I’ve gone through the ‘Meadowvale’ story and done a rewrite; I’m posting the revised chapters here at the rate of about two a week. The originals are still on this site (go to ‘Meadowvale’ in the sidebar) in case you want to compare! Enjoy!
We met Becca in Saskatoon around supper time on Sunday July 19th; she had finished school on the Friday, packed on Saturday, and come straight to us the next day, flying by way of Toronto. The plane was full, but she was one of the first people through the door into the arrivals lounge; I saw her immediately, dressed in a black tee-shirt and blue jeans, with a backpack on her back, a single suitcase in her hand, and headphones down around her neck plugged into a walkman at her belt. “There she is”, I said to Kelly.
“She’s cut her hair!” Kelly exclaimed.
“Yeah – it’s almost as short as yours!”
Kelly laughed; Becca’s dark hair was indeed cut boyishly short, and it made her look younger than her sixteen years, although she was now taller than Kelly and almost as tall as me. She saw us standing together, waved, and threaded her way through the crowd toward us.
When she got to us she gave us both warm hugs; “It’s so good to see you!” she said with a smile.
“Good to see you, too, little Becs”, I replied.
She looked at me for a moment, the emotion plain on her face, and then she said, “You haven’t called me that in a long time”.
She smiled again; “So where’s Emma?”
“We left her with Ellie and Joe”, Kelly replied, “but she knows you’re coming. We’ve been showing her your picture, and telling her you’re her Auntie Becca. Of course”, she added with a grin, “you had long hair in that picture, so she might not recognize you!”
“Yeah, I just got it cut last week”.
Kelly smiled at her and kissed her on the cheek. “I don’t think I can introduce you to people as my baby sister any more”, she said with a grin; “When did you get to be so tall?”
“It helps that you’re kind of short”, I said.
“Well, that’s true!” she replied ruefully.
“You look so well, Kelly”, Becca said; “Are you feeling all right?”
“I feel fine; don’t worry about me. Now, have you got everything?”
“This is it”, Becca replied, holding up her suitcase; “I thought I’d travel light”.
“What do you need, Becs?” I asked; “Coffee? Supper?”
“We ate and drank on the plane from Toronto”.
“Right – shall we just head out of town and straight home, then?”
“That would be great”.
“What’s on the walkman?” I asked her as we turned and made our way through the crowd of people toward the exit doors.
“The Smiths”, she replied; “Do you know them?”
“I don’t think so; what are they all about?”
“Indie rock, I suppose; not really your cup of tea, Tommy”.
“I don’t know anything about it; you like it, do you?”
“I like some of it; I like some folk punk stuff too – you know, the Pogues, Billy Bragg, that sort of thing”.
“I’ve vaguely heard of Billy Bragg. Did you bring some cassettes?”
“I’ve got a few in my bag”.
“I’ll have to have a listen while you’re here”. I put my arm around her shoulders; “Turned your back on Mum’s classical music, have you?”
“A bit; I still play the piano sometimes, though”.
“Wow – I’m impressed!”
“I am impressive, aren’t I?” she replied mischievously.
I resisted the temptation to reach over and tousle her hair; “Cocky, too!” I said.
“Well, you’ve got to stick up for yourself, haven’t you?”
“I guess so!”
Becca rode in the back seat, and she slept most of the way to Meadowvale; it had been a long day for her, with two flights and a two hour layover in Toronto, and I knew her body clock would be messed up. Kelly and I held hands and talked quietly all the way home; she had been spending a lot of time outdoors since the warm weather arrived, and her face and arms were deeply tanned. She was still wearing her ball cap, although her hair was about three inches long by now.
We pulled up behind Kelly’s truck at the back of our house at about eight o’clock; Becca yawned, stretched, and said, “Did I sleep the whole way?”
“You sure did!” Kelly replied as she got out of the car. “I’m going to walk over to Joe and Ellie’s and get Emma; Tom will get you settled in, okay?”
“Of course; thanks, Kelly”.
It was a beautiful summer evening in Meadowvale; the sky was a clear blue, the sun was still high in the west, and a gentle breeze was lifting the branches of the trees. I could hear our neighbour’s children in their back yard, and through an open window somewhere the faint sounds of a radio playing country music. Kelly kissed me on the cheek and disappeared around the house on her way to Joe and Ellie’s, and I opened the trunk and lifted Becca’s bags out.
“So this is your new home!” she said as we walked up to the back door, with the deck beside us.
“This is it”.
“And you moved here in May, right?”
We went in by the back door, and I kicked off my shoes and climbed the three steps to the kitchen. “We haven’t quite got the basement fixed up yet”, I said, “so you’re in the guest room on the main floor. Sorry – it would have been cooler for you in the basement, and I’m afraid we haven’t got air conditioning”.
“I’ll be alright”.
“Well, it gets pretty warm at nights here in the summer”.
Kelly had finished decorating the guest room a couple of days before; it had a double bed, a dresser and an easy chair, and a built-in closet, and there were vertical blinds hanging at the window, which looked out onto our front yard and the street beyond it. A bookcase stood against one of the walls, crammed with books stacked two deep on the shelves. Becca put her suitcase and backpack on the bed, looked around slowly, and said, “This is nice”.
“Well, it’s not quite as fancy as home, I know…”
She shook her head; “I’m just glad to be here, Tommy. I don’t care how fancy it is at home, I just needed to get away”.
I put my hand on her shoulder; “Kelly told me what happened”, I said softly.
“I haven’t told her everything yet. At the moment, I don’t even want to think about it”.
“Fair enough. Would you like a cup of tea or something? Kelly’ll want me to make some for her; she often likes peppermint or chamomile tea at this time of night”.
“That sounds good. The facilities are across the corridor, are they?”
“Yeah, they are. Okay, I’ll leave you to settle in; come out when you’re ready”.
“How far is it to Joe and Ellie’s from here?”
“A five minute walk there and a fifteen minute walk back”.
She raised an eyebrow, and I grinned and said, “Emma’s into this walking business in a big way”.
“Oh, I see!” she said with a smile; “She’ll want to walk home”.
“Yeah, and Kelly never rushes her”.
Her eyes searched my face for a moment; “Is Kelly really okay, Tommy?” she asked.
“Yes, she is, but you’ll notice that at the moment she’s got very little patience for anything that doesn’t involve the people she loves”.
“Well, she wouldn’t have, would she?” She turned to her suitcase, unzipped it, and said, “Have you got a shower in your bathroom?”
“Do you mind if I have a quick one while we’re waiting for Kelly and Emma?”
“Of course not; help yourself. Oh, and I’m sorry about this bookshelf; we’ve got so many books, and we haven’t got all the shelves up in the basement yet, so we’re a bit short of places to store them all”.
“I’m not bothered”, she said. “I’ll enjoy looking through your shelves, actually”.
When she emerged from the bathroom with her hair still wet from the shower, Kelly and I were on the living room floor playing with Emma. We were surrounded by plastic farm animals and dinosaurs, and Becca laughed and said, “She’s big!”
“She’s grown a little since the last photograph”, Kelly said with a smile. “Did you find everything you needed?”
“I did, thanks”.
We got to our feet, and Kelly picked Emma up. “Em”, she said, “this is your Auntie Becca”.
Emma looked at her doubtfully for a moment, but Becca didn’t hesitate; she held out her arms and said, “Hello, Em – are you going to come to Auntie?”
To my surprise, Emma immediately reached out to her. Kelly passed her over with a grin; “Wow – she’s not normally this friendly on the first meeting!” she said.
Becca took her in her arms, smiled at her, and said, “Shall we be friends, then?”
Emma looked at her for a moment, and then nodded solemnly, and we all laughed; “Well, it didn’t take you long to win her over”, I said.
Becca smiled and kissed Emma. “What does she like?’ she asked; “Stories, games, videos?”
