Autumn Winds Part 6 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 under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Once Reb was washed and changed they got ready to go to the Community Centre Thanksgiving Dinner. "Robbie, are you sure you are all right with this?" worried Janet.
Robbie's head popped around the corner of the closet. "I'm fine with it. I was born famous. I don't know a life when there hasn't been a camera to smile at or someone who wanted to shake my hand. You might find it hard though. It is a real loss of personal freedom and space. Wear your tan sweater with the navy trim, okay."
"Oh, do you like that one?" asked Janet feeling the warmth of a compliment spreading through her system.
"Yeah, it's okay. I'm just working out the costumes and staging here," muttered Robbie pulling navy socks from a drawer.
"What?! Robbie this is just a community dinner for God's sakes!"
Robbie stopped and turned serious eyes on Janet. " No, for a Williams, for anyone famous, it can never be JUST a community dinner. It is a performance. We are there not to enjoy ourselves but to make other people's evening more eventful. There will be record crowds tonight. You can count on it. We'll go a bit early so the first sitting sees us arrive and we'll leave a bit late to say hello to the third sitting. If we are lucky in between we'll have a good time."
"No! I don't want to be on display. I just want to have a Community Thanksgiving Dinner!" rebelled Janet.
Robbie sighed, "Then I'll stay here."
"No!" An eyebrow went up. It was Janet's turn to sigh. "I don't like sharing you," she grumbled.
Robbie smiled happily, "You're not. What I am is part of a very private world in which you belong. The community only sees the public face."
Janet stepped forward and kissed Robbie softly, "I ...think you're something wonderful! So what do we have to wear, oh famous director?"
"We'll all wear blue jeans for that down home look. You'll be in tan and navy. I'll wear my navy pea jacket and a tan rawhide to hold my hair back. Reb can wear that beige sweater with the navy bears on it. I'll carry Reb. We want to give the feel of family solidarity now that Billy is dead."
Janet grimaced, "Robbie, this is so calculating!"
"First impressions are important. I've just become a big land owner in this community and people will want to check me out to see if I live up to my film image. Okay, you might be asked why the rest of the family is not here. Alexandria is in the South of France for her health and Elizabeth is engaged in some very important research that could not be put off."
"Is that true? I'm not lying. These people are my friends and relatives!"
"Its basically the truth. Alexandria is in the South of France catching the end of the season and Elizabeth is always engaged in important research," muttered Robbie from inside a T-shirt. Her head popped through and she shook her hair back into place. " Just a few words of caution. Never let Reb face the camera. Don't indicate where you live to the press and stay close to me?"
"The first two I understand but why do I have to stay close to you?"
"Because I think you're cute and I want to be near you," smiled Robbie giving Janet a nuzzle and kiss to the ear.
Janet laughed. "That's better," Robbie smiled. "Sorry, about all this. You sure you want to be associated with me?"
"Very sure," came the instant response and the three Williams headed out for their first official public function in Bartlett.
It was a circus. The press from several local communities had shown up to take pictures along with the Bartlett Post and people leaving from the first sitting crowded around to get autographs. At first, Janet was embarrassed and awkward by the attention but Robbie quietly drew her into the circle with light banter and silly jokes. Janet soon realized that it was a script that they repeated in a number of variations over and over again. Once comfortable with the routine, she actually competed with Robbie on who could be the most creative in saying the same noncommittal things in different ways.
Robbie's eyes caught hers and sparkled with amusement. She was having fun and to Janet's surprise, she found that she was too! Finally, inside the hall, they lined up to be served their meals by the ladies of the auxiliary. Janet was careful to introduce Robbie to everyone in turn and to her amazement, Robbie remembered every name and passing remark and made reference to them in her conversation.
'Hello, Mrs. Douillard, it's a pleasure to meet you. Mrs. Butler was telling me that you make the best pumpkin pie this side of Toronto. I'll be sure to come back and get a piece. Hi, Ted! You're the brother of Dave back there on the ticket table aren't you? I understand that you are Janet's third cousin on her mother's side,' and so it went on.
It was some time before they were safely entrenched at a table, surrounded by Janet's school staff. "Are you related to everyone in this damn town?" Robbie whispered into Janet's ear in frustration.
"Just about, except for the few outsiders that have moved in over the years. Most of us can trace our families back to the original logging pioneers. So over the last hundred odd years there has been considerable inter marriage between the families," responded Janet settling Reb into an old wood highchair that had been provided.
It was Robbie, however, who fed Reb the bowl of mash potatoes, peas and small bits of turkey that Mrs. Snoblen had made up special. Janet watched with pride and thought back to only a week ago when Robbie had first come into their lives. It was a performance, she realized, but she also knew that behind the show, Robbie had a real deep and loving bond with her baby daughter. Where did the acting stop and the real person begin, she wondered? 'The packaging and the person, are really all one,' Robbie had told her and now she was starting to understand what the actor meant.
"Janet," came an overly dramatic voice, "could I meet your sister-in-law?"
Janet looked up at a wall of a woman with a round, cheerful face and a short crop of grey hair. "Sure," she smiled. "Greta Corry, meet Robbie Williams. Robbie, this is our town librarian and president of the Bartlett dramatic society."
"Hi, nice to meet you," smiled Robbie mechanically.
"Oh, Ms. Williams it is such a pleasure! I've been a fan of yours for years! I've followed your career intently and I want you to know I knew right from the beginning that you had star quality!"
"Well, thanks, it's kind of you to say so," came the well used response.
"I was reading on Net-Entertainment that your new movie has the Latin-Bombshell, Tracy Travelli in it! Is she everything the media make her out to be?"
