Fort Liard

Chapter 6

"Meg, I really think you should consider dating again," Caryn said matter-of-factly, sitting down in the chair she had just pulled out. She rested her elbow on the edge of the table and nodded. "I really think it would be good for you."

Meg looked up from her notebook, where she had been writing a meandering thought down, and shook her head. She smiled and went back to finishing the sentence.

"No, really, listen to me," Caryn continued, turning herself to face Meg, and leaning back in the chair. "You've been out of the sea for so long that I think you've forgotten about the fish."

"Well, ice-fishing is a slow sport," Meg quipped, in a dry voice, still writing.

Caryn smiled, and took her crocheting out of the bag on the table. She was alternating between making booties and crocheting squares for another throw blanket to sell at the crafts depot. It brought in a few tourist dollars—even though she was not making Native handicrafts—and it helped her to relax. She wound the string from the skein through her fingers, looped in the hook from where she had left it last, and started a row of double-crotchet and slip stitches. She decided to work up to the topic gradually, ask a few leading questions, and then insist on being told every detail. The children were outside with Dave, and she was going to take advantage of that. Besides, it was so much fun to nudge Meg; she was usually so closed about such things. Caryn settled in and smiled to herself.

"So, have you been seeing anyone lately?" she prodded, trying not to sound too curious, but knowing that she was failing miserably.

Meg looked aside at her with a smile. "I was wondering when you were going to bring this topic up," she said. It had been three days since she had arrived, but this was the first opportunity when they had truly had any length of time alone.

"I'm just concerned for you, that's all."

"I know; thanks." She went back and wrote a few words and underlined one.

"What are you writing?"

"Just a few thoughts about how quiet life is out here. I'd forgotten what it was like. The times that I've spent outside of the city since childhood were always in police situations, tracking down criminals, getting people out of disasters, averting catastrophes," these she said with a dry humour. "But I've never really taken the time to just stop and listen. Keeping busy was just easier, I suppose."

"Are you trying to hide from something, running around, keeping busy all the time?" Caryn asked, looking down at the stitches in her hands. She had to stop and count how many she had done, and then she started up again.

"Yes," Meg sighed, propping her chin on one hand and putting the pen down. "That's part of why I came out here. I just wanted to leave the routine back at the office." She smiled. "I'm not escaping it out here, but at least I have better view in which to contemplate it."

Caryn laughed softly and counted to herself.

"So you're not seeing anyone, then, I assume."

"No," Meg looked back down at the notebook. "I tried, a few times, but my heart just wasn't in it, and that's no fun for either you or the other person."

"Maybe you just haven't met the right person, yet."

"Caryn, I'm almost forty. I'm not holding out any romantic hopes. I've built a good career, I've enjoyed many things, and I've achieved what I set out to do. I really don't think that pining after someone is going to make my life any better."

"Hey, don't get snappy with me; I'm just asking."

"I'm not snappy."

"Yes you are. You're getting a little defensive."

"I am not."

"Go with me, here," Caryn said, undaunted by her friend's reaction.

Meg sighed and smiled resignedly.

"Okay."

They were both quiet for a few seconds, and then Caryn looked up.

"Why didn't you ever tell me his name?"

"Who?"

"Your junior officer," Caryn answered. Leading question. She contrived to look merely curious.

Meg found herself staring out the window across from her, watching an eagle wheel through the clear sky and then disappear from view.

"I couldn't bring myself to say his name; it was easier to just leave it the way it was."

"The way it was?"

"Nameless. No names, no misunderstandings."

"You're really cold sometimes, Meg," Caryn said quietly. "What you told me...it didn't seem that way at the time."

"It was. It had to be," she answered, looking back down at the writing on the paper before her.

"If you really loved each other, why did you let your positions stand in the way?"

"Because we couldn't—it's against the regulations, fraternization between officers and their direct superiors. And what little happened, happened under pressure. I don't know if he ever even really cared about me that way."

"Oh, stop kidding yourself, girl. You know he did."

Meg shook her head and swallowed.

"So now you're no longer his direct superior. Why didn't you try contacting him after you left Chicago?"

