Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The characters and events of the Seasons Series belong to the author.
My special thanks to Fran, who allowed me to tell you part of her story on the journey to recovery from cancer.
My special thanks to Pat for her expert assistance in rescue and fire fighting procedures.
My thanks to the many readers who have taken the time to let me know that you are enjoying my stories or to share your own with me. You are very special people. My grateful thanks to my beta readers Lisa and Inga for their hard work and to Susan for her guidance and insights.
Check out the Seasons dolls at http://www.geocities.com/maclay529/azel.jpg
Note: The stories in this series are interrelated and should be read in the order they are posted.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. If you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp, please do not read on.
Visit Anne Azel's World at < http://www.jes.com.au/~azel/ > or write to Anne at <firstname.lastname@example.org >
The night was icy cold and Janet shivered as she waited for the truck's heater to bring some warmth into the frozen cab. There was no moon and driving through the dark back roads of northern Canada with only the stars visible, brilliant over head, was like flying through space. Janet smiled softly, enjoying the sensation of commanding an isolated vehicle through the cold darkness.
Beside her, Ryan sat quietly. Her breath made little clouds, tinged in pink from the dashboard lights. The clouds drifted across the inner space of the cab and froze to the windscreen beside Janet's. Janet turned up the defroster to clear the ice away.
"Do you think Mom will help us?" asked Ryan anxiously.
Janet felt her heart contract. Ryan was so outgoing and confident that one sometimes forgot that she was in many ways a very insecure and fretful teenager. Her years of isolation away from her mother and family had left some really deep wounds.
"I think she will give me an awfully rough time, Ryan. I'll have to eat crow that's for sure, but your Mom will help us if she can. Obby would do anything for you, don't you know that by now? She loves you very much." There was no answer but the tense body beside her seemed to relax a bit.
Robbie looked up from the computer screen her blue eyes framed by her reading glasses. The eyes were not focused on the room. They saw instead a scene a thousand years ago through the camera lens. Harold Godwinesson, King of England, stood in the darkness and looked at the night sky over Westminster. It was the eve of Letania mainor, April 24th 1066. That night the long haired star had appeared. Some called it Comet. For the next seven nights, it would shine over England. Just as for a short time Harold, the only king of true English blood, would reign over the island kingdom. Like Haley's Comet, Harold would appear out of the Dark Ages, shine for a brief second and disappear.
Yes, the film would start in black and white and explode into colour on the flare of the comet's tail. Headlights flashed across tree trunks outside the cabin and Robbie realized with a start that her wife and daughter were home. The rehearsal must have ended early, Robbie thought, glancing at her watch and frowning. She hoped everything had gone well.
Her family entered on a blast of frigid air. Robbie got up and walked over to help Janet out of her coat. The muscles on the side where she had her surgery were still weak and little things like
slipping out of a coat could be awkward for her.
"Hi, loves, you two are home early." Robbie saw Ryan look at Janet with worried eyes. Robbie's gut tightened and she instinctively wrapped an arm around her daughter. The Bartlett drama society was staging William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Ryan had been cast as Viola, one of the twins that had been cast ashore in a storm. Janet was directing this year, not feeling well enough yet to act, and Greta Corry had agreed to take the role of Sebastian, Viola's twin brother. "What's wrong?"
"Ahhh, Ryan, why don't you get ready for bed while I talk to your Mom, okay?" Ryan nodded, slipped out from under Robbie's arm and disappeared down the hall to the bedroom she shared with her sister Reb.
Cold blue eyes targeted Janet's. "What happened?!" Robbie demanded, a sharpness in her voice.
Janet put her hands on Robbie's chest. "Hey, easy. Nothing has happened to hurt Ryan. I promise. I just need to talk to you and it's going to be embarrassing enough without Ryan looking on," explained Janet, feeling the anger in Robbie subsiding. She took her partner's hand and lead her over to the chair by the fire.
Robbie sat. Janet paced. "Ahhh, Greta Corry has to have her gall bladder out. She's had to drop out of the play. There's only a few weeks before opening night. Ryan's really disappointed. We don't have an understudy."
Robbie's lip began to curl into a smug smile. An eyebrow went up as she crossed her long legs and looked at the squirming Janet patiently.
Janet saw the jig was up. She sighed in defeat and the red tide of embarrassment washed over her features. "I need your help," she muttered, looking at the rug.
Janet looked up into eyes sparkling with devilment. "You're going to make this hard, aren't you?"
"Very," whispered Robbie, trying to control the laugher that was building inside. Oh God! This was sooo sweet!
"You are the only one who could take over that part so the play can go on," admitted Janet.
"I know," agreed Robbie, arrogantly flashing a delighted smile.
Janet started to lose her patience. "Oh come on Robbie, this is for Ryan! You've got to!"
Robbie got up and moved to circle behind Janet. She whispered into a soft, warm ear. "Who me? Who was told, by you, that under no circumstances was I to show my face at the Drama Society meeting even though I'd been personally invited by Greta Corry at the Thanksgiving Dinner."
Robbie stepped away when Janet turned to look at her. "Let me see what was it you said; 'I am not going to let you continue to use Bartlett as your personal playground, Robbie Williams' wasn't that it?" she asked innocently, enjoying watching Janet squirm.
Janet laughed and shook her head. "You are loving every minute of this, aren't you?!"
Robbie grinned from ear to ear. "Yes!" She moved up and wrapped Janet in her arms. "So what are you going to do for me for helping you out of this little problem?"
Janet took a deep breath, drawing in the spicy smell that was her wife's. "I guess I am yours to command," she whispered, nuzzling Robbie's strong neck. A dark head bent and hungry lips caught Janet's in a long, deep kiss.
"I'm going to be a very demanding taskmaster," revealed Robbie, dropping a kiss on Janet's nose.
"You'll play the part?" clarified a happy drama society director.
"Sure, anything for the kid," smiled Robbie breathlessly, as Janet gave her a tight hug.
"Go tell Ryan, okay. She's really worried and disappointed at the moment."
