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.
My praises to Lisa, Inga and Susan, who work very hard as my beta readers. Thanks.
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org> The Anne Azel Murder Mysteries Book 1 can be ordered through Amazon.com or Openbookltd.
Janet Williams sighed and then smiled when Dawn Freeman reached over and poked her in the ribs. They exchanged a knowing look and then settled back to wait for their Toronto plane to go through its landing pattern for the airport in Edmonton, Alberta. Across from them, sat their partners, the famous actress and director, Robbie Williams and her half sister and forensic anthropologist, Aliki Pateas. These two women did not look relaxed. They looked stiff and stormy.
It had been difficult in the extreme to get the two pig-headed, stubborn women to come to an agreement about the flight and it had resulted in some rubbing on an already sore spot. The problem was money. Dr. Aliki Pateas had been seconded from the RCMP to the Toronto forensic labs and earned a good middle class income. Her partner, Dawn Freeman, had written the best seller Growing Up in the Wild and had followed it up with the award winning suspense thriller, The Fire Clown. That, of course, was not counting the movie rights. Her talent and the money her uncle had left her had made her a very wealthy woman. And Janet and Robbie Williams were worth millions.
Three out of the four could afford first class seats and Aliki didn't feel that she could. It was awkward in the extreme. "You two sit in first class and Dawn and I will fly economy," Aliki had stated.
Robbie had protested. "Oh great! That's just what I need is for the press to find out I fly first class while my sister sits in the back. No way!"
"Then buy economy seats," Aliki had said and shrugged.
"I can't," Robbie had mumbled looking awkward.
"Why not?" Aliki had to ask, folding her arms and looking stubborn.
"Because I'm an actor and it would cause a small riot," growled Robbie, not liking at all that she had to admit that her fans were a problem. "I have to travel as a VIP."
"Ooh, aren't we something special!" teased Aliki, with a smile, enjoying her sister squirming.
"I'm going to bop you," growled Robbie, partly in fun and partly in annoyance.
Janet had intervened, recognizing her T-Rob's famous temper rising to the surface. "I think I see a solution here. Aliki is being very sensible. She has responsibilities now to Dawn and Mac and can't be throwing her money around on unnecessary expenses. On the other hand, Robbie, you are being sensible too, you can't just step out into the public. You need to go through VIP clearance and you need to have security. So seeing as Aliki is a trained RCMP officer, she can be your body guard and we can solve the logistics problem and get you protection at the same time. Aliki, you can pay for your and Dawn's tickets and Robbie's office will up grade them to first class so that you can be there to provide security."
The two sister's stared at each other grumpily, neither one willing to be the first to agree to this proposal. "That's a great idea," Dawn stated, as she got up and came over to wrap an arm around her stubborn partner. "Isn't it, Aliki?" she added, rubbing her lover's back to take some of the tension out.
"Robbie?" Janet asked, a hint of a warning in the look she gave her wife.
"Yeah, it would make it easier to have Aliki as my security. Then we wouldn't be stuck with some Rambo type standing outside our bedroom door," sighed Robbie in defeat. Her half sister she was willing to take on, but not her wife. If Janet wanted it, Janet got it.
"I can live with this, if you trust me to do the job," Aliki agreed, throwing in her own towel to please Dawn.
"Good, then it is settled," Janet said lightly, ignoring the fact that it would take a chain saw to cut the tension in the air of Aliki's living room. That had been a month ago and the truce was holding up under great strain.
Nor was that Janet's only worry. Behind her, she could hear the quiet murmurs of her step-daughter, Ryan, and Dawn's adopted daughter, Mac. The young teens had not seen each other for several months and they had a lot to catch up on. Sooner or later, Janet was going to have to tell Robbie that there was something up.
While Robbie was away on business, the Bartlett School for the Gifted had called to tell Janet that Ryan had been cutting classes on a regular bases and Lou down at the garage had casually mentioned that Ryan was filling up the car twice a week now. Where was Ryan going? At first, Janet had been annoyed more than angry and had meant to have Robbie talk to Ryan as soon as she returned from her business trip to Britain. But just before they left, Janet had found out from Eiffel, who worked at Bartlett's only bank, that Ryan had withdrawn five thousand dollars from her account.
Eiffel had wondered innocently whether Ryan was going south for March Break, like so many teens did in their last years of highschool. Janet had answered vaguely, pretending to be preoccupied with her banking statement. What the hell was Ryan up to? She needed to talk to Robbie but now was not a good time. Robbie had been delayed with last minute filming issues in Britain and she had just made it back in time to get organized for the flight out west. At long last, Robbie was going to meet the father that she and Aliki shared. It was not a good time to burden T-Rob with a mystery involving her daughter. She was hyper enough already. Moreover, Robbie wasn't always a rational thinker when it came to Ryan. It might be better for Janet to find a few minutes while they were out west and talk to Robbie first before they approached Ryan.
A tug on Janet's sleeve got her attention and she looked down into the face of her other daughter, who would be celebrating her fourth birthday next week while they were out west. "Mommy, are we landed yet?"
"No, Sweetheart, but we will be soon."
"I got to go," Reb announced to the world in general.
Janet looked up at the flight attendant. "There's time, if you are quick," the man responded with a smile before being asked.
"I'll take her," Robbie stated, unfastening her seat belt and getting up to release Reb from her own seat.
"Thanks, Hon," Janet whispered, smiling at the beautiful woman who was her wife and soulmate.
Robbie gave Janet a wink and then focused on Reb's biological emergency. "Come on, Reb. You have to be quick because the plane can't land until everyone is in their seat."
