Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Seasons Series are the creation of the author.
Special thanks to Pat for her expert knowledge on rescue and firefighting methods. Thanks also to Sheri for providing the information on the beautiful island of Tobago.
My grateful thanks to the many readers who have traveled with me through the Seasons. You are the best! My deepest thanks to Lisa and Inga, my beta readers, who work very hard on my behalf and to Susan for her insightful critiques and for overseeing the character continuity. Lastly, to all those individuals who have written me about their own courageous stories, my respect and my best wishes.
Note: The Seasons stories interrelate and should be read in the order they are posted.
Visit Anne Azel's World at < http://www.jes.com.au/~azel/ > or write to Anne at <firstname.lastname@example.org >
Robbie had been restless since they had returned to the cabin four days ago, Janet thought as she looked out the window to where her lover sat on the porch. Robbie had always been on the move, filled with a surplus of energy and ideas, but now it was different. Her actions were random and lacking purpose. They shared the same bed but they had not made love since Robbie's release from prison. On the surface, life went on but the happy teasing, joking and banter did not include the moody figure who paced from room to room.
Janet sighed and walked across the livingroom and up the hall to their daughters' bedroom. She paused at the door, Reb was making the soft baby noises of sleep but Ryan's figure was still and quiet in the darkness. "Ryan, love, are you still awake?"
Janet walked in and sat on the edge of Ryan's bed.
"Has she come back yet?" asked Ryan casually, although worry made her voice rough.
"About half an hour ago. She's sitting out on the porch," said Janet. She knew Ryan wouldn't sleep until she knew her mother had returned from the run Robbie had suddenly decided to take.
Ryan nodded and relaxed a bit. For a minute there was silence. "I didn't support her like you did," she confessed. "I was kind of mean to her."
"Yes, you were," agreed Janet honestly, then went on to lessen the sting, "But I think your mom understands. Your relationship with your mom is still pretty vulnerable."
"I shouldn't have stopped calling her Mom," sighed Ryan, the tears now evident in her voice.
"Well, that is easy to fix. Just start calling her Mom again," laughed Janet.
"She might get angry. Maybe she doesn't want me as her daughter anymore," came the anxious reply.
Janet took Ryan's hand and gave it a squeeze. "Maybe, and maybe pigs can fly! Come on, Ryan, if you know anything by now it is that your Mom worships the ground you walk on! Get out of bed!" commanded Janet, pulling on Ryan's hand as she stood. "That's right! Now march out there and tell your Mom that you'd like to build that boat she gave you for your birthday!"
"What if she says no!" demanded a panicky teen.
"Then I'll be running outside to see the flock of pigs fly over the lake," snorted Janet, giving Ryan a push in the right direction. "Go on Ryan, here is your chance to help your mother. She needs you, sweetheart."
Robbie looked moodily out across the lake. When she had first come here the horizon seemed endless. Now the trees seemed to have grown in close around. "Hi, Mom," said a voice from behind her. Robbie's heart skipped a beat as she leapt to her feet and spun around. Ryan was in her arms almost immediately.
Robbie held her close and rubbed her cheek against Ryan's soft hair. "Hi, Ryan," she managed to get out, although her voice was cracking with emotion. Robbie pulled back but kept her arm around her daughter's shoulder. "It's a nice night."
Ryan nodded. "You enjoy your run?"
Be open, be honest! Don't make the same mistakes a second time! Robbie warned herself. "It helps control my panic. I can't seem to get over the fear of being confined," she confessed.
Ryan turned and looked at her, searching for something in her mother's eyes. "If we built that boat you gave me for my birthday, we could take it out on the lake and then you could really feel free," suggested Ryan nervously.
Robbie's emotions almost crumbled under the surprise offer. She smiled through tears that rolled down her face. "You know, Ryan, that would be just about perfect!" She pulled her daughter close and thanked whatever powers there might be for giving her yet another chance to bridge the gap between herself and her daughter.
Ryan pulled back awkwardly. "Well, I'd better get back to bed, Aunt Janet is enrolling me again at Bartlett tomorrow."
"Sure," smiled Robbie, and she leaned forward to kiss her daughter on the cheek. Ryan gave her Mom one more hug and then hurried off to bed. Robbie sat down on the stoop again and watched the stars reflected in the still, deep waters of the lake, as she wiped the remaining tears away with a shaky hand.
"Hi, can I join you?" asked Janet, coming out with two cups of tea.
"Sure," said Robbie, feeling the tension returning to her frame.
"Nice night," remarked Janet, sitting down next to Robbie but leaving space between them. That's the way things were now, close but not quite one. They sat for a long time watching the changes in the early summer night.
Then Robbie put down her cup and, still looking out at the lake, she said, "I need to ask you something. I need to know."
"Okay," agreed Janet, mentally bracing herself for what might be coming. Don't leave me, Robbie!
"Would you have slept with Alberta if you hadn't had the surgery? Is that what stopped you?"
Janet absorbed the blow to her senses for a few seconds. "I think if it had gone that far it would have been a factor, Robbie. So much of what we are as women is tied to our concept of our bodies. But it didn't. That evening, I was very vulnerable and the moment was very sexually charged. I never planned to kiss her, and I never would have slept with her. When I did kiss her, I told her right away that I'd made a mistake. That you were my soulmate."
The figure beside Janet was stiff and quiet. "Ryan wants to build that boat."
