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 life stories, my respect and my best wishes.
Note: The Seasons stories interrelate and should be read in the order they are posted.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction, please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Ryan sat on the snow mobile seat and watched as her Mom took her turn hand sanding the decking of the two person sailboat that they were building. It had been fun working with her Mom and she thought that she understood her famous mother a lot better now.
"Hmmm," answered Robbie, as she worked the wood with capable, strong hands. Since the fire, she had finally found time to write and to move her family over to the lodge. Things were going well with the business and the foundations were in for the new studio and school. She was about as happy as a person had any right to be.
"How old were you when you lost your virginity?" Ryan asked conversationally.
The sandpaper in Robbie's hand slipped off the end of the wood and caused her to lurch forward. She came back up stiff with fright. "What?!"
"Your virginity, it can't be that long ago that you can't remember," teased her daughter.
"I remember just fine! I was forty-five!" responded Robbie, feeling panic growing in her stomach.
"Mom!" sighed Ryan, with a smile. "You are only in your early thirties and I'm fifteen."
"It was an act of God!" protested Robbie.
Ryan snorted. "Come on Mom, how young were you?"
"Too young!" Robbie stated emphatically.
Ryan looked down at her hands sadly. "Do you regret doing it and having me?"
Robbie put down the sandpaper that had somehow got all crunched in her hand and walked over to where Ryan sat. She slid in beside Ryan on the snowmobile bench and wrapped an arm around her daughter. "No, never. But I do regret greatly not being mature enough to care for you and provide you with a decent childhood. I will regret that to the day I die," Robbie answered honestly, leaning over to kiss Ryan's head. Ryan smiled and hugged her back.
"Did you love my father?" Ryan asked.
Robbie looked sad. "No. No, Ryan I didn't. He was a university lecturer. I had a school girl crush on my teacher. I was very confused and upset at the time. I thought I'd killed my father. All I wanted to do was live because I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison."
"Have you slept with lots of people?" Ryan asked.
"Ahhh, this is getting kind of personal," stalled Robbie, feeling a burning heat now replacing the cold white that her face had gone when this conversation had started.
"Over the years, I've read about you in the tabloids, and about all the wild parties and lovers you have had. I just wanted to know how much was truth," Ryan explained.
Robbie looked at the cement floor and played with her wedding ring nervously. "You can't believe what you read in the tabloids, Ryan. I was never that wild. I couldn't have been and got to where I am now. But I have had a few affairs both with men and women," she answered honestly.
Ryan sat quietly at her side thinking things over. "Does Aunt Janet know that? 'Cause I don't think she slept with a lot of people before you."
"No, she hadn't and yes, she knows. I think she is as uncomfortable with my past as I am,"
Robbie sighed, feeling the pain of regret deep inside, where she kept the very special love she had for her partner.
"How many times have you been in love, mom?" Ryan asked, turning so that she could lean her back against the snowmobile handlebars.
"Once. When I met Janet. Before that, I'd had infatuations but never anyone I wanted to spend my life with. When I met your other Mom, I just couldn't get her out of my system. I...It was different," Robbie tried to explain. Christ kid! I can't handle this. Couldn't we have started with the birds and the bees? I'm good at diagrams! I think I'm going to throw up!
"How did you know you were in love?" Ryan asked.
Robbie's eyes targeted in on her daughter's. "Why?" she asked suspiciously.
"Well you know, a person gets... frustrated and..."
"Are you okay, Mom?" Ryan asked, looking at her mother, who had gone a very peculiar shade of green.
"Ry..You...Ryan, you aren't ...you know?" Robbie babbled.
"Sleeping around?" supplied Ryan with a grin.
"No, Mom," the teen responded honestly.
"Oh, thank God!" whispered Robbie, sliding off the seat and onto the garage floor like a wet noodle. She leaned against the snowmobile with her eyes closed.
"Are you sure you are all right, Mom?" asked Ryan, beginning to get concerned. How about that! My Mom is a real wuss when it comes to me!
"I think so," murmured the emotionally exhausted mother.
Ryan nodded. "You know I went out with Paul and then it got pretty heavy with Jason in the back seat of his Dad's car..."
"What?!" asked Robbie, now looking down at her daughter not sure how she got to her feet.
"Easy, Mom, nothing much happened. I was just explaining that I've had some experience with guys but I've never had any experience with girls," clarified Ryan.
"Agh!" Robbie responded, as she sank weak-kneed to sit on the up turned boat. "Ahhh, well, I mean do you like boys or girls or both... I mean..."
"I don't know! That's why I thought I'd ask you," explained Ryan, with a worried frown. This conversation wasn't going like she thought it would. She was beginning to think her Mom wasn't ready to deal with these grown-up issues.