"We went our separate ways," she answered lamely. "Look, Caryn, I don't really—"

"Why didn't you ask him on Monday evening?"

Meg started, and looked at her with wide eyes.

"How did you—"

"I put two and two together. When Mae described the meeting in her kitchen, I started to wonder. When you both came and spent most of lunch trying not meet one another's eyes, that did it for me. Why did you pretend that you didn't know each other?"

"We did not! It just never came up in the conversation."

"You could have at least mentioned it."

"Why? Everybody in this town knows, anyway," she half-growled.

"Hey, I'm just asking," Caryn held up her hands in mock surrender, one holding up the half-finished square, string trailing from it down to the table.

"He's a good friend," Meg stated.

"That he is. He's been an invaluable help to Dave and I. You know Dave has to be gone for weeks at a time, what with his job as a surveyor and all. There seems to be an endless amount of work for him, which is great because he has a steady income—which is a commodity around here, and I'm thankful for it—but it means that he has to leave us behind. He took these four months off, to stay with us until the baby's old enough for me to be able to go into town and such. During the last few years, Ben has taken the time to come out and check on me and the kids regularly, when Dave is gone. He doesn't have to do that; I'm just thankful he does. It's the same for everyone else in this village; but that's it, Meg. He has formed a lot of friendships, but he still lives alone."

"Aren't there...interested...women?" Meg managed to work out, asking herself why she was even talking about this.

Caryn shrugged and rounded a corner on her crocheted square. "A few, but he has always politely refused the offers." She shook her head with a small smile. "Such as they may be."

Meg gave a knowing laugh and looked at her hands.

"Same thing in Chicago?"

"Endlessly," Meg answered. "And I, embarrassed as I am to admit it, made a fool of myself on occasion, too." She buried her face in her hands and shook her head slightly. Caryn watched her with a half-amused, half-saddened expression.

"Why?"

"Ohhh, I don't ," sighed Meg, looking up from her hands. "How can you answer a question like that? One moment, I'd be completely in control, capable, intelligent, directed, and the next moment, I'd run into him unexpectedly—" she paused for a moment, a number of interesting expressions crossing her face all at once, and then she continued. "He'd be ," she made a gesture about an arm's-length from herself, "—and anything that was in my mind would just desert me, and I'd be standing there, entirely conscious of the fact that I was stumbling over my words and not able to do a thing about it, getting more self-conscious by the second." She laughed and shook her head ruefully. "The only thing that made it bearable was when he did it, too. At first, I thought it was annoying; I thought he was an incompetent fool—albeit an unfairly attractive one. Then, later, I realized that he wasn't like that, it seemed, except when he was in my presence, and then, only when we were alone. Which intrigued me."

She paused and played with the pages of the notebook for a second. "It was half-torture, going into work every morning, but for a time, I actually looked forward to it." She smiled.

"What happened?"

"The train."

"Oh."

They were both quiet. Caryn remembered that letter. She remembered almost crying at Meg's written words. The two officers had shared an intense kiss on the roof of a speeding train, caught in the moment and the life-and-death pressure of the experience. Their relationship had become more strained afterwards, primarily because Meg was unable to resolve her position with her passion, and had found herself increasing the distance between them. Caryn had been hoping and praying that her friend would find a way for it to work, but each letter after that had been more and more reserved, and, she thought, lonelier.

Meg leaned to one side, propping her head against her hand, and looked over at Caryn, who had comfortably laid the ever-growing square on her extended belly and was crocheting as though from a small, convenient shelf. Meg smiled, and Caryn looked up at her.

"What?"

"You, you're so funny, sitting there like that."

"Like what?"

"Using your stomach like that."

"Well, there's not much way around it," Caryn laughed.

"What's it like?"

"What?"

"Being pregnant," Meg asked quietly.

"Un—" Caryn shifted and groaned, her legs needing circulation, "—uncomfortable."

"No," Meg smiled. "I mean, with the baby inside."

"It feels like gas." She laughed.

"No, no—" Meg shook her head, wryly. "No, what does it feel like, the baby moving?"

