For disclaimers see part 1.

Booyong Mountain

part 7


Lois Kay

The soft breeze played with her hair, blowing it away from her face, cooling her skin with a soft touch, but Fiona was not aware of it. She was sitting on the railing of her small veranda, dangling her feet and staring into the distance, completely lost in thought.

When they had come back from the hospital, Robin had asked Sam to drop her off at the apartment, so she could clean herself up, take a painkiller and rest for a while. Sam had objected, saying that somebody needed to keep an eye on her, to make sure she would be alright.

Only when Fiona had, reluctantly, offered to stay as well, so she could keep an eye on the manager, had Sam agreed, secretly pleased with the solution. The house would be too noisy for Robin with a pair of energetic two year olds.

So, Sam had dropped off the two women and had headed up the hill, glad to be home and rest her aching leg.

Fiona sighed and listened to the sound of the shower being turned off. Ever since they had entered the apartment, Robin had hardly said a word. And though Fiona knew the biologist was tired and hurting, it still stung to be ignored. She had wanted to talk to Robin...ask her about the gun she had been carrying and apologize for her earlier behavior. But Robin had not given her the chance. She most likely would take her pain medication and go to sleep and it would be up to Fiona to wake her up every two hours.

"Great, another reason for her to bite my head off," she sighed, while her eyes followed an airplane, a small silver-colored spec against the clear blue background of the sky. "But why should it bother me anyway? It’s not like I care."

You know, Fiona McDonnell, I think you are a softie.

"Yeah, right," Fiona softly snorted, wondering why those words kept playing around in her head. Why had they made such an impression on her?

Because they were true?

"That would certainly defy the opinion a lot of people have about me," she mumbled, repositioning her tall frame on the narrow railing.

"Fiona?" a soft voice unexpectedly sounded behind her, startling the photographer and almost making her lose her balance. Only her quick reflexes prevented her from tumbling from her seat, sending her off the railing.

"Oh, Robin," she chuckled after she had regained her balance. "I thought you’d be in bed by now."

Robin, dressed in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, slowly shook her head and leaned against the doorsill, looking at the dark-haired woman with tired eyes.

"I just wanted something to drink first, maybe some juice. Is that alright?"

"You don’t have to ask me, Robin. Just make yourself at home," Fiona immediately answered, jumping down and stretching her back. "I’ll get you some. What do you want? Orange, cranberry or grape?"

"You don’t have to..." Robin started to object, but Fiona shook her head and stepped inside the house, passing Robin, carefully avoiding bumping into the other woman.

"I’ll get it. Sit down," she responded, pointing to a comfortable looking seat in the corner of the veranda.

The warm water of the shower had felt wonderful on her bruised and beaten body, but now Robin felt stiff. The chair looked inviting and Robin’s body ached for a soft spot where she could rest and relax her beat-up muscles. With a soft moan, she let herself down in the thick pillows, wondering how on earth she would be able to get out of the comfortable seat again.

With surprise, she looked around the cozy, partly screened in veranda. A sliding window could close it completely, which was great on chilly winter evenings. The veranda was at the back of the apartment and from the road, or the house up on the hill, it was invisible. The only view was that of the hill that gradually sloped down, to end in a wall of green, where the forest began. It was quiet and peaceful and, judging by the comfortable chair and the telescope in the corner, Robin suspected that Fiona spent a lot of time in the cheerful corner of the veranda.

"I hope you like cranberry," Fiona’s voice interrupted her musings and Robin nodded, sending Fiona a small smile when she accepted the tall glass that was offered to her. The photographer took her seat on the railing again, one leg pulled up, while the other was dangling freely.

"Thank you," Robin softly spoke, after taking a sip of the cold juice. "I owe you an apology, Fiona," she continued. "Again," she added with a wry smile, casting a quick glance at the photographer’s face, which sported a serious expression.

"No, you don’t owe me anything," Fiona spoke after a brief silence. "I owe you one. Back on that hill...I acted like a spoiled brat. I’m sorry. I should have more faith in Trishia and Sam. Usually, they know what they’re doing," she added with a touch of humor.

Robin nibbled on her bottom lip and stared into her glass. She realized Fiona suspected she had been hiding things from her. And she had. But for a reason. Rationally, there was nothing to be ashamed off. But then, why did she feel so guilty about it?

