by Lois Cloarec Hart


Disclaimer #1: No, my spell check was not on the blink. I am merely asserting my constitutional, nationalistic right to the 21st letter in the alphabet. Ergo, you will find a generous helping of 'U's scattered about as I stubbornly adhere to Canadian spellings.

Disclaimer #2: This is NOT a short story (it kind of got out of hand though it took me months to admit that I was writing a novel <g>), and if you have a problem with same sex romances, you'll want to look elsewhere. If like me, you think love is wonderful in any of its varied forms, then sit back and enjoy.

Acknowledgements: My deepest thanks to Lisa, who cajoled, coaxed and coached me through this story. I couldn't and wouldn't have done it without you, my friend. Thanks also to Carol, my bonus beta, for her timely and welcome encouragement and input. And finally, this story is for BJ, who was Rob.

If you wish to comment, I can be reached at

Chapter One

Jan stared up at the ceiling from her unexpected position on the floor. This day was not getting off to a good start. She turned her head, seeing her husband's twinkling denim blue eyes only inches away.

"Are you alright?" she asked.

Rob thought for a second. "I think so. I must say, you dance divinely m'dear."

"Gee thanks," Jan snorted as she eased her way out from under her husband's helpless body. Turning back to him, she straightened his limbs carefully, checking for any obvious signs of distress, knowing the multiple sclerosis-induced paralysis below his neck could mask an injury.

Satisfied for the moment that he was safe, she grabbed a cushion from the couch to slide under his head. The abortive maneuver was to have been a simple transfer from his wheelchair into his easy chair, but something had gone wrong mid-lift. Rob's involuntary spasm had been enough to off-balance Jan, and they'd tumbled together to the floor.

Surveying the situation, Jan decided that Rob was unhurt and relatively comfortable, but now she had to figure out how to get him back where he should be. She was strong for her size. She couldn't have handled her quadriplegic husband for so many years otherwise, but she knew that even her short, sturdy frame couldn't deadlift Rob's 160 pounds from the floor to the chair unassisted.

Quickly she ran through her options. One neighbour, who was always ready to offer his friendly assistance when she needed it, was at work and not available. Her other neighbour was a gregarious old gentleman, too elderly to help in this situation. Her sister and brother-in-law were also at work and couldn't be called on. There weren't many other available solutions.

"Well Rob," she sighed, looking down at her husband who was waiting patiently for her next move. "I think we're going to have to resort to calling on the firemen this time."

It wouldn't be the first time their local fire hall had sent rescuers, but Jan didn't like summoning them. It felt like an admission of failure, undermining her staunch independence. Nevertheless, there seemed to be no other option so Jan picked up the phone.

About to place the call, she noticed their letter carrier turning in the front gate. Although she had an ingrained aversion to approaching strangers, she quickly changed her plan. Now wasn't the time to let her natural shyness stop her from seeking help.

"I'll be back in a moment," she said to the prone man as she hurried to the door to intercept her unknowing target.


Terry Sanderson had been making good progress on her route that morning. It was a sunny mid-summer day with nothing to slow her down except the usual challenge from the McFarlane's noisy dog. Terry had known when she took this job, fresh out of finishing her English MA at the local university a few months ago, that weather and dogs would be two of the hazards she'd face. But dealing with the McFarlane's pooch every day seemed to be above and beyond the Canada Post call of duty.

There were so many things she enjoyed about this job. The pay was good, all the walking kept her tall, lean frame in excellent condition and she enjoyed the time to plot further developments in her novel, the completion of which was her sole ambition at the moment. Granted, she hadn't yet had to work through winter and she knew that would be an entirely different story, but for now she was content with her life.

Halfway through her daily route though, Terry could count on that small mongrel yapping his head off at her and lunging at her from the end of his chain. She had no grounds for making a formal complaint since the dog never actually presented a physical threat, but he inevitably disturbed her peace of mind, shaking even her perennial good nature.

"Damn, I hate that lousy mutt," she complained to herself. Grimacing, she admitted ruefully that as much as anything, she hated letting the dog think he won every day as she retreated from his territory. It was silly she knew, but Terry's ingrained competitive streak even extended to the McFarlane's mangy hound.

She amused herself by contemplating the day when she'd had enough and dropped to the ground in front of the dog to go muzzle to muzzle with him in a growling contest. She pictured him retreating in confused fear as she eyed him into submission, never to be bothered on her rounds again.

Looking up from her automatic pilot, she noticed that she'd progressed several houses beyond the object of her wrath and turning into the Spencers' neat green and white bungalow. This at least was a calm, quiet household, set amidst tall spruce trees, lilac bushes and well-kept flowerbeds.

Terry occasionally saw Mrs. Spencer out tending those beds and the woman always had a shy smile and a pleasant greeting for her when she handed over the day's mail. Absently, she noted the woman coming out the front door and she held out several envelopes for her to take.

Unexpectedly, the redhead addressed her diffidently. "Please, would you mind helping me? My husband's fallen and I can't get him back into his chair by myself. If you wouldn't mind lending me a hand, it would only take a moment."

Startled but willing to help, Terry nodded her assent. Slinging her mailbags off her shoulders, she followed the woman into the house. She stepped through the door into a sparsely furnished but book-lined living room and immediately saw the problem. A tall, thin man with a shock of thick brown hair hanging over his eyes was lying on the floor between his wheelchair and an overstuffed recliner. She grinned at him and he smiled back.

"Are you my white knight?" he asked Terry.

"Well, I can't say I've ever been called that before, but let's see if we can't get you back in your chair again." Turning to the other woman, Terry said, "You'll have to talk me through this. I don't want to hurt him accidentally or anything."

She started toward the man only to duck quickly as two feathered missiles shot over her head. "Whoa, what the heck was that?" she demanded looking down into the shorter woman's dark green eyes.

"I'm sorry," the redhead responded, obviously chagrined that their rescuer had been dive-bombed. "That's Jamie and Xan, our budgies. They're not used to strangers, so I guess you scared them."

"I scared them? Lady, they just took five years off my young life!" Terry laughed as she spied two sets of inquisitive eyes peering over at her from the top of the nearest bookcase. She had to admit that now that they weren't strafing her, they were pretty cute, but she hoped that they'd stay where they were for a few minutes.

Returning her attention to the problem at hand, Terry walked over and crouched down beside the man. His wife directed Terry to the man's legs.

"Okay, when I say go, we're going to lift him into the easy chair. If you grasp him under the thighs, make sure your knees are bent, and don't lift with your back, it should go smoothly. Wait until I get set here."

Lifting her husband's head and shoulders, the woman rested them against her body and got a firm grip on his arms. Glancing up at Terry she asked, "Ready?"

Terry nodded nervously. "Ready when you are."

On the word go, the two women lifted the man off the floor and awkwardly angled him towards the chair. They got most of his upper body positioned and then Mrs. Spencer took over to make the final adjustments.

Terry backed away to give the woman room to maneuver, and accidentally knocked over the footstool that had been in front of the rocking chair opposite the easy chair, sending the book and newspapers piled there to the floor.

"Don't worry about it," the woman said as she adjusted the man's limbs more comfortably and got him settled. Terry picked up the book to return it to its place and noticed what it was with surprise. She glanced up from the book curiously, but the redhead only smiled as she straightened out her husband's legs.

Terry set the book back on the righted footstool and remarked, "I like Laurie King's 'Martinelli' series too, though I didn't think the second book was as good as the first."

The woman nodded her agreement. "I'm only up to the third one, but I'm looking forward to checking out her other books too. Anyway, thank you very much for giving us a hand. We really appreciate it."

Her husband, who had been observing the exchange with interest, piped up, "Yeah, you can be my white knight any day."

Terry grinned at the man, who despite his disability obviously retained a merry outlook on life. Mischief sparkling in her deep brown eyes she teased him, "Not that I mind riding to the rescue or anything, but try to stay off the floor for awhile, willya?"

He returned her smile and nodded. His wife escorted her to the door, and picked up one of the mailbags for her. Reshouldering both her bags, Terry turned to leave.

"Thanks again," the woman called after her as Terry started back down the path to pick up her interrupted route where she'd left off.

Resuming her automatic pilot mode, Terry idly wondered at Mrs. Spencer's reading choices. She wouldn't have envisioned a straight suburban housewife reading lesbian mystery novels, but dismissed any possibility that the woman was gay. She certainly hadn't set off Terry's gaydar, the accuracy of which she prided herself on.

Terry herself had never even been closeted, having discovered and accepted her orientation with little angst by the time she was sixteen. It had helped that her parents and four brothers weren't particularly fazed by her revelation.

She grinned as she remembered being virtually indistinguishable from her rowdy siblings for most of her childhood. Her mother had stopped trying to put dresses on her after Terry 'accidentally' ripped every skirt that she was sent to kindergarten in. Oddly, the same fate didn't meet Terry's jeans and sweats, so her mother gave in with her customary good grace, resigned to the fact that she was never going to have the dainty little girl she'd pictured when Terry was born.

Turning into another walkway, Terry decided that it was most likely that Mrs. Spencer simply enjoyed good writing of any genre. After all, the woman obviously loved to read, judging by the overflowing bookshelves that had dominated what she'd seen of the house. Perhaps she was simply branching out beyond P.D. James and Elizabeth George. Shaking her short dark hair, Terry decided it was going to have to remain one of life's little unanswered questions.

Chapter Two

A week after his unfortunate tumble, Rob sat in the living room waiting patiently for Jan to finish trimming his hair. Squirming as she ran the clippers up his neck to catch all the strays, he chuckled to himself, thinking back over the years to when he'd first persuaded her to try cutting his hair. It had been in the early months of their relationship, almost fifteen years earlier, and Air Force regulations required Rob to keep his hair short, which meant regular trips to the barber.

Already in a wheelchair because of his MS, it was an added aggravation that he hoped to eliminate if he could convince his new girlfriend to give him a home trim. Jan had warned him that she'd never tried cutting anything more than her own bangs, but he assured her that he was willing to live with whatever the results were. Her first try was less than successful and he'd had to put up with a lot of ribbing from his colleagues before it grew back in again.

"What's that silly grin all about?" Jan asked as she finished trimming around his ears.

"I was just thinking about the first time you cut my hair and all the grief it got me at work."

Jan groaned. "Oh my God! That had to be the ugliest haircut in the history of man, whitewalls and all! I was so afraid that you were going to tell everyone at work that I was the one responsible for it."

"Well, considering that I'd have had to explain why an officer was fraternizing with a corporal outside of work hours, I thought discretion was the far better part of valour," Rob pointed out. "Besides, I knew it'd grow back in eventually and you did improve with practice."

"Yeah, but I don't know how you ever tolerated all those months of wisecracks while I practiced on your head," Jan laughed, putting a final flourish on her work and whipping the towel off Rob's neck. "There you go, love, you're all neat and tidy again. No more looking like Grizzly Adams."

She held up the hand mirror for Rob to check the results for himself and when he nodded his approval, she asked, "So, do I get a tip?"

"Umm…buy low, sell high?" suggested Rob with a grin, knowing that the stock market was entirely his area of expertise and bored his wife to tears.

"Gee thanks buddy," came the dry response. "I was looking for something a little more concrete."

Bending, Jan placed a light kiss on Rob's forehead before wheeling him back over to his easy chair. The transfer went smoothly and Rob was soon comfortably settled as Jan went to get him a coffee.

"Could you flip the news channel on for me, hon?" Rob called after Jan as she started for the kitchen. She returned to do as he'd asked, then headed back to the kitchen to pour him a coffee.

"Did you remember that Donny would be by this afternoon?" Jan reminded her occasionally absent-minded husband as she tucked his functionless fingers around his covered cup, balanced it on his chest, circled it with a towel to hold it in place, and positioned the straw in his mouth.

It was her weekly afternoon off when a caregiver came in to look after Rob while she ran household errands or simply indulged herself in some recreational free time. "I picked up a couple of videos for you two. Lots of explosions and mindless sex to keep you guys riveted."

"Hey, I have a sensitive side too, ya know," Rob complained.

"Oh right, mister man of the nineties," commented his wife dryly. "Then what was that gagging sound when I took you to Notting Hill last week?"

He thought quickly. "Popcorn...yeah that was it. I had popcorn stuck in my throat."

"For the entire two hours?" Jan snorted as she walked back to the kitchen. "Those must have been really big kernels."

"They were," Rob assured her. "Gi-normous ones! Why they'd have choked a horse!"

"Uh huh. Well speaking of horses, that sure sounds like a pile of ..."

"Now, now," he chuckled. "Remember your husband's delicate ears."

He listened to his wife opening kitchen cupboards and reflected how lucky he was to have her in his life. His first wife had left him after ten years of marriage when his disease progressed to the point of paraplegia, and she couldn't handle the prospect of having a disabled husband. He didn't really blame her in hindsight, though he'd been bitter at the time. She'd married a virile young fighter pilot, and couldn't bear seeing him reduced from the cocky hotshot who'd flown with NATO's best, to being grounded permanently and confined to pushing a wheelchair.

