by Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
My thanks to the readers who have been so kind in showing their appreciation of these stories. You are a great bunch!
Warning: This story is alternative fiction, please do not read on if you are underage or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
After a short while, Janet's sobs lessened. She pulled away from Robbie and took out a tissue to wipe her eyes and nose. "Okay, sorry. My granddad always said when things get too much find a comfy shoulder, cry your eyes out and then get on with it. Well, I've had my cry and it was a nice shoulder." Janet smiled weakly.
Robbie looked uncomfortable,."Ahhh, well I'm here."
Janet stepped forward again and hugged the tall woman tightly. "That means a lot to me. Come on in. There is so much going on in my mind. I'm so glad you came. Do you want tea? Reb's still up," babbled the over stressed woman.
Robbie followed quietly. She'd just sort of dropped everything and come and now that she was here, she wasn't really sure what to do. "Oby's bird! Oby's bird!" called Reb from her play pen as she held on to the bars and did a little baby dance, bobbing up and down.
"Hi ya, Reb!" laughed Robbie lifting the small child up into the air. She settled the diapered backside over her shoulders and held on to Reb's long legs. The baby laughed with delight at this new view of the world and dug her hands into the actress's hair and held on tight.
Janet laughed, the merriment almost making it to her worried eyes. She picked up Robbie's luggage from where she had left it by the pen and together they walked through to Janet's bedroom.
"I'll make up a bed on the couch," the teacher said.
Robbie carefully landed her baby pilot onto the centre of the bed and then turned to face Janet.
"I'll sleep on the couch. You need to rest."
"That's thoughtful of you, Robbie, but you don't fit on the couch. The last time you were here, your feet hung over the arm rest by a foot!
"No. I need you to drive tomorrow. I ..I don't think I could give it my full concentration. You need the sleep, okay?"
Robbie looked down at this remarkably brave woman. The more time she spent with this lady the more impressed with her she was. "Okay, but I'll make the tea."
Janet smiled. "Do you know how?"
"Funny, come on," Robbie responded with a jerk of her head towards the kitchen and that famous smile that captivated audiences. Janet helped Reb off the bed and the little child ran on ahead.
Later, they sat together on the sofa, Robbie's long legs draped over the coffee table sled and Reb fast asleep between them. "I should put her to bed."
"Hmmm," agreed Robbie feeling suddenly tired and apathetic.
"We need to go to a lawyer, Robbie, you know to make things legal just in case...well, things don't work out." She went on in a hurry. "It's a good idea anyway. I mean what if I was in an accident or something?"
"I'll get my lawyer to see to it. Don't worry. You just tell me what you want," muttered Robbie looking at the dead fire. She shifted and put an arm along the back of the couch. "Look, Janet, I'm not really the mother type. I'm not going to hold you to a request you made at a time when you had no real fears about the future. If there is anyone else you'd..."
Janet's hand reached up and rubbed Robbie's where it lay on the back of the couch. "Reb loves you, Robbie. She just took to you right away. And I trust you completely to care for and protect my daughter. It might be a rather unorthodox upbringing," she grimaced, "but it will be a good one. I've known you only a short time, but you are the one I called, not any of my friends. I just know in my gut that I made the right choice. That is, if you are willing to take on the responsibility."
Robbie's fingers interlaced with Janet's. "We'll see it through together," she promised. "Okay, I'll carry helicopter child into her crib, but you gotta do all the messy baby stuff."
"Hey, you need to practise!"
"I'm counting on the kid being through college before I have to think about living up to any parental responsibilities," mused Robbie, cradling the two year old in her arms without being aware she was doing so. Janet smiled, but said nothing.
Robbie slid into the bed and took a deep breath of the lingering fragrance that was Janet. She hadn't planned on getting between these sheets again so quickly and certainly not alone. Damn! Everything was different now. Everything. She lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling. The pearl moonlight coming through the window painted a kaleidoscope of leaf patterns across the ceiling.
Janet tossed, then turned and then gave in and got up. She looked out the window at the moon shimmering across the lake and thought about the phone conversation she had had with Robbie only the day before. Now everything was different. It would be better once she knew what she was facing, whether it was mild surgery or a prolonged battle. She wished tomorrow was over.
With a sigh, she walked back to her makeshift bed and picked up her pillow.
Robbie counted leaf silhouettes on the ceiling. This was stupid! She'd charged up here like some damn white knight and now she didn't know what the hell she was supposed to do! Damn it, this is not my responsibility! I've got an entire film production team counting on me. I should be back in Toronto!
Robbie rolled over and turned on the bedside light. Janet was standing at the bedroom door. "You need something?"
"I can't sleep."
Robbie slipped out of bed.
"You're naked!" exclaimed Janet, her startled eyes wide.
Robbie looked down at her lean, muscular body with disinterest and shrugged. "Yeah, I came that way. Come on, you get into bed and I'll take the couch."
"If you put your housecoat on, we could share," suggested Janet awkwardly. "I mean, I just don't want to be alone."