"I’m sorry, though," Robin continued after a long silence. " must have been very...awkward for you to...see...", she hesitated.

"To see you hand Trish a gun?" Fiona calmly added, seeing how Robin was struggling to explain. "It was, awkward, I mean. To say the least." Fiona let out a sigh and cast a look at Robin, who had her hands clenched around the glass, staring at its contents with a deep frown in her forehead.

"You don’t have to explain, Robin. I’m sure Trishia will tell me all she wants to share. I don’t know what the deep secret is, but I have the distinct feeling Trish is the one in charge here, so, don’t worry about it."

"But I am worried," Robin sighed, carefully rubbing her eyes. She was tired and hurting and the only thing she really wanted was to relax and sleep. "I don’t want you to think I..."

What, Robin? Think what? When did Fiona’s opinion become so important to you?

"It’s alright, Robin, don’t worry about it," Fiona repeated. "I just want to know one thing."

"Sure. What?" Robin asked with a tired voice.

"How much does Joshua know about all this?"

Startled, Robin looked up, meeting a pair of inquisitive dark-green eyes.


" He..."

"I see," Fiona interrupted the biologist. "Maybe it’s time to tell him something. He’s not exactly a kid anymore."

Fiona slid off the railing and sent Robin a small, weary smile, before heading towards the door.

"I’ve some work to do. I’ll wake you up in about two hours from now, alright?"

Robin, who felt rejected and chided at the same time, could only nod. If Fiona had looked at her, she would have seen the tears welling up in Robin’s eyes. But the photographer had already stepped inside the house, not able to handle the look of defeat on the other woman’s face.

Robin closed her eyes and leaned back into the chair. She was so tired and her whole body ached. Her pain medication was on the kitchen table. She’d only have to get up and walk a few meters to get it. But somehow that distance seemed to be too long and with a small sigh she gave into the craving of her body to rest. Within a minute, the biologist was fast asleep.

"Kevin, my patience is wearing out here. I’m going to ask you again, for the last time, what were you doing here and how do you know Fiona? If you don’t answer me, I’ll have to take you to the police station and leave you there, until you’ re willing to talk," Trishia said, sending the teenager in front of her a warning look.

They had climbed back up the hill, back to the office where a few police cars were haphazardly parked in front of the small building. Trishia was leaning against one of the cars and stared at the young man they had found down the hill. Kevin Swanson did not seem to be impressed at all and his blue eyes looked at the tall police officer defiantly.

"I can’t tell you, I really can’t," Kevin answered, a little nervous by the prospect of spending the night at the police station.

"If you can’t tell me, is there anyone else you can talk to?" Trishia asked with more patience than she felt.

Kevin Swanson glanced at the two police officers who were standing close to him, ready to grab him if he decided to make a run for it. Trishia noticed the hesitancy on his face and she slowly nodded.

"Mark, Jason, could you give us a moment, please?" she asked.

"Sure," Mark answered, shooting Kevin a warning glance, before he turned around and walked to his fellow officers who were quietly talking near the entrance of the office building.

"Don’t try anything foolish, son," Jason warned, before following Mark. "I’ll keep my eyes on you."

As soon as they were alone, Trishia stepped a little closer to the teenager. Her eyes took in his slender, almost skinny frame and dirty, torn clothes.

"Where do you live, Kevin?" she asked, not unfriendly, which surprised him, because his blue eyes widened and he looked at her with a mixture of fear and astonishment.

", really," he stammered.

"Are you from around here?"

"No," he answered, shaking his head. "I’m from..." he glanced up and Trishia saw the doubt in his eyes.

"I’m not supposed to talk to you," he explained.

"Then who are you supposed to talk to? Listen, Kevin, this area is under police investigation and right now, you’re a suspect. I can’t help you, if you don’t talk to me."

"I’m supposed to talk to someone else. He didn’t mention you."

"Alright. I’ll leave you with my fellow officers. I suppose we can continue this conversation later then. Probably on Monday."

"No! Please!" Kevin almost cried out.

"Then talk to me!" Trishia repeated, a bit more forceful this time. "I can’t read minds, Kevin!"

"I was supposed to find Samantha Stevens."

Trishia’s body went completely still and for a moment she could hear her own heartbeat. Her brain was assaulted by a multitude of possible scenarios and questions, but only one stood out among the rest.