Rob met Jan shortly after his ex-wife left him, when she'd been posted to the Base Operations where he'd been assigned a desk job. She'd been very young, only 22 when they met, and he'd been hesitant about getting involved with her. Not only was there the twelve-year age gap between them, but there was also the difference in their rank.

Rob had been a major, and Jan was in the ranks, newly promoted to corporal and working in the air traffic control section. Aware that the brass would descend heavily on both of them should their relationship become public, they were careful to maintain a proper distance at work.

They'd gotten along so well though, even with the restrictions at work, that Rob had finally worked up the nerve to ask her out. He found that he enjoyed her company tremendously as a keen sense of humour lay behind her reserve, and a calm maturity belied her youth.

After dating quietly for several months, they'd ended up living together though Jan maintained an apartment with her old roommate in order to preserve appearances. After two years of surreptitious togetherness, Jan was due to be posted to a base three provinces away and both of them were distraught at the idea of being separated.

Rob had proposed, knowing that he was asking Jan to leave her career and accept an uncertain future with him, as he didn't know how long he could keep working before the MS rendered him incapable of doing so anymore. He was almost surprised when she accepted. He certainly wouldn't have blamed her for not wanting to throw her lot in with his. She'd left the Forces to marry him though, and when his disability worsened, she'd been right there to care for him through every step of his progression to full quadriplegia.

Looking back over the years, Rob realized his quiet wife had an iron core to her and he blessed the day she'd come into his life. He knew that without her, he'd have inevitably ended up in some kind of an institutional care facility. He was also aware that his family and his doctors believed that without her devotion, he'd have died years ago.

He sometimes felt badly that he'd deprived her of a normal life with children and a career, but he consoled himself that she seemed contented with their life. Luckily, he had a keen knack for investing and had managed to build them a sizable nest egg before he was forced to retire, so they lacked for nothing materially.

Jan joked that she took her wages in books, and looking around their house, Rob had to agree that it seemed that way. His wife was a voracious reader, never going anywhere without a book tucked in her purse, which had come in handy for all the countless hours they'd spent over the years waiting for his medical appointments.

The couple had had some good years after his retirement, taking long road trips and cruises while Rob was still able to. However, in the past three years he'd simply become physically incapable of going too far away from their home base.

They'd moved from Ottawa to Calgary to be closer to Jan's family, so that she'd have people to rely on as things got tougher. It had been a good move in that sense, but it had left them somewhat isolated and dependent on each other and Jan's sister for socializing. Making friends in a new city was tough when they couldn't get out to meet people.

Rob had noticed a sort of restlessness in Jan lately, and wondered if the social isolation was responsible for that. He didn't worry that she'd leave him. She'd more than demonstrated her loyalty over the fifteen years they'd been together, but he was concerned about her and encouraged her to take some time away from him to relax. She'd been reluctant at first, but had come to trust Donny with his care and now enjoyed her weekly respite from responsibility.

Rob sipped his coffee, and returned his attention to the news to keep abreast of recent world events. He might not be able to participate much, but he was keenly interested in all that went on around him. He idly wondered what Jan planned to do with her afternoon off before getting caught up in the latest developments in Kosovo. Having been a fighter pilot himself, he had been intrigued by the bombing campaign since it had begun.

The closest he'd come to actual conflict in his own career, was when Russian tanks had moved in to crush the Prague Spring in 1968. He'd been newly posted in Europe at the time, and all NATO forces had gone on high alert in case those tanks moved beyond Czechoslovakia's borders. It had been a tense but exciting period, and he related now to the young pilots who were flying missions against Serbia.

Engrossed in the news, his mind wandered between the current European imbroglio and that of long ago when he'd been one of an elite band flying countless reconnaissance missions close to the Iron Curtain, prepared to take on the Warsaw Pact if necessary. Despite the threat of a Third World War, he'd never felt more alive in his life than during that crisis.

Lost in memories of flashing over fog-filled valleys in razor winged jets, of lighting afterburners to rocket heavenwards through the clouds, and of facing down MIGs over invisible borders, Rob never even noticed his wife watching him with a knowing, affectionate smile.


Terry stepped off her bus and started down the quiet, tree-lined street to the old, narrow, brick three-story that she shared with two roommates, second and third year university students.

She wiped her brow and thought longingly of swiping one of her roommate's ever present Coronas and taking it to the back yard hammock. Michael kept the fridge well stocked and never begrudged sharing with the women in the house. It was the dog days of summer, and walking her route today had left her tired and sweaty. At least for once though, the McFarlane's mutt had been nowhere to be seen.

Unfortunately, she hadn't seen the elusive Mrs. Spencer either. Since she'd helped the woman with her husband, she always felt a tiny frisson of anticipation when she turned into the Spencer yard, but the closest she'd come to another meeting was glimpsing her outline through the living room windows once or twice. She didn't know why it mattered to her but she wanted to see the woman again, even if it was just to hand over the mail.

Drawing closer to her home, Terry noticed a young man sitting on her steps and she started to smile. It was her kid brother, Jordan, obviously waiting for her arrival.

"Hey runt," she called as she approached him. "I thought you had to work today."

Jordy scrambled to his feet, a wide grin breaking over his face at the sight of his older sister. Terry knew her little brother had a serious case of hero worship when it came to her, and she was never surprised when he turned up on her doorstep unexpectedly.

"Gary wanted to change shifts with me because he's got a date this weekend, so I'm off tonight," Jordy said, referring to his best friend. "I decided to come over and see what you guys were doing and Michael said he was fixing a picnic to go down to River Park. He asked me to go along, so I've just been waiting for you."

Terry smiled at her seventeen-year-old brother. "Well, if Michael's done the packing, then that's one picnic we don't want to miss out on. C'mon, I have to go shower and then we'll head down. Is Claire coming too?"

"Yeah, Claire got off work early today so she's in," Jordy said, referring to the other student who shared the house. He bounced up the stairs at Terry's side, happy to be included with his sister and her friends.

Entering the house, Terry hollered for her roommates. Poking his head out from the spacious kitchen at the back of the ground floor, Michael, a slender, handsome, golden-haired twenty-one year old, hushed her.

"Honestly woman, are you trying to raise the dead or something?"

Not the least bit abashed, Terry said, "Sorry Michael, I was just wondering how much time I have before we're leaving for the park."

"I need about twenty more minutes to finish my masterpiece, so yes, you have time for a shower, although I think Claire's in the upstairs one so you'd better use mine."

Michael turned back to the kitchen to finish packing their picnic. Jordy went in to see if he could help, while Terry headed up two flights of stairs to her garret at the top of the house.

She'd deliberately chosen that room when she moved in here six years ago, reasoning that it was the best bet for peace and quiet in the house. It was, but Terry still found herself drawn to the basement recreation room, where the gregarious Michael often entertained. She really was trying to be more disciplined when it came to her writing, but the lure of good music and rowdy company was hard to ignore.

She occasionally considered moving out, but she genuinely enjoyed her roommates and her garret home. Michael was an exuberant, affectionate, generous young man more interested in partying than his education. He came from a wealthy Toronto family and had come west to attend university in part because he didn't want parental eyes too closely focused on his life. He and Terry had met at a local gay bar and hit it off instantly. When he'd been thrown out of his apartment because of noise infractions, she'd taken him in and never regretted it.

Claire was the quietest member of the household, a serious studious woman from Quebec. She'd come west for university to broaden her horizons and improve her English. A staunch Catholic, she seemed like an unlikely third for her gay roommates, but the improbable dynamics worked well. The three had shared the house in relative amenity for the last two years.

Passing the second floor landing, she spied Claire exiting the washroom, her light brown hair wet and tousled. The other woman waved a hand at her and said, "It's all yours if you want it." Nodding her thanks, Terry ran up the rest of the stairs to grab a change of clothes and get ready to go.

Half an hour later, the four of them had piled into Michael's red Pathfinder and were heading for the welcome coolness of River Park. Once there, they walked a short distance from the parking lot and found a shaded table close to the water's edge. The Bow River was low and placid at this time of year, but the breeze coming off the water was a welcome relief as Michael started unloading the big cooler and setting things out for his friends.

Munching on a cold stuffed pita and eyeing Michael's famous lemon sponge cake, Terry reflected that she was glad she hadn't packed the picnic supper. Given the abysmal level of her culinary expertise, it would have been bologna sandwiches and cokes for everyone. Which, of course, was why Terry was banned from the communal kitchen and assigned permanent-cleaning duties instead.

Luckily both Michael and Claire enjoyed cooking, though Michael had more time for it since he wasn't working a summer job. The more talented two took it upon themselves to make sure no one starved.

"Oh Terry," Claire said contritely. "I forgot to tell you that Marika phoned just before you got home today. I told her that as far as I knew, you'd be home later on."

"Oh no," Terry groaned. "I wish you'd told her I'd be out tonight."

Surprise registered on the quiet woman's features. "Excuse me? I did not know you were avoiding her."

Michael grinned evilly. "Yeah Ter, what's up with that?"

Terry picked up a cherry tomato from the neatly arranged vegetable and dip tray and threw it at her gleeful roommate. "You know darned well I've been ducking her for a couple of weeks now. For crying out loud, I went out with her for one measly month and now she won't let go. I mean we had fun and all, but I wasn't looking for a wife."

"It's that old second date, U-haul syndrome," Michael chimed in helpfully. "You all take things way too seriously."

"Oh? Like you weren't mooning over that Owen character for months last semester?" Terry shot back. "If he'd have crooked his little finger at you, you'd have bought him a mansion with a mountain view and moved in with dogs, quilts and copper pans."

Michael smiled ruefully. Terry knew he couldn't deny that he'd fallen hard for the gorgeous but shallow undergrad, and it was only with the benefit of hindsight that he could accept what his friends had been telling him all along. Owen had enjoyed the fruits of Michael's wealth, but saw the man as little more than a sugar daddy. It was only after Terry dragged him out one night to see Owen wrapped around some other man at a downtown nightclub, that he finally accepted it could never be more than a fling. Having survived his own romantic trauma however, he obviously felt more than qualified to advise Terry on hers.

"What's so bad about Marika anyway, Terry?" he asked. "She's certainly beautiful, and she seems to think you're quite the catch. How'd you two meet anyway?"

"I don't want to be a catch, Michael. I just want to have some fun. I'm not into getting serious with anyone. She acts like if she's persistent enough, we'll get back together for life. Lisa told me that she heard Marika asking about me at Oly's the other night, and Robyn said she's been hanging around the team too. I'm almost glad I banged up my shoulder just after we split up, so I haven't been at the diamond for a while. I wish she'd just start obsessing about someone else and leave me alone," Terry huffed. "As for our unfortunate meeting, it's all Lisa's fault. She set us up on a blind date. Said she thought Marika would be just my type."

"Well she's got your tastes nailed, anyway. Too bad Marika's seen Fatal Attraction a few too many times," Michael said sympathetically.

"Do you know I've taken at least a dozen calls from her for you in the last two weeks? I'm sorry I told her you'd be home tonight," Claire apologized regretfully. "I didn't realize she was becoming such a problem. Perhaps you should go over to your parents' place for the evening to get away."

Jordy, who had been sitting quietly listening to the details of his sister's romantic woes, jumped in and said, "Yeah, Terry. Why don't you? Alex and Diane are bringing the babies over tonight and you know how you love to spoil them.

Terry thought about that for a moment. She hadn't seen her oldest brother and his wife for several weeks. She adored her six-month-old nieces and it seemed like an ideal way to escape her infatuated ex while enjoying her family's company. It meant another night would go by without getting any writing done, but she'd try and make up for it this weekend. "Okay runt, why don't you and I head over there after we get back to the house?"

Jordy nodded happily and the conversation moved away from Terry's love life. Grateful that it had, she listened with half an ear to Michael and Claire's discussion of the upcoming academic year. Both students were majoring in business and shared many of the same courses and professors.

Terry surveyed the park with casual interest. Suddenly, she concentrated on a woman a short distance away, sitting in a lawn chair under a tree and seemingly lost in a book.

"Hey, I know her," Terry said half to herself.

"What did you say?" asked Jordy, going back for his third pita. "You know who?"

"Remember me telling you about the man I helped lift off the floor last week?" Terry asked her brother. "Well, that's his wife. I wonder what she's doing here all by herself."

Almost without considering what she was doing, Terry swung her legs out from under the table, stood up and said, "I'll be back in a few minutes, guys. Don't eat all the cake on me." She started over towards Mrs. Spencer, not quite sure what she was going to say, or even why she was doing this.

Terry had thought about the woman and her husband often in the week since she'd helped the pair out. She wasn't exactly sure why they'd piqued her interest so much. She'd been impressed with Mr. Spencer's upbeat optimism and good humour, even while he lay on the floor as helpless as a turtle on its back. With a writer's eye, Terry was always interested in unusual people and this man seemed to have the soul of a hero inside that devastated body.

