Indian Summer by Anne Azel
Indian Summer Part 1
In memory of Susan Mullarky. A very special woman
and my friend.
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Seasons Series are the creation of the author.
As always a good deal of credit has to go to Lisa and Inga my beta readers and friends, who work hard on these stories with me. Special thanks to Fran who fought and beat breast cancer.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
You can contact Anne Azel at <email@example.com> Anne's books are also available through Dare 2 Dream Publications at <http://www.limitlessd2d.net/>
The hot summer that had transformed itself into the colours of fall had lingered on into warm, lazy days of Indian Summer. It had been over ten years since the lodge on Long Lake had been restored and Janet and Robbie Williams had settled down to operate their studio and the College of Film and Animation and raise their family. There were three homes on Long Lake now, the lodge, the small cottage that Janet had owned and that was used by David and Elizabeth Potts and another cottage that Dawn and Aliki had built some summers ago after their wedding. It was about that cottage that Janet was thinking when the phone rang.
Janet picked up the phone on the second ring. "Hello."
"Hi Janet, it's Brian-the-long-suffering. I need to speak to T-Rob."
Janet smiled. Brian worked as Robbie Williams' right hand man in her large and highly successful movie production company. He was a notable film director and producer in his own right but even after nineteen years of working for the company, he lived in awe of Robbie's legendary temper and creative genius.
Janet looked out the window to the view of her wife's tush as she leaned under the hood of the 1956 Buick that she was rebuilding. "She's sort of up to her hips in work at the moment, Brian. Can I give her a message and have her phone you back later?"
A moan came from the other end of the phone. "It's rubbing off! You are aiding and abetting an AWOL creative genius. I know what she is doing, she is working on that damn car. That is all she can think about these days"
"It's Sunday, Brian. Even creative geniuses get a day off now and again," Janet laughed.
"It's not the weekend here in Australia. It's Monday and I have big Monday problems on the film set." Janet could hear the crackle of wrapping as Brain unrolled his stomach tablets. When Brain started eating digestive pills like candy it meant he really did need to speak to T-Rob.
Janet sighed. Robbie and she never seemed to have time together anymore. There was always something and at the moment Robbie was pretty annoyed with her. "Hold on, Brian. I'll get her." Janet put the phone down and headed out of the huge, log home that once had been her great grandfather's and that Robbie had bought and restored for them. She hoped this did not mean that Robbie was going to have to fly to Australia. There was such a lot going on at the moment. There were some issues that she and Robbie really needed to work through and the family was all coming up for Thanksgiving. Plans had to be worked out for Mac's wedding to Stewart Farton in the spring.
Robbie was deep in thought as she worked on the old car's engine. The thoughts had nothing to do with the carburettor that she was trying to remove. They were about her interpersonal relations. This time of year was always bad. This was when she and Ryan had fought and Ryan had walked out, but it was particularly bad this year because Janet didn't trust her anymore.
Robbie started and her head smashed against the raised hood of the car. "Shit!"she muttered, and emerged rubbing the sore spot at the back of her head.
Janet smiled and shook her head but then stood on her tip-toes and kissed Robbie's cheek. "You okay?"
Robbie smiled. "Yeah. I was thinking and didn't realize you were there."
Janet gave her partner a quick hug and immediately felt Robbie stiffen. She tried not to let it bother her. Okay, she had been wrong to have arranged the surgery while Robbie was away filming but she had been hurt and jealous and had handled things badly. Robbie just had to understand that this procedure was so very important to her and her emotional healing. "Brian's on the phone. It sounds like he has a serious production problem."
Robbie nodded, dropped a quick kiss on Janet's forehead and headed over to the house with long strides as she wiped the grease from her hands on a rag. When Janet came in, she found Robbie sitting at her desk in her office, glasses on the end of her nose reading the fax material that was coming through from Australia. Janet left her alone. When Robbie focussed on a problem it was with the same intensity that she did everything in her life. She would not wish to be disturbed.
It was a good time to head over the College of Film and Drama of which she was the director and see to a bit of paper work herself. First, however, she headed down to the lake to let their daughter, Rebecca, know where she was going.
Reb was in the process of trying to train Dufus how to follow a scent. A few years before their old dog Rufus had passed away, he had managed to corner Walt and Mary Higgins' prize Golden Retriever and do the act. The Higgins were still trying to get over the shock of this violation of their full bred animal. The injection of prize winning genes seemed to have no effect whatsoever on the results. The three puppies looked exactly like Rufus - big, orange, hairy, and ugly with a crooked tail. David and Elizabeth had taken one, Aliki and Dawn another, and Dufus had stayed to replace his dad Rufus.
"Reb, Honey, I am just popping over to the school to do some paper work. Obbie is on to phone to Brian. Could you let her know where I am?
The beautiful sixteen year old looked up with a flash of a smile that melted hearts. "Sure Mom. I think Dufus has the idea now."
Janet looked down. Reb was holding a sweater covered in mud and dog slobber that looked a lot like Robbie's. "Is that..."
Reb cut her mother off quickly before she could get going. "Obbie said I could use it. I thought I'd better practice with Obbie's stuff first because she is the one who always goes missing."
