Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Seasons Series and the Murder Mystery Series are the creation of the author.
Thanks to Lisa, Inga and Susan for their help as beta readers. You are super!
Note: The Seasons Series and the stories in the Murder Mystery Series all interrelate. It is best to start at the beginning.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Special Warning: These stories deal with the practice of forensics in a fairly accurate manner; more sensitive readers might find some of the scenes upsetting.
Visit Anne Azel's World at < http://www.jes.com.au/~azel/ > or write Anne at <email@example.com> The Anne Azel Murder Mysteries Book 1 can be ordered through Amazon.com or Openbookltd.
Lenny directed the women to the back on the property, past where Ryan and Mac had started to dig. At the edge of the woods, he called a halt, and had Ryan go and bring out the box containing Larry's bones from where the old man had stashed them behind a bush. Aliki was there as soon as Ryan stepped back into the clearing to take custody of the evidence. While the others watched, she knelt down and lifted the lid. The bones, carefully wrapped in paper toweling, seemed in good shape.
"You didn't touch them, did you?" Aliki asked, as she carefully picked up a clavicle with a bit of paper towel to look at it.
Everyone involuntarily took a step back from the smell. Even Lenny, who had a pretty strong air about him, wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Course, I didn't! Why would I wanta do a thing like that? What's the matter with you woman? Get outta there!"
"They look in good shape," a relieved Aliki told the group as she closed up the box again.
Robbie, who had her arm around Ryan, raised an eyebrow. "Tell someone who cares," she drawled, summing up the viewpoint of most of the people present.
"It's Crown evidence!" protested Aliki carefully placing the bone back in the box.
"Damn it all to hell, I've about had it with you women courtin' Larry's bones here! Hell, I don't reckon he was this popular with the girls when he was alive!" Lenny grumbled. "Get up, woman! I aren't got all day to stand here while you play with Larry's bone!"
Robbie snorted, and Janet gave her a poke. Aliki sent her sister a dark look, and quickly put the lid safely back on the box of remains. "I'll carry them," she stated firmly, and looked at Robbie to see what sort of comment would come from her sister. Robbie did her best to look innocent although the grim smile she wore rather gave her away.
"Well, come on then, you lot! Get-a-goin," Lenny complained, waving towards a rough footpath
that lead off down into a deep ravine. Here they were forced, because of the narrow rocky shore of a steam, to walk in a long line. Aliki took the lead, carrying the box of remains. Robbie followed, her arm wrapped around Ryan to keep her warmer. Then came Dawn and Mac and lastly, Janet, who had Reb walk as far as she could, and then picked her up and carried her. Lenny brought up the rear, mumbling to himself and waving the rifle around as he made each point in his conversation with himself.
The women stumbled along the ravine each with her own thoughts on how to get out of this situation. Robbie realized that it would be easy for all of them to simply overpower the old man but he was an excellent shot and at close range. Even firing plastic tips, someone could be seriously hurt or even killed. Such a plan would have to be a last resort.
Aliki was thinking about the bones and wondering how this mess was all going to work out. She wasn't particularly concerned about the old man. She was the police officer and the one trained in combat. When the opportunity came, she would make her move and take the old man down. If she was shot...well, you knew when you went into police work that it could be dangerous.
Dawn tried to keep Mac warm. Her daughter was being brave but it was clear that she was near exhaustion with the cold and stress of the situation. Ahead, she could see Ryan stumbling along, supported by Robbie. The girls had simply had enough. She watched Aliki at the front of the little procession. She knew she would feel responsible and that she would be planning, if necessary, to sacrifice herself for the rest of them. Tears brimmed in her eyes. The thought of a life without Aliki was unimaginable.
Janet, wearily carrying Reb in the rear of the group, was weighing the odds, considering the options and deciding what best to do. Their two strong fighters were Robbie and Aliki but both these women were more likely to react to the moment than to have a clear plan. Real bullets or not, that rifle at this distance could kill. They had to work as a team for them all to get out of this situation safely.
"I tried, mom. I want to go home," Reb fretted. She didn't really understand what was going on but she sensed in her little child's mind that things were not right.
"We have to go somewhere first, Sweety. It's important. Mommy, needs you to try and be good. Okay?"
Reb snuggled dejectedly into Janet's shoulder and mumbled sadly, "Okay."
Janet patted Reb affectionately, and then called to Aliki at the front of the line. "Aliki, do you remember when you met Robbie's mother? I thought that was a fairly good outcome although perhaps extreme," Janet announced, hoping to get her thoughts communicated to the others.
