Winter Snows

Part 3

Anne Azel

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.

My thanks to the readers who have been kind in showing their appreciation of my stories. You are a super group! My special thanks to Lisa and Inga, who are my patient beta readers, and Susan for her comments and insights.

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.

You could barely see the lights of Toronto through the snow. Robbie looked at her watch again. Janet and the kids should have been here hours ago. She had arrived at her condo to find a message on her service saying that the 'copter was grounded and that Janet and the kids would be making the trip by truck.

She had tried to get them on the cell phone but they had not answered. She'd called the police. The 400 had not been closed yet, but traffic was down to one lane in some parts. She paced around the room again, dread eating at her guts. If anything had happened to her family....the elevator started rising and Robbie was over there in an instant, nervously swaying from foot to foot.

The door opened and out piled her family. "Hi everyone!" Robbie called happily, picking Reb from Janet's arms and giving the child a kiss and a fly over her head. She pulled an embarrassed Ryan close for a hug, after she had brought Reb in for a landing. Then she turned and let Janet, exhausted from a hellish drive, fall into her arms.

"Oh Robbie, I am so glad to see you! What a trip! You've lost weight, love," Janet mumbled, hugging her lover close.

"I was getting really worried," admitted Robbie, giving Janet a quick kiss on the cheek. "Are you guys okay?"

"Sure, Aunt Janet can handle anything!" bragged Ryan.

Janet gave Ryan an affectionate hug. "Ryan kept Reb amused for hours. If she hadn't, I'd have probably left the ankle biter upside down in a snow drift, I was so tense!"

"Well, come in. I had sandwiches and soup sent up from the restaurant. I'll heat the soup up again in the microwave," said Robbie.

"Good, I'm starved. I'll just see to getting Reb settled down. Ryan fed her in the truck. I'll be back soon." Janet trotted down the hall with a sleepy Reb over her shoulder, and Ryan followed Robbie to the kitchen.

She looked around at the magnificent, designer living room and the expensive kitchen. Over tired and grumpy, the wealth rubbed on old hurts. "So if you have so much money how come you couldn't take care of me?" she asked sarcastically.

Robbie too was feeling over tired and stressed. She'd been on the move from city to city for six weeks trying to sell the critics and public on her new style of film. Before that, she'd had to deal with Ryan's accident and Janet's illness. "Get off my case, Ryan," she muttered crankily, as she stuck a container of soup in the microwave.

"No! I want to know!" whined the young teen.

Robbie sighed and turned to face Ryan. "I was in a lot of trouble at the time. I didn't want you growing up having to live down my past. I explained this to you before."

Ryan pulled a face and rolled her eyes, "So what could be worse than getting knocked up with me. Were you turning tricks? Selling drugs? Did you murder your old man for his money?" she smart mouthed.

"I SAID DROP IT!!" yelled Robbie, heaving a bowl across the room. It smashed into pieces against the stone of the fireplace. Janet came running down the hall. Ryan had backed out of the kitchen looking extremely afraid.

"What's going on?" she demanded looking between Ryan and Robbie.

"Stay out of this, Janet!" snarled Robbie her eyes flashing with anger. She'd gone through enough with out having to put up with Janet defending the rudeness of this brat of a kid.

"Okay. But before you discuss this matter with Ryan, could I just talk to you for a minute? Ryan, your room is the second on the right, hon. Why don't you take your bags down there." Ryan nodded and escaped. She had read that her mom had a violent temper. Now she had seen it, and it was pretty scary. It hadn't been so much what her mom had said or done, it was the energy that she seemed to radiate, like a reactor having a melt down.

"Leave me alone," snapped Robbie, banging things around noisily in the kitchen. Janet walked over to her and wrapped Robbie in her arms. The stiff body crumbled at the warm, gentle touch and she sobbed against Janet's shoulder. Janet held her and let her get some of the tension out. Then she took a tea towel and backed up a step to wipe Robbie's face.

Robbie took the towel from her and sniffed back the last of the tears as she dried her tears. "Damn," she croaked out with a raw voice.

Janet smiled and rubbed Robbie's back. "No, I don't think it is quite that bad but you two sure pushed the envelope a bit. She was an over tired teenager, Robbie. I don't know what happened in here, but I do know that teens have a Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. We've been pretty lucky with Ryan so far. She has been really willing to except a lot on faith. There will be some bad times, Robbie. You have to expect that."

Robbie nodded. "Yeah. I really love the kid, you know... I...I guess I've got a lot of guilt about not being there for her. She wanted to know, if I was so damn rich, why I couldn't raise her."

Janet looked at Robbie. "You've been away a long time. She was testing. What she really wanted to know was that you still wanted and loved her. Tell you what. You clean up the mess in the living room and I'll go clean up the mess that's your daughter. Then you two can talk it out, okay?"

Robbie nodded, looking strained and tired. Janet reached up on her toes and kissed Robbie tenderly. "I need you, too," she whispered and left.

Ryan had her headphones on. That was a bad sign. Ryan only put her headphones on when she was escaping. They were her sign to the world that she had an attitude and to leave her alone. Janet sat on the bed and waited. It took about thirty seconds to wait Ryan out. "She's a bitch."

"Is she?" asked Janet in surprise.

Ryan took off the earphones. "Look at all this!" she exploded. "Why couldn't she take care of me! She could have hired a nurse if she didn't want to be bothered herself!"