“All of those”, Kelly replied, “but in a few minutes I’m going to give her a bath and put her to bed. There are some little books she likes over on the corner table, if you want to try sitting and reading to her. I’ll pour the tea; do you want some, Becca?”
The next morning I got up around six-thirty, pulled on jeans and a long-sleeved shirt to keep the mosquitos away, and went out for my half-hour walk as usual. There were already a few trucks moving on the streets of Meadowvale, on their way to the Travellers’ for early morning coffee, or getting an early start on the day’s work, and I acknowledged a few waves as I worked my way around the perimeter of the town. The sky was a clear blue, and I could tell it was going to be another warm day.
When I got back to the house just after seven-fifteen Kelly was making tea and Becca was holding Emma on her lap at the kitchen table and encouraging her to eat a slice of toast and peanut butter. I grinned at them; “So the human alarm clock strikes again, eh?” I said. “How long has she been up?”
“About half an hour”, Kelly replied sleepily as she poured the hot water into the kettle.
I put my arm around her and kissed her, then turned to Becca and said, “How was your night?”
“I woke up for a couple of hours around four, but I’d fallen asleep again when I heard Emma. I was afraid I might have woken you up earlier on; I got up and made myself a cup of tea around five o’clock”.
“Didn’t hear a thing”, I replied with a grin. I turned back to Kelly and said, “Do you want to go and have a shower? We can cover things here”.
“Sure; thanks”. She shuffled off down the corridor, and I grinned at Becca and said, “She’s not a morning person”.
“That’s got to be hard when you’ve got a human alarm clock”.
“Yeah – I try to get out for my walk really early so I can be here when Emma wakes up, but I don’t always make it in time. Do you want some more tea?”
“Do I? I could murder a cup of tea!”
“Coming right up”. I poured tea for us both, put one mug down in front of Becca just out of Emma’s reach, and then sat down across from her with mine. “Do you want me to take over with her?” I asked.
She shook her head; “I like this kid”, she said.
“Good; she seems to have taken to you, too”.
“You must have done a lot of this sort of thing when Kelly was sick”.
“Yes – last summer when she was having chemo, I pretty much took the morning shift. Fortunately, being a teacher, I had July and August off”.
“Tell me about chemo, Tommy”, she said quietly; “Is it as bad as they say it is?”
“Well, I think you’d be better to ask Kelly about that; I watched it, but I didn’t go through it myself”.
“Will she mind? I wasn’t sure whether or not she’d want to talk about it”.
“I don’t think she’ll mind, not with you, anyway”.
“I’m afraid I was rather preoccupied with other stuff last summer and autumn; I didn’t do a very good job of keeping in touch with you”.
I shook my head; “We were hearing from you about once a month until this spring some time; we were always glad for your letters and pictures”.
“I’m afraid they rather dried up after about March”, she replied apologetically; “I’m sorry about that. And I’m sorry I didn’t ring you more often last year; I really wish I’d done a better job of being there for you both, especially Kelly”.
“Well, you did offer to come over, and we turned you down”.
“No, I totally get that; everyone says chemo makes you feel like death warmed over, and the last thing she needed on top of that was to have to look after a house guest from England. But I know I could have done a better job of writing regularly, and talking on the phone”.
Down the corridor I heard the sound of the shower starting up. “Honestly, Becs”, I said, “this time last year she was totally absorbed in what was going on with her own body. She’d had major surgery, she’d lost her dream of having a big family, and she was right in the middle of a deep, dark depression. She was having chemo injections every three weeks, and she’d had to stop nursing Emma because of it. Believe me, some days she barely noticed me, never mind who was writing and who wasn’t”.
“It must have been awful, Tommy”.
“It’s not an experience I’d care to repeat”.
“I don’t think I realized how bad her depression was; did you mention it to me in your letters?”
“Probably not, or not very much anyway; she was reading your replies, and I didn’t want to start a conversation with you that would invite her to feel guilty. She didn’t need that along with everything else she was going through”.
“Why would she feel guilty?”
“Believe me, the mind does funny things when it’s depressed, but I’ll let her tell you about that”.
“Fair enough”. She looked down at Emma and grinned; “Wow, look at that peanut butter mug! Maybe Auntie should find a face flannel and wipe it”.
“Hanging just beside the sink”, I said, pointing her in the right direction.
A few minutes later Kelly came back into the kitchen, dressed in shorts and a tank top, her feet bare and her hair still wet from the shower. “Thanks”, she said to me as I poured her a cup of tea and passed it to her; “I feel a little better now. Does anyone want any breakfast?”
“Sit down and drink your tea”, I said to her with a grin; “I’ll get it. Is everyone okay with toast and peanut butter, or is anyone hankering for scrambled eggs or anything?”
“I could enjoy scrambled eggs”, Kelly said with a smile.
“Me too”, Becca added.
“Right then”, I said; “I’ll get busy cooking!”
We spent the day quietly, playing with Emma in the house or in the back yard, walking down to the Co-op for some groceries and a coffee at the deli, and just enjoying conversation together. In the afternoon we went to the swimming pool and spent a couple of hours in the water; Kelly and I played with Emma in the splash pool while Becca swam some lengths, and then she offered to take over for us so that we could have a bit of time in the main pool together. Once again, Kelly and I were amazed at how quickly and completely Emma had taken to Becca; “She must recognize the genes, I guess!” Kelly said.
When we got home, Becca took a nap for an hour or so while we were getting supper ready; Kelly cooked a spicy chicken curry, knowing from our trip to England that Becca enjoyed Indian food and never got it at home. We were just finishing up the dishes when we heard the back door open, and Joe called up to us, “Anyone home at the Masefields?”
“Follow the smell of curry”, I replied.
Joe and Ellie and their children came up the stairs and crowded into the kitchen; little Emma was excited to see Jake, and the two of them quickly ran off into the living room to find the toy box, while eight-month-old Jenna was still sleeping in Ellie’s arms. Joe held out his hand to Becca; “You’ve cut your hair since the last time you were here”, he said with a grin.
She smiled; “I did it last week, actually”, she replied as she shook hands with him.
“It sure makes you look different!” Ellie said; “Any particular reason?”.
Becca flushed; “Not really”, she replied, avoiding everyone’s looks.
Kelly shook her head; “No, I don’t buy that, Becca Masefield! I miss my long hair every minute of the day; I don’t believe you just did it on a whim – there has to be a reason”.
Becca shook her head silently, but I smiled and said, “She’s got a reason; she just doesn’t want to make a big noise about it”.
Kelly stared at her; “You didn’t do this for me, did you?”
Becca nodded reluctantly, the embarrassment plain on her face. Kelly shook her head slowly; “You cut off your beautiful hair for me?”
“It seemed like the least I could do”.
Kelly went over to her and put her arms around her. “Thank you”, she said softly; “You didn’t have to do that!”
“I thought you must be missing your hair, and I didn’t want to make you feel bad; mine was about three feet long”.
“I know – I saw the pictures”. Kelly stepped back and looked up at her; “Becca, I can’t believe you did that”, she said, shaking her head in wonder. “Thank you; thank you so much!” She kissed her on the cheek, then turned to me and said, “This sister of yours is a class act!”
“I’ve always known that”, I said, smiling at Becca. “Nicely done, Becs”.
“Thanks, but could you all stop embarrassing me now?”
We laughed, and Kelly said, “Tea, anyone?”
“Is there any iced tea in the fridge?” Joe asked.
“There is actually”, I replied, “and it’s home-made. Shall we take it out on the deck and light some citronella candles?”
“Brilliant idea!” Ellie replied.
“What are citronella candles?” Becca asked.
“Well”, I replied, “the theory is that they keep mosquitos away!”