Robbie smiled tenderly. "Get in. Glad you thought to bring your own pillow, I don't share."
Janet smiled and rolled her eyes and then happily hopped into her own bed. Robbie went around the other side and slipped in under the sheets. "And I won't wear P.Js for anyone."
The drive down to Barrie in Janet's old truck was quiet and tense. Once they were at the hospital, Janet turned to Robbie. "I can do this alone. Reb would just get antsy having to hang around a waiting room. There is a really good water front park. Would you take her there and play with her for an hour and then come back to pick me up?"
"Yes." Robbie nodded and Janet slipped out of the truck and made her way over to the hospital. When she looked back, Robbie lifted her hand in a wave and then drove off.
The park ran for miles along the curve of Lake Simcoe. Robbie, disguised in a floppy hat and big sunglasses, hoisted Reb up onto her shoulders. Holding on to the active child with care, she walked down the length of the park and back again, trying to work the soreness that still remained out of her knee. Reb played with Robbie's long hair that stuck out from under the hat, and pointed out the things of interest to her tall friend like a tour guide.
"Sea gal!" squealed the young child pointing to the sky.
"Yes, seagulls," agreed Robbie. "You like birding, Reb?"
"Me too. When I was younger, I used to bird a lot. Those are ring-billed gulls, Reb. Say ring-billed."
"Ing-billed," came the prompt response.
"That a girl!"
"I was going to go into science and become a zoologist. That was before...well, you don't need to know about that. No one does."
"Sailboat," clarified Robbie pointing to the sloop as it slid by on the steady wind.
"That a sailboat," repeated Reb.
"Hmmm. And that's a noisy motor boat." Robbie pointed to the offending Bayliner, as it cut around the sailboat and sent the sloop's boom swinging in its wake.
"Vooom! Motta boat! Voom!" laughed Reb with delight.
Robbie raised an eyebrow and looked up at her charge. "I should have known you'd go for speed and power!"
Robbie lifted her small charge to the ground and together they headed up to a swing set, Reb holding on to the actress's hand, as if she had known her all her short life. Robbie lifted Reb to the top of the slide and waited at the bottom to catch the gleeful bundle of delight. Then, she swung her high in the sky and deposited her on the top again. Whoosh! Down slid the happy child again.
"Why do I get the feeling I could be doing this all day," laughed the director as she deposited Reb at the top once more. "I can see, Reb, why your mom has such a great body, having to chase you around all day!" Robbie looked out across the huge lake. The water on the horizon was almost the same colour as the sky, as if you could swim up into the heavens.
She had laid beside Janet last night and held her hand! She hadn't held anyone's hand since her first highschool date, damn it! And yet it felt nice. Like a special bond you feel with someone you have known and trusted for a long time. She hadn't felt angry or frustrated at not getting any action, she had just felt - content. Robbie felt a jolt of surprise. She couldn't recall having felt content since...
"Oby's bird! Oby's bird!" came the delighted giggle of the small child above her head. Robbie looked up with a smile, that changed to a look of horror, as Reb spread her arms like wings and dived off the top of the ladder.
Janet waited in the crowded waiting room, flipping through a dog-eared copy of People magazine from last year. "Mrs. Williams?" called a disembodied voice from behind a door that had been opened a crack. Janet got up and obediently entered into the inner workings of the mammography department.
The voice turned out to belong to a springy, small woman in her thirties, wearing blue surgicals. "This way please. This is your change cubicle. We'll need everything off to the waist. Here's your gown. Open side to the front, please! Hang your clothes on the hooks, but please, don't leave anything valuable in the cubicle." The woman was gone before Janet could respond.
I wonder how many times a day she has to say that! Janet disappeared into her allotted space and pulled the curtain. She stripped to the waist and put the gown on that had been provided. Most of the ties were worn off. She sighed. Once you enter the world of medicine, any sense of privacy and self dignity became a thing of the past.
"Are we ready, Mrs. Williams?"
"Yes," Janet said, rolling her eyes as she emerged from her area, clutching her gown with one hand and her purse with the other. Another bright hospital guide trotted by them, leading an older man clad only in a gown and black socks and shoes. The man's desperate attempt to hold the flaps at the back closed had failed, and he mooned them as he went by. Well, at least I was spared that indignity, Janet thought as she followed her guide to the mammography room.
She was handed over to a new assistant. "Okay....Mrs. Williams," said the nurse, checking the chart. "When was your last mammogram?"
"Ahhh, about five years ago." The nurse looked up with a disapproving expression, causing Janet to go on. "I've been meaning to get around to it."
"One, two years old."
"Have you had cancer or any history of cancer in your immediate family?"
"Why did the doctor refer you?"
"I found a large lump in my right breast. The lymph nodes are swollen too."
The nurse nodded and finished checking off the data on the chart. "Okay, remove your top and step up to the machine. We're going to put the pinch on you!"