Robbie dropped another kiss on Janet's head. "Okay."
Robbie found Ryan sitting on her bed with her earphones on. Janet said the earphones were a sure sign that Ryan was upset. They were her 'I've got a problem' indicator.
Ryan's green eyes looked up and searched deeply into her Mom's. She turned off her radio and lowered her earphones to hang around her neck.
"Hi," whispered Robbie, so as not to wake Reb. "Can I come in?" Ryan nodded nervously. Robbie walked in and sat down on the edge of Ryan's bed. "I don't do stage. I do film," Robbie explained. Ryan's face crumpled with disappointment before she was able to force the muscles into an expressionless mask. "So I'm going to have to rely on you to train me for the role."
Ryan was in her arms in an instant. "Thanks, Mom! You're the greatest!"
"Hey, what could be better than being on stage with my own daughter? Mind you, I'm not sure about the director. What's her name....Williams?"
Ryan giggled then covered her mouth so as not to disturb her sister's sleep. "You'd better not let Aunt Janet hear you say that. She's tough! You'll have to learn the lines, Mom"
Robbie rolled her eyes. "Have I not been helping you to practice your lines every night for almost two months?! Believe me, I know the lines! Come on, let's see if we can get the director to make us some hot chocolate."
The next day, Janet stepped into David Potts' General Store with relief. She had left her truck at the dealership up the road and walked into town in the bitter cold of the afternoon. David waved and called hi from the back of the store as she wandered over to the card section. Ryan's birthday was coming and she wanted the perfect card to give her. She sorted through the various options and finally settled on a card with a photo of a sunset over a northern lake. Inside was printed Happy Birthday. It was ideally suited for Ryan; beautiful but not mushy.
Smiling she headed over to the counter. David rang it through for her. "So who is having the birthday?" he asked.
"Ryan. She's going to be fifteen in a few weeks. We're planning a birthday party for her. It's a surprise."
"Well, that's great! Just great! She's a nice kid. I hear Robbie is going to take Greta's place in the play. It'll be nice, them getting to be a mother and daughter act. Ticket sales are really up. I'm sold out and people have been asking if the show will run for an extra weekend. What do you think?
Janet laughed. "Well, I'll have to ask the cast. It sure would help the drama society's finances. Do you think enough people would buy tickets to run another two nights?"
"To see The Robbie Williams on stage?! You bet. You know she doesn't look the same in fire pants."
Janet snorted. "I'll let her know you said so!"
"Oh dear! She won't be mad will she?!" worried David.
"That ego maniac?! Not likely!" Janet laughed.
David grinned and then frowned and scratched his head. "Listen, Janet, while you are here. You wouldn't know anything about computers would you? I just got one and I'm not sure how to use it."
"Well, I don't know a great deal but I do know most of the basics. Sure, let's go have a look."
David led Janet into the small office he had at the back of the store and stepped aside for Janet to have a look. Janet looked into the room and then at David with laughter in her eyes. "I think it will work a lot better, David, if you took it out of the cardboard boxes," she giggled.
David blushed a bright red and smiled sheepishly. "Well, I didn't want to lose any parts foolin around with it," he admitted. Janet poked him good naturedly and took off her coat to tackle the
assembly of David's computer system.
"There are some excellent software packages you could use for inventory and ordering, David," Janet observed, some time later, as she fitted in place the various cables into the back of the tower. "Is that why you got a computer?"
David's face turned a luminous red again. "Oh dear, well actually, no. I've hooked up to the internet."
"Really?!" smiled Janet, as she plugged the line into the phone jack. "Do you know how to access your mail? I could show you."
David looked very relieved. "I don't want to keep you, Janet, but that would be a great help to me!"
"No problem," grinned Janet, giving David a wink and slipping into the chair in front of the keyboard. "My truck is in for a tune up so I'm waiting for Robbie and the girls to pick me up. They're over at Drouillard's Small Motors' so you know how long they are going to be."
Davis nodded with a laugh. Robbie and Ryan's fascination with all things mechanical was common knowledge in the town thanks to the members of the Bartlett Fire Department who saw Robbie as one of the boys and Ryan as the crew's radio assistant and mascot. Ryan had taken to going to the meetings with her Mom and although she was too young to train, she had made herself useful cleaning and repairing equipment and operating their rather old and fussy radio system when they were out on a call. Robbie teased that Ryan was a bit smarter but less obedient than a station dalmatian.
Robbie had bought the station a Jaws-of-Life apparatus for helping to get trapped people out of the mangled ruins of car accidents and today some of the volunteers were over at Droullard's learning how to use it on a wreck they had dragged out of the dump. Ryan and Reb were playing the victims.
Janet showed David how to connect to the Internet and watched with surprise as eight messages were immediately received. The addy of all of them was EWilliams Janet turned to look at David in surprise. David glowed with embarrassment.
"Tell me all!" demanded Janet, with a grin.
"Oh dear!" blushed David, clearing his throat and shuffling his feet. "Well, you know, she is a wonderful woman and her research is terribly important! But I couldn't help but notice," if anything David got even redder at this point, "that she was underweight. You could tell she hadn't been taking proper care of herself!"
"You know how much I enjoy cooking, and there is only my brother Ted and me, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to courier her the occasional pie or box of muffins. Bethy and I have found we have a lot in common and have kept in touch since the wedding," confessed David.
Janet grinned mischievously. "David Potts, do you mean to tell me that you have been secretly courting Robbie's sister!"
"Oh dear, no! I mean, yes, well, no!" stammered David. Janet waited, showing no mercy. This was just soo cute!
"I mean, we are just friends but I had been considering asking her out to hear Yo Yo Ma perform at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto next month. I confess that I am a little nervous about approaching Robbie on the subject."
Janet's eyes widened in surprise. "You are going to ask Robbie to ask her?!"
"Dear me, no! But since Robbie is sort of the head of the family, I felt it proper to ask her if it would be all right if I stepped out with Elizabeth," explained David, with awkward dignity.