Reb followed the tall actress down the aisle to where the head was, at the back of the first class section.
"I go by myself," the determined child said when Robbie unlatched the door for her.
"Okay, kid. But it doesn't flush like the one at home," Robbie informed her.
"I know. It's a plane," Reb said and nodded, stepping into the small washroom while Robbie closed the door and leaned against it to keep it shut.
In a few minutes, Robbie heard the toilet flush and a little while later it flushed again. "Reb?" she asked.
"I finished now, Obbie," came a voice with a giggle.
Robbie opened the door to look down on her beaming four year old. "Obbie, the toilet goes VOOM!"
Robbie laughed. "Yeah, the water is sucked out under pressure, Reb. It's because the air pressure in the plane varies as we go up and down. Pressure is what makes the water run down the pipes. What is that smell?"
Reb stepped out and waited for her Obbie to close the door once again. "I try the purrfoom. It was by the sink."
Robbie sniffed. "I think you picked the aftershave lotion. Next time, use a spot behind each ear not half the bottle in your hair. You didn't drink any, did you?!" asked Robbie, fear entering her voice.
"No. Mommy said I can't eat or drink anything without asking," stated Reb honestly, as they made their way back down the aisle.
"Good. That stuff would really make you sick. Kid you reek! I'm glad you are sitting by your mommy," teased Robbie, as she fastened her little daughter into her seat again. "She tried out the after shave," Robbie explained to Janet when she saw her wife's nose wrinkle.
"Olives!" muttered Janet, smiling down at her daughter.
"The toilet has a vacuum 'cause it don't have pressure so it goes VOOM," Reb explained.
Janet took the opportunity while Robbie was close to whisper in her ear. "Talk to your sister. The two of you look like you are on the way to the executioner not to your brother's wedding and to visit your father." Robbie pulled a face then smiled into Janet's beautiful deep green eyes. They had been married over two years now but being close to Janet still took Robbie's breath away. The director returned to her own seat reluctantly and buckled in to listen to the landing instructions.
Robbie thought about how to open up a conversation with her half sister. They had met by chance, Aliki helping with her forensic evidence to prove Robbie innocent of her father's murder. It was only later that Robbie's mother, the notorious Alexandria Williams, knocked the bottom out of Robbie's world by telling her that her father had not been Phillip Williams but a Greek immigrant that Alexandria had known while she was dancing with the Winnipeg Ballet. It didn't take long after that to piece together that she and Aliki shared the same father.
Now Robbie was on the way out west for her half brother's wedding and to meet her real father for the first time. She felt a mixture of excitement, curiosity and downright fear at the prospect. What if her father didn't like her? Aliki had been pretty good about it but what about the two half brothers that she was yet to meet?
Robbie searched around for something to say. It wasn't easy making small talk with others. Funny, she never found it hard to talk to Janet, but then her wife was someone very special. "I'm sorry about this," she found herself saying with some embarrassment.
"'About what?" asked Aliki looking up in surprise.
"About putting the family through all this. I feel sometimes like someone who has some horribly contagious disease and must be isolated from the rest of humanity."
Aliki looked at her thoughtfully with her serious, intelligent eyes. "It's okay. I was a bit difficult about it too. I'm sorry. I guess my ego was feeling threatened by the wealth of my partner and family and I couldn't see that traveling could put you in danger. Dawn and I talked and we're okay about the flying arrangement now."
"Before I married. I didn't care. I almost courted trouble. Most fans are really nice people but there is always that dangerous fringe. I worry all the time about my family. It was my fame and money that resulted in our kids being kidnaped. Reb's got over it quickly but Ryan still gets nightmares now and again. Not that she'd ever admit it," complained Robbie sadly. Aliki remained quiet allowing Robbie to go on in her own faltering way.
Robbie shifted in her seat. "Reb wears her emotions up front. You know when she is happy or sad. It is written all over her face. If she is upset, she howls and gets it out of her system. For a little kid, she is really comfortable in her skin."
Aliki smiled and nodded, waiting for Robbie to go on. There was more her sister had to share. Robbie's long fingers moved back and forth across the chair arm control panel. It had been Dawn who had pointed out to Aliki that Robbie had nervous hand movements when she was upset.
"Ryan holds everything in and stews about it. That's my fault for not being there for her. She has always had to take care of herself. Something is bothering her right now. I don't know...maybe because I've been away a lot...she's got something on her mind and she is not sharing."
"It could be nothing, Robbie. Maybe she has a boyfriend and is daydreaming about him." Aliki shrugged, not sure what to say to relieve her sister's anxiety.
"Ha! Wait until Mac goes out on her first date! I was a basket case when some guy picked Ryan up to go to the community centre dance. It was the longest four hours of my life!" confessed Robbie.
Aliki laughed and Robbie smiled and blushed. "You wait. You won't be laughing for long," Robbie warned.
Aliki considered this revelation. "I imagine I'll be a little overprotective. I've seen first hand what happens to nice girls who fall into bad situations," muttered Aliki sadly. Robbie wisely didn't ask questions, She could see the sorrow in Aliki's eyes. Aliki's career as a forensic anthropologist for the Toronto Forensic Labs brought her in contact with violent death on a regular basis. What would it be like to live with the memories of what she had seen?
"Tell me more about my family," Robbie said, changing the subject.
Aliki smiled. Robbie had asked this question often since her discovery that Phillip Williams had not been her biological father but that Nick Pateas, Aliki's father had. "Dad is really excited about meeting you. Everyone calls him Baba. It is a Greek word for dad. He is very out going and social and is well liked and respected in the community. He's strict though, kind of old fashioned. I would never have told him about my orientation. It is probably one of the reasons that I did not go home for many years."