It was Reb's leather clad shoe heel hitting the bridge of Robbie's sunglasses and snapping them in two that resulted in the cut to the bridge of the actress's nose and her black eye. It was, however, Reb's impact with the metal dome on Robbie's leather jacket that scratched her nose and gave her the matching shiner. Robbie's panicked dive and grab brought her to the ground heavily. Reb, lying on top of her, was silent for a minute in stunned surprise.
Robbie reached up and dabbed at the blood on Reb's face, trying to ascertain how bad the damage was. "Hey, you okay?" Robbie asked, her voice shaky with fear.
Reb recovered from her surprise landing, opened her mouth and screamed with a baby wail that could have been heard in Toronto, an hour's drive south.
Robbie scrambled to her knees and held the upset child. "Hey, God damn it, Reb! Don't cry. God damn it, people are going to think I'm abusing you! Shhhh!" Robbie looked around in a panic as the screams got louder. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a tissue to clean the blood from Reb's face, surprised to find that it was only a small scratch for the amount of blood over the two of them. Then she realized that her face was bleeding too. "God damn it!" she muttered once again and picked the small child up.
She carried the stiff child over to a small ice-cream stand where a woman watched on with concern. "Are the two of you alright? My, that was an amazing dive you took to grab her out of the air."
"I think she's fine," fretted Robbie over the wails. "I haven't been able to ask her any vital questions yet. Can I have an ice-cream cone in whatever flavour two year olds like and big enough to fill her mouth?"
The woman laughed and made up a baby vanilla cone. "That's a dollar-fifty."
Robbie rooted in her blue jeans and pulled out a gold coloured coin worth two dollars. "Keep the change," she said, taking the ice-cream cone and holding it up to Reb's open mouth. The tears turned to sobs and then to happy, baby sucking noises.
Robbie pulled out a handful of paper napkins from the dispenser and walked over to a park bench. Reb sat happily there eating her treat, while Robbie wet down some of the napkins at the water fountain and wiped herself and Reb as clean as possible. Reb's eyelid was definitely going blue. Robbie touched her own. It was almost swollen shut, and she'd had to use a piece of napkin to staunch the blood flowing from a deep cut on the bridge of her own nose. They both had blood down the front of them.
"We look a sight, Reb. God damn it, your mom trusted me to take you out on loan and now I'm going to have to bring you back damaged! I'm in big trouble, Reb! Listen, can you move all your fingers and toes?"
As if to show Robbie she was all right, Reb struggled to her feet, wobbled along the park bench and deposited her ice-cream cone down Robbie's front. Robbie looked at the sticky mess that was Reb and then down at her own front. "Well, kid, at least we match."
"Alright, Mrs. Williams, we got nice clear x-rays " smiled the nurse, returning to the mammography room where Janet waited. "Now, you have to come with me, and I'll take you over to the Ultra-sound department."
"Okay," responded Janet, grabbing up her hand bag and following the chipper nurse down the hall. One room they passed had the old man in it. Janet saw him through the crack in the curtain door having his abdominal ultra-sound as she went passed. If I stay here much longer there is nothing I'm not going to know about that old guy, Janet thought grimly.
Dutifully, she lay down on the cart and let yet another technician have a go at analyzing the problem with her right breast. This time it involved covering the offending item with warm oil and running a hand apparatus over her breast. The inner works of her body showed up in fuzzy black and white on a t.v. screen.
"What do you see?" she asked.
The technician smiled wearily. "I don't read them, honey. I just photograph them. A report will be sent to your doctor's office and they'll advise you."
Janet lay still and watched the shapes come and go on the screen. She could see the large irregular mass. Several times, the technician stopped, measured the item on the screen and recorded the shot. When it was over, she was given a towel to clean off the oil and sent back to her cubicle to dress.
Robbie had parked the truck so that she could see Janet when she came out. It had been one hour and thirty-eight minutes so far and Robbie was starting to get worried. She looked at her watch again; thirty-nine minutes. She turned to look at Reb, who was safely strapped into her car seat, having a nap. When she looked back, Janet was coming across the parking lot.
Robbie jumped out and went to meet her. "Robbie! What happened?! Where's Reb?!"
"In the truck, what did the doc..." Robbie stopped. Janet was already on the way to the truck. Shit! Not very good damage control there, Robbie, she chided herself following in Janet's wake.
Janet looked in at her filthy, but peacefully sleeping child who sported a small scratch on the nose and a bit of a black eye. Her racing heart calmed. "She's not dead or anything," came the less than reassuring remark from behind her. "She just went to sleep because she was tired. We went for a swing ride, but she threw up. I think it was the vanilla ice-cream. I should have got her chocolate. No one throws up chocolate," reasoned the director.
Janet turned, folded her arms and looked at the director. Robbie did her best to look innocent. "Do you want to explain?"
"Nope. How are you?" demanded Robbie.
Janet shook her head. "Don't know. I have to wait for my doctor to contact me with the results. They aren't allowed to tell you anything." Janet moved forward and ran her finger over the damaged eye. The piece of napkin stuck on the bridge of Robbie's nose was blood soaked. "Hey, you okay, sweetheart."