Janet bit her lip to stop from laughing. This moment in Williams' history, she just HAD to be witness to! "David, I think that's very honourable of you," she managed to get out without laughing.
"Hi, Aunt Janet. Hi, Mr. Potts," greeted Ryan, from the doorway. "Mom's out in the truck with Reb. Reb's crying because she wasn't allowed to bring the Jaws of Life home with her. She thinks it's really fun to hide behind a seat and be rescued."
Janet stood and let a critical eye trail over Ryan's body. The teenager was covered in dirt, rust and cobwebs. "Is Reb wearing the other half of the town dump?" she asked.
Ryan grinned. "Pretty much!"
Janet laughed and shook her head as she retrieved her coat. Quietly, Ryan stepped forward to help her settle the one arm into the sleeve. Janet smiled and gave the teen an affectionate bump. Saying their goodbyes to David, they walked out to the waiting truck.
It was only when Robbie had turned off the lights that night and slipped into bed beside Janet, that the teacher finally had the opportunity to tell Robbie about the computer and David's intentions. To her surprise the light was snapped on again and Robbie was standing by the bed bristling with rage.
"Robbie! What's wrong?" asked Janet, as she pulled the bedclothes around her chest and sat up.
"If he comes anywhere near Elizabeth, I'll....I'll...stop him!" Robbie growled.
Concern flooded Janet's face. She wrapped the sheet around her and stood up to hug the naked woman who towered angrily over her. "Hey, easy, love. Come on. I need to talk to you, and it's too cold standing here undressed by the bed."
Robbie didn't want to lie down again. She wanted to get dressed and go down to David Potts' and beat the daylights out of him! But she didn't want to upset Janet, so she sat on the edge of the bed and let her wife curl up beside her.
"Robbie, the e-mails, all eight of them, came from Elizabeth. They like each other. What's wrong with that? It would be good for Elizabeth."
"NO!" Robbie snarled, her head snapping around so cold blue eyes challenged soft green.
Those green eyes searched Robbie's quietly for a very long time. "This has to do with the dark time, doesn't it, Robbie? Something happened to Elizabeth and you are trying to protect her."
Robbie stiffened and tried to pull away but Janet wouldn't let go. "No, Robbie, I'm not going to push for information. It's okay. I know you can't talk about it. I just want you to realize that your reaction stems from whatever happened then. This is now. Elizabeth is reaching out. First, to your new family and now to David. That's wonderful, Robbie. Don't let your fears put an end to that."
Robbie swallowed. Janet could feel her partner shaking with the effort of controlling her emotions. "I don't want her hurt," Robbie managed to force out of a tight throat.
"Hey," Janet smiled, and gave Robbie an affectionate shake, "we're talking David Potts here! He is the nicest man I have ever met! He's polite, caring and ever so sweet. You know that, Robbie."
Robbie wiped sweat from her upper lip. "People aren't always what they seem," she muttered bitterly.
"No, they're not. But David is. He told me that before he asks Elizabeth out on a date, he is going to ask your permission to 'step out' with your sister. Isn't that cute?"
Robbie swallowed but said nothing. Her eyes stared vacantly at the Navaho rug on the floor. "Robbie? I need you to be brave. I need you to trust David to take Elizabeth out, okay?"
The seconds ticked by and then Robbie nodded.
"If David talks to you, you're not to terrorize him," she warned, knowing all too well how a Williams' mind worked.
Robbie frowned. "I got a right to know what his intentions are!" she protested.
Janet giggled and bumped against Robbie, surprised to feel the sheen of nervous sweat that covered her partner's body. "His intentions are a Yo Yo Ma concert at the Roy Thompson Hall!"
Robbie rubbed her face and stood up, turning to look deeply into Janet's eyes. "Okay." she finally said, "I gotta go for a run."
Janet nodded and watched as her partner changed into sweats and left to run through the cold wintry night. She was one step closer, she knew, to getting Robbie to let her see the festering wound that her partner hid deep in her soul. But at what price?
Sighing, Janet got out of the now cold bed and remade it. She wouldn't be able to sleep until Robbie returned anyway. Time for a hot bath, and then she'd work at her desk until Robbie got back..
She went down the hall to the bathroom and turned on the water, then slipped off her nightie. As always, an emotional shock wave knotted her stomach when she caught sight of the red scar where her breast once had been. She swallowed and blinked back the tears. It was hard to deal with the issue of a new self image, a new way of dressing, a new way of feeling, the awkwardness that sometimes came over her when she made love with Robbie. All those things were hard enough, without that constant reminder that she had had cancer to see every day.
She'd talked to her counsellor about it and to her doctor and she knew what she wanted to do. How would Robbie feel about it? She wasn't sure. One of these nights, when they tucked into bed and it was their quiet time together, she was going to have to broach the subject with her lover.
It was two hours later when Robbie returned, wheezing with the effort of taking in warm air into lungs cold and oxygen deprived. Robbie had run full out until her muscles screamed and her head was too dizzy to think anymore. Then she had forced herself to keep up a steady jog back to the cabin.
Janet had met her there, wrapping her in a quick hug and then getting the shower ready for Robbie while the runner stripped from her sweat suit. They had showered together, Janet washing Robbie's hair gently and soothing her like she would a child. Robbie went along numbly, needing the love and security that Janet was providing but too upset and exhausted to articulate those thoughts.
In bed, they made love, Robbie needing to be as close as she could to her wife. Janet responded with open trust, trying to reassure Robbie that love was good, safe and beautiful. Much later, Janet fell asleep sprawled on her belly with her lover already fast asleep on top of her.
The letter from the lawyer had arrived on Friday morning but it had been Saturday before Robbie had opened it. Janet could see by the change in Robbie's expression that the contents of the letter had upset her. The school teacher finished wiping down the counter and then went over to whisper in Ryan's ear as the teen helped clean up Reb from her morning breakfast of Pablum.