When she examined her reaction closely, Terry realized Mrs. Spencer had also affected her. The woman's shyness, her obvious affection and solicitude for her helpless husband, and the lively intelligence that illuminated her face made for an attractive mix.

Not hard to look at either! Terry grinned as she thought of the woman's deep auburn hair, emerald eyes, and compact muscled frame. But married older women weren't Terry's type so she dismissed any libidinous motives.

"Hi," Terry said, dropping to the grass in front of the startled redhead. "I saw you from our picnic table and was just wondering how Mr. Spencer was doing. No aftereffects from his fall were there?"

"Oh hi," replied the woman, obviously connecting Terry's face with the incident from the previous week. "Thank you for your concern, but no, he's fine. I really did appreciate your lending a hand. I was going to have to call the fire department if you hadn't come along."

"No problem at all," responded Terry. "By the way, we haven't really been introduced, although I know you're Mrs. Spencer. Terry Sanderson." She held out her hand to the somewhat flustered woman.

"Jan Spencer," the redhead said, shaking Terry's hand firmly. She appeared a little embarrassed that she'd neglected the social nicety of inquiring after her saviour's name.

"Is Mr. Spencer around somewhere?" asked Terry, though she was sure that he wasn't.

"No, Rob's at home with a caregiver. I take one afternoon off a week and today was so nice that I decided to come down to the park and read for a few hours," Jan replied.

"It's nice that you can get away now and then. I'm sure you can use the break. No Laurie R. King today?" Terry queried looking at the hardcover that Jan was holding. "Oh, Carol O'Connell. Yeah, I know her books. She's a terrific writer, and I love her Mallory series. I don't think I've read Judas Child yet though," referring to the book Jan was reading. "Is it as good as her others?"

Eyes brightening, Jan launched into an enthusiastic review of the book. Terry watched her hands illustrate her words in the air, realizing that the key to getting the quiet woman to open up was obviously through the books she loved.

"You know, I was disappointed at first when I saw a new Carol O'Connell and it turned out not to be one of the Mallory books, but Judas Child is every bit as good as her other ones. I was looking forward to another visit with Mallory and Charles though. They have such a fascinatingly unconventional relationship, don't you think? Of course, nothing about Mallory is conventional which is why she's such an intriguing character. I mean in a way, she's such an amoral genius that you wouldn't think you could relate to her, and for me, I always have to have at least one of the main characters that I can relate to or I don't enjoy the book. But her friendship with Charles really humanizes her."

Amazed at the torrent of words from the woman, Terry couldn't help responding to her enthusiasm. "I know what you mean about relating to your characters. I've often wondered how authors handle writing despicable characters doing repulsive things. You'd think that if they couldn't relate to them, they'd have difficulty making them real to the reader, wouldn't you?"

"You sound like you've thought about this a bit. Are you a fellow bookworm?" Jan asked curiously.

Terry smiled. She didn't want to lose the connection she'd established with this woman, but she wasn't ready to open up about her writing aspirations yet either. Those she kept strictly to herself, out of an almost superstitious fear that she'd jinx her work.

"I do enjoy reading a lot, though I don't think I'm quite in your sphere of 'worminess'. It's difficult sometimes to get any peace and quiet at my place to settle down and read without interruption for long periods."

"Do you live in a noisy apartment building?" the woman asked sympathetically.

"No," laughed Terry. "But I might as well given the sound levels in my house at times. Actually, I share a place by the university with a couple of students. For the most part, it's a great arrangement, but you know how students like to party."

"Uh huh," Jan said wryly. "Well, if I cast my mind back over the years, I think I can vaguely remember how young people play."

"Hey, you're not exactly an old fossil," Terry protested, "You can't be more than what, thirty-five?"

"Thirty-seven, actually. But thanks for the two year deduction," the other woman smiled. "You don't look much older than a college student yourself."

"Well, up until a few months ago, I was a student," said Terry. "I graduated from the U of C this year."

Jan tilted her head quizzically. "What's a university grad doing delivering mail? I'd have thought you'd want to work in your field of study."

"Now you sound like my parents," Terry grinned. "They couldn't believe I'd spent six years in university only to pound the pavement every day in the service of Canada Post. But I'm really enjoying it. The job pays well, which is important because I have a ton of student loans to pay off. It keeps me in great shape and I have loads of time just to think. Frankly, I think I'm all schooled out. I don't think I'm going to spend the next thirty years of my life doing this, but for now it suits my purposes."

What Terry didn't mention was that she'd plotted the first four chapters of her book while walking her route in Jan's neighbourhood. Steering the conversation back to safer subjects, Terry asked, "Do you mostly read mysteries, or do you like other genres too?"

Jan smiled at that. "I think I enjoy everything from Stephen King to P.G. Wodehouse, and from newspapers to comic books. As long as it's well written, I pretty much enjoy reading it."

"What about speculative fiction?" inquired Terry, the beginning of an idea forming.

"Well, I don't read as much of that as I once did, but yes, I've always really enjoyed writers like David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Stephen R. Donaldson and Dave Duncan. Donaldson was the very first one I read, and his Thomas Covenant series hooked me right from the beginning. Duncan is a true pleasure as he's so much fun to read. I loved his Seventh Sword series. For pure fantasy, I'd have to say Charles deLint is my all-time favourite. I used to live in Ottawa and I'd look for the places he wrote about in Moonheart and Jack the Giant Killer. I thought it was so neat to read fantastical stories set in my own town."

Terry was enjoying her chat with Jan. The redhead's enthusiasm was contagious. It was evident that they shared a love of stories, and Terry wondered what other areas they might have common interests in. They chatted amiably about other books they'd both enjoyed, and then Jan asked her hesitantly if she'd finished work early today to end up in the park at this time.

"No," Terry replied, "I always start early on hot summer days, and I'm usually finished by about three in the afternoon." She pointed back at the picnic table where her friends and little brother were still talking and eating, and then asked, "Would you like to join us? We have lots of food and my roommate is a terrific cook. You're welcome to share if you'd like to."

Instantly Terry could see Jan withdrawing, as her eyes dropped and one hand ran nervously through her hair. She wasn't at all surprised to see Jan remove her reading glasses, close her book and put it in her bag.

"Thank you for the invitation," Jan replied. "But I have to be getting back now. It's almost time for the caregiver to leave and I hate to be late."

She stood, folding her lawn chair and picking up her bag. With a tentative smile, she said, " It was nice talking to you. I guess I'll see you around then."

She turned and started walking back to the parking lot. Terry watched her leave, then rose and returned to the picnic table. The others looked up at her arrival.

"Who was that and since when did you get it on with older women?" Michael asked curiously.

"Oui, now I know why you're avoiding Marika," Claire teased gently.

"No, you guys have it all wrong," Terry brushed them off. "She's just the woman from my mail route that I helped out last week. You remember me telling you about the handicapped man on the floor? Well, that's his wife."

Satisfied with her explanation, particularly on hearing that the woman was married and obviously not a potential target of Terry's attentions, the duo turned back to their interrupted discussion.

Jordy studied Terry. Keenly attuned to his sister, he had idolized her for as long as he could remember. Despite the eight-year age difference between them, or perhaps because of that, she'd always protected and encouraged him. Throughout his childhood she'd insisted that their older brothers allow him to join in the unending games of road hockey and pick-up ball games that had punctuated the years of their youth.

When the three older boys had teased Jordy because his stocky build, sandy hair and blue eyes was so different from the long, lean frames, black hair and dark eyes of the other four siblings, Terry had stuck up for him. When at the age of seven, she had come upon him packing his ball mitt and GI Joe in a bag to run away, convinced that he had to go find his real family since he obviously didn't belong in this one, she didn't yell or deride him for being stupid.

Terry had simply taken him to the basement where all the photo albums were stored, and dug around until she found a very old one. Turning the pages, she stopped at a picture of a young boy who could have been Jordy's twin. She informed him that was their mother's grandfather who had died before Jordy was born. She told him that just because he took after the Morgan side of the family and everyone else looked like the Sanderson side, didn't make him any less a member of the family.

Then Terry had looked at Jordy very seriously, and forever endeared herself to him, saying, "It wouldn't matter what you looked like or where you came from anyway, Jordy. You'll always be my favourite brother and don't you forget that."

Hugging the little boy, she'd gently taken him upstairs to sneak some cookies before supper, knowing that if their mother yelled at them it would all be in a good cause.

Jordy had been Terry's shadow until she moved away when university started, and she'd always had time for him and his problems. In turn, he'd been a constant, loving confidant, often surprising her with wisdom far beyond his years.

Now Terry felt Jordy's eyes on her, but just shook her head at him, indicating that she really didn't want to go into it at the moment. She knew by the look in his eye that while he would let it go for now, he'd be making further inquiries later.

Terry sighed to herself. How could she explain to her little brother what she didn't even understand herself? All she knew was that she wanted to get to know the enigmatic Mrs. Spencer better.

Chapter Three

Emily Sanderson smiled at the sight of her two youngest progeny bailing out of Terry's ancient silver Toyota. Affectionately nicknamed the 'Tin Can', the car had carried Terry faithfully for seven years now and showed no sign of giving up the ghost anytime soon. Emily had discreetly suggested that Terry could now afford to upgrade her vehicle, but her stubborn daughter refused to even countenance such disloyalty. Emily was sure that when the inevitable happened and the old car simply couldn't go anymore, Terry would hold services for the dearly departed.

Hands immersed in a sink full of bubbles, Emily watched out her kitchen window as Terry and Jordy ambled through the backyard to the house, talking nonstop. She finished stacking the dishes in the rack and picked up a towel to dry them just as the two siblings burst into the kitchen with their usual noise.

"Hi Mom," Terry grinned. "Are you still doing dishes the old-fashioned way, you Luddite, you?"

"Yes, daughter of mine. I'm perfectly capable of washing a few dinner dishes by hand."

Emily smiled. This was an old argument, and one her family would never win. They'd pooled their money together to buy her a new dishwasher several years ago, and couldn't understand why she refused to use it except when she had a crowd for dinner and piles of dishes as a result. They all teased her about being old-fashioned and out of step with the times, but Emily just ignored them and continued to do exactly as she pleased.

Emily knew that none of them understood that washing dishes for her was meditative. It gave her a window of peace to think about her day and plan the one coming up, something that was a rarity when she'd been raising five boisterous children.

It was at this very sink that she'd come to terms with her daughter being gay, struggled to think of ways to help her middle child when he'd been badly injured in a ski accident, and plotted how to come up with the money to put her youngest through medical school once he graduated from high school the next year.

Terry wrapped her arms around her mother's shoulders, giving her an affectionate squeeze. Emily enjoyed the momentary closeness, then looked up at her tall daughter and said, "Alex, Diane and the twins will be over in about half an hour. Can you stay long enough to see them?"

"Yup," Terry replied, "I'm all yours for the evening. Actually Jordy told me they'd be here and I haven't seen the babies for weeks now. I'll bet they've doubled in size."

Emily laughed. "Well, not quite doubled, but close enough. They've already outgrown all the clothes I took them a month ago. You've got a while until they're here. Why don't you go out and say hello to your father? He's in the garage working on the lawnmower again."

Terry shook her head. "I don't know why he doesn't just break down and buy a new one. I'll go harass him about it for a bit. Give me a call when Alex gets here, okay?"

Emily nodded and watched her daughter head back outside to the garage. She knew that Gordon was about to be bedeviled by their daughter, but she also knew that he secretly loved it when Terry engaged him in verbal combat. The two of them had been butting heads with baffled affection since Terry was in diapers, and she'd come to accept that this was simply the way the two strong, stubborn people conveyed their love for each other.

Turning to her son, who had been sitting quietly at the table, munching on fresh chocolate chip cookies, she warned sternly, "Don't you go and finish the entire batch, Jordy. I made those especially for company tonight."

"Since when was Alex 'company', Mom?" Jordy mumbled around a mouthful of crumbs.

"He's not, but you know Diane is still shy around this crew, so I like to make an effort when she comes by."

Emily shook her head, wondering silently if her daughter-in-law would ever feel comfortable with the rambunctious family she'd married into. Still, she and Alex seemed very happy together and the twins were without question the most perfect grandchildren alive, so there wasn't really anything to worry about. Diane had adapted well to the challenges of having two babies at once, and Emily considered her a fine mother to the little girls.

"Hey Mom," Jordy said, drawing his mother's attention back to him. "I think Terry's having a problem with one of her old girlfriends. Do you remember the tall blonde she went out with a month or so ago?"

"Which one?" his mother said dryly. "You'll have to be a little more specific than that."

"You know who I mean," Jordy insisted. "Terry brought her here for Sunday dinner once. Her name was Marika and by the time they left, you looked like you'd been sucking lemons."

"You mean the one that was hanging all over Terry like a remora?" Emily asked. When Jordy nodded, she added, "I thought they broke up a few weeks ago. I distinctly remember feeling relieved when Terry told me that one was history."