Robbie smiled and almost managed to lift an eyebrow. "Sweetheart, huh!"
"It was a term of affection! It looks really sore. I think we'd better go to emergency and get a stitch put in."
"It was a term of endearment. And I'm not going to emergency. You can clean it up when we get home. Get in, Sweetheart, " ordered Robbie cheekily, opening the truck door.
Janet laughed and climbed in, waiting for Robbie to come around to the other side, and slide behind the wheel. "If we stopped at a fast food place, there is a chance we can still get out of town without being arrested for child abuse. No murderers in your family are there?" joked Janet.
Robbie's eyes snapped up, cold and filled with anger. "It was a joke," reassured Janet, not really understanding why Robbie would react with such intensity.
Robbie laughed weakly. "Ahhh, sorry, just a little guilty I guess about returning the kid damaged."
"It's okay. It happens. She is a very active child." A grin spread across Janet's face. "It must have been a good fight. Just how many rounds did you go with her before she knocked you out?"
"Funny!" snorted Robbie, as Janet went off in gales of laughter.
Reb was in bed and Janet now had time to think about the day. The click, click of the laptop keyboard could be heard from the living-room. Robbie had commandeered Janet's teacher's desk and had connected to the Internet. Janet came into the living-room and sat down in the chair near by. "You wear glasses," she observed in surprise.
Magnified blue eyes came up and made contact with green. "Only when my eye is too swollen to wear contacts," laughed Robbie. "Don't tell my fans. It would ruin my tough girl image."
"How much of you is image and how much is real?" asked Janet watching Robbie in fascination as she worked.
Robbie shrugged. "It gets hard to tell after a while; the image, the person, it's all one package for marketing."
Robbie worked on for a few minutes, very aware of Janet's close scrutiny. Then she closed down her programs and snapped the lid shut, turning in her chair so she was close to Janet. "What?"
"You are very funny, do you know that? I almost burst a gut on the way home with the story you told about your morning with Reb. It's a side of you that people never see."
"Hmmm." Robbie removed her wire rimmed glasses and looked at Janet with steady blue eyes. They were the colour of a calm Caribbean sea tonight, Janet observed. Sometimes, they were dark and stormy or flashed with an intensity that seemed to radiate from within. Other times, they were the blue of glacial ice.
"Let's go sit on the couch where it is more comfy," suggested Robbie getting up. Janet noted that she still favoured her knee a little as she followed the actress. They settled down again, each at opposite ends of the couch. Robbie stretched out her long legs across the sled-table and sighed contentedly.
Janet looked at the fire that was burning with a soft mellow glow. "It feels a little awkward. You being here, I mean."
"You called!" fired Robbie, defending herself.
Green eyes looked up in surprise and Janet rushed to reassure. "I want you here. I guess, I'm embarrassed because I needed to ask for help."
"Would you have if it hadn't been for Reb?"
"I wouldn't have had an excuse to then," laughed Janet, nervously pulling at a thread on the cushion's corner.
"You don't need an excuse." Green eyes met blue. " If I was directing this scene, you would come over here, now, and whisper, 'Thank you, sweetheart,' while you kissed me passionately."
Janet laughed. "If YOU were directing this scene, you'd have had your way with me and then my irate ex-lover would have stormed in and we'd have all been killed in the cross fire!"
"Hey! For some one who has never seen my films, you have a lot to say!" growled Robbie, leaning over and giving Janet a gentle swat. They laughed, and Robbie used the opportunity to slide a little closer.
She placed an elbow on the back of the couch and leaned her chin on her lower arm looking seriously at Janet. "I'm very attracted to you. Do you know that, Janet?"
Janet licked her lips nervously. "Robbie, I don't think I can handle this right now," she said, turning away and looking again at the red hot embers of the fire.
"I know. I'm not coming on to you. I'm just asking if you understand that I'm attracted to you," repeated Robbie, reaching out a hand and stroking Janet's shoulder softly. Robbie felt the shiver her touch sent through Janet.
"Yes, I understand. But I wonder why." Janet sighed. "You don't have a very good track record, Robbie."
The hand stilled and Janet looked up, surprised to see hurt in the blue eyes. Instinctively, Janet slid over and reached for Robbie, pulling her into a quick embrace. "Oh Robbie, I didn't mean to upset you!" She pulled back and looked into eyes filled with insecurity. "I ..I like you too. I have right from the very beginning."
"Like?" asked a controlled, neutral voice.
Janet looked down at her hands. "I'm very much attracted to you. I just have concerns about the consequences for my life and Rebecca's if we were to...."
A silence fell between the two women. Janet, sensing Robbie's pain, did not pull away but instead nestled into the crock of Robbie's arm, leaning her head back against the shoulder and putting her feet up on the coffee table. Robbie was so complex, one minute vulnerable and the next iron. She was so very, very attractive and yet so very, very dangerous.