Robbie wiped her mouth with the back of her hand nervously and tried to get more comfortable on the boat. She cleared her throat several times. "Ryan, you don't want to make the mistakes I did; be choosy and cautious. If you are not sure what sex you are attracted to then take your time and casually date and see how you feel with different partners. It should become clear to you who really excites you on all levels of your senses and who just gives you a physical response. I think you need to go slow. I..It's an important decision. Just because your parents are gay doesn't mean you are going to be."
Ryan nodded. "Do you think a person could meet their soulmate and know it when they are very young?" Ryan asked.
Robbie wiped her wet palms on her blue jeans and tried again. "Yeah, I do. But I think it would be a mistake too get too serious too quickly. You need time to experience life as a "one" in order to establish who you are before you are ready to join in a partnership with someone. I think a lot of marriages of highschool sweethearts fail years later because people grow along different paths."
Ryan nodded and stood up. "Thanks, Mom," she said with a smile, and picked up a piece of sandpaper and started working on the boat again. Her Mom's hand came down to rest on top of Ryan's.
"Ryan, ahhh, the world has changed from when I was young. There is AIDS and Hepatitis B and C and..."
"Mom, I know all about safe sex. We learn that stuff in school now," cut in Ryan reassuringly.
"Yeah well, I'd rather you..."
"I know, you don't want me to sleep around. I don't think I will, Mom. Like you said, I'm young yet so it is hard to know, but I think I'd like to wait for that someone special. I see you with Aunt Janet and, well, the two of you are so cute together!"
"Cute!" scoffed Robbie, pulling a face. Ryan laughed. Robbie went on more seriously. "Yeah, well if things ever get, you know, serious with a partner, if you need anything or if..."
Ryan leaned over and kissed her Mom's forehead. "I'll always come to you and Aunt Janet, don't worry," reassured Ryan.
Robbie gave her daughter a proud smile and a friendly punch and the two of them returned to their task.
Some time later, Robbie walked back into the lodge looking pale and kind of shaky. Janet looked up from where she was playing with Reb on the livingroom floor. "Robbie! What's wrong?" she asked, getting up and coming over to check her mate's forehead for a fever. Robbie had pretty well recovered from her burns but there were some that were still healing and could infect.
"I just had THE TALK with our daughter. I'm sick. I've got to go lie down," muttered Robbie, heading for their bedroom. Janet smiled at the retreating figure. Motherhood looked so good on Robbie!
A short time later, Ryan came in. "Hi Mom, Hi Reb!"
"Ryan!" squealed Reb, getting up and running over to the big sister she adored. "You said we can go to see the pecker!"
Ryan laughed. "That's woodpecker, kid. You are going to get me in trouble with Aunt Janet about the words I'm teaching you."
Janet snorted. "As if it would be the first time!"
Ryan laughed. "Can we have some cookies to take with us, Mom?"
"Sure, Ryan. But only two each. Dinner will be in an hour or so," responded Janet, going into the kitchen and getting a small plastic bag to stick four cookies in.
Ryan followed her adopted mother in. "So where is my other mother?" she asked.
"Robbie's lying down," Janet explained, as she handed the cookies over to Ryan. "She has a headache and upset stomach.
"Thanks. Yeah, that's because we were comparing our sex lives," stated Ryan causally over her shoulder, as she left to get Reb.
Janet's eyes widened in shock. Suddenly, she felt the same symptoms as Robbie!
"How are you doing?" asked Janet gently, placing a cool cloth on Robbie's head. Her partner groaned.
"My daughter is a teenager!" she moaned pathetically.
Janet smiled and soothed Robbie's brow. "There, there, love. It happens in the best of families."
"I'm not ready!" protested Robbie, wrapping Janet close.
"I don't think any parent is," consoled Janet, snuggling into the side of her lover.
"Robbie, are we running a film business here or a construction company?!" protested Brian, stepping around a ladder and over several planks that lay on the floor of the new building that would house the Williams' Studio by next year.
"A bit of both at the moment," observed Robbie disinterestedly.
"Look, we have a cast, and a movie to produce by next year. I don't want to seem unreasonable here but a script would be nice!" Brian walked into Robbie who had turned to face him radiating anger. He took a step back. Oh boy! Pushed her too far.
The explosion never came. Robbie turned away and continued walking. "I've had a few things to handle this year," she answered quietly.
Brian sighed in relief. Robbie had been through hell and back this last six months, that was for sure. Still, it hadn't been to pleasant at his end of the swamp either. He'd been left with a multi-million dollar company to run and no artistic genius at the top to lead the way.
Robbie stopped to watch as a construction worker lowered a load of dry wall to the ground with a fork lift. "I have a script. 'Harold, King of England', will be ready for filming in England by September. We'll bring the cast together for a read-through next week. I want as much as possible to film on location. This is a very special love story..."
"Love story! Robbie, you don't do love stories! Harold, King of England is supposed to be a great war epic! Guts and gore and heroism. Are you s..."