"I need to talk to your Mom. Could you keep Reb busy in the bedroom for half an hour?" Ryan looked over to where her mother sat at Aunt Janet's desk. Her Mom wore that emotionless look that Ryan had come to realize meant that the feelings inside were running high.
"Sure, Aunt Janet," she nodded softly. "Reb and I will go make your bed. She likes to play hide and seek with the covers."
Janet smiled and gave Ryan a squeeze. "I'll tell you about it later," she promised, as her adopted daughter swung Reb from her highchair and led the small child out of the room.
Janet went over and placed her hands on Robbie's shoulders, leaning over to kiss the top of her lover's head. "Anything I can do?" she asked Robbie.
Robbie sighed. "We need to talk. You'd better come sit on the couch."
Janet followed the tense director over. What could have gone wrong? she wondered, a frown forming on her face.
Robbie sat on the edge of the settee and looked really uncomfortable. A deep blush slowly seeped up her neck. "This letter is from the family lawyer. It is about the settlement of my brother's estate. You know that each of my father's children got five million on his death. Alexandria got thirty million. The remaining five million and the family estate was held in trust to go to the first grandchild born."
"Yes," nodded Janet.
"When Reb was born, that trust was handed over to my brother to manage, as the terms of the will indicated," explained Robbie, nervously making eye contact with Janet.
"Robbie, Reb doesn't need the money. It should be Ryan's anyway. I don't care about it," Janet reassured.
Robbie shook her head irritably. "No, Reb's the legitimate heir. I have no problem with that. Ryan will inherit half of my estate and you the other half. That will leave you both very wealthy women. It's Reb I'm worried about," Robbie swallowed and mumbled with embarrassment. "Billy spent a good deal of the money."
"He spent Reb's trust fund," Janet clarified.
"Three million of it," revealed Robbie sadly.
"On what!?" asked Janet, in disbelief.
Robbie squirmed. "Billy had some problems...because...because of before. He couldn't...I mean he never...well, he just couldn't do it. That's why we were all kind of suspicious of you having Billy's child because we knew that he'd never been capable before. It looks like he had gone through his own money on establishing himself in racing and in getting treatments for...his problem at a Swiss clinic. He needed more money so he had an heir. He took Reb's inheritance to pay for the artificial fertilization and also for treatments for himself."
Janet shrugged. "Oh well."
Robbie looked up in surprise. "It wasn't right! He stole from his own kid! He had a child to get money because he had gone through his own!" snarled Robbie.
Janet shrugged again. "Okay, I agree. It was wrong. But he's dead, Robbie, trying no doubt to prove he was a man. I've got Reb and that delights me. Were my motivations anymore noble?"
Robbie blushed and looked away. Janet answered for her. "No, they weren't! I wanted money and I wanted a child. So I'm partly responsible for Reb's inheritance being misused. But I don't care! I'm happy. Reb's happy, and we are doing just fine. Don't worry about it, Robbie!"
"I'll make it up to the kid," Robbie promised, taking Janet's hand.
Janet squeezed the hand. "You already have. You, Ryan and that thing you dragged home and insist on calling a dog, Rebecca loves you all dearly. You've brought so much into Reb's life! That's all that matters. You write your silly law firm and tell them just to finish off the paper work and not to worry about the mismanagement of the trust. Reb was worth it!" grinned Janet.
Then she giggled.
"What's so funny?" asked Robbie, putting an arm around Janet.
"I just know that when Reb is much older and can understand all this, she is going to really enjoy being the product of an illegal act!"
"Hey! That's our daughter you are taking about and she is perfect," protested Robbie.
Janet bumped her forehead lightly against Robbie's. "No, she is a Williams and that spells trouble!"
Trouble arrived the following week with the annual old timers' hockey tournament. Several years before, Greta Corry had organized an all women's team to compete. "Lips", Lady Ice Players, had never won a game against the male teams, whose players had all played on amateur hockey leagues at one time or another. Everyone did have a good time however, and the all girl team always brought out the crowds when they were playing.
This year, Greta could not take her place in goal because of her gall bladder problems and Janet couldn't take the left wing position because of her surgery. They had to settle with managing and coaching the team.
Amanda Singh was recruited for goal and Robbie and Ryan were picked up as forwards. Suddenly, the women found they had a team that could actually win games! On Friday night, they had surprised the Creaky Joints from Harriston with a three-two win and then on Saturday they had gone on to defeat the Bartlett Golden Jets by a score of four-one! Sunday found them facing the Helingone Rusty Blades in a grudge match final.
Janet reviewed her game plan options. Amanda skated poorly but she had played goal for her school's soccer team as a child back in India. She was flexible and fast in net despite the large pads and protective gear she had to wear. Carolyn Carr could hold her own on defense having grown up playing backyard hockey with her brother. Glades Billingsley, the minister's wife, was a little weak on left defense but she made up for it by providing hot chocolate and cookies for the team.
Robbie had taken figure skating as a child and was quick and confident on her skates. She had a powerful shot although not an always accurate one. Ryan was a good skater too. She had played hockey on various school teams and played smart. Unlike her mother, her shots were always on the net. They would play the forward wings. In centre, Greta and Janet had decided on Stacy Barlow from the donut shop. She was a tough, wiry woman who never gave up.
The rules for old timer hockey were pretty flexible. You were supposed to be an amateur and be over thirty to play. But in the small northern towns, where the populations were low, anyone who wanted to still play hockey after they had out grown the leagues could pretty well join as an old timer. The games were just for fun and no body contact was allowed.
The women's team was mostly women in their thirties and forties but Ryan was a teenager and Amanda and Janet were still in their late twenties. Corry had got the organizers to waver the age restriction for the women so that they could get enough players to make up a team.
Janet stood by the boards and took pictures with Robbie's camera of Ryan and Robbie warming up on the ice. The mother and daughter skated leisurely around the rink holding Reb by the hands. Reb had on a pair of double bladed skates and was dressed up in a hockey sweater and helmet just like her big sister and aunt. Robbie had paid Floe Butler to remake a team jersey for Reb and had bought her a kid's sized helmet. A cut down hockey stick had completed the outfit and Janet had to admit that Reb looked cute as a button.