It was said as a joke but Janet could see the worry in her daughter's eye. Being a family of both wealth and fame had not been easy. They had gone through some dark times together. She pulled her daughter in for a hug and kissed her head. "You are quite right and I love you for thinking of it. Does Dufus have as good a nose as Rufus did?"
Reb looked at the big, hairy animal sitting obediently at her side. "I think so. He picks up a scent and gets on a trail easily enough but if a squirrel crosses his path we've had it. Dufus hates squirrels."
Janet smiled and gave her daughter another hug before heading up the path that would lead behind the house to where a large garage housed their vehicles. She drove down the road with a smile on her face. They might have their problems but generally life was pretty good.
Major Ryan Williams pulled her jeep into the driveway about a half hour later and sat looking around the corner of the house to the lake. The teen with the dog was Reb she realized with a jolt to her guts. Ten years and everything had changed. She swung out of the old vehicle in one smooth motion and headed down to where her sister stood working with Dufus. She'd kept in touch, of course, through letters and email, but she hadn't really seen the her sister in years. The school pictures she got periodically were just some stranger. Reb was frozen in Ryan's mind as a strong willed, rebellious six year old.
The dog growled dangerously and took two quick steps towards Ryan. Ryan stopped.
"Stay," Reb commanded and looked up at the tall, stern soldier on the path above her. "Can I help y....Ryan?! Ryan!" The teen ran up the hill and jumped into her sister's arms as she used to when she was six.
Ryan held her close trying to hide the emotion she was feeling. "Hi kid. I've missed you."
Reb was crying. "Ryan, I can't believe it is you! I have missed you so much! I knew you'd come home someday. I just knew it!"
Ryan stiffened with tension and stepped back a little from her sister. Gently, she wiped a few tears away from the teen's face with her finger. "I don't know how long I can stay,"she cautioned. "Aah, I don't know if I am going to be welcome."
Reb put her hands on her slim hips. "Of course you are welcome, Ryan! You're part of our family. Obbie frets all the time about you not being here. She loves you, Ryan."
Ryan nodded with a smile that reflected insecurity. Her eyes were dark and filled with pain. She tried to sound nonchalant. "So who is here? Aaah, are the Pateases here yet?"
Reb looked up with sharp, penetrating eyes. "Oh shit. You've come back because Mac is getting married, haven't you?" Ryan didn't say anything. Her jaw locked in a determined line. "Ryan, you can't!"
Eyes the colour of ice met Reb's. "Watch me."
"Oh boy, this is going to be another one of those Williams' things that the tabloids love to write about." Reb sighed in frustration, waving her arms in the air dramatically.
Ryan couldn't help herself, she smiled. "So who is here?"
"Just Obbie at the moment." She saw Ryan stiffen and went on. "Mom is at the college. She'll be back in an hour or so. Obbie's on the phone with Brian so that is good for a couple of hours of yelling. Come on, I'll sneak you into the house and we'll figure out someway of letting them know you are here."
Janet cleared her desk of a few items of paperwork that had been on her mind and then headed back to the house. She was anxious to know whether the problem that Brain was having with production on location in Australia would become a problem for them all. Deep in thought, she almost bumped into her daughter who was standing in the doorway positively squirming with excitement.
"Shhhhh! Mom, you are never going to guess who is here!" Reb stage-whispered.
"Who?" Janet asked, already visualizing an evening with Robbie in a temper and some poor house guest cringing in the corner as she was pulled into the kitchen by her daughter.
An officer stood up as she entered. "Hello, Aunt Janet."
Janet stopped dead. Her mouth opened, closed, opened again and nothing came out. Then she simply gave up and ran to her adopted daughter and held on tight, crying.
Ryan was embarrassed, feeling emotional and flustered. She tried to cover up with a joke. "Hell, so far everyone who has seen me has cried."
Reb pulled some tissues from a box on the counter and handed them to her mom and then stood close at her big sister's side. "Ryan is a major and she just got her doctorate in physics like Aunt Elizabeth."
Janet stepped back and dabbed at her eyes as she gave Ryan a look over. "You could have told us. All those letters from all over the world. We had no idea what you were up to in the military." Ryan smiled but said nothing. Her work over the years had been classified information. "Does your Mom know you are here?"
Ryan shook her head and smiled at her kid sister. "From what we can make out she's having a conference call with Brian and some others. Things must be working out because she hasn't sworn or yelled now in several minutes."
Janet rolled her eyes. "You wait here."
Janet walked into Robbie's office and found her partner pacing back and forth barking instructions at poor Brian and his assistants. Much to Robbie's surprise, Janet reached up and placed two fingers over her lover's mouth. "Brian? This is Janet. Listen, love, we have a guest and I need Robbie right away. Do you think you can manage without my wife?"
"Sure, sure, no problem, Janet," Brian babbled in relief. T-Rob has spent five minutes solving the problem and an hour and a half yelling about it.