"Yeah, I remember," Aliki answered after a moment's hesitation to figure out where Janet was going with her line of communication.
"We must arrange something like that again," Janet continued, after realizing that the other women were clueing into her coded instructions. "Of course, we would all be there to do the introductions this time, right, Robbie?"
Robbie smiled. Her Janet was just one of a kind! Okay, so she wants Aliki to use her marshal arts skills to bring Lenny down, as Aliki had done when Robbie's mother, Alexandria, had pulled the gun on her. But first, Robbie was to create a diversion. She knew just the tools she needed for that. "Hey, Aliki, let me carry those bones for awhile," Robbie suggested with innocence. " I think Ryan can manage on her own," she finished, giving her daughter an encouraging hug.
Ryan nodded, her teeth chattering with cold. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"You women, shut up!" Lenny yelled, but it was too late, Janet's message had been heard and understood.
The coded plan had not been lost on Aliki. She handed the box to Robbie and waited while the line of women passed her. She was now walking just in front of Old Lenny.
Dawn caught Janet's eye and nodded. She too realized what was going on. As Aliki passed her, she whispered, "Be careful," to her lover. Then gradually, she moved forward so that she was with Robbie to help with the diversion. Ryan fell back to walk with Mac.
The plan, as basic as it was, was now in place. Strung out like this along the ravine there was no way they could do anything. They would have to wait until they came to a stop and Lenny let his guard down.
Aliki took turns with Janet carrying Reb, who was uncharacteristically quiet. Once Reb whispered into Aliki's ear. "I don't want to go with the bad man. I want to go home."
"Soon, Reb," Aliki promised.
Dawn started to limp, catching Robbie's eye as she did so. Robbie gave a curt nodded. Okay, so that was how they were going to play it. Dawn was going to fall and Robbie would make a scene about it. Lenny's attention would focused on them and then Aliki could make her move. In the meantime, Janet would protect the kids. Dawn was alright, Robbie concluded. She could see why her half sister was attracted to Dawn. She was almost as good as Janet in an emergency and damn cute too.
The women stumbled along the rock ravine, moving steadily higher into the wooded ridges beyond the swamp. The dried fall leaves rattled along the forest floor or fluttered madly in the wind as they caught on a sharp twig. The air was cold and damp and here and there they would pass sections still burnt and ash covered, where the fire from the summer before had sent out long fingers of exploration.
It was a tense group, filled with the worry and anticipation of their situation and what lay ahead of them, that stumbled on towards Lenny's cave.
After finding the rifle shells, David looked for clues with greater anxiety. The women might be in far more danger than he had realized. By luck more than skill, he found the trial of trampled grass fairly quickly, heading off towards the ravine. He stood for a few seconds and tried to recall the terrain ahead, nodded and then moved forward.
He and Elizabeth moved along at a steady pace. Elizabeth was glad that David had encouraged her to take dancing lessons with him, and go for long walks on a Sunday afternoon. The terrain along the creek bed was rocky and unpredictable underfoot, but she was able to keep up, and felt very pleased with herself.
David had set a quick pace and Elizabeth did not want her presence to slow him down. If David felt that her sister and friends were in trouble then they must act quickly to help. Elizabeth trusted her future husband's judgement completely on such matters.
Her thoughts were cut short by David raising his hand to signal a stop. Now, up ahead, they could hear voices. They both jumped when suddenly a voice yelled, "You women, shut up!"
David looked around carefully, checking out each bank. Then he signaled to Elizabeth to follow him up the south bank to higher ground. Up here, they could move more quickly along a much smoother and straighter trail. Elizabeth focused all her attention on moving as fast and as quietly as David through the forest. After some time, David signaled Elizabeth to stop and cautiously moved forward to look over the edge down to the deep ravine below. He returned looking grim and waved to Elizabeth to follow him up a steep rock outcrop.
Elizabeth swallowed her fear. She was not very comfortable in the wilds , as she called everything north of Toronto, but she had come to find the cabin quite nice and the stars beautiful. She hadn't even minded this rugged pursuit through the ravine and forest to help her sister and friends. But climbing a rock face was a whole new experience.
David scrambled up from rock to rock. When it got particularly steep, he would turn and help Elizabeth up. Finally, they made it to the top, and David indicated that she needed to crouch down and move forward to the edge carefully. Looking down, Elizabeth was surprised to see that they had passed the group below. She could see them some distance back, slowly working their way up the ravine with Dawn and Robbie in front. Dawn was limping noticeably.