Reb idolized her big sister and aunt and most of the time Janet thought that was just great. Her daughter couldn't have a better pair of role models at least ninety per cent of the time. Then there was that ten per cent of the time when that "no limits, no fear" attitude of the Williams' came out and that scared the hell out of Janet. She understood that it was the quality that allowed them to take their natural talents and push them to greatness, but it was very worrying and stressful to deal with at times. She had come to realize that one of the things she could do in her marriage with Robbie was to help her partner use her tremendous focus to do good things rather than negative.
Janet smiled and brought her focus back to the game. Helingone had a good team. The game was being billed as a grudge match because Jim Adleton was the Rusty Blades star player. Everyone knew that there were bad feelings between Robbie and Jim about the Winter Carnival snowmobile race. Janet frowned. She needed to remind Robbie again that this was a friendly game and not to lose her temper.
Already there had been some underhanded play. A very embarrassed official had come to Janet and Greta and told them that according to the Hockey Association regulations all players had to wear athletic cups. It appeared that someone on the Heligone team had pointed out to the officials that if there was an injury they could be liable if the women were not wearing the proper protective gear.
"An injury to what?!" Janet had exploded, but the red faced official had just shrugged. It had been Amanda Singh who had saved the day by phoning her husband, Mohammed, who owned the local clothes store. He arrived with a large grin and enough athletic cups for the team. There had been incredible joking and giggling in the dressing room as the team fitted the useless gear into place. Stacy had the team near to hysterics when she announced that she thought she'd start wearing one full time because it was a handy spot to tuck her tips.
Greta's voice cut into Janet's thoughts. "Okay, ladies, come over here!" The team headed over to the bench for their final instructions.
Robbie bent down and lifted a beaming Reb over the boards to her other mother. "There you go, Reb. Don't forget to cheer for us, now."
Reb looked at Robbie with big, baby blue eyes. "I won't forget, Obby. I cheer!" she promised seriously. Robbie leaned over and patted Reb's helmeted head.
"Okay, it is the Williams/Barlow line out there first," explained Janet, as she balanced Reb on the boards. "Stacy, you take the face off and try to get the puck to Obby. She'll take it down the ice with Ryan at her heels. Once over the blue line, Ryan, you cut ahead and go behind the net. When you come around the other side, Obby will have passed the puck and you tap it in the corner. That's our entire game play. Any questions?"
The team shook their heads and prepared to head out to centre ice. "Obby?" called Janet.
"Hmmm?" the director responded, coming back to the boards.
"Remember this is a FUN game. Be good," Janet warned.
Robbie scowled good naturedly and skated off to her position shadowing Jim Ableton. The ref got ready to drop the puck.. Ableton smiled at Robbie and in a voice just loud enough for the players to hear he said, "So, Williams, you wearing an athletic cup?" Several of the male players snorted.
Robbie winked at her daughter on the other side of the face off circle. "Sure am, Jimmy. I keep trophies in it. But you're safe 'cause I only keep the big ones." The ref dropped the puck. Stacy snapped it over to Robbie and the Williams were on their way down the ice while the men were still laughing at Ableton. Ryan rocketed behind the net, Robbie passed and Ryan was there to jam the puck in the corner of the net before the Helingone goalie could react. Less than a minute into the game, and the ladies were leading one nothing!
"It worked! It worked!" screamed Greta, from the bench.
"Kill them!" yelled Reb, at the top of her baby lungs and Janet looked down at her daughter in shock. The Williams clan had struck again!
The less than friendly game was tied at two two in the third period when Ryan was fed a shot from Stacy and found herself on a break away. She picked up speed and careened down the ice with Jim Ableton behind her. Seeing he couldn't catch Ryan, he dove with his stick out, stretched, and tripped her up. Ryan skidded across the cold ice on her face and went head first into the corner boards. Her helmet flew off and she lay lifeless on her ice.
For a second, everyone froze in horror, the only sound, the grating of Ryan's helmet spinning like a top on the ice. "Ryan!" Robbie screamed into the silence, and dropping her stick and gloves, the director charged over to her daughter.
Janet passed Reb to Greta and went over the boards. She ran down the ice and slid in beside Robbie, who knelt by the still figure of her daughter afraid to move her. "Ryan, honey. Ryan, are you all right?" Robbie asked in a shaky voice.
Ryan heard her mother scream her name as the blackness closed in around her. Now she tried to fight her way through the pain and fog to reassure her mom that she was okay. The mouth wouldn't work. She tried rolling over. "Don't move, Ryan!" a panicky voice commanded. Ryan felt her mother's hands trembling as they tried to support her neck and head.
"I'm okay, Mom," Ryan finally got out, opening her eyes to watch several faces of her mother and aunt spin around in front of her. "Honest. I just got my bell rung." She blinked several times and the world came into focus.
"The kid shouldn't have been playing anyway," justified Ableton from behind Robbie. Robbie gave a roar of anger that echoed through the arena like a war cry. She rose like a mushroom cloud above her teammates who were clustered around Ryan. Abeton swung his stick up in reflex when he saw the fire in Robbie's eyes. In a lightening move, Robbie pulled the stick out of his hands.
Another Heligone player skated over to try and grab Robbie from behind. Amanda casually stuck out her goalie stick and tripped him up sending him sprawling into Stacy, who went down.
Gloves came off, sticks dropped and a bench clearing free for all exploded around Robbie. The crowd cheered them on. Janet covered Ryan with her body and secretly prayed that Robbie would knock Ableton's block off!
The game was ended by a very frustrated and over-work ref who sent the players to their dressing rooms and called the game a tie.
Janet drove her truck load of Williams olives home in stony silence. Three guilty Williams sat wedged in the back seat. Ryan rested her sore head on her mother's shoulder and Robbie held a tissue to her own bloody nose. Ryan poked her mom.