Janet hung up and looked at Robbie. Robbie crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow in question. Janet touched her partner's arm reassuringly. "Ryan's in the kitchen," she said softly. Robbie swayed, blinked, gasped and made a beeline for the door. Janet followed at a more reasonable pace.
Robbie came around the corner and into the kitchen so quickly that Ryan instinctively felt under attack and stepped in front of her little sister. The two Williams stood looking at each other. They had different colouring but the same bone structure and build. There was no doubt they were mother and daughter. Reb gave her stubborn sister a gentle push from behind. Ryan stepped over to Robbie. "I'm home, Mom."
Robbie wrapped her daughter into her arms and held onto her silently. So many emotions were running through her body that she felt light headed. Quietly, Janet signalled to Reb from the doorway and they left Robbie and Ryan alone holding each other.
"I'm sorry Mom." Ryan's voice was rough with emotion. " I felt I had to prove something to you. I was wrong. Can you forgive me?"
Robbie held on even tighter. "Yeah, you were wrong but you were a kid and I was the adult. I acted like a horse's ass. I'm sorry too."
"You going to let me go?" Ryan asked, laughing nervously.
"No, you might be a dream and I don't want to lose you."
Ryan hadn't come home for this. She hadn't thought it possible that they could mend any bridges. It had just happened when she saw her mom again. Now that it had, Ryan felt an incredible need to protect her mom and make sure she was never hurt again. "You are never going to lose me, Mom. I...I'm your daughter."
Robbie forced herself to step back and give Ryan some room. "Yes, you are and I'm proud of you."
Devilment sparkled in Ryan's eyes for a second like it used to when she was a teen. "You don't know much about me."
Robbie reached out despite herself and touched Ryan's cheek. "I don't need to. You are my daughter. I love you and I know what sort of person you are. Whatever you have done with your life, it would be what is right and honourable."
Ryan smiled and swallowed hard. The tears slowly ran down her face despite her fight for control. "Thanks Mom."
Robbie wiped away her own tears and tried to pull herself together. "Sit down. Have you eaten? No? I'll make you something..."
Ryan laughed. "No way! I want to live to see tomorrow. No one in this family willingly eats your cooking. How about I make something and you see to brewing some coffee?"
Robbie looked stubborn. "I can cook."
Ryan pulled her in for a hug. "No, you can open a can and burn toast."
Robbie laughed. "Okay, you get something then. Look at you. You're all grown up. Captain?"
"Major, bran new."
"That's good, Ryan. Are you going to be a career soldier then?"
"Five more years. I just got my doctorate, Mom, in astrophysics."
Robbie sank with shock onto a kitchen chair. "You're a physicist?"
"Yes, and I think a reasonably good one." Ryan smiled, pleased that her mother was clearly over whelmed with her achievement. Her mom looked far away like she was in shock.
"A scientist. I always wanted to be a scientist," Robbie mumbled.
Ryan came up behind where her mom sat and bent to wrap her arms around her mother. She whispered softly, "I know, Mom. You'd have been a good one too but you had me instead."
Robbie kissed the strong hand resting on her shoulder. "No regrets there. You were the best thing to come out of my youth."
When Reb stuck her head in a half hour later she found the two of them munching subs and drinking bottled beer.
"Can I have some?" she asked, bouncing in and taking a seat beside her sister.
"Sub, yes, beer no," Ryan laughed, and handed her sister half her sandwich.
Reb pulled a face at her but took the sandwich eagerly anyway. "I'll probably choke to death with nothing to wash this down with," she warned.
Robbie got up. "I'll pour you some milk. Ryan, could you make a few more of these? I'll go get Janet."
"Sure, Mom." Ryan turned and tipped Reb from her chair. "Come on teen-slug give me a hand."
Reb gave her a playful punch. "Hey, who are you calling a, teen-slug, starched-shorts!"
Robbie left them pushing and shoving their way to the fridge and went to find Janet. She needed to see Janet. Ryan was home. She found her in their bedroom folding laundry and tackled her to their bed, giving her a big hug and kiss, forgetting in her happiness for a moment that things had been a bit awkward between them recently. "She's wonderful," Robbie stated less than modestly.
"Yes, she is," Janet agreed, smiling about as broadly as it was humanly possible to do.
"Come and have lunch with us."
"I didn't want to disturb you. I thought you and Ryan would have things to talk about."
Robbie bounced up and pulled Janet to her feet. "Hey, we are both her mother. We want you there. We are a family. Reb already snuck back in. I think she has glued herself to her sister."
Janet laughed and wrapped an arm around her lover as they headed out of their bedroom. "That little monkey. I told her to give you two some time alone."
Aliki sat on the edge of her chair in the livingroom of their Toronto house trying with some difficulty to have a sensitive talk with her grown adopted daughter, MacKenzie. "Aaaah, I know, Stewart's parents are not very comfortable about your parents being two gay women. I....I don't have to give you away, Mac. I mean, I could just sit with your mom and we could ask your Uncle David to give you away."