"Well, she is as far as Terry's concerned, but Marika won't leave Terry alone. From what I heard, she keeps calling her all the time, and she's keeping tabs on her through Terry's friends."

Emily listened to her son, and could tell that he was concerned about his sister. She didn't think there was too much to worry about. Terry had handled an active social life adeptly since she was a teenager, but she agreed that it sounded as if the ex-girlfriend was making a nuisance of herself.

"Keep your ears open, Jordy. If it sounds like it's getting out of hand, tell me about it, but don't let Terry know you're looking out for her. You know she's convinced that it's her job to watch out for you."

Mother and son exchanged smiles at Terry's legendary protectiveness when it came to her little brother, when the doorbell suddenly sounded, startling Emily.

"Oh, they're early. Jordy, run and tell your father and Terry that Alex and his family are here."

Jordy ran off to the garage, while Emily opened up the front door to her oldest son with his arms full of baby and a diaper bag. Two steps behind, her daughter-in-law followed with another baby in her arms. Smiling, she reached out to take a granddaughter from her son and ushered them into the living room.

As Alex and Diane settled down on the couch with an audible sigh of relief, Gordon, Terry and Jordy came in from outside and Emily watched with amusement as Terry swept the other twin up in her arms.

Looking quizzically at the baby in her mother's arms, Terry asked her sister-in-law, "Have I got Kerry or Kelly here?"

"You've got Kelly and your Mom's got Kerry," Diane replied smiling. "It's actually pretty easy to tell them apart when they're together. Kelly's far more demanding than Kerry is. I think she must take after your side of the family."

Emily chuckled at that. She had to admit that her daughter-in-law had a valid point. The Sandersons were not exactly the quietest family around she mused, cuddling Kerry in her arms. However, looking around the room at Alex and Diane relaxing on the couch, Gordon sitting in his easy chair sipping his ever-present cup of coffee, and her two youngest playing with their baby niece on the floor, she felt a deep sense of contentment at what she and Gordon had started 33 years ago.

Terry looked up from where she was rubbing a very contented Kelly's tummy, and spoke to her oldest brother. "How's work going, Alex?"

Alex, a tall, husky carbon copy of their father with dark brown hair and eyes, leaned back on the couch, draped one arm around his slender blonde wife, and answered his sister. "Actually Ter, it's been murder this last month or so. Remember I was telling you about doing a job for that rich old lady in Mount Royal?"

"Yeah, I remember. What happened? Did the house turn out to have wood rot all the way through it or something?"

"No, not quite that bad, though we did need to do some extensive renovations in some rooms, but the real problem is that this woman can not make up her mind!" Alex, clearly agitated about his difficult client, sat forward and said intently, "She has us import Italian marble tiles for her, which is fine, even though it was a pain in the neck getting them through Customs. But then, when we've got them two thirds installed, she decides it's not the right colour. Doesn't go with the rest of the decor she says. Fine, she's paying for it, so we rip the bloody things out and reorder in the colour she wants. They come, we start laying them, and damned if she doesn't change her mind back to the original colour! By this time, I was sending Noel to run interference because if I'd had to deal with her, I think I'd have killed her. Honestly, women!"

Three sets of decidedly feminine and outraged eyes turned towards him, and he raised his hands in self-defence. "No, I didn't mean you guys. I mean other women." Seeing by their stares that he still hadn't succeeded in removing the foot from his mouth, Alex pleaded, "Ah, c'mon, you know what I mean. Let me off the hook here."

Grinning at each other, his wife, sister and mother decided he'd been sufficiently chastised for insulting their gender, so they turned their attention away from his reddened face.

Gordon laughed at his son, and said, "Don't worry, Alex. When Jordy graduates next year and joins the company, we'll put him in charge of public relations. He has a much better way with people than you, Matt or Duncan."

Emily stiffened at her husband's casual assumption that Jordy would be joining his father and three older brothers in the family business when he finished high school. She looked over to where Jordy sat quietly on the floor beside Terry and the baby. She saw the two of them exchange a glance, and the worried look that flashed over Jordy's face.

Only the three of them knew of Jordy's dreams to go to medical school and eventually become a pediatrician. Emily was aware that she was going to have a fight on her hand when she confronted Gordon about the issue, but she was determined that Jordy would become a doctor despite his father's cherished dream of having all four sons in the business with him.

As Alex and Gordon's discussion about work faded into the background, Emily pondered her youngest son's ambitions. She knew he had wanted to become a doctor since he was a little boy. In fact, she even knew the exact time the seed had first been planted in his mind.

When Jordy was only five years old, his fourteen-year-old brother Matt had been in a terrible ski accident. Matt, the family's best athlete, with very valid dreams of making the NHL, had a wild streak a mile wide. One weekend while hot-dogging with some friends out of bounds at Sunshine ski hill, he somersaulted off a cliff and into some trees. He'd ended up with a serious concussion, a broken wrist and a mangled knee that would end his hockey dreams.

Jordy had gone with his family for weeks to the Children's Hospital to visit his brother in recovery, then for months after as Matt endured rehabilitation of his knee. During that time, Jordy had been fascinated by all the children who were patients at the hospital, and had even gotten to know a few who were in for long term treatments.

Emily remembered the day that her youngest son looked up at her and said "Mommy, some day I'm going to be a doctor so I can make all these kids better." Emily had smiled tolerantly at her little boy, sure that he would change his mind many times over the years, but he never did.

Everyone except Terry, who quietly and consistently encouraged her brother, repeatedly dismissed Jordy's dream until finally he never spoke of it anymore. Even Emily thought his childish goals had long fallen by the wayside, so she was surprised when he approached her the previous year, asking for her support in going to medical school.

Emily had gazed at the determination on her youngest child's face and known that even if she didn't help him, that boy would get to medical school somehow. Terry had come to her and offered to drop out of university herself if the money was needed to get Jordy started, but Emily was determined that both of her youngest children would have the education they wanted.

It was going to be difficult to persuade Gordon that his and Jordy's dreams were not the same, and that there would only ever be three Sanderson sons in the business he'd build from scratch over all those years.

He had been very disappointed when Terry appeared to be wasting her education by taking the postal job and had derided the value of higher education for weeks after she broke the news. Emily didn't quite understand that herself, but she assumed that Terry just needed a break after six intensive years of university, and would eventually go on to make use of her degrees.

Emily had faith in her husband's basic fairness though, and she was certain that if he were handled properly, he would acquiesce to putting Jordy through medical school. She had hoped to leave the confrontation a little longer, but it wasn't fair to either Gordon or Jordy to allow the situation to go on as it was. Based on his mother's assurances of support, Jordy was already doing the paperwork to get into pre-med, so she needed to speak to her husband soon.

Returning her attention to the ongoing conversation, Emily heard Terry say, "Uh, Diane, I think a change may be in order here."

Picking up her niece and holding her at arms length, Terry took her over to her mother and deposited her gingerly in Diane's lap. Diane took the baby and grabbing the diaper bag, headed for the washroom.

Gordon smirked at his daughter, "What's the matter Terry? Can't handle one little dirty diaper on your own?"

Terry mock-glared at her father and bounced over to flop on the arm of his easy chair. "Careful old man, I don't see you offering to do diaper duty either. I'll have you know it's in the Aunt's Handbook that we're only required to change diapers when the parents of said child are not in the immediate vicinity."

Emily smiled as her husband nudged Terry with one elbow and shot back at his insubordinate daughter, "Well, I'll have you know, that the Grandfather's Handbook outranks the Aunt's Handbook, and mine says that I did eighteen years of diaper duty on you brats so have a little respect for experience and skill. Why I can remember changing you and Matt in thirty seconds flat with my eyes closed in the middle of the night."

Terry groaned at hearing that old chestnut. "Dad, you have yet to demonstrate any skill on diaper detail, so how do we know you're not telling tall tales? I haven't seen you change Kerry or Kelly once. It's always up to Mom or Diane."

Gordon turned to his wife and appealed, "Honey, tell this daughter of yours how proficient I was when the kids were little."

Emily smiled, amused at the never-ending good-natured dispute between her husband and daughter. These two would argue that the sky was green, just for the pleasure of the debate.

"Daughter of mine? I seem to recall you having a small part in that, Gord. But I do have to admit you were a mean diaper-changer in your time, although there was that incident with Alex when you couldn't find the pins and you ended up duct-taping his diapers on him."

Everyone broke out laughing at Alex's indignant, "Dad!" Gordon just grinned unrepentantly and said, "Well, it worked, didn't it?"

Emily snorted. "Yes, until it was time to change him again and then I had to get your industrial strength shears to cut his diapers off."

"I'll bet you never did that to Duncan or Matt," grumbled Alex amidst the family's gales of laughter at his bruised dignity.

"Nope," Gordon cheerfully admitted. "I refined my technique with Duncan, and by the time Matt and Terry came along, they had a wonderful invention called disposables."

Turning to her mother, Terry asked, "Speaking of Dunc and Matt, are they coming for dinner on Sunday, Mom?"

Eyeing her daughter more closely now, Emily responded, "Duncan and Karen are coming, but I haven't heard from Matt yet."

"Huh, and not likely to either," Terry shook her head. "Matt will make up his mind five minutes before dinner and drop in without a word, assuming you'll have a place for him."

Adopting a neutral tone, Emily stated, "I always have a place for all you kids, you know that."

She watched her daughter's expressive face as it registered disgust for her brother's lack of consideration. She hated the friction between Terry and Matt and deplored the competitive drive that often led them to extremes trying to outdo each other. Matt was the most troubled of her children, but where the boys all seemed to make allowances for him, Terry never cut him an inch of slack. In turn, Matt seemed to view Terry as a rival for everything, from his mother's attention to the affections of the women they both courted.

Emily wondered for the thousandth time if it hadn't been a mistake to have Terry so soon after Matt was born. The two were only eleven months apart, and had been competing with each other since they left the cradle. It didn't help matters that everything appeared to come so easily to Terry. She'd excelled in school and sports, and the only edge Matt had on her was in his beloved hockey. When that was wrenched away from him because of the ski accident, the intensity of competition between them had taken on a bitter edge, which had never diminished.

When Terry had come out to her family at sixteen, Matt was the only one who tried to use her revelation as a weapon against her, which had infuriated Terry and led to a ridiculous competition between them to see who could date the most beautiful girls.

Emily had long ago sadly accepted that the best she could hope for from these two was an armed truce, and she had held firm that the family home had to be a neutral zone. Since she had lost her temper at the pair a year ago in a spectacular display of maternal rage, both Terry and Matt had done their best to be civil in front of her. Emily was under no illusions that the war had ended however.

Emily's thoughts were interrupted by a loud yawn from her daughter, who ruffled her father's thinning gray hair as she stood and said, "I guess I'd better be getting home now. I'll see you guys on Sunday, okay? What time should I be here?"

Emily stood up too, shifting her granddaughter to one hip as she walked her daughter to the door. "Drop over whenever you like, Terry, and bring the others if you want to. We'll probably eat about six o'clock."

"Okay Mom, and I'll check with Michael and Claire. I'm sure they'd love any excuse to get at your cooking."

Emily hugged her daughter warmly, and then watched as she walked out the back door to her car. Hearing Kerry begin to fuss, she turned back into the house to rejoin the rest of her family.

Chapter Four

Terry's long, tanned legs ate up the blocks as she worked her way steadily through her route. It was already a very warm day though only mid-morning, and it promised to be another long, hot August week. She found herself looking forward to the cooler days of fall, only a few weeks away. She was tired today too, having stayed until midnight at her parents' place the night before. She'd been having such a good time that she hadn't dragged herself away at a sensible hour and now she was paying the price.

Duncan and his fiancée Karen had showed up as her mother had said, and thankfully, Matt had not made an appearance. Jordy, Alex and Diane were already there and when Michael and Claire arrived with Terry, it had turned into a lively party. Her mother had been in her glory with so many people to feed and fuss over. Gordon had been in fine form manning the barbeque, at least until Karen tried to help him.

Terry found herself smiling, remembering her soon to be sister-in-law's antics. Karen, a bubbly, warm-hearted extrovert, was a pleasure to be around. She'd made herself instantly at home with the rest of the Sandersons, and fit in so well that an outsider would swear she'd been born into the clan.

Gordon had decided to teach Karen the proper way to flip hamburgers on the barbeque, and had called her over for some hands on instruction. Winking at her fiancé, Karen had gone over to the grill to listen attentively to Gordon's instructions.

Terry wasn't sure how it had happened, but suddenly several half-cooked hamburgers went sailing by the heads of those gathered around the picnic table, and Karen had been summarily banished from the grill.

Returning to the table, Karen had grinned at Terry and Claire, saying sotto voce "We wouldn't want to sabotage the only time men willingly take over the cooking now, would we?" Laughing, the two young women had agreed.

After dancing through her customary pas de deux with the McFarlane mutt as he lunged at her from the end of his short chain, Terry saw her next bundle of mail was for the Spencers. Passing the two houses in between, she looked up as she turned into the bungalow's walkway.

