The log house was tucked a short ways up into the edge of the mountain, and four Dene children were scrambling out in the snow in the front yard. They shouted in recognition when Fraser and Meg pulled up and cut the engines.
"Sergeant Ben! Sergeant Ben! Look at the snowman we made!" One eight-year-old girl shouted, running up to him and pointing back at the rounded, lopsided sculpture in the middle of the yard.
"I put the head on it," the tallest boy said. He looked about eleven. Fraser got off his vehicle, grinning down at the children.
"It looks very big and well-made," he said. Meg noted that it was about a metre tall, and generously propped with a pile of unevenly-distributed snow around the base.
"Mommy gave me the carrot!" The littlest girl came running up to Fraser and tapped his leg. "Mommy gave me the carrot!"
"That's wonderful, Lizzie," he answered, "It's a very nice carrot."
"I put the eyes and arms in," the first girl said.
"I put the arms in!" The tall boy said.
"No you didn't, I did! You just found them scrawny sticks!" The girl made a face at the boy.
"Yeah, and I put 'em in!"
"But I had to fix them, because you didn't put them in even," she responded, and stuck her tongue out at him.
"That's rude," little Lizzie said, putting her hands on her hips. "You shouldn't do that."
"Yeah, Jolie, that's rude," the boy said, and stuck his tongue out at her.
"Hey!" Lizzie said, looking very upset about the whole affair.
"Lizzie is right, you know," Fraser said authoritatively. He looked up at a second boy, who was coming over to them. Meg got off her snowmobile and left the helmet on the seat.
"What did you build, Clay?" He asked. The boy shrugged.
"He didn't make nuthin'," Jolie said.
"Did too," Clay answered stubbornly, stuffing his mittened hands into his pockets. "I made the toilet."
"Everybody's gotta have a toilet," Lizzie said, matter-of-factly. "Even the snowman."
"Of course," Fraser nodded reasonably. "That's true."
Oh, so that was what that slightly rounded lump next to the snowman was. From this angle, now that they mentioned it, it did bear some resemblance to a toilet bowl. How charming. She looked at all the footprints in the snow—over on her right were three snow angels and one small spot where a lot of uncoordinated thrashing had been attempted. It was about Lizzie's height.
She remembered making snow angels as a child, so long, long ago. There was a new burst of shouting, and she looked over to see Fraser crouch down and Lizzie leap on to him, piggy-back style. When he stood up, she squealed with delight and pulled off his Stetson. She tried to fit it on her own head over her knitted cap. It ended up resting tilted over the side of her head. He turned around to look at Meg, something sparkling in his eyes.
"Could you get the mail sack?" He asked, giving a slight head nod towards the excited load on his back. Meg nodded and took the sack off the side of his snowmobile and slung it over her shoulder. She envied his ease with children.
"All set," she said.
They went up the walk, the other children scrambling ahead to announce their arrival.
"Hey Mom!" The tall boy shouted.
"Mommy! Mommeeee!" Jolie hollered. "Sergeant Ben is here! And he brought the pretty lady with him!"
"Hey, shhhhh," the tall boy jabbed his sister with his elbow as they took off up the walk. "Ma said not to say anything about that!"
"You leave me alone—Mommeeee!" And the two took off, racing to the door. Clay seemed content to walk beside Fraser, his hands in his pockets, looking up at him occasionally. Lizzie wiggled on his back, and alternated between hooting and shouting for her mother.
A woman appeared in the doorway right before the two children plowed into the door. At the sight of her, the children began shouting anew.
"They're here, Mommy, they're here!"
"Come in for some hot chocolate, Sergeant, ma'am," the woman said, smiling. The children started to edge in around her. "You, and you—kick the snow off your boots and clean off your mittens! I don't want puddles in my kitchen."
Jolie and the tall boy started shuffling and stamping around on the front steps, kicking off clumps of snow. Fraser and Meg came up the walkway, with Lizzie and Clay in tow.
"Hello, Vera," Fraser said, his voice slightly strained from the little arms wrapped around his neck like a vise.
"Hello—Jaques! Don't hit your sister," the woman separated Jolie and her brother and swatted them lightly, sending them inside. "Go take your coats and snow pants off, hang them on the rack in front of the stove—you too, Clay, Lizzie. Come in, come in," she said to Fraser and Meg, smiling warmly. "I've got a pot heating on the stove."