"Well, actually..." Robbie saw Janet's fork freeze half way to her mouth and a panic-stricken face turn in her direction. "She's really a lovely person. Giving. Warm. Ugh!" Robbie finished as a shoe connected with her shin.
"Oh, I'm so glad to hear that! So often those of us involved in the Arts are seen, well as not quite nice. It's so sad! Janet you know, helps out with our yearly production. I do hope, however, that if you are around, you will give us the benefit of your vast experience!"
An evil grin appeared on Robbie's face and she quickly moved her foot before the frantic looking Janet could connect with another blow. "Greta, I would be delighted to help out with this year's production in any way I can! My vast experience is always available to Janet...and her friends. What are we doing?"
"The Tempest by William Shakespear!"
"Really!?" the grin got bigger. Janet covered her eyes with a hand. "Now there is a play that is prefect for Janet and me!"
"Greta, isn't that your sister waving to you?" interrupted Janet in desperation.
"Is it? Oh please excuse me Ms. Williams. Now don't forget, we start rehearsals right after Christmas!
It was wonderful meeting you in person!"
Janet grabbed Robbie's arm and leaned close to her ear. "What are you up to?!"
Robbie played innocent. "Who me?!"
Janet bared her teeth in frustration and Robbie laughed gleefully. Reb laughed too and clapped her chubby baby hands with glee.
"Great! Gang up on me!" Janet protested.
It was as they made their way slowly out of the community centre that Janet ran into Lucier of the Bartlett Post. Robbie had been detained several steps behind signing autographs. "Mrs. Williams, we meet again! Let me express the paper's condolences once more on the death of your husband."
Janet stiffened. She didn't like this man. She quickly turned her daughter so that she looked back over her shoulder to where Robbie stood. "Thank you. My husband and I were separated, as you know, but it is a sad tragedy that Rebecca will never know her father," Janet recited a variation of words that Robbie had used earlier.
"Is there any truth to the rumour that you have terminal cancer and that Robbie Williams is here to take her brother's daughter?"
Janet felt like she had been hit in the gut. Before she could get any words out Robbie was there beside her, her arm wrapped protectively around Janet's waist. "My sister-in-law will be having minor surgery next week to remove a lump. There is no cause for alarm and she plans to be back at work soon. I am here just helping out for a few weeks. We've always been a closely knit family."
Robbie pushed the upset teacher forward and they escaped quickly to the relative safety of Robbie's truck. Lucier's grey eyes followed them with interest. There was a story somewhere in this. He just needed to dig deep enough. Everyone had something to hide and when he found it, maybe he'd get the chance that he always wanted to move up to a big paper and have his own bi-line.
"You all right?" asked Robbie reaching over to rub Janet's hand as the smaller woman sat stiffly, staring out the front window.
"The press is horrible!" choked Janet.
"They can be. Most are fairly decent but you get the Lucier types that use the freedom of the press as a means of bullying and intimidating others. You'll get used to it," soothed Robbie philosophically.
"I don't want to!" snapped Janet with feeling.
Robbie pulled to the side of the lane and switched off the engine. Then she turned to face Janet. "If I am going to be your...friend, it means that a certain amount of the limelight will fall on you. Also, whether you like it or not Reb was born a Williams."
"No! I am not going to have my daughter grow up with that burden! She is going to be just another little girl growing up in an ordinary Canadian town!"
Robbie sighed. "Janet, get real here! The kid's a multi-millionaire!"
Janet's head snapped around in shock. "What?!!"
Robbie's eyes opened in surprise. "What? You didn't know? As the first born of the Williams' clan, Rebecca inherited the remainder of my father's estate. I should think in the vicinity of fifty million dollars plus, of course, the family estate near Unionville. Billy would have had charge of the money until Reb was twenty-one but I presume that you will be taking over now."
Robbie laughed bitterly and started the truck again and pulled back onto the lane. "Nah, I don't think today's God has the power or the money that the old man had."
An over-excited Rebecca took some coaxing to get to bed that night. Finally, after the difficult child was washed and changed ready for bed, Robbie took over from a frazzled Janet. "You go get some work done and I'll get the rug rat to sleep."
Janet squeezed Robbie's arm in thanks and headed out to the quiet of the living-room. So much had happened to turn her world upside down this last week. She was really feeling on overload!
Robbie carried the squirming baby into Janet's bedroom and laid down with her on the bed. For a while she played peek a boo with her from behind a pillow but when Reb's eyes started to blink with sleep, she curled up near the small bundle and sang softly to her until the small girl was fast asleep. Carefully, she carried the two year old back to the nursery and tucked her in.
Janet started when strong hands gently gasped her shoulders. She looked up into eyes blue as a summer's sky. "Come here," she whispered and Robbie leaned down to dust Janet's soft, warm lips with gentle kisses. Desire, a rich liquid heat, flooded through each woman. Robbie slipped around the couch and lowered Janet down on the sofa cushions as her own body followed. "Oh Robbie!' came the gasp of need; husky and earnest. Robbie answered the call with all the passion that her soul could offer.
Robbie lay on her stomach with Janet's naked body sprawled across her back. Hmmm, she thought, this feels sooo good. Lips brushed across her shoulder blade again. "Robbie, time to get up for church," came a coaxing voice.
"We're queer and living in sin. The established church doesn't want us." protested Robbie in a voice husky with sleep.
Janet folded her arms across Robbie's back and leaned her chin on her hands so the she could see her lover's face. Sleep softened features beneath rich, dark hair tossed with love making took Janet's breath away. The woman was simply gorgeous! "I try to separate the politics of church from the philosophy of the faith," stated Janet in response, leaning forward to place a kiss on Robbie's ear. "Besides, it is good for Reb to have a knowledge of the faith of her family. Then when she is older, she will be able to make an intelligent decision on what she believes."