We sat out on the deck with Joe and Ellie for an hour or so, sipping iced tea and talking quietly while Jake and Emma ran around in the back yard and Jenna continued to sleep in her mother’s arms. Becca didn’t have a lot to say, but I could see that she was enjoying just being part of the Reimer family circle, where conversations were relaxed and friendly and the emotional dynamics were simple and straightforward. Eventually Joe and Ellie excused themselves, saying that they needed to get home to get the children ready for bed, and not long afterwards I took Emma inside, gave her a bath, read to her for a little while, and then carried her out to the deck to say goodnight to Kelly and Becca, who were still sitting out there in quiet conversation with the citronella candles burning around them.
“I’ll come in and put her to bed”, Kelly said apologetically.
“No need”, I replied; “she’s fine with me. You girls carry on doing whatever it is you’re doing, and I’ll come out and join you again when she’s asleep”.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course. Give Mummy a kiss, Em”.
Emma gave Kelly and Becca hugs and kisses, and then I took her inside, put her in her bed, and sat in the living room for a few minutes until I was sure she was asleep. By now it was about nine o’clock, and I boiled a kettle, made three mugs of hot chocolate, and took them out to the deck. “Am I interrupting?” I asked as I set the mugs down on the picnic table.
“Not at all”, Kelly replied with a smile; “Come and join us; we’re just talking about holiday plans”.
I sat down with them, picked up one of the mugs, and glanced at Becca; “Is there anything you especially want to do?” I asked.
“I’m just happy to be here with you”, she replied quietly; “Kelly was talking about doing some travelling next week, and that’s fine with me. I’ll be glad to go wherever you want to take me and see whatever you want to show me”.
“Well, we definitely have to take you up to Jasper”, Kelly said; “That’s where I lived when Tom and I first met, and it’s breathtakingly beautiful”.
“Of course, we won’t be able to do the hikes we used to do”, I said, “not with Emma”.
“Well, you and Becca could do a couple of longer ones; I could stay with Em”.
I shrugged; “Maybe. We can all see the Icefields, and Maligne Lake, and Athabasca Falls and that sort of thing”.
“And we could ride the tramway up Whistler’s”, Kelly added.
I looked at Becca and said, “And then there’s Prince Albert National Park, where Krista and Steve live, and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival”.
Becca laughed; “You haven’t inflicted any miserable folk songs on me yet!” she said.
“Well, there’s still plenty of time!”
“We should see if anyone’s in town for a singaround Friday night”, Kelly suggested.
“Now there’s a good idea!”
“What’s a singaround?” Becca asked.
“We get a few musicians together”, Kelly explained, “sit them in a circle, and then we go round the circle, with people sharing their songs. Tom introduced us to the idea here, and we’ve got a good regular group now”.
“Owen and I used to go to them sometimes in Oxford”, I added. “Ours were mainly folk singarounds, but here we get lots of variety”.
“Well, it all sounds great”, Becca replied softly, sipping at her hot chocolate and looking out over our back yard. “You’ve got absolutely no idea how nice it is to sit out here with you two and have a relaxed conversation, with no emotional manipulation going on, and no one criticizing anyone or judging anyone”.
“Mum does her best, Becs”, I said.
“I know she does”.
We were quiet for a minute; I was looking at my sister and wondering what had happened to the little girl who used to sit drinking hot chocolate beside the Christmas tree with me. She was still gazing out reflectively over the back yard; “I like this house”, she said softly, “and especially this garden. What made you decide to move?”
“Well, we’ve wanted to buy our own place since we got married”, I replied, “but interest rates were high and we couldn’t really afford it, and then Kelly got sick and we had too much on our plate to even think about it. But this year, things were better”.
“I got a clean bill of health”, Kelly said with a grin.
“And I got my legacy from Grandma and Grandpa Masefield”, I added.
“Oh right”, said Becca; “mine’s still in a trust fund”.
“It just felt like a good time for a fresh start”, Kelly said. “1986 was a tough year for us, and we wanted to put it behind us and move on”.
“Ah”. Becca frowned thoughtfully, glanced at me, and then said to Kelly, “So you’d rather not talk about your…”
“About my cancer?”
Becca nodded; “Sorry, Kelly – I don’t want to upset you”.
“I’m not upset, and I don’t mind talking to you about it if you want me to”.
“It’s just that I feel bad about not doing a better job of keeping in touch with you last year when you were going through all that. I feel like I should have been writing and ringing you a lot more often that I did”.
“I know you had a lot going on in your life, too”, Kelly replied.
Becca shook her head dismissively. “Studying for my ‘A’-levels and going out with Peter? It hardly compares with what you were going through”. She hesitated, then said, “Were you scared, Kelly?”
“Was it – if you don’t mind me asking – fear of…?”
“Fear of dying? I guess there was some of that, although I don’t think I’m especially afraid of death. I didn’t want to leave my husband or my baby, that’s for sure”.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be told I had cancer; I think I would be terrified”.
“Yeah, I’d never imagined the possibility of it happening to me, either. Of course, we weren’t sure at first what it was – not until after I’d had my surgery, actually; until then, I was still thinking it might be ovarian cysts or diverticulitis. Owen was the one who first raised the possibility of dysgerminoma; I don’t know what we would have done if he hadn’t mentioned it. It’s thanks to him that we asked my gynaecologist if we could have an oncologist present when I went into the operating room”.
“I’d never heard of dysgerminoma before Tommy mentioned it on the phone”, Becca replied, “but then I went and looked it up. It’s pretty rare, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, all the statistics were against my having it; only one percent of ovarian cancers are dysgerminomas, and you only get them in both ovaries about ten percent of the time”.
Becca shook her head slowly. “Statistics are so cold and impersonal”, she said softly; “It’s different when you know someone who’s been through it”.
“I know”. Kelly gave a little smile; “Of course, when they put me under for the surgery, I was still hoping that the statistics were on my side”.
Becca stared at her for a moment, and then she said, “I am so dense sometimes! It’s only taken me over a year to notice the blindingly obvious – the fact that by the time you found out it was cancer, they’d already operated on you”.
Kelly nodded; “My ovaries and my uterus were already gone”, she replied softly.
“You knew that was a possibility, right?”
“We’d talked about it together, and we’d even given them permission to do what they thought was best. But somehow, in my heart, I’d never really believed it would happen. I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that at twenty-seven years old I would turn out to have a malignant cancer that would take away my ability to have any more children”.
“No wonder you went into a depression”, Becca said quietly.
Kelly took a sip of her hot chocolate, cupped her hands around the mug, and said, “I’d set my heart on having a big family, and it seemed totally unfair to me that I’d been robbed of that. And when I found out I had to go through chemo, I had to stop nursing Emma, and I really resented that”. She shrugged; “At that point, I think I just gave up. I did a lot of crying. I remember one time I woke up in the night crying uncontrollably; I was afraid of waking Tom and Emma, and I went out to the living room and just sat there and cried for half an hour. Eventually Tom found me, and of course he was very gentle and patient with me. But it was a very hard time for him, Becca; I know it now, and I still feel guilty about it”.
“There’s nothing for you to feel guilty about”, I said; “You were sore and scared and devastated by what had happened to you, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault; it just happened, that’s all, and we’ll never know why”.
Kelly smiled at Becca. “He was very patient with me”, she said; “I know I’d never have got through it if it wasn’t from him”.
“Not just me”, I replied; “There were a lot of people helping us”.
“That’s true”, Kelly conceded, “but for me, I know you were the one I leaned on the most”.
“What about your faith?” Becca asked hesitantly; “Did it help you at all?”
“Not when I was in the blackest part of my depression. At the beginning, before my surgery, I remember having a conversation with Tom about not wanting to rant at God, because I needed God to be with me, and I wanted to feel that he was with me through the whole thing. And I have to say that I never stopped believing in God, but I did wonder a lot of the time whether God cared about me, or whether he even noticed me. Of course, it completely escaped my attention that God cared about me so much he’d given me a kind and loving husband, who did everything that needed to be done without once getting impatient with me or telling me to snap out of it, or anything like that”.
“Okay, enough about me”, I said.
“It’s true, though”, Kelly replied.