"Thank you kindly, but we can't stay for long," Fraser answered. He shifted and let Lizzie slide down his back and drop to the ground. She took off his Stetson and politely gave it back to him, a little lady to the last. He returned the gesture by bowing slightly, before tucking it under one arm.
"Ah, thank you kindly, Miss Ittinuar."
"You're welcome Mister Sergeant Ben, sir," she answered, smiling prettily.
She did a short dance, kicking off the snow on her boots, and then she ran around her mother and followed Clay inside. Fraser knocked the snow off his gloves.
"Ah, Vera Ittinuar, Meg Thatcher. Meg, Vera."
Meg pulled off her glove and shook Vera's hand and nodded. She wondered just how, exactly, Jolie had known who she was. She was beginning to suspect why Fraser had not felt the need to radio the Coopers.
"Welcome to my home, Meg. Come on in." Vera smiled.
"Thank you," she answered, pleasantly surprised at the warmth in the woman's tone. She and Fraser kicked off the snow on their own boots before following her inside the house. He took the sack from Meg and pulled out two packages, reading the labels before passing them over to Vera.
"Another three months' supply of insulin, and..." he seemed loathe to speak the second one aloud and he just smiled as he gave it to her. "Well, that's yours." Meg caught a glimpse of the label. Feminine care products; well, that explained his reluctance. She looked across at Vera, who was accepting them graciously.
"Thank you," she took them, smiling, and deposited them on the kitchen table. She looked over at Meg. "It's been wonderful of him to bring these things out; Antonu's trips take him out for days at a time, and it's difficult for me to get into town very often. You can trust Ben to go above and beyond the call of duty. You always know you're safe with him around."
Fraser was shifting on his feet, looking embarrassed by the praise. The woman was grinning from ear to ear. Meg got the distinct impression that the speech had been entirely for her benefit.
"Are you certain that you don't want a cup of something warm? Tea, yes?" Vera made a beeline for the teapot on the stove.
"Thank you, but no, Vera. Ms. Thatcher was hoping to reach the Coopers' home before lunch," Fraser said, re-buckling the flap on the mail sack. Meg looked sideways at him. Ms. Thatcher, hmm? Small communities, unmarried local heroes; it was a much clearer picture now forming in her mind. She realized two things: that she was very likely in for a very interesting month, and that interesting, where Benton Fraser was concerned, was a much more interesting than the average interesting.
Her mind was slush. She must get away from him as quickly as possible. This was utterly ridiculous. She noted, with some chagrin, that Vera Ittinuar was eyeing her—more likely both of them—with a great deal of amusement. Fraser gave a curt nod and waved goodbye to the four children in the other room, who were miraculously quiet, watching the three adults. Jolie's eyes were large, and they followed Meg to the door. Meg tried smiling at the girl, but all she received in return was a wide-eyed, curious look.
"Good travels!" Vera called, as she stood in the doorway. "Tell the Coopers that I said hello, and that I'm still willing to take Paul and Maggie if she needs a babysitter for a few days."
"I will tell her, Vera, thank you!" Fraser called back and waved as they walked down the hill to the parked snowmobiles. He swung the sack over the side and strapped it down to the back. Meg pulled on her helmet, leaving the visor up for a moment before she started her engine.
"I think I'm beginning to understand what you meant, before," she said dryly.
"Yes," he responded, pulling a strap down and buckling it in. He swung his leg over the side and sat down, looked over at her for a moment, then shook his head and started up the snowmobile. She smiled, pulled the visor down, and brought her own engine roaring to life. They were finally off to see Caryn and her family, approximately fifteen kilometres to the northwest, farther up into the MacKenzie Mountain range. Meg couldn't wait.
Caryn shaded her eyes and looked across the snowy landscape, letting her gaze travel around the mountains rising off to her left and down to the lower valley before her. Dave was over on the other side of the house, splitting firewood and singing to himself. She smiled and looked up at the peaks again, following them up to where the mountains disappeared into the low cloud cover. It was getting to be a cloudy day; perhaps there would be a short snowfall around supper-time.