"I don't know, Ryan. All I know is that whatever happened back then impacted terribly on the whole family. Robbie won't discuss it with me either. Whatever happened, your mom has never come to terms with it. She is still very much afraid that her past will come back to hurt us all."

"So why has she taken me in now?" asked Ryan, playing nervously with the wire on her earphone.

"Because of the accident. She thought she was going to lose you. That made her realize that you were something very precious to her, and she had already lost too much time that she could have shared with you. I think too, that she realized that children could like her because Reb did. It gave her the courage to try to be a good mother to you."

Ryan licked her lips. "I was pretty rude."

"The nice thing about being close to someone is that you can say you are sorry, and if you really mean it, that person will always give you another chance. How about I go see to dinner, and I send your mom in here so the two of you can talk?"

Ryan nodded and Janet gave her a hug and left. Janet blinked the sleep from her eyes and forced her weary body down the hall. She found a sad looking director puttering hopelessly around the kitchen. "Okay, your turn. Try not to throw anything valuable," twigged Janet, with a soft smile. Robbie hesitated. "Go on you big coward. You got yourself into this one, and now you are going to have to wade out."

Robbie frowned and headed down the hall as if Janet had forced her to walk the plank. Janet watched her go with eyes filled with compassion and understanding.

"Ahh, hi," said Robbie awkwardly, from the doorway.

"Ahh, hi," responded Ryan nervously, as she sat on the edge of the bed.

"Ahh, can I come in?"

Ryan nodded and Robbie went in and sat on the bed beside her. She frowned. What do I say? I'd best just tell it like I see it, as I usually would. "I didn't like that. I didn't like fighting with you. I didn't like being pushed about something I just can't discuss. I didn't like making an ass of myself by losing my temper and I didn't like having to come in here and try to talk to you because I'm no good at words," said Robbie, staring at the wall.

"You're a famous playwright," snorted Ryan, looking at the same wall.

"I guess, I could write you a play, every time we fight," reasoned Robbie, with a weak laugh.

"Oh yeah, then you'd get to put words in my mouth!" objected Ryan good naturedly.

"I'm sorry. I wished I'd been a better mother. I wish...well, the only good that came out of that time in my life was you."

"I'm sorry, I acted like a jerk," confessed Ryan.

"It's okay. I guess we both kind of dumped on each other. You hungry?" Robbie asked, finally getting up enough courage to look at Ryan.

Ryan fell into her mother's arms. "Don't send me away," she sobbed.

Robbie's heart stabbed with pain. "Oh, sweetheart, I'm never, never, going to do that!"

"Hey, anyone for soup?" Janet yelled from the kitchen, getting a little nervous by how long the two Williams had been locked up together.

Mother and daughter came down the hall together and Janet gave a sigh of relief. Robbie lit the gas fireplace, and they sat around with cups of lobster bisque with sherry soup and herb and salmon sandwiches.

Robbie and Ryan soon got into a heavy discussion on modifications they could make to their snowmobile and what Ryan had learned about snowmobile racing from her instructor, George Drouillard of Drouillard's Small Motors fame.

They looked up some time later, to find Janet curled in a chair, fast asleep, her empty cup in her hands. "I think Aunt Janet has had it," whispered Ryan.

"Yeah," sighed Robbie. "I guess I kind of left her to handle things," she admitted, belatedly feeling a sense of responsibility.

"Yeah, the drive took us almost eight hours, and Aunt Janet white knuckled it most of the way. It was really scary out there with the white-outs. And then I had to go throw a temper tantrum," reviewed Ryan, starting to feel a rather rotten human being.

"You and me both," agreed Robbie. The two Williams looked very guilty as they sat watching Janet sleep.

"And we didn't include her in our conversation," added Ryan, keeping a list of their crimes. "That was bad manners."

Robbie frowned. "She looks awful pale." Tomorrow was Janet's test, and she wasn't supposed to get over tired if she wanted to get well.

"Do you think she'll kick us out?" Ryan asked insecurely. Tears welling again in her eyes.

Robbie managed a weak smile, and rubbed the back of her daughter's neck with her hand. "No, it's not that bad, but we'll have to think of something to make it up to her. We sort of acted like Williams creeps."

Ryan nodded. "You help her to bed, mom, and I'll clean up dinner. Wait until I tell the kids at school that take-out at your place is lobster bisque in sherry and salmon with herbs! Usually we send out for pizza."

Robbie pulled a funny face at her daughter and went to pick Janet up out of the chair. She murmured softly in her sleep but didn't wake as her lover carried her down to their room. She gently lowered Janet to the bed and then carefully stripped her down. "I can do that!" protested a groggy voice.

Robbie leaned forward and kissed a soft, warm belly. "Mmmm, let me. I've missed you," she murmured.

Janet smiled, her eyes still closed. "I missed you, too." She was fast asleep again by the time Robbie tucked the sheets up around her. She kissed Janet tenderly on the cheek, and then went to help her daughter. I have to learn to be more thoughtful if I'm was going to have a family, she concluded as she walked back down the hall. I've got to stop thinking like a one.