Robbie laughed. "Don't worry, Brian there will be enough mindless violence to appeal to my most rabid fan. But I think I've grown. I think my work is taking on a new depth of understanding. 'Harold, King of England' is not about a tragic hero who loses the battle that changes history forever. It is about a love story between a man and his nation. He was the last of the true English kings! That quality, that timeless love for one's nation... is something I want to capture on film."
Brain stood speechless, looking at the famous director whom he both loved and feared. Don't panic here, Brian, aliens from Venus have clearly kidnapped your boss and have taken over her body. He became aware that Robbie was still speaking.
"I'm not going to direct 'Harold', Brian. You are. I've decided to become a full time producer. I want to be a backroom boy."
Shit! It's the change of life. She's chemically imbalanced and not responsible for her actions! "No."
Robbie turned around and looked at her assistant with one eyebrow arched up in annoyance. "What?!"
"No, I won't let you leave film. Hell, Robbie, your work has set a new standard! You're multi talented. You write, direct and act in your own movies! You've never had a film that hasn't claimed awards! You can't just stopping being the best!"
Robbie folded her arms over her chest and looked at Brian. "I don't want to be away for months on location. I want to be here with my family," she finished, with quiet determination.
Brian knew the look. Robbie had dug her heels in. But this issue was too important for Brian just to walk away from. "Okay, I can see that! But there has to be a compromise. How about we co-direct? I'll do the field work and you can sit back here and be the inspiration? That way you'll only have to do some short trips over to check on things. I can send you the rushes daily.
"You can make your own films, Brian. You are a good director," argued Robbie.
"I am and I do but I'm no fool, Robbie. I can make good movies but I'm never going to be in your league and I know it. I stick with your company and put up with your tyrannical ways because I want to have a piece of the action that surrounds you," Brian answered bluntly.
Robbie blushed and turned away. "Get real, McGill!"
"You'll think about it?"
"Yeah, okay. I'll think about it."
Brian smiled. Now all he had to do was convince Janet before Robbie had the chance to discuss it with her. Geniuses! Shit!
Gwen looked up from her desk that was placed at one end of the trailer and observed Janet as she worked at her desk at the other end. She had in a short time of arriving up here, come to realize what an equal partner Janet was to Robbie. The tyrannical director walked in and said, "I want a college level school for film making," and Janet just quietly made it happen. When Robbie realized the talent that Janet was putting together, she was going to flip.
Really significant behind-the-camera people were going to working in partnership with academic teachers to provide a balance of theoretical studies and practical experience. They weren't just going to study film, they were going to make films here! Janet would phone people up and they would say no and before the soft spoken school teacher had finished the person at the other end would not only be saying yes, but doing an excited gig. The lady should be bottled and sold as a secret weapon. Robbie had really lucked out on this one.
Of course, she hadn't done so bad the second time around. Brian was just as good a director as Robbie and he was great with Gwen's kids. When her divorce came through, she and Brian had planned a simple wedding in their new house by the lake. The house was going to be beautiful!
Brian and she had picked the plans out together and Robbie was having it built as a wedding present to the two of them. How many bosses give you a four bedroom house as a wedding gift?
Robbie might be difficult but inside she was a real sweetheart!
The door opening brought Gwen out of her daydream. It was Brian. He winked at her and the trotted down the other end of the trailer and slumped into the visitor's chair by Janet's desk. Janet looked up from the paper she was reading. "You're out of luck. Gwen and I shared the last bagel with cream cheese an hour ago," Janet smiled.
"Well, at least get your secretary to bring me a coffee and some of the home-made shortbreads you have hidden in the tin over there! I need fortifying, I have to talk to you about Tyrannosaurus
"Oh, you are a man in need!" chuckled Janet. "Quick, Gwen, a first aid mug of java, the man has done battle with my wife today!"
Gwen laughed and poured two mugs of coffee and brought them over to Janet's desk. There was an evergreen stamped on the side of the mugs and arched across the top it read: Maria's Café, Bartlett. They had a whole set that they had been ceremoniously given one night when they had stopped in as a family for dinner. Robbie preferred her Bartlett Volunteer Fire Brigade mug with the Dalmatian pup looking with some relief at a red fire hydrant.
"My hero," smirked Gwen, kissing Brian's head before turning to lift down the tin box of cookies.
Janet leaned back and got comfy. She had quickly got used to running damage control for her lover. Robbie though she was just getting better at dealing with people. 'They just don't seem as stupid as they once were or as disagreeable,' Robbie had explained to an amused Janet one night.
"So what has Olive Oil done?" she asked.
"She's decided to give up directing," Brian stated.
"What?!" the two women exclaimed at once.
Janet had come bolt upright in her chair at the announcement. "Why?"
"So she can spend her time with her family," Brian sighed.
Janet smiled and leaned on her desk. "Ahhh, that's so sweet."
"No it's not! It's a disaster for film and the arts in general! Janet, you have to talk to her!"
"I think I have a conflict of interests. I don't want Robbie away for months at a time and I don't want her making up to any leading lady," Janet admitted honestly.