Paul was building a sculpture a ways down the hill, carefully rolling a large ball of snow across the ground, which was picking up bits of pine needles where the ball clung heavily enough to the bottom of the recent storm's layer to pull it up as it went. Caryn watched him work for a few moments; he was so serious, putting all of his thought and energy into this sculpture. It was not a snowman—she was not sure what it was—but it was probably a creative new approach to snow sculpturing, complete with his lengthy description of how he had improved on it as compared to the last work of art. The boy was an artist, there could be no arguing of that. He took after his father in that regard.
Maggie was inside taking a nap, mercifully. It was exhausting taking care of a three-year-old while being eight-months-and-one-week pregnant. No; scratch that, it was nigh impossible, even with Dave's help. He tended to make himself useful outdoors most of the time, but stayed within earshot of the house. She smiled at the tune he was singing and looked out across the valley again. She heard a faint sound, and she thought that she saw two small dots travelling between the curves of a low dale, but they disappeared from view a moment later where the dale's edges rose up again.
She held one hand at the base of her back for support and smiled. Yes—she definitely heard the engines now; there were snowmobiles coming up the incline. Grinning widely, she turned her head and called over to her husband.
"Dave! They're coming!"
The singing trailed off, and he came around the corner of the cabin carrying the axe in one hand. She grinned as she saw the figures coming closer, thinking of a thousand different things that she wanted to say, to ask about, to reminisce over. It would feel so good to see Meg again, to laugh about those little things that only they knew about. Ten years! There was so much she couldn't say in those letters, and the answers always came after such a long wait. Now she could see her again.
Dave came up to her, and let the axe drop next to his foot. He put one arm around her back and squeezed her shoulder.
"How long's it been?"
"Ten years," she sighed, watching the figures speed around another glen in the snow and start up the incline. "Ten years too long." Her throat tightened.
"Are you worried that she's changed?" he asked softly, looking out past her. "Don't worry."
"Oh," she turned her head to look up at him, a half-teasing smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. "And why not?"
He shrugged in response, answering her smile. "Have her letters changed?"
"No...I just don't want things to be awkward, I don't want her to feel put upon."
"She's coming to help you for the last couple of weeks; let her," he said, watching Ben Fraser and the woman, Meg Thatcher, speeding up towards them. "I want it to be as much a vacation for you as it is for her, so don't worry. We'll look after you and the children."
"I know," she smiled and waved at them, now that they were within waving range. Both waved back. She sighed, apprehension mixing with hope, and smiled down at the two figures. A thought occurred to her. "Do you think what the Onstens said has any basis in truth? You know how Harold and Mae are about Ben—"
"We'll see," said Dave, giving a short laugh. "Just don't bring it up, okay, honey? They're already probably embarrassed as it is."
"I wouldn't dream of it!" She answered, trying to imbue the words with as much innocence as possible. "Still, if it were true..."
"I won't, I won't. I'm just teasing." She smiled sweetly up at her husband's face, challenging that warning look in his eye. He bent down and kissed the tip of her nose.
The rumbling of the engines drew up close, and they turned to look at the two people who just then pulled up. Caryn stepped forward, her arms opening.
Meg was off her snowmobile and across the distance between them in moments. She started to hug Caryn, and then, in a burst of mutual giggling, ended up hugging her friend with one arm, off to the side, trying to fit around the bulk of Caryn's midsection.
"You—how are you?"
"Good, good, and you?"
They burst out laughing and tried to hug again.
"You look good, you're glowing!" Meg said, standing back at an arm's length to look at her friend. Caryn's eyes were still sparkling. There were more lines and a little more weight, but her eyes were the same, lit with humour and a bit of mischief. It was so good to see her again!
"That would be the glow of motherhood," Caryn responded dryly, and then laughed again. "It's so good to see you!"
"And you!" Meg's breath was blowing a white cloud, from her laughing. "How far along are you, exactly?"
"I'm due in two-and-a-half weeks—oof," Caryn said, rolling her eyes heavenward. "Not soon enough."
"I can imagine," Meg answered, feeling just a small note of regret creeping into her voice. She pushed it back and smiled again at her old friend. "Oh, it's so good to see you again! It's been too long! You've built a family, become a respected author..."