There had been words the next morning too. Robbie wanted to take Janet to the hospital and wait with her. Janet pointed out that there had been a near riot the last time she had been recognized sitting in the waiting room. Ryan said she would go with Aunt Janet and that made Robbie sulk even more. They compromised with them all going, and the three Williams waiting out in the truck until Janet came out.

Janet took the hospital elevator down to the main floor, doing up her jacket as she went. Southern Ontario was in the gasp of a nasty cold front that had sent the temperature plummeting. She crossed the lobby and slipped through the automatic doors to be hit by a wall of cold air and blowing snow. Janet shivered and pulled her collar up around her neck to protect her face from the elements.

"There she is," blurted Robbie, "Stay with Reb," she ordered, getting out and hurrying to Janet's side.

Janet looked up to see Robbie dodge two cars and hop a guard rail choked with snow as she bee lined to her. She is such a wonderful idiot, Janet thought as Robbie scooped Janet under her arm. "The doctor said everything looks fine. I'll have to wait a few days for the test results to come back from the lab but the doctor seemed fairly confident that they have got the cancer."

Janet felt more than saw the relief flow through her lover. Robbie didn't say anything. She couldn't. She just squeezed Janet close to her, protecting her from the wind as the two of them made their way back to the truck.

"Well?" asked an anxious Ryan, leaning over from the back seat.

"I'm fine!" Janet smiled, reaching up to pat Ryan's face.

"Cool," Ryan said confidently, as if it had been a given. "Let's go celebrate!"

Robbie arrived late at her office the next day, as some of the private celebrating that she and Janet had done had continued again in bed that morning. The elevator doors slid open to chaos. Personnel from several departments crowded the hall and angry voices seemed to be emanating from her office. "Okay, everyone, back in your cages!" Robbie snapped, from behind the gawking group.

"Williams!" someone warned, and the group hastily retreated back to their desks.

Robbie strode down to her office. Two police were holding back two very angry men. Robbie recognized one of them as Brian. The other was hard to identify with the blood spurting from his nose and the swelling of his left eye but Robbie suspected that it might be Gwen's husband. She had met him, she thought, at the staff Christmas party one year.

A security guard bent over Gwen, applying some ice wrapped in a paper towel to her jaw. "What the hell is going on in here?!" Robbie demanded, slamming her briefcase on Gwen's desk, and coming around to kneel by her secretary.

She had a nasty bruise on her jaw. "You okay?" Robbie asked softly, seeing the shock in Gwen's eyes. Her secretary nodded. Robbie stood up, radiating authority. "Okay, who suckered my secretary?!" she growled.

"He did! The bastard's been cheating on her, and when she served him with divorce papers, he came in here and hit her!" yelled Brian, as the cop held him tight.

"I'm going to sue you, you hear! I think you broke my nose!" came a nasal voice from under the blood.

"Brian, did you hit him?" Robbie asked calmly, looking at her assistant director with new respect.

"Twice!" Brian bragged.

"Good. Remind me to give you a hefty raise," Robbie commented, and then turned to the cop holding Smith. "Officer, I will be pressing charges against Mr. Joseph Smith for trespassing, and assaulting one of my employees. We will also want a restraining order filed against him." Robbie walked over to Smith and looked him in the eye. "If you bring charges against my assistant for protecting my secretary, I will hire a battery of lawyers to see that you go to hell in a hand basket. Officer, please remove him from my office."

The Toronto constable smiled, and led the man from the room. Robbie turned to the other officer. "I think it is safe to release my assistant now. He seems to have stopped frothing at the mouth." The police officer laughed, and let Brian go. He went over to Gwen immediately. What the hell has been going on around here while I was away?!

It took most of the rest of the morning to fill out police reports and lay charges. Robbie called her lawyers to represent Gwen and Brian and the company nurse to see to Gwen. She now sat leaning back in her chair with her eyes closed. Brian sat across from her.

"Okay, Brian, I'm waiting, make it good." She sighed, tapping a finger on the arm of her leather chair.

"I got here a little early for our meeting and found him manhandling her so I hit him. He got up, so I hit him again," explained Brian with dignity.

Robbie nodded and lifted her hand to wave him on. Brian cleared his throat. "About five weeks ago, I found Gwen crying. She'd found out her husband had been cheating on her for some time. So naturally I offered her condolences." The hand waved again. "And took her to lunch."

An eyebrow arched up and Robbie looked at Brian through one blue eye. "Are you fooling around with me secretary?!" she snapped.

"No! She won't let me," responded Brian with heated annoyance. Robbie burst out laughing.

As her private elevator rose to the top floor, so did Robbie's spirits. She was going home to her family, Janet was well, and Christmas was coming. Robbie hummed a Christmas carol as she rode up. The doors opened and Janet was there to meet her. She pulled Robbie back into the elevator and pressed down. Then she said hello properly in a long, probing kiss. On the way back up, they tried it again.

"Voom, voom," came two children's voices, one baby like and the other taking on the deeper tones of adulthood. "Foot out! Lean to the curve!" Robbie looked at Janet for an explanation.

"Ryan's teaching Reb how to race a snowmobile on your exercise machine," she giggled, and Robbie rolled her eyes.

"Hi, Oby! Hi, Oby! Peas fly me!" squealed a delighted two and a half year old, running to be scooped up and spun over Robbie's head.

"Hi, Reb! Hi, Ryan!" Robbie laughed, looking over her shoulder at her daughter, as she came out of Robbie's gym room.

