Robbie looked at her daughter across the table. "Ryan, I think we just got ourselves into a whole lot of trouble!"
The game went on for a few hours. Janet would let them win for a while and then quickly win everything back again. During it all, she would perform different card tricks to Robbie and Ryan's delight. By the time Ryan said good night, she owed her Aunt and second Mom a life of servitude! Janet picked up the cards once again and shuffled them professionally. "Okay, Robbie Williams," she grinned cruelly, looking across at her mate, "now we play strip poker."
Janet played to win. The room, warmed by the fire and bathed in soft light, was charged with sexual tension as her lover, with each loss, slowly stripped off each article as Janet watched with hungry eyes. When she had her lover naked before her, Janet placed the deck on the table and cocked a finger. "Come here NOW," she ordered, in a husky whisper. Robbie, her lean muscular body highlighted in red firelight, slipped across the table and into Janet's arms.
They made love well into the night, finally falling into a deep, relaxed sleep in the early hours. At five thirty, Robbie's bleeper went off.
Janet sighed as she felt her lover slip from the bed and fumble in the darkness getting into her fire-fighting gear. "Well, at least their timing is getting better. You be careful!"
Robbie leaned over to place a kiss on Janet's forehead. "No fire could be as hot as you, my love!" she teased and was gone.
Robbie drank deeply from the water bottle. She was on her second, trying to replenish the water that the work and heat of the fire had sucked out of her. She stood leaning on Larry Butler's bulldozer, on the edge of a tired group of Bartlett Volunteer Fire Fighters.
Bush fires were a bitch, she allowed, wiping at the sweat that had etched black trails of soot down her face. Her skin felt scorched and tight. She must look like hell. She'd better clean up a bit before heading back to Janet and the kids.
Blue eyes scanned the fire break that she and the others had created over the last ninety six hours.
With Pulaski shovels, Council rakes, chainsaws and the bulldozer, they had cleared a strip of land through which the fire could not burn. Then they had used Drip Torches. They were canasters with goose necks containing wicks that drew up a gasoline/kerosene mixture. These were used to set back burns to consume the material that the approaching fire would need to feed on. The fire break had done its job. The fire had been stopped on this front and that meant that Bartlett was now relatively safe. Beyond the brown strip of barren earth, charred trees still smoked and cracked with heat. The ground was blanketed with ash like new fallen snow.
Robbie thought most people would find a burnt out area like this an eyesore. She didn't. She liked the stark landscape, the soft ash and warm land. She liked the charred patterns in the wood and the red of glowing embers. She watched with an artist's eye as the surreal world faded in and out in swirls of blue smoke.
It made her feel good, having done her part to protect lives and property while the fire burnt its course. Robbie finished the second bottle of water and pitched the empty plastic container into the garbage bag tied to the back of the bulldozer. Her stiff, sooty Bunker fire jacket and pants squeaked as she settled into a more comfortable position against the side of the bulldozer. She smiled at the others. The Bartlett crew had become family. Hell, they'd lived in each other's space for the last two weeks as they rotated through shifts with other crews. They had practised as a team together and had now proven themselves out in the field, trusting each other with their lives.
Did she trust Janet that deeply? Once she had. Now she wasn't sure. That bothered her. She know she should trust Janet. Janet had risked everything to get her out of jail. Janet loved her and she knew that she loved that little blond nearly to distraction. She'd made the decision to move on, to leave all the crap of those days behind. Yet she knew there was a little worm of doubt that still burrowed through her subconscious.
The rumble of a truck engine brought Robbie back to reality. Like the other tired fire-fighters around her, she straightened. Fire-tanned and dirty, they reflected the tired pride of all heroic fighters. Ryan swung out of the truck and looked around at the sooty faces. It was her Mom's flash of white smile that identified her from the rest. Ryan trotted over. "Hi! Did you have fun?" she asked. "I sure wish I could have fought the fire."