"Speaking of which," Caryn said, turning to her husband, who had walked over to Ben Fraser and was watching the exuberant reunion from a safe distance. "I'd like to introduce Dave, my husband. Dave, Meg Thatcher." She gestured to him, and he came up to shake Meg's hand. Meg smiled up at this man who had managed to tame her friend's wild nature and convince her to marry him.
"Pleased to meet you, ma'am," he said, his voice deep. "I've heard quite a bit about you over the years."
"Meg, please," she answered. "And I, you. All good things, I assure you."
He smiled at her response and then turned to look behind himself for a moment.
"Paul, come say hello to Meg," Caryn said, gesturing with her hand at a boy who stood several metres away. The little boy came running up to them, and stood beside his father. Dave looked down at him, and nudged him forward a step to shake her hand. He held out his small mitten and she bent down and shook it.
"Pleased to meet you, ma'am," he said in clear voice, a miniature echo of his father.
"I am pleased to you meet you, sir," she answered in all seriousness. "Please call me 'Meg'."
"Are you here to help my mother?" he asked, looking up at her with wide eyes.
"In any way that I can," she said, and straightened up. He seemed to be satisfied with her answer, and looked over at his mother. "Can I finish the Minotaur, Mommy?"
"Is that what you're making?"
He nodded, beginning to edge back.
"Yes; dinner will be ready in a few minutes."
"Okay," he said, and started to run back.
"Paul," Fraser said, gesturing towards the sculpture that the boy had been working on. "Can I see your Minotaur?"
"Sure, Sergeant Ben. 'M not finished, yet, though."
"That's all right," Fraser said. He touched his hat, looking at the three other adults, and then made his way over towards the boy.
"We'll meet you inside," Dave said to Caryn. "Call us if you need us."
"We will, when dinner is served," she answered, hooking her arm around Meg's. "You wouldn't want me eating it all by myself, would you?" She grinned, and Dave pretended to look aghast for a second, then smiled at her, and turned to follow Fraser.
Caryn and Meg went up the short walk to the cabin, where a little girl stood, staring out the window panes on their left. She had large blue eyes and light brown hair, and a fistful of crayons.
"That's Maggie, I take it?" Meg said, looking over at the window.
"Yes, that's my little—Maggie!" Caryn started to hurry up the hill, trying to move her unaccustomed bulk quickly. "What is she doing up there? How did she climb—I just put her down for a nap!" she said in exasperation, her breath coming in short gasps by the time she reached the front door. They hurried inside, kicking off the snow as they went, and found Maggie standing on the rocking chair under the window, giggling.
"Mommy! Mommy! See da crayons, I made da pretty picture!"
She was holding a crumpled piece of paper in the hand steadied against the window sill. She held it out to her mother, letting go of the sill, and the rocking chair swung forward. She lost her balance and tumbled against the seat back of the chair, then fell down hard on the seat, the paper and crayons forgotten as she grabbed for a hold on the arms of the chair. The fright scared her, and she started to cry, just as Caryn reached her and lifted her off the chair, set her on the floor. The little girl was heavy; she couldn't hold her, so she lowered herself down to the floor and smoothed her daughter's hair away from her forehead.
"Oh, oh honey, you're okay," Caryn said softly, in response to her daughter's whimpers. "Look, no bump!"
"No bwump?" Maggie asked, her whimpers dying off. Caryn smoothed her daughter's cheek.
"No bump." She patted her head, and looked around. "I told you to sleep, Maggie."
"Mmm." Maggie said, and caught sight of a crayon on the floor. "I drew a picture for Meggie." She walked over and picked up the crayon, then the crumpled piece of paper that had fallen next to the rocking chair. She looked up at Meg, who had been watching the whole scene with a warmth that she wished she could have herself. Well, at least she had a month to help Caryn with her family; that would have to suffice. Swallowing, she bent down to look at the little girl's picture.
"What is this, Maggie?" She asked the wide-eyed child.
"It's you!" Maggie answered, sticking her chin out. "I made it for you!"
It was a large bit of scribbling in a red crayon. There was a tiny bit of scribble in blue in the upper right-hand corner.
"And that, right there?" She asked, pointing at the blue squarish-thing.
"Thas a cloud," she said.
"Well, thank you very much, Maggie."
"You're welcome," she answered, smiling proudly. "Where's your mommy?" She asked suddenly. The non sequitur took Meg by surprise.