"Boy this place is swell! It's just like a mansion on stilts! Wait until you see what I did to your computer!"

Robbie paled and lowered Reb to the floor. "You were playing on my computer?" she asked weakly.

"It's okay, mom, I saved and closed all your stuff. Boy, are you messy. So you're into special effects huh?! What until you see mine," Ryan bragged.

Janet put a restraining hand on Robbie who was about to say something she might regret. "Show us what you've been doing, Ryan!" Janet cut in.

"Come on, Reb!" she called, heading down the hall to the state of the art editing room that Robbie had set up.

"If I drop her from the twenty-fifth floor will she die before she hits the ground?" growled Robbie, under her breath, as she shed her coat and boots.

Janet grimaced. "It's partly my fault. I didn't see any harm in her using your computer to do her homework."

"That is NOT a computer room! It is a two million dollar editing room that just happens to have a bank of computers in it!" explained Robbie, shaking her head in disbelief as she stomped down to the room. It could be worse, at least it's between films, she consoled herself philosophically.

"Oh boy," whispered Janet, and followed along in Robbie's wake.

Ryan waited until they were grouped around the main computer. Then in a circus announcer's voice she said, "Ladies! I present the X rated Rebryan Production of Bear Facts! Okay, Reb, press the key!"

Reb giggled and carefully pressed the key that Ryan had taught her. The screen saver flashed to video mode and the music to Teddy Bear's Picnic started to play. Little yellow Winnie the Pooh bears in red shorts waddled across the screen. In their midst was a cartoon character looking remarkably like Reb. The character sneezed and all the bears lost their shorts.

Reb broke into gales of laughter. "Play again, Sam! Play again, Sam!" Reb squealed with delight. Janet and Robbie laughed until the tears rolled down their faces.

They laughed through dinner too, Robbie telling them the story of Brian's gallantry and Ryan and Janet telling Robbie about their trip to the grocery store near by.

"We got a grocery store around here?!" Robbie asked in amazement.

The aunt and niece laughed. "Mom, you have to see this place! They've got the food locked up!"

"What?" asked Robbie blankly. I don't recall any food locked up in Bartlett, although for what you had to pay for a good, thick steak it ought to be.

"They've got a locked cabinet with small rolls of truffles and pate for a hundred and fifty dollars! There was this container about the size of a bread roll of black carviar from Russian sturgeon for seven hundred dollars! They had live lobsters in tanks too. I wanted to have lobster for dinner, but Aunt Janet couldn't bring herself to condemn one. So we bought dead lamb instead! We couldn't find toilet bowl cleaner though, could we, Aunt Janet?!"

Robbie looked at Janet. "I've got a cleaning staff."

"I wanted some to take back with us," Janet explained, as she took Reb's spoon from her, and helped her clean up the last of her dinner.

"The manager was impressed that you had live in staff," Ryan giggled.

"What?!" Robbie laughed, simply because the other three were.

"The manager thought we were the maid service," Janet explained, "because I asked for toilet cleaner.

"Boy, do you live in a snobby neighbourhood, mom!" teased Ryan holding her nose in the air.

"Don't let it go to your head, kid. I'm leaving all my money to the Canadian Tax Department."

Much later, Robbie lay in bed feeling just about as happy as a person could feel with out exploding with joy. Janet lay partly draped over her body fast asleep. She grinned. What I and Janet have together is just...great! She lifted her head to drop a kiss into soft hair. Life is great!

We'll head back up to the cabin tomorrow early because we needed to take the truck back. It's Sunday tomorrow, and Janet and Ryan need to be back at school on Monday. I think I'll take a month off. Practise for the winter carnival that is coming up and then it will be Christmas.

Christmas! Robbie's eyes popped open and sleep fled. Didn't families buy presents and things?! Damn it! What the hell am I going to get them?!

Monday morning, six girls sat around Stacy Nona in the dining hall. It was there secret meeting place before classes started. "So I'm tell you, Robbie Williams is gay!"

"Why would she want to be gay?" asked Angela, who failed to see the logic in it, "She's really feminine and good looking. I thought only ugly girls became gay because they couldn't do any better?"

Taira blinked in disbelief. " Angela, your talking nonsense. At one time homosexuality was thought to be caused by over possessive, dominating mothers. We now believe that it might be genetic. You are born gay."


"No, perverted and a mortal sin! We've got to do something. We don't want their kind here! Ryan must be gay too, if it's in the genes. She's even got a guy's name. I say we make her want to leave this school!"

"You're just angry because she caught you taking her lab kit and made you give it back," observed Debbie.

"I needed it. I lost stuff out of mine and she wasn't using hers then, anyway! She's a bitch! She's been kicked out of other schools, you know!"

"What for?" Angela asked, loving a bit of gossip.

"What do you think. Like mother, like daughter if you ask me. And they're staying up there with our principal. Makes you wonder!" stirred Stacy.

"Do you mean..."

"Shhh, here she comes."

Ryan saw the looks and steeled herself. She'd gone through enough hazings to know the signs. "Hi, guys! Some storm on Friday, huh?"

Stacy lifted her big bulk and stood in the doorway, blocking Ryan's path. "We've been talking. We know what your mother is and we don't want your kind around here."

"I'm sorry you feel that way. I don't know my mother very well yet, but she seems like a very nice person."