"That's a good idea," replied Janet, fighting for emotional control. Oh God, Robbie, don't do this!
"Yeah... I'm having trouble with all this, Janet. I thought I'd found everything that I could possibly want in life and then suddenly it all just turned to sand and ran through my fingers. Hell! I don't even know who my father is! Who I am, anymore!"
Janet turned to kneel in front of Robbie. "Do you know that I love you? Can you believe that?" she asked.
Robbie looked down at her feet. "I know what you went through to get me out of there. I don't know if that was loyalty or love. Alberta and you..."
Janet leapt to her feet and jumped down the stairs to pace angrily back and forth. Then she stopped in front of Robbie. "There is no Alberta and I! There never was! Can't you get that through your thick head?" she stormed. "I kissed her. I shouldn't have. It wasn't fair to you or to her. I'm sorry but damn it all, Robbie, I'd had it! I don't often feel sorry for myself but I'd gone through cancer and struggled with the insecurity of losing a breast. Out of the blue, I find out my wife is being arrested for a murder that she didn't trust me enough to tell me about. Then I had to cope with the press and your refusal to talk! I was kicked out of my church and my job! I was beaten-up for loving you by a bunch of skinheads and had you yelling at me and accusing me of sleeping with another woman! I'm sorry I kissed Alberta, it was a lousy thing to do to her and you but damn it, I am NOT super woman and I've had enough, Robbie! Enough!"
Turning on her heel, she stormed up the stairs and into the cabin and left a stunned director sitting on the steps. For a long while nothing made sense. Then the list of things that Janet had given her registered one after the other. Christ! They fired her! Teaching was Janet's life; that must have been devastating for her. I never questioned why she had time off. I just presumed she'd taken a leave! God, I'm arrogant! Okay, Robbie, here it is, bottom line. You can either walk away because she kissed Alberta and told you, or put it behind you and try to make a life with Janet and the kids. What's it going to be?
As if there was any question!
Janet had a blistering headache. One of the worst she had ever had. Nice play, Janet! Oh all the times to feel sorry for yourself this had to be the worst! If Robbie wasn't planning on leaving you, she is sure to be now! She rooted around in the medicine chest but could not find any pain killers. Then she found a bottle the doctor had given Robbie after she hurt her knee last year. It was almost empty but there were a few pills left in the bottom. In relief, she swallowed two and got ready for bed.
Her head started to swim and she felt dizzy and disoriented. Oh no, she thought and went to get the bottle to read the label. Now you read the label! Sure enough, the pills had codeine in them! She knew from past experiences that codeine caused her to have a drug reaction and pass out. I'd better get to bed and sleep this stuff off! That was the last thought she had for a while.
Robbie got up and straightened her back that had stiffened in the damp, cool air. Okay, Robbie, it's time to stop wading knee deep in self pity and get on with life. She entered the cabin, locked the door and turned off the lights, using the brilliant moonlight to find her way to the bedroom. Laying on the floor was the ghostly figure of her wife. In her hand was an empty pill bottle with two white pills spilled out on the floor. Robbie's heart lunged and stopped.
"Damn it, woman, if you aren't the worst patient I've ever had to treat I don't know who was!" grumbled George Drouillard, as Robbie fought to get out from under the paper bag he was holding over her mouth and nose.
"W..What?" asked Robbie in confusion, becoming aware of a room full of people. George Droullard leaned over her with a paper bag on one side and Ryan with a bloody tissue held to her mouth stood on the other. "Ryan! What happened?!" exclaimed Robbie, sitting up and almost sending George on his back side.
"You happened. I was trying to help Mr. Droullard hold the bag on your face and you socked me!" complained Robbie's daughter good-naturedly. "You hyperventilated and passed out. Boy, did you lose it when you thought Aunt Janet had killed herself!"
"Janet!" screamed Robbie, as she bounded over the back of the couch and ran into the bedroom.
George Droullard looked at Ryan and shook his head. "Now that's where your artist's temperament comes in, Ryan," he observed, nodding his head wisely.
"Aunt Janet says the Williams are like olives; we're nice but we take a lot of getting used to," smiled Ryan.
George laughed in agreement. " You know, she was just as wild the night Jim Ableton put you into the boards at the skating rink. If Lou Enrico and Bill Perkins hadn't pulled her off, I was a thinkin' we'd have been taking Ableton out of the rink feet first!" Ryan smiled, pleased that her Mom had come to her defense with the same intensity that she had fought for Janet's life. By the time Ryan had leapt out of bed, her Mom had already called out Doctor Perkins and the Bartlett Volunteer Fire Department.
"Mary," George called over to his wife who had come along when she had heard that Janet had tried to commit suicide. "You'd better be making some sandwiches to go with that tea. I know the guys aren't going to want to leave Robbie in the state she's in, her bein' one of the boys and all."
Mary waved and laughed and happily took out a few loaves from the cupboard. She couldn't be happier than to find herself in a kitchen with an entire room of hungry people to feed. Several O.P.P. officers emerged from the bedroom with Doctor Perkins and through the window Mary could make out the arrival of several more cars by the glow of red and yellow emergency lights that flashed on several vehicles. That would be the Ladies' Auxilliary come to lend a hand with the emergency and find out what was happening.
"Janet!" cried Robbie, bounding into the bedroom and almost knocking down the two police officers who were trying to find out what happened.