"What changed?"asked Robbie, as she smiled her thanks at the flight attendant who had just brought them an assortment of sweets in preparation for the change in pressure while landing. The guy had that look of a star struck fan. Robbie had worried all during the flight that he might say something in front of her sister that Aliki would tease her about later.
"Janet impacted on my life for one thing. She encouraged me to go home and deal with some of the ghosts of my childhood. When I got there...well, Baba had already worked it out for himself. He was good about it. He doesn't like it, but he was accepting of me. I think part of it was that I fell in love with Dawn. Baba had sort of adopted Dawn and Mac before I ever got there."
"They met when Dawn's uncle and his son were killed, right?" asked Robbie, as she sucked on a sweet.
"After the plane crash, Dawn and Mac were left stranded up at the Freeman cabin. They'd have starved up there if Dawn hadn't walked the two of them out. How she did it I'll never know. That's really wild country but Dawn grew up in the Canadian bush and she really knows her stuff. She made her way to the ranch. They were half starved and exhausted by then. Baba took them in and Dawn sort of became his housekeeper."
"He must miss Dawn and Mac,"observed Robbie.
"Yeah, a lot, but now that Ari has married, Baba has Ari's wife Joan in his life."
Robbie nodded. She knew that Aliki once had three bothers. Yirgos, the oldest, had committed suicide after his Salish mistress had died. MacKenzie, the child that Aliki and Dawn now raised as their own, was the child of that union.
There were also the twins, Ari and Nick, Aliki's younger brothers, whom she had raised with Baba after the early death of their mother. Robbie's hands moved nervously over the control panel as she fretted about how her natural father and half brothers would react to her.
Being famous had more disadvantages than advantages. Her family would undoubtedly have heard all the media gossip about her life. Even if they had not known before, once word had got out she was visiting people would go out of their way to spread the stories.
Aliki had told her that when the media had found out about her questionable birth from her mother, Alexandria, they had besieged the ranch. Baba had had to call the police to move them off. It was finally the cold of a Canadian western winter that had got rid of the last of them.
Robbie leaned back and considered what they might know. They would have heard about her arrest and trial for the murder of Philip Williams and how Aliki and Janet had proved her innocent. The world knew that. It had been sensational front page news. As had been the revelation of her gay marriage to Janet.
They had probably heard about her wild years too, the parties, the substance abuse, the lovers...Robbie cringed with embarrassment, She wished she could have those years back to relive better. Aliki had said her father was strict and conservative. How would he feel about a daughter like her?
The Air Canada plane soared cross the nation. Two thousand miles had separated her from her natural father. Two thousand miles and a life time.
Ryan and Mac sat with their heads close together whispering softly. "I think you should just tell them," Mac stated in her open way. "You are going to have to sooner or later."
"No way! Mom would have a bird! She has my life all planned out for me. I'm going to be a scientist like Aunt Bethy. Once I get better, then I'll tell her."
"Do you want to be a scientist? I don't think Aunt Robbie would make you be anything you didn't want to be. She's nice and really funny."
Ryan pondered this question, chewing on her lower lip in thought. "I don't know. I like a lot of things. I like maths and computer programming and I like film. I was thinking that I would like to work for a company like Sound and Magic someday. But now, well... I'm hooked. I mean, it feels great, Mac. I can't describe the high I get ...what I see in my head and feel in my heart. The world just disappears...I..It's hard to explain."
Mac looked at her cousin with thoughtful, worried eyes. "You 'll find a way that is good for you, Ryan. I know you will."
As their plane taxied into its berth, Aliki clipped on her identification tag. Immediately, her sister reached for it and read, Inspector Aliki Alberta Pateas, forensic division, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, No. 7205. Robbie smiled, with that look in her eye that meant the wheels were turning behind the startling blue eyes that had made her famous.
"It had better not show up in one of your movies,"sighed Aliki. It was a Williams' family joke that anything that happened in the family was likely to be worked into a scene of a script. Robbie was genius out of control. The two families gathered their belongs and prepared to leave.
Although Janet had suggested that Aliki be Robbie's bodyguard on this trip as a compromise to a very tricky situation, she had known that Aliki would take the assignment seriously. That was very evident at the terminal in Edmonton. Two RCMP constables met them at the plane and escorted them through the back halls of the airport to a waiting van with tinted windows. Aliki got her family safely inside and then supervised the loading of the luggage. Once everything was seen to she thanked her fellow officers and slid into the driver's seat.
"How far is Swan Hills, Aliki? Janet asked.
"We will be a few hours getting there and then another hour to reach the ranch. It will be long after dark before we arrive. The ranch is back of beyond," Aliki added with a sigh. As a youth she had yearned to escape the isolation of the ranch and the responsibility of helping fill her late mother's role in maintaining the home and raising her twin brothers. Now she had to admit it wasn't bad going home, but the old bias still remained.
Dawn, on the other hand, loved the wilds of Alberta. "Wait until you see the country side, Janet, you'll love it. I'll take you to meet MacKenzie's Salish family."
"Cool!" smiled Ryan, unconsciously mimicking her mother's mannerisms. "Mac has taught me some Salish words."
Robbie said nothing. She hadn't been this nervous since her first time on stage. In a way, the situation was not that much different. She swallowed and felt Janet's warm, reassuring hand slip into her own. Robbie smiled at the woman beside her and held onto the hand tightly. Janet always understood and was there for her.