"We need to distract Old Lenny so that Aliki can get that rifle away from him," David explained.
"I suspect they are heading for that cave over there. Beyond this point the ravine narrows and ends in a small water falls."
Elizabeth looked across the gorge to where David was pointing and was surprised to see a deep overhang that was cluttered with bits and pieces of junk. She looked back at the women, then at the cave. An idea formed in her head. "David, normally I would not be so rude as to ask, but we have become...close and I wonder if you would mind giving me your underpants."
David looked startled, hesitated only for a second, and then rolled over to undo his slacks and pull them off. Next went the underwear, and Elizabeth captured them quickly and started to rip the elastic band free from the cotton, while David slipped back into his slacks.
"I'm going to make a slingshot, David. If you could cut the fork of that tree branch out for me with your Swiss army knife, I would much appreciate it," Elizabeth explained, as she worked on freeing the elastic.
David smiled and pulled his knife with pride from his pocket. Elizabeth had given it to him for his birthday only last month, and here he found himself already using it to help rescue the family. He went to work cutting the fork from the nearby branch while Elizabeth continued her explanation in her quiet, logical manner.
"Robbie was always so fond of sending rather startling and unusual gifts. I must admit that the rattlesnake she gave me on my twelfth birthday was not really appreciated fully at first," Elizabeth laughed softly. "but Robbie was heavily into biology at the time, and was rather pleased with her choice of gift. The elephant hide, Zulu war shield, I thought rather interesting but my all time favourite gift was a slingshot!" Elizabeth confessed. "It made me feel empowered. I....I....I needed that," the physicist stammered out.
David looked up, and smiled softly in understand. Bethy had been sexually abused by her father as a child, and the emotional scars, even now, were still very deeply present. His future wife continued with her explanation as she looked around for some good rocks.
"A slingshot is simply a matter of physics. I learned a lot from mine in terms of movement, gravitational force, and various other theories established by the early scientists such as Newton. Actually, David, I was deadly accurate with it."
"I am sure you were, darling," David agreed, as he came over and presented Elizabeth with a sturdy y-shaped section of the branch.
Elizabeth frowned. "It has been many years, David. But the laws of science do not waver, so I am cautiously optimistic."
David watched as Elizabeth tightly tied the wide band of elastic to the fork and tested it for tautness and resistance. She nodded in satisfaction, took one stone from her small arsenal, and taking deadly aim, shot deep into the forest. The stone flashed through the branches and landed with a dull thud in an old rotten log some distance away.
Elizabeth smiled at David, her eyes sparkling with satisfaction. David leaned over and kissed his future bride with pride. "You never cease to amaze me, Elizabeth," he said, and smiled. David picked up the stones and together they moved forward to peer over the edge again. The group now was much closer. David whispered into Elizabeth's ear quietly.
"We had the advantage of taking the much easier trail along the top of the ravine. It is shorter and quicker. Lenny couldn't bring them that way because he would not have been able to keep them together or all in sight. That meant taking them up the ravine itself. Also, they have been slowed down by the children and Dawn's limp."
Elizabeth nodded and patted David's hand, realizing how intelligently he had worked out where Lenny had to be taking them, and why, and planning this very clever ambush. They were all ready now. Carefully, she mentally checked the wind, the depth, distance, and the moisture of the air. The conditions for a good trajectory were not bad at all. Cool air was so much more stable than warm air. Carefully, she calculated her estimations in her head and mentally formulated her shot.
Ryan slipped on a slimy rock and Mac's hand shot out to stop her from toppling. Ryan smiled her thanks through lips now blue with cold. She made a mental note to wear flannel PJ's like Mac did instead of the cotton t-shirt and shorts that she had adopted as a concession to the cold fall weather. Mac was shaking with cold, but she hadn't turned a nasty shade of blue yet.
The ravine got narrower, steeper and higher. Finally, after over an hour of walking, Old Lenny ordered them to come to a halt. "All right, you lot. Up there is where I wants ya," the old man explained, by directing their attention with the end of the rifle barrel. Up on a rocky out-crop they could see a deep overhang cluttered with all manner of household debris.
"I'm goin' ta need my stuff outta there if you lot are goin ta be taken up residence. You two," Lenny pointed at Robbie and Aliki, "ya got enough muscle to get the job done. Now, no fun business because I got the rest of your folk down here at the end of me gun barrel."
Robbie looked at Janet, who shrugged, and at Dawn, who looked annoyed that there still had not been an opportunity to get Lenny. The old man was cagey. He had stayed out of arm's reach with his back against the rock cliff face on the other side of the now narrow ravine.
