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Maureen's Return Home

Maureen’s Journey Home

 

By

 

Ian Macdonald

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Smashwords Edition 2015

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Smashwords Edition Notes

 

 

Thank you for downloading this e-Book. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book please return to Smashwords.com to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

 

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Cover Designer

 

Rita Toews

 

Photo Credit

 

photo credit: Mevagissey Cornwall 08-10-2007 15-54-03 via photopin (license)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All characters in this book are fictional and the product of the author’s imagination. Should there be any similarity to persons living or deceased they are purely coincidental and unintentional.

 

Table of Contents

Introduction

Chapter One-Maureen at Home

Chapter Two-The Drama Begins

Chapter Three-Paul and Andre

Chapter Four-The Logging Camp

Chapter Five-The Hunting Lodge Escape

Chapter Six-Thunder Bay

Chapter Seven-Niagara Falls Delights

Chapter Eight-The Job Offers

Chapter Nine-The Visit Back Home

Chapter Ten-Kelly Robbins

Chapter Eleven-Jacob’s Christmas

Chapter Twelve-Alya’s Rescue

Chapter Thirteen-Clive Harris

Chapter Fourteen-Kelly’s Victory

Chapter Fifteen-The Engagement

Chapter Sixteen-Gwen’s Holiday

Chapter Seventeen-Maureen and Paul’s Trip Home

Chapter Eighteen-Shelter and Cave Residents

Chapter Nineteen-Liverpool

Chapter Twenty-Wedding Plans

Chapter Twenty One-The Wedding

Chapter Twenty Two-Maureen’