"I don't think fun is quite the word but I feel pretty smug about being able to help out. That is when I can summon enough energy to think at all," confessed Robbie.
"I got to help co-ordinated all the crews. The District Chief would give me the work sheets and I'd get on the radio and dispatch crews to different areas," bragged Ryan excitedly.
Robbie squeezed her daughter's shoulder with pride. "Yeah, I know. I recognized your voice," she acknowledged, as they waited their turn to swing up into the back of the truck. "You did a great job!" Ryan blushed with pride. Pleasing her famous mother meant a lot to her.
"Aunt Janet is working at the field centre in the Lion's Hall. They've set up a hospital and field kitchen. The food that is shipped out to the crews was prepared there," explained Ryan.
"Hospital! Were there that many hurt?!" asked Robbie in concern.
Ryan nodded. Aunt Janet told me yesterday that they had already treated over fifty," bragged Ryan.
"Well, only nine were humans," Ryan admitted, " The rest are animals that Greta Corry and the girl guides keep rescuing. That's their job. We have a deer in a pen in the baseball diamond! Can we keep her, Mom!? She's got smoke inhalation."
"Sure! We can have smoked venison next Christmas," Robbie joked.
"Mom!" Ryan laughed.
Janet looked up as the tired parade of fire-fighters entered the hall like she always did, searching for Robbie. She knew her lover had been working the other side of Indian Gorge and would take her breaks at the Town Hall in Harriston. But she always looked anyway. She missed her partner and worried about her. A major forest fire was a dangerous situation even for well-trained experienced fire-fighters, never mind amateurs like Robbie. Ryan came back each afternoon and told her where Robbie was and what she was doing but still she worried.
Then, there she was, tall and quiet behind Ryan. Wearing her fire gear and covered in dirt and sweat, Janet thought she had never seen anyone look so damn sexy! The other members of the Bartlett crew hugged wives and greeted friends. Ryan had gone off in search of food and Robbie stood looking uncertain and perplexed.
Janet smiled. They'd been "Outed" by Lucier and the media, so what had she to lose. Putting down the tray she was carrying, she walked over to Robbie and gave her a big hug and a kiss. The well of silence around them was almost deafening as everyone froze in surprise and stared.
"Hi, love," Janet laughed, her voice echoing in the big, quiet room. "I'm so happy to have you back!"
Robbie's face lit up with a big goofy grin and the worm that had been digging tunnels of doubt in Robbie's mind keeled over and died.
The four of them sat at a wooden table in the hall eating Sloppy Joes and drinking chocolate milk while they each told their stories. "I got to feed the deer and the cats and Miss Corry got needles in her hand from the pork-pine and she called it a..."
"Rebecca!" warned Janet, with a warning look. Reb gave her mom a broad grin, then stood on her chair and whispered in Robbie's ear.
Janet frowned. "Oh a no good porcupine! Eh? Well, that is bad!" laughed Robbie, hugging her little daughter. The other Williams laughed too.
"Hi, ladies!" smirked a voice from behind them and a flash went off in their faces as they turned. "Guess who the city papers sent up here to cover the fire? This will make a nice little follow-up to your release, Robbie," smiled Lucier. Janet grabbed Robbie but would not have been able to hold her back if it hadn't been for a big meaty hand suddenly wrapping around Lucier's camera and yanking it from his hands.
"Hey!" protested Lucier, as his film was ripped out. This protest was cut short, however, when he was picked up by his collar and the seat of his pants and carried out the back door to a round of applause from everyone in the room.
There were several decisive thumps and a wail of pain, and then the wall of a man sauntered back in again. Jim Ableton walked over to the Williams' table. "Don't for the life of me know what this town sees in a queer like you, Williams, but I owed you one for bouncing that kid of yours off the boards at the rink," he growled. "No hard feelings," he said, offering his hand.
Robbie took it, surprised to find her own large hand buried inside Ableton's. "No hard feelings," she agreed, then amended, "until I kick the shit out of your boat in the Bartlett Regatta this September!"