"Easy, Robbie, or you'll be hyperventilating again!" warned the local doctor, Bill Perkins. "She's fine."
Robbie sank to her knees by the bed and took Janet's limp, cold hand in her own. "Janet, sweetheart..."
Green eyes opened a crack with effort. "What has my favourite olive done now?" she asked sleepily.
Robbie looked up at the doctor. "It took me awhile to wake her up enough get some sense out of her but it seems she had a headache and was out of pain killers so she took two of some I had prescribed for you. They had codeine in them and Janet is allergic to codeine. It knocks her for a loop. Give her twelve hours for the stuff to work through her system and she'll be fine," explained Perkins with a grin.
Robbie visibly slumped with relief and placed her head on the bed. "Oh God! I thought she'd done something drastic because we'd had a fight," Robbie admitted.
Perkins patted Robbie on the shoulder. "She'll be fine, Robbie. It was just an accident." He signaled to the police officers and the three of them left the room, Perkins closing the door to give the women some privacy.
"I didn't mean to scare you," Janet said, her voice slurred with sleep.
"I've never been so afraid. I think I panicked," admitted Robbie, kissing the small hand that her own was intertwined with.
Janet laughed softly. "So I hear! I love you, Robbie Williams!"
Robbie looked up so their eyes met. "I love you too, Janet Williams," she smiled and leaned in for a kiss. Janet was asleep again before the kiss had ended. The Bartlett Fire department, two O.P.P. officers, one doctor, and two children, one with a fat lip, were served tea and sandwiches in the living room while Doctor Perkins explained to everyone's relief that it had just been a misunderstanding.
Some time later, Mary stuck her head into the bedroom to find Robbie lying curled up beside Janet, both women fast asleep. She saw to Reb and Ryan getting back to bed and then shooed the men home again in the pre-dawn sky.
The women did the washing up and left a plate of sandwiches and squares for the family before they left for home too. "You know, Mary," observed George as he drove, "Them two are very much in love."
"Really, George," Mary commented.
The sarcasm was lost on George. "Yup, almost as much as I love you, pretty-thing," he chuckled, taking Mary's hand in his own. Mary leaned her head on her husband's shoulder. She was a very lucky woman.
Janet woke to the happy sounds of her family.
"Up, Obbie! I want up, peas!"
"Up it is, Reb, voom, voom Rebair coming in for a landing in Highchair Airport!" came Robbie's voice over Reb's giggles.
"Hey, Mom, should I wake Aunt Janet? She's supposed to take me into Bartlett and enrol me again."
"No, let her sleep, Ryan, I'll take you and Reb in. Do you want cereal or toast for breakfast, because that's all I can cook?" came Robbie's voice, and Janet smiled sleepily, feeling a hummy sort of warmth spread through her being. She had her Robbie back. Her eyes closed and she slept peacefully for the first time in a very long while.
Robbie and Ryan dropped Reb off at the Bartlett Day Care and reassured Lily Chen that Janet was fine. All of Bartlett knew, of course, about the incident the night before. Some had heard it on their police scanners, some from husbands in the Bartlett Volunteer Fire Brigade, and others at the donut shop that morning.
Now daughter and mother walked side by side down the still empty halls of the school. "Ahhh, Mom, you're not going to make a scene are you?" asked Ryan nervously.
"Scene? What do you mean?" asked Robbie tightly.
"About Aunt Janet getting fired. I can tell you're mad cause your clamping your jaw."
"Stupid, damn Bored Trusses! I ought to ..."
Robbie stopped and glared down at her daughter who glared right back at her. "My other Mom is pretty cool and she can fight her own battles," Ryan said quietly.
Anger flashed across Robbie's face to be replaced almost immediately by a slow smile. "Okay, kid, I'll be good," she promised. Ryan looked relieved and they continued up the hall to the school office.
As they entered, Carolyn Carr came out from behind her desk and hugged Ryan and then Robbie. "Oh, it's wonderful to see you two back! Welcome home! How's Janet?"
"She's fine. We left her to sleep in. Things got a little hectic last night," admitted Robbie, as a blush crept up her neck.
"Mom went postal," Ryan giggled.
"So Burt told me," laughed Carolyn. "That is so sweet, Robbie," she said, giving the embarrassed actor a poke.
"Robbie, Ryan! Hey, how's Janet?" called Milka, as she came out of the principal's office and hugged each Williams in turn.
"She's fine," offered Ryan. "She always was. It was Mom here who had the problem," snorted Ryan.
Robbie gave her daughter a dirty look as the three laughed at her expense. There was a time when that would have set her temper off but now, well, it just made her feel like she belonged.
"I'm here to enrol Ryan. We can't stand having her around the house all day," Robbie growled playfully. "We're willing to pay for you to take her off our hands."
"Nice, Mom!" exclaimed Ryan, snuggling into Robbie's side as her mother wrapped a protective arm around her daughter to reassure her that her words were just in fun.
"Well, come on in then and we'll see to the paper work. Looks like we might get some rain today. We sure need it! It was a really dry spring."
Robbie let Rufus outside to run when she got back to the cabin. Then quietly, she stole into the bedroom to check on Janet. "Hi," came a sleepy voice from the tangle of sheets.
Robbie dropped to her knees by the bed and leaned over to place a soft kiss on Janet's cheek. "How are you feeling?" she asked softly.