"This family member is a heathen who wants to spend Sunday morning ravishing her mother's body," growled Robbie spinning over and wrapping a surprised Janet in her arms.
Janet kissed Robbie long and tenderly. "It's important to me."
"They'll burn us at the stake."
"It's Thanksgiving, Robbie!"
Robbie sighed and gently brushed the hair from Janet's face. "Okay, but I'll probably be struck dead by lightening when I step in the door!" warned the actor.
"Well, that will make a Thanksgiving service no one will ever forget!" laughed Janet. Robbie retaliated by picking Janet up and carrying her into the bathroom to share a shower. This resulted in them only having time for a quick cup of coffee before they rushed off to church.
Robbie had to admit that it was kind of nice. There was some good imagery that she could use some day in a film. Mentally, she filed away camera angles. The church was small and made of round field stone in soft pinks and greys. The roof was cedar shingles giving it the look of a chapel in some elfin kingdom of long ago. It was nestled in tall pines beside a fast flowing creek that tumbled over rocks to the main river below. Surrounded by the splendor of the autumn forests, the setting was indeed beautiful.
People in their Sunday best arrived and said hello, as Janet lifted Reb from the truck and they moved towards the church door. Dave rang the church bell in the steeple with enthusiasm and his brother Ted handed out the programs and greeted each new arrival.
Inside, the church was simple and airy. Janet, holding on to Reb's hand, moved close to the front and sat on one of the maple-wood benches with Robbie beside her. The bright morning sun through the stained glass turned the dusty light beams into a rainbow of colours that draped over the interior. The choir entered. They stood and sang along, Robbie's beautiful melodic voice adding a much needed depth to the choir. Robbie recognized Mrs. Snoblen and the librarian cum Shakespearian director, Greta Corry, in the choir loft. The minister followed in at the end and everyone took their seats.
Raising his arms in a blessing, Reverend Billingsley smiled and prayed, "Dear Lord bless us all on this fine Thanksgiving day as we come here to praise God's name..."
Reb, wearing a cute, cotton dress and sitting demurely between Janet and Robbie, suddenly beamed with joy and yelled out in a voice that could be heard all the way to hell and back, "Goddamn!" Then she giggled happily.
For a second, there was stunned silence in the church, Janet looked down at her daughter with green eyes wide with shock and a face beet red with embarrassment. Robbie slapped a hand over Reb's mouth and leaned down to whisper in the kid's ear. "Do me a favour here, Reb, shut up!"
"Well," the minister's voice broke into the silence as he beamed down at the offending child, "I can see with this new generation coming up, I've got good job security!"
The congregation broke into gales of laughter and when it finally quieted down the service went on without any further hitches. Occasionally, Robbie would sneak a sideways glance at Janet where she sat stiffly and glowing with embarrassment on the other side of Reb. Oh boy, I'm dead meat, Robbie thought.
After the service and much good natured ribbing from Janet's neighbours and friends, the three women headed back to the cabin. There was a frosty silence in the truck cab. Reb chewed her fist with a worried expression on her face and Robbie squirmed guiltily. "Ahhhh, sorry about that."
"I asked you not to swear in front of Rebecca!" snarled Janet, her knuckles white around the steering wheel.
"I didn't realize mini human's absorbed words like sponges!" protested Robbie. "Anyway, most people thought it was funny."
"I didn't! Reb will never live this down!"
"Are you still angry at Reb and me?"
"Forever?" came an insecure voice.
Janet snorted despite herself. "No, not forever, but for a damn long time!"
"Don't swear in front of the kid!" protested Robbie in a shocked voice.
Janet laughed and swotted at Robbie.
Robbie caught the hand and wrapped her own around it giving it an affectionate squeeze. "I am sorry it happened and I promise I'll be more careful in the future, okay?"
"Hmmmm, okay," agreed Janet, deciding that Robbie had squirmed enough. "You, Robbie, are like an olive."
"An olive?! What round, oily and green?!"
"No, you take some getting used to but you are addictive," sighed Janet.
"I'll take that as a complement," responded Robbie. Turning around, she looked in the back seat where Rebecca was strapped in her baby seat. "Hey, Reb, we're out of the doghouse!"
Reb squealed with delight and pounded her hands on the padded seat. The two women laughed with her and the Sunday church goers headed home for a late brunch.
"Okay Reb, here comes the helicopter, rrrrrrrrrr," narrated Robbie as she flew the last spoonful of blackberry pancake into Rebecca's mouth. Janet looked on with interest. Reb was being spoilt rotten by her aunt. The actor seemed to have her own private level of communication with her niece. Several times during the week, she had come on Robbie and Reb sitting quietly somewhere with Reb's little baby face focused and intent on whatever it was Robbie was telling her. This morning, while Janet had prepared brunch, it had been about birds. Robbie had taken Reb outside to see the Pileated Woodpecker that had been pecking on a nearby tree.
"Have I mentioned yet today that I think you are wonderful?" asked Janet as she came over and rubbed a hand across Robbie's shoulders before taking away the empty plates from their brunch.
Robbie followed the retreating figure with soft, yearning eyes. "I'm not but I'm awful glad you think so. I know I have found something very special in your...friendship. Here let me do the dishes while you see to getting The Rebel changed."
Janet cheerily agreed and a short time later the three of them were setting out in the canoe down Long Lake. The air was crisp and clear and the forest a blaze of deep oak red, maple orange and mellow yellow beech. Dark green evergreens added contrast and the bright robin-egg sky was mirrored with the Fall colours in the still, crystal water of the lake. Robbie breathed in deeply from her position holding Reb in the canoe. "This is wonderful! One of my reasons for buying the land, Janet, was to build a studio on the old lumberyard site. I'd like to get away from the pollution and noise of the city now and again and a northern studio would allow that. I thought I'd start fairly small and see how it goes but I was thinking of making it a kind of training centre for people who want to learn the film trade while working on some of my smaller film productions."