Robbie forced herself to keep her arm on the back of the couch, even though she wanted to wrap it around Janet's shoulder. Okay, you can do this Robbie. Give the lady some space. Don't spook her or you are never going to get laid.
It shouldn't have hurt that Janet knew, and didn't approve of her wild life. It was just painfully ironic that the only person that she had ever told she felt something for, didn't believe her! It takes you down a peg or two doesn't it, Williams! To her surprise, a lump formed in her throat. She swallowed it quickly. Get a grip, she ordered herself.
"It's hard waiting to find out the results," revealed Janet.
Robbie lost the battle and her arm slipped around Janet, pulling her close. "Yeah."
"I'm glad you are here, Robbie."
"I'm glad I'm here too, Sweetheart," whispered Robbie. They sat for a long time in each other's arms. Then, self consciously, they prepared for bed, only feeling at ease with each other after they had slipped under the covers, and Robbie had turned off the light.
"Good night, Janet." Janet's hand slipped into her own. Robbie sighed happily and closed her long, strong fingers protectively around the small hand.
"Good night, Sweetheart," came a soft voice in response. Robbie fell to sleep with a happy grin on her face.
"Now are you sure you don't want the truck? You could drop Reb and me out at the school and then pick us up later," Janet offered again as she slipped into her business jacket, wiped Reb's mouth and then lifted her child out of the high chair and placed her on her feet.
Rebecca giggled and waddled over to Robbie who was standing in the living-room trying to stay out of Janet's way as she got ready for work. This was a side of Janet that she hadn't seen before; efficient, single mom and career woman. Janet was strong and confident in a very quiet and pleasant manner. Robbie smiled; about as different from her style of leadership as it was humanly possible to be!
"Up Oby, peas!" called a voice from below her knee. Robbie bent and lifted the small child high into the air, letting the happy, baby giggles rain down on her, before she tucked the baby over her shoulder.
Janet picked up her briefcase and baby bag and took a quick look at her watch. "Okay Reb, say good bye to Aunty Robbie. We have to go."
"Bye, bye Anney Oby," laughed the child, twisting in Robbie's arm to wave a chubby, little arm in her face.
"Bye, bye, Rebel," smiled Robbie, giving her niece a kiss on the cheek before lowering the child down to her feet. Janet watched with soft, happy eyes. "You phone me if you hear anything, okay?"
Janet looked up and smiled at Robbie. "I'll phone you right away. I promise." Baby bag over her shoulder, briefcase in one hand and Reb's trusting hand in the other, Janet prepared to set out again to face the workday of the single mother.
Robbie touched her shoulder and leaned forward and kissed Janet on the cheek. "Bye, love."
Green eyes smiled back at Robbie filled with affection. "Thanks. I'll phone." Robbie managed a weak worried smile as Janet led her daughter down to the truck and headed off to work.
"Robbie! For crying out loud woman, where are you!" came the relieved voice of Brian McGill, over the phone that Robbie had tucked under her chin, as she typed on her laptop.
"About thirty miles north of nowhere," came the calm response.
"You do realize that Gwen and I are two against an army of Williams haters. There is talk of hiring a hit man to track you down."
Robbie laughed. "That suggestion had to come from Ernie Talsman."
"No, Ernie's comment was, and I quote," That's what I get for working for a God-cursed skirt. I shoulda listened to my pappy; a woman's place is in the kitchen or a man's bed."
"Ouch! The old "skirt" shot huh?! I'd of thought Ernie could do better than that. Christ, if Ernie found a woman in his bed, he'd pee himself!"
"Robbie, you are costing the company thousands. Travelli, the bitch on a stick, is driving me crazy! You gotta do something here, Robbie."
"Hey, I happen to be sleeping currently with that bitch on a stick!" laughed Robbie, happily typing away as she enjoyed Brian's report from the front.
"Not anymore you're not! She's the one who wants the hitman to track you down!"
"Hmmm, did I forget to say good bye?"
"Robbie!" yelled Brian, unwrapping the tinfoil from the scruffy roll of Tums that he had found at the back of his desk drawer, and popping three into his mouth.
Robbie picked up the sound of the activity at her end. "Your doctor told you to lay off the digestive tablets," she reminded him.
"He told me to work for someone human too!"
Robbie pressed send. "There are eight e-mails heading your way. Go do exactly what they say. Don't question, just obey. And one other thing; tell Gwen, I need to know how to cook a basic Thanksgiving dinner. Tell her to e-mail me a recipe."
"That's it, I'm phoning the company lawyers and having you declared insane. You don't have a domestic bone in your body! You have to bring Gwen on the set when we do a kitchen scene! What the hell are you up to?!"
"Do it," commanded Robbie and hung up when she saw the call waiting light flashing.
"Hi Robbie," came Janet's strained voice.
"The nurse at Bill's office phoned. I have to go in to talk to Bill right after school. I guess I'll find out then."
"Shit! This chain of medical command is as bad as the military! I'll come and pick up Reb."