"Take your clothes off and get in here and I'll show you," whispered Janet, reaching up to draw Robbie down into long, sensual kiss.
They spent the morning in bed, talking out their feelings and reclaiming each other's bodies with slow, burning passion. Eventually, hunger drove them out for a leisurely lunch by the fire. Now they lay on the couch, Janet tucked between Robbie's long powerful legs, her head resting on the actor's chest.
"Looks like there could be a storm brewing," observed Janet. "I'd better fill the oil lamps in case we lose power tonight."
"Hmmm, I'll bring some extra wood in for the fire before I leave to pick up Ryan and Reb...Janet, about your job, I don't think they had a legal right to..."
Fingers came up to caress Robbie's lips. "I know. I did think about taking them to court, Robbie. But I just don't want to bother with anymore lawyers and reporters. It would be such a hassle and I'm not sure I would want the job back under those sort of conditions. It's hard, but I've got a little saved and I can get on the supply pool at the local public highschool. It might give me some time to finish writing that novel!" she laughed.
Robbie wrapped her close, knowing that the loss of her career must have hurt Janet very deeply. "You don't have to worry about money, damn it! What is mine is yours, you know that! You are far too qualified to be supply teaching at the local highschool!" she grumbled.
"I know you're rich, Robbie, but I don't want to be kept. I want to have an independent income. It is a matter of pride. Nor am I so arrogant that I think I'm too good to work in the classroom. That is after all where the real job is done!" protested Janet, giving Robbie a kiss for being so protective and loyal.
"Hmmmm, that tasted nice," purred Robbie, stretching her frame like a cat. "Come here."
"Janet, do you know how to teach the talented as well as the gifted?" Robbie asked, her voice husky with love making. They were now on the rug by the fire, having found the couch way to restrictive for their needs.
"Well, my degree is gifted education and that includes both the academically gifted and the creatively gifted. It really shouldn't because talent is a totally different process of thinking than gifted. The academically gifted are very logical and methodical in the thought processes that lead them eventually to understanding. The talented, however, tend to work backwards. They start with this spark of an idea and then make it happen. We really need to do a lot more research into what makes people talented."
There was silence for a minute, then Robbie slid over Janet and scooped a handful of ash from the fireplace, spreading it evenly over an area of the hearth. Janet smiled; if ever there was a definition of a truly creative thinker it was her Robbie. She got that intense look and then just did whatever she needed to achieve the concept which had materialized in her imagination. Janet realized that genius made Robbie a tyrant to work for, but it also had made her and her companies the amazing successes that they were.
Robbie, totally absorbed in her ideas, was unaware of the mess she was creating. With a dirty finger she put a dot on her ash canvas. "Okay, here we are and here is Long Lake," explained the director, adding a line with her finger. "Down here is Saw Mill Road. My plan, as you know, is to tear down the mill and build a state of the art studio complex there. Real high tech stuff. Down here, east of Saw Mill Road, is Kettle Lake. I'm going to run a road around it and subdivide it. A lot of people will be moving into town and Williams Construction is going to put in a pretty nice subdivision here. There will be park land around the lake to protect it from overuse, and a public dock. We'll have a rule that people can't use motor boats on the lake too. Gwen is going to love it! She's from the north you know."
Janet leaned over and kissed her ash covered lover. She did love this woman so very, very much! Robbie took a break from her ideas to return the kiss. Then went on. "I shared this cell with a woman who had killed her boyfriend cause he had been cheating on her. We got talking about comic books and Greek art and things and I got this idea...don't laugh now...what if we built a school for the talented that would be affiliated with my studio?"
Janet blinked, then blinked again. Robbie waited. "Are you serious?"
"Well, yeah. Would it be really hard to do? I figure you ought to be able to handle it," stated Robbie cavalierly.
"Me!?" exclaimed Janet.
"Who else. It will be a lot easier for you now that it will be your only job," Robbie pointed out.
Janet lay back and laughed. Robbie smiled, liking the feel of the warm body vibrating with mirth beside her. "You are such an olive!"
"Well, will you help me start The Kettle Lake School for the Talented?" asked Robbie, leaning absently on an ashy hand.
Janet looked up with sparkling eyes. "Only if you have a bath before you make love to me again, Robbie Williams! You are an absolute sight!" Janet laughed.
"Hmmm, so does my new principal give back rubs?" purred Robbie, leaning in to kiss Janet and unintentionally spreading the ash to her partner.
"Hmmm, sounds good," whispered Janet.
Robbie was a little late arriving at the school to pick up Ryan and Reb. She blamed it on the thunderstorm that was now under way. Picking up Reb, she ran with Ryan to the car where a very worried Rufus sat with his large orange muzzle pushed through the window that Robbie had left down a bit for him. A soggy pile of Williams piled into the car and Rufus licked each of his humans in greeting.
"No, Rufus! No, lick," ordered Reb sternly. Rufus' ears dropped. He looked so pathetic that Ryan reached back and petted his massive, shaggy chest.
"It's okay, Rufus. You're a good dog," she said.
Reb smiled up at her massive canine buddy. "Ryan said you are a good dog, Rufus!" she bragged. At the sound of "good dog" Rufus barked happily into Robbie's ear. The director's startled reaction almost put their truck in the ditch.