"She's a damn queer and so are you!" snarled Stacy, pushing Ryan back into the wall while the other girls crowded around to act as cover. "You're going to leave here, got it! Leave! Leave! Leave!"

The blows fit on each word. Ryan could have fought back. At other schools she had but she wanted to stay here. She wanted to live with Aunt Janet and her mom, so she let the blows fall.

Robbie had just come in from doing her practice laps on the snowmobile, and had to pull off her boots and run for the phone. "Robbie."

"Robbie," came Janet's professional voice, "There's been a situation. I need you to come over to the school right away. There has been a fight. Ryan's okay, but pretty battered around."

"I'm on my way," came the grim response.

Stacy and her mother were already in the office when Robbie walked in. "You gotta get her kind out of here!" Mrs. Nona was yelling. "She tried to beat up on my daughter! And Stacy said that Ryan's the one who has been stealing all the stuff from the girls!"

Robbie saw her daughter sitting forlornly in the corner of the principal's couch, her face bruised and her lip cut. A ball of ice filled her gut as she slid in beside her daughter and let the young girl snuggle into her. "You all right?" Robbie whispered into Ryan's ear. Ryan nodded yes.

"I didn't do anything. It was a hazing, mom. Stacy's got them worked up that we are all gays."

"Lying bitch!" Mrs. Nona yelled.

"That will do, Mrs. Norna!" snapped Janet, interrupting before Robbie lost her tamper. "We are here to work out what happened, not to yell insults at each other!"

"We know what happened, that girl attacked mine. There are witnesses! She's been stealing too, and I want her out of this school! My husband pays good money to send Stacy to this school. We deserve better!"

"Mrs. Nona, the thefts at the school are indeed a concern, but they have been going on a lot longer than Ryan has been here. She is not involved in that issue. Stacy, have you any bruises, cuts or anything that need attending?"

"No, I fought the queer off, and taught her a lesson," smirked the girl.

"Neither your language nor your tone, Stacy, are acceptable to me. If you wish to stay in the office, and participate in this discussion, then you will please talk politely or I will ask you to leave."

"Hey, stop picking on my daughter! You're just protecting your relatives. That's not fair!"

A knock came on the door and Amanda Singh stuck her head in. "Sorry to disturb you, Mrs. Williams, but I have Debbie DeLuca out here and I think you should hear what she has to say."

"Okay," nodded Janet. Amanda walked in with a very scared looking student.

"Yes, Debbie, what is it you want to say?" asked Janet gently.

"Stacy told us if we didn't support her story that she'd beat us up. But Mrs. Singh talked to us one day about what it is like to live with prejudice, and I don't want to be part of that hate. Ryan didn't do anything, Mrs.Williams! Ryan always tries to be nice. Stacy said we had to get rid of her because her mom's gay!"

She stopped and blushed, turning to Robbie. "I'm sorry, Ms. Williams, I didn't mean to call you a name."

"That's okay, Debbie, I don't consider gay to be derogatory term. Go on."

Debbie nodded. "Stacy has been the one stealing stuff. A lot of us knew but we were afraid to do anything in case she beat us up."

"You're lying! You sleep with Ryan!"

"Enough!" snapped Janet. "Mrs. Nona, some serious charges have been laid against your daughter. It would not be appropriate for me to investigate because I am related to the Williams. I'm going to suspend Stacy from school, and call a special meeting of the Trustees. They can evaluate the case and make some recommendation as to how to proceed. We'll notify you as soon as we have set up a time for the meeting."

"You're going to take this kid's word over my daughter's?! My daughter was the one victimized here! Come on, Stacy. This damn school will be hearing from our lawyer!"

The Nonas stormed out, slamming the door behind them, leaving the room in a bubble of silence. Robbie stood, rigid with emotion. "Thank you, Debbie, for having the courage to live up to your convictions," she said with feeling, offering Debbie her hand.

Debbie took it in a daze. "Thank you, Ms. Williams!"

Robbie turned first to Amanda and then to Janet. "And thank you for your assistance in this matter." She reached down and helped her daughter up and left without another word.

Janet felt a massive headache forming. Was Robbie angry at her for doing her job? This was one hell of a mess and it was going to get worse, she knew. She became aware that Amanda had said something. "I'm sorry. What was that, Amanda?" she responded absently.

"Do you want to talk to Debbie? Or should I take her back to class?"

"No, leave Debbie here, I'll need the names of the other students involved for the board. Thanks Mrs. Singh," responded Janet, giving herself a mental shake and reminding herself that she had a job to do.

Robbie drove back to the cabin with a quiet Ryan at her side. She was having a melt down again, Ryan could see and she didn't want to remind her mom that she was part of the cause. The truck came to a halt and Robbie slammed out, coming around, to Ryan's surprise, to help Ryan from the truck. "Do you need a doctor?" asked Robbie, seriously.

"No, I'm okay, mom. I'm sorry."

Robbie stopped and looked at her daughter with eyes as cold as the Arctic snow. "No, I'm sorry for exposing you to that sort of abuse."

Ryan smiled and gave her mom a hug. "You are the greatest! Aunt Janet will work it out. We're kind of a weird family but we are a family, aren't we mom?"

Robbie held her brave daughter close. "Yeah, we are. Come on let's get out of the cold."