"Come on. Let's get this over with," muttered Aliki disheartenedly. Robbie set down the box of bones and the two women climbed up the three meters or so of rock to the ledge above. As quickly as they could, they passed the broken and worn bits of Lenny's life down to the ravine floor. Lawn chairs with broken strapping, a rusty barbecue, two wood book shelves slightly warped with weathering, a laundry basket of dirty clothes that seemed to serve as Lenny's closet, and a plastic bag of canned goods were all lowered down, along with a good deal of other stuff. After a half hour's work the ledge was once again clear of clutter.
It was quite a large, relatively flat space now that Lenny's rubbish had been removed, and the perfect place to execute their plan. "You two up there, lie on your bellies with your hands stretched over the edge so I kin see them!" Lenny yelled up. The two women complied. They were not about to try anything until their partners and children were a safe distance from Lenny's rifle.
Lenny pointed his rifle at Mac and Ryan. "You two troublemakers go first." The two girls were far past arguing. Using what strength they had left, they climbed up the steep path to the ledge above. Once there, they huddled against a far wall where a ray of sunlight raised the temperature of the stone ledge by a few degrees.
"Alright, now you with the kid," Lenny ordered.
Robbie saw the worry and exhaustion in Janet's eyes and felt Aliki give a start of fear as she lay beside her. "What about Dawn?" Janet asked, stubbornly holding her ground despite the fact the rifle was trained on her.
"She's comin' up with me so none of you stupid women try anything funny," scowled Lenny. "Now you get a goin'."
"I'll be alright," Dawn reassured Janet. And reluctantly, Janet headed up the narrow path slowly, trying to keep her footing with Reb in her arms. Reb had woken and was crying with cold and discomfort. Once at the top, Janet herded all the children together and did her best to soothe the upset four year old.
"I want Obby! I want to go home!" Reb cried.
"Shhh, Love," Janet whispered.
"Come here," Lenny ordered, and Dawn moved closer to the filthy man. Lenny's arm shot out and caught Dawn by the collar, twisting her around and holding the rifle barrel to the back of her
Elizabeth and David waited with a good deal of frustration. By placing himself at the base of the rocky out-crop on which David and Elizabeth had taken their position, Lenny was out of sight of the two ambushers. They had to wait until he stepped forward for Elizabeth to get a clean shot at him.
Now again, the plan was foiled. Lenny came into view holding Dawn with one hand by the back of the collar and with the other, he kept the rifle barrel pushed against Dawn's neck. It was far too dangerous to risk a shot. With growing impatience, Elizabeth and David watched as Lenny and his hostage made their way slowly and awkwardly up to the ledge above.
There, Lenny gave Dawn a push and sent her stumbling forward. Aliki was on her feet in a second to wrap her lover close to her. And Robbie got up too, waiting for an opportunity to act.
Dawn gave Aliki a gentle push forward, realizing that they were going to have to act immediately before Lenny started shooting.
Up on the cliff, David and Elizabeth had watched the events unfold. Now, at last, was their chance. Elizabeth took aim and fired. The stone smashed against Lenny's back, and in surprise, Lenny twisted around and fired at the cliff wall on the other side of the ravine. Aliki charged forward and grabbed the rifle from the old man just as Elizabeth released her second stone. It caught Aliki on the forehead. For a split second, she stood there frozen, then dropped to her knees stunned. The rifle fell from her hands and clattered down over the rocks.
The next few minutes were mayhem. Robbie ran forward and pushed Lenny back against the rocks, yelling at him. Lenny yelled and pushed back. Janet ran to the girls and tried to get them and Reb to safe cover. Reb howled in fear, and Ryan and Mac let the tears of exhaustion roll down their faces. Dawn had run to Aliki and was holding her lover close while she tried to ascertain where Aliki had been shot. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and David were scrambling down from their position on the other side of the ravine to intervene.
"You damn nut case! I'd beat your brains out if you had any!" yelled Robbie into Lenny's face.
"It was you who stole them bones and caused all the trouble!" Lenny squealed in anger.
"Come on, girls. Come on! We need to get out of here!" instructed Janet, shielding the three children as best she could with her own body, as she pushed them towards the shelter of a large boulder in case there was gun fire.
"Aunt Aliki! Mom!" protested Mac, seeing her aunt drop to her knees, and her mother running to offer assistance to the wounded woman.
"Bad man! Don't yell at my Obby!" Reb called angrily, as her mother tried to hold on to the squirming child.