She was pleasantly surprised to see both Jan and Rob in the front yard. Rob was sitting in his wheelchair under the shaded overhang by the front door watching his wife work in the flower garden, which ran under the living room window. As Terry came up the walk, Rob turned his head and smiled at her.

"Hey, it's my white knight!" he called to her.

"If I'm the white knight, does that make you the damsel in distress?" Terry shot back with a grin.

"If you put on the armour, I'll put on the dress," Rob bantered, chuckling.

Jan stepped out of the flowerbed, dusted her hands off on her shorts and reached for the envelopes that Terry was extending to her.

"Good morning, Terry. Don't mind that husband of mine, he's feeling his oats this morning," Jan said as she glanced through the mail.

"No problem," Terry's smile took in both the Spencers. "It's too nice a day not to be feeling great. Is he the foreman and you're the labourer in this endeavor?"

Jan laughed merrily. "What Rob knows about flowers could be mounted on the head of a pin. No, I'm afraid he's strictly a spectator when it comes to horticulture."

"Aw, c'mon," Rob pouted with a small grin. "I'm not that bad. I can tell a weed from a blossom. Besides, don't I order a mean bunch of flowers?"

Jan smiled at him affectionately. "Yes you do, love. You are one of the world's finest flower givers." Turning to Terry she said, "He once got a little carried away, and I came home from work to find six dozen long-stemmed roses waiting for me. You could smell the scent of them from a mile away, and we ended up handing out roses to just about everyone who came by the apartment, even the solicitors."

"So he's really a romantic at heart, is he?" asked Terry, enjoying the interplay between the couple.

"Well, I wouldn't ask him to write a poem, but he does alright for himself."

"Hey, I can write poetry," Rob protested indignantly. "Don't you remember those squadron songs I made up?"

"Rob, honey. That wasn't poetry. Those were the grossest limericks set to music I've ever heard," his wife gently chastised him. "Face it, you weren't exactly Robert Frost!"

Terry broke into what was obviously a long-standing discussion between the two. She had to get back on her route, but she'd been thinking of something since the day she'd had the conversation with Jan in the park and she wanted to present her idea while she had a chance.

"You know how you mentioned that Charles deLint was one of your favourites the other day?" Terry asked Jan. When the woman nodded, Terry went on, "Well, he's doing a reading of his newest book at Chapters on Thursday night and I wondered if maybe you guys wanted to go and then maybe grab some coffee afterwards."

Terry saw the interest in the redhead's eyes, but then watched as she reluctantly shook her head. "Rob doesn't like fantasy, and I can't leave him alone. But thanks for asking."

Rob, obviously sensing that his wife wanted to go, quickly suggested, "Hon, why don't you call Donny and see if he can make it in the evening instead of the afternoon? Then you could go to the reading with Terry."

Jan turned hopefully to her husband. "Are you sure, Rob? You wouldn't mind?"

"Nah, I don't mind at all. It'll be good for you to get out, and besides, Donny and I have a killer domino challenge going. I beat him three games out of five last week, and he's dying for a chance to get even. Give him a call. I'll bet you anything he'd be willing to switch hours."

Terry was disappointed that Rob wasn't interested since she thought he'd be a lot of fun to have along, but she was glad he was amenable to his wife going. She looked at Jan and said, "Great, then why don't I give you my number and you can let me know if things work out alright. If they do, how about I pick you up around seven on Thursday?"

She hauled out her stubby pencil and took one of the envelopes from Jan's hand. Jotting down her name and phone number, she gave it back to the woman. "I'll be looking forward to hearing from you and I hope you're able to go. I think it'll be an interesting evening." Turning to Rob, she touched his arm briefly and said, "Thanks for being flexible."

Rob looked up at her seriously. "No, thank you. Jan needs to get out and see people more often. She shouldn't be stuck at home with me all the time, but I haven't been able to convince her of that."

Softly Jan disagreed with her husband. "I'm not 'stuck' with you, Rob. I'm where I want to be, and you know that."

Feeling that she was now intruding on a private moment, Terry backed away and nodding her farewells to the two who were still looking at each other, she started back down the walk towards the next delivery. As she reached the sidewalk, she heard Jan call, "See you on Thursday." Terry acknowledged her with a wave, and turned onto the street, already looking forward to that night.


Thursday night found Terry unaccountably fussing about what to wear for the deLint reading. She'd picked up and discarded three pair of pants already, and finally, disgusted at her own vacillating, closed her eyes and grabbed whatever was closest to her.

Opening her eyes, she saw that she'd be wearing a pair of well worn, slightly wrinkled but clean khakis to the bookstore. Choosing a dark blue, short-sleeved cotton shirt to go with them, she looked at herself critically in the mirror.

"I'm sure your date will be impressed," drawled a voice from her doorway.

Terry spun around to see Michael leaning against her doorframe, smirking at her.

"It's not a date," she said dismissively. "I'm only meeting a friend for coffee at the bookstore. You have a one-track mind."

"Uh huh," Michael replied skeptically. "I've seen you take less time dressing up for a romantic dinner with a hot blonde."

Terry blushed slightly, knowing Michael was right. She wasn't much of a clotheshorse and tended usually to throw on whatever happened to be clean and at the front of her closet. For some reason though, it seemed important to make a good impression tonight. When Terry didn't respond to his quip, Michael went on. "So who are you meeting?"

"You remember the woman from the park last Thursday? Well, I asked her and her husband if they'd like to go to the deLint reading. He wasn't interested, but she was, so I'm picking her up at seven."

Michael leered comically at her, "Uh huh! Dating married women are you now? Has the single women pool gotten so small that you're desperate, or have you already run through the entire list of lesbian eligibles in Calgary?"

"No, that's not it at all," Terry frowned, somewhat exasperated with her friend. "I just like Jan and Rob, and I'd like to get to know them both. They're quite the pair. I think you'd like them too. They seem like a perfect team and they're so comfortable together. In a way, they remind me of my folks."

"So Jan's another mother figure, is she?"

Terry decided that if Michael's eyebrows got any higher, they'd have to scrape them off the ceiling.

"No, of course not. You know, just because I'm meeting a woman for an evening out, doesn't mean there's anything romantic about it. Can't you be around good-looking men without lusting after them?" Terry finished running a brush through her short hair, and turned to look at Michael.

"Nope, but that's just me," Michael grinned.

Terry laughed. "Silly me, I forgot who I was talking to." Looking at her watch, she yelped. "Yikes, I've got to get going or I'll be late. I'll see you later Michael."

Grabbing a light jacket, she passed Michael in the doorway, stopping to put her hand on his shoulder. "Don't wait up for me, Pops."

She dodged the good-natured swat that had been aimed at her behind, and ran down the stairs. Trailing behind her, she heard Michael's last indignant words, "Just who are you calling 'Pops', old woman?"

Still grinning, she opened her car, and then retreated from the wave of heat that poured from the scorching interior. Left in the hot summer sun all day, the old Toyota felt like a furnace. Rolling down all her windows, Terry wished briefly that she at least had air conditioning, but on the other hand she reasoned, once she got moving, the breeze would cool the small car quickly. She hoped the temperature had at least gone from hellish to merely tropical by the time she arrived at the Spencers.

Pulling up in front of the house only a few minutes after seven, Terry hopped out of her car and walked quickly up to the door. As she reached it, it swung open and a burly, black man smiled at her.

"C'mon in. Jan will be ready in a minute. We kind of got behind the clock so she's running a little late. I'm Donny, by the way, and I take it you're Terry?"

"Yup, that's me. Hi Donny. I hear you're planning on beating the pants off Rob tonight," Terry responded to the man's greeting and walked into the house.

"I heard that!" Rob retorted. "Just for your lack of faith, I'm going to have to sic the birds on you."

Ducking involuntarily, Terry looked around cautiously for the feathered duo, then chuckled as she spotted them sitting calmly on the top of their cage, eating a piece of oversized lettuce poking through the bars. "Doesn't look like they listen to you very well, Rob," Terry teased as she settled onto the couch to wait for Jan.

"No one does. Who'd ever believe I was once a senior officer with airmen groveling at my feet and hanging on my every command?" Rob sighed dramatically, and then grinned at the derisive snort from the hallway that greeted his words.

"No one who ever knew you while you served, that's for sure!" Jan laughed as she entered the living room, still tucking her green, silky t-shirt into tan slacks. "There was a reason you were called Major Marshmallow, my love, and it had nothing to do with your eating habits!"

Turning to Terry, Jan said apologetically, "I'm sorry to hold you up, but I think I'm ready to go now."

"That's okay," Terry replied, standing up. "We've got lots of time and since when were writers punctual anyway?"

Jan walked over to where Donny was arranging the dominoes on the board, and bent over Rob to kiss him good-bye. "Have fun kicking butt, love. I won't be too late."

"Take your time, Jan," Donny piped up. "I need some time to teach your husband a little humility anyway."

"Fat chance," snorted Rob. "Prepare to lose your shirt, and probably the rest of your apparel too."

"Hmm, I didn't know you two were playing strip dominoes," Jan joked, as she turned to leave. "Do try not to shock the neighbours, okay?"

Terry held the door for Jan, listening to the men already deep in the throes of mortal combat, arguing over who got to go first. She looked at the woman walking quietly beside her and asked "Are they always this competitive?"

Jan smiled. "Always! But it's good for Rob. He was always highly competitive in things like flying and sports, and now that those have been taken away from him, he needs other outlets. I'm not much help, as I don't think I have a competitive bone in my body, so Donny is the perfect caregiver for him. I like him to have male companionship too, since he's mostly stuck with me and we don't exactly get out a lot."

Terry considered that for a moment as she opened Jan's side of the car for her. "I don't think he'd ever call it being stuck with you. It seems to me that he's pretty happy you're around."

Jan slid into the front seat and smiled at Terry as she came around to get behind the wheel. "I know that he is of course, but it's hard for one person to be everything to another person, don't you think?"

Terry started her car, pulling away from the curb. "I suppose. I think of everyone in my life and they all fill different roles for me, so it's hard to imagine only having one person in your life." Staunchly she added, "But if it has to be only one person, I'll bet Rob's awfully glad that it's you."

Jan smiled her appreciation of Terry's kind words and settled back for the ride.

Pulling up in front of the huge bookstore fifteen minutes later, Terry wasn't surprised to see a crowded parking lot. Even without the deLint reading scheduled, Chapters, with its co-located Starbucks, was a popular gathering spot for people.

Finding a spot many rows away from the store, Terry wheeled the old car into position and turned off the ignition. As the women got out, Jan turned to Terry and asked, "Do you want the windows up?"

"Nah, no one's going to steal this old piece of junk," Terry laughed. "Leave them open and it'll be much cooler when we come out."

Walking across the parking lot and entering the double doors of the store, both women sighed as the refreshing blast of cool air hit them.

"I may just sleep here tonight," Terry moaned.

"I take it you don't have air conditioning where you live?" Jan asked.

"Not in the whole house, though I do have a temperamental window unit that adheres to union rules and only works when it's less than twenty degrees outside. That can be a problem when you're living in an attic in August." Terry grinned down at her companion. "So why don't I get us a couple of ice cappuccinos while you grab us some seats, unless there's something else you'd prefer?"

Jan shook her head. "That's fine. Let me give you some money for it."

As she started to open her purse, Terry put out a hand to stop her. "No, don't worry about it. You can get the next round."

Terry stood in line to get the cappuccinos watching casually as Jan found them two seats toward the rear and settled into one, placing her purse on the other to save it for her companion.

She noticed Jan contentedly eyeing the shelves of books around her, musing that the woman had probably spent quite a few dollars in here judging by her own library. She wondered if the older woman was enjoying her unusual night out and hoped that the deLint reading would be entertaining for her.

Once she'd been served, Terry awkwardly balanced the two coffees in one hand, as she stuffed her change into her pocket and started over towards Jan. She negotiated her way around several groups of people and came to a stop in front of the redhead. Jan moved her purse as Terry dropped into the chair, then handed Jan her cappuccino.

"Thanks," Jan said, sipping appreciatively at the drink. "You know, I think something may be going on. I've been watching those Chapter's employees milling around at the front and they seem to be upset about something."

Just as Jan made this remark, one of the men wearing a blue Chapters shirt, cleared his throat and gathered everyone's attention.

"I'm sorry. I'm afraid we're going to have to postpone the reading for tonight. Mr. deLint has been delayed in Ottawa on a family emergency, but he's promised to make it out as soon as he can. If you'd like to leave your number at the front desk, we'll phone you with the time of the next reading. Again, I'm very sorry for the inconvenience."

Terry and Jan looked at each other in disappointment, and then around at the crowd, which was slowly dispersing with murmurs of frustration.

Terry spoke first. "Did you want to go home then, or would you like to stay and finish your coffee, maybe do a little browsing afterwards?"