"Ain't gonna happen," laughed Ableton, pounding Robbie on the back and walking away.
Janet gave Robbie a look. "What?!" the director asked innocently.
"You just couldn't let it lie could you?"
"No!" the Williams all answered together and the table of four broke into gales of laughter.
From across the room, pale eyes looked up, watched for a few seconds and then dropped once more to an empty plate. Soon now. This damn fire had delayed his plans but soon now all would be back to normal. Then he could put his plan into action. The man smiled.
The Williams went home and Ryan amused Reb while Janet took Robbie for a shower and then tucked her into bed. Robbie, warmed by the water and relaxed by Janet's touch, was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow. Janet watched t.v. with the kids, sending each off to bed at their respective bedtimes. Then she gladly locked the door, turned off the lights, and crawled into the bed that she planned on sharing with Robbie for the rest of her life.
The next day, Robbie slept in and Janet took the kids to school. "I should be working!"sulked Ryan. "They need me on the radios!"
"You need to be in class," Janet answered firmly. "We only just got you enrolled again and then you were away for another two weeks! Honestly, what sort of mother are they going to think I am?!" grumbled Janet.
"I had to fight the fire!" protested Ryan. "I'm part of the crew!"
Janet smiled and patted the knee beside hers. "I know, love. But the fire is almost out and most of the crews have been sent home. It's only burning along the shoreline near the gorge now. I think they can manage without you."
Janet dropped them off outside the school, courage failing her when it came to walking into the building that she had once thought of as her own domain. Ryan seemed to understand and made no comment as she took her little sister's hand and, waving good bye, disappeared into the building. Janet watched them go, then slipped the truck into gear and headed back to the house. Another lazy day with Robbie sounded just about perfect! Maybe this being unemployed wasn't so bad after all!
Hey, about time you got back!" called Robbie from the kitchen as she chewed on a piece of burnt toast.
Janet waved her hand in front of her face and squinted her eyes as she looked through the smoke. "Did you bring some of the brush fire home with you or have you been cooking again?" she asked dryly.
"I burnt the toast," Robbie smiled, happily crunching on a burnt offering.
"Well, don't eat it!" scolded Janet, as she opened a window to air the place out. "There must be enough smoke in your lungs already! Here sit down and I'll make a proper breakfast for the two of us!"
"I love you," Robbie smiled, kissing Janet on the forehead as she changed places with her in the kitchen. Robbie sat on the bar stool and watched while Janet efficiently made scrambled eggs and toast.
"You know what?"
"What?" asked Janet, as she dished the eggs over the golden toast she had just made.
"The lodge is ready! You want to go over and have a look?!"
Janet looked up into eyes glistening with excitement and smiled. Robbie was just a big kid at heart. "I'd like that," she responded, kissing the end of her lover's nose.
They ate and talked and then left the dishes in the sink while they went to get the canoe out of the shed where it had been stored for the winter. They lowered it into the lake and clambered in. "You remember the first time we did this?" Robbie asked.
"Ah ha, You'd twisted your knee slipping on Reb's rubber ducky and I was stuck with you. As I recall, oh wanton woman, you made a shameless play for my ex-boyfriend!"
"Did you a favour," grinned Robbie, without remorse. "You'd have ditched him anyway."
They canoed on in silence, listening to the steady swish of the paddle through the water and the cry of a raven in the trees. "I think I loved you from the moment I saw you," Robbie confessed suddenly.
"You had a funny way of showing it!" laughed Janet. "I know I was very attracted to you!"
Robbie suddenly stood up in the bow, turned around and walked back in the canoe. "Robbie! What are you doing!?" asked Janet, using the flat of her paddle to balance the canoe that rocked wildly in the water.
Robbie knelt down and leaned across the spreader to take Janet's hands in her own. "You are the single most important thing in my life. When you came into my world my black and white existence exploded into technicolour! I love you, Janet Williams, with every ounce of my being!"