Brian laughed bitterly. "We all have a conflict of interests. I don't want to lose the money or the perks that come from working on a Williams' film. I've suggested to Robbie that we co-direct. I'll do the on locations and Robbie can be her usual creative genius back home. Come on, Janet, you know she is not going to be able to survive without a project! She'll drive everyone bonkers and Bartlett will probably tar and feather her and run her out of town on a rail. She'll be starting fires just so she can put them out! Convincing Robbie to stay in film is an act of mercy. The government will probably give you the Order of Canada! You are the only one who can control Tyrannosaurus Rob!"
Janet laughed and shook her head. "Hey, that's my partner you are talking about!"
Brian feigned shock. "Janet, we all love T-Rob! She provides our livelihood and takes years off purgatory for us but let's not let her run loose in the world!"
Janet covered her mouth with her hand and tried not to laugh. Gwen was looking white and trying to signal to Brian to be quiet. Brian looked up at her in question. Then his blood ran cold as an icy whisper came into his ear. "Take Gwen for a walk, Brian, before I wrap your balls around your ears."
Brian was on his feet immediately and was backing towards the door with Gwen in tow. "Right, Walk. I'm gone, boss!"
After the door had closed, Janet burst out laughing. "T-Rob! I love it!" she giggled. "Is that what they call you?!"
Robbie stood still and quiet. "That and 'the fucking bitch'," she answered coldly.
Janet looked up in surprise. Robbie was really upset! She got up and came around the desk and wrapped the stiff body in her arms. "Hey, no, don't let it hurt you. They love you. You are their hero. They take pride in the fact that they can successfully work for someone as artistically demanding as you."
The body remained still and unbending. Oh, oh! This has cut deep! "Robbie, why do you think Brian is in a panic? And believe me, he is! You are important to him!" She put her finger tips over Robbie's mouth before she could argue. "No, not as a meal ticket or an easy route to fame but because he really cares about you! It's just his silly way of expressing what is in his heart. Robbie, trust me on this. I know. I dealt with all these people when you were arrested and when you were recovering from your burns. They are very loyal to you!"
The body relaxed a bit in her arms. "He shouldn't be using you to get at me. I won't have it!" she grumbled moodily.
"He wasn't using me. This is your decision, Robbie. I am not going to influence you one way or the other."
"A co-directorship might work," admitted Robbie. "If I could find a director I can work with!"
The taller woman arched an eyebrow and looked down at her beautiful partner. "You said you wouldn't try to influence me!"
"And I won't...as long as you make the right decisions," she responded impishly.
Robbie snorted and lifted her wife up into her arms and kissed her softly. "How did I ever live without you?"
"You ate out and had affairs with your leading ladies," Janet responded, playfully punching Robbie's arm.
Robbie held Janet close to her. "You and the girls mean the world to me. I don't ever want to go back to existing like that," she confessed. Then, hesitating, she went on in a small voice. "I don't want you hearing those things about me. It might make you leave me."
Janet's heart twisted in pain. Robbie was so easily hurt and inside there was a very vulnerable individual. Janet snuggled deep into the arms that held her against her partner. "I am never going to leave you, sweetheart. I love all of you! It's a pretty great package, believe me!" she said, kissing her insecure lover with gentle passion.
Robbie smiled down into the face she adored. "Let's bribe Ryan to babysit Reb and I'll take you out for a romantic dinner at Maria's Café."
Janet gave Robbie another kiss. "Damn, if you don't know how to give a girl a good time!" laughed Janet.
Due to a business trip overseas, it was a number of weeks before Doctor Alberta Pateas had the time to examine the victim that had been burnt alive. She poked around with a dental tool inside the blackened mouth of the unknown man. After she had left the Williams, she and the local Ontario Provincial Police constable had paddled up Beaver Creek and brought the burnt corpse out in a plastic body bag. The constable had thrown up three times. To be truthful, Alberta had felt pretty sick herself. The greasy, sweet smell of burnt flesh permeated your clothes, your hair, even your lungs. It was a smell that your brain just refused to ever let go.
Here at the Toronto lab, she used a trick that Doctor Bates had taught her. You wore a surgical mask and inside you slipped a bruised leaf of mint. Tom Bates kept a large pot of mint growing on the window sill for just such jobs. The smell was still over-powering but you just forced yourself to focus on the smell of the mint instead. Doctor Bates had explained that his father had been a house painter and he had always gone to work with a twig over his ear.
Alberta cleaned some more. Dental records would help identify the victim, especially if he had been in prison. She carefully noted every abnormality, filling, and missing tooth on the chart she had as she went a long. She doubted this guy had seen a dentist in a while. The fillings were old and worn and the layer of plaque was almost as thick as the soot.
She straightened up and tried to get the kink out of her back. She was not enjoying this. To start with, the guy had scared the shit out of the Williams family and that really upset Alberta. On top of that, even before the fire storm, he must have been nothing to write home about in terms of personal hygiene.