Aliki swallowed. She had been really proud to be asked to stand in as Mac's father, replacing her brother who had killed himself when Mac was only a child. But yesterday, she had accidentally over heard Mac arguing with Stewart on the phone about it. After a night of tossing and turning she had decided to broach the topic with Mac. She wished she could ask her partner and Mac's other adopted mother, Dawn, what to do but Dawn was away on a speaking tour and wouldn't be back until tomorrow.
Mac looked up in surprise and then blushed deeply as she realized that Aliki knew that Stewart's family were ashamed and embarrassed of her family. "Aliki, I'm going to tell you what I told Stewart. I am neither ashamed nor uncomfortable about the fact that my aunt and my parents are lesbians. I am sorry that caused his homophobic family problems but nothing would make me deny my family who love me. Not even him."
Aliki squirmed and felt the red creeping up her face. "Aah, he is going to be your husband. You know, he has to come first in your life. I...I mean, we'll understand that."
Dark, Salish, First Nations' eyes flashed. "I wouldn't. As well as being proud of my gay parents, I am also mixed race. You and Mom have raised me to be proud of my Salish heritage. Where do I draw the line with Stewart's family? Do I say, you don't have to accept my parents for what they are but you do have to accept what I am? I don't think so. What I am bringing to Stewart's family is a little social tolerance and a wider view of this world's variations. They can accept that or stick it up their asses."
Aliki laughed. "Damn, I'm glad we raised you to be a lady!"
Mac flushed. "Well, it's true." Flustered, she resorted to the language of her youth when the trauma of seeing her father's death had left her unable to speak for many years. She signed, I love you, to Aliki.
Aliki signed back, I love you too. For a while they sat quietly, enjoying the comfort of the bond of love they enjoyed as family. Then Aliki pulled her courage together and broached the other issue that was on her mind.
She started hesitantly. "Aaah, Stewart seems nice. He's got some good goals and will be a responsible partner."
Mac nodded. "Yes."
"Sensible , level-headed guy."
Aliki waved her hands in frustration. She was no good at subtlety. "Don't you find him as boring as grass growing?" she asked bluntly.
Mac snorted. "Oh God, yes!"
Aliki looked at her in confusion. "Then why the hell are you marrying him?"
Mac suddenly went sober and looked at her hands for a minute while she organized her thoughts. "Some years ago, I met my soul mate, Aliki. There is no doubt in my mind about that, but it didn't work out between us. Sometimes it just doesn't." The young woman shrugged her shoulders sadly. "Stewart is a good friend. He is responsible, caring, and he loves me. He knows how I feel and he can live with that. He'll provide me with companionship and children and we'll be happy enough."
The scientist looked at her daughter with shocked and worried eyes. She wished desperately that Dawn was here to handle this one. She was way out of her depth. "I don't want you settling for second best. You tell me who this soul mate is and I'll go fetch him," she growled.
"You can't do that!" Mac laughed coming over to sit on the arm of the chair and give her aunt and adopted mother a hug. "You can't make someone love you. Besides, it is not a he, it is a she."
Aliki swirled around and looked at her daughter with blue eyes wide with shock. "You have never dated a girl! It's always been guys. How could this have been going on without me knowing?"
Mac shrugged. "I never wanted another woman. I...It just wouldn't have felt right."
Aliki was near the free babble stage by now. "You and this woman, you've..." She made some gestures of frustration when the words failed her and then jumped instead into another trail of thought. " I mean have you with men? No wait!! I don't want to know!" Aliki leaned back and tried to gather her thoughts, wiping the sweat that had appeared on her upper lip away with her hand. "Oh boy."
Mac chuckled at Aliki's distress. She was a wonderful person and Mac adored her but Aliki was awfully straight for a lesbian. "No, I didn't sleep with her and no, I haven't with any guys either. Well, you know we've..."
"Don't tell me! Don't tell me!" Aliki ordered in a panic, getting up and retreating to the other side of the room.
Mac slid from the arm of the big, over- stuffed chair into the seat that Aliki had just vacated. It was still warm and there was a lingering scent of spice that was very much Aliki. It felt like a secure hug. She smiled at her mom but said nothing. Her parents were intelligent and wise and she had been expecting this question. It was easier with Aliki who always had trouble expressing personal issues well. Her other mom would have asked disturbing and thought- provoking questions and that would have been much harder.
Aliki pulled herself together and tried again. "Warning bells are going off in my head here, Mac. It seems to me that staying single would be better than marrying someone you don't love."
Mac saw the pain in the older woman's eyes and got up immediately and came over to hug her gently. "But I do love Stewart. He is a fine man. I might not love him with the intensity and passion that I loved another but I do care very much for him."
The Williams clan had stayed up late talking, freely at times as family do, and awkwardly at other times because they were strangers after ten years. Finally, Reb went to sleep with her head against her sister's shoulder and they all decided to call it a night. Sleep did not come easily though to the three adults. Ryan lay in her old room that still reflected the interests of her teenage mind and pondered the bridge that had been crossed in coming home. It was one she never thought could ever exist again. It was strangely comforting on one hand and rather unnerving on another.
Robbie tried sleeping but tossed and turned until Janet turned on the light and handed her partner a script. "Read and don't think about Ryan. That's an order."