Janet settled her paddle into the canoe. Then, carefully, she slid over on top of Robbie as the actress dropped back into the bottom of the canoe. They lay there together, drifting slowly in the wind as the blue sky and warm sun blanketed them in peace.
"Oh Robbie! It's...It's beautiful!" exclaimed Janet, a later, as she turned around and around in the living room. The massive room was dominated by a fieldstone fireplace that now reflected the multiple colours of the earth after its sand blasting. The huge log beams that stretched across the room shone honey with layers of fresh vanish. The log walls were a soft cream of natural wood and the floor reflected their images, it was so highly polished.
"Probably could do with some furniture," observed Robbie philosophically.
Janet reached up to capture yet another kiss. "You are wonderful. Show me our bedroom," she whispered.
Their room was at the corner of the house. One large window looked through the tall pines to the lake and the other through the trees to where a small stream tumbled down the hillside over mossy rocks to feed the lake. Janet peaked into the walk in closet and the master bathroom that had a sauna, and a sunken tub built for two beside a window of one way glass that looked over a shaded hillside of white and purple trilliums. Tears overflowed and ribboned slowly down her face. Robbie wrapped her close.
"It's like a dream. It is all true, isn't it, Robbie?" Janet sniffed into her favourite shoulder.
"You bet it is, lover. I'm going to move my family here and live the picture perfect life with you at my side."
Janet looked up. "What about my house? I don't want to sell it to strangers and I don't want it to stand empty either."
"I was thinking about that. You know it would make a good summer place for Elizabeth. She likes how clearly she can see the stars up here and...."
"Robbie! You are a genius! It would make a perfect wedding present for David and Elizabeth!"
The body Janet was holding went cold and still. "What wedding?" said a deep, deadly quiet voice.
Janet looked up into storm-dark eyes and reached up on her tiptoes to kiss stiff lips. "I think that David and Elizabeth's friendship, if left alone, will blossom into a very special kind of love and you know that David would want to do the honourable thing!"
"You are just saying this to scare the shit out of me!" rumbled Robbie.
"No, I'm saying this so you have lots of time to get used to the idea," countered Janet.
"I won't," sulked Robbie.
Janet gave her over-protective wife a hug. "Yes, you will once you realize that David makes Elizabeth happy. Come on, worry wart! We need to get back and clean up that kitchen!"
"Ryan, over here!" called Debbie, as Ryan moved the soccer ball down field. With a swift side kick, Ryan shot the ball across to her friend, who drilled it into the net.
"Way to go, Deb!" Ryan said, running up to pat her school chum on the back.
"Okay, girls, time to head for the locker room," called Jean Bissell, who had been hired to fill Milka Gorski's teaching job.
The two teams walked off the field, replaying the game and teasing each other. Ryan waved over to Reb who, with the other children, were going for their morning walk down the driveway with Mrs. Chen. An old grey truck pulled out from the school parking lot and slowly came down the lane. The truck went past the children and then stopped.
Ryan watched curiously as the man got out and walked over to talk to Mrs. Chen The next instant, he had hit her, knocking her to the ground, and had grabbed Reb into his arms and was running for the open truck door.
Ryan started to run. She cut across the field at an angle at top speed. As the truck slowed to make the turn out onto the main road, she came alongside, grabbed hold of the truck's side and did a pony-express mount into the flatbed.
Lily Chen sat up dazed and watched the grey truck disappear down the road as the other students and Jean Bissell ran over to help her and to gathered up the remaining children.
The police and a very upset Milka Gorski were waiting on the beach as Janet and Robbie paddled across the lake. Janet could feel the panic and anger rolling off her mate when she saw the police.
"It's okay, Robbie, don't be upset. You are innocent and they are not here to arrest you," she reassured her partner. Robbie, paddling in the bow, nodded stiffly but did not answer.