"I can’t..."

"Tell me," Trishia interrupted with an impatient gesture. "Tell me, Kevin," she repeated in a low voice.

"You were there with her," Kevin softly spoke. "Down the hill, I mean. The tall, blond woman, that was Samantha Stevens, right?"

"Maybe," Trishia answered slowly.

Kevin Swanson shot her a questioning look, but quickly cast down his eyes when they were met with Trishia’s sharp glance.

"Tell me, Kevin," she urged again.

"I...I have a message for Samantha Stevens."

"What does Fiona have to do with that?" Trishia asked sharply, worried for her family. If Kevin or his message had anything to do with the safety of her family and friends, Trishia had to know about it.

"I recognized her. I mean, it’s not her in your picture, but she looks like it."

"" Trishia almost hissed through clenched jaws.

"I saw a drawing," Kevin explained, unconsciously taking a step back when Trishia leaned forward.

"Where? Who drew it? You’d better start answering me now, Kevin!"

"It’s...I...," Kevin stammered, feeling very uneasy with Trishia hovering over him. The police woman was very impressive and he decided he did not want to anger her further.

"Is she in danger?" he asked.

"She could be," Trishia answered, thinking about the shot that had been fired the previous night.

"Alright, alright, I’ll tell you," Kevin sighed, with slumped shoulders. He felt like he had failed. He had promised to deliver the message to Samantha Stevens, but if this police woman could deliver it for him, he would be content.

"I know Fred," he started, glancing up and seeing the expression on Trishia’s face change from confusion to recognition.

"How?" Trishia asked sharply.

"We...I was...we were in prison together," he answered reluctantly. "In Nerang, the Numinbah prison farm. I got out about four months ago. Fred’s still in there.’s a good artist, draws a lot of pictures and sometimes he draws portraits too, if people ask him. had a picture of Fiona in his cell. He said he drew it from memory."

Trishia clenched her hands into fists, forcing herself to stay calm and let Kevin finish his story. But the thought of Fiona’s picture hanging in some prisoner’s cell infuriated her.

"What’s the message for Sam?"

"He...Fred...thinks that someone is after her. He didn’t know all the details, but he had a visit from someone, not that long ago, who wanted to know everything he knew about Samantha Stevens."

"Did he tell him?"

"A little bit," Kevin answered in a soft voice. "He had to, you know," he defended his friend. "He...this guy, threatened to hurt Fred’s sister if he didn’t cooperate. Fred only wanted to protect Nancy."

Oh, my goodness, what a mess! This is getting worse and worse...

"Where is this Nancy now?"

"Safe," Kevin answered with a hint of a smile. "I tracked her down and brought her to some friends. They’ll keep an eye on her."

Good, one less worry.

"Who was this person? The one who visited Fred and threatened his sister. Do you know?"

Kevin shook his head and scratched behind his ear, sending Trishia an apologetic look.

"No, I’m sorry. Fred said he never mentioned his name. But he was a fancy looking bloke, Fred said. And cold. He scared Fred sh...he scared the heck out of him," Kevin added in a mumble.

"Do you have a gun, Kevin?" Trishia asked, seeing Kevin jerk and send her an annoyed look.

"Listen, lady. I did do time in prison and I’m not proud of it. But I don’t do guns, alright? I never have and I never will."

"Alright, Kevin, I believe you," Trishia answered, knowing the person who had fired a shot at Fiona and Robin could not have been this slender teenager. "What did land you in jail?"

"I stole a car," Kevin muttered. "It was stupid, I know. I guess I was temporarily brain dead when I did that."

"What message did Fred give you for Sam? The exact words, please."

For the third time in the last five minutes, Fiona cast a look at the clock on her desk. With a resigned shrug of her shoulders, she slowly stood up, wishing she were somewhere else. Somewhere remote, like in the middle of the Simpson desert, photographing lizards. Dust storms and sand drifts suddenly seemed a lot more attractive than facing a grumpy Robin Adams.

"Get your butt in gear, McDonnell, you’ve been putting off the inevitable for fifteen minutes now. You really need to check up on her."

Fiona raked her fingers through her shoulder-length hair and cast a look in the mirror, immediately pulling a face.