"Robbie, you don't have a car," laughed Janet.
"I will by then. When will you be finishing there?"
"I'll be there."
The phone went dead and Janet frowned and looked at the receiver. Robbie, if it was possible, had even fewer social graces on the phone than she did in person. There was going to have to be a talk about the chain of command in their household pretty damn soon too! 'Their household.' What was she saying?! You can't keep Robbie Williams as your number one baby sitter and hand holder forever, Janet! And yet, that was exactly what she wanted to do! Red crept up her neck. Oh bother! I've got a crush on an actor!
Robbie pulled into the parking lot of the Bartlett School for the Gifted at 4:30 , driving her new, navy blue Jeep Cherokee. She had bought it over the phone from the local car dealer and had it delivered after lunch, once the baby seat was installed. The ownership papers, license and insurance were still being processed.
The facility was beautiful. Several long, low buildings of field stone were nestled in manicured lawns that faded out into natural woods to the north and east. To the west, the lawns sloped to a pebble beach and the majestic shore line of Lake Superior.
Robbie thought about the sterility of the building she worked in; the stinking carbon monoxide of the parking garage and the canned, environmentally controlled air of her offices. She breathed in deeply, pine and freshly cut grass. Nice. Janet's doing all right for herself.
The sign at the entrance way read; Report to the office upon entering the building. Robbie looked down the hall, saw the office sign, and headed in that direction. "Roberta Williams to see Janet Williams," she said coming to a stop at the secretary's desk.
Carolyn looked up from her computer screen with an expression of surprise and disbelief. "Oh my God!...I mean...one minute, please," she blurted out, hitting several buttons on the intercom system before she connected with Janet in her inner office.
Mrs. Williams...It's Roberta Williams...here...in person!" Carolyn said in a fluster.
Robbie leaned over the desk. "Hi, School marm!"
"Hi, Robbie!" came the disembodied voice. "Come in."
Robbie grinned at the secretary, gave her a wink, and disappeared into the office. Carolyn flopped back into her chair. My God! I just talked to one of the remarkable Williams! Wait until Burt hears this! He'll have a cow! I wonder if Milka Gorski is still in the building?
Robbie smiled and Janet's strained face relaxed into a grin. "Hi."
"Busy day?" asked Robbie, slipping into the visitor's seat and smiling at the woman across from her. She was damn cute and smart too.
"Yeah, lots of things to consider if I'm going to be off for a while with surgery and then there is all the usual school stuff."
"It's a beautiful place."
"It used to be the servant quarters and stables of a local lumber baron. The main house burnt down years ago. He was the original Bartlett. He had a gifted son, who committed suicide. In his will, he left the land and trust fund to establish this school. Some day, when we have more time, I'll show you around."
"You mean someday, in our future together?" smiled Robbie wiggling her eyebrows comically.
"You never give up, do you?!" laughed Janet getting up with a shake of her head. "Come on, we'd better pick up Reb."
Janet came around to the front of her desk and looked up at Robbie who had also got to her feet. "Ahhh, would you mind if I introduce you to staff members still in the building."
"No, it's part of the marketing I was telling you about."
Janet frowned. "I'm not comfortable using you as marketable material."
Robbie shrugged, "It's okay, really. It is to some extent part of the job and unavoidable. The grin flashed into place. "Believe me, you'll know when I've had enough!"
Janet grimaced at the thought. Small town Canada might not survive a Williams' temper tantrum
if the stories about them were true! They headed out of the office together and found Carolyn and Milka Gorski grinning like Cheshire Cats. She gave a side look at Robbie; the stage facade had fallen into place and the woman she knew had disappeared entirely.
Bill Perkins flipped open the report on his desk after greeting Janet at his office door and getting her seated. "Well, Janet, it's bad news and good news. The bad news is that the tumor is cancerous. The good news is that although the nymph nodes are infected, there is no sign of cancer that we can see."
"So what are we talking?" asked Janet, forcing herself to remain calm by disconnecting emotionally. This was someone else they were discussing not her.
"For sure we are talking lumpectomy and radiation treatment. We might be talking a mastectomy."
Janet felt the blood draining from her face. "I...I...thought they didn't do those anymore."
"Oh yeah, we do them. Granted nowhere near as often. But we are going to do what ever is necessary to stop the spread of the cancer. This tumor appears to have grown very quickly and it has spread out through your breast tissue and into the muscle tissue. This is serious Janet. You have to accept that."
Janet looked at her hands and tried to pull herself together. She felt herself reaching out to Robbie for support. In her mind, she suddenly felt those wonderful capable hands squeezing her shoulders and the warmth of the director behind her. We'll get through this together. That's what the woman had promised and Janet knew in her heart it was true. She blinked back the tears and straightened her shoulders. "So what are my chances?"
Bill grimaced. He hated this question. How the hell was he to know?! Yet, people had a right to know the odds. "It's hard to tell, Janet. I've seen worse cases survive and better cases die. It depends a lot on the patient's physical makeup, strength of character and luck. If I had to call the odds, I'd say fifty/fifty at this point in time, but I'd still put my money on you with confidence."