"So when does the good part come in?" grumbled Robbie. "I should have left him in a snowbank!"
"No, Obbie. Rufus is a good dog!" Reb declared, defending her pal from the criticism.
Robbie and Ryan laughed. "You're right, Reb. Rufus is a perfect dog," agreed Robbie, as she pulled out of the long school driveway and put them on the road for home.
A pair of pale male eyes watched from an old pick-up truck hidden in the bush. On a scrap of paper, a strong hand wrote the time of the Williams' departure in big, clumsy numbers. On the sagging seat beside him, was a messy pile of pictures torn from various newspapers of the Williams. The hand reached up and put the vehicle in gear. It bumped out on the road and followed at a safe distance. When the Williams tuned off down their lane, the rusted, grey truck kept on going.
The storm produced sudden downpours of rain that lasted only a few minutes and were absorbed into the dry soil instantly. But the sky lit up with lightening. Neon forks crackled across the sky or arced to the ground and sheet lightening lit up the heavens, silhouetting the black rolling clouds.
Of course, the power went off. Robbie lit a fire while Janet got a few oil lamps going. The kids were teasing Rufus in boredom. "Eh! Leave poor Rufus alone," warned Robbie, as she poked at the logs irritably, feeling trapped by the storm. Janet came to the rescue. She had a plate of hotdogs, several long handled forks, a basket of buns and a bag of marshmallows. The mood of the Williams immediately improved as they settled to their cook out on the livingroom floor.
When they had all eaten, Janet began to tell them a story. "The False Faces are spirits of the woods. There are many of them but the most powerful are Broken Nose, Spoonmouth, and Blower. When you walk in the forest, they will often play tricks on you, tripping you up with a fallen branch hidden under the leaves, placing a muddy puddle under your mocassin or warning the animals that you have come to hunt.
"Once Manitou and Broken Nose argued about who was the greatest god of the First Nations. Broken Nose took a stick and carved his image into the land. Then he bounced about bragging about how powerful he was and the greatest of all the False Face spirits. Manitou smiled quietly and raised his hand. Slowly, the earth responded to his command and lifted up high into the sky forming the great Rocky Mountains.
"Broken Nose was so full of himself that he didn't notice until he turned around and slammed face first into the mountains. That is how he got his broken nose and that is why our masks of him always have a crooked nose! Broken Nose cried a river of tears filling up the holes he had dug and forming the Great Lakes in the process."
"Is that a true story, Mom?" asked Reb, her eyes big with wonder.
"It is one variation of an ancient myth," responded Janet, letting her daughter crawl into her arms sleepily.
"I like Miffs," concluded Reb.
When Janet came out from tucking Reb in her bed, she found Robbie and Ryan playing poker for pennies by the fire. "Aunt Janet, come and play with us!" Ryan called.
Janet smiled. "No thanks, Ryan, I never play cards."
"Ahhh, come on schoolteacher, live a little," Robbie teased.
"Afraid of being beaten?" grinned Robbie, poking Ryan, who giggled. "We'll, go easy on you, won't we, Ryan!"
Janet stood arms folded tapping her foot. A lesson was going to have to be taught here. "Okay," she said, walking over and sitting on the floor with the others around the sled coffee table. She took the cards from Ryan's hands and shuffled them as quick as the flash of lightening outside. She spread the cards out in an even row on the table with a sweep of her hand and pulled out the Ace of Hearts. With a flip of the last card, the row turned over and Janet swept them up again.
While Robbie and Ryan watched in open mouthed fascination. Janet added the ace, shuffled and dropped the deck to the table. The top card flipped up; it was the Ace of Hearts. She shuffled again and dropped the cards to the table. Remaining in her hand was the Ace of Spades. Then she reached over and removed the Ace of Clubs from Ryan's hair.
Lastly, she laid nine cards down in three rows of three cards. Janet turned over the centre card; it was the Ace of Diamonds. Picking up the cards to shuffle again, she noted with an evil smile, "You might recall that my grandfather was a professional gambler. Shall we play for who does the chores next month, ladies?"
Robbie looked at her daughter across the table. "Ryan, I think we just got ourselves into a whole lot of trouble!"
The game went on for a few hours. Janet would let them win for a while and then quickly win everything back again. During it all, she would perform different card tricks to Robbie and Ryan's delight. By the time Ryan said good night, she owed her Aunt and second Mom a life of servitude! Janet picked up the cards once again and shuffled them professionally. "Okay, Robbie Williams," she grinned cruelly, looking across at her mate, "now we play strip poker."
Janet played to win. The room, warmed by the fire and bathed in soft light, was charged with sexual tension as her lover, with each loss, slowly stripped off each article as Janet watched with hungry eyes. When she had her lover naked before her, Janet placed the deck on the table and cocked a finger. "Come here NOW," she ordered, in a husky whisper. Robbie, her lean muscular body highlighted in red firelight, slipped across the table and into Janet's arms.
They made love well into the night, finally falling into a deep, relaxed sleep in the early hours. At five thirty, Robbie's bleeper went off.
Janet sighed as she felt her lover slip from the bed and fumble in the darkness getting into her fire-fighting gear. "Well, at least their timing is getting better. You be careful!"
Robbie leaned over to place a kiss on Janet's forehead. "No fire could be as hot as you, my love!" she teased and was gone.