"Aliki, where are you shot?! Where are you shot?!" Dawn asked in panic, holding her lover in her arms as she searched for blood.
"My head," muttered Aliki, leaning against Dawn, as the world floated in and out of blackness.
Dawn, pried Aliki's hand away from her forehead to have a look. A large goose-egg of a bump was rising and the skin was turning a nasty shade of blue but there was no evidence of an entry wound. Some of Dawn's fears started to subside but she still held her lover close, shielding and supporting her in the wild events that were unfolding around them.
The noise and confusion was pierced suddenly by the crack of a rifle firing. Everyone froze and turned to look. There on the edge of the path stood David and Elizabeth. David held the rifle towards the sky. "Alright," he said in annoyance, "that's enough! I am normally a fairly patient man, but in a few short hours I am going to be married, and none of you is going to stop that from happening! Elizabeth, go check on Aliki. Robbie take the draw string from your jacket and see if you can tie Lenny's hands. Lenny, one word out of you, and you will never be allowed in my store again! Janet, are the girls okay?"
With David and Elizabeth in charge, it took only a few minutes to sort out all the confusion. Except for a headache and a growing bump on her forehead, Aliki seemed fine in spite of the blow she had taken from Elizabeth's second shot. She stood with her arms around Dawn and her daughter Mac. Elizabeth hovered close by apologizing for having hurt Aliki with her shot once again.
Lenny was all tied up and standing quietly if sullenly at the back of the rock overhang.
Robbie, having finished her assigned task, was sitting with her back against the rock wall, Janet snuggled in on one side of her and Ryan on the other. On her lap, Reb sat quietly now, looking around with interest, safe in the protective warmth of her entire family. Robbie lowered her head and kissed each forehead in turn. Her family was once again safe in her arms and she was happy.
The walk back was long and tiring for they had all reached the end of their endurance. David guided them along the ridge above, so thankfully the path was somewhat shorter and smoother under foot.
Back at the vehicles, David insisted that all the women squeeze into Aliki's van, while he took Lenny into town and handed him over to the authorities. They were a wet, dirty, miserable lot that crawled into the van and they needed to get cleaned up and rested as soon as possible. "I'll see you at the wedding, Bethy," David promised, showing his new found confidence by leaning through the window to place a light kiss on Elizabeth's cheek. "You were wonderful today. Take care of the family. I love you."
Robbie, squished into the back seat with her family, blinked in surprise. Janet looked at her stunned lover, and gave Robbie a poke as she laughed softly. Robbie scowled at her, which made Janet laugh even more. Robbie smiled. Okay, so her kid sister had just rescued them all.
Things sure had changed, Robbie concluded, taking Janet 's hand and giving it a squeeze. Not that she hadn't had the situation well under control!
First, Aliki dropped Elizabeth off at the cabin. They all waved good bye, and Janet reminded Elizabeth that she would be back at five to help her get ready for the ceremony.
"Get a few hours sleep, Lizzy!" Robbie called. "You want to be awake enough to exchange your vows." Elizabeth laughed and promised that she would try. Truthfully, despite the exertion of the day, the excitement of the rescue and her pending wedding had left her feeling wide awake and restless. She thought that she might just spend sometime having a hot bath and thinking over some of her latest ideas about ways that black holes could be detected in deep space.
It was a sorry party that piled out of Aliki's van a few minutes later, and headed into the lodge for hot showers. Janet saw to getting Reb cleaned and changed into pyjamas while Robbie made do with a quick clean up so that she could get Reb her favourite, a banana sandwich, to eat. Once Reb had been seen to and put to bed, and Robbie had checked to make sure Ryan was okay, the two women gratefully shed their own clothes and stepped into the shower together.
Robbie soaped Janet's hair and then her own, and they worked the shampoo into a lather. Janet reached out and cupped the white, fragrant bubbles as they slowly slipped down Robbie's strong neck to her broad shoulders. Slowly, she ran her hands over her lover's breasts watching the dark nipples harden at her touch. Robbie pulled them under the force of the water and held Janet close, kissing her with need as the peach scented bubbles slid along their body lines from one to another.
Janet's hands moved down across a muscular stomach and around to tease a particularly sexy backside. Her explorations were rewarded by a soft moan from Robbie as she nuzzled Janet's neck. Robbie reacting to her touches always sent a ball of desire to Janet's gut. She pushed Robbie gently against the wall and placed her body between her wife's legs. As Janet ran kisses over her wife's chest she started to move against her partner in an age old rhythm. "Come for me, my Lover," Janet whispered softly. "Right here, right now."