"Well, I'd hate to interrupt the men when they're deep in their game. Rob might never forgive me if I prevented him from thrashing Donny on the field of dominoes. Why don't we find a better spot to relax and drink these things? It's not too often that I'm out for an evening, so I might as well take advantage of it."

With those words, Jan rose to move to one of the couches that littered the store. Terry followed, absurdly glad that the night wasn't ending prematurely. Following Jan's lead, she settled in beside the woman on a couch between 'Psychology' and 'Political Affairs' and half-turned to face the redhead.

"Judging by the library I saw in your house, you probably already own half these books," Terry said, indicating the bookshelves that surrounded them.

"Oh, nothing as deep as this, I'm afraid," Jan replied with a small self-deprecating laugh. "When it comes to books, I'm strictly an escapist reader. I like to keep up on world events through the newspapers, but when it comes to leisure reading, I want to be swept off into fantastic worlds, with fascinating people doing incredible things. Rob's never really understood that. He prefers military techno-thrillers like Tom Clancy that are solidly grounded in politics and realism. He accuses me of having my head in the clouds sometimes, but as I told him, the real world is harsh enough—why wouldn't I want to leave it now and then?"

"I know what you mean," Terry nodded her agreement. "I like nothing better than to lose complete track of time when I'm reading or watching a movie. If I'm that absorbed in someone else's vision, then I emerge at the end feeling like I've taken a trip without ever leaving home."

"Are you quite a movie buff yourself?" queried Jan.

"I used to be, much more than I am now. My Mom always knew that if she couldn't find me on Saturday afternoon, odds were that I was at the theatre. Lately though, I mostly rely on the odd video to keep up as I never seem to get to the movies I want to see before they've left town. I always make mental notes about which ones I want to see. Then I'm shocked when I finally have time and they've long since departed the theatre. My life's too darned busy at the moment," Terry shook her head in frustration. "I think the last film I actually saw in a theatre was Titanic."

"Rob and I went to see that one too. I was surprised, but even my thoroughly hardheaded husband enjoyed it. I know the critics weren't that impressed but I just enjoyed being entertained, and I was certainly awed with the special effects."

"Yeah, I liked that one too, though I couldn't believe the kids who went back fifteen or twenty times to see it. That's overdoing it just a little."

Jan smiled at her. "Do you mean to say you weren't swept away by Leo's charms?"

"Hardly!" snorted Terry. "He was a bit of a callow pretty boy, don't you think, though I can see how he would appeal to the teeny bopper set."

"So what exactly is your 'type'?" asked Jan curiously. "I'm assuming you're single by lack of a ring, not that that necessarily indicates anything."

Terry hesitated, not sure how to handle the question. She was open about her sexuality but it was always difficult to know the right timing for informing new straight people in her life. She opened her mouth to respond cautiously, when a voice sounded from behind her.

"Hello, Terry. What a lovely surprise running into you here."

A tall, sleek, blonde woman in a tight skirt and dark silk blouse stepped around in front of the women. Gray eyes considered Jan coolly. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your 'friend', dear?"

Terry groaned internally. Of all the people to run into, Marika was the last person she wanted to see. She wondered if the meeting was coincidental, but in any case, she had no intention of playing the blonde's game tonight.

"Marika, this is Mrs. Spencer. Jan, this is Marika Havers and she was just leaving," Terry said formally.

Marika ignored Terry's dismissal, and putting a slight emphasis on the words, said, "Mrs. Spencer, is it? It's so nice to meet you. Of course it's always nice to meet one of Terry's new 'friends'."

As Terry glowered at her, Marika smiled sweetly in return. "Well, I'm so sorry I can't stop and chat but I do have places to be. Good-bye, Terry. I'll see you again soon."

As she sauntered off, Terry muttered under her breath, "Not if I see you first." She hadn't thought the blonde woman could hear her low-pitched words, but Marika's pace faltered momentarily before picking up as she walked rapidly to the exit.

Jan looked at her steadily. "Do you want to tell me what just happened here?"

Terry really didn't want to tell Jan what had just happened, but she felt compelled to do so by the woman's warm, expressive eyes. Something in them demanded nothing less than honesty, and Terry steeled herself to tell the older woman of Marika's enduring preoccupation with her.

"Marika and I dated for about a month before I broke it off. That was several weeks ago, but she won't leave me alone. She keeps turning up places where I am, and asking my friends what I'm doing all the time. She's turning into a bloody stalker and I'm starting to think I'm going to have to get a restraining order against her, but she doesn't do anything overt that I can pin her on. She's just always there!" Terry held her breath, waiting for Jan's response.

"Well, that answers my question about your type then," Jan said softly.

"Is that a problem?" Terry asked evenly, sincerely hoping the answer would be no. She enjoyed this woman's company even though they barely knew each other. She felt an unprecedented comfort with her, almost as if they'd been friends for years rather than just having met a week ago.

Jan smiled slightly. "No, Terry. It's no problem at all. I'm glad you were open with me."

Terry sagged slightly in relief. Marika hadn't managed to ruin this budding friendship after all.

Jan sat up briskly and said, "Now, I think the next round was on me, wasn't it? Do you want another of the same?"

Terry nodded and watched as the woman walked over to the corner coffee bar. She was grateful that the run-in with Marika had brought things out in the open. Terry didn't hide her orientation, but neither did she flaunt it. She was glad that this time it had been taken out of her hands. Jan hadn't seemed uncomfortable or nonplused and in fact, had taken the information quite casually. That boded well for their future friendship. She hoped Rob was of a similar mind to his wife's.

An hour later, the two women, having finished their second round of cappuccinos and done a bit of browsing and buying, headed back out to Terry's car. Seating themselves in the slightly cooler Toyota, Terry started the car and then gestured at the bag of books on Jan's lap.

"Aren't you going to run out of space for books one of these days?"

Jan laughed. "That's what Rob says too, but I just tell him that while there's an inch of uncovered floor space, there's room for more books. I've only just begun putting bookcases downstairs, so I'm good for at least another few years. Besides, it could be worse. I could be hooked on diamonds and furs instead of books."

Terry guided her car out into the light traffic as she said, "Yeah, I guess if you're going to have an addiction, books are pretty benign, though I'm betting you could have clothed half the models in Toronto in fur with what you've spent on books so far. How come you just don't go to the library?"

Jan considered that for a moment. "When I was younger, I practically lived in libraries, but after I married Rob and we had a little spare money, I found that I really enjoyed owning books. I find a great sense of peace in being surrounded by them. I know that if I'm upset or feeling out of sorts, all I have to do is walk into a bookstore and I feel calmer. I suppose that sounds a bit strange." Jan gave a low, self-conscious laugh and stared intently at the bag on her lap.

Terry noticed her discomfort and quickly reassured her. "Not at all. Everyone takes comfort in something different. Heck, my Mom had to forcibly remove my favourite blankie from my arms when I was about ten, just because it had fallen to shreds and was leaving pieces of itself all over the house. My brother Jordy had an old stuffed horse that he slept with up until our older brothers tormented him unmercifully about it, and then he hid it. But I happen to know that he's still got it tucked away in his closet. I think we all need some kind of security blanket. Books are as good, if not better, than anything else."

Jan didn't say anything, but Terry could see that a smile had returned to her face, and she was content to drive in companionable silence for the rest of the way.

As she pulled up in front of the Spencer house, she turned to Jan and asked, "Do you think you and Rob might like to go for Sunday brunch sometime? I know a really nice restaurant that overlooks the river. It's kind of small and not very well known, but the food is great."

Jan nodded. "I'd like that and I'm sure Rob would too. Is the restaurant accessible?"

"I think so. I don't remember any stairs to get in, but I can call and confirm that. When would you like to go?"

"Is this Sunday too soon? We can leave it for a few weeks if you like."

"No, this Sunday is great. Do you mind if I ask my little brother to join us?" Terry beamed at the ready acceptance of her invitation.

"Not at all. I'm sure we'd both enjoy meeting him. How about I talk to Rob and then give you a call to confirm it? I'll have to get directions from you on how to get there."

"No problem," Terry assured her. "I am a direction-giver par excellence, and I'll have you know that no one has ever gotten lost using one of my maps."

Jan chuckled. "That may be so, but you've never seen me try to navigate. I generally leave the map reading up to my co-pilot, though he once got us lost in the wilds of northern Minnesota, not that he'll admit it. Listen, thanks very much for the invitation tonight. I'm sorry that the reading was canceled but I had fun anyway. Maybe when he does make it to town, we could try again."

"I'd like that. It's a date." Terry then realized what she'd said, and hastened to correct herself. "I mean not a DATE date, just two friends getting together for an evening out. Doesn't necessarily make it a date. Nope, not at all," Terry stuttered as she floundered clumsily.

Jan laughed delightedly and put her hand on Terry's arm. "Relax, Terry. I know what you mean and I didn't take anything the wrong way. Anyway, you have a good night, and I'll give you a call about Sunday."

Terry watched as the woman climbed out of her car and started up the walk. Waiting until she reached the entrance, and after returning her wave as Jan went inside, Terry smacked herself on the forehead.

"Bonehead!" she muttered. "Could you have possibly made things anymore awkward?"

Terry wasn't used to being flustered around women, but then most of the women she knew were nothing like Jan. She'd really enjoyed their evening together. Despite the redhead's natural reserve, Jan had a wickedly dry sense of humour and Terry had found herself the butt of it more than once. In addition, the older woman had a warm, considerate presence, which Terry basked in.

Terry also liked the affectionate way Jan spoke of her husband, even when she was telling tales on him. Rob sounded like he'd had quite an energetic, adventurous life before the MS had slowed him down.

Terry dragged herself out of her musings and pulled away from the curb. As she drove off, she made a mental note to call Jordy and see if he was free to join them, realizing as she did that she was keenly anticipating Sunday's brunch.

Chapter Five

As Terry pulled up in front of her parents' home, she wondered if Jordy would be up yet. She'd left ample time before they were due at the restaurant for brunch, knowing that her little brother, like most teenagers, had problems dragging himself out of bed before noon. When she'd asked him to come along, he'd accepted eagerly and assured her that he'd be ready, but she had her doubts about that.

Entering the gate, which split the tall, thick hedges surrounding the house, Terry spotted her mother working in her tiered rock garden. Ambling over, she called out, "Hi, Mom. Is that lazy brother of mine out of bed yet?"

Turning, Emily smiled at her daughter. "I did try, Terry. I called him at nine and nine thirty, and finally had your father drag him bodily out of bed about fifteen minutes ago. Last I heard, he was being directed towards the shower, so if you give him a few more minutes, I'm sure he'll be ready."

"Aw, I knew he wouldn't be ready in time anyway. That's why I told him we had to be there at ten thirty, but we're really meeting them at eleven." Terry and Emily grinned at each other. Jordy's lack of time sense was a standing family joke, and Emily even swore that was the reason he'd been born ten days late.

"Have I met this couple you're having brunch with, Ter?" Emily asked curiously. "I don't seem to remember you mentioning them before."

"No, Mom," Terry answered. "Though I'd like you and Dad to meet them sometime. I think you'd really like them. You have a lot in common with Jan. She's a garden-loving, bookworm just like you. Rob's a former fighter pilot. He's got MS now so he's in a wheelchair, but he's got a terrific sense of humour and I'll bet he and Dad would get along like a house on fire."

"Well, bring them over for Sunday dinner one week then, dear. You know we always have room at the table for more people." Emily frowned briefly. "It might be best for them to come when we're barbequing because he could come directly in from the back alley. If we were in the house, I'm not sure how we'd get the wheelchair inside. Could we just lift it up the stairs, do you think?"

"Oh yeah, Jordy and I could probably handle it fine between us. For that matter, Jan doesn't look like she's too fragile to pitch in herself. Heck, she's been looking after him all these years so I'd imagine she's gotten him in and out of lots of tight spots. Actually, that was the way I met them. Remember I told you about the man I helped rescue on my route?" Terry reminded her mother.

"That's right, I remember now. My daughter the good Samaritan!" Emily beamed proudly.

Both women turned at the sound of the front door being flung open, and they watched as a disheveled Jordy burst through the doorway and ran down the steps.

"I'm ready, Terry. Really I am!" Jordy panted.

Terry and Emily started laughing as Jordy frantically tried to tuck his shirt in his pants while stumbling over untied shoelaces. Terry walked over to her little brother and putting her hands firmly on his shoulders, said "Slow down, runt. We've got lots of time." Running her hand over his cheek, she raised one eyebrow. "In fact, we have more than enough time for you to go back and shave."

"Aw Terry, it's the weekend," Jordy moaned. "I hate shaving on weekends."

"You hate shaving period, runt, but I'm not taking you out to brunch looking like a porcupine, so go run the shaver over that stubble," Terry instructed him sternly.

As he reluctantly turned back to the house, her eyes twinkled at his youthful stubbornness. She could remember when he'd grown the first couple of hairs on his face and had been so keen to start shaving as soon as possible. The novelty had quickly worn off though, and now he put off shaving until absolutely forced into it.