Robbie drank deeply from the water bottle. She was on her second, trying to replenish the water that the work and heat of the fire had sucked out of her. She stood leaning on Larry Butler's bulldozer, on the edge of a tired group of Bartlett Volunteer Fire Fighters.
Bush fires were a bitch, she allowed, wiping at the sweat that had etched black trails of soot down her face. Her skin felt scorched and tight. She must look like hell. She'd better clean up a bit before heading back to Janet and the kids.
Blue eyes scanned the fire break that she and the others had created over the last ninety six hours.
With Pulaski shovels, Council rakes, chainsaws and the bulldozer, they had cleared a strip of land through which the fire could not burn. Then they had used Drip Torches. They were canasters with goose necks containing wicks that drew up a gasoline/kerosene mixture. These were used to set back burns to consume the material that the approaching fire would need to feed on. The fire break had done its job. The fire had been stopped on this front and that meant that Bartlett was now relatively safe. Beyond the brown strip of barren earth, charred trees still smoked and cracked with heat. The ground was blanketed with ash like new fallen snow.
Robbie thought most people would find a burnt out area like this an eyesore. She didn't. She liked the stark landscape, the soft ash and warm land. She liked the charred patterns in the wood and the red of glowing embers. She watched with an artist's eye as the surreal world faded in and out in swirls of blue smoke.
It made her feel good, having done her part to protect lives and property while the fire burnt its course. Robbie finished the second bottle of water and pitched the empty plastic container into the garbage bag tied to the back of the bulldozer. Her stiff, sooty Bunker fire jacket and pants squeaked as she settled into a more comfortable position against the side of the bulldozer. She smiled at the others. The Bartlett crew had become family. Hell, they'd lived in each other's space for the last two weeks as they rotated through shifts with other crews. They had practised as a team together and had now proven themselves out in the field, trusting each other with their lives.
Did she trust Janet that deeply? Once she had. Now she wasn't sure. That bothered her. She know she should trust Janet. Janet had risked everything to get her out of jail. Janet loved her and she knew that she loved that little blond nearly to distraction. She'd made the decision to move on, to leave all the crap of those days behind. Yet she knew there was a little worm of doubt that still burrowed through her subconscious.
The rumble of a truck engine brought Robbie back to reality. Like the other tired fire-fighters around her, she straightened. Fire-tanned and dirty, they reflected the tired pride of all heroic fighters. Ryan swung out of the truck and looked around at the sooty faces. It was her Mom's flash of white smile that identified her from the rest. Ryan trotted over. "Hi! Did you have fun?" she asked. "I sure wish I could have fought the fire."
"I don't think fun is quite the word but I feel pretty smug about being able to help out. That is when I can summon enough energy to think at all," confessed Robbie.
"I got to help co-ordinated all the crews. The District Chief would give me the work sheets and I'd get on the radio and dispatch crews to different areas," bragged Ryan excitedly.
Robbie squeezed her daughter's shoulder with pride. "Yeah, I know. I recognized your voice," she acknowledged, as they waited their turn to swing up into the back of the truck. "You did a great job!" Ryan blushed with pride. Pleasing her famous mother meant a lot to her.
"Aunt Janet is working at the field centre in the Lion's Hall. They've set up a hospital and field kitchen. The food that is shipped out to the crews was prepared there," explained Ryan.
"Hospital! Were there that many hurt?!" asked Robbie in concern.
Ryan nodded. Aunt Janet told me yesterday that they had already treated over fifty," bragged Ryan.
"Well, only nine were humans," Ryan admitted, " The rest are animals that Greta Corry and the girl guides keep rescuing. That's their job. We have a deer in a pen in the baseball diamond! Can we keep her, Mom!? She's got smoke inhalation."
"Sure! We can have smoked venison next Christmas," Robbie joked.
"Mom!" Ryan laughed.
Janet looked up as the tired parade of fire-fighters entered the hall like she always did, searching for Robbie. She knew her lover had been working the other side of Indian Gorge and would take her breaks at the Town Hall in Harriston. But she always looked anyway. She missed her partner and worried about her. A major forest fire was a dangerous situation even for well-trained experienced fire-fighters, never mind amateurs like Robbie. Ryan came back each afternoon and told her where Robbie was and what she was doing but still she worried.
Then, there she was, tall and quiet behind Ryan. Wearing her fire gear and covered in dirt and sweat, Janet thought she had never seen anyone look so damn sexy! The other members of the Bartlett crew hugged wives and greeted friends. Ryan had gone off in search of food and Robbie stood looking uncertain and perplexed.
Janet smiled. They'd been "Outed" by Lucier and the media, so what had she to lose. Putting down the tray she was carrying, she walked over to Robbie and gave her a big hug and a kiss. The well of silence around them was almost deafening as everyone froze in surprise and stared.
"Hi, love," Janet laughed, her voice echoing in the big, quiet room. "I'm so happy to have you back!"
Robbie's face lit up with a big goofy grin and the worm that had been digging tunnels of doubt in Robbie's mind keeled over and died.
The four of them sat at a wooden table in the hall eating Sloppy Joes and drinking chocolate milk while they each told their stories. "I got to feed the deer and the cats and Miss Corry got needles in her hand from the pork-pine and she called it a..."
"Rebecca!" warned Janet, with a warning look. Reb gave her mom a broad grin, then stood on her chair and whispered in Robbie's ear.