"I knew there was a reason I didn’t want to become a nurse, or doctor. I hate grumpy patients," she mumbled to her reflection. "Alright, time to show a little bit of that McDonnell courage. Just face the lioness and get on with it."

With a deep sigh and a feeling like she was being dragged to her own execution, Fiona left the safety of her office and crossed the few meters that separated her from the door to Robin’s bedroom. She knocked politely and waited a few seconds, anticipating a grumpy response. When nothing happened, she knocked again, a little louder this time, almost pressing her ear against the door to make sure she didn’t miss any sound. But there was still no answer and, with a determined look on her face, she opened the door to the small room and stepped inside.

With surprise, she noticed the bed was not occupied. An unexpected feeling of disappointment made itself known, when Fiona realized Robin probably had enough of her childish behavior and had packed up and left.

"I guess I would have done the same thing," Fiona mumbled, closing the door behind her.

When she entered the kitchen, however, and looked outside the window, she was startled to see Robin still sitting in the big chair, fast asleep.

Fiona smiled and slowly shook her head in disbelief when she stepped outside and looked down at the curly-haired woman, who was oblivious to her surroundings.

"Sleeping like a baby," she mumbled. "And she doesn’t even know this chair reclines. Poor thing."

Fiona put a hand on Robin’s shoulder and gently squeezed, intrigued by the relaxed expression on the biologist’s face. In spite of the cut across her eyebrow and the lump on her forehead, Robin looked years younger and Fiona suddenly realized laughing had the same effect on the other woman. Strange she had not noticed that before.

"Robin," she spoke softly. "Robin, you have to wake up for a moment."

The only response was an unintelligent mumbling and Fiona chuckled. But the smile froze on her face, when, all of a sudden her hand was grasped and pressed against Robin’s cheek, while the biologist let out a sigh of contentment.

"Oh, boy," Fiona muttered, feeling a blush rise to her cheeks. Things were not going as planned and if Robin would wake up in that situation, she would probably be a lot more than grumpy.

Slowly, but determinedly Fiona started to draw back her hand, only to find it firmly clasped in Robin’s grip.

"No, not yet, Abby," Robin mumbled in her sleep and Fiona’s eyebrows rose into her hairline.

"Abby?" she mouthed with surprise, not knowing whether to laugh or to be annoyed.

Suddenly, Doctor James’ warning about concussions and confusion came back to mind and this time she shook Robin a little more forcefully.

"Come on, Robin, wake up!" Fiona urged. "You need to wake up, alright?"

With relief, Fiona noticed the fluttering of dark eyelashes and a few seconds later a pair of sleepy eyes glanced up at her.

"Hi," Fiona smiled, still uncomfortably aware of the position of her hand. "I’m sorry to wake you up, but’s orders. Remember?"

"Yes, I remember," Robin answered in a hoarse voice. "I..."

Her face became red when she realized she was pressing Fiona’s hand against her cheek. As if burnt, she let go, mumbling an apology.

"Don’t worry about it," Fiona shrugged, wondering who Abby was and why she was so annoyed with her. "Happens to me all the time," she joked, kneeling down next to the chair and casting an inquisitive look at the biologist’s face.

"How are you doing?"

"Okay, I guess," Robin answered, not daring to look up. She felt very vulnerable and knew she could not handle the mocking in Fiona’s eyes.

"Look at me," Fiona softly urged, wanting to check Robin’s pupils, as Sam had told her to do. "Please?"

Robin could not ignore the gentle plea and when she did look up, she was touched by the gaze of a pair of compassionate dark-green eyes. There was no mockery and she slowly relaxed.

"Your pupils seem to be alright," Fiona said, covering Robin’s right eye for a moment and intently studying the pupil when she removed her hand. She did the same thing to the left eye and smiled when the light made the pupil constrict immediately.

"Do you know where you are?"

"Yes, your place," Robin answered, finding Fiona’s serious examination endearing.

"And who am I?"

"Oh, let me think," Robin sighed, leaning back into the pillow and closing her eyes. "Somehow I think...aren’t you this whiz-kid? The twenty-one year old with a degree in software engineering and a talent for wildlife photography?"

"I want to hear a name," Fiona smiled, pleasantly surprised by Robin’s relaxed attitude. The woman was not grumpy at all.

Must have had a great dream, Fiona mentally sighed.

"A name, huh?" Robin slowly repeated, eyes still closed. "Let me think."