Robbie had smiled sheepishly and taken the script, settling down and letting Janet use her for a pillow while she focussed without understanding on the pages. The sun was rising when she finally went to sleep, her head resting next to her lover's.
Ryan woke to find Reb snuggled in beside her. She scrunched up her eyes and mumbled cheekily, "Go away, you are not my type."
Reb laughed and gave her big sister a playful nudge. "Actually, I'm into males. Ian Fraser to be exact. I'm a black sheep bouncing along the family rainbow.
Ryan pulled herself up to lean against her headboard and gave her face a rub. Then she pulled a face. "Males! Ugh! Pervert!"
The two of them laughed. Then Reb sobered. "I shouldn't laugh. This is serious, Ryan."
Ryan went still and anger clouded her eyes. "How serious?"
Reb rolled her eyes. "We are NOT sleeping together, Ryan! I'm talking about the family. Having a family that glows rainbow colours in the dark is hard enough to explain. Try explaining that one of my moms has been arrested for murder and is not only my mom but my aunt, that my other mom is a Williams because she married both my father and my aunt, that my other aunt has won the Nobel Prize in Physics but can't drive a car, and that my sister wears army boots! How am I going to explain all that to Ian Fraser?"
Ryan smiled. "We are a bit eccentric."
"Eccentric!?" Reb spluttered. "We are the only people I know who have their own page each month in the Tabloids. The spring edition had Obbie running away with her co-star and Mom threatening to reveal all in a feature movie if she didn't come home."
Ryan laughed. "Knowing what I do about Obbie's early life that would be some block buster."
"My point exactly!" Reb finished, flopping dramatically back on a pillow. "I love you all dearly but Ripley's Believe It Or Not has nothing, I repeat, nothing on you lot!"
"So do Obbie and Aunt Janet know you are seeing this guy?"
"Sort of. They know I've met him a few times at the riding stables. He wants to take me to the Fall dance and that means bringing him home. The last guy I brought here went home crying because Obbie was standing on the porch railing rehearsing a scene from Galaxy Wars using a tree branch as a laser sword and Mom was trying to wash Rufus in tomato juice in a tub because he'd said hello to a skunk. Billy thought it was alien blood and ran most of the way home. He still avoids me and that was in the third grade!"
Ryan smiled at her sister who lay sprawled at the end of the bed. "Tough one, kid. Maybe you could tell him that the insanity is not genetic but a curse brought on us by aliens after the Galactic Wars."
Reb pulled a face. "Big help you are! And now I suppose you are really going to mess up my life by causing a scene about Mac's engagement to Stewart Farton."
Ryan looked shocked. "No scene. Mac is just not going to marry him."
Reb wrapped an arm over her eyes and moaned pathetically. "I'll have to resign myself to being an old maid or join a convent and dedicate my life to God!"
"God wouldn't have you," Ryan laughed unsympathetically. "You are a little rotter." She slid from the bed wearing only her undies and a t-shirt and stepped into a pair of sweat pants. "Come on, I need coffee before I can solve the problems of the world."
"Holy shit! It's a Willy Jeep!" The words penetrated Janet's sleep just enough for her to register that her Olive was up and active. There was no doubt about it, the Williams family were just like olives, really wonderful once you got used to them - but they took a lot of getting used to. She heard the pounding of feet as her lover ran down the hall and the slam of the screen door as she headed outside. Janet smiled and slipped deeper into sleep.
Reb stood at the kitchen counter pouring Ryan and herself a second cup of coffee and looking at Obbie sitting in Ryan's jeep pretending she was driving through a minefield. Various vooms and kabooms drifted through the window. "Your mom has found your jeep. She's behind the wheel and seems to be having a fantasy that might lead to an orgasm."
Ryan got up from the breakfast nook and came over to have a look. "You know you are far too worldly for a sixteen year old." She looked out the window. "Okay, so you might be right. I'd better get out there before she ruins my seat covers."
Reb smiled. Ryan just wanted to be with her mom. "Whatever you do, don't give Obbie the keys to the jeep. Mom will never forgive you!" The warning came too late. Ryan was already gone.
Janet sighed and let the dream of a sleep-in fade as she opened her eyes to see her indignant younger daughter standing at the end of the bed. "The creeps drove off and left me here!"
"Forgive them, Reb. It was the jeep. Obbie and Ryan are beyond human reason once they see a collector car."
Reb sighed. "Well, it will give us a chance to have a mother and daughter talk about the older man in my life while they are gone. Here, I brought you a mug of coffee to help you wake up."
Janet was already awake, however. The phrase, older man in my life, had brought her to a sitting position and full alert. "Older Man?" she inquired, in a tone she hoped sounded calm and reasonable.
Reb gave her mom a look and then climbed on the end of the bed to sit cross-legged. "Mother, I am very mature for my age. How many sixteen year olds do you know who have visited their mom in prison, been kidnapped, and survived a firestorm? And those are only the highlights of my life."
Janet was not to be side tracked. "Who is this older man?" she asked, annoyed to see the shake of her hand as she took a sip of her coffee.