"Is that where Doug and Tracy will fit in?" asked Janet, gently reminding Robbie that she had some responsibilities to the Higgins family.
"Yeah somewhere, I haven't worked things out yet. All the pieces of the puzzle aren't there yet. But I got this gut feeling that I've got hold of the right end of the stick."
Janet smiled and tossed her hair back as she paddled them silently through the water. "Do you always do business in such an unorthodox way?"
"I don't do business at all," stated Robbie, pulling a face. "I create and then I have an army of lackeys that deal with the fall out!"
Janet laughed. "Just how many little M.B.A's have sacrificed their lives to your empire building?"
Robbie shrugged. "There are so many auxiliary businesses...its hard to say...all told maybe five thousand people work directly or indirectly for me."
"Five thousand!" gasped Janet in shock.
"Hmmmm, you're sleeping with a rich, old bitch," Robbie in a smiled leisurely way.
Janet got a sassy look and her eyes sparkled with merriment. "It is not your money I'm after."
"What's that up there?" asked Robbie, suddenly straightening up and pointing, sending the canoe swaying dangerously from side to side. Janet placed her paddle broadside to the water and steadied the canoe.
"It's the old lodge. My great, great grandfather built it. But my grandfather never lived there and neither did my father. It's fallen into ruin. It was beautiful at one time, I'm told. It must be over a hundred years old."
"Pull in!" ordered Robbie. She could feel that gut reaction that told her one of the last pieces of the picture was falling into place.
Janet raised an eyebrow at Robbie's abrupt manner but expertly J-stroked the canoe around to come alongside a small sandy beach. Robbie clambered out with a startled Reb tucked under her arm. She took a step forward then remembered and turned back to hold the canoe while Janet got out and beached the craft.
Janet watched her lover with interest. It was clear that Robbie's thoughts had fixated on the old lodge to the exclusion of everything else. It was only with difficulty that Robbie waited for Janet to secure the canoe before she handed Reb over and took off with long strides towards the run down building. "Reb," said Janet grimacing in annoyance, "I think we are seeing the side of Robbie that gives her the reputation as a focused maniac. We've been replaced by some old, moldy logs and a half baked idea she has cooking in the back of her mind!"
A figure appeared on the old veranda. "Hey, Janet, hurry up! You gotta see this place, it's great!" Now how in hell had Robbie got in? Janet wondered as she headed up to the lodge? The answer was obvious. The heavy lock had been pried free of the door with a scrap piece of metal. She's broken in! thought Janet and then realized that Robbie was the new owner.
The old lodge was dark, damp and dirty. Forest animals had entered through rotting holes in the roof and dry leaves rustled in corners. The huge stone fireplace towered over head and massive logs formed the walls. Robbie came bouncing in covered in dirt and cobwebs. "Hey!" she shouted with excitement, spreading her arms wide, "Look what I bought!"
Janet shook her head and laughed despite herself. Robbie's enthusiasm was contagious. Robbie scrambled over debris and scooped Reb from Janet's arms, "Come and look at this, all the doors are carved! Check out the size of these logs! Mother nature is too sick these days to grow anything this big! Haven't you ever been in here?!"
"No, the land was sold to Higgins years ago. I've walked around the place on many occasions but it was locked up."
"You shoulda broken a window," muttered Robbie, looking around with interest, already making a list of things to get done.
"Robbie! It was private property!"
"It was deserted. It's not as if anyone was living in it!"
Now that Janet had time to look around, she could see why Robbie was excited. The place would take a lot of work and money but the underlying structure seemed strong and the wood, stone and details were beautiful. "What are you going to do with it, Robbie?" she asked hoping it did not involve some executive resort for burned out M.B.A.'s racing personal water craft around the lake!
I'm going to make it a home, marry you and live happily ever after was the fantasy that was going through Robbie's head. Instead she said, " I'm going to restore it and use it as a summer cottage. We can be neighbours as well as friends."
Janet smiled happily. "I'd really like that! No motor boats though okay, Robbie? I'll teach you to paddle a canoe."
Robbie laughed. "Okay. Come on, let's look around some more!" They spent a delightful morning exploring each room and finding, in amongst the years of decay, some interesting pieces. One was an old oil lamp blackened with age and missing its flame hood. Yet the metal was sound and a delicate pattern was etched on its surface. Robbie presented the dirty antique to Janet. "To the light of my life," she said with a deep bow and then, seeing that Reb was busy chasing a chipmunk, she leaned forward and kissed Janet lightly.
Janet smiled warmly and tears filled her eyes. "Thank you, Robbie. I'm going to fix it up. I wonder if it belonged to my great, great grandmother? This looks like it might have been the master bedroom."
"Yeah, it does," replied Robbie. The two women stood still, strangely aware of the lives that once filled this house with laughter and joy. It was a happy home, somehow Robbie could feel that, and she meant to make it a happy home again.
"You ready to head home for a late lunch, love?" asked Janet.
Robbie came out of her daydream with a start. She thought she was home for a minute! "Yeah," she responded a bit late, "Let's go!"
Three, very dirty humans, climbed back into the canoe and headed back to the east end of the lake where Janet's small cabin was nestled in a grove of tall pines.
Janet sat at her big teacher's desk with the old lamp sitting on a section of newspaper. With considerable elbow grease and the contents of a can of Brasso, she was slowly removing the tarnish from the lamp. A delicate Celtic pattern, engraved in a broad band, was starting to reveal itself around the ball of the oil lamp. The brass was heavy and was in remarkably good condition.