"You're wearing a path in the rug," Ari laughed, as he watched his father check out the window yet again that evening,
"My family is coming home. I want to be at the door to greet them. I want to make Robbie welcome in her father's home. Everything is ready, no? Can you think of anything I forgot?" Baba asked as he paced across the room once more.
"We have enough groceries in to last the winter and the house is spotless. Try not to worry. Robbie will feel as welcome as I have," laughed Ari's wife, Joan.
"Nick should be here," fretted Baba, looking out the window once more.
"He should," grumbled Ari, in agreement then softened his criticism. "He'll be back tomorrow."
Baba shrugged, making it clear that this was not good enough in his eyes.
Aliki cursed, brought the van to a stop and then reversed back to the driveway that she had missed. "I said put up a sign. Does he? No. Everyone knows where the road to the ranch is, he says! The damn thing is impossible to find in the dark." She turned down an overgrown lane way and they bounced slowly along, the headlights bleaching the darkness to reveal an island of trees and lane ahead of them.
"Complaining about this road is Aliki's favourite pass time while she is here," laughed Dawn, as she held on as best she could to the rocking van.
"Well really, they have more money now than they know what to do with, why don't they put in a decent road?" her partner grumbled, as she manoeuvered the van through the ruts.
"Baba likes the road the way it is. It gives the ranch privacy," Dawn explained to the bouncing figures in the back.
"It must be a northern thing. Janet won't let me put a decent road into the cabin either," snorted Robbie.
They rounded a corner and pulled into a clearing floodlit by the warm glow of light from the windows of a massive log home. "Aliki, it is beautiful," exclaimed Janet.
Aliki looked at her family home objectively. "It is almost impossible to find cedar logs of this size today," she concluded matter-of- factly . Then the door opened and Baba was on the porch.
Dawn and Mac were out of the van immediately and in Baba's arms. He gave each of them a bear hug, tears in his eyes. Then he turned to greet his daughter, Aliki. His daughter smiled and Baba pulled her into a hug, whispering Greek words of endearment into her ear as he had done when she was a child. "Tecanes Baba. It is good to be home. Hi, Ari, tecanes," Aliki called over Baba's shoulder.
Then she pulled free from her father's embrace and turned to the Williams family that now stood in a group nearby. Aliki put her hand on Robbie's shoulder and pushed her nervous sister forward. "Baba, this is your daughter, Robbie Williams."
Robbie opened her mouth to give a greeting but words failed her. She looked into the face of a man whose eyes were the colour of a tropical ocean. A handsome man, who wore his age with dignity. She could see herself reflected in his features. Tears pricked at her eyes. "Robbie, tecanes, Robbie," Baba said softly and wrapped his long lost daughter into a tight hug. They stood there for a long time, holding on to each other as they came to terms with the bond that tied their lives together. Aliki looked at Dawn and smiled. Dawn's eyes sparkled with happiness. Robbie was home, accepted into the growing Pateas family, and all was well.
At last, Baba pulled away. "So you introduce me to your family, Robbie," Baba said smiling and turning to the remaining three who stood awkwardly nearby.
Robbie beamed, filled with pride at her family. "Baba," the word seemed strange on her lips, "This is my wife, Janet, and our daughters, Ryan and Rebecca, whom we call Reb."
"Welcome! Tecanes!" Baba said and laughed, hugging each in turn. He turned to shoot a look at Aliki, partly seriously and partly in fun. "You see this, Aliki, my Robbie is married. This is good."
Everyone laughed and Aliki rolled her eyes and shook her head while Dawn blushed deeply. Aliki changed the subject quickly. "This is Ari and his fiancee Joan." The couple came down the porch stairs and hugged and greeted the new members of their family. "Where's Nick?" Aliki asked.
Ari and Baba exchanged looks. "He had a meeting tonight. He will be here tomorrow," Baba stated, with a slight edge to his voice. Then the voice softened. "Come, come into your family home. We have much to say to one another."
The first evening passed quickly in a buzz of family stories. Robbie sat on the couch, Janet beside her holding her hand and Baba to her other side, his arm over the back of the couch enfolding her into the family. Robbie had feared that the evening would be awkward but she soon realized that Ari, Joan and Baba were far more comfortable socially than she or her half-sister Aliki. They kept up a lively and teasing conversation with Dawn and Mac and drew in the new members of the family whenever they could.
It was late at night when Robbie carried the sleeping body of her younger daughter upstairs and Janet herded a tired Ryan off to bed. Exhausted, the two women stripped and slipped into the shower together. They stood there wrapped in each other's arms, letting the emotion of the day seep from them. Janet kissed her partner tenderly and dried her as she would a small child before leading the emotionally exhausted director to their bed.
"How are you doing, love?" Janet asked, snuggling close to the woman she loved.
Robbie held on tight. "I gotta tell you that was one tough day to get through! Baba and Ari are great. They really made us welcome. I think it is going to be okay. They are different than Aliki, not so prickly."
A laugh blurted from Janet's lips. "What?"asked Robbie, looking down at her lover. It didn't matter how many times she found herself close to Janet, each time sent a rush of need throughout her body. Janet was so sexy and so in turn with her soul. Their love was something special and rare.
"You and Aliki, just HAVE to compete. You can't help yourselves! Aliki isn't a bit prickily, you two just egg each other on!
Robbie blushed. "Well, maybe a little bit,"she conceded with a smile that faded to a hard look of need. "You excite me," Robbie growled softly pulling the woman beside her closer. Their lips feathered over each other, the kisses gradually growing longer, deeper and more earnest. Robbie's hard, lean body slipped over Janet's sensuous form and felt Janet spread herself wide to her demands. The feeling of Janet beneath her, sent a wave of excitement through Robbie's form that settled deep in her being. Her lips played with Janet's nipple and her hand slipped between her partner's legs.