I reached across and put my hand on hers; she looked at me questioningly for a moment, and then she gave me a little smile. “Don’t worry”, she said softly; “I’m okay”.
“Are you sure?”
“We don’t need to carry on if you’d rather not, Kelly”, Becca said.
Kelly shook her head; “You’re my sister”, she said, “and this is the first time we’ve really had a chance to talk about this. If I want to stop, I’ll tell you, okay?”
“Alright”. Becca drank some hot chocolate, cupped her hands around the mug, and said, “What’s it actually like to go through chemotherapy? Everyone says it makes you feel like shit”.
Kelly shrugged. “In my mind, it’s hard for me to separate it out from the depression I was in, which had already begun before I had my first treatment. Chemo does funny things to your brain, Becca; my memories of that time are a little confused, even today”. She glanced at me; “Feel free to jump in”, she said.
“There was a pattern”, I said. “We’d go down to Saskatoon for her injection once every three weeks, on Mondays, and she wouldn’t feel bad on Tuesdays, but then by Wednesday and Thursday she’d get horribly sick to her stomach, and totally exhausted”.
“That’s true”, Kelly agreed. “I started losing my hair almost immediately, and eventually I just cut it all off, which upset me because I loved having long hair. Of course, I knew all this was going to happen, but again a part of me had somehow refused to accept that it would. Fortunately for me my treatments started right when Tom’s school year was ending, so he and my mom basically took over everything at home for me. As the chemo went on I got a horribly sore mouth, and then it got ulcerated, and food tasted awful, even tea. And my bones ached, and my skin felt like things were crawling on it, and I got horribly dry, and my head was often confused”.
Becca looked at me; “It must have been awful for you to watch it happening”, she said.
“The worst thing was feeling so helpless”, I replied, looking at Kelly even though I was talking to Becca. “When someone you love so much is going through something like this, you want more than anything else to be able to rescue them from it, and of course I couldn’t do that. I did everything I could do – cooking, and housework, and looking after Emma, and trying to comfort Kelly and hold her and hug her and let her know I still loved her – but of course, I couldn’t protect her from what she was going through. I prayed a lot, and I have to say that it really helped; I did have a sense that God was helping me get through it all. And like I said, we had lots of help from people, too: Will and Sally, and Joe and Ellie, and Brenda, and Steve and Krista, and Pastor Rob and his wife Mandy – they were all amazing. But that sense of helplessness was absolutely the worst thing for me”.
Kelly put her hand on mine; “We got through it”, she said.
“Did your depression go away when you finished the chemo?” Becca asked.
“Actually, I got through the depression before the chemo was done”.
“It was the end of August last year”, Kelly said, “and Joe and Ellie came over with Jake one night; Ellie was still pregnant with Jenna at the time. After supper, Ellie and I were playing with the children, and Tom and Joe were out on the deck talking. Eventually Emma fell asleep, and Ellie was reading to Jake, and I wandered out to see what the guys were doing. They had the sliding door to the deck open, but the screen door was closed, and I was about to go out when I realized that they were talking about me”.
Kelly shook her head; “No, it wasn’t like that. Joe had asked Tom how he and I were getting along, and Tom, bless him, didn’t say a word of blame, but at one point Joe said ‘Not quite the marriage you had in mind, though?’ and Tom said – and I’ll remember this until the day I die – he said, ‘I have to admit that I miss her; I miss her a lot’. And then I heard Joe telling Tom that I had basically shut him out of my life, and he was finding it really hard because I’d always been his best friend, ever since we were kids. And I stood there and listened to these two wonderful guys, both of whom I loved so much, and neither of them was condemning me, but they were both so sad because of me, and it suddenly hit me that it didn’t have to be that way; if I could just find a way to be a little less absorbed in what I was going through, and spend less time making excuses for myself and feeling sorry for myself, I could make their lives a lot better. So I decided to step out onto the deck and let them know I’d heard them, and I apologized and told them I was going to try to do better”.
“I don’t think you could have made that decision a couple of weeks before”, I said to Kelly; “I think you had to have a certain amount of distance from the surgery and the realization of what you had lost. I don’t think you should blame yourself for being so inward-focussed all summer; it just had to be, until you were ready to move on”.
Kelly smiled at Becca; “He’s trying to be kind to me”, she said, “but he doesn’t realize that he’s portraying me as a helpless victim of my circumstances, and the truth is that I didn’t start coming out of the darkness until I stopped thinking of myself that way”.
“We’ve had this argument a few times”, I said to Becca.
“Well, anyway”, Kelly said, “The chemo was still awful, and the depression still pulled me down sometimes, but gradually I discovered that I could fight the darkness, and the best way to do that was to keep busy thinking of other people and trying to do things for them, and to choose to stop making excuses for myself and feeling sorry for myself. I told myself that I was alive, and I had the best husband and the most supportive family in the world, and a beautiful little girl. And so I made it through the last few rounds of chemo, and by the time I was done, I was in much better emotional shape”.
“Did you feel better – physically, I mean – as soon as the chemo was finished?”
“No, it was gradual. Even now, I still get more tired that I used to. I don’t think there’s any going back”. She smiled ruefully; “Well, certainly not for my reproductive system”, she said.
“Her personality’s a little different, too”, I said.
“How?” Becca asked.
“She’s still an extrovert, but she’s quieter and more reflective, and she’s less apt to go looking for new friendships than she used to be”.
“It’s true”, Kelly agreed; “I find I’m wanting to spend as much time as I can with the people who are close to me, the people who I love the most. I can’t take anything for granted; cancer taught me that. I have to make every day count”.
“You’re amazing, Kelly”, Becca said, shaking her head.
“No, I’m really not – I’m just an ordinary girl who had to go through things no ordinary girl expects to have to go through”.
“But you did get through them”.
“In the end, although I still see myself as a cancer patient. Like I said, I don’t take anything for granted. One day at a time, and I’m thankful to God for every fresh sunrise”.
“Do you still get sad sometimes?”
Kelly nodded; “I do – usually when I see other women with new babies”.
“Do you think you might adopt?”
Kelly looked at me, and I looked at her, and I said, “The jury’s still out on that one”.
“He’d like to”, Kelly said, “but I don’t think I’d feel the same, and I’d rather help Ellie with Jake and Jenna, and make sure Emma grows up close to them”.
“The conversation’s ongoing”, I said.
Kelly shrugged; “That’s about all there is to say, Becca. I can’t really think of anything else except that I’m alive, and I’m grateful”.
Becca looked at her for a moment without speaking, and then she said, “Thanks for telling me all that; thanks for being so open and honest with me”. She grinned sheepishly; “I must admit that I really don’t know how you do it”, she added, shaking her head a little. “I don’t think I’d be able to just put everything out in the open like that, even with someone I really loved and trusted”.
Kelly grinned at me; “Sounds like someone else I know!” she said.
“But he doesn’t seem quite so shy any more”, Becca replied.
“He has come out of his shell quite a bit since I’ve known him”, Kelly agreed.
“You’ve had a good effect on me, I guess”, I said.
Becca stifled a yawn. “Well”, she said, “I think I should take my jet-lagged body off to bed”.
Kelly got to her feet, held out her arms and said, “Come here”.
Becca got up and went around the table, and they put their arms around each other and held each other close. “I’m so lucky to have you for my sister”, Kelly said softly, “and I still can’t believe you’d cut off your beautiful hair just so that I wouldn’t feel bad about having short hair. You’re the only one who’s done anything like that for me, Becca; thank you”.
“Like I said, it was the least I could do”.
“Well, I appreciate it”.
They were quiet for a moment, holding each other tight, and then they stepped back and smiled at each other. “Thank you again so much for letting me stay”, Becca said.
“We’re glad you’re here”, Kelly replied; “Don’t ever doubt that”.
“Thanks. Well, I think I’d better go and find my bed. Goodnight”.