Janet smiled, although the light didn't reach her eyes. "Thanks! So when is it to be?"
Bill sighed with relief inside. He hated when they cried and cut up rough. One of the reasons he was attracted to Janet was her no nonsense personality. "It has got to be done right away. This is Thanksgiving Weekend coming up, and that means a regrettable delay. I've had them cancel some elective surgery to get you in on Tuesday. I need you to book into Princess Margaret in Toronto early Tuesday morning."
"Bill, I can't just walk out of my job! I need time! I..."
"Janet! I'm trying to save your life here. Work with me, not against me," cut in Bill with feeling, meeting Janet's eyes with his worried brown eyes.
"Okay. No more arguments." Janet smiled, getting up to go. She just wanted to get back to Robbie as quickly as she could.
Bill stood too and smiled. "Since you are in town, how about dinner tonight? You're my last patient. We could talk. You need some one to talk this out with."
Janet looked at the floor, then up at Bill. "Bill, I really enjoy your company, but I think we both know that I don't want to make a commitment to you. It would be wrong of me to keep leading you on, especially now. I need you as my doctor, Bill. Can you do that for me?"
Bill swallowed several times before answering. He smiled sadly and nodded. "Yeah, whatever you want, Janet. But I think I'll wait until you've come through this with flying colours before I give up all hope."
"Thanks, Bill. You're the greatest!" whispered Janet, stretching up on tip toes to kiss the bristly cheek. She thought about the smooth skin over hard muscle that was Robbie and the hot, dry, spice scent that had become so familiar to her in such a short time. She knew what she wanted in her heart, and it wasn't Bill.
Robbie and Reb had built a castle together on the beach. It involved a massive earth works project and considerable role playing. They had stormed the castle twice, a favorite part with Reb, resulting in major renovations and rebuilding. They were now cleaning the sand out of their respective undies while Robbie explained the next order of the day.
"Okay, Reb, we are going to get dinner for your mom coming home. I think we..." she stopped. The most extraordinary feeling of being aware of Janet came over her. She knew in her heart Janet had received bad news. For a second, she closed her eyes and tried to let Janet know that it was okay, she would be there for her and that she wouldn't let her die.
Then she took Reb's hand and led her out to the kitchen. "Okay, we gotta keep this simple because I can't cook. You'll have the famous banana sandwich stand by and Janet and I will have frozen pizza and beer because that's what I picked up in town," Robbie explained.
Robbie stopped and looked down at Reb who appeared to be pulling a face. "Hey, I'm new at this! Besides, I'm saving up for my big romantic evening when I cook dinner and sweep your mother off her feet with my charm."
Rebecca sat down at Robbie's feet and laughed as she undid the director's shoe lace. "Oh, you think that's funny do you! Listen, smug baby, I'll have you know that I've never struck out until I met your mother. I might have two strikes against me in the bottom of the ninth, but I still have hopes of a home run. She said she was attracted to me, you know," argued Robbie as she prepared their meal.
Reb listened seriously from the floor, clapping her hands together and reaching for the dangling shoe lace every time it went by.
Robbie heard the crunch of tires on gravel and swung Reb up and placed her in her play pen. She quickly tied her shoe lace and ran outside to meet Janet. The teacher was just getting out of her truck and the results of her test were written clearly in the emotion that played on her features. Robbie walked over and wrapped Janet in her arms and the woman clung on tightly. "How did you know?"
"I just did," responded Robbie, her voice rough with emotion.
Janet nodded, her head still buried in Robbie's cotton shirt. "It's cancer. They'll operate on Tuesday in Toronto at Princess Margaret, cancer hospital. It's advanced. I'll be having extensive radiation treatment. Bill said a fifty/fifty chance of recovery. Robbie?"
"Hmmm," came the emotional voice, muffled in Janet's hair.
"I...I might have to have a mastectomy."
The arms held her tighter. "Whatever it takes, sweetheart. Just as long as we win this battle," Robbie reassured, feeling her gut twist into a knot.
Robbie pulled back and kissed Janet's forehead. "You okay?"
Janet nodded. "I think it really hasn't hit me that this is me facing this illness and not someone else. I feel a little overwhelmed; there is just so much to do before Tuesday. I'm not sure how long I'll be off work."
"Don't worry. Just take it one step at a time and trust others to help pick up the slack, okay. Come on, Reb's been asking about you. I told her the tooth fairy carried you off."
"Robbie! You didn't!" laughed Janet, poking her tall companion who had managed to keep her arm around Janet's shoulder as they walked up the porch. For an answer, Robbie just raised an eyebrow and reluctantly removed her arm to open the door.
"Mommy! Mommy!" called Rebecca lifting her arms to be picked up. Janet reached down and kissed her daughter and then falling to her knees she hugged the child closely and sobbed broken heartedly.
