Robbie leaned down and brushed a shy kiss across Janet’s lips. Their family and friends applauded. Robbie and Janet hugged Ryan and Reb and then accepted the congratulations of David and the others.

Janet and Robbie, now one, led the party back to the cabin to sign the certificate and to cut the wedding cake that David had shown up with that morning to everyone’s surprise. He had baked and decorated the cake himself.

David and Elizabeth took the marriage certificate and carefully folded it and put it inside the bible. They walked over to where Robbie and Janet stood hand in hand and took them aside. “The bible I used today was bought for you by your sister, Elizabeth. In it is your marriage certificate. Best wishes to you both,” he said, giving them the white leather bible.

Tears filled Robbie’s eyes. Unable to speak how she felt, Robbie stepped over and gave her sister a big hug. For the first time in a very long time, Elizabeth didn’t flinch at the touch but instead hugged back gently.

That night Ryan and Reb had a sleep over in Aunt Beth’s trailer.

Janet and Robbie sat for a long time by the fire. They held hands and looked at the flames burning brightly, content to be together as partners. It was a new world and a new beginning.

 

 

The End
Continued in Spring Rains

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s