“Goodnight”, we said together, and I added, “We won’t be long after you”.
She turned and went inside, and for a moment Kelly and I looked at each other. I held out my hand again, and she took it. “Are you really okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, I am, Tom”.
“It was hard for you to relive all that”.
“It was, but it was important to her; she wanted to understand”.
“You’re a very wise woman”, I said,
“Married to a very patient man”, she replied. “But now, my patient man, I need you to take me to bed, because I’m suddenly very weary”.
“Well then, if you’ll just take my arm, Mrs. Masefield, I’ll do my best to get you there in one piece”.
We spent a relaxed week in Meadowvale, walking around the town, swimming at the open air pool, and occasionally going out to Myers Lake. There was a boat launch at the lake, and on a couple of occasions I borrowed Will and Sally’s canoe, loaded it onto the roof rack of my car, and took Becca canoeing; this was something we had done on the Thames when she was a young girl, but it had been years since we had been in a canoe together. The lake, of course, was a very different experience from the flowing water of the river; we paddled for half an hour or so, then sat quietly and let the canoe drift, watching the grebes swimming contentedly on the surface of the water, or diving without warning and reappearing a moment later further down the lake. Once we saw white-tailed deer under the trees by the lakeshore, and a while later I thought I saw the grey shape of a coyote hiding furtively in the undergrowth, but by the time I pointed it out to Becca it had already disappeared.
I asked her if she was interested in meeting any more of our friends around town, and she said she wouldn’t mind doing a little of that, so we brought old Joanna Robinson over for tea one day and had a very enjoyable visit with her. Afterwards, Becca agreed with me; “That’s definitely an upper-middle-class accent”, she said.
“That’s what I thought, and I don’t think there’s any way she would have picked it up after she moved to Canada. Kelly says her husband almost completely lost his English accent before he died”.
“Really? She sounds like she just got here last week!”
“That’s what I thought. And then there’s the fact that I’ve never seen any photographs in her house dating back to before they came to Canada in 1929, and she’s never said anything to anyone – family or friends – other than that her husband was a farm labourer in the old country and he couldn’t find steady work over there”.
“Kind of amazing that they were able to afford to move here, then, don’t you think?”
“I never thought of that”, I said; “You’re right, it is surprising”.
“Have you ever talked to her about any of this?” Becca asked.
“I’ve got near it with her a couple of times, and she’s stonewalled me both times”.
“And her family members really don’t know anything?”
“I’ve never heard them say anything about it in all the years I’ve known them”, Kelly replied, “and I’m pretty close to Don and Ruth, because their mom is my aunt and we’ve always gotten along well. Tom thinks that the chances are that Mrs. Robinson has never told them anything and doesn’t want them to know. And he thinks that if we started asking them questions, they might ask her, and that might not be something she wants to have to deal with”.
“Why would she not want them to know?” Becca asked me.
“There are all kinds of possible reasons”, I replied. “Maybe they didn’t leave England in particularly pleasant circumstances; maybe there was a family quarrel or something”.
“Or maybe”, Becca said with a mischievous grin, “they were fugitives from the law, and their name wasn’t really Robinson at all!”
We laughed, and I said, “Well, all joking aside, like I said to Kelly once, I can understand why a person might not want to be asked those kinds of questions. When I first came here I didn’t really like being asked why I had come to Canada; I really didn’t want to be forever retelling the story of my quarrel with Dad, so I just gave general answers and changed the subject as quickly as I could. And if Mrs. Robinson really doesn’t want to talk about it – and it seems pretty clear to me that she doesn’t – then I think we should respect that”.
“She really seems quite fond of you, though”, Becca said.
“I like her too; I think she’s a grand old lady and I enjoy her company”.
One morning I took Becca down to meet old Charlie Blackie, warning her first, of course, that he would probably ask after the state of her soul. To my surprise, though, the old man behaved himself admirably, telling her how glad he was to meet her and how much he enjoyed visiting with me; we sat and drank coffee together and enjoyed half an hour of relaxed conversation, and then he apologized to us and told us he had to get back to work, as he had a customer coming just after lunch to pick up a sewing machine he had been repairing.
As we walked back to the house, Becca said, “Are you sure that was the same man you were talking to me about?”
“I’m as mystified as you are”, I replied; “I’ve never seen Charlie so docile”.
“Have you ever taken a woman to visit him before?”
I thought for a moment, and then said, “Just Mum, when you came over for our wedding, and come to think of it, he was pretty well-behaved with her, too. Well, who knew? Apparently Charlie doesn’t get after girls about their souls!”
“Are there even any women in his life?”
“He lost his wife about fifteen years ago; I don’t know how. I think there’s a daughter somewhere down east; he doesn’t talk about her very much, and I get the idea he doesn’t have much contact with her. I’ve got a vague idea that she’s in business of some kind, but beyond that, I’m not really sure”.
“I’m getting the idea there are definitely things he doesn’t talk about”.
“That would be true; he’s a private person, despite the fact that he’s very sociable. He’s never been very open about his personal life – at least, not while I’ve known him”.
Becca grinned; “That seems to be a common character trait among your elderly friends in Meadowvale”.
I laughed; “Well, with Mrs. Robinson and Charlie, anyway! We’ll get Kelly’s Grandma Reimer over one day and she’ll tell you so many stories about her life that your head will be spinning!”
That evening after supper I came into the living room to find Becca looking at the photographs on the wall.
“See anyone you know?” I asked as I crossed the room and stood beside her.
“Is there a particular reason why you’re displaying a picture of me when I was eleven?”
“Because you were so cute, of course!”
She turned and swatted me gently across the side of my head. “You can be a brat, you know, when you want to be!” she said with a grin.
“And apparently you can be a thug, too!”
She laughed, and then nodded toward the photo of Owen, Wendy and me. “That’s Wendy Howard, right?” she said.
“Yes it is”.
“I haven’t heard of her for a long time; are you still in touch with her?”
“No; she moved to London about the same time as I came to Canada; I had one exchange of letters with her, and after that I didn’t hear again”.
She frowned; “I thought you were pretty good friends”.
“Yeah, me too, but she’s obviously moved on to new things, and there’s not much I can do about it”.
She smiled at me; “You’ve moved on to new things, too!” she said.
“Yes I have”, I agreed, “although that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned everyone I knew before”.
She turned back to the photographs, pointing toward one of the old family pictures Kelly had recently had framed. “Who are those people?” she asked.
“Do you recognize Kelly’s Grandma Reimer?”
She leaned forward and peered closely at the photograph; “Is this her wedding picture?”
“Yes it is”.
“Was it taken in Meadowvale?”
“No, it was taken in the village of Rosenthal, in the Chortitza Mennonite colony in Russia, in 1921”.
“Wow”. She scrutinized the photograph for a moment, and then said, “Do you know who all the people are?”
“I know some of them, but Kelly knows them all”.
As if on cue, Kelly walked into the living room with Emma on her arm. “Did I hear my name?” she asked.
“Becca was asking about the people in this picture”.
“Right”. She came and stood beside us. “The couple in the middle are my Grandpa and Grandma Reimer, Dieter and Erika; the picture was taken on their wedding day, August 23rd 1921, in Chortitza”.
“That’s what Tommy was saying”.
“That’s their parents on either side of them; Peter and Anna Reimer, and Franz and Helena Rempel. Helena was from the Kroeger family; have you ever heard of Kroeger clocks?”
“No, I haven’t”.
“Well, they were very famous wall clocks; if you can find them today, they’re very valuable. My great-great grandpa, Helena’s father, was one of the best-known clockmakers in Chortitza”.
“So did your great-grandparents come to Canada too?”
“Anna Reimer did; she was the only one still alive in 1924. Her husband Peter died of starvation in 1922, and both of my grandma Reimer’s parents died of typhus in 1921”.
“Was there some kind of an epidemic?”
I smiled at Kelly; “Do you want me to take Emma?” I asked.