"Ian Fraser. He is eighteen. He is working up here for the year with the forestry services. At the moment he is planting trees. You remember, I met him at the stables. His parents immigrated from Scotland five years ago. Ian just finished his first year of university at Guelph. He wants to be a vet too but he has to earn some money to finish his undergraduate degree."
"That's only two years difference!" Reb protested.
"There is a significant gap between being sixteen and eighteen years at this age." Janet sighed, feeling her stomach tie in a knot.
Reb frowned. "I know, I know. I have just heard the lecture from my sister." Her voice changed to sound just like Ryan's as she mimicked her sister's words. "Reb, the difference between sixteen and eighteen is the difference between virginity and carnal knowledge."
Janet held up her hand. "Stop. I don't even want to go there. The difference between sixteen and eighteen is jail. Keep that firmly in your mind. Well, that and your Obbie will skin him alive if he does anything he shouldn't. Now tell me all about this fellow."
Reb smiled and relaxed. Her mom was going to be cool about it.
The jeep motored along the highway with Ryan and Robbie sitting side by side, grins on their faces as the wind whipped their hair about.
"She's a 1943 Willy MB with a four cylinder L-head and side valves and a three speed syncromesh transmission. She's built like a little tank with heavy steel channel sides with five cross members and one K member. Her grille is made from welded flat iron bar," Ryan explained, yelling over the wind. "You can tell she is a 1943 Willy MB by the small headlamps inside the grille, the two pane windshield and because the spare wheel and jerry can is located on the back panel." Ryan looked around happily at the familiar territory of her childhood as her mother drove. "Slow down and turn off here to the right."
Robbie slowed and pulled into an overgrown logging trail that cut a slash through a secondary growth forest. They bumped along slowly, enjoying testing the old vehicle's ability. Some twenty minutes later, they came into a clearing filled with tall grasses and milkweed. Robbie killed the engine and Ryan swung out, looking around with pleasure.
"This was Lover's Lane when I was a kid. But I used to come here and look around for artifacts. It was a lumber camp at the turn of the century but over there," Ryan pointed towards a rocky outcrop, "There is an old mine shaft or something. They must have been looking for nickel or gold, I should think."
Robbie nodded, feeling strangely shy and at a loss for words around her grown daughter. There were so many things that she needed to ask, to resolve between the two of them. "I never meant to force you to leave."
Ryan turned to look at her mom. "You didn't. Oh yeah, I was pissed about you getting all upset about me joining the armed forces, but that was just window dressing." She pulled a length of grass free and stuck it in her mouth enjoying the bitter- grain taste.
Robbie looked at her hands on the wheel. "So why then? Why did you leave?"
Ryan swung back into the jeep and nervously played with the edge of the window frame. "I had to prove that I could do it on my own. That I didn't need you." Robbie felt she had been hit. She swallowed hard and blinked back tears. Ryan continued unaware of how much that statement had hurt. "I loved being with you, Aunt Janet, and Reb. But there was still a part in me that was so angry that you hadn't been there when I was a kid. I guess I felt that if I allowed you to pay my way that I would never know for sure if I would have been a failure if you hadn't always been there to bail me out of my problems."
Ryan felt a tightening in her chest. Spilling her guts was harder than she thought. "Even before I knew who my mom was, you were always sending down your people to take care of me and get me out of trouble. I was a royal fuck-up but you and Aunt Janet brought me home anyway. I was so afraid that I would fail and you would send me away."
Tears rolled slowly down Ryan's face. Robbie reached out and took her daughter's hand, kissing it softly. "You meant the world to me. I would have never sent you away. I was very proud of you."
Ryan nodded. "I knew that on an intellectual level but emotionally there was this little, hurt kid trying to prove she wasn't a failure and deserved your love."
Robbie turned with tears in her eye. "Ryan..."
"Mom it's okay. It wasn't anything you did or didn't do for me. It was something I needed to do for myself. I made a mess of my childhood by being bitter and angry and lashing out at authority in anyway I could. You and Aunt Janet gave me unconditional love and I realized that the problem wasn't the system putting me down but my attitude restricting my opportunities and future."
Ryan's mouth settled in to a confident, determined line so like her mom's. "So I needed to try again. All by myself, to be the success I should have been all a long. That's why I joined the armed forces. To prove myself. I wasn't running away from home, Mom. I just wanted to walk through your door again, this time as a success."
Robbie nodded but no words came out. She buried her face in her hands for a few seconds and tried to get her emotions sorted out. She needed to do it right this time; needed to understand things from Ryan's point of view as well as her own. "I...I think I understand. I....I have missed you very much. I love you Ryan and I am very proud of what you have achieved - on your own."
Ryan smiled broadly. "Thanks, Mom. I love you too."
That was about all the emotion and sensitivity that the two of them could handle. Robbie wisely tried to lighten the conversation. "So, Mac and her family will be here tomorrow. I imagine you two will have a lot of catching up to do. Are you going to be able to come back for her wedding in the spring?"
Ryan's hands tightened into balls. "That's the other reason I am here. There isn't going to be any damn wedding in the spring!"