From the kitchen low muttered curses occasionally drifted out. Robbie, to Janet's surprise, was insisting on cooking dinner. Fortunately, Janet sighed, Reb was down for her afternoon nap.
Robbie fought on bravely although this cooking thing was a lot harder than she had anticipated. It was important though. It was sort of the modern day equivalent of dragging home the mastodon and roasting it on the spit for your true love. Robbie had seriously explained to her co-conspirator, Reb, that morning, that the dinner was now one of celebration rather than seduction, seeing as how Reb's mother had already had her way with Robbie the day before!
"How's dinner going?" asked Janet leaning over the stone counter and interrupting Robbie's thoughts.
"Fine, no problems!" lied Robbie with a confident grin, coming over to kiss Janet. The light kiss became more earnest and both women were short of breath when it ended.
"Ahhhh, I'd better go get packed."
"Hmmm, How is the lamp coming along?"
"It's beautiful. But it needs a lot more polishing yet! Hmmm, I'd better go, you're a very bad influence!" gasped Janet pulling way reluctantly from the kisses that Robbie was tracing along her neck.
Robbie watched Janet disappear down the hall and sighed. Having you isn't enough Janet. I want more! Somehow, I've got to make you love me as much as I love you. A cold stream of reality broke through the wall of fantasy that Robbie had been building all day and filled her heart with sorrow. It had never mattered before. The things that she had done were heavy burdens that she had stoically carried alone. But if she got seriously involved with Janet, she would be exposing the woman she loved to the danger of exposure too. Even if she didn't marry her, she would still be associated with the notorious Robbie Williams. That wasn't fair. The burden was hers alone, yet she didn't think she could go on living without Janet and Reb in her life.
What if she lost Janet?! A incredible pain sliced through her soul. No! Don't let those thoughts even enter your head, Williams! Janet will beat the odds. She has to!
Janet methodically packed the things that she and Reb would need for a week away from home. Where did Robbie live? she wondered. She had mentioned a family estate in Unionville. Maybe she lived there. But surely, that would be Alexandria's home! She couldn't imagine Robbie living with her mother, no matter how big the house!
Really, she knew very little about the powerful woman that now shared her bed. Two weeks ago, she didn't even know Robbie. Now she was going to stay with her and she'd given her body, soul and even her daughter into Robbie's capable care. Am I being a fool? If it was someone else's life, I'd be shocked and worried about the quick turn of events. But it's Robbie, and somehow deep inside I know that no matter what she has done or will do, my soul belongs with her.
Janet blinked back tears and swallowed hard. Oh Robbie! I love you so much and I can never tell you that! I'm just another lover in your life. A passing fling with the girl next door. How am I ever going to go on when you leave me?!
The cute baby sounds of Reb waking up ended Janet's morbid thoughts. "Hey, special-one, you ready to get up?"
"Up mommy, peas! Go potty."
"Very good, Rebecca! Okay, here we go!"
Dinner had been wonderful! The ham was over cooked, the mash potatoes runny and the vegetables mushy. Desert had been the blueberries they had picked over vanilla ice cream. Not all the stems and leaves had been picked clean. But Robbie had cooked it for her and Janet had a feeling by the look of the kitchen, that it was not something that Robbie normally did and that made the whole thing very special.
After dinner, they wrapped up warmly and went for a walk down the path. Reb rode on Robbie's shoulders and Robbie and Janet walked hand in hand. Their talk was of childhood memories and fun incidents that had happened to them as they slowly built a framework of common knowledge around their relationship.
Robbie's life had seemed bleak to Janet. She had been born five years before her sister and brother, while her mother was still at the height of her career. Robbie had been raised by a series of nannies and then sent, at the age of eight, to boarding school. Elizabeth and Billy had been born after the famous ballerina had retired and had been raised at home with domestic support. Robbie's history of those years was sketchy and it was clear to Janet that she was not comfortable talking about her family although she did tell some amusing stories about her days at boarding school.
"Your science fair project was making the perfect beer?!" Janet giggled.
"Yeah. I got all the ingredients and set up secretly in the dormitory basement. I figured I could make a mint off the kids with a little moonshine business. I bottled the stuff in old pop bottles but the fermentation continued and the gas built up until the corks shot out and beer bubbled out like mini volcanoes. The whole dorm stank of sore beer for weeks!"
"You, Robbie Williams, have always been a bad apple!"
"I thought I was an olive."
"You're my olive. I'm not sharing."
Robbie stopped and looked down at Janet searching her eyes for the truth. The smaller woman blushed and stammered. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. We're just friends and I have no claim over you."
"Oh, yeah," responded Robbie heading off again. "Well, it's all right because I don't want to share your...friendship either."
Janet skipped a step to catch up. "You don't?"
After that they walked in silence, stopping to watch two young deer browsing on cedar branches near the water's edge, then heading back to the cabin in the cool twilight..
Their skin tingled after the cold of the late Fall day as they sat by the fire that Janet built and drank Glenfiddich single malt scotch whiskey from brandy snifters. Reb curled up on the couch between them and played with a stuffed, purple dragon until she went to sleep. Time passed in comfortable silence as they watched the flames die down.
Robbie sighed and shifted forward, placing the empty glass on the sled table and balancing her elbows on her knees. Janet waited, recognizing the position as one Robbie took when she was trying to explain something very important to her.
Robbie reached down and picked up the stuffed toy that had fallen to the braided rug. "Ahhhh, you remember, I was telling you that I'd done things, terrible things Janet, that I wouldn't, can't, burden anyone with."