Robbie wasn't sure how to handle the surprising turn of events. Should she leave mother and daughter alone? Should she try comforting them? Reb was crying almost as loudly as her mother now. "Okay, that's enough!" Robbie roared.
Mother and daughter turned wet eyes on Robbie in startled wonder. Robbie stepped forward and picked Reb up, then offered her hand to Janet, to pull her to her feet. She wrapped her arm around the woman and kissed the top of her head. "This is nothing we can't handle, sweetheart."
"I might never see Reb grow up or marry," Janet sniffed in explanation.
"That's okay, she's going to grow up to be a butch and lead a terrorist group to free the muskox of Ellsmere Island, anyway."
Janet snorted and hugged the two that she loved more than anything close to her. Yes, she was in love with Robbie Williams. Why did you have to come into my life now, Robbie? And how long will you stay?
"Hey, I made dinner," revealed Robbie as the oven buzzer went off. Robbie gave Janet a quick squeeze and then carried Reb over to place her in her high chair. Janet went over and climbed up on one of the bar stools. Frozen pizza and Molson Canadian! It was on the tip of her tongue to make a snide remark, then she noted Robbie's pride and with relief the banana sandwich for Reb.
"Pizza and beer, Rob, that's just what this day calls for! Thanks."
Robbie flashed a smile that warmed Janet to the tips of her toes as she served each of them a slice of pizza and came around to sit beside Janet. Janet found, to her surprise, that the pizza and beer did go down easy. Robbie, too, helped to ease her anxiety by getting a pad of paper and helping Janet to organize a list of things that had to be done. Then they divided the list into things Robbie could see to and things that Janet would have to handle. The mountain of responsibilities that Janet had been building since hearing the prognosis had been reduced, with Robbie's help, to a long, but manageable list.
A sleepy Reb was put to bed at seven, after she had shown her mom the castle that Oby and she had built. Janet had helped Reb place a flag on top of the huge mound of sand made of a twig with a leaf stuck on it. Now the two adults sat at opposite ends of the couch, Janet explaining how she would want the custody and her estate arranged. Robbie typed the information into her lap top to e-mail off to her lawyer. It was hard, and she found that she had to force herself to keep the emotion from showing on her face. This was important, both legally, and for Janet's peace of mind. She typed on.
When they were finished, Robbie's shoulders ached with tension. Janet was wired. Roaming around the room with restless energy. "You know what I need you to help me do now, Robbie?"
"To help me bake cupcakes!" laughed Janet coming to stand in front of Robbie, eyes sparkling.
"Cupcakes for the church social. Come on Robbie, I need to keep busy!"
Robbie sighed. She had thought they could be busier enjoying each other's embraces on the couch. Damn woman. "Okay, but if you ever tell a soul that I helped bake cupcakes for a damn church social," she grumbled, "you'll be going head first into the lake!" Privately biting the bullet, she followed the high strung woman out to the kitchen and stoically did whatever was asked of her. They laughed a lot and slowly the nervous energy dissipated, leaving a tired but calmer woman.
"Almost done," said Janet yawning as she iced the last few cupcakes. Robbie looked up from licking the chocolate covered beaters.
"Good, because if I have to lick one more beater clean, I'm going to be sick!"
"Don't complain, you were the one who insisted on taste testing everything!"
Robbie smiled, pleased that Janet was acting more like her old self. "Hey, it was a tough job and I didn't have Reb to help me!"
Janet came over to the counter and leaned close looking into Robbie's remarkable eyes. "You two are so much alike. I can't tell you how much it means to me that you are here. I don't know how I could ever repay you for your kindness."
Robbie ran her finger around the bowl that Janet was still holding and reached over the counter to paint Janet's lips with chocolate icing. Then she leaned over the counter and slowly and deliberately licked every bit of icing off. The kissing became a mutual exploration. Janet put down the bowl and reached up to run a hand around the back of Robbie's neck, pulling her closer, and play exploded into passion.
Janet finally pulled back. The two of them were breathless from the encounter. Robbie smiled. "There, the debt's paid," she whispered.
Janet's lips opened as she leaned back towards Robbie. "No it isn't," she whispered huskily just before their lips met again. It was Robbie who broke this kiss to come up and over the counter in a smooth vault and wrap Janet in her arms while her lips explored the texture and taste of Janet' face and neck. When she felt the smaller woman stiffen, she slowed and pulled back. Their eyes locked. "I...I mean, I , this is no time for me to get involved."
Robbie kissed the golden head of the smaller woman. "We were involved from day one. I won't rush you, sweetheart. We'll just go really slowly. Ready for sleep, now?"
Janet smiled and nodded her head. This time Robbie didn't wait for Janet to take her hand. When Janet slid into bed, demurely dressed in her nightie, Robbie turned off the light and curled her naked body around Janet's small form. Janet took Robbie's hand that lay draped over her and placed it over her breast, interlacing her own fingers with Robbie's.
Robbie smiled in the dark and nuzzled into the back of Janet's neck. First base, she thought, happily going off to sleep.
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