"Ahhh, are you mad at us?" Robbie asked nasally.
Silence. Her back to her family, Janet smiled. Let them sweat, she thought.
"I mean, I know you must be upset, but you're not going to stay mad, are you?" Robbie tried again, feeling Ryan's hand slip into her own. Robbie gave her insecure daughter's hand a squeeze.
"Well, let's see...in three years, Lips has never had a penalty and in just one game, the Williams managed to cause a bench-clearing brawl. Then there is the not so little matter of one of you having trained Rebecca to chant 'Kill them.' I could probably be philosophical about all of this had it not been for the lecture I just got at the doctor's office for letting Ryan play when she was recovering from a major head injury! Like it is MY responsibility to keep you motley crew of Williamses in line!" Janet growled, in mock anger.
"We're sorry," Ryan said worriedly. Robbie gave her a hug to reassure her that everything would be okay.
Janet snorted. "I don't believe THAT for a moment! You three were in your element, up to your collective backsides in trouble!"
"Obby killed them!" offered Reb, helpfully.
"Shhh, kid," whispered Ryan.
"Ahhh, Reb, don't say that, okay?" Robbie said, reaching past Ryan to pet Reb's shoulder. "It's not nice."
"Ryan say it!" protested Reb, incredulously, refusing to believe that anything her big sister did could be wrong.
"Ryan isn't going to say it anymore either!" stated Robbie firmly, giving her daughter a look. Ryan smiled sheepishly.
Janet decided that she had made her troublesome family squirm long enough. "The only reason the three of you are not sleeping in the snow tonight is the shiner Obby gave that big bully Ableton!"
Ryan's worried face broke into a big smile. "Mom rocked, didn't she, Aunt Janet?!"
"You bet she did!" Janet agreed, and heard the collective sigh of relief from the back seat.
"Does this mean we can still order in pizza?" asked Robbie tentatively.
Janet laughed and shook her head as she pulled up in front of their cabin. "We might as well, since we have to sit up for a while with Ryan and make sure she hasn't got a concussion!" giggled Janet.
Much later that night, Janet rolled over to kiss her lover's sore nose. "How are you doing, champ?" she asked.
"Okay," came the nasal response and Janet smiled.
"Robbie, how would you feel about reconstructive surgery?"
"My nose isn't that bad,"muttered the director.
"I meant for me," came the serious response.
Robbie sat up and turned the light on, watching her partner blink in its glow. "What?!"
Janey pulled herself up beside her lover. "How do you feel about me having reconstructive surgery to form my missing breast? I...I've been reading up on it."
Robbie blinked, went to say something, stopped and tried again. "Well, I don't know. I mean I never thought about it. It doesn't bother me that you have had a mastectomy but the thought of you having more surgery does bother me. Why would you want to? Did I say or do something that made you think I don't find you appealing?" Janet's worried wife asked.
Janet looked at her hands that lay folded on the bedclothes in front of her. "No, you've been great."
"Well, then, forget it!" responded Robbie irritably. Those days had been like a nightmare. Robbie just wanted to forget it and move on. The last thing she wanted to do was walk through a set of hospital doors with Janet again. If anything happened to Janet ... no! She didn't want to deal with this!
"Robbie, unlike other surgeries, a mastectomy is a day to day reminder of your battle with cancer. The reminder is there in the morning when I wake up and it's there when I take a shower. It's there when I go to bed or when I'm trying on clothes and it is definitely there when we make love.
"You've been a wonderful partner through it all but I can't help but wonder if you are affected more than you would ever admit to me. These little insecurities pop into my head now and again. I think I handled the whole episode pretty well emotionally and intellectually, but I have to tell you honestly...there are days when I don't want that reminder...can you understand that Robbie?"
Robbie licked her lips and tried to absorb what Janet had told her. She nodded, reluctantly. "Yeah, I can understand. What would they do?"
Janet got more comfy. "Well, there are different procedures depending on the type of mastectomy. For me, it would be quite a long process. First, a saline implant that can be inflated would be implanted and a muscle from either the stomach or back would be placed over top. Gradually the implant would be inflated over a number of weeks to stretch the muscle and skin. When the muscle has been stretched sufficiently, the inflatable saline implant would be replaced with a permanent silicone one."
Robbie looked at her, eyes wide with fright. "No! Those implant thingies are dangerous!"
Janet smiled and gave her partner a reassuring hug. "Actually, the hullabaloo over silicone is greatly exaggerated. Most problems occurred in the early years of testing or because of inexperienced doctors. Normally, everything goes just fine."
Silence. Then, "Don't you need that muscle in your stomach or back?" argued Robbie.
"The use of the stomach muscle is not recommended for active women because if you lift heavy things you risk getting a hernia. The loss of the muscle in the back does weaken it but with proper exercise the remaining back muscles can compensate and you can regain that strength."
"Oh." Robbie could feel a tension headache coming on. She knew she had to work through this with Janet but it was hard.
"Once the permanent implant is in then they'll reshape my good breast so they match and have a more youthful shape," finished Janet.
"Shit! More surgery?!" exploded Robbie, in annoyance. She definitely didn't want this to be happening! Okay, so it was a bit weird having a wife with one breast but hell it didn't matter. It wasn't affecting their sex life...or was it?!
Robbie turned and looked deeply into Janet's eyes, searching for the truth. "Aren't you having good orgasms? I mean, is it bothering you to the point where I'm not satisfying you? I thought it was good. I mean it's great with you...am I doing something wrong 'cause..."
Janet's lips ended the flood of insecurity. "You, Robbie Williams, are as sexy as hell in bed and there is nothing wrong with our sex life! I just...I just want to feel whole."
Robbie saw the pain in Janet's eyes and pulled her close. "Okay, lover. If you want this, then I want it too. When?"
"Not for a few years, I think. I want to make sure...well, that they got it all. I need time to get over the treatments too." She hugged Robbie close feeling the tenseness in Robbie's body. "You okay, with that?"