"Yes, I remember," responded Janet quietly.
"I've always lived my life at a pretty casual level, ahhhh, avoiding commitments."
Janet felt the goose bumps rising on her skin despite the warm fire and alcohol. Oh Robbie, please don't leave me now, she pleaded, silently!
"There is something I need to tell you, Janet. It is important that you know how I feel. I can't offer you anything, I have no right but...." Robbie got up and walked to the window looking out into the dark night, afraid to look at Janet. "I love you."
"What?!" came a startled voice from the other side of the room.
Robbie looked down at her feet miserably. "I love you." Robbie repeated quietly. " I just needed you to know that it was more than friendship with me because..."
Suddenly, Janet was there in her arms. "I love you too!"
A wave of utter relief followed by a tidal wave of joy swept through Robbie's being. "Ohhh God! I can't begin to tell you how much I need you in my life!" groaned Robbie raining kisses on Janet's face that was wet with tears of joy.
"Hold me, Robbie!" sobbed Janet.
Robbie traced a finger tip lightly along Janet's collar bone and then around the curve of a heavy breast.
"Hmmm, I love the feel of you," she whispered leaning over to kiss lips swollen with love making. Arms wrapped around Robbie's neck and pulled her down.
"Tell me again," Janet murmured..
"I love you."
"Hmmm, I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing you say that. It's something special I feel for you, Robbie. It's more than just love, I...I...only feel whole when I'm with you. I love you so much!"
Robbie settled her hips between Janet's legs and kissed her lover's abdomen, feeling the sensitive nerve ends contract the muscles in excitement. "Of all the successes I have had in life, winning your love is the only one that leaves me in awe," whispered Robbie before she lowered her head to do things to her lover that was the eternal blend of instinct, art and soul.
The helicopter hovered over the skyline of Toronto and slowly lowered to land on the metal pad marked with a white H. Robbie held Janet's hand, unconsciously rubbing a nervous thumb over her lover's wrist. They waited for the blades to stop and then Robbie opened the glass door and lifted first Reb and then Janet to the ground. The view from the penthouse roof garden was breathtaking. To the north the entire city of Toronto spread out before them in a huge curve to the east and west. Famous land marks such as the CN Tower, Ontario Place and Skydome stood out amongst the clutter of big city dwellings. To the south, Lake Ontario sparkled in the sun, so vast that the United States on the opposite shore could not be seen.
Robbie led Janet and Reb to the french doors that gave access to her domain. She felt nervous realizing that her penthouse, however luxurious, was not the warm home that Janet's simple cabin had been. "Well, ahhh, this is our city home," Robbie said, allowing Janet and Reb to go first so that she could watch their reaction.
Janet walked to the centre of the morning room and turned slowly around. The place was simple magnificent! It looked like it had fallen off the pages of Architectural Digest! Reb was in less awe. She went over, climbed up on the calf leather couch and squealed happily as she ran her hands over the cool, soft surface.
Robbie met Janet's eyes. "It needs to look more lived in," she conceded.
"I'm going to be terrified that Reb damages anything. Reb, get your shoes off the couch!" Janet called hurrying over to the child.
Robbie intercepted her and, grabbing her around the waist, she fell back on the couch with Janet to one side of her and Reb to the other. "Let's not worry about it. Let's just live in it as...as a family," suggested Robbie shyly.
Janet looked into the wishful, blue eyes and nodded relaxing into the shoulder that wrapped around her. Reb crawled up onto Robbie's lap. "Oby, I go potty."
Janet laughed. "Kid," growled Robbie playfully, "we gotta work on your timing!"
The day was spent in establishing a new routine and unpacking and arranging items. Robbie's e-mails to Gwen had included her buying the necessary equipment for a two year old's nursery. Reb had been provided with the best of everything. "Robbie, I can't let you do this! You've spent a fortune on us!" argued Janet.
Robbie placed her strong hands on Janet's shoulders and leaned down to nibble on an inviting ear. "You and Reb are as close as I can ever have to a family. I want my apartment to be a comfortable second home for you just as you made me welcome at the cabin."
"No, it isn't!" protested Robbie.
Robbie's so called apartment was the top floor of the Harbour Front condominiums. A landscaped garden with its private helicopter pad lead into a long morning room finished in cream, Italian leather with tables of rough and polished marble. The walls had been rag rolled to look like parchment.
The dining room had a Edwardian table that could easily sit twenty and the walls were finished in Irish linen. The matching china cabinet contained a full set of Royal Crown Derby. The kitchen was by Smallbones and each of the four bedrooms, one now a nursery, were interrelated in a varying theme of colour and patterns in rich, vibrant colours, each with its own en suite bathroom.
The apartment also contained a pantry, media room, gym, and library. It had been the library that had left Janet totally speechless. Located at the centre of the complex, it rose two stories high and was finished in oak. In beauty and depth, it could revival any private library of Europe.
And then there were the paintings! Works by Ron Bolt, Mary and Christopher Pratt, Colville, Danby, Moresseau, Mishibinjima and older works by the Group of Seven. It was an amazing collection of Canadian art. Janet thought about her one numbered print over the fireplace by Daphane Ojig and shook her head in wonder. She had found the original of her print in Robbie's bedroom.
Now, late in the evening, they sat together in the roof top garden watching the sun set and spread its liquid gold across the deep blues of Lake Ontario. Janet got up and looked around. "Robbie, all this, I mean, this is not a world that I belong in."
Robbie's gut contracted.
"When I asked you to raise Reb, I didn't know well, about all this," Janet tried to explain waving her hand about.
Robbie felt her world crumbling. Say something, Robbie ordered herself but the words just wouldn't come! Finally. "Don't leave me."