"My mommy went to heaven a long time ago," Meg answered, swallowing thickly, and trying to smile down at the little girl.
"Gwamma went to heaven, too. I want to go to heaven." She turned around and looked at her mother, who had stood up and was watching them. "Mommy, can I go to heaven?"
"Someday, honey," Caryn said, smiling, and looking at Meg. They were all quiet for a moment, and then she walked past them, into the kitchen area. "Let's start making the sandwiches. I've got soup heating on the stove. Maggie, you pick up your crayons. It's almost dinnertime." She worked her way out of her coat and hung it on a peg near the door.
"'Kay," the little girl answered, and leaving the picture in Meg's hands, she crawled under the rocking chair to grab some of the crayons. Meg stood and folded the piece of paper, tucked it into a pocket, and took off her own coat.
"Just hang that next to mine, Meg, that's fine," Caryn said, looking into the soup-pot. Meg did as she said, and followed her over to help set up the meal.
They ate a companionable lunch; evidently, Fraser knew the Coopers quite well, and shared a number of pastimes with Dave, so throughout the dinner the conversation ranged from dog breeding to baby formula to climbing ice floes. Meg found herself enjoying the atmosphere immensely, precisely because it was so free-flowing and relaxed. She did not feel pressured to appear knowledgeable on all subjects, and her comments were greeted with everything from respect to outright laughter. A few anecdotes were related, and little Paul asked a number of entertaining questions.
Caryn grew tired and excused herself to take an afternoon nap, and Meg set about cleaning the kitchen. Fraser and Dave made sure that her belongings were settled in and that the snowmobile was left under good cover, and then both men left: Fraser back over the river to his cabin, and Dave out to finish chopping the firewood. As she washed the dishes, she found herself enjoying the simplicity of the task, knowing that she was helping Caryn, and looking forward to the responsibilities that would distract her from the thoughts that had chased her here. She did not want to think about Fraser, and so, telling herself not to make an issue of his presence, she finished drying the bowls and looked around the house for more to do. Cleaning gave her a purpose, and she set herself to work cleaning the other rooms, washing a load of laundry, and picking up toys from the floor around the fireplace.
She went back to cleaning and sorting, then checked in for a moment on Maggie, who was still sleeping soundly. Meg decided to go outside for a short while, visit the shed, perhaps find Dave and talk to him for a few minutes about what she needed to be doing. She had never had a responsibility such as this before, and was not entirely sure what they expected of her. Asking was the best way to find out.
She made her way around to the side of the house, where she heard the sounds of his chopping, and stopped at the corner to watch him work for a short while. She looked around at the near MacKenzie mountain range, at what she could see of Fisherman's Lake, about two kilometres away. It was breathtaking, beautiful, and so cold and barren. Well, not barren. Plant and wildlife thrived; but looking at the landscape from this distance, she just felt like it was constantly reminding her of the endless distance between herself and what she had thought life would be. Life in the sense of warm emotions and children and everything that she had always wanted, hidden somewhere, but ever-present.
These mental wanderings were getting her nowhere but into the tendency to self-pity, and that was the last thing she wanted. She steeled herself against the cold wind that was blowing up the hillside, and walked over to Dave, clearing her throat. He paused before taking another swing, and he looked over at her and smiled.
"Hello," he said, straightening. "Is everything all right?"
"Yes, oh yes, it's fine. I just—would you like some tea?" She had brewed a pot and poured some into a thermos that she had found in the cupboard. She pulled the container out from under her arm.
"I would; thank you," he smiled and took a cup of the steaming liquid, letting the axe handle rest against his leg. "Mmm."
She capped it again and looked around at the trees, the shed, the side of the sturdy cabin. "It's beautiful here," she observed quietly.
"Not like the city," he said, following her gaze with a thoughtful expression. "A man has a lot more room to think and move."
"Did you ever live in the city?" She asked.
"Yes, while I was in college. Couldn't stand the clutter and the people. As soon as I could, I escaped to travel the country with a surveyor's expedition, even made it as far south as North Dakota." He drank some more of the quickly-cooling tea. "Nice place."
"Sounds interesting," Meg proffered the thermos. He nodded, and she poured him another cup.
"Caryn said that you lived down in an American city for a couple of years. What was it like?"