"Yes,"Janet groaned and nibbled hungrily at her lover's shoulder. Their love was hot, needy and explosive. Exhausted from the day and the rush of sexual pleasure, they fell asleep in each other's arms.
Nick pulled up in his pick up truck early the next morning. He knew his father was not pleased at him for going to a church meeting in Edmonton last night instead of being home to meet his new sister and family and he didn't want to push it. Having recently renewed his faith in God and the Church, he knew that he was right to put his bible study class first but he also knew that the Lord commanded that one, "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."
He knew that his family had faith in God but he hoped that they would reaffirm their belief as he had. Then there was his sister Aliki, his half sister, Robbie, and Dawn and Janet. He felt it was his duty to show them that their gay lifestyle was a sin and help them to find strength to fight their affliction so that they too could be saved. He had prayed about it and during the night he had realized that he should talk to Dawn. He felt that this revelation was God showing him the way.
Letting out a deep breath, he stepped into the house and followed the laughter to the kitchen where his extended family sat around the large table over the remains of breakfast.
"Hi everyone," Nick called cheerfully. "God bless," he whispered as he gave Aliki a hug and then hugged Dawn and Mac.
Aliki raised an eyebrow and Baba leaned over and whispered. "He's got religion now, he tells me. I thought I had already given him a religion but he says not."
Aliki shook her head and smiled knowingly. She knew her brother, he was inclined to get caught up in things but never took the time to really understand what he was involved in. "Robbie, Janet, Ryan, Reb, this is Nick. Nick, our sister Robbie, our sister-in-law, Janet and our nieces Ryan and Reb."
Nick greeted each new member of the family pleasantly enough but the dynamics of the room had shifted somehow with Nick's arrival and the conversation was stilted. In the end, Dawn and Aliki offered to clean up so that Baba could drive Robbie, Janet, and his three grandchildren around the ranch. Ari and Nick excused themselves and headed off to their own jobs, Nick to work in the barns with the hired help and Ari to work in the ranch office. Joan had left sometime earlier to her job as a head nurse in the Swan Hills hospital and had missed out on the family breakfast.
Dawn was taking a bucket of peelings out to the compost heap when she was grabbed from behind and lifted off the ground. "There you are! I've missed you so much, Dawn," laughed Nick, as he twirled her around and then carefully deposited her back on her feet.
"Nick, you big oaf," Dawn chastised with a laugh, "You scared me half to death!"
This revelation did not in anyway dent Nick's enthusiasm. "That's what comes from living in the east in one of those big cities. There are so many weirdos that you get to jumping at shadows," Nick explained, picking up the bucket from where it had spilt on the ground and dumping the remains into the compost heap.
Dawn folded her arms and looked at him shaking her head in disbelief. "You are just full of it, Nicklaus Pateas! And I'll have you know Toronto is a safe city and your sister lives in a beautiful area. You should come out and visit sometime."
Nick's eyes widened in shock. "To a city in the east?! No way!"
"So how are things, Nick? You and Sally setting a date anytime soon?" Dawn asked, and was surprised to see anger flash across Nick's normally happy face.
"We broke up. She was stepping out with someone else. I caught her with him at a community dance," Nick explained gruffly.
"Oh Nick, I am so sorry! Are you okay?" Dawn asked, taking Nick's arm and walking with him back towards the barn.
"Yeah. I'm best without her," he mumbled, looking miserable. Then his face softened and he noticeably brightened. "But it helped me to find the Lord again. I learned that the Lord's looking after me."
Dawn's smile was forced. She had been raised by an uncle who saw the hand of God in the beauty of the wild land around them but she had never really had anything to do with organized religion and she wasn't comfortable with it. "I'm glad your faith has supported you," she answered neutrally.
Nick stopped and looked down at Dawn. "I'd like to take you to some of our meetings and services, Dawn. I....I'm worried about your and Aliki's lifestyle and I'd like to help you see that there are alternatives."
Dawn sighed with annoyance and rolled her eyes. "Nick, don't go there. Let's have an agreement that I'll respect your beliefs and you will respect mine."
"But Dawn, yours is not based on faith! It is based on...on...." Nick stumbled for a word.
"Love?" Dawn suggested, raising an eyebrow and enjoying the sight of the red rising in Nick's face.
"I don't think so," Nick responded pompously. " I don't think that's possible. I blame myself. I should have insisted on taking you to that dance two years ago instead of stepping aside and letting Aliki court you," Nick looked miserable and shook his head. "I had lost touch with my faith and thought I was being broad minded about the issue. I realize now I was wrong."
Dawn snorted. "If you had tried to kiss me that night, Nick, Aliki would have kicked your butt all over the ranch. I think your ideas are all wet and I am not the least bit interested in your religious views or going to any meetings. Nick, I am gay, Aliki is gay, we are very happy together and very much in love. If that sticks in your craw then feel free to ignore us but please don't try to force your views on me." Dawn took the bucket from Nick's hand and turned and left before she really lost her temper.
Nick watched with sad eyes as Dawn marched off towards the house.
Robbie leaned on the rail beside Baba holding onto a squirmy Reb as they watched Janet, Ryan and Mac laughing as they tried to get a halter on a young heifer. It felt wonderful and weird at the same time to be standing by the man who was her father. She felt... connected. She had never felt that way with Phillip Williams.
"I help!" Reb demanded, trying to slip from the rail into the corral.
"Not this time, slugger," Robbie stated, giving her little daughter a kiss on the head. "You are too small to chase cows yet."