“Maybe”. She grinned at Becca apologetically; “Tom’s smiling because he knows that you’ve accidentally gotten me talking about something that’s become really important to me, but it may not be so interesting to you. I’ve spent a lot of time with my grandparents over the past few months finding out about my family history; I know a lot more now about the things they went through in Russia between 1917 and 1924, although there’s still a lot I don’t know. Do you want me to tell you some of it? I honestly won’t be offended if you’re not interested”.
“No, I don’t mind”, Becca replied; “I remember you mentioning something about it when we were in Edinburgh for Rick’s wedding, but it hasn’t really stuck in my mind”.
I held out my hands to Emma, and she gave me a big smile as Kelly passed her to me. “I’ll leave you to it”, I said; “I’m going to take Emma out to the back yard for a few minutes so she can help me pull some weeds”.
“Don’t let her eat dirt!” Kelly replied with a grin.
A couple of nights later I woke up at about one-thirty in the morning and realized I was still alone in our bed. I had left Kelly and Becca out on the deck at about ten-thirty; Kelly had told me she would be in to pray with me in a few minutes, but eventually I had fallen asleep waiting for her. It was a warm night and I was lying on top of the comforter; I got to my feet quietly, slipped out into the darkened corridor and checked that Emma was still sleeping peacefully in her room. I went out to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and it was then that I noticed the light on the deck. I filled up my glass at the kitchen sink, then went round to the sliding door at the back of the dining area; the door was open, and I slid open the screen and stepped outside. Kelly and Becca were still sitting in the wooden deck chairs on either side of the picnic table, a teapot and a couple of empty mugs between them, and the citronella candles burning around them. Kelly grinned at me apologetically; “I guess I didn’t make it in for prayers, did I?”
I leaned over and kissed her; “You two okay?” I asked.
“Girl talk”, she replied, nodding at Becca. I glanced at my sister, and saw immediately that she had been crying. I put my hand on her shoulder, and she covered it with her own.
“I should go back inside”, I said softly; “I didn’t mean to interrupt”.
“Sorry, Tommy”, Becca whispered; “I didn’t mean to shut you out. It’s just that Kelly and I started talking, and then…”
I shook my head; “If and when you’re ready”, I said quietly.
“I’m not”, she said apologetically; “not yet, anyway”.
“That’s okay. I’ll leave you girls to it, then”.
Kelly smiled at me and put her hand on my arm as I went past; “Thanks”, she said; “I really will be in before too long. Is Emma okay?”
“Yeah, she’s still sound asleep”. I kissed her again, and then went back inside.
The story eventually came out a few days later, around a campfire at Whistler’s Campground in Jasper; we had come up to the mountains after spending three days with Krista and Steve and little Michael in Prince Albert National Park. We had gone swimming and canoeing, along with a little horseback riding and a lot of sunbathing on the beach; Emma and Michael had gotten to know each other a little better, and Krista and Steve had made Becca very welcome, as I knew they would.
It was a warm evening in Jasper; after a day at Maligne Lake we had come home to cook our supper and eat, and then we had wandered with Emma for a while. She was the kind of toddler who loved everything about being outdoors; she wanted to splash in every stream and stop to listen to every strange noise, and every time she saw one of the elk who wandered freely through the campground at Whistler’s she would squeal with delight, and we would have to restrain her from trying to run over and give it a hug.
It took her a long time to settle down when we got back to our campsite; she finally fell asleep in the tent at around nine-thirty, and then I boiled water over the camp stove, and the three of us sat around the small fire I had made, drinking hot chocolate and eating roasted marshmallows. Becca was sitting to the left of me, and Kelly to my right, in a rough semi-circle around the fire pit. Whistler’s is a big campground; we could hear the occasional sounds of talking and laughter from other nearby campsites, and now and again campers would walk past the entrance to our site in the gathering dark. We talked about our day at Maligne Lake and the other places we had seen so far on our trip, and eventually, without any sort of prompting from Kelly or me, Becca started talking about Peter.
“How long have you known him?” I asked gently.
“Ever since I went up to high school in Wallingford. He’s actually from Wallingford; he was a year ahead of me, and we were both swimmers. That’s how we met. But we were friends for five years before we started going out”.
She looked down at the empty mug on her lap. “He’s not just a swimmer”, she said, “he’s a distance runner too, and a really good student. He’s in sciences – he wants to be a marine biologist. He’s going up to Cambridge in September to read biology, I think, but I’m not really sure; I haven’t actually spoken to him since the end of May”.
She was quiet for a moment, and I leaned forward and tossed another log on the campfire. We watched as the flames licked around it and the wood began to crackle, and then she said, “He asked me out last June, about the same time you told us that Kelly was going to have chemo. I was really happy; I’ve liked him for a long time, and occasionally I thought perhaps he liked me too. It turned out that he did, and we spent most of last summer doing things together”. She smiled ruefully; “I might have been a bit obsessed”, she said, “but he was really good to me, kind and considerate, and he was always lots of fun”.
She glanced at me; “You know I’ve always been ‘Becca’, ever since I can remember. But Peter always called me ‘Rebecca’; I didn’t like it at first, but eventually I got used to it, and then I actually liked it a lot; it sounded – well, sort of formal and courtly, you know? As if we were in Camelot or something. And he was never ‘Pete’ – always ‘Peter’. That’s the way it was for us for the first few months – he was playful and romantic and fun, but he was always gentle and respectful as well”.
“You loved him”, I said softly.
She nodded, and I saw the tears in her eyes. “Totally”, she said; “He was my first real boyfriend, and I fell for him, head over heels”.
I reached over and took her hand in mine, and she smiled, and wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her fleece top. “He was my safe place”, she said. “Mum does her best, like you said, but she can’t change Dad, and you know what it’s like around our house – when he’s home, it’s like tiptoeing through a minefield. Of course, it’s not like I haven’t got good friends, like Stevie and Corinna – and Chrissie – or at least, Chrissie was my friend…”. She shook her head; “But he was my safest place”, she continued. “I knew he’d always be gentle and he’d never intentionally hurt me or put me down or anything like that”.
“That must have been really special”, Kelly said softly.
“Yes – while it lasted”.
She lapsed into silence again, and I waited, knowing that she would continue the story when she was ready. Kelly drained her mug, leaned over and put it down on the ground beside her chair. I glanced at her surreptitiously, knowing that she had been burning the midnight oil a few times with Becca; even now, nearly six months after she had been given a clean bill of health, I couldn’t stop myself from feeling protective of her or feeling anxious that she would tire herself out.
“He wanted to sleep with me”, Becca said suddenly, and I could see that she was watching for my reaction.
“He told you that?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even.
“Not at first. Sometimes when we went for walks we would kiss a lot. And sometimes when I was out babysitting he would come by after the kids were asleep, and then, well, you know, we’d make out a bit on the couch…”
I opened my mouth to speak, but Kelly put her hand on my arm, and I waited for Becca to continue.
“I didn’t want to go any further than that, but I soon realized that he did. This would have been back in February or March. He kept trying to go further than I wanted to. He wasn’t rough with me or anything, but he kept after me about it. Then one night when Mum and Dad were out late at a party he came over to the house, and – well, that’s when I finally let him…”
“Please tell me that you used some sort of protection”, I said.
She looked at me, and I saw that her eyes were wet. “Please don’t be mad at me, Tommy”, she said desperately; “I knew you’d be upset, and that’s why I didn’t want to tell you…”
I shook my head, leaned forward and took her hand again. “I’m sorry”, I said; “I didn’t mean to sound like I was angry. I’m not Dad, Becs; I’m just me. Tell me what you want me to know, and I promise I won’t judge you or anything like that; God knows I’ve done plenty of things I’m not proud of myself”.
She blinked back her tears, squeezed my hand, and said, “I really didn’t enjoy it, Tommy; I was so afraid that Mum and Dad might come home early and find us, or something like that. But he wanted it so much, and I loved him and I didn’t want to disappoint him…”
“Did he force you?” I asked.