She put the used tools in the pressure washer to clean, tidied up the work area and then turned to the corpse's hand that she had sealed in a plastic bag containing some formaldehyde. He must have tried to crawl to the water as the firestorm consumed him. One blackened arm had hung over the bank, the hand just a knob, the fingers having been burnt off. The other hand, however, had been under water and although swollen up and distended, it was in fair condition.
There were at least three finger tips unburnt where Alberta felt that they would be able to get prints off. Not in its present state, however. The skin was too soft and water-logged. Alberta took a scalpel and carefully cut around the finger just below the first phalange. The she gently peeled back the little cup of skin that had been the end of the man's index finger. She cleaned away the soot and then slipped it over her own finger. Now the man's print was firm and clean. Alberta had literally got under the man's skin and taken on his identity, at least as far as the fingerprint evidence went.
She rolled the tip of her finger on the ink pad and then rolled it again from one side to the other on a finger print I.D. card. A near prefect print of the dead man appeared on the card. Alberta smiled; if this guy had a record, she had the bugger!
Robbie sat in Janet's seat in the trailer and worked on the financing and equipment for the new school she and Janet were establishing. She had been stunned by the amount of talent that Janet had drawn to the program. If they could get this school up and running it was going to be The Place for learning the art of cinematography. She could hardly wait!
With a sigh, she forced her mind back on the computer screen. The easy part was the creativity. The hard part was making enough profit to pay salaries and leave enough over to grub stake the next picture. Nothing could be left to chance. She prided herself on being just as good at the production business as she was as a film maker.
The phone rang and she silently mouthed a curse. "Robbie Williams," she identified herself.
"Robbie, it's Alberta," came the soft, quiet voice over the line. It made Robbie's heart jolt. She had come to like Alberta well enough but there was still that uncomfortable fear that stemmed from her possessiveness and love for Janet and the girls. Now what? She wondered.
"I just got an positive I.D. on the kidnapper. His name is Jose Pennon. He's got a record as long as your arm."
Robbie felt her stomach tighten. This hadn't been some yoyo trying to make a quick buck. This guy was a hardened criminal. He could have really hurt the kids! "Christ!"
"Robbie, I'm concerned. Pennon hasn't ever been involved in kidnapping for ransom. He's a cheap hired gun. Mostly, he has worked as an enforcer for dealers when they have a transaction go sour. But he's not above making a few extra bucks popping off an unwanted spouse or the like."
"So what's going on here?" Robbie asked.
"Maybe nothing, but we do know that until recently, Pennon has been keeping his business in South America for the last few years. Things got pretty hot for him States side. Robbie, you just be really careful."
"What do you mean?" Robbie asked, twisting a pen in her long, strong fingers.
"I mean, maybe Pennon was not planning to ask for a ransom. Maybe he was hired to cause you and Janet a lot of pain."
Robbie opened her mouth but all that came out was a distorted gasp. She tried again. "You think someone hired him to kill our kids!"
There was a moment's silence at the other end of the phone. Then, "Your mother disappeared on her way to Argentina didn't she?" the voice asked softly.
Robbie slumped back into her chair and pushed her glasses up on her forehead to rub her eyes with her free hand. "Come on, Alberta, that's pretty far fetched!" she argued.
"Yes. Yes, it is. But so is Pennon kidnapping kids in northern Canada. The guy has a record sheet that goes back twenty odd years. This is just not the guy's style. Believe me, Robbie, there is more to this case. Maybe I'm all wrong, but I'd hate myself if anything happened and I hadn't warned you. I just got this gut feeling."
Robbie looked at the ceiling and blinked back tears. She just didn't want this to be happening! She'd had enough. "Robbie? Are you still there?" Alberta asked anxiously.
"Yeah. Yeah, I am. Thanks, Alberta. I'll take what you said seriously. I...I appreciate you phoning."
"I'll let you know if I learn anything else. Just...just be careful, okay," came the worried voice.
"Yeah. We will. Thanks."
"So which film would you pick as the best cinematography ever?" asked Ryan, sitting on the floor, carefully cutting pieces of sail cloth along a pattern.
"Mmmm." Robbie removed the pins from her mouth, as she sat, her back against the desk of Janet's sewing machine, pinning the pieces of sail together for sewing. "Hard one. Technology has changed so much it is hard to compare. But if you are looking at major breakthroughs in film, first on my list would be Gone With The Wind. Hell, the thing was made in 1939! It's amazing even today."
Ryan mulled this bit of information over. She had recently started to learn about film and was inclined to give her mother the third degree whenever she could.
"Why did you pick that one?"
"It raised film to a new height. The silhouette scene, the aerial of the troops waiting at the Atlanta train station, just the size and scope of the setting...it was just inspired. When it was filmed, there were only four motion picture cameras of that quality in the world and three were used in the filming of Gone With The Wind. Then there is the fact that it made 25% profit. That record held for thirty-five years! The film was a watershed in cinematography!"