"Dirty," Meg answered, smiling and looking up at the clouded mountain peaks again. After Chicago, this was a breath of fresh air. Literally. "It was America. What could you expect?"
"Too many people?"
"Overcrowded, overflowing city dumps, pollution, all of it. It made me miss Toronto, even."
Dave laughed and finished off the second cup of tea. Meg took the cup and twisted it back on to cover the thermos.
"I've come out to ask you what you and Caryn expect of me, what you need. I don't want to get in the way or anything," she said. "I'm almost completely inexperienced with this sort of situation."
"Don't worry about it," he answered. "You seem to be doing fine. Just general housework and babysitting, I suppose. She needs her rest, and the children take a lot of her time. Are you worried about taking care of them?" He knew she did not have any children of her own, and he wondered what it must be like for her here.
"No. I can do that," she nodded, deciding to just do what she saw needed to be done. Take it one thing at a time. The childcare might be somewhat disorienting, at first, but she was not entirely unused to caring for small children. She had taken care of Eleanore, though that had been many, many years ago...
"You'll do fine," he smiled reassuringly at her. She nodded and smiled at him, and pulled her collar closer around her neck. Her memories left her feeling a chill, so she nodded to him and headed back into the cabin. She could hear him resume his chopping, and the sound was comforting in its normalcy. There was no need to be poised or to appear as anything other than herself; she was simply carrying a warm thermos half-full of tea and making easy steps in the snow, up to the door. She smiled to herself when she saw Paul fashioning something else in the snow, on the other side of the down slope. He smiled at her when he saw her watching him, and he gave her a small wave. She waved back. She was possessed with the sudden desire to bake cookies.
"Yes ma'am?" The little boy called back, looking up from behind his rounded wall of snow.
"Do you...do you want to bake some cookies with me?"
He paused for a moment, eyeing her, and she suddenly felt that she did not stand up to his scrutiny. Who was she, to ask him if he wanted to bake cookies with her? It was probably something his mother did with him; she must be impinging on her territory.
No. That was utterly ridiculous, and what did the opinion of a five-year-old boy matter to her? With some surprise, she realized that his appraisal did matter, and that she wanted him to warm up to her. What he thought of her at this moment was important.
"Yes," he answered, and hiked himself over the snowbank he had created. "What kind?"
"Do you bake them a lot with your mother?" She asked, giving a small prayer of thanks as he came up to her.
"Mm, sometimes," he answered. "Not much lately, though."
"Yes, well, I don't suppose she'd want to make a mess in kitchen, since she's so..."
"Big. Yup." He seemed to take this information for granted. "So what kind will we make?"
She opened the door, and he went in ahead of her.
"Well, I'm not sure—I don't know what your mother has in the kitchen," Meg answered, pulling the door closed behind herself and removing her coat. Paul sat down on the mat beside the door and started tugging his snow boots off.
"There's a box of raisins," he said with a grunt, and pulled off a boot. "I like raisins."
"Hmm, oatmeal raisin, that's an idea," Meg said, removing her own boots. "I used to make those when I was your age."
"How old are you?" He asked, his eyes were wide. The idea that she was once his age seemed to shock him. She laughed.
"My birthday is in two months," she said.
"And how old will you be?" He pressed on, undeterred by her non-answer.
"Thirty-seven," she answered, and she tugged off her other boot and set it on the mat behind him.
"Wow," he said, his eyes as round as saucers. "You're almost as old as Sergeant Ben! Did you go to school together?"
"No," she looked down at him, amused. "But we did work together, once."
"Yeah, Mom said you're a Mountie, just like him. Are you a Sergeant, too? Or a Constable? Or a Corporal? Or an Inspector? Or a...a Super?"
He had obviously learned a bit about the RCMP. Meg found herself pleased with that. She went into the kitchen, padding on her stockinged feet.
"I'm an Inspector," she said, letting a note of pride into that statement.
"What's a 'Super'?" he asked, coming in behind her and pulling out a chair from the table.
"A Superintendent. They are very high officials in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," she answered. She dug around in the bottom cupboards until she found a mixing bowl and two cookie sheets.
"What do they do?"
"They are in charge of the administration and discipline of the personnel, and they coordinate the different outposts and offices in their jurisdiction," she said. "Let's wash our hands."