"About four months after you find out you're pregnant, you start to feel little kicks," she answered softly. "You're sick off-and-on for about six weeks, and then the little kicks start, and it's...interesting."

Meg was quiet, just watching her. Caryn looked up at her, after a time.

"What are you thinking?"

"Oh, nothing," she answered.

"We're going to a community social event next Friday; plan on coming."

"That 'Surf 'n Turf' thing?" Meg looked unimpressed.

"Yes, these get-togethers are always a lot of fun."

"Oh, Caryn, I don't know anyone—I'd stick out like a sore thumb, a city girl—"

"No you wouldn't. They'd accept you the minute you walked in the door."

Meg looked at her skeptically. "That's a bit of an exaggeration, isn't it?"

"Really, Meg, no one would make you feel uncomfortable."

"Really? With half the town interested in my personal...matters?"

"It's all in good fun, why are you getting all up in arms?"

"I..." Meg sighed, shook her head. "No reason, I guess." She picked up her pen, looked down at the page for a moment, and then wrote a few words. She felt defensive; she had come out here for some pure relaxation and some stable family influence, not for the unlimited excitement of being the centre of everyone's matchmaking efforts. Fraser was who he was, she was who she was, and between them stood a gap that wasn't going to be bridged by some well-meaning friends. As much as the sight of him made her heart skip a beat and her skin tingle, she knew it was simply an attraction. A liability.

You're really cold sometimes, Meg... Caryn's voice echoed in her mind. She wrote the words down, and stared at them.

"What's for dinner?" Caryn asked.

"Whatever I don't burn," Meg answered, smiling.


Ben looked down at the little bunch of violets in his hand, and shook his head in disbelief.

"I don't know..."

"Of course she'll like them!" Ivy encouraged, gesturing reassuringly with the trowel. He still looked unsure of what to do with them.

"Do you think it's appropriate for the occasion?"

Ivy turned to look at her husband, who was sorting seeds at the workbench.

"What do you think, hon?"

He looked up, glanced at them.

"I guess," he answered, shrugged, and then turned back to his work. Ivy sighed and shook her head, a long-suffering smile appearing on her face.

"Great help you are," she said, pursing her lips. Ben was standing there, looking for all the world like he was out of his depth, and she was determined to convince him to take the violets. He had come by earlier, for dinner, and she had managed to extract from him that he was planning on asking that Thatcher woman to accompany him to the social planned for next Friday. Nothing formal; it would just be rude to ignore an old acquaintance, he had said. Of course, he was right. He then abruptly asked them if they thought he should bring a small token or some such thing, and she promptly decided that an unobtrusive bouquet would be just about right. He did not look too certain, and John seemed to be bent on not getting involved in the matter in the slightest, so she was left to advise on her own.

She felt that she had some authority on the matter, being a woman and knowing what she would appreciate, but she felt a little uncomfortable attempting to guide someone else's social life. It would have to be his decision.

"I just know that I would think it sweet of you," she said.

"That's what I'm trying to avoid," he said, under his breath. Then he looked up and smiled at her. "Thank you, Ivy."

"Anytime. They just take up space down here, growing for us alone. I would consider it an honour, if you found a good use for them." If the idea was making him uncomfortable, she really would not be offended if he decided against it.

He smiled and nodded. "Then I will. I don't suppose they will be an issue, and she'll probably be surprised to see them out here at this time of year."

"That's something," John said, from his corner.

"Yes. Well, thank you kindly for dinner."

"Our pleasure," she answered. "And do invite her to come out here sometime. She's here for another three weeks, isn't she?"

"I believe so, yes," he said. "At least until after Mrs. Cooper gives birth."

"Well, then, perhaps they can all come over. We'll have to radio them. Won't we, dear?"

"Mmm-hmm," John responded, intent on his sorting.

"What shall I keep them in, to protect them?" Ben asked, looking down at the dainty flowers. For some reason, they seemed to suit Meg; he wondered if the colours would complement her eyes. He realized that Ivy had asked him a question, and he looked up from his thoughts.

"I beg your pardon?"

"I said, do you want a sprig of fern or Queen Anne's to accompany them?"