Baba patted Reb's head. "They are good girls," Baba said with pride in his voice.
"Yeah, they are," Robbie agreed boastfully. "They have had to face some pretty rough and scary moments in their lives and they acted intelligently and with remarkable courage," Robbie stated.
Baba nodded but said nothing. Instead, he reached out and wrapped his coarse work-worn hand around Robbie's long and slender fingers. "You and Janet, my Aliki and Dawn, you are wonderful people." He shrugged. "It is not the life I would have wanted for you but I can see that you are happy and my grandchildren are healthy and happy too. This makes me happy," he smiled.
Robbie looked into blue eyes so like hers. "Your acceptance of us means a lot," she said.
"What is to accept, you are people like everyone else. Now I know you are good people. That is all that matters. Here, I'll hold my little Rebel. You go help these three and try not to get kicked," Baba added, taking a willing Reb into his arms and watching with sparkling blue eyes as Robbie climbed nimbly over the wood fence eager to get into the fun.
They returned from their tour laughing and very dirty and headed up to wash for lunch. Aliki and Dawn listened to the happy chatter of the returning party as Aliki stirred the soup while Dawn sliced thick pieces of fresh bread. "I think they have really taken to Baba and the ranch," Dawn said smiling.
Aliki considered as she tasted the turkey and vegetable soup that she had made that morning. "Yeah, things are going really well. I'm glad," she responded, offering a taste of the soup to Dawn.
"Mmmm, you are such a good cook! That soup is great, glad you are my lover," teased Dawn, stretching up on her tip toes to give Aliki a kiss.
"Ah, so I won your heart with my culinary skills, did I?" smiled Aliki, pulling Dawn in for a hug.
"Well, that and the fact that you are great in bed," Dawn responded cheekily, patting Aliki's backside.
"Keep that up and no one will be getting lunch," growled the tall woman, as she kissed Dawn gently. Then her face took on a worried look as she met Dawn's eyes. "You okay? You were kind of quiet this morning. Has something upset you?"
"I'm fine," Dawn evaded, not wanting to get into the conversation that she'd had earlier with Nick. Aliki could be very aggressive if she felt that either Dawn or Mac had been upset by someone. Dawn wanted this holiday to go smoothly for the Williams and she knew that Nick meant well, even though his views didn't agree with hers.
The next few days were spent getting to know each other and catching up on family news. Nick's arrival and sulky attitude did little to curtail the laughing and fun. Baba made sure that his new daughter and family felt that they had come home.
It was the morning of the fourth day, that Baba came into the livingroom and found Robbie staring out the window in thought. "Good morning, Robbie. I do not like the look of worry on your face. You tell Baba what is on your mind," the old man stated, coming up to stand next to his famous daughter.
Robbie smiled. She felt like she had known Baba all her life. In just a few days, she had become far closer to him than she had ever been to Phil Williams, the man she had thought was her father. "Ryan," she stated. "She is up to something."
Baba laughed. "She is a teenager, of course she is up to something!"
Robbie frowned. "Yeah, but your grandchild has a way of getting into big trouble. It's not that she is a bad kid, it's just that...well, she is an olive," Robbie blushed.
Baba looked at his daughter in confusion. "What do you say?"
Robbie leaned on the window sill and folded her arms. "That's what Janet calls us. She thinks we are like olives. We take some getting used to but with time you get to love us."
Baba laughed. "So, my new daughter and family are olives, eh? A very good thing an olive," he smiled.
Robbie couldn't help but smile back. Baba just had a way that put you at ease. He had been so accepting of her family that it had really been easy. Ari and his wife had been good too. She wasn't sure about Nick. He was friendly enough but his sincerity seemed forced and a bit artificial. "I didn't do very well by Ryan," Robbie admitted, looking at the floor as a blush crept up her face. "I have a lot of regrets about my conduct in my early years. I thought I was doing Ryan a favour by not letting her know who her mother was but I wasn't. Everything the kid is, she did on her own. We get on okay you know, but well...she can be close. She is used to doing it on her own and ...and I don't think she will ever completely trust me."
Baba looked out the window and nodded sadly. "We do the best we can with what we know at the time. I was not fair to Aliki. I think that she was like her mother just because she was a girl. I think she would enjoy being in charge of the house and helping raise the boys. I plan that she will marry a local boy and stay on the ranch. I never see that my daughter wanted more ...we make mistakes, Robbie. Then we do our best to learn, and make things better."
Robbie nodded, still looking worried. "You go talk to my grandchild. You go make it better," Baba ordered, giving Robbie a nudge.
Robbie smiled, gave her father a quick hug and went to find Ryan. Baba watched her go with a look of sorrow in his eyes. Had he known that she was his child perhaps a lot of pain could have been avoided.
"Hi kid," Robbie said, as she came up to the fence rail and leaned against it. Ryan and Dawn had been helping Nick with the chores and Ryan was in the process of putting pitch forks of hay into the corral manger.
"Hey Mom! Aunt Dawn said she would take us all riding into the hills this afternoon, can we?" Ryan said smiling.
"Sure, that sounds like fun. Just don't embarrass me by knocking a mountain over or anything," teased Robbie.
"Mom!" Ryan protested, flicking some hay in her mother's direction. Robbie shifted quickly and the wad of hay sailed over her shoulder. Ryan smiled. Her mother had the most incredible reflexes. She was powerful yet so very graceful in her movements. She really was something else to have as a mother.
"Ahhh, I noticed that you go out each morning with your knapsack," Robbie mentioned, her long fingers nervously running over the grain of the split rail fence.