Robbie groaned in anticipation of what was to come, and moved her hands over the petite body that rubbed against the centre of her being. Life was good.
Like Robbie, Aliki had made do for the time being with a quick wash. She had left Dawn to shower in private, and had taken the bones from the back of the van to lock them safely away in the shed again. Then, she had phoned Dr. Thomas Bates, the pathologist in charge of the Toronto forensics lab and gave him a rough outline of the events that had led her to remove the bones from the site and what had happened since. Out of respect to the doctor, who she looked on as a mentor and friend as much as a boss, she stuck as close to the truth as she dared.
There was a silence at the other end of the line. Then a soft laugh. "Some day, Aliki, you must tell me the whole story," Bates said, and Aliki felt the heat of embarrassment climbing up her face. "I don't think we'll have much of a problem with this one. This Lenny has confessed to the murder and the identity of the victim. Under the circumstance, I don't think he is going to be held accountable under the law. They will put him someplace comfortable where he can't hurt himself or others. Please, Dr. Pateas, do try not to lose the evidence again!"
"Yes, Sir," Aliki promised and hung up. When she got back to the room that she and Dawn were using at the lodge, she found that her lover had gone to check on Mac down the hall. She could hear Dawn's voice and then one of the girls' laughter as she headed to the bedroom. Aliki stripped on the way to the en suite bathroom, she gratefully got the water running, and stepped into the shower.
There wasn't a thing on her mind as she washed. Later, she was to wonder if that was because of exhaustion, or the fact the day's events had helped make up her mind, or if she was just in a total state of shock at what she was about to do. All she did know was that she could not recall having thought about it during the course of the day at all. Nor could she recall a point where she had consciously decided the time was right.
Once her shower was completed, she wrapped a black bath robe around her, and stepped out into the bedroom to find Dawn lying on the bed. Aliki went over and lay down beside her, feeling Dawn's welcome heat along the length of her body. She leaned over and kissed the sweet lips of her lover softly. "Mmm, you smell nice," Dawn smiled.
"You taste nice," Aliki responded, stealing another kiss. "I need to talk," Aliki added, suddenly sitting up with her back against the head board and drawing her lover up to nestle in her arms. She bent to kiss Dawn's golden hair while the smaller woman waited for Aliki to find the words to say what she needed to say.
"Once again, I have had to deal, today, with the fear of you or Mac being hurt or killed. It made me realize that I can't take for granted this wonderful relationship that I have with you and Mac.
Dawn, I love you and I love Mac as if she were my daughter not my niece. I need the two of you in my life in order to be whole. Dawn, would you do me the honour of becoming my wife?"
For an answer, the woman in her arms turned and wrapped herself tightly around Aliki and kissed her softly. "Yes, Aliki. I want nothing more than to spend my life with you and Mac will be thrilled!" Aliki smiled broadly and felt a knot of tension in her stomach release and she placed a gentle kiss on Dawn's head.
Dawn frowned, and moved so that she could look Aliki in the eyes. "Nothing has changed, Sweetheart. We have loved each other from almost the moment we met at your father's house and we have lived together for almost two years. I am still going to write books and make movies, and that means, I hope, that I will be making a good living and be exposed to some fame.
You had trouble with that, not because you begrudged my success, but because you felt that you couldn't provide for us in the manner you felt you should. You know I don't agree with that point of view, but do you?
"I need to feel that you are marrying me because you want to and not because you have to." Dawn reached out and with her finger tips massaged the place just over Aliki's heart. "I don't want you finding any unhappiness in there for us."
Aliki thought about what Dawn said for a few seconds, then leaned forward to place a kiss on her brave lover's forehead. "I know that I can't live without you. I need to feel that you and Mac are my family. It is just not enough to have you living with me under the same roof. Yes, it still embarrasses me that I am the one least financially solvent in the family to provide for a family but I am not going to let my ego get in the way of my heart. Not anymore." Aliki promised pulling Dawn into a tight hug. "I can give you a safe, comfortable home to live in, love, understanding and support, and I guess that is what really matters."
Dawn smiled. "You bet that's what really matters! Aliki, you are everything I could ever want in a partner. You are the other half of me, and I can't imagine life now without you at my side. I love you, Aliki, with every ounce of my heart and soul."
"I love you too, Dawn," Aliki smiled, and drew the smaller woman closer to show Dawn just how much she really did love her.
The two teens lay on their beds in Ryan's room, clean and very tired after their showers. "Are you asleep, Ryan?" Mac asked.