"That would be a corsage, Ivy," John said dryly. "Let's not be too overbearing."

"Well, I'm glad that you're finally volunteering your opinion—do you have any suggestions?"

"Just leave them the way they are: simple," he answered, peering across the room at the two of them, over his glasses.

"Hmm. I think you're right." She looked thoughtful.

Ben stood there, wondering at the absurdity of the situation. They were discussing how to make a bouquet in a basement full of flowers and vegetables, growing in full bloom in the middle of an NWT winter. He had almost no idea how the minister and his wife managed it, but they did. There was something wonderfully improbable about the whole thing.

It occurred to him that he did not even know if Meg even liked flowers. She had never spoken about it the last—and only—time he had tried to give her some. They had, by mutual silent agreement, thereafter pretended that it had never happened. They had excelled at avoiding things. He shook his head and drew himself out of his thoughts. There was no point in revisiting all of that. This was just one friend paying respects to another.

Ivy had gotten a small bit of wrapping paper and a bag for him to carry the little bunch in. She took them carefully from his hands, brushed the remainder of the soil off, and arranged them carefully, before rolling them up and sliding the paper into the bag. She closed it and gave him the package.

"There you are."

"How much do I owe you?" he asked, taking his hat out from under his arm to get the small wad of bills folded under the brim.

"Nothing, Benton," she smiled, stopping his hand. "Don't worry about it."

"That's what they're here for, son," John smiled over his glasses, turning on the stool to face them. "God bless. Drive carefully. Radio station said there's a storm moving in tonight."

"I will, thank you, John," Ben nodded to the minister, and then to Ivy. "Have a good evening."

"We will," she smiled up at him. "Do you mind seeing yourself out? I was going to pot a few of these before I went to bed."

"Not a'tall," he returned the smile, pulling on his gloves. Nodding one more time at her, he went up the stairs and out of sight. A moment later, they heard the front door close.

"What do you think?" she asked, looking after him for a moment.

"I think you should leave it in the Lord's hands, and let them figure it out for themselves."

"Aye, I suppose you're right," she said, and started in on repotting the tulips.


There was a knock on the door and Meg looked up from her book. Caryn glanced at her from across the room, nodded, and continued her comfortable rocking in front of the fireplace. They had put Paul and Maggie to bed some time earlier; Dave had gone to the Onsten's store for the evening. He wouldn't knock on his own door. Who was it, then? Caryn did not seem particularly surprised or worried, so Meg crawled out of her comfortable bedroll, sliding a marker into her place in Yukon Wild, and made her way over to the door. Before opening it, she put on her coat.

He was standing there in the waning light, holding a small paper bag. He seemed, oddly enough, surprised to see her.

"Meg."

"Ben."

They stood awkwardly for a moment, and then he looked down at his hand and remembered what was there.

"Ah...is Dave here?"

"No, he went into town," she answered. He nodded, mentally kicking himself at asking such an inane question. Dave always spent Thursday evenings at the Onstens' store. So did he, for that matter, but he had other things to attend to, once this errand was completed.

"Well—here," he held out the bag for her to take. She took it from him, and stepped back a pace.

"Do you want to come in?"

"Cold air's coming in," Caryn called.

"Yes, I'm sorry," Meg said to her, and then to Ben, since he had not moved from his spot, "Well?"

"Ah, no. I just came to drop that off. And ask you."

Meg pulled the door behind her, almost closing it. Her flannel-clad legs were freezing in the cold air. She had not been prepared to end up outside for more than a few seconds, but at this, her curiosity got the better of her. "Ask me what?"

He levelled his gaze at her for moment, then shrugged as if to say that it was not that important.

"I was wondering if you would be willing to accompany me to the social on the sixteenth," he stated plainly. The air she breathed was cold, and though she was intrigued, she dearly wanted to get back inside.

"I...suppose, yes," she answered. "Is that all?"

He looked down at the ground, nodded, and then looked back up at her.

"I'll come by at six p.m. Is that a good time?"

"As good as any," she answered.

"Good night, then." He touched his hat, with a slight inclination of his head.

"Good night."