Ryan hesitated only a second. "Yeah, I like to go for a quiet walk in the morning. You know, commune with nature...aah...do a little studying...read...you know."
Robbie looked deep into Ryan's eyes. The kid wasn't lying but she wasn't telling the truth either and that made her feel very sad. She nodded. "I'll leave you to your work then," Robbie said, giving a weak smile. "You'll want to get the chores done so that you are ready for the ride."
Ryan watched her mom walk away. She knows some thing's up, Ryan realized, but she is not going to push at least not yet. Ryan bit her lip. Maybe Mac was right. Maybe I should just tell my mom the truth. But how would T-Rob react? I'd wait a bit yet. At least until I am better.
In the barn another scene was playing itself out. Aliki had offered to help Nick as one of the hired men was sick.
"It's good to have you back here, Aliki. I was glad to see that you and Dawn had not got engaged after all," Nick smiled, stopping to lean on his pitch fork.
Aliki hesitated then straightened from the manger that she had been scooping chop into. "We're engaged,"she corrected in a tight voice.
Nick looked surprised and upset. "She's not wearing a ring,"he argued.
"I haven't given one to her yet,"Aliki stated, "but we are engaged.
Nick sighed, put down his pitchfork and came over to place his hand on his sister's arm. "Aliki, this isn't right. I know you have these...feelings but giving into these unnatural temptations will only lead you, Dawn and Mac into a tragic future. If you care about them, I mean really care, then you would pray for the strength to return to a heterosexual lifestyle."
"Don't go down this path, Nick," Aliki warned, her voice rough with emotion and her blue eyes dark and stormy.
"Sis, I have to. I care about you. Don't you see what you are doing is a sin. It states quite clearly in the Bible that homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God."
Aliki shook Nick's hand off in irritation. "As always, Nick, you have seen the damn tree and missed the forest. I know what the Old Testament says. I also know that it approves of slavery, revenge, and taking more than one wife. I don't hear you speaking up for those things,"growled Aliki, her anger at Nick's bias and narrow mindedness growing by the minute. "You know what you are? You're a religious bigot. Oh sure, you can quote all the standard verses and think yourself all high and mighty but you know dick all about the history and philosophy of your faith. You believe, not to find enlightenment and understanding, but to save your ass while having the fun of condemning all those that don't think like you. You're the sort that gives true believers a bad name."
Nick bristled with indignation. "I know what I believe. Faith is trusting in the Bible and that it's word is truth. I will not be tempted away from my faith by an unbeliever."
Aliki shook her head and turned back to her job. "Believe what you want but keep it to yourself. I promise you, if you upset Dawn or Mac with this crap, I'll knock your block off."
"There, you see!"exclaimed Nick, in disgust.
"See what?" Aliki sighed in frustration, as she scooped out more of the pulverized field corn called chop from the sack that she had filled at the silo.
"Threatening me with physical violence as if you were a man. It's not natural, Aliki. You are not a guy, you're a girl and you need to act like one," Nick explained sadly.
Aliki gritted her teeth but said nothing. Rather than ending the conversation, Aliki's silence seemed to encourage Nick to press his point. "Besides, I have already talked to Dawn about this whole situation and..."
"YOU WHAT?!" Aliki roared, dropping the bag and scoop and stepping around the manger to face her brother.
Nick straightened. "Aliki, I will always be very grateful to you for replacing the mother I never knew. But I am not a child anymore I am a grown man and you are my sister. You can't intimidate or boss me around anymore. I have talked to Dawn about her living in sin with you and I mean to continue to seek..."
The blow to Nick's backside came so quick that he didn't even see Aliki's foot leave the ground. "So I am only a woman and can't intimidate you anymore, huh? Well, let's see just how well your sick concept of God will protect you. Come on, you good-clean-living asshole. Show me!" Aliki taunted, her body quivering with anger.
Nick rushed at her. Aliki's hand shot out and her brother staggered and rolled as a sting shot through his ear. "What's the matter, Nick? You're the one with balls, come on,"Aliki hissed.
Again Nick charged blindly. This time, Aliki hooked him behind the knee and sent him to the ground heavily.
"Aliki!"came a roar from behind her. "Enough!"
Breathing hard and white with emotion, Aliki watched as her father passed her to kneel by her brother. "Are you alright, Nick?" the old man asked in concern.
"Yeah, yeah," Nick mumbled, red with embarrassment as he staggered to his feet with his father's help.
"Are you hurt?" Baba fretted, looking at the knee that Nick was clearly favouring.
"Only in his male ego,"drawled Aliki. "If I had wanted to break bones or rupture organs I could have. I didn't."
"You be quiet, Aliki" Baba ordered in frustration. " If you can walk on that knee, then you go up to the house and you have one of the men drive you to the doctor's. You hear?"
"Baba..."started Nick, looking defiant.
"Go," Baba ordered softly, giving his son's shoulder a squeeze. Nick swallowed his objection and with a nod, he limped past Aliki and out of the barn.
Baba looked at his daughter. This was a side of his daughter he had never seen before. She simply radiated controlled strength. "Why you beat up on Nick, Aliki?" he asked.
Aliki swallowed, trying to bring her emotions down. She felt like an elastic band stretched to its maximum and ready to snap. In a tight voice, she tried to explain. "He can call me any name in the book. I've heard them all. But I will not allow him to preach his bigotry and upset my family,"she said, her voice quivering with emotion.