"No, I think I'm too tired to sleep," Ryan responded. "We got to get up soon and get ready for the wedding anyway. If everything isn't set and ready to go this evening, David is going to be pissed!"
"Were you scared that Lenny was going to kill us?" Mac asked.
"Yeah, sometimes," Ryan responded honestly. "I thought we were goners out there in that field."
"Yeah, me too." There was a moment's silence. Then, "Do you know what I was thinking?"
"No, what?" Ryan asked sleepily.
"That it would be a real bummer to be shot dead before I'd ever had a real kiss!"
Ryan laughed and Dawn joined in. "Was there some guy you had in mind?" Ryan asked.
Again there was a hesitation. "Actually, I don't think it's going to be a guy." Mac answered.
Ryan's eyes popped open and her body tensed. "Oh," she managed to respond less than intelligently.
A silence settled for a third time. This one dragged out for what seemed and eternity. Finally, Ryan threw back the covers and went to sit on the edge of Mac's bed. "Mom says it is important to experiment a bit, and really get to know yourself as a one before you commit to anyone," she told Mac.
Mac nodded. Ryan stared into those clear blue eyes off-set by the copper tones of Mac's Salish heritage. Slowly, Ryan leaned forward until their lips met in the softest of kisses that lengthened and deepened as the two girls' souls and bodies responded to each other. Ryan sat back, blinking in amazement, and looked at Mac. Mac smiled. "Thanks Ryan, that's all I needed. I'll wait for you."
Ryan smiled and nodded. The two of them had many years ahead of them, and many experiences, but they both knew now that one day they would be together.
The teens did sleep, as did everyone in the lodge that afternoon. The sun slipped into a golden afternoon and the geese honked over head as they prepared for their night flight farther south. For a brief time the lodge was quiet. Pleasant dreams replaced the cold nightmare of the day and tired bodies and minds rested.
It was Janet's alarm that she had carefully set that roused them some hours later. She dressed quickly in her wedding outfit, a beautiful teal blue dress, quickly applied some make-up and then walked over to the bed to give her lover a goodbye kiss.
"Time to get up, Robbie. I'm off to help Elizabeth dress for the wedding. Come on, Lover. You have no time to waste!"
"Aaaahhh," Robbie responded. "You wore me out in the shower. I might die of exhaustion."
Janet slapped a sheet covered backside. "You are going to die at David's hands if you don't make this wedding special for Elizabeth. Not get up, you slacker!" laughed Janet, as she headed for the door. On the way down the hall, she banged on the bedroom doors of the other members of the family before heading out to her car.
Robbie dragged herself out of bed and slipped on sweats after a quick wash. In the hall, she met Dawn and Aliki, who were already working on the last minute preparations. Robbie went to the girls' room and told Ryan and Mac to dress for the wedding, while the three older women pitched in and in record time had the last minute preparations for the wedding completed. When the teenagers were dressed and ready, each of the women took a turn to slip off and get dressed.
Dawn was just lighting the last of the hundred white candles that lit the huge room, when the minister arrived. The log room glowed honey-warm in the candlelight and a fire crackled merrily in the hearth. The scent of pine boughs, cranberries and fresh roses filled the air and the music of Bach played softly in the background. Over in the corner a table bearing a wonderful assortment of salads, meats, fresh breads, and desserts had been set up.
Robbie left Dawn to greet and entertain the arriving guests, and Aliki and the girls to see to the last of the small details, while she slipped into the bedroom to phone Elizabeth and Janet.
"Hi, Lover," Robbie smiled, recognizing Janet's voice. "How is it going over there?
"No problems at this end. Elizabeth looks beautiful, Robbie. We were just getting the bouquet out. It's lovely, Sweetheart. How are things there?"
"Everything is ready and the guest are starting to arrive. The ministers here and we are all set."
Janet smiled at her end of the line. "That's my girl!"
There was a moment's silence, then Robbie got to what was really on her mind. "Er...Could I speak to Lizzy?"
Janet frowned. "Be good," she whispered into the phone, and then louder she called to Elizabeth.
"Bethy, you big sister needs to talk to you." Once the bride had taken to receiver, Janet discretely left the room. Whatever Robbie wanted to say on the eve of her kid sister's wedding, it was between them.
"Hello Roberta, is everything alright there?"
"Yeah everything is fine.....so this is it. You're getting married," Robbie added awkwardly.
"Yes," Elizabeth responded, waiting for her sister to go on.