"Okay," he climbed down from the chair, dragged a small step-stool over to the floor in front of the sink, and climbed up to reach his hands under the water. "What's a jur-is-dic-tion?"
"It's the area that you have responsibility for," Meg answered, washing both of their hands.
"What do you do?"
"Well, I do much of the same thing, but I just do it in a smaller area; I run an office in Ontario."
"Do you apprehend criminals?"
"Sometimes," she laughed, wondering at his vocabulary. "But it's not usually that exciting."
"Tell me about a time you did," he said, climbing down and wiping his hands on the towel hanging from the handle on the stove.
"We need to find a cookbook," she said, drying her own hands. He went across the kitchen and pointed at the top cupboard on the right side.
"Thanks," she rifled through the stack of loose papers and home-bound books and index cards and found a recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies. "Ah."
After pre-heating the oven, she read off the ingredients, and the two of them went around the kitchen, gathering them up. Paul even found the measuring cups and spoons and laid them out neatly for her. She found the wooden mixing spoon, and then they were ready to begin.
"So, tell me a story," he said, settling himself down in the chair opposite where she was standing.
"About what?" She was concentrating on getting the ingredients' measurements right. Tablespoons and teaspoons had to be discriminated; she had learned long ago that that was important.
"About a time when you apprehended a criminal. Make it a good story."
"Hmm, let's see..." she measured six cups of flour into the mixing bowl. "There was one time when I threw eggs at two men who were trying to steal chickens."
"Really?" His interest was piqued. Eggs were messy; that was a good story.
"We apprehended the criminals," she said, half-teasing.
"No," he sighed, in the way of a long-suffering child who is dealing with an obtuse adult. "Why did they want to steal the chickens?"
"Well, they were very expensive and important chickens. The man who bred them had spent all of his life trying to breed the perfect chicken."
"Like Sergeant Ben?"
"I wasn't aware that the Sergeant was trying to breed the perfect chicken," she answered, keeping her tone neutral.
"That's what Billy Kakfwi said," he answered, matter-of-factly. "He keeps them right next to the chimney, to remind them that he could cook them whenever he wants to, and so they give him really good eggs."
Meg looked over the measuring cup at him and raised one eyebrow. "Is that what Mr. Kakfwi said?"
"Yes. But I don't think the chickens are scared of him eating them," he continued, an obvious authority on the subject.
"What do you think they're scared of?" Meg asked, searching around the table for the canister of baking soda that she knew she had put somewhere.
"I don't think they're scared at all. Sergeant Ben says they're just good chickens."
"Oh." She found it and then went flipping through the measuring spoons to find the half-teaspoon.
"So were they angry?"
"The criminals. Were they angry when you threw the eggs at them?"
"Yes," she smiled at him. "Wouldn't you be angry if I threw an egg at you?"
"It depends on why you threw it at me. If you threw an egg at me in the summer games, I wouldn't be angry." He seemed quite willing to forgive her in advance. "So how did you find out the chickens were in trouble?"
"That's a long story," she answered. "Do you want to help me mix?"
"Yeah!" He jumped up and came around the table to take the wooden spoon from her. She cracked in two eggs and they mixed for a while. He concentrated on the stirring, grunting occasionally, but he did not ask any more questions until they were done with it. She buttered the cookie sheets, and they started rolling the dough into little balls.
"Do you have any kids?" He asked, carefully putting his first ball on the sheet. He set it down too close to the first ball of dough, and she moved it back a few centimetres.
"I just never had the chance, I guess," she said, spooning out another lump from the bowl. "So what do you think the baby will be? A boy or a girl?"
"A boy," he said immediately, and with great conviction. She smiled.
"'Cuz I just know," he answered.
"You don't want another little sister?"
He shook his head vigorously.
He shrugged. They went about rolling the dough in an amicable silence, until the sheets were covered in four neat rows of three apiece. Meg slid them into the oven and set the timer on the stove.
"Can I lick the spoon?"
"Sure." She had been wondering when that inevitable question was going to be asked. He attacked it joyfully, while she put the remaining ingredients away.
"Thank you kindly," he said, bits of dough clinging to the edges of his mouth. The polite phrase seemed out-of-place on his speckled little face, and she had to laugh.