If I’d try, I bet I could come up with a few interesting names...Better not go there, Adams!

"Something Scottish, if I’m not mistaken," Robin smiled, opening her eyes and casting a glance at Fiona, who was looking at her with patient amusement. "McDonnell, I think. Fiona McDonnell."

"Good, I guess your brain is still intact," Fiona chuckled.

"It needs more than a collision with a tree to get shaken up," Robin mumbled. "I’m too hardheaded."

"Somehow I believe that," Fiona quipped with a grin. "Alright, since you’re in possession of all your faculties, I think I can let you go back to sleep again. Do you want to stay here?"

"It’s a comfy chair," Robin sighed. "But I think my body would be very pleased if it could get some horizontal rest. I didn’t mean to fall asleep in this chair."

"It reclines,"Fiona answered, reaching out and pulling a lever, to prove her point.

"Ooh, it does," Robin smiled in delight. "Do you mind if I stay here for a little while longer?"

"Of course not," Fiona answered, getting back to her feet. "Go back to sleep. Next time I’ll wake you, I’ll have some tea and something to eat, alright?"

"Sounds good to me," Robin mumbled with her eyes closed. "Thank you, Fiona."

"No worries," the photographer replied softly. "Have a good rest."

A long time after Robin had fallen asleep again, Fiona just stood there, leaning her back against the railing, studying the peacefully sleeping woman intently, as if the worry-free face, relaxed in sleep, provided an answer to questions she had never pondered over before.

Jody’s eyes were soft and full of tenderness when she looked down at her dozing partner. After Sam had come home, she had talked to Joshua, telling him about Robin’s fall and persuading the teenager to stay at the house and let his sister sleep for a few hours.

Leaving the twins in the loving care of Alice, Yarra and Lucy, Jody had accompanied Sam to their Jacuzzi and massaged her aching right leg until the tall blonde had fallen asleep in the warm, softly bubbling water.

"Sam, honey, wake up," Jody spoke after she had let her lover sleep for a while. "You’re turning into a prune."

A pair of sleepy blue eyes glanced up at her and, as so many countless times before, Jody simply melted in the gaze, feeling herself pulled towards her partner by an invisible, but immensely strong force.

"Kiss me," Sam whispered and Jody swallowed hard.

"Always," she answered, before her lips met Sam’s.

Losing themselves in the soft touches and warm, deep kisses, both women took their time, until, after some breathless moments, Jody’s brain registered the goose bumps that had erupted all over Sam’s skin.

Gently rubbing a cool shoulder she kissed Sam’s cheek and glanced down at her partner with a questioning look.

"Honey, you feel cold."

"I do?" Sam sighed. "Weird. I feel quite warm actually."

"Your skin is cold," Jody smiled.

"Yes, but your kisses are hot," Sam winked. "My theory is that we can heat me up by just continuing what we were doing. Don’t you think so?"

"Probably," Jody chuckled, amused by the mischievous glance in Sam’s eyes. "But I can think of a better, more comfortable and drier place to...continue this conversation."

"Drier?" Sam asked innocently, one eyebrow raised.

"You’re bad," Jody scolded, playfully splashing her lover with water.

"No, I’m not, really," Sam sighed. "If I’d be bad, I would pull you in this tub and have my way with you."

"Maybe later," Jody promised with a smile. "Right now you’re pruning, our guests are patiently waiting for us to emerge again, and Lucy is worried out of her mind, because Trish isn’t back yet."

"Woman, you just killed the mood," Sam pouted, but her eyes were twinkling and, without warning, she suddenly raised her tall frame, letting the water cascade down her body.

Suppressing a smug smile, Sam noticed how Jody’s eyes traveled up and down her body, while she unconsciously moistened her lips.

"See anything you like?" Sam purred.

"Oh, yes," Jody breathed, blindly reaching for a huge, fluffy towel behind her. "Later, Jody, later," she mumbled, making Sam laugh.

"Poor baby," Sam teased, dropping a kiss on the top of Jody’s head. "That wasn’t a fair move on my part."

"No, it wasn’t," Jody nodded. "But I’ll have my revenge later."

"Ooh, I can’t wait," Sam chuckled.

"Right now, you need to dry off, while I try to cool off," Jody muttered, getting up and walking towards the sink, so she could splash her face with cold water.