Aliki had picked up Dawn at the airport the next day and they had enjoyed a pleasant evening as a family. Mac had cooked a special meal and the three of them had talked and laughed as Dawn related some of the experiences she'd had while promoting her latest publication. Now she and Aliki were alone in their room and instead of the passion they usually shared when they had been separated for a time, Aliki paced and fidgeted about.
Dawn looked up from the book she was reading. "You want to tell me what is on your mind, Lover?"
Aliki nodded and sat down on the edge of the bed. "I think you should ask Mac to delay her wedding."
"I don't think she should marry Stewart. She is in love with somebody else."
Dawn smiled sadly and took her partner's hand. "Yes, I know."
"You do?! Do you know it is a woman?"
"How come everyone knows this but me! Who? I'm going to wring her damn neck for hurting my little girl."
Dawn leaned forward and gave her partner a hug. "She has always been in love with Ryan Williams."
"What?! They're cousins damn it! I'm going to have that Ryan's head on a platter. What the hell was she doing corrupting Mac? What did she do with our daughter?"
Dawn reached up and put her hand gently over Aliki's mouth. "She did nothing and that was the whole problem. Ryan was never anything more than a good friend and then she went away."
"This is Robbie's fault. If that damn sister of mine hadn't argued with Ryan..."
Dawn flopped back against the pillows in frustration. She'd had enough. "Aliki, shut up. You are ranting and making no sense at all."
Aliki's mouth snapped shut but she looked at Dawn with cold, blue eyes snapping with anger. "Now listen to me. You can't make Ryan love Mac. Nor can you ask me to try to have Mac delay the wedding. I am not comfortable with Mac's decision either but it is her decision and we need to give her support and understanding."
Aliki looked rebellious and sounded sulky when she spoke. "I only want her to have the depth of love that we have."
Dawn smiled and sat up to hug the woman she loved. "I know, Aliki."
David leaned across the car seat and made sure his wife's, safety belt was done up. "Now don't fuss David. I have done up my belt carefully." Lizzy smiled at him.
David blushed. "I just know you are inclined to have your thoughts on other things and forget all about putting your belt on."
Elizabeth smiled softly. "Is Quasar hastened into his car harness okay?"
David looked back at the big, orange dog that took up most of the back seat. "Yes, he's fine."
"I am looking forwarded to spending a few days with Robbie and the family. Imagine little Mac getting married this spring. Doesn't it make you feel old?"
"It does. There will be a new generation coming along soon, Lizzy. You know, not that I am a judge of these things," David said, as he started the engine and pulled out of their underground parking spot, "but I always thought that Mac and Ryan made a rather nice couple."
"I have to admit that I too suspected that would have been the case but I suppose it was totally illogical of us to assume Mac would be a lesbian just because Ryan is," Elizabeth reasoned.
David frowned. He knew that Robbie had not been happy about Ryan leaving years ago. "Does Robbie hear much from Ryan?"
Elizabeth sighed. "Just some brief emails once a week and a letter or card a few times a year. She seems to have travelled quite a bit with the military. She never tells Robbie much, and of course, you know Robbie, she just gives Ryan the basics in return. Janet gets so frustrated with those two. Janet writes long newsy letters to Ryan, I understand. And Reb writes to her sister as well. I know Robbie has invited Ryan home on many occasions but Ryan always has a reason why she can't come."
"It is a damn shame."
Elizabeth tried to look relaxed as David merged onto the freeway that would take them north. "Yes, it is. Ryan, you know, has a brilliant mind. She would have made an excellent mathematician. I was very disappointed when she enlisted. I had high hopes for her in a field related to my own."
David nodded and reached out briefly to pat his wife's leg. The world of academics dealing with string theory and the possible origins of the universe itself was a small, prestigious group. There were few who could understand the mathematics or grasp even on a lower level the complexities of a possible all-encompassing energy theory. It would have been nice for his Nobel Prize winning wife to have had someone in the family she could talk to about these things.
"I wonder if Ryan keeps her violin up. She could have made a career in music too. She is a Williams all right, multi-talented."
"Janet says she does." But Elizabeth had started to jot down neat rows of equations on a pad of yellow paper in her lap. David let their conversation lapse, knowing that it was Elizabeth's practice to work on her own research in the quiet of the afternoons. Instead, he gave his full attention to his driving. He too was looking forward to being back in the small northern town of Bartlett that had been his home for many years. He hadn't seen his brother who now ran the local grocery store since Christmas. Their family had grown and they all had separate interests that kept them apart. He was glad that it had become a family tradition to gather each spring and fall for a few days together.
Ian and Reb sat hand in hand on the bench in the back room of Potts Grocery Store and listened to David's brother Ted spin his tale. He'd had to go and serve a customer and had only just returned, wiping his hands on his white apron as he came in. "Now you were asking about the old mine up where the lumber camp used to be. I don't know how much truth you can put into it but the old folks used to say that a meteorite struck there years ago and melted the ground around about. My great Papa and your mom's granddaddy, Rebecca, used to brag how they saw a river of gold. 'Course, no one took them very seriously. They were both good story tellers, if you know what I mean, especially ifin they'd had a few Johnny Walkers as a way of limbering their throats."