She felt as if she was in a version of Anne of Green Gables that had somehow gone awry. She was standing there in her pajamas and winter coat, shivering and wondering what exactly was happening to her, being courted by a perfect gentleman.

"Okay."

"I'll see you then."

He nodded to her and turned away. Frowning, she held the bag in both hands and watched him for a moment, then realized how cold it was and quickly went inside, pushing the door closed. She shimmied out of the coat and hung it beside the door. Caryn looked around from the high back of her rocking chair.

"What's that?"

Meg looked down at the small brown paper bag in her hand and shook her head.

"I don't know. I think it's for Dave."

"Bring it here, let me see."

Meg walked over, opening the bag, and pulled out a small package of flower-wrapping paper. Curious, suddenly, she stopped beside Caryn and unrolled the package, and she gasped when she looked inside. "How did he...?"

"What is it?—let me see—" Caryn put her hand on Meg's, and pulled it down to reveal the most beautiful little bunch of violets. Simple, alone, and impossible in this climate.

"Wow..." her fingers touched one of the petals lightly. Even in the summer months, violets did not grow above the sixtieth. She had not seen one for years. She wondered where the Sergeant had gotten them; as far as she knew, gardening was not one of his hobbies...ah, but it was the Glens' hobby. She smiled. "So, what did he come for?"

"To deliver these, apparently," Meg answered dryly.

"Oh, c'mon. You can't tell me that all you did out there was shuffle your feet in the snow."

"He asked me to accompany him to the community event next Friday." She made sure to phrase it as a group effort bordering on a business proposal.

"He asked you out? That's great!" Caryn sat, grinning like the Cheshire.

"It was simply being polite," Meg replied, taking the bouquet into the kitchen. She rummaged until she found a small vase, and put them in it, with a little water. "He excels at that."

"Oh, Meg," Caryn sighed, watching her move around the kitchen. For some reason, her friend had a chip the size of Iqaluit on her shoulder. She had just been asked out to the community social event—tantamount to a date, out here—by the single most eligible bachelor in the valley, and she was staring with a set frown at the violets he had given her. Caryn looked at the flames crackling in the fireplace. She missed Dave; he would be home in a short while. Meg troubled her. Perhaps he would be able to give her some logical perspective on the matter—that, or just tell her not to worry about it, and fall promptly asleep. In any case, she thought as she rubbed her swollen belly, she just wanted him near.

Meg came back and curled herself up with the bedroll. They sat reading in silence until Dave returned from town, and then they all turned in for the night.


Fraser walked out several kilometres in the moonlight and then camped himself into a snowbank and spent the night staring at the stars, Dief curled up beside him. He built a small cook-fire and made himself a few cups of hot cocoa from melted snow, and pulled out one of his father's well-worn, leather-bound diaries. He flipped through the pages, looking for the entries that he knew would be there. He had finished reading through them years before, during his stay in Chicago, but on occasion he would pick one up and find some new bit of wisdom from his father. It was the only real link Fraser had left with the legendary Mountie, and he read them, sometimes, just for comfort. Sometimes, he thought, he could hear his father's voice speaking the words...

I remember the first time I set eyes on Caroline Hayes. She was small and fiery, and her red hair lit up the highlights around her face. I knew the moment that she set her eyes on me that I would be forever lost in their depths. I didn't know what to say to her; I remember simply staring at her, transfixed. I don't know why God made a man and a woman in such a way that there's a moment when you know that they are the other half of your soul, but she...was mine. The night she said yes to my proposal was the second most beautiful night of my life. Why she ever did say yes, I'll never know. To me, a rough old woodsman with no lack of faults. But she did. She left the city and followed me all the way up to Inuvik, and we even lived in an igloo for two years, without a word of complaint from her. I remember laying the ice blocks with her, and the night Benton was conceived, before I left to scout the northern islands. I remember the flush of her cheeks and the glitter of the tears in her eyes. I remember feeling the most fulfilled and contented that I have in my whole life. Caroline...

Here, the page was faintly stained and wrinkled, the last traces of the tears dried almost forty years in the past. Fraser ran his fingers across the yellowed paper and laid back to watch the stars move through the night sky.


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