"Yeah, I'm okay with that. Thanks for talking to me about it. It will give me time to...you know get used to the idea," confessed Robbie.
Janet smiled. Her big, brave hockey star was a wuss when it came to anything that was going to affect Janet. Love you for that! she thought and leaned over for another kiss. "We could just test to make sure my evaluation of you as a super lover is accurate," teased Janet. Robbie obliged.
Robbie and Rufus dropped Janet, Ryan and Reb off at The Bartlett School for the Gifted and headed into town to run some errands. Her last stop was to David Potts' General Store to pick up the large bag of dog food of the type that Rufus preferred.
Rufus sat by the window watching. Inside the store, Robbie hefted the heavy bag on the counter and waited for David to ring it in. "Robbie, before you go," started David, the colour rising in his face. "I wonder if I might have a word with you."
The colour drained from Robbie's face as quickly as it had risen in David's. Oh shit! "I'm kind of busy," evaded Robbie.
"Please, Robbie. It will only take a minute." Robbie nodded and followed David through the store and back into his office. A new Pentium III sat on the desk top. Robbie sneered at it.
"Won't you be seated, please." Robbie sat, trying to look relaxed when she was anything but. Remember you promised Janet, she kept repeating to herself as she watched David carefully take off his apron, straightened his tie and slip into his jacket.
"As the head of the Williams family, I thought it proper that I make my intentions known to you and ask your approval to step out with your sister," David managed to get out, determination winning over his natural shyness.
"Just what are you intentions?" asked Robbie, a little sharper than she had intended.
David swallowed nervously. "Well, I have told Elizabeth, we communicate daily by e-mail, that you and Ryan are going to star in Twelfth Night. I offered to buy her ticket if she was free and if you were willing to set up Bill's trailer again for her to stay in. Also, Elizabeth has a season concert ticket to the Roy Thompson and I was going to ask if I could buy a ticket and join her to hear Yo Yo Ma next month."
Robbie looked at David with eyes cold as ice. David stood quietly with embarrassed dignity. Robbie stood and looked directly in his eye. "Yes, if Elizabeth wishes, she may come to see Twelfth Night with you. Yes, I will arrange for the trailer. Then I'll talk to Elizabeth and decide about the Toronto concert. I don't want my sister hurt, David."
David looked truly upset. "Robbie! I wouldn't do anything to hurt Elizabeth or anyone else!"
Robbie smiled letting some of the tension go. Janet was right, David was just plain sweet. "Yeah, I know, but Bethy well, she's not out going like me..." Robbie fumbled for words. This was not David's business, damn it!
David nodded. "I know. She has been badly hurt in the past. She told me so," revealed David softly. "Robbie, I haven't had much experience with dating. But I feel very comfortable with Elizabeth and she needs me. You know that condo she owns is such a burden to her. She can't seem to find a decent manager and..."
"Elizabeth owns a condo?!" exclaimed Robbie, eyes widening in surprise.
"Yes, the one she lives in. She is doing very important research and she doesn't need to be bothered with number 32A's leaky showerhead, now does she?" asked David, coming to Elizabeth's defense.
Robbie smirked. "No, leaky heads are a bitch," she acknowledged, knowing David would not pick up on the double meaning.
David nodded in agreement. "And you know, she doesn't take care of herself. She gets so involved in her work that she forgets to eat properly. I've been sending her some treats. She is very fond of my sticky buns."
Robbie tried not to laugh. She never thought she would end up enjoying this conversation with David! David went on unaware of Robbie's merriment. "I thought I'd take my tool box down to Toronto, that's if it is alright, and see what I can do to help out around there. I'm not as active as my brother Bill, but I think I can handle a tool as good as any man!" David finished with feeling.
Gathering all her stage presence, Robbie managed to say, "I'm sure you can, David. Please tell Bethy we'll look forward to seeing her. The kids will be delighted that they will be seeing their aunt again." Then she escaped to the truck. Rufus sat on the front seat beside her and watched her with a puzzled expression. Robbie kept bursting out laughing and wiping her eyes to see the road as she headed the truck back to the cabin.
Janet sat at her desk working at her computer, listening with one ear to the family noises. Squeals and laughter floated out from the bathroom where Robbie was dying Ryan's hair to the same colour as her own and helping her with her make up for the play opening tonight. In the living room, Reb had recently discovered that Rufus followed voice commands and she was making the shaggy dog's life a living hell.
"Sit!" commanded the small figure looking up at the huge dog that stood in front of her. Rufus reached out his massive muzzle and licked the top of Reb's head affectionately before sitting as he had been told. "Good dog!" praised Reb, petting the wide, shaggy chest.
"Reb, play with your toys and leave poor Rufus alone. He needs to sleep." suggested Janet.
Her daughter, Rebecca, looked at her with big, serious eyes and then back at the dog. "Sleep, Rufus!" she commanded, and then sat down on the rug to play with the blocks that Ryan had bought for her. Sometime later, Janet looked over to see her daughter fast asleep curled up against Rufus's side. Quietly, she got out Robbie's camera and took a picture. Sometimes, she loved her daughter so much it almost hurt.
Carefully, she lifted her daughter and got her ready for bed. Carolyn and Amanda were going to take turns baby sitting during the play nights. She went into the bed room to change. A few minutes later the other half of her family barged in all smiles.
Janet started in surprise. With the expert make up job and change in colouring, Ryan was the spitting image of her mother. "My God! You two could be twins!" gasped Janet. Both Williams smiled.
"Mom's a bit taller but I'm gaining on her," observed Ryan.
"Kid, you are never going to be as tall as me!" teased Robbie, giving her daughter a poke. "I'm just going to check on Elizabeth and then as soon as Carolyn arrives we can be off."
Janet looked at Ryan after her mother had left. The resemblance was amazing! "Are you nervous?" asked Janet.
Ryan frowned and thought about the question in the serious, intense way that her aunt Elizabeth had. "I would have been if I'd been playing next to Greta but not with Mom. Mom will make sure everything goes all right. If I forget a line of something, she'll ad-lib. She's cool," Ryan observed proudly.