"Because it was popular and made lots of money?" challenged Ryan.
"No! Because it was great art!" defended Robbie, reaching up and handing her efforts to Janet.
Janet sat at her sewing machine running the seams of the sail together, in strong rows of stitches. She winked and blew a kiss at Robbie. Robbie wiggled her eyebrows back. A silent request and promise had been exchanged between the two lovers.
"So what would you pick as number two?" Ryan persisted.
"Well, there were some incredible films that advanced cinematography: Fantasia, The Philadelphia Story, A Streetcar Named Desire, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Ben-Hur, Psycho, Lawrence of Arabia,...
"Mom!" protested Ryan, looking up with those big green eyes that seemed to look right into her soul.
Robbie smiled at her daughter proudly. "Mmmm, Psycho for major leaps forward in script writing and directing. But for the actual through the lens stuff, the next film to turn the business upside down was 2001: A Space Odyssey."
"You're kidding! I thought that was boring!"
Robbie gave her a stern look. "You have a lot to learn, oh child of the eighty's. Kubrick led the way. He fathered special effects and the high-tech movies. Star Wars, Close Encounters, Alien, they are all built on his foundation. I've watched that film a hundred times, and every time I do, I learn something new or see another layer of symbolism. It was filmed way back in 1968, amazing," concluded Robbie, shaking her head.
Janet, who had been listening to the exchange with interest, now asked a question. "I've noticed that there tends to be a group of really super movies and then a time of very average stuff. Why is that, Robbie?"
"Most years there are good films but you are right, certain times have bred a series of great films. Part of it is breakthroughs in film making, or a great director, like me, comes along..." Here the remaining Williams rolled their eyes and Ryan threw a sofa pillow at her Mom, which Robbie caught and threw back without really looking. "But times of social stress tend to promote creativity. Probably the greatest decade for film was from 1965 to 1975 when the Cold War was at its height.
"Think about it: Doctor Zhivago, A Man For All Seasons, The Graduate, 2001, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, M*A*S*H*, Patton, Summer of '49, The Godfather, The Poseidon Adventure, Deliverance, The Sting, American Graffiti, Jaws, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and lots more! That's a pretty impressive list! The '90's have had some outstanding films but that is because of a very few truly creative people. Over all it has been pretty dull," Robbie concluded.
Janet looked over at Ryan and winked. Ryan smiled and shook her head in disbelief. "How do you remember all this stuff?" she asked.
Robbie laughed. "It's my job. Film is what I do. You can't create in a vacuum. You have to know where you've been so you can move into uncharted waters."
They worked quietly for awhile until Ryan made an announcement. "I don't think I'll go to university. I think I'll study film and become a producer."
Robbie went very still and her eyes turned an icy blue. "You are not going to waste your life. You are going to university. You are going to study science like your Aunt Elizabeth," she said quietly.
Stormy green eyes met her Mother's in challenge. "It's my life. I'll choose. I'm not sure I want to be a physicist! What's wrong with producing film anyway?! You do!"
Robbie got up and dusted herself off. "I would have liked to study biology. There is nothing wrong with film. But there are some pretty self-interested individuals in the industry who are not above taking advantage of young women trying to break into the business. I don't want you involved in that crap. Your Aunt put her studies first. I...I don't want you hurt."
Ryan stood up as well. "I can take care of myself, I always have!" she shot back and saw her arrow hit home as her Mother's face paled. "Damn it, Mom, don't be so controlling. Besides, Aunt Elizabeth is more interested in sleeping with David than physics at the moment!"
Robbie's eyes snapped around and looked at Janet. The answer to the unspoken question was written all over Janet's face. The eyes turned back to Ryan. For a moment, everyone held their breath. Then Robbie was in motion. In three strides, she was across the room, had pulled her truck keys from the hook on the wall and was out the screen door. Janet was only a few steps behind her.
"Robbie! Robbie! Stop!" Janet called, finally catching up to grab the director's arm as she stopped to open the truck door.
"Why? So you can lie to me again?" growled the taller woman, turning to loom over Janet.
Janet held her ground and looked up into the angry face. "I didn't lie."
"An omission is as good as a lie. I think you would have thought to mention that David was taking advantage of my sister!" she seethed, turning to get into the truck.
Janet slipped in between. "David is NOT taking advantage of your sister, for God's sake, Robbie! This is just the reason I haven't shared the information with you. When it comes to Elizabeth, you just don't act rationally! I wanted them to have some time together to establish a strong partnership before they had to deal with you."
"This is MY family!" Robbie roared.
"No," Janet responded quietly. "This is our family. Or have you forgotten that?"
"Of course I haven't! Don't try to change the subject. You told me this guy was honourable. You said I could trust him!" grumbled Robbie, waving her arms about dramatically.
Janet sighed and sat down on the edge of the driver's seat. "Robbie, he is honourable. Elizabeth had a hell of a time seducing him," she revealed.
"I don't...what?" Robbie asked in shock.