She stared at me for a moment, and then I saw the sudden understanding dawn on her face, and she said, “You’re asking me if he raped me, aren’t you?”
“I guess I am”.
“No, it wasn’t like that. He knew I wasn’t wild about the idea, but I didn’t tell him he couldn’t. Afterwards, though, he knew I was upset”.
“Did you tell him that?”
“No, I tried to hide it, but I don’t think I did a very good job of it. Well, actually, I know I didn’t do a very good job of it”.
“What happened after that?” I asked.
“We slept together three or four times over the next few weeks, always at his house when his mum and dad were out – I should have said that he’s the youngest son, and the only one left at home. But I could never shake that fear of us being discovered, and I don’t think it was very enjoyable for him”.
“So he started looking elsewhere”, I said softly.
She nodded, and I saw the tears in her eyes again. “I knew he and Chrissie had become friends through the swim team, but I didn’t know that she fancied him too”.
“How did you find out?”
“He told me himself”. She smiled grimly; “He was very gentlemanly about it at first; he said he could see that I wasn’t happy with him any more, and so maybe it would be better if we parted so that we could each find someone more suited to our needs. I don’t know why – just instinct, maybe – but I asked him if he had someone in mind, and at first he tried to avoid the question, but eventually he admitted he’d been seeing Chrissie for a few weeks. And then I got angry with him and started shouting at him; I asked him if he thought she’d be any better in bed than I was, and that was when he lost his temper and said yes, actually, she was much better than me, and they’d been having some pretty wild times together”.
“Bastard!” I whispered.
Again she shook her head; “I wish I could just be mad at him like that; it would be so much easier if I could. I’ve called him names like that, and worse, but the thing is…” Her voice petered out and she put her hand over her mouth, the tears running down her face.
“You’re still in love with him”, I said.
“I’m pathetic, aren’t I?” she sobbed.
I got up then, took her hand, and said, “Come here”. She got to her feet, and I put my arms around her and hugged her. “You’re not pathetic”, I said, continuing to hold her close; “He was wrong to put pressure on you to have sex when you really didn’t want to, and he was wrong to betray you when he wasn’t getting what he wanted out of you. And now you still love him, and he’s hurt you very, very badly, and so you’re confused and you can’t figure out what you should feel”. I leaned back, looked at her, and said, “I know what I feel; I want to find him, hold him down, and remove some of his body parts without the benefit of anesthetic!”
She laughed suddenly through her tears; “Oh, Tommy!” she said, “I’ve been so scared to tell you about this; I wanted to, but I was scared you’d be angry at me”.
I hugged her again; “Not angry at you at all”, I replied. “I know it was hard for you to talk about this with me, what with you being a girl and me being a boy, and your big brother too”.
I felt her nodding against my shoulder; “Kelly told me to trust you. She was right, of course”.
“I’m guessing you haven’t told anyone else about it”.
“Well, everyone at school knows he dumped me and moved on, but no one knows the details, no. Kelly was the first person I told”.
I heard Kelly get to her feet, and I felt her putting her arms around the two of us. “You were right to tell us”, she said softly; “You needed to talk to someone about it; it must have been hard for you to carry this around all by yourself for the last two months”.
“I know Mum suspects something, but of course, I was even more scared of talking to her about it. And as for Dad…”
“Yeah, enough said”, I replied.
After a moment the three of us separated; Becca took out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes, and we sat down again. “So you wanted to get away so that you wouldn’t have to see him all summer, right?” I asked.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see you, too”, she replied apologetically, “but the main thing was to get as far away as I could. Not that I’d usually see him in Northwood, but you know, we go into Wallingford fairly often, and…”
“Yeah. But by the time you go home, it’ll only be about three weeks until term starts in Cambridge”.
“Yes. Of course, I’ll have to go to school in Wallingford, but hopefully I won’t see him before he leaves town. I really need to find a way of getting him out of my head before term starts, or I’m going to be totally messed up for the Upper Sixth, and I’ve really got to concentrate and work hard”.
At that moment we heard a whimper from the tent, and then a little cry. Kelly got to her feet; “I think she’s dreaming”, she said; “I’ll go make sure she’s okay”. She got to her feet and put her hand on Becca’s shoulder. “I’m going to get into my sleeping bag pretty soon”, she said; “Do you mind? I’m actually really tired”.
“Of course I don’t mind! I’m sorry, Kelly; I’ve been keeping you up late a lot, and I know you need to get your rest”.
“No need to apologize; I like sitting up and talking with you. Okay, I’d better go and settle her down again”.
She went over to the tent, bent to unzip the door, and slipped inside, zipping it up again behind her. I looked across at my sister; “Are you okay?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Not yet; thanks for listening, though”.
“Thanks for trusting us; we don’t take that for granted”.
She was quiet for a minute, and then she said, “Tommy, Kelly’s an amazing person, you know”.
“I know she is”.
“I’ve never met anyone like her, she’s so gentle and honest and real. And after all she’s been through, to care about my pathetic love life the way she does…”
“I know what you mean”.
“It sounds cheesy, but I think she’s the best person I know”.
“It doesn’t sound cheesy at all. And just so you know, I agree with you”.
“Well, you would, wouldn’t you?” she said with a grin.
“If you’re accusing me of being in love…”.
“You got lucky, didn’t you?”
“Yes I did”.
She sighed, stretched her arms over her head, and said, “Okay, do you mind if we change the subject now?”
“Not at all; what do you want to talk about?”
“What are we going to do tomorrow?”
“Well, if the weather’s good, I might take you on a long hike up a steep slope”.
“What about Kelly and Emma?”
“Kelly told me to take you on a couple of long hikes, so you wouldn’t miss out on everything that Jasper can offer. What do you think? Do you feel ready for something pretty strenuous?”
“I’m game; where are we going?”
“Edith Cavell Meadows.”
“That’s the big white mountain behind Whistler’s, right?”
“Yes, but we won’t be climbing the mountain itself; you need ropes and pitons to do that. The Meadows trail climbs the ridge beside the mountain, on the other side of the glacial pool. You drive up to the parking lot, and then it’s about a three kilometre hike to the top of the trail, with about a five hundred metre elevation, so it’s fairly steep at times. But the views are spectacular; it’s my favourite hike in Jasper”.
“How long does it take?”
“From the parking lot, it takes me about two hours to the top, and an hour back down. But of course, if the weather’s nice, there’s no hurry. And then we can cool off in Annette Lake afterwards”. I grinned at her; “What do you think – are you up for it?”
“I think I am”.
We were away from Meadowvale for just over two weeks. In Jasper we took Becca down to the Columbia Icefields and showed her the glaciers; we did the spectacular boat trip to Spirit Island on Maligne Lake, and we walked Maligne Canyon with Emma riding in a child carrier backpack on my back. Becca and I did our hike up the Mount Edith Cavell trail, we all went canoeing at Pyramid Lake several times, and we rode the tramway up the side of Whistler’s Mountain and then hiked to the top, with me carrying Emma on my back once again. On our last full day in Jasper we drove west across the B.C. border to Mount Robson Provincial Park, where we hiked up to Kinney Lake and back, enjoying the luxurious vegetation on the western slope of the Rockies, and the deep green of the lake with the grey mountains rising steeply on every side.
At the end of the week we drove east to Edmonton, where we enjoyed the music at the Folk Music Festival for three nights. The musical styles were more to my taste and Kelly’s than Becca’s, but she told us that she was enjoying herself nonetheless, wandering from stage to stage listening to the many different performers, sampling food at the various food tents, and just generally breathing in the atmosphere of the event. “I feel like I’m at Woodstock or something”, she said to us on the Saturday afternoon while we were sitting on the hill in Gallagher Park, eating pizza and looking down on the main stage.