Mother and daughter sat drinking tea, their socked feet side by side on the coffee table and the fire blazing. "Ryan. There could be more days like today, you know."

"Yeah, I know. I can handle it, mom. Don't chicken out now, okay!" Ryan laughed although there was a worried catch to her voice.

Robbie took Ryan's hand and held onto it. "I'm never going to leave you, Ryan. Doing so all those years ago was a mistake. One made for the best of reasons, but a mistake. Actually, ahhh, I was wondering how you would feel if , well, ahh, maybe, if your aunt was willing, we could, I mean I could..."

"You're going to ask Aunt Janet to marry you?!" laughed Ryan with glee.

Robbie blushed deeply. "Well, there isn't enough room in this place and the work at the lodge is going really well. I thought, in the summer, we all could move in over there. I don't know how Janet would feel about that. I mean there is her job and well, she loves this house...and I'm kind of old and grumpy," listed Robbie.

"Boy, I hope you do a better job when you ask her, mom. That was awful! You want me to do it for you?" teased Ryan to cover her nervousness. On the one hand, she wanted to be a family. On the other, she didn't really want to have to put up with the abuse from idiots like Stacy. Living in a gay household was sure to make her a target.

"No! You butt out of this. I'll ask her. Sometime, maybe, when the time is right. I just thought we'd do it quietly. You know, no one needs to really know. It would just be a family thing. What do you think?" asked Robbie searching her daughter's eyes. I don't want to hurt any of you but my love for Janet could do just that.

"So instead of you coming out of the closet we are all going to get in?" asked Ryan cheekily, hyper with the tension of having to deal with this day.

Robbie laughed. "No, but I don't think we need to shock Bartlett too much. Let's let them get to know us, and in time, they'll probably figure it out for themselves."

Ryan smiled, "Sounds like a plan," she said heading for the washroom.

Robbie winked at her daughter, and picked up the phone, dialing the school. "Hi, Carolyn, it's Robbie Williams, can I speak to Janet, please."

"Hang on, Robbie," came Carolyn's pleasant voice.

"Hi," Janet answered anxiously. She had just hung up from talking to the Chair of the Trustees, John, B. for bastard, Bartlett. Her headache was much worse and it was parent interviews tonight! She wasn't sure she could handle a show down with Robbie too.

"I just phoned to tell you I think you are the greatest and that I'll try to be objective when it comes to my daughter. I needed some time to calm down before I could say that, though!"

Janet laughed, a rush of relief flooding through her. "I love you. Ryan didn't do anything wrong that I can see. We'll just have to ride this storm out. The Chair of the Board is anti gay and works with Stacy's father at the car dealership, so we'll have to see... Don't forget it's parent interviews tonight. I'll be home for dinner, but we'll need to take separate cars because I'll have to stay to the bitter end.

"Parent interviews? I don't want to go! You just tell me what I need to know," whined Robbie sulkily. The last thing she needed was to meet the Nonas in the hall tonight.

"No. You are Ryan's mother and you need to talk to her teachers. This has nothing to do with me!" stated Janet firmly.

"Why the hell am I sleeping with the principal, then?" Robbie responded indignantly.

"Fringe benefits," pointed out Janet with a laugh, leaning back in her seat and feeling some of the tension of the day slipping away.

"Mmmmm, like those," responded Robbie, feeling the warmth of desire building deep in her being. "See you for dinner."

"Okay. Let Ryan cook. I can't face another meal of beans on toast," Janet fired her parting shoot and hung up. Robbie pulled out her tongue at the receiver and hung up too.

Janet never made it home. Carolyn phoned to say she was at a meeting with John Bartlett and to please bring a sandwich when she came for interviews. The last hope Robbie had of faking a headache to avoid the evening faded. She was going to have to do her duty.

Robbie directed Reb's spoon from her ear towards her mouth and looked at Ryan over her shoulder. "Hey, you're a good cook"

"Mom, it's frozen fish, carrots and stuffed potatoes! All I did was heat things up!" pointed out the ever practical, Ryan.

"More than I could do," confessed Robbie. "Listen, is there anything I should know about before I go to this thing? Have you blown up any labs or anything?"


"Just asking!" responded Robbie with a laugh and Ryan threw her napkin at her.

Robbie looked at her watch. "I'd better get going. Don't forget to let Rufus out for a bit, then put on the exterior alarm. Make sure Reb doesn't eat anything valuable and don't watch Aunt Janet's collection of dirty videos."

Ryan snorted. "You call Simba's Pride a dirty movie?! In this house, I have to make do flipping through old copies of National Geographic!"

Robbie gave her special daughter a hug and slipped on her parka. The last thing she wanted to do tonight was go to the damn school. She picked up the paper bag with Janet's dinner in it and headed off.

To Janet's surprise John Bartlett was very conciliatory. "We don't want this to go to a board meeting, Janet. Can't have that," he said wiping his brow. "I don't know if you realize this but Ted Peel owns the dealership. I'm just the manager. Ted is married to Olivia Nona, that's her second marriage, so Stacy is my boss's step-child."

Janet's face showed interest, inside she was sighing. Damn, small town politics! "If you think that puts you in a conflict of interest, John, you can let the rest of the board handle the situation."