Janet frowned. "Oh a no good porcupine! Eh? Well, that is bad!" laughed Robbie, hugging her little daughter. The other Williams laughed too.
"Hi, ladies!" smirked a voice from behind them and a flash went off in their faces as they turned. "Guess who the city papers sent up here to cover the fire? This will make a nice little follow-up to your release, Robbie," smiled Lucier. Janet grabbed Robbie but would not have been able to hold her back if it hadn't been for a big meaty hand suddenly wrapping around Lucier's camera and yanking it from his hands.
"Hey!" protested Lucier, as his film was ripped out. This protest was cut short, however, when he was picked up by his collar and the seat of his pants and carried out the back door to a round of applause from everyone in the room.
There were several decisive thumps and a wail of pain, and then the wall of a man sauntered back in again. Jim Ableton walked over to the Williams' table. "Don't for the life of me know what this town sees in a queer like you, Williams, but I owed you one for bouncing that kid of yours off the boards at the rink," he growled. "No hard feelings," he said, offering his hand.
Robbie took it, surprised to find her own large hand buried inside Ableton's. "No hard feelings," she agreed, then amended, "until I kick the shit out of your boat in the Bartlett Regatta this September!"
"Ain't gonna happen," laughed Ableton, pounding Robbie on the back and walking away.
Janet gave Robbie a look. "What?!" the director asked innocently.
"You just couldn't let it lie could you?"
"No!" the Williams all answered together and the table of four broke into gales of laughter.
From across the room, pale eyes looked up, watched for a few seconds and then dropped once more to an empty plate. Soon now. This damn fire had delayed his plans but soon now all would be back to normal. Then he could put his plan into action. The man smiled.
The Williams went home and Ryan amused Reb while Janet took Robbie for a shower and then tucked her into bed. Robbie, warmed by the water and relaxed by Janet's touch, was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow. Janet watched t.v. with the kids, sending each off to bed at their respective bedtimes. Then she gladly locked the door, turned off the lights, and crawled into the bed that she planned on sharing with Robbie for the rest of her life.
The next day, Robbie slept in and Janet took the kids to school. "I should be working!"sulked Ryan. "They need me on the radios!"
"You need to be in class," Janet answered firmly. "We only just got you enrolled again and then you were away for another two weeks! Honestly, what sort of mother are they going to think I am?!" grumbled Janet.
"I had to fight the fire!" protested Ryan. "I'm part of the crew!"
Janet smiled and patted the knee beside hers. "I know, love. But the fire is almost out and most of the crews have been sent home. It's only burning along the shoreline near the gorge now. I think they can manage without you."
Janet dropped them off outside the school, courage failing her when it came to walking into the building that she had once thought of as her own domain. Ryan seemed to understand and made no comment as she took her little sister's hand and, waving good bye, disappeared into the building. Janet watched them go, then slipped the truck into gear and headed back to the house. Another lazy day with Robbie sounded just about perfect! Maybe this being unemployed wasn't so bad after all!
Hey, about time you got back!" called Robbie from the kitchen as she chewed on a piece of burnt toast.
Janet waved her hand in front of her face and squinted her eyes as she looked through the smoke. "Did you bring some of the brush fire home with you or have you been cooking again?" she asked dryly.
"I burnt the toast," Robbie smiled, happily crunching on a burnt offering.
"Well, don't eat it!" scolded Janet, as she opened a window to air the place out. "There must be enough smoke in your lungs already! Here sit down and I'll make a proper breakfast for the two of us!"
"I love you," Robbie smiled, kissing Janet on the forehead as she changed places with her in the kitchen. Robbie sat on the bar stool and watched while Janet efficiently made scrambled eggs and toast.
"You know what?"
"What?" asked Janet, as she dished the eggs over the golden toast she had just made.
"The lodge is ready! You want to go over and have a look?!"
Janet looked up into eyes glistening with excitement and smiled. Robbie was just a big kid at heart. "I'd like that," she responded, kissing the end of her lover's nose.
They ate and talked and then left the dishes in the sink while they went to get the canoe out of the shed where it had been stored for the winter. They lowered it into the lake and clambered in. "You remember the first time we did this?" Robbie asked.
"Ah ha, You'd twisted your knee slipping on Reb's rubber ducky and I was stuck with you. As I recall, oh wanton woman, you made a shameless play for my ex-boyfriend!"
"Did you a favour," grinned Robbie, without remorse. "You'd have ditched him anyway."
They canoed on in silence, listening to the steady swish of the paddle through the water and the cry of a raven in the trees. "I think I loved you from the moment I saw you," Robbie confessed suddenly.
"You had a funny way of showing it!" laughed Janet. "I know I was very attracted to you!"
Robbie suddenly stood up in the bow, turned around and walked back in the canoe. "Robbie! What are you doing!?" asked Janet, using the flat of her paddle to balance the canoe that rocked wildly in the water.
Robbie knelt down and leaned across the spreader to take Janet's hands in her own. "You are the single most important thing in my life. When you came into my world my black and white existence exploded into technicolour! I love you, Janet Williams, with every ounce of my being!"
Janet settled her paddle into the canoe. Then, carefully, she slid over on top of Robbie as the actress dropped back into the bottom of the canoe. They lay there together, drifting slowly in the wind as the blue sky and warm sun blanketed them in peace.