"I’m sorry, Jody," Sam spoke, but she laughed when she met her partner’s indignant green eyes in the mirror.

"No, you’ re not," Jody answered, and she smiled. "And I’m not, either. The only thing I’m sorry for is not being able to give into my, what does Fiona call it? Primal urges?"

Sam chuckled, clearly remembering the look of dismay on her sister-in-law’s face when she had spoken those words.

"Anyway, there’s always the anticipation about things to come. Right?" Jody continued, drying her freckled face with Sam’s towel.

"Right," Sam nodded with a smile.

Jody reached up to pull Sam’s face down and gave her an unexpected, slow, deep kiss.

"Anticipate!" she whispered, before releasing her partner and walking towards the door. Before she left the bathroom though, she turned around and gave Sam a saucy wink, laughing heartily when her partner whimpered softly.

"I’ll make you some fresh coffee," she promised. "Strong coffee," she added with a laugh, before disappearing and softly closing the door behind her.

"Very strong coffee," Sam whispered, with a dazed look in her clear blue eyes.

Fiona stared at the words on the screen in front of her, without seeing much. The black and white had faded into a blur, while her mind went over all that happened in the past day.

Had it only been just one day? It seemed so much longer and yet, it had only been twenty-four hours since she had started her drive up the mountain.

"Yesterday, my life was organized," she mused. "Right now it seems total chaos and I feel like I’m rapidly...helplessly... drifting away from shore. Why is that?"

A pair of pensive, dark-green eyes unconsciously traveled to the door of the small studio. Fiona had left it open, so she could hear Robin, in case the other woman should need her for something...anything.

With a sigh, Fiona leaned back in her chair, disgusted by her lack of concentration. Usually, when she was working, or studying, she was able to block out the rest of the world and completely focus on her tasks.

"I must be going nuts," she mumbled. "Maybe that situation with Martin Coles has made more of an impact on me than I realized. Maybe I’m just shaken up a little by what happened last night."

Sure. And don’t forget the intriguing puzzle called Robin Adams.

"Shut up," Fiona muttered, annoyed with the little voice in the back of her mind. "You picked a great time to visit."

"Excuse me?" a hesitant voice sounded from the doorway, startling Fiona, who immediately jumped up from her chair to face Robin, who was looking at her with obvious confusion.

"Oh, was talking to myself," Fiona stammered.

"Telling yourself to shut up?" Robin asked, with a hint of humor in her voice.

"Somebody has to do that," Fiona responded with a sheepish grin. "Usually, I’m very obedient to myself."

With a small frown, the photographer studied the woman in front of her, not liking what she saw. There were dark circles underneath the biologist’s eyes and one look at the way the woman was clutching her arm in front of her body told Fiona she had to be in pain.

"Did you ever take those pain pills the doctor gave you?" she asked in a stern voice, which caused Robin to look at her in surprise. Fiona in nursing mode. That could be interesting.

"No, not yet," Robin admitted, shrugging her shoulders and immediately wincing in pain.

"Don’t you think you should?"

Robin managed to swallow a;’Yes, mom’, and just nodded, trying not to look guilty.

"I fell asleep before I could take them," she defended herself. "But I guess you’re right, I’d better take one. It might make me feel a little better."

"I’m sure it will. I’ll make us something to eat."

"Oh, you don’t have to, Fiona. Really. You’ re working and I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I’ll be fine," Robin objected hastily.

"It’s no trouble at all," Fiona responded, already walking towards the kitchen. "Besides, I’m a little hungry myself," she lied. Her stomach had been tied in knots all morning and thinking about food almost made her nauseous.

"I make a killer ham-cheese sandwich," she called over her shoulder. "Would you like one?"

"Um...yes, sure. Thank you," Robin answered, following the photographer into the small kitchen.

Leaning against the kitchen table, Robin watched as Fiona prepared sandwiches, which she placed on two plates, making sure to neatly cut Robin’s in four equal parts. Robin looked on in amazement, wondering why Fiona kept surprising her with her thoughtfulness. Maybe it was the discrepancy between the way the photographer tried to present herself and the way she really was. True, Fiona could be very aloof and cynical, but the more time Robin spent with the younger woman, the clearer it became that, deep down inside, Fiona McDonnell was a warm, kind and compassionate person.