"Elizabeth seduced David. I know this because she phoned me several times for advice."
Robbie stood looking dumbfounded at Janet. Then she turned, paced about a bit and came back to stand in front of Janet again. "Ahhh, is Bethy okay with this? I mean, are they alright together?"
"By all reports they are having a marvellous time. David e-mailed me that Elizabeth has gained five pounds. They are taking dancing lessons together and David has taken up painting spacescapes. Bethy said he is very good."
"Yeah, yeah, I know! David can turn his hand to anything," she quoted impatiently. "Why didn't Bethy discuss it with me?" she demanded in a hurt voice.
Janet got up from the car seat and wrapped Robbie in her arms. "Because, you are a wonderful sister, who sacrificed everything for Bethy but you are just a wee bit over-protective," Janet explained.
"I just want the best for her. I don't want her hurt again," justified Robbie weakly.
"I know, love, and Bethy knows that too," answered Janet, reaching up to steal a kiss. The kiss lengthened.
"Thanks," whispered Robbie, against Janet's soft, warm lips.
"For not letting me drive to Toronto to pull David's tongue out and nail it to the floor," Robbie muttered.
"I think Elizabeth would have been upset," grinned Janet, leaning back to kiss the end of Robbie's nose.
"What about David's store?" Robbie asked.
"David is staying in Toronto and becoming the manager of Bethy's condo. David's brother, Ted, is going to manage the store as soon as he is healed. His back is never going to be strong enough to do construction work again. It is an ideal situation for everyone."
Robbie's face turned grumpy once more. "Am I the last person to know?" she asked.
"No! In fact, I was stunned at what Ryan said. I don't know how she knew!" confessed Janet.
Robbie smiled. "She probably stopped by the donut shop. They know everything there before it happens!"
Janet laughed too, then went serious. "Robbie, you can't control Ryan's life either. You can advise, support and protect but you can't direct, bully or refuse. You need to talk to her," Janet said, holding her lover close so that she felt secure.
"I want her to be a scientist," Robbie protested.
"Not your call, Robbie," Janet responded firmly. "She has to make her own decisions and accept her victories and her lumps like all of us."
"I'm her mother! And I'm paying the bills!" argued Robbie, pacing again.
"Robbie that argument is guaranteed to drive a wedge between you and Ryan. Think about it, how would you react to a statement like that?" Janet stated calmly.
Robbie stopped pacing and looked up at the northern stars. The stars were so much bigger and brighter up here than in the city and there were so many more of them. Bethy liked to look at the sky up here. She was going to have to let David take care of Bethy now and she was going to have to give her teenage daughter some room to grow as well. Damn, this was hard!
Janet walked over and hugged Robbie close to her. "Please," she said.
Robbie sighed. "Okay, I'll talk to her. But I'm going to remind you of this conversation when Reb runs away with Jim Ableton's son to open a Bait Store in Helingone!"
"God forbid!" snorted Janet.
Robbie found Ryan in her room. "Ahhh, can I come in?" she asked the teen who sat on her bed doing homework with her earphones on. Ryan nodded, stopping her music and pulling her earphones off.
To Robbie's surprise, the teen got up and came to hug her mother. "I'm sorry. I got angry and said things that were hurtful," Ryan admitted.
"Yeah, well, I acted like a jerk," Robbie responded. She led her daughter over and they sat together on the bed. Ryan now had a room to herself, finished in French country oak furniture.
On the wall was a row of movie stars, both men and women. They were framed black and white promotional pictures. Robbie had each one sighed by the actor. On the chest of drawers were a set of family pictures. There was one of the four of them standing around their snowmobile at the winter carnival. The one Robbie liked best, though, was a picture Janet had taken of Robbie and Ryan's faces as they talked quietly together. She thought Ryan liked it too.
"Listen, I really would like you to go to university but I realize that you have to do what's best for you. I just worry. I didn't make very good decisions as a teen and I hurt a lot of people because of it, including myself. I love film, Ryan. And I'm good at it. But by dropping out of school I closed a lot of doors of opportunity. I would have liked to be a scientist like your Aunty Bethy."
Ryan smiled and leaned against her Mom. "Well, I hadn't planned on quitting school anytime soon."
Robbie wrapped an arm around her daughter and laughed at herself. "I guess I did kind of over react. Let's make a deal. Once our school is up and running next year, you can sit in on some of the night classes as long as it doesn't affect your marks at Bartlett. Then you can see how dull cinematography is compared to memorizing the periodic table!"
Ryan laughed. "Mom! You are impossible!"
Robbie gave her kid a hug and snorted. "And you're not?!"
"Ahhh, I hope I didn't get Aunt Bethy in trouble. I didn't know that you were not aware that she was having a relationship with David."
Robbie got up and paced about the room a bit. "I guess I'm still dealing with some emotional baggage. I'm a little over protective when it comes to Bethy. She was for a long time...very introverted and scared. I guess I just got used to riding shotgun for her."