"Oh Robbie! It's...It's beautiful!" exclaimed Janet, a later, as she turned around and around in the living room. The massive room was dominated by a fieldstone fireplace that now reflected the multiple colours of the earth after its sand blasting. The huge log beams that stretched across the room shone honey with layers of fresh vanish. The log walls were a soft cream of natural wood and the floor reflected their images, it was so highly polished.
"Probably could do with some furniture," observed Robbie philosophically.
Janet reached up to capture yet another kiss. "You are wonderful. Show me our bedroom," she whispered.
Their room was at the corner of the house. One large window looked through the tall pines to the lake and the other through the trees to where a small stream tumbled down the hillside over mossy rocks to feed the lake. Janet peaked into the walk in closet and the master bathroom that had a sauna, and a sunken tub built for two beside a window of one way glass that looked over a shaded hillside of white and purple trilliums. Tears overflowed and ribboned slowly down her face. Robbie wrapped her close.
"It's like a dream. It is all true, isn't it, Robbie?" Janet sniffed into her favourite shoulder.
"You bet it is, lover. I'm going to move my family here and live the picture perfect life with you at my side."
Janet looked up. "What about my house? I don't want to sell it to strangers and I don't want it to stand empty either."
"I was thinking about that. You know it would make a good summer place for Elizabeth. She likes how clearly she can see the stars up here and...."
"Robbie! You are a genius! It would make a perfect wedding present for David and Elizabeth!"
The body Janet was holding went cold and still. "What wedding?" said a deep, deadly quiet voice.
Janet looked up into storm-dark eyes and reached up on her tiptoes to kiss stiff lips. "I think that David and Elizabeth's friendship, if left alone, will blossom into a very special kind of love and you know that David would want to do the honourable thing!"
"You are just saying this to scare the shit out of me!" rumbled Robbie.
"No, I'm saying this so you have lots of time to get used to the idea," countered Janet.
"I won't," sulked Robbie.
Janet gave her over-protective wife a hug. "Yes, you will once you realize that David makes Elizabeth happy. Come on, worry wart! We need to get back and clean up that kitchen!"
"Ryan, over here!" called Debbie, as Ryan moved the soccer ball down field. With a swift side kick, Ryan shot the ball across to her friend, who drilled it into the net.
"Way to go, Deb!" Ryan said, running up to pat her school chum on the back.
"Okay, girls, time to head for the locker room," called Jean Bissell, who had been hired to fill Milka Gorski's teaching job.
The two teams walked off the field, replaying the game and teasing each other. Ryan waved over to Reb who, with the other children, were going for their morning walk down the driveway with Mrs. Chen. An old grey truck pulled out from the school parking lot and slowly came down the lane. The truck went past the children and then stopped.
Ryan watched curiously as the man got out and walked over to talk to Mrs. Chen The next instant, he had hit her, knocking her to the ground, and had grabbed Reb into his arms and was running for the open truck door.
Ryan started to run. She cut across the field at an angle at top speed. As the truck slowed to make the turn out onto the main road, she came alongside, grabbed hold of the truck's side and did a pony-express mount into the flatbed.
Lily Chen sat up dazed and watched the grey truck disappear down the road as the other students and Jean Bissell ran over to help her and to gathered up the remaining children.
The police and a very upset Milka Gorski were waiting on the beach as Janet and Robbie paddled across the lake. Janet could feel the panic and anger rolling off her mate when she saw the police.
"It's okay, Robbie, don't be upset. You are innocent and they are not here to arrest you," she reassured her partner. Robbie, paddling in the bow, nodded stiffly but did not answer.
Despite the reassurance she had given Robbie, she could feel her own insides turning over with worry. For Milka to be here, something serious must have happened at school and that meant that one of their daughters was in trouble.
Robbie leapt out of the canoe and pulled the craft high up on the beach before helping Janet out. "What's going on?" she demanded, holding Janet's hand as she faced the police.
It was Milka who answered. "Janet, Robbie I'm so sorry. Reb's been kidnapped! It happened when Lily was walking the children down the lane. A truck pulled up and the driver got out and hit Lily, grabbed Rebecca and drove off."
"Is Lily alright?" Janet asked, her voice shaky with the strain of dealing with the gut wrenching blow to her emotions that Milka's news had brought.
"Where's Ryan?" Robbie demanded.
Milka looked absolutely sick. "She was out in the field playing soccer and witnessed the kidnapping. She ran after the truck and swung into the flatbed as the truck slowed to turn out on the road. He's got both of them."
"Shit!" groaned Robbie, pulling the shocked body of her wife close to her. "Don't worry, Janet, we'll get them back. He'll demand money and we'll give it to him. Whatever he wants."
The adults walked up to the cabin and Robbie let them in. Rufus greeted them with an uncertain wag of his crocked tail and a low growl as the faithful animal sensed their stress. "Shhh, Rufus, whispered Janet, reaching out a shaky hand to reassure the huge animal.
"I'll use the cell phone to contact our lawyers. We'll want to leave the cabin phone free in case he phones."
Janet sat on the edge of the couch and looked up at her partner. "W..What if his motivation was not kidnapping. W..What if he's..."
"Don't even think it! L..Let's plan for what we can deal with and pray that it's nothing worse," suggested Robbie, rubbing her lover's back. "It's going to be okay, Janet," she reassured. "It's got to be!" But inside she felt like a bomb had gone off.
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