Janet nodded. "Yes, she is. That sounds like Carolyn's car so we'll better get our coats on. You'll need lots of time to change into your costumes and review before the performance."
At the trailer, Robbie had tried to stall, saying that she didn't think she should leave Elizabeth alone. Janet pointed out the obvious, that Carolyn and Reb were in the cabin only a few feet away if there was a problem. Robbie chewed on her lip and tried to think of another excuse to stall until David got there. Janet, however, gave her a warning frown and herded her into the truck, noting Elizabeth's look of relief as she did so.
The play was a roaring success. Elizabeth had a wonderful evening with David and the entire family, including David, had ended opening night with a late dinner at Maria's. The next day, Elizabeth had taken the helicopter back to Toronto. David had shown up in time for the goodbyes and been so bold as to kiss Elizabeth on the cheek. Janet had held onto Robbie really tightly!
Ryan blossomed on stage and had a sense of timing with the audience that had them in stitches as she played Viola the shipwrecked twin who had dressed as a man and found the Lady her master, Orsino, had sent her to court on his behalf was actually falling in love with her!. Sebastian, the male twin was played by Robbie and the audience howled as she was courted by the Lady, Olivia, who thought she was still the male Viola .
The following weekend, Janet had time to note how Robbie only took over the stage when Ryan was not on with her. She carefully let her daughter have the limelight. Robbie was just good down to the centre of her being but she hid it so well behind that protective wall of aggressiveness, Janet realized. From the wings on the last night, Janet used up the rest of the film in Robbie's camera. The cast took their final bow and walked off stage to a standing ovation.
The cast party had been a cheery affair and the Williams clan had slept in a bit the next morning. Robbie and Janet were up in time, however, to get a special breakfast ready. It was Ryan's birthday, and Robbie was trying to make up for all the birthdays she hadn't been there for Ryan.
Finally, Robbie could stand it no longer and she went in to wake her daughter up. "Happy Birthday, Ryan!" she grinned, hugging her daughter close to her as Ryan sleepily sat up in bed. She felt Ryan stiffen and realized the old hurts were returning. Robbie was getting better at dealing with them though. "Ryan, I wish I could make up for all those birthdays when I should have been there for you. Please, just indulge your mother today, and let me try to show you how much your birth meant to me in my heart. I love you, Ryan."
Ryan's body relaxed and she hugged her Mom back. "I love you too, Mom," she responded softly.
"Come on! We've got a birthday planned for you that will be the talk of the town!" laughed Robbie, pulling her daughter out of bed. The morning had been a happy if riotous affair. They had breakfasted on French crepes filled first with ham and scrambled eggs and second with fruit and whipped cream. Then they'd sat around the fire and let Ryan open her presents. Reb's present was opened first. It was a crayon picture of Ryan in a sailboat on Long Lake, Reb explained in her serious way. It had been carefully framed down at Paul Digby's art and framing shop. Ryan promised to hang it on their bedroom wall and gave her little sister a teary hug.
Janet had bought Ryan her own life-vest and had a cherry wood paddle made for her that had her initials etched into an oak leaf pattern on the blade. Ryan ran her hand over the polished wood and looked up with tears rolling down her face. "Thanks, Aunt Janet," she got out hoarsely.
Then Robbie's gifts got brought out. A table saw, jig saw, tool kit, and a set of plans for the building of an Australian sailing dory. "I thought we could build it together this spring," explained Robbie nervously. Ryan said nothing. She wrapped herself in her mother's arms and stayed there sobbing. Janet took Reb to clean up and left the two alone.
"You okay, Ryan?" asked Robbie insecurely.
Ryan nodded and pulled her mother closer. "We're going to stay together, right mom?" Ryan asked.
Pain shot through Robbie's heart and she stroked her daughter's hair. "We are a family, Ryan. That's forever. I promise."
"That was some birthday!" Ryan sniffed, pulling away a bit to wipe her eyes.
"Kid, this is only the beginning! We're going to have a great day! Come on, let's get dressed, and go and have some fun!"
The Williams clan was just slipping into their coats when the knock came at the door. Janet opened it. It was Constable Jarvis, who boarded down at Greta's. "Hi, Jerry, come in!" said Janet. "We were just celebrating Ryan's birthday!"
A look of pain ran across the young Constable's face. "Robbie, this isn't correct procedure, but I asked the Sergeant if I could come in here and leave the others outside. We all know you, what with all of us volunteering on the fire brigade and well, this isn't easy. "Roberta Williams, I'm arresting you for the murder of your father..."
"What?!" interrupted Janet in disbelief, moving to stand by her partner defensively.
Robbie's hand came up to touch her shoulder lightly before falling away. "Shhh, Janet. Let him read me my rights."
Jerry Jarvis bit his lip. "I gotta put these cuffs on you, Robbie. It's the rules." Robbie nodded and turned around putting her hands behind her. The Constable stepped forward and nervously snapped the metal cuffs around her wrists. She turned back again and Jarvis took out the card to read Robbie her rights.
"You've got to come now, Robbie," he explained, when he was finished. The room was deathly quiet and he felt very uncomfortable. Robbie looked around the cabin that she had come to love.
Her eyes met Ryan's and saw the pain of betrayal. Ryan turned and walked out of the room. Reb looked at her with eyes wide with fear and on the verge of tears. Then her eyes met Janet's and she saw that Janet knew the truth and loved her anyway.
Janet reached up and kissed Robbie. "I'll come as soon as I get in touch with your lawyer, love." Robbie nodded. Jarvis looked at his boots. He'd heard rumours that Robbie and Janet were gay but he hadn't really believed it. This was turning into a hell of a day.
"Is the press out there too?" Robbie asked quietly.
"Just Lucier so far," Constable Jarvis responded.
Robbie grinned cynically. "An exclusive, eh? Lucky him. Let's go."
Janet watched Robbie leave with the Constable. She never looked back.
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