Reb snuggled closer to Ian who was trying his best to look manly. "Do you think that really is a gold mine, Ted?"
Ted considered this for a second. The emerging whiskers on his chin made a rasping noise as he ran his finger over them. "I don't figure as there could be. I'm thinking any number of people must have checked it out while they were lumbering up there at the turn of the century. And I'm sure others with the gold itch have had a look since. No, I figure it's just an old tale. Not many people know about it now. How did you to come to hear of it?"
"Ryan told me."
Ted looked both surprised and delighted. This was a good piece of gossip by the sound of it. "Ryan? Have you heard from Ryan then?"
Reb nodded. "She's here. She arrived yesterday. She is out with Obbie in her jeep at the moment so Mom sent me in to pick up the groceries."
Ted beamed. This was good gossip that would have people popping into his store all weekend once the word got out. "Well, I'll be tarred and feathered, Ryan Williams back home again. That girl used to play a mean fiddle at the firefighter's ball and George Drouillard said she would have made a fine firefighter like her mom. Not much you Williams are afraid of by all accounts."
Ian beamed down at his girlfriend. "We'd better be getting the groceries in the truck, Rebel. Then we'll have time to catch lunch at Maria's before you have to head back home."
Ian held the door for Reb and they took seats in a quiet corner of the café. Maria waved from behind the counter and Reb smiled and waved back. The Williams family had frequented Maria's since they had first come to town and Maria looked on them as extended family. Having a famous actress and her family drop in for lunch occasionally was very good for business too.
Once they had their order, Ian broached the topic that had been on his mind. "When can I meet your family?"
Reb nervously played with her napkin. "Aah, well, soon. Actually, they will all be here this long weekend. It is sort of a tradition for the clan to gather."
Ian smiled. "It might be a good time to meet them then."
"Well, I don't know."
The young man's frustration showed on his face. "Rebel, you said you couldn't come to the Thanksgiving dance at the hall unless your Mom had met me and said it was okay. How is that ever going to happen if I am not allowed to see your family?"
Reb pulled a face. She was going to have to tell him. "It's just, well, they are a bit...unorthodox."
Ian got a suspicious look on his face. Clear, intelligent, grey eyes met hers. "How so?"
This was it. Reb sighed. "My mother is married to the actor/director Robbie Williams. Yes, they are a lesbian couple. My big sister is a genius. I am not exaggerating, she really is. She is a major in the armed forces. She has just come home after ten years. Oh, and she also has a doctorate in physics and plays the violin beautifully. My aunt is Dr. Elizabeth Williams the woman who won the Nobel Prize for her work on naked singularities. My uncle owns the grocery store and Ted is his brother. My father was the racing driver Billy-the-Kid. He was killed on the track when I was two. And my grandfather was the local gambler. Other than that we are perfectly normal family. Oh, I forgot my other aunts. They are a gay couple as well. One is Dawn Freeman the writer and her partner is a forensic anthropologist and an RCMP officer."
Ian said nothing. He blinked. Blinked again. Then asked cautiously, "You are joking, right?"
Reb felt her hackles going up. "Wrong."
Ian looked stunned and a little weary as if he suspected that he was being lied to. "You are telling me that THE Robbie Williams is ONE of your mothers and that THE Billy-the-Kid was your father...and you have an aunt who won the Nobel Prize on Physics...and half of your family are lesbians?"
Reb gritted her teeth. "Yes."
The young man considered the truth of this. "I had heard that Robbie Williams had a place up this way near the Film College. So you're rich?"
Reb felt her anger mounting as each of the standard response came out. Why couldn't anyone just accept her and her family as just people like everyone else? "I'm not. Certainly my family is."
Ian looked up and saw the tension and emotion in Reb's eyes. Okay, this was going to be really, really freaky but it was Reb's family. "Aah, my dad won a bowling championship once," he joked. Reb laughed and Ian joined in. The tension was broken.
"So you think you can handle this?" Reb asked, feeling some of the tension leaving her body.
Ian frowned and took a bite of his Club House sandwich, chewing it slowly while he tried to come to terms with all of this. He answered honestly. "I don't know, Reb. They sound awfully - different, and rather intimidating. But I think I should be given the chance to try."
Reb nodded, her face set in cautious lines. "I'm very proud of my crazy family, Ian. I don't want them hurt and I won't have them judged. I have no time for gay and lesbian bashers."
Again Ian took his time in deciding how to respond. "To be truthful, Reb, I have always felt I was pretty liberal about such things. I have always maintained a live and let live attitude. I can't say I understand why one would be interested in the same sex but I figure it is none of my business. I have to tell you though, I have never mixed socially with anyone who is a gay or lesbian or at least if I socialized with any I wasn't aware of it. So I have no idea how I'll react. I can promise you one thing though, I won't make a scene or anything."
Reb looked out the window for a second and regained her composure. This was not easy. She wondered if she would stay with Ian or if she would have to go through this conversation over and over again through her life. She shook her head. "Believe me, if you don't make a scene you will be one of the few people there that doesn't."
Continued in Part 2.