“You look the part, too”, I replied, gesturing toward her cut-off jeans, psychedelic-coloured tee-shirt, and open sandals. “All you need now is some beads and a headband”.
She laughed; “If Dad could see me now!” she said.
After the festival was over we drove down to Saskatoon where we spent a night with Brenda and Gary and Ryan; Ryan was nearly four now, and of course he and Emma knew each other well. Brenda and Gary both took a night off work to be with us; Gary barbecued steaks for us, and afterwards we had a long and enjoyable conversation over a bottle of wine. That was when Brenda told us hesitantly, watching Kelly out of the corner of her eye, that she had just discovered she was expecting another baby at the beginning of March. We all congratulated them, but I knew Kelly well enough to know that beneath her cheerful smiles and good wishes she was struggling not to cry, and I was pretty sure that Brenda knew it too. Before we went to bed I saw the two of them talking quietly together, leaning back against the kitchen sink, and before they parted for the night they hugged each other for a long time.
The next day, August 11th, we did the short drive home to Meadowvale; we left the city after lunch and we pulled into our driveway around two-thirty in the afternoon. Emma was visibly delighted to be home, and she ran through the house, checking every little nook and cranny to make sure everything was in its proper place, before settling down in the living room to get reacquainted with her friends in the toy box. Kelly went through the house herself, opening windows and letting the fresh air in, before starting a load of laundry, unpacking all our camping gear and putting it back on the shelves in the basement.
Becca disappeared into her room for a while; I helped Kelly with the camping gear, answered some telephone messages and drove down to the Co-op to get some groceries, and then came home and made a pot of coffee. The door to Becca’s room was not quite closed, so I poured her a mug of coffee and then knocked lightly; “Are you awake, Becs?” I asked. “I poured you some coffee”.
“Come in, Tommy”, she replied.
I pushed the door open to find her sitting cross-legged on her bed writing in her journal, with the curtains closed and a fan blowing warm air across the room. “It’s a bit warm in here”, she said with a grin.
I put the mug down on her bedside table. “There’s a nice breeze outside”, I said, “but it’s not blowing from the right direction to get into this room. You might find it more comfortable out on the deck; I was going to rig up the umbrella to keep the sun off the table anyway”.
“I just wanted to be alone for a while”, she said; “I got behind writing up my journal while we were in Edmonton, and I wanted to get it all down while it was fresh in my mind”. She smiled at me; “It was a wonderful trip, Tommy; one of the best holidays I’ve ever had. Thank you”.
“You’re welcome. I’m going to go out to the deck now and rig up that umbrella, and then I might just fall asleep in my chair out there. Come and wake me up when you’re ready; I’ve got something I need to ask you about, but it’ll keep until you’re done”.
She woke me up about half an hour later; I had taken my coffee and my current book out there, but the warm air and the gentle afternoon breeze had done their work, and I had very quickly fallen asleep. I woke to the touch of her hand on my arm; “I poured you a fresh cup”, she said with a grin; “Yours was cold”.
“Thank you”, I replied with a yawn, sitting up in my chair; “Where are Kelly and Emma?”
“Kelly told me to tell you she was taking Emma down to the swimming pool, and we could meet them there if we wanted”.
“Sounds good”, I replied, taking a sip from the mug she had filled for me.
“What was it you wanted to ask me about?” she said, sitting down across the picnic table from me with the umbrella shading her face from the sun.
“Ah, yes, well, Will and Sally have gotten wind of the fact that Thursday is your birthday”.
“I wonder who might have told them?” she replied reproachfully.
“Well, that’s for me to know and you to find out!”
She laughed; “So, what’s going on?” she asked.
“Will just told me that he and Sally haven’t seen as much of you as they’d have liked so far, and if you were okay with it, they’d be glad to host a little party for you on Thursday night”.
“Who would be there?”
“Relatives, I expect”.
She looked at me archly; “Tommy, you have rather a lot of them!”
“I guess I do”, I replied with a grin. “Well, Will thought he’d invite Joe and Ellie and the kids, and apparently Krista and Steve and Mike are coming tomorrow – which, by the way, I didn’t know”.
“So this would be a gathering of Will and Sally’s family, for my birthday”.
“Something like that”.
“I think I’d be okay with that”
“Right, then; I’ll let them know we’ll be coming”.
And so Becca’s last two weeks with us went by; it would be wrong to say that they went fast, because we spent the days as lazily as we could, and in fact, for two or three of them, we did nothing all day except play with Emma, take her to the swimming pool in the afternoon, and sit out on the deck reading. Becca, like me, enjoyed reading, and she had been raiding my bookshelves, sampling authors she had never heard of before, as well as revisiting a couple of old favourites. She also played me some of the tapes she had brought with her, and I was surprised to discover that although I didn’t really care for the Pogues or the Smiths, I rather liked Billy Bragg. “I’ll have to look out for some of his records”, I said; “Can you write me a list?”
“Absolutely; I think there’s just four, and I’ve got all of them”.
I grinned at her; “What does Dad think of him?” I asked.
She laughed out loud; “You don’t honestly think I’d play this sort of stuff in public when Dad’s around, do you? I usually just listen to it on my Walkman!”
Kelly and Becca continued their long conversations, and once again, on a couple of warm nights, the two of them sat up late on the deck, drinking herbal tea and talking.
“What are you guys talking about out there?” I asked Kelly one morning.
“Lots of things”, she replied. “We’re still talking about the whole Peter thing but we’ve also got onto your dad…”
“Ah; she and I have had that conversation as well”.
“Yeah, well, it’s a big one. And then there’s a whole other theme called ‘life’, what’s important and what’s not important, what works and what doesn’t, and all that. Oh, and stories, too – she’s very interested in what it was like to grow up here, and in my family history, and we’ve even touched on Christianity a few times”.
“I’m glad you guys are getting on so well”.
“So am I, but I’m going to back off for the last few days, Tom”.
“Because she’s your sister, and I feel like I’ve kind of monopolized her while she’s been here”.
“No, not at all; like you said, she needed someone she could talk girl talk with. She’s got friends, but a sister’s different, if she’s a sister you can get along with. I feel that way about Joe, you know; he’s the brother I can get along with”.
“Yeah, I know. But anyway, I think you should take her out to the lake a couple more times and just keep her to yourself for a few hours”.
“Might be hard; she’s pretty taken with Emma too”.
“Yeah, I guess that’s true!”
Becca flew home on Monday August 24th; I was starting work the next day. We had a few people over for supper the night before to say their goodbyes, and then Kelly and Emma and I drove her down to Saskatoon the following afternoon to catch the overnight flight.
When it came time for her to leave us and go through security she clung to us fiercely. “I wish I didn’t have to go”, she said to me; “This has been my best ever holiday”.
“It’s been great to have you”.
“I’m better, Tommy; I want you to know that”.
“Yes; I don’t mean that I’m completely over Peter, but I’m in a much better frame of mind than I was five weeks ago”.
“That’s good, then”.
She turned to Kelly, and the two of them put their arms around each other and held each other tight. “You be sure to write, now”, Kelly said, “and call me any time. I’ll always be glad to hear from you”.
“Thank you – and thank you for everything”. Becca stepped back, and I saw the emotion on her face. “Will you be coming to England next year?” she asked me.
“I don’t know”, I replied, glancing at Kelly, “but if we’re not, you come back again. If money’s an issue, we’ll send you the fare. We’ve talked about this”.
She hugged me again, and then picked Emma up and said, “Don’t forget me now, Em; I’m your Auntie Becca, remember?”
Emma nodded solemnly, and then put her arms around Becca’s neck. “Aw, that’s a nice hug for Auntie Becca”, Kelly said.
Becca kissed Emma, smiled at her, and said, “Right – Auntie’s got to go, now”. She slung her backpack over her shoulder, hugged Kelly and me one more time, and said, “I’ll ring you when I get home”.
“You be sure to do that”, I said, “and give Mum and Dad my love”.