"I'm happy for you, Lizzy," Robbie got out, as she swallowed a lump of emotion. "Er...you and I, we've come a long way, huh?"
"Yes, we have. You made that possible, Robbie. You will never really know how proud I am of you, and how grateful. You have been my protector, mom and big sister all rolled into one."
"Yeah, well, I'm pretty proud of you. You are really something else. David is lucky to have found you."
"I'm lucky to have him too," Elizabeth said smiling.
"Yeah, he is alright. Look if you ever need anything or..."
"Robbie, you are my sister, a very important part of my life. I can't imagine not sharing any important issues with you. Are you happy for me, Robbie, really?"
"Very much so. He makes you happy and that is what comes first with me. See you later, Sis."
"See you later, Robbie. I love you," Elizabeth said, expressing an emotion that she would never have thought she could not so long ago.
She could hear the softness and tears in Robbie's voice when she whispered, "I love you too, Lizzy," before hanging up. Elizabeth smiled. She was glad she had talked to Robbie.
The evening wedding was beautiful. Robbie, dressed in a black silk pant suit by a well known designer, took Elizabeth's arm and they walked together through the small group of invited guests. On the one side where academic associates and employees of the mathematics department at the university, on the other were friends and family of David and his brother.
Janet was right, Lizzy did look beautiful. She was dressed in a formal of satin, covered with a cloak of hand made lace in a rich cream colour. In her hands, she carried a bouquet of pine, and gold and pink roses. She wore her hair up and in the candle light it was hard to tell which of the two sister's was the movie star.
"Who gives this bride away?" asked the minister, who stood before the hearth fire.
"I do," stated Robbie, with quiet pride. She placed a soft kiss on her sister's cheek, and then went to stand with Janet and Ryan, holding on to each of their hands.
David and his brother stepped forward looking immaculate; scrubbed and combed to an inch of their lives. David took Elizabeth's hand and smiled. It was a new beginning.
The reception after was full of fun and laughter as the whole story of their day finally came out. Shortly before midnight, David and Elizabeth, took their leave to go back to the cabin. The guests slowly made their own good byes and the children disappeared to bed.
The four remaining women, sat by the fire too exhausted yet to get up and go to bed. When the flames had burnt low, Aliki stood and pulled Dawn up from the couch where she had rested beside her. Holding Dawn's hand, she looked at her sister and partner. "I have an announcement. Dawn consented this afternoon to be my wife. I...I want you two to be the first to know."
Janet was on her feet in a second, hugging first Dawn and then Aliki. Robbie followed, lifting Dawn off her feet in a big bear hug and then pounding her sister on the back. "You are going to love married life, Aliki. It's great!" beamed Robbie, wrapping her arm around Janet with pride.
Janet looked at Dawn and the two of them laughed. "What?" asked Robbie, indignantly.
"Considering the day we have had, Robbie, I don't think 'great' is exactly the word we need here.
But certainly being married to an olive is never dull"
After Aliki and Dawn had said their good nights, Robbie and Janet snuggled down again on the couch to watch the last of the yellow flames flicker around glowing red embers in the fireplace.
"Robbie?" Janet asked, kissing her partner's ear.
"What about the cats?"
Robbie looked down at her partner. "Won't they just wander off and play happily with the wild things in the forest?"
Robbie raised an eyebrow and got that crooked grin that she developed when she realized that she had been had. "I bet I have a really great idea how to solve this problem, but you just haven't told me what it is yet, right?
Janet laughed and bumped her lover good-naturedly. "Something like that. Greta has always wanted to open and run a shelter for stray and hurt animals. She'd never have the money though to buy the land, build the pens and fences and things or cover the maintenance costs."
Robbie smile broadened and she leaned down to kiss Janet. "I see. And just what land have I decided to buy for this shelter I'm building to give to Greta?"
Janet wiggled with pleasure, realizing that Robbie was all for her plan and knowing the best part was yet to come. "I thought you could buy Lenny's old place. Then there would be money to take care of him properly, and that land is prefect if you put a bridge over the beaver swamp. It's far enough out of town that it won't bother anyone, but close enough for Greta to easily get back and forth. What do you say?"
"Done deal, Lover." Robbie answered, sealing the deal with another kiss. "I've always wanted to be the madame of a cat house!"
"You!" Janet roared, and pinned her partner to the couch, to show her just how much she was loved.
Dawn lay in Aliki's arms. It felt like the world had disappeared and there was only the two of them. Their love was a magic carpet on which they sailed the vastness of the universe. Anything was possible. No dream too big or barriers too great, as long as there was love.
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