Ryan nodded. "She thinks you are wonderful."
Robbie smiled impishly and wiggled an eyebrow. "Yeah well, I am!" Ryan laughed. "But if I have a fault it is that I'm over protective of my family."
"That and you can't cook," teased Ryan, leaning on one elbow on the bed.
"Nope, I fixed that problem. I married your mother!" Robbie countered with a proud smile.
"You'd better not let Aunt Janet hear you say that or you'll be eating your own cooking for a month!"
"Good point!" Robbie laughed. "So how did you know about Bethy and David?"
"Ted sort of implied it. He's wearing a brace but he's back in town and working a few hours each day in the store, learning the inventory and books. Moe's clerks are still doing most of the work though. Sally and Beatrice don't mind the longer hours though, because they can use the extra money."
Robbie raised an eyebrow. "I gotta get out more. I'm not hearing the hot news in town!" she smiled. "You complete your homework while Janet and I finish off the sail. Then we'll raid the cupboard because I think your other Mom has some of those cranberry muffins hidden away somewhere."
"Cupboard on the right, top shelf, blue tin box," Ryan stated.
Robbie threw her a look over her shoulder as she headed out the door. "You'd better not have eaten them all, you little sneak!" she warned.
"Takes one to know one," Ryan responded, her nose already back in her books.
Robbie bent over Janet as her wife worked at the sewing machine and gently nuzzled an ear. "I love you," she whispered.
Janet turned and looked up into those amazing eyes that at the moment seemed grey with worry. "Are you still fretting about Bethy?" Janet asked, before accepting a lingering kiss that sent shivers down her back. A moan escaped her lips as they parted.
"No. Well, a little. But I need to talk to you about something else. Alberta phoned me at work today," Robbie revealed, with a frown as she shifted back and forth on the balls of her feet.
Oh, oh, insecurity alert! Janet thought, and stood to snuggle deeply into Robbie's arms. "Can this wait until we have made passionate love to each other for most of the night?" questioned Janet, rubbing against her lover slowly.
"Ooooh, nice. But no. We need to talk," Robbie stated firmly, stepping back. Janet frowned in concern and led Robbie by the hand over to the couch. They got comfy in their favourite spot, Robbie propped in the corner with her long legs running the length of the couch and Janet sitting in between with her back resting against Robbie's chest.
"So what is it, Robbie?" Janet asked in concern.
"They've identified the kidnaper as a Jose Pennon. Seems he is a small time enforcer for drug dealers by trade. He's been in South America for awhile, staying one step ahead of the law. Alberta's worried because he has no history of having worked in Canada or being involved in kidnapping for ransom. She thinks someone might have fired him to hurt our kids."
"Robbie, that's insane! Who would do such a horrible thing?!" Janet gasped, turning to look at her lover. Robbie said nothing. She just stared back at Janet with sad, bitter eyes.
"Oh, no, Robbie! She wouldn't!" groaned Janet. "Surely not!"
Robbie sighed and buried her head for a minute in Janet's soft hair, taking comfort before she spoke. "We ruined her life by exposing her as the murderer of my father. She killed once in revenge. Maybe it is possible that she is prepared to do it again. I don't know, Janet. I just don't know!"
"What should we do?" Janet asked, curling deeply into Robbie's arms, needing her warmth.
"I don't know," Robbie sighed. "Go on and hope that Pennon was working alone, I guess. But I think we need to take precautions for a while. Janet, I'm going to hire a bodyguard for the girls."
Janet sat quietly for a minute, one finger absently drawing figure eights on her lover's hand. "I hate the thought of that," she finally admitted.
"I know, but the alternative...I don't know about you but I can't go through that again!" Robbie confessed, the tightness in her chest making her voice rough and strained.
"No. No, neither can I. It was awful. How much are you going to tell Ryan?"
Robbie sighed and hugged Janet close. "I'm afraid it is going to have to be everything. A body guard is not someone who can discreetly follow along behind."
"No, I guess not," agreed Janet, looking sad and unhappy.
"You know what we need?" Robbie asked into Janet's ear.
A shiver of desire ran through Janet's being. "Hmmm, what?"
"Cranberry muffins, toasted, with blackberry jam on them!"
Janet laughed and rolled to her feet. "You and Ryan were scheming in there, weren't you?!" she said, offering her partner her hand and hauling the taller woman to her feet.
"Well, the subject of cranberry muffins might have come up briefly in our conversation," Robbie admitted, with a wiggle of her eyebrows.
"Yeah, I can just imagine!" laughed Janet. "I'll put the kettle on. You get the muffins down. They're in..."
Top shelf, right side, blue tin," Robbie recited.
"How did you know?!" exclaimed Janet, in mock annoyance.
"I sent in my spy to gather data before I started my campaign," Robbie grinned shamelessly.
Janet shook her head and headed for the kitchen. One Williams was a handful. A house full of them was an impossibility!
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