Emily smiled her thanks at her daughter. "I'm glad you said that. He looks so nice when he's cleaned up and sometimes I practically have to beat him over the head to do it. I wish he listened as well to your father and I as he does to you."

"He listens to you, Mom, especially about the important stuff. He just can't let you think you run him, that's all. I'm sure I was just as bad when I was young."

"Oh yes, Methuselah, you were just as bad in those far off days of your youth," Emily teased. "In fact, I'd say you were far worse. I don't think I got my way with you from the time you were twelve years old. Jordy's actually been the easiest of you five to raise, but don't tell him that. It'll wound his manly pride."

The object of their discussion bounced out of the house, down the stairs and drew himself up into a mock salute in front of his sister.

"Present for inspection, sir!" Jordy hollered, snapping to attention.

Terry growled at him, "That's ma'am to you, soldier, and don't you forget it or you'll be giving me fifty of your best."

Suppressing a smile, she circled her brother tugging at his shirt and checking his boyish cheeks for stubble. "Okay, you'll pass this time, although you could have used a little more spit on those shoes!"

"Sheesh, Terry, they're runners for crying out loud. Why would I spit on them?" Jordy protested.

"Details, details," Terry waved airily. "I don't make the regulations, I just enforce them."

Wrapping an arm around the shoulders of the now presentable boy, she added, "Okay, let's get going then. See you later, Mom, and I'll ask Jan and Rob about coming for Sunday dinner sometime."

Terry saw her mother pick up the trowel and turn back to her rock garden as she and Jordy started for the car. Giving her brother a hip check, she danced out of his way as he trotted after her.

"So are we meeting the King and Queen of Sheba today or something?" Jordy grumbled, still miffed that he'd had to shave.

"Nope, just people I'd like us all to be friends with, so you have to behave yourself. And no telling any of those gross jokes I heard you swapping with Gary the other night either, or you and I will be having words," Terry playfully instructed her brother.

"Oh, um, you heard those, did you?" Jordy asked sheepishly. "Mom didn't, did she?"

"Not that I know of, runt. But I'd be careful if I was you. She hears you and you'll be finding your mouth full of soap before you know it."

Terry grinned at her blushing brother and opened the car door for him. He groaned and sank into the duct-taped seat, reaching over to push his sister's door open for her.

As Terry got behind the wheel, the siblings smiled ruefully at each other, both remembering times from their childhood when words brought home from the playground had earned them Emily's soapy wrath. Even to this day, all of Emily's children unconsciously watched their language around her. Her methods might have been old fashioned, but they certainly were effective.


Rounding the narrow curve, Terry pulled up in front of a large white house fronted by a small graveled parking lot overhung with willows and mountain ash. An archway covered with thick clematis stood to the right of the house and led back to a barely glimpsed terrace overlooking the flowing waters of the Bow.

Prosaically named 'The River Garden', it was a pleasant though unimposing spot, but those familiar with the restaurant knew it served some of the best food in the city. The owners deliberately did little advertising, relying on word of mouth and loyal customers. Even now, the parking lot was filled almost to capacity as Terry found a spot on the far side.

Getting out, she turned to her brother and said, "We're a few minutes early. I think we'll wait here so we can give Jan a hand if she needs it."

Jordy nodded and followed Terry over to sit in the shade of a tall old willow tree. Flopping gracelessly beside his sister he asked, "So are you treating today, Ter?"

Terry grinned. "Now you ask? What happens if I say no? Are you planning on doing dishes to cover your part?"

Jordy dug his elbow into his sister's side and toppled her over onto the grass. Laughing, she raised herself upright again and teased, "I suppose I could be persuaded, but it'll cost ya!"

"Cost me what?" Jordy inquired suspiciously.

"Oh, a little sweat and manual labour I think, runt. The Tin Can is seriously in need of a good cleaning out, not to mention a wash and wax. Besides, not only will you have paid for your brunch but you can even hang onto it for a couple of days."

Terry knew Jordy would be delighted to have wheels of his own and with her own mobility restricted, she hoped to force herself into more writing.

"Alright!" cheered Jordy enthusiastically. "You've got a deal. When do you want it done?"

"You can take it after brunch today. Just drop me off at my place and have it back to me by Wednesday, all clean and polished. But make sure you have it to me by after work, because I'm planning on going out that night."

"Oh yeah?" Jordy laughed. "Gotta hot date?"

"God, you're getting as bad as Michael! Actually, I am meeting some friends but it's just the ball team's end of season bash and we're all going out to Oly's. I wasn't sure if I should go because I missed the last month of the season when I threw my shoulder out, but Lisa and Robyn said they'd hogtie me and drag me along if I tried to bow out."

"Whoa, if Robyn said that, you'd better go, because she could hogtie you with one hand behind her back!" Jordy said with a mock tremor.

Terry laughed, thinking of her large, powerful friend. Robyn worked at the airport handling luggage and cargo, and had the biceps to show for it. She always got a kick out of seeing Robyn with her partner, Lisa, who was tiny and fragile looking. For all their Mutt and Jeff appearance, Terry couldn't picture one without the other as her friends shared a rock-solid relationship and had been together for years.

Hearing the sound of a vehicle slowing down as it rounded the curve, Terry glanced up to see a large burgundy van pulling into the parking lot. Noticing the distinctive blue and white of the handicap sticker in the window, she stood up, pulling Jordy along with her.

"I think that's them, runt. Let's go see if we can lend a hand."

As Terry and Jordy walked towards the van, the rear door began to open upwards as a small ramp automatically lowered to reveal Rob's chair locked down in the cargo area behind the bench seat. Jan hopped out of the front and came around to the back, waving at the two siblings as they approached.

"Good morning," she said. "Isn't it a beautiful day?"

Terry smiled and nodded. "Good morning, Jan. Hi Rob," she called into the van.

"Hey Terry, how's it going?" Rob responded over his shoulder, waiting patiently for his wife to unhook his chair.

"Great," Terry replied. "Guys, this is my baby brother, Jordy. Jordy, this is Jan and Rob Spencer." Terry grinned as her appellation for her brother earned her an indignant look.

Jordy held out his hand to Jan who gave it a quick shake, and then a little uncertainly, he called in to the van, "Hi Rob."

"Hi Jordy," came the response. "I'd shake hands but I'm a little tied up at the moment."

Jan chuckled, and then nodding at the wheelchair she said, "Just give me a moment to spring Rob, and then we can go on in."

"Can I help in any way?" Terry offered.

"No thanks Terry, it'll just take a second." With that, Jan edged along the side of the wheelchair, unlocking the front tie-downs and the chair's brakes; then coming around behind, she flipped off the rear tie downs and began to roll the chair down the ramp. Backing away from the van, she touched a remote control latched over the chair's frame, and the door began to close.

She wheeled the chair around to face the pair, and smiled as Jordy said, "Wow, that's quite the set-up you have there."

"Yes, it's a good system and it makes it so much easier to get around than if we had to depend on handi-cabs all the time," Jan replied." Shall we go in then?"

"Sounds good," said Terry. "Is the outdoor patio okay for you guys, or would you rather be inside?"

Jan considered for a moment. "Outdoors is fine as long as there's some shade for Rob. Otherwise, he'll last longer if he's inside out of the sun."

"Geez, Jan," Rob grinned up at his wife. "You make me sound like potato salad at a picnic or something."

"Rob, you and I both know what happens when you get overheated. You turn into a limp noodle." Jan's eyes were compassionate but firm. Turning to Terry who was walking beside her, she said, "He'll try and push it if he can, but he's really better off if he can stay cool."

"No problem", replied Terry. "I know the waiters here pretty well, and I'm sure we can find a shady corner easily."

She led her small party down the cobbled walk running alongside the old house, under a trellis which proved to be a tight fit for the wheelchair, to emerge on the edge of a wide patio, set with dark green tables and comfortable looking padded chairs. At least three quarters of the tables were filled but she noted one table in the corner set under overhanging trees, which would give the required shade.

"Terry!" came a delighted voice from her left. "I haven't seen you in forever. Don't tell me you didn't bring that delicious roommate of yours with you this time."

A lanky man, wearing a waiter's garb of black pants and white shirt swept up to her, and gave her a quick hug.

"Hi, Aaron. It's good to see you again. Nope, sorry. Last I saw, that delicious roommate of mine was stumbling out to the backyard hammock with an ice pack, moaning something about not moving for the next three days." Terry laughed, remembered how rough the usually impeccable Michael had looked this morning before she left. "I think the boy may have partied too well last night."

"I heard Henri was having his annual summer blast last night, but of all the lousy luck, I had to work the late shift and missed all the fun." Aaron pouted a little, then added, "But where are my manners, let me get you folks seated."

"Aaron, can we have that table over there?" Terry asked, pointing at the shaded corner table.

"For you, fair lady, anything." Aaron smiled at her and led them past other customers to the desired table. Removing a chair to make a space for Rob, he placed menus in front of each place and promised to return with coffee in a few moments.

"Is this alright?" Terry looked at Jan and Rob, who nodded their approval of her choice. "Great. I hope you brought your appetites with you, because they don't stint on portions in this place and everything is made from the freshest ingredients they can find. The owners even run a small farm not too far from here and they use a lot of their own produce in the restaurant."

"Well, considering that my wife has been starving me all morning in anticipation, I'm more than ready to chow down," Rob said, perusing the menu that Jan had opened and placed in his lap.

"Excuse me?" Jan demurred. "I was 'starving' you? Who wouldn't even eat his toast this morning because he was so excited about going out?"

"Oh yeah," Rob said sheepishly. "I guess that would be me." Turning to Terry, he said, "So what do you recommend?"

"Depends if you feel like breakfast or lunch," replied Terry, scanning her menu even though she knew most of it by heart. "I can tell you already that Jordy will be going for their hamburger, home fries, and giant chocolate sundae, because they give you enough to choke a horse." She grinned at her brother who had been uncharacteristically quiet, but who was now sporting a vivid blush thanks to his sister's teasing.

"Hey, I'm a growing boy!" protested the young man. "Besides, if you're forcing me into slave labour on the Tin Can, I'm getting my money's worth out of you." Turning to Rob he said, "If you don't feel like lunch, they make terrific Eggs Benedict here."

Jan laughed. "You've stumbled on my husband's weakness. He loves Eggs Benedict, and he claims I never make them as well as restaurants do. So is that good for you then, Rob?"

When her husband nodded his approval, Jan turned to Terry and said, "Do you have any favourites?"

"Well, like I said, you can't go wrong with anything here, but I must admit I'm partial to their Belgian waffles with Saskatoon berries and real whipped cream."

"Hmm, that's sounds great," Jan closed her menu. "I think I'll go with that."

"Me too." Terry motioned Aaron back, and as he poured coffee for all of them said, "We're ready to order anytime."

Aaron took their orders, smiling slightly at Jordy's requests, then left them to enjoy their coffee, the company and their surroundings.

The patio, which ran the length of the house, was sided by tall privacy hedges and trees, and opened out on a green lawn that ran down a gentle slope to the riverbank. Wrought iron and wood benches dotted the lawn and a few customers could be seen drinking coffee and enjoying the quiet park-like atmosphere. Large, well-tended flowerpots lined a path, which meandered from the patio, across the lawn and down to the river.

"What a beautiful spot, Terry. I'm amazed I've never heard of it before," Jan said, eyes surveying the pastoral scene in front of her. She took a short straw from her purse, put it in Rob's coffee, and held the cup for him to take a sip, wincing as he drew in the hot liquid too quickly. "Careful, love. Don't burn yourself."

"I think the owners are deliberately low-key," Terry replied. "They're more interested in catering to an appreciative clientele than becoming the 'hot new place to be' in town. They've actually been here three years, and they seem to do a very steady business. I often see the same people here when I come back, and I try to come back at least every month or so. You should see it in the winter. The patio's closed then of course, but from the dining room after a fresh snowfall, you feel like you're looking out over a faerie kingdom."

Jan glanced back at the house, taking in the floor to ceiling windows, which enclosed an interior dining area. "We'll have to try it sometime in the winter then, don't you think Rob?"

"Yeah, if we can get in, that would be great. We'd have to call first and see if their road and parking lot were cleared though." Turning to Jordy, Rob asked, "So what do you do, Jordy? Are you still in school?"

Jordy nodded. "I'll be starting my last year of high school in September, and then it's on to the real world."

"And what are you planning to do in the real world?" Rob grinned at the young man's enthusiasm, then he looked at his wife and said, "It seems like only yesterday that I was making those sorts of plans myself." A wistful look momentarily came over his face before he returned his attention to Jordy.

Jordy hesitated and looked at Terry, who nodded slightly at him. "What I want is to go to med school and eventually become a pediatrician. Unfortunately, my Dad has other plans, but Mom and Terry think they can persuade him to see the light."