Janet turned in surprise to see Robbie standing, pale with shock and shaking with emotion. "Robbie! Love! No! Shhhh, it's okay. I just didn't want you to think that Reb and I were a couple of gold diggers!"
Relief flowed through Robbie's system. "It's hard for me to trust. I...I...I'm not the sort of person people love. You and Reb mean the world to me!" Robbie got out with difficulty.
"Oh Robbie! You mean the world to us as well! We love you! Somehow, we'll find away to make all this work. And if...if anything happens to me, Reb will always be there for you."
"Nothing is going to happen to you!" growled Robbie roughly, "I won't let it!"
Janet looked up to see the array of emotion crossing her lover's face. In many ways, facing a battle with cancer was going to be harder for Robbie than for Janet. "Robbie, come and sit down, okay." Robbie let herself be led back to the garden seat and the two of them sat down again, Janet cuddling deep into Robbie's side. "I might die, Robbie. The odds are not good. You have to except that as a possible ending."
"Shhhh," Janet soothed. "We'll both fight very hard. I've got everything to live for now but fate plays by its own rules, Robbie. I need you to be able to carry on and make a happy life for Reb. I'm counting on you."
Robbie nodded, her eyes filled with tears and her throat working to keep the emotion down as she wrapped Janet close to her. They stayed like that until the night sky took over and the city of Toronto blazed with millions of lights.
Robbie looked out the grimy hospital window again, then paced around the small room once more. The hospital administration had allowed her to sit in one of the counseling rooms while Janet had her surgery, realizing that some one as famous as Robbie Williams could not sit in the public waiting room without a small riot occurring.
Janet had been so brave that morning keeping up a cheerful front for Reb. Gwen arrived to babysit while Robbie took Janet to the hospital. "Robbie," Janet had asked shyly as she filled in all the data forms and waivers, "Is it okay if I put your name as next of kin?'
Robbie had rubbed her fingers over Janet's cold hand. "I wouldn't want it any other way."
Once through admitting, Janet was only in her private room a short while before the orderlies came to take her down to surgery. That was almost three hours ago. Robbie bit her lip and tried to control the growing dread and panic that was eating at her gut.
"Ms. Williams?" Robbie jumped and turned to see the doctor standing at the door in his surgicals.
"Your sister-in-law has come through the surgery well. We are fairly confident that we have removed all of the tumor. We have had to do some extensive surgery, however. It involved a mastectomy of the right breast and the removal of a number of lymph nodes just to be on the safe side."
Robbie remained outwardly calm while inside her guts turned over with stress.
"She will need weeks of therapy and of course extensive radiation treatment but we feel that having removed the tumor intact we can offer some hope of a successful recovery."
Robbie crumpled to a chair and stared at the green wall. "Ms. Williams?"
Robbie looked up. "Is she awake? Does she know?"
Yes, she is out of recovery and I have just told her before I came down to you."
"Can I see her?"
"Yes. You'll find her a little dopey yet. Don't stay too long. She needs to sleep. If you come back this evening you'll find her more alert."
Robbie nodded dumbly and got to her feet. "Thank you, doctor." The doctor nodded and left with relief.
Janet looked so small and vulnerable as she slept inside the aluminum frame of the hospital bed. "Janet? Hey, love," whispered Robbie.
Sleepy eyes tried to focus on the tall figure leaning over the bed. "Hi," she slurred.
Robbie bent over the bar and kissed Janet's forehead tenderly. "Hey, the doctor said they got it all. That's good, huh?"
"They took my breast," mumbled Janet miserably.
Robbie reached down and took Janet's hand, "Anything, just as long as it helps you win this battle. Okay, Janet? I'm here for you, always."
Tears filled Janet's eyes and rolled down to the starched sheets unchecked. Robbie reached out and wiped them away with her finger. "You sleep, now. I'm going to pick up Reb and we'll be back later to visit, okay?" Janet nodded tiredly and closed her eyes. For a while, Robbie just sat there trying to get all the emotion in check. Then she squared her shoulders and got on with it.
The sound of Reb bawling her eyes out reached Robbie as the private elevator opened in her foyer.
Gwen came out holding the two year old who was stiff with a major tantrum. "There is no doubt that this child is a Williams," sighed the secretary handing the angry child over to Robbie.
Robbie held the child at arm's length and looked at her. Gradually, the cries subsided and Reb hung there looking with big watery blue eyes back at Robbie. Robbie smiled and lifted the two year old over her head. "Oby's bird!" laughed Reb.
Gwen watched, leaning on the door frame. She had only seen Robbie like this on rare moments, young, loving and open. "Well, that is an unusual technique you've got there, Robbie, but it seems to work on the little hellion."
Robbie smiled and tucked Reb into her arm. "She's cute isn't she? Smart too!"
Gwen's eyes opened in surprise. "She's a Williams alright. How is Janet?"
Robbie's face clouded. "They think they got all the tumor but it involved Janet having a mastectomy. I think she's worried that will make a difference in our relationship."
Gwen's mouth opened but nothing came out for a second. "Relationship?! Robbie you're sleeping with Tracy Travelli!"
Robbie frowned, a blush climbing up her neck as she stalled for time, lowering Reb to the ground. Reb stuck her thumb in her mouth and wrapped the other arm around Robbie's pant leg holding on tight.
"I'm in love," Robbie stated quietly. "I'm seriously involved with Janet. I...It just sort of happened."
Gwen stepped forward and gave Robbie a quick hug, much to the director's surprise. "I'm happy for you, Robbie. You've need someone in your life. You do realize, though, that Tracy will kill you and deep six the movie when she finds out!"
Robbie grimaced. "I really haven't had time to think about it. I'll have Tracy in for a talk on Tuesday."