"No, no, Ted, he don't want it going to the board! He came to me today after his wife called. He don't want this leaking out to the community. Seems Stacy confessed to beating on the Williams kid and doing the stealing. She's a smart enough kid to realize she'd better after Debbie blew the whistle on her. According to Ted, Stacy's a lying trouble maker but you know how mothers are, they just don't want to see it."

"That puts us in a difficult position, John. We do need to resolve this issue. I can't pretend that things weren't stolen and that there wasn't an assault here today."

John Bartlett loosened his tie. "Look, this is what Ted wants. He said he'd shut Olivia up and move Stacy to a school in Toronto. He'll pay for all the missing stuff, and in return, we let this issue end. I don't want any trouble from all this."

Janet leaned back maintaining her poker face; inside she was doing cartwheels of joy. She'd been worried all day that Bartlett would get his teeth into the gay issue and run them all out of town. Now, instead, she had him over the barrel.

"My sister-in-law is a very volatile woman, and she needs to be concerned at all times about her public image. These are very serious charges and I've got to tell you, she was furious when she left here today. She has the money and power to bring a team of lawyers from Toronto and crucify all of us. All I can promise you, John, is that I will do my very best to pacify her and comply with Mr. Peel's wishes.

"I'm sure you are worried. I am. I'll let you know as soon as I can." After I let you stew for a few days, you rotten bastard. Janet stood. "Thanks for being so forthright, Mr. Bartlett."

John Bartlett struggled to his feet, and left, looking a drained and worried man.

Robbie fumbled the list she had been given by a student at the door. Okay, first on the list, Mrs. A Singh, science teacher. Hey, that's Amanda! Okay, I can handle that! Robbie headed down the hall and found the science lab. She walked in gingerly. She wasn't used to dealing with Ryan's schools on friendly terms.

"Hi, I've got the seven o'clock appointment," Robbie said stupidly, standing at the door feeling very warm in her parka.

Amanda got up. "Hello! Come on in, have I got great things to tell you about your daughter!"

"You do!? Hey, that's good!" beamed Robbie, walking forward, as she shed her jacket. "I can do great."

In the end, Robbie was the last parent to leave, having stayed to hear what Janet had resolved with John Bartlett. She had been satisfied with the arrangement much to Janet relief, and Robbie had followed her home. Principal and parent walked in to find a worried daughter playing blocks with Reb.

She was on her feet in a second. "Is it all right? Can I stay?!" she asked nervously. Janet and Robbie glanced at each other, belatedly realizing just how stressed Ryan had been about the evening.

Robbie walked over and smothered Ryan in a big bear hug. "The teachers all agree that you are human and that you can stay as long as you stop eating your peas off your knife." she joked. Into Ryan's ear she whispered. "I am sooo proud of you!"

Janet smiled and walked over to rub Ryan's back reassuringly. "Stacy has confessed to causing the problem and stealing. I've arranged for a boarding school placement for her in Toronto. That is not to be blabbed around though, okay?"

Ryan beamed, her smile the same white flash of delight as her mother's. "Okay, Aunt Janet. I knew you'd fix it!" Janet and Robbie took off their coats and Ryan went to put the kettle on for hot chocolate.

When they were all seated around the fire, Ryan announced that she had a surprise. She picked Reb up off Janet's lap and stood her on the coffee table. "Okay, we've been practising all night, haven't we Reb?"

Reb nodded seriously, adoring eyes looking up at her big cousin. Ryan cleared her throat and Reb did too. Robbie and Janet tried not to laugh. "The letter R by Rebecca Williams!" proclaimed Ryan. "Say, room, Reb"

"Room," giggled the two and a half year old, and everyone clapped and cheered.

"Say, Rufus."

"Rufus!" yelled out Reb, her eyes sparkling with the attention she was getting. More clapping and cheering followed with the successful attempt at Ryan's name.

"Okay, Reb, say Robbie."

Reb giggled and hopped with joy. "Oby! Oby!" she chanted and launched herself at her aunt. Robbie easily picked her out of the air and twirled her over head with much laughter.

Ryan sat down with a sigh and shook her head in dismay. Janet giggled, "I think your mom will just have to be Oby," she concluded.

Reb, now snuggled in Robbie's arms nodded her head, and said stubbornly, "She Oby."

Janet used the tip of her tongue to tease the corner of Robbie's mouth. They had got the kids settled and then had shared a shower, taking turns washing each other's hair. Now they lay warm and relaxed in bed, Robbie on her back and Janet curled around her.

"Did I tell you that Bill Anderson, he's the Math teacher, said that Ryan is one of the strongest students that he has ever taught."

"Yes, and you told me that Jason thought she showed talent as a cartoonist, that Amanda felt she could easily follow in her Aunt Elizabeth's steps and that Milka was impressed by the maturity and depth of her writing," murmured Janet running a finger over a hard, pink nipple.

"These parent interviews aren't so bad!" concluded Robbie with a smug grin, pulling Janet in for a hug and kissing her on the forehead absently.

Janet laughed. "You can absorb praise like a sponge, Williams! Talk about smug with yourself!"

Robbie wore a grin so wide her jaw ached. "Hey, that's my kid!"

"Shut up, Oby, and make love to me," ordered Janet, kissing Robbie soundly.

Isabelle Selo unfolded the letter again that she had picked up at the post office. She read about how the investigative reporter wanted to meet her. Mr. Lucier sounded like a very caring and nice man. Yet you couldn't be too careful. There was all sorts of perverts out there. She'd meet him in a public place and not tell him yet where she really lived.