"We will, Jordy," Terry said seriously. "Don't you ever doubt it. You will be going to med school and you're going to be the best darned kid doctor there ever was."

Her words carried a fierce conviction and pride in her little brother. She had every confidence that her parents would come through for him, but if for some strange reason they didn't, she'd put him through herself and work for the Post Office for the next twenty years to pay for it if she had to.

Jordy looked grateful for the reassurance. Turning to Rob, who'd been observing the exchange with interest, he said, "I hear you and Jan used to be in the military. That must have been an interesting life."

Terry watched as Jan and Rob looked at each other and then broke out laughing. She wondered what had set them off, but listened as Rob explained, "I guess that's one way of putting it, Jordy. It was kind of like the ancient Chinese proverb about living in interesting times, but yeah, I loved flying and I had a great time until this stupid disease grounded me."

"I thought about learning to fly in my younger years," Jordy said, pointedly ignoring the smothered smiles from the others at his terminology. "But I was never sure if I could handle it or not. I've never even flown in a big passenger jet, so I'm not sure how I'd feel on a fighter. I always liked the wild rides at the Stampede though, and they never bothered my stomach much so I think I'd be okay. Heck, I went on the Skyscraper ride this year with no problems, and they say you're pulling at least 4 G's on that, so I think I could handle fighters okay."

Rob looked at him for a moment, then said, "Would you like to get a taste of real flying, Jordy?"

"Uh, I didn't think you could fly any more, Rob," Jordy answered, looking puzzled.

"No, I can't. But I do have a very good friend who will be participating in the Springbank air show on Labour Day, and I think I could persuade him to take you up for a ride. He's an old air force buddy of mine who flies for Air Canada out of Vancouver now, but in his spare time, he flies with an air demonstration team at air shows all over North America. If you're interested, I'll give him a call and set it up. It's just a little bi-wing prop job, but he'll do a few loops and circuits and give you a taste of what flying is all about."

"Are you serious?" stammered Jordy. "You'd do that for me?" His eyes sparkled with excitement at the idea of trying something so thrilling. "That would be better than the Skyscraper!"

Terry smiled at her brother's enthusiasm, glad that he would be given such an opportunity, and impressed that Rob would go to such lengths for someone he'd just met. She thought Rob seemed equally pleased that he was able to do a favour for the young man, as his face glowed with almost as much excitement as Jordy's. She watched the two get into a discussion of what air shows his friend had flown in, and then turned to Jan who was quietly listening.

"That's awfully nice of him, Jan. Do you think his friend will really agree?"

Jan nodded. "Eric's one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet, and he's got a real soft spot for Rob. They flew together over in Europe and got into trouble off-duty all the time, usually with the local frauleins. Eric's one of the ones whose stuck by Rob through thick and thin. He'll jump at the chance to do him a favour, especially one like this where they both get to show off their love of airplanes. It'll give Rob something to look forward to, and we were already going out to the air show as Eric's guests anyway, so Jordy is more than welcome to come along, as are you if you're interested."

"I've never been to an air show, but I'd love to come along and see Jordy's first ride. I'll be sure to bring along my camera and some brown paper bags for him." Terry laughed as Jordy looked up in outrage.

"Hey, I'm not going to need any bags, and that's a guarantee," Jordy sputtered indignantly.

"Oh, I dunno," Rob cautioned him. "I know of even the occasional experienced pilot who's had to clean his cockpit after a wild flight. Not that it ever happened to me!" he added hastily.

"Really?" drawled his wife slyly. "Not even after that little Paris flight?"

Both Terry and Jordy leaned forward eagerly to hear whatever was making Rob figuratively squirm. Just at that moment though, Aaron arrived with their plates, and proceeded to set them around. Terry didn't want to let this go however, and once everyone had started, she turned to the ex-pilot and said, "Tell us what happened in Paris, Rob."

Rob had his eyes fixed on his plate where Jan was cutting into his Eggs Benedict in preparation to feed him. He muttered, "Oh you don't really want to hear any of those old stories."

Grinning at each other, Terry and Jordy realized there must be a good tale behind his reluctance, and they chorused together, "Yes we do!"

Sighing, Rob looked at his delighted wife and said, "I'm going to get you for this, you know."

Turning his head to the other two, he said, "She loves to embarrass me about this one, but okay, if you insist, this is what happened. I was on a training mission over Europe. I'd flown out of our base in France and I hadn't been in Europe that long so I wasn't all that familiar with the route I was supposed to be taking. I thought I was on-course, and I was sitting back enjoying the flight when I started to notice a pretty built-up area on the ground. According to my maps, there shouldn't have been any large towns under where I was, so I was looking around trying to recognize some landmarks. Uh, that's when I saw it."

Jan laughed at her husband's chagrin, knowing what was coming next. Terry and Jordy stared at him intently, waiting for the punch line.

"You saw what?" asked Jordy.

"Only one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world," Rob said, shaking his head at the memory. "I was flying low-level, mach one, directly at the Eiffel Tower. Somehow, I'd gotten turned around and was heading right over Paris in controlled airspace, but that wasn't on my flight plan. I turned away hard, and the next thing you know, I'm over Orly, panicking because I know the controllers have to be picking up this unidentified aircraft right in the middle of one of the busiest airspaces in the world."

Oh my God!" Jordy said, wide-eyed. "What did you do?"

"I lit my afterburner and headed straight up, praying I wouldn't intersect with some passenger jet coming in to land. I flew back to my base, convinced that the moment I landed I was going to be arrested for screwing up and putting so many people in jeopardy. At the very least, I figured I'd be busted to flight cadet and sent back to Canada in disgrace. But nothing happened. No one ever said anything to me, so I guess the French never figured out who this idiot was crashing their airspace and flying over Paris like it was nothing. To this day, I can't believe I did such a dumb thing, and even more so, that I got away with it!" Rob shook his head, and then opened his mouth as Jan raised a fork full of egg to him.

"Wow, too cool!" said Jordy. "You must have had so many adventures while you were posted over there."

"Yes," snorted Jan. "And most of them aren't repeatable. Rob was not exactly the poster boy for model behaviour when he served overseas."

"Aw, but I had fun, Jan," Rob blinked his eyes innocently at his wife. "After all, it's only natural to sow your wild oats when you're young."

"You, my love, sowed enough wild oats to cover half of Europe," Jan chided her husband playfully.

"Rumours and lies," Rob dismissed airily. "People kept telling stories about me, and half of them weren't true."

"Rob, even the half that were true was more than enough to cement your reputation as a wild man," Jan smiled at her husband, who was having a wonderful time despite his protests.

Terry watched as Jan deftly fed herself and Rob, never missing a beat. They appeared to have the routine down so pat that they never even had to discuss it. When Rob was ready for a bite, it was always there for him, and Jan even seemed to know when he wanted more coffee without being asked. Terry was impressed with how well Jan handled Rob's needs, but then she knew that they'd been together for many years, and undoubtedly they did this without even thinking about it. She brought her attention to her brother now, as he spoke up.

"You should meet my Dad, Rob. He served in the military too for a few years, though I think he was army, not air force."

Terry seized on the opening Jordy had provided, and said, "Yeah, you should. Our folks would love to meet you. I told my Mom about you guys and she said I should ask you to come over for a barbeque whenever it's convenient. They always have family and friends over every Sunday and you'd be more than welcome to join us. Would you like to come sometime?"

As Jan opened her mouth to reply, Jordy interrupted, saying, "I know. Two weeks from today is Terry's birthday and that's always a good time. Why don't you plan to come over then?"

"Are you sure we wouldn't be intruding on a family birthday party?" Jan asked, obviously concerned about the timing of the invitation.

"Not at all," Terry replied. "I'd love for you to come and really, it's no big deal. Mom just adds a birthday cake to her usual Sunday dinner, and the victim of the day gets lots of razzing from the rest of the clan. Look, I'll have Mom give you a call this week, just to confirm. How's that?"

Jan looked at Rob for his approval, then when he smiled his agreement, nodded at Terry. "That sounds wonderful, and we'd love to join you. May I bring something along?"

"You and Mom can work that out, but she usually takes care of everything. She really likes doing these big family dinners, and she always has extra places for whatever friends drop by."

The rest of the brunch passed pleasantly as conversation flowed easily, and Jan even convinced Rob to tell a couple more stories from his European flying days. They'd finished eating and were nursing their third coffees when Aaron came up behind Terry and wrapped his arms around her.

"Do tell, beautiful," he purred in her ear. "What happened with you and that divine blonde woman I last saw you with? Are you two still an item or are you back out on the prowl?"

Terry groaned inwardly. When she'd last been here, she and Marika had only been dating a week and were still in that 'couldn't keep their hands off each other' stage. She should have known Aaron would remember, since he'd even teased her endlessly about it that night, but she hadn't counted on him bringing it up in front of her guests.

"Yesterday's news," she said, staring intently into his eyes, hoping he'd understand the unspoken message. "Marika and I didn't work out."

"Oh I wouldn't say that, darling," Aaron laughed and stood up, leaving his hand on Terry's shoulder. "You sure looked like you were 'working out' well when I saw you."

By now, Terry was glaring at her oblivious friend, but it was completely lost on him, as he went on, "Well, it's not like there won't be another gorgeous blonde along shortly. You seem to have an endless stream of them. Don't know where you find them, darling, but if any of them have twin brothers, you be sure to send them my way, 'kay?"

As Terry slid down in her chair, wishing the ground would swallow her up, she was grateful to hear another table summoning Aaron. She smiled weakly at him as he patted her shoulder and ambled over to take care of other customers. Looking up, she saw that all the others at her table were staring at her, Jordy with barely suppressed hilarity, Jan with amused sympathy, and Rob with frank curiosity.

Looking directly at Rob, she muttered with embarrassment, "He talks too much!"

Rob just smiled gently and said, "It's okay. I already know that my masculine charms are wasted on you." Tossing his head so that imaginary locks flew back over his shoulder, he sighed deeply, saying, "And I thought no woman could resist me!"

As Jan and Jordy burst out laughing, Terry laid her hand on his arm and said solemnly, "Rob, no one could possibly resist you."

Rob grinned. "Ain't it the truth! I must say though I'm positively in awe of your prowess. I don't remember having half your success when I was after beautiful young blondes."

"Then your memory has slipped a few links, dear," Jan challenged with a smile. "As I recall, you didn't limit yourself to blondes and you cut a pretty wide swath through Europe yourself."

"Aw, but now I'm focused exclusively on redheads," Rob teased her.

"Would that be redheads 'plural', husband of mine?" Jan shot back at him.

"Nope, I'm strictly a one-woman man now," he declared staunchly.

"Uh huh," Jan said doubtfully. "That's only because I'd have to drive you to any assignations, so it'd be a bit difficult carrying on with other redheads...or blondes, or brunettes."

"You wound me deeply, o wife of mine. I'm as faithful as an old hound dog, and just about as wrinkled as one too." He smiled at Jan, affection shining in his blue eyes. She returned the look, lifting a hand to briefly caress his cheek.

Terry watched the two banter with each other, grateful that the spotlight was off her, and grinning at Rob's reputation as a rogue. She had a feeling he must have been quite the ladies man in his prime, because not even his current circumstances dimmed his charisma.

By the time they'd drained the last of multiple coffees and paid the check, the four were as comfortable with each other as old friends. Leaving their table, they headed back to the parking lot, approaching the van, which began to open as Jan pressed the remote control.

Terry and Jordy stood back out of Jan's way as she pushed Rob up into the van, and swiftly locked him down into place. Stepping out, she pressed the button to close the van door.

Turning to the siblings, Jan said, "Thank you. We really enjoyed ourselves today, and I appreciate your invitation for the barbeque too."

"It was our pleasure," Terry responded, meaning every word. She had truly enjoyed their company, and was pleased that they would be getting together again soon. "I'll have Mom give you a call, okay?"

"That's sound great. I'll look forward to hearing from her." Jan smiled at the pair, then walked to the front of the van and got in. A few moments later, she backed the van up, waving at Terry and Jordy as she pulled out of the lot.

"So did you have a good time, runt?" Terry asked her brother, as they walked over to her car.

"Yeah, I really did, Ter. Thanks for inviting me. They're very nice people and that Rob is sure a riot. What a rotten thing though to go from flying fighters to riding a wheelchair, eh?"

"Yes it is Jordy, but you'd never know it to listen to him, would you? He doesn't seem to have a smidgen of bitterness in him over how his life's turned out, does he?"

Jordy thought about that a moment, and then nodded his head in agreement. "You know, in his place, I don't think I could be nearly as calm about it. Did you see how Jan had to do everything for him, even wipe his nose?"

"I did, but I don't think they even think twice about it, Jordy. It seems as natural to them as breathing is. It was almost like watching a ballet of movement. They really seem to be two halves of a whole in a sense. You have to admire the way they handle things, that's for sure."

"No kidding!" Jordy nodded his head emphatically, as he slid into his sister's car. "I just hope I never find out what it's like to be in his shoes."

Continued in Part 2

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