But why would she want to hide that? It’s not like it’s a bad thing. Mmm...interesting.

"Do you want to sit here, or would you rather go outside?" Fiona asked quietly.

"Right here is fine," Robin answered softly. "It’s getting a little warm outside."

"I know," Fiona nodded, placing the plates on the kitchen table and gesturing for Robin to take a seat. "I don’t have the nice breeze my neighbors on top of the hill are able to enjoy."

"They have a gorgeous house and the view is simply breathtaking," Robin answered, genuinely impressed with Sam and Jody’s house.

"Wait till you see it on a clear night. No wonder those two love stargazing, they have front row seats," Fiona chuckled, not aware of the warm affection in her voice.

"Seems to me you share that passion," Robin remarked, pointing at a photo on the wall. It was a beautiful picture of the Southern Cross, against the pitch-black darkness of the night sky. "Your work?"

"Yeah, one of the many," Fiona shrugged. "It’s not all that great, really," she said, glancing at the photo with a critical eye. "I took it a few years ago. Right now, I’ve a much better camera and a sturdier tripod."

"It’s still beautiful," Robin remarked, taking a bite from her sandwich. "I’d love to see more of your work."

Fiona smiled and took a sip of her tea. Robin’s voice had sounded genuine, which secretly pleased her.

"I might show you. If you’re good," she gently teased.

"I’m sure I can be. At least for a few hours," Robin quipped, warmed by Fiona’s smile.

"So, what do you like best? Nature or people?"

"Aren’t people part of nature?" Fiona asked with innocent eyes.

"Duh! You know what I mean," Robin chuckled. "Do you prefer to take pictures of people, or do you prefer...nature."

"Nature," was Fiona’s immediate answer and Robin suppressed a smile.


Oh, boy. I should have seen that one coming! Don’t let that sweet smile fool you, McDonnell, remember, she’s a psychologist wannabee.

"People are complicated creatures and they are not always what they...portray. While nature is honest and straightforward. It’s either beautiful or ugly, harsh or tender. It can be merciless or soothing for the soul. Whatever it is, it doesn’t lie. It’s just the way it is. No lies or false pretenses. No hidden agenda. What you see is what you get," Fiona answered in a calm voice, while her eyes stared at the star-filled picture on the wall. "It’s pure and simple."

Photographer. Software-engineer and philosopher. Fiona McDonnell, you keep surprising me with your depth.

"Have you always felt that way?" Robin asked curiously, aware of the brief flash of trepidation in Fiona’s eyes, before they were cast down.

"It’s my life experience," Fiona answered reluctantly. She really did not want to give Robin Adams too much insight into her psyche, but something, deep down inside made her want to answer the questions anyway. It was frightening and confusing and Fiona decided she didn’t like those feelings at all.

Robin studied the changing expressions on the photographer’s face, curious to find out what the other woman was thinking. Fiona McDonnell could be extremely annoying at times, but she was also very intriguing and Robin was looking forward to learning more about the younger woman.

"You seem kind of young, to have experienced such...deep disappointments in other people," she spoke softly, taking a bite from her sandwich that tasted surprisingly good.

"I had to grow up fast," Fiona answered quickly, already regretting the words as soon as they had left her lips.

Robin’s hazel eyes took in the faraway look on Fiona’s face. The dark-green eyes stared at the plate in front of her and it was obvious the photographer was deep in thought. It gave Robin the chance to lean back and watch with interest how the muscles in Fiona’s jaws clenched and relaxed, as if she was grinding her teeth. The long dark lashes were hiding the eyes from view, while they almost touched the freckled skin of her cheeks.

I bet she has no idea how beautiful she is, Robin mused. But then, I don’t think Fiona McDonnell is as self-assured as she wants the world to believe.

"I’m sorry if I stirred up some bad memories," Robin apologized after a long silence. "I didn’t mean to do that."

Fiona slowly nodded and took a sip of her tea, before looking up and meeting Robin’s eyes again.

"That’s alright. It’s not my habit to dwell on the bad ones.. What’s done is done, nothing can or will ever change that."

"Well, that’s true," Robin replied. "But that doesn’t mean that, every now and then, we don’t wish we could go back and change things."

"Do you?" Fiona immediately asked, glad to focus the attention on Robin and not herself. "Want to go back and change things, I mean?"