She looked up at the big poster she had on the hall of Robbie Williams. It was the one of her dressed in a black sleeveless T-shirt, looking hot and dirty and carrying a machine gun in her long, strong hands. She liked this poster best of all although she had all of them. She liked the way the sweat beaded on the bulge of her forearm and the way her eyes shone so blue through the dark tangle of hair.

Robbie looked around the crowded room with disinterest. It was the annual Bartlett staff and trustee Christmas party, and it was a bore. Educators were conservative and nice, and they threw really well organized and predictable parties. She thought about some of the parties she had attended in the film industry and smiled.

The man, who had cornered her, was John Bartlett. He managed the car dealership, and he had been going on for some time about the possibility of Robbie's companies buying off them now that she was settling in town. He was the Chair of the trustees, and Janet disliked him. Robbie disliked him too, just on principle.

Her mind suddenly clicked in to what he was saying. "These teachers have to understand that the tax payer wants value for their money! They're well paid to work for ten months of the year and it's a job anyone could do, just standing up there talking. Yet, they're not getting the job done! Kids today can't read or write, and that's a fact! Now if teachers had to work in the real world..."

Robbie lost it. "What the hell do business people know of the REAL world? You sit in your office all day pushing paper with your hand-picked staff. If someone doesn't live up to your standard, you fire them. It's not like that in teaching, Bartlett. It IS the real world.

"You get thirty little, very imperfect kids, each one of them with a school bag full of individual needs. You want to talk about the REAL world! When have you had to deal with cases of sexual and physical abuse of children? Or the trauma caused by divorce? When have you had to deal with the Special Needs kid, the emotionally disturbed child, the lice, the neglect, the poverty, the teen pregnancies, and all the other stresses that teachers quietly deal with day after day on top of teaching!? You know dick all about the REAL world, Bartlett!"

Bartlett turned beet red and started to look around nervously, as Robbie's stage voice carried all over the room. "Every damn adult who gets elected or spawns a child suddenly thinks they are experts on education! Bull! Get a university degree, your college training, and then work in a classroom for ten years and you'll have something worthwhile to say!"

Carolyn came charging around the corner into the kitchen to find Janet talking to Milka about the new language guidelines. "Janet, come quick! Robbie's telling Bartlett the truth about education!"

"Oh shit!" whispered Janet, as she put her drink on the counter, and bee lined for the living room.

"When do you think the curriculum gets researched and written? When do you think the marking gets done or the lessons planned?! When do you think the sports teams practise, or the field trips get planned or the concerts are rehearsed? Do you actually think that happens in the classroom?!"

"Ahhh, Robbie could I see you for a moment," interrupted Janet pulling on Robbie's arm. "Excuse us, John, won't you," she smiled, "I have something I need to show Robbie."

"Of course, of course." Bartlett smiled weakly, backing away with relief.

Janet pulled Robbie into the now empty kitchen. "What the hell were you doing out there?!"

Robbie looked annoyed and stubborn. "Telling that asshole the truth!"

Janet sighed, and shook her head, coming over to place her hand on Robbie's hard stomach. "Robbie, teacher bashing is part of the job. No one in politics is going to admit that they don't know what they are doing when it comes to setting up educational programs and no parent is going to admit their child is slow or poorly raised. It is always going to be the teacher's fault."

"But a teacher with thirty students has less than five minutes of individual time with each child a day! What can they do to solve all the problems that parents dump on them?!"

Janet frowned. "Robbie where are you getting all this stuff?"

Robbie smiled. "I read your manuscript about your first five years of teaching. It's good. I think we'll make a movie out of it someday!"

Janet's mouth fell open and then snapped shut. Her jaw tightened. "Robbie, my manuscript was on disc and in my desk files. I can't believe you would be so rude as to go through my personal things! Damn it, Robbie, it's not finished and I'm not sure I want it published never mind made into a movie! It's very personal!"

"Yeah, I know, that's what makes it so damn good!" smiled Robbie, in agreement.

"Robbie! What you did was very wrong! You violated my privacy!" snapped Janet, in angry frustration.

Robbie frowned. "Why would you want to have secrets from me?" she asked, in a hurt voice.

Janet rolled her eyes and stomped a few steps away, then turned and came back. "When you were working out your plans for the land you bought, did you tell me right away?

Robbie looked sheepish. "Well, no, I needed to work it out." She shuffled her feet and a red glow crept up her neck as she realized what Janet was saying. "I'm sorry."

Janet snorted in annoyance. "You're sorry I'm upset! You're not a bit sorry about going through me files!"

Robbie looked put out, "Well, it's a start!" she answered defensively.

Janet looked at her with cold eyes. "Never again, Robbie. Promise."

Robbie looked resistant. "What if there was an emergency and I had to go through your things?"


"Okay, I promise," Robbie surrendered. Worry crossed her face. "Are you going to stay mad? Did I get you in a lot of trouble?" she questioned belatedly.

Janet gave her a quick hug. "Thanks for defending us teachers. Don't ever do it again, okay!?"

Robbie nodded, relieved to get off as lightly as she had. I got to learn to see my partner's rights. This going serious with someone takes a lot of work.

Part 4

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