Gwen rolled her eyes. "Actors!" she snorted good naturedly and headed for the door. On the way down the elevator, however, her face clouded over. Janet was Billy's widow. They had only just had a child two years ago. Was Janet a gold digger replacing one golden egg with another? When it came to business, Robbie Williams was as tough as nails. Gwen had learned, however, that there was a touchingly vulnerable woman inside, who was, emotionally, a babe in the woods. She'd hate to see Robbie as messed up as her brother had been and her sister was.
Robbie turned down a long hall at Toronto University lined with scruffy old oak doors. Entering one, she passed through an outer office and on to the next where a woman leaned on her desk in deep concentration. Grey-blue eyes behind large glasses blinked in surprise.
"What is that?"
"It's an immature female of the homo sapiens sapiens species," responded Robbie flopping into a chair. "Her name's Reb and she'll be three next August."
"Billy's child," concluded Robbie's sister. Then a look of horror crossed her face. "Oh Robbie! You didn't steal it, did you!?"
"No! It was given to me!" laughed Robbie.
Elizabeth removed her glasses and chewed on one of the stems thoughtfully. "I don't understand."
Robbie sighed and leaned forward, placing her elbows on her knees. Looking up, she saw Reb reaching up to a stack of shiny test tubes sitting in a metal rack on a side counter. "No, Reb. Don't touch," she said firmly, "You never know, one might be a relative." The child turned and looked at Robbie to see if there was any chance of a change of attitude. Robbie raised an eyebrow. Reb fell on her bum and became absorbed with her shoe lace.
Robbie smiled and then frowned. "I'm in love," she told the floor. Silence. Robbie looked up to see Elizabeth staring at her in disbelief.
"This is not good, Robbie," she finally managed to articulate.
"Why?!" snapped the actor rising to her feet in agitation.
"I am presuming here that this is a gay relationship and that could have a profound effect on your career if you choose to go public. I am also assuming it is with our late brother's wife and that in turn will raise some eyebrows. Lastly," Elizabeth swallowed and continued softly, "There are other issues in...the past...does she know about..?"
"Of course not!"
"I don't know very much about love but I understand that truth is one of the components of a good relationship."
"I told her that I've done things in the past that she would find difficult to forgive me for. She loves me anyway."
"An abstract concept is not as offensive as a cold fact, Robbie. What about Billy?"
"Billy made a deal with her to have a child by artificial fertilization. He must have found out...I think he wanted money. I've got my lawyers auditing the estate. You know Billy and money...."
Elizabeth mulled this over with some difficulty while Robbie showed Reb a stuffed baby crocodile that Elizabeth had on one of her shelves. "I do not think this relationship is wise, Robbie. But you are my sister and I owe you so much. You will of course have my support."
Robbie's shoulder's slumped in relief and she turned and smiled at her sister. "Thank you, Lizzy. That means a lot. You're the only real family I've got." To her surprise tears over flowed her eyes and she dropped into the chair and grabbed a tissue from the box on Elizabeth's desk.
Elizabeth leaped up and came around to kneel at her sister's side. She had only once seen her sister cry and this outburst shocked her. "Robbie, what's the matter?!"
Robbie wiped her eyes and got herself under control. "I'm sorry. I just left Janet at the hospital. She just underwent surgery for breast cancer. It's serious Lizzy, and I don't know how I'll cope if anything happens to her!"
"Oby?" came a little voice from the other side of Robbie's chair. Robbie smiled bravely and picked the little girl up swinging her over her head. "Oby's bird!" the little child giggled gleefully.
"That's right, Reb, Oby's bird! Hey, I'm forgetting my manners. Reb, this is your Aunt Lizzy."
"Hi, Antizzy," responded the two year old politely.
"Hi, Reb. Would you like a chocolate?"
"Peas!" smiled the child.
"Still addicted to chocolate, huh?" laughed Robbie trying to get things back on an even keel after her unusual loss of control.
Elizabeth tried to raise an eyebrow, with marginal success. "I need the magnesium!" she justified, holding the box of chocolates out to the child.
Robbie snorted, "You need the sugar fix!" Both sisters laughed and Reb used the opportunity to snitch a second chocolate.
Robbie and Reb left a short time later. Elizabeth had promised to have dinner at the apartment to get to know Janet as soon as Janet was up to visitors. Robbie felt good about that. She wanted to build some sort of life with Janet, even if it did have to have limitations because of her past.
Janet opened her eyes to the happy squeal of 'Mommy!" There Reb stood, covered with chocolate and holding a Teddy bear about the same size as herself. Behind her stood Robbie burdened down with flowers and packages of all sorts. "Hi, love!" Robbie smiled.
"Hi Reb, hi Oby," Janet giggled. Robbie raised an eyebrow at the pet name and sauntered over to dump the contents of her arms at the foot of the bed and then, leaning over, kissed Janet softly. Reaching down, Robbie then swung Reb up to Janet's good side to get a hug and kiss from mom too.
Tears suddenly ran down Janet's face as she hugged her daughter close. "I promised myself I wasn't going to act this way," sniffed Janet, trying to wipe her tears away on her shoulder.
"It's okay," reassured Robbie, reaching over to touch the tear soaked material.
"No, it's not! Nothing is! Look at me!" Janet sobbed in anger, pulling away from Robbie.
Robbie sat on the side of the bed and scooped a confused Reb up into her arms. "Janet, there is nothing you can't handle. I believe in you."
Janet made eye contact with Robbie and a world of messages went back and forth. Robbie reached out and laced her fingers with Janet's. " The three of us, together, happy and very much in love," Robbie whispered, and the smile that appeared on Janet's face reached her eyes and sparkled there.
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