Despite the reassurance she had given Robbie, she could feel her own insides turning over with worry. For Milka to be here, something serious must have happened at school and that meant that one of their daughters was in trouble.
Robbie leapt out of the canoe and pulled the craft high up on the beach before helping Janet out. "What's going on?" she demanded, holding Janet's hand as she faced the police.
It was Milka who answered. "Janet, Robbie I'm so sorry. Reb's been kidnapped! It happened when Lily was walking the children down the lane. A truck pulled up and the driver got out and hit Lily, grabbed Rebecca and drove off."
"Is Lily alright?" Janet asked, her voice shaky with the strain of dealing with the gut wrenching blow to her emotions that Milka's news had brought.
"Where's Ryan?" Robbie demanded.
Milka looked absolutely sick. "She was out in the field playing soccer and witnessed the kidnapping. She ran after the truck and swung into the flatbed as the truck slowed to turn out on the road. He's got both of them."
"Shit!" groaned Robbie, pulling the shocked body of her wife close to her. "Don't worry, Janet, we'll get them back. He'll demand money and we'll give it to him. Whatever he wants."
The adults walked up to the cabin and Robbie let them in. Rufus greeted them with an uncertain wag of his crocked tail and a low growl as the faithful animal sensed their stress. "Shhh, Rufus, whispered Janet, reaching out a shaky hand to reassure the huge animal.
"I'll use the cell phone to contact our lawyers. We'll want to leave the cabin phone free in case he phones."
Janet sat on the edge of the couch and looked up at her partner. "W..What if his motivation was not kidnapping. W..What if he's..."
"Don't even think it! L..Let's plan for what we can deal with and pray that it's nothing worse," suggested Robbie, rubbing her lover's back. "It's going to be okay, Janet," she reassured. "It's got to be!" But inside she felt like a bomb had gone off.
Seasons: Summer Heat Part 2 by Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Seasons Series are the creation of the author.
Special thanks to Pat for her expert knowledge on rescue and firefighting methods. Thanks also to Sheri for providing the information on the beautiful island of Tobago.
My grateful thanks to the many readers who have traveled with me through the Seasons. You are the best! My deepest thanks to Lisa and Inga, my beta readers, who work very hard on my behalf and to Susan for her insightful critiques and for overseeing the character continuity. Lastly, to all those individuals who have written me about their own courageous life stories, my respect and my best wishes.
Note: The Seasons stories interrelate and should be read in the order they are posted. These stories are alternative fiction; please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Friends quietly came and went during the day bringing casseroles, sympathy and their love. Meals were warmed and served, lawns cut, dishes done and countless amounts of tea consumed. Janet and Robbie ate little, talked less and were unaware of much of the quiet support that went on around them. They were grateful not to be alone, yet too overcome with horror to interact with those around them. Mostly, they sat together on the couch, holding hands and waiting for the phone to ring, but it never did. The hours ticked on endlessly.
To the south, the head of the fire had been checked by the fire barrier that Robbie and the Bartlett Fire Department had cleared. But to the west, along the shore line of Lake Superior, a flank fire still stubbornly edged forward, fed on the high temperatures and dry air. It was hoped that the fire would be stopped by the natural fire break of the Indian Gorge. Still, the Bartlett Volunteer Fire Department had been called out again that afternoon, and as a precaution, they had assisted in the evacuation of The Bartlett School for the Gifted. They were stationed there now, to protect the school building should the flank fire not be checked.
Janet and Robbie were aware of all this and it added to their own worry. Somewhere out there their children were being held prisoners. They could only pray that they were at least safe from the fire. The police force too was stretched to its limit in dealing with the extra responsibilities of the fire emergency. And that meant virtually no one was involved with looking for the two missing children.
Milka had returned to the school and run pictures off Reb and Ryan on the photocopier before they were evacuated. The teachers had handed them out to firefighters and rescue personnel working in the area. The evening news province wide had broadcast the children's pictures and requested the public's help. The national and international news services were pouring into the town seeking stories about the famous Williams family and the kidnapping. And The National Tabloid, that evening, even managed to run a front page story about the curse of the Williams Family.