Baba looked into his daughter's eye and saw for the first time the deep pain of being gay in an unaccepting world. He walked over to Aliki and wrapped his arms around her. For a minute, she felt rigid and resistive in his arms, then the walls fell and she leaned against him and sobbed uncontrollably. Baba held onto her, rocking her gently in his arms as he had done when she was a little child and let her cry. She had every reason to.
Baba was not happy although he tried not to show it. He was disappointed with Nick's attitude and he was annoyed with Aliki for hurting her brother. Nick had phoned from the doctor's office to say that he had a badly bruised knee and was planning on taking the rest of the day off and staying in town. Now they were two men short on the ranch. So when Aliki got the call from the RCMP station in Swan Hills just at lunch time he frowned. "It is for you, Aliki" said Baba, not pleased that the call had come just as they had all sat down to lunch. Especially since the call had come from the police. Good people had no business with the police was Baba's view and he found it difficult to accept that his daughter was a police officer.
"Inspector Pateas?" Sergeant Nicholson's voice came over the wire.
"Hi Brad, responded Aliki. "What can I do for you?"
The voice on the other end of the line brightened and relaxed a bit. "Hi Aliki, listen, I got some bones here I'd like you to have a look at. They're not human or anything but, well, the whole thing is kind of weird and I'd like your opinion before I decide whether or not to send it on to the crime labs in Edmonton. Any chance of you coming into town today?"
Aliki frowned. She had wanted to go with the group riding but something in Brad's uneasiness made her feel she should have a look at the bones. She glanced over at Dawn. Their eyes met and Dawn nodded ever so slightly. "Yeah, I could look at the bones this afternoon," she responded, having been reassured by her lover that it would be okay. "I'll be there around two."
"That's great." Nicholson sighed in relief. "Aaah, is it true that Robbie Williams is up at the ranch?"
Aliki kept her face deadpan. She was damned if she was going to let her sister know that Nicholson was asking. "Yeah, that's right," she answered.
"Aaah, I mean, is there any chance of getting an autograph?" he asked sheepishly.
"Sure, this afternoon, leave it to me," Aliki stated confidently and hung up. If she knew her sister this was going to be a simple as taking candy from a baby.
Aliki took her seat, aware of the silence around her and deliberately ignoring it. The silence lasted all of five seconds. "What bones?" demanded Robbie.
"Police business," Aliki responded, baiting her sister.
Baba sighed. "Always police business."
"I want to come too," Robbie stated, squirming with excitement.
"You're not a cop," Aliki taunted, helping herself to a slice of bread. Janet looked at Dawn, her eyes shining with amusement and Dawn tried not to laugh.
"I played the part of a detective once," Robbie protested, humorously.
"Oh well, that makes all the difference," laughed Aliki, leaning back in her chair.
"I can come?" Robbie asked, surprised at how willingly her stubborn sister had given in.
"Sure, to the station but you are not getting anywhere near the evidence," Aliki warned.
"Cool." Robbie smiled, planning already how she was going to do just that. Then her expression changed and she looked around the table, gauging reactions until her eyes finally settled on Janet's face. "Is it okay?" she asked, remembering belatedly that she was going riding into the hills with the family.
"You go and don't get in Aliki's way," Janet said and laughed, her eyes sparkling with laughter.
"Now," said Baba firmly, "we eat, we talk, but we don't talk about police and bones at the table."
Dawn slipped the cord of her whistle over her head. It was a good weapon to use if a bear crossed their path. Failing that, she had a rifle tucked into its sheath on her saddle. Grizzlies were extremely territorial and at two thousand pounds and eight feet tall there was very little chance of escape if one was attacked. The chances of meeting one, however, were slight this close to civilization.
She planned to take Janet and the girls down into the meadows and then along the river basin up into the foot hills. She smiled, recalling how she and Aliki had found love up in the hills only a few summers ago.
"Aah, it's none of my business but I happened to notice you and Nick having a few words this morning. Is everything okay? Janet asked as she tucked sandwiches into a saddle bag.
"No it's not," growled Dawn. "Nick was trying to show me the errors of my ways. He has been at me every chance he gets. Today, he pushed it too far again. He said that being gay was a sin and that God would forgive me if I prayed. He offered to introduce me to some nice men who could show me a better and healthier lifestyle."
Janet looked pained and shocked. "Asshole."
"Yeah, I told him that the error was on his part and that Jesus never preached fanaticism or against homosexuality. I told him to keep this views to himself because I found them offensive and ignorant. Aliki has already got in a fight with him for bothering me. I made it pretty clear that I'd had enough."
"Good for you!" Janet smiled. "So that is why Nick was limping."
Dawn sighed. "Yeah, Aliki was furious with him. I was pretty hot today too but after I calmed down I felt bad. I don't want to cause trouble in the family."
Janet shrugged and gave Dawn a hug. "You didn't. He started it and hopefully he will take your advice because I don't think Aliki would forgive Nick if she knew he had continued to harass you."
Dawn leaned on the counter and shrugged. "Some days I believe that. Other days I am not sure. Aliki proposed to me months ago but do you see a ring on my finger? Have we set a date? It's like the proposal was good enough for her." Dawn ran her fingers through her hair. "Honestly, Janet, I don't know what to do."
"Have you talked to her about it?" Janet asked, as she tied the saddle bag closed.
"Once or twice. I get stonewalled. She doesn't want to talk about it. It's the money issue, I think. I don't know! Maybe she just doesn't feel a commitment is necessary," Dawn sighed.
Janet nodded but said nothing. She knew better than to get involved but maybe she could get Robbie to give her stubborn sister a good swift kick. "Here come the kids with the horses. Are you ready?"
Dawn straightened and smiled immediately. "Sure am. Let's go."
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