When Robin slowly nodded, Fiona leaned back in her chair and shot the older woman a curious look.

"If you could change one thing, what would it be?" she asked.

Robin took her mug of steaming tea and carefully sipped the hot beverage, while her eyes stared at Fiona over the rim of her cup. Again, the photographer had managed to turn the tables on her, and inwardly she smiled. Maybe by sharing some of her past, she would be able to win Fiona’s trust.

"I’d beg my parents to stay home, that one, rainy morning, four years ago," Robin answered softly, not able to meet Fiona’s eyes. It still hurt, even after all those years.

"What happened?" Fiona asked quietly, already suspecting the answer.

"Their car skidded out of control. Hydroplaning, probably," Robin cleared her throat and took another sip of the tea, which was soothing to her suddenly constricting throat. "They...the car went off the road and plunged down a cliff. According to the police, they must have died instantly. Joshua was thrown out of the car and, miraculously, survived. He was in a coma for almost a week and to this day, he can’t remember a thing about the accident."

There was a brief silence, in which Robin slowly drank her tea, swallowing away the lump in her throat, while Fiona looked at her with eyes full of compassion and understanding. Robin looked a little lost and sad and Fiona had to fight the urge to get up and give the older woman a friendly hug, which was utterly confusing since she usually reserved those displays of affection for dear friends and family only.

"I’m sorry you and Joshua had to go through that," she finally spoke. "That must have been very hard."

"It was," Robin nodded with a sad smile. "It was horrible. Thank God I still have my brother, though. I’m very grateful for that."

Robin took a deep, cleansing breath and shot Fiona a questioning look.

"Your turn," she smiled. "What would you change?"

To Robin’s surprise, Fiona did not have to think long. Her voice was low, but calm when she answered.

"I’d make sure my father wouldn’t stop loving Jody."

Fiona’s answer was so unexpected, honest and deeply personal, Robin was almost shocked into silence. Those few, softly spoken words, revealed so much about the woman who was sitting in front of her at the the kitchen table. It was like she had been granted a peek into a carefully shielded heart, to be blinded by the sudden revelation.

Jody. Fiona’s ‘weak’ spot.

" must be very hard to...have experienced that," Robin answered slowly, carefully choosing her words. "Parents are always supposed to love and support their children, at least, that’s what we always expect them to do."

"Sometimes expectations are overrated," Fiona remarked, not able to hide the hint of bitterness in her voice. "Things are not always what they seem."

"I guess not," Robin replied. "Do you mind if I ask you what happened?"

A pair of dark-green eyes looked up and Robin unconsciously held her breath when they bore deep into her own. It was like Fiona was trying to look straight through her and Robin could have sworn that, for a moment, she managed to do just that. Deep down inside she knew that, if Fiona would trust her enough to share this apparently difficult part of her past, something between them would change forever. Instinctively, Robin knew that Fiona McDonnell was not a person who easily confided in other people, let alone trusted them. And she wondered if the photographer would grant her that trust, especially after what had happened that morning.

"No, I don’t mind," Fiona finally answered softly. "It’s not exactly a highlight in McDonnell history though," she added with a wry smile. "I guess I need to go back about fifteen years. I..."

A loud knock on the door interrupted Fiona’s words and with a slightly annoyed frown, the photographer got up from her chair, sending Robin an apologetic look. With a few long strides, she walked to the door, expecting to find Joshua inquiring about his sister. To her surprise, she saw Trishia, who had stopped the police car she was driving in front of the little house, with the engine still running.

"What’s up?" Fiona frowned, noticing how tense Trishia seemed to be.

"Is Robin awake?"

"Yes, she is. But..."

"I want you and Robin to come up to the house. I need to talk to the whole family," Trishia answered quickly. "I can take you up, so you don’t have to walk."

"Sounds like this is going to be a fun day." Fiona sighed, raking her fingers through her hair. "I’ll ask Robin and see what she..."

"It’s alright, Fiona," a soft voice sounded behind her and when the photographer half-turned, she looked straight into a pair of troubled hazel eyes. "I’ll be fine."

"Are you sure?" Fiona frowned, noticing how pale Robin was. "Did you take your pain pill?"

"Yes, I did," Robin couldn’t help smiling.

"Great," Trishia spoke, already walking back to the car. "Let’s go then. We have no time to lose."


To be continued in part 8

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