Moe Singh removed the tabloids from his store in disgust and from David Potts' Variety Store that he and his staff were manning while David was in Toronto with his brother. The town rallied around Janet and Robbie, protecting them from the media. They had learned a lot since the spring in dealing with the press. By common agreement, no one talked. Other than that, there was little anyone could do at this stage but wait.
Late in the night, the last of their friends left, leaving Janet and Robbie alone. Janet sat staring into the fire. Her mind numb with shock. She tried not to think about what might have been done to her daughters. Robbie was right, they had to look on this as a kidnapping for now and
not let the panic of uglier realities take over in their hearts and minds. It was hard though. It was so terribly hard! The house was so empty and quiet without the girls. Half the fabric of their existence had been torn from their world and stolen away in a blink of an eye. Tears rolled silently down Janet's face. It was not knowing that was the worst. Why the hell didn't the bastard phone?!
Robbie had slept some, sitting by Janet on the couch and holding her tight. She woke before dawn, however, and paced back and forth. She refused to let her mind dwell on what might have been done to her daughters. If she did, she'd go mad. Instead, she used her reasoning powers, trying to figure out a course of action. There had to be away to help her girls. There just had to be!
Janet woke up from a fretful sleep aware that Robbie had stopped pacing. The tall woman turned as Janet sat up and blue eyes met green. "He turned left onto Highway 11. Ryan wouldn't panic. She'd use her head and that means there is a good chance that she left a trail for us to follow!"
"What?!" exclaimed Janet, getting to her feet.
"I'm sure of it, Janet. There will be a trail. Ryan is no fool!" reinforced Robbie, as she got out the cell phones and checked the batteries. "I'm going out to look. You stay here and wait for that bastard to phone. I'll report back every half hour."
"Robbie, be careful!" Janet urged.
Robbie nodded, pulled Janet into her arms for a hug and kissed her head. "We'll find them. I promise," she whispered, and was gone. Janet stood at the screen door and watched her soulmate back the truck around and head down the driveway. If anyone could find their girls she had no doubt it would be Robbie. Pulling herself together, she got paper and pen out and made a list of questions to ask if the kidnapper phoned. She planned for different scenarios and worked out how she would handle it. Robbie and the girls were counting on her and she meant to handle the situation to the best of her ability if the kidnapper phoned. Robbie was right, they were going to get their girls back!
Robbie stopped the truck along the shoulder of highway 11 and taking her flashlight and phone, she started walking. Half a mile down the road, she found a small square of blue and gold cotton tied around an old rusty bolt. Blue and gold were the Bartlett school colours! What had Milka said? Ryan had been out in the field playing soccer! Was it part of a sports bib that Ryan had been wearing to identify what team she was on?
She flipped her phone open. Janet answered on the first ring. "I might have found something. I won't be able to tell until I go farther down the road. I found a small piece of cotton that is stripped in the Bartlett school colours..."
"Part of a sports bib?!" interrupted Janet excitedly.
"Maybe. Ryan might be dropping them out of the truck. I'll go on down the road and see if I can find more. You phone Jean Bissell and see if Ryan was wearing one during the soccer game."
"Okay. The kidnapper hasn't phoned. The fire has jumped the gorge and is spreading towards the school. You be careful!" Janet reported quickly, not wanting to hold Robbie back.
"I've got my fire gear in the truck. I'll be careful. I love you," Robbie finished, and snapped the phone shut. She marked the place where she had found the material with a small pile of stones then broke into a run back to the truck.
Moving slowly along the side of the road, Robbie used her highbeams to search the shoulder ahead of her in the predawn light. Had she missed it? It would be easy to do so in the poor light or if the bolt had bounced or rolled into the bush. Should she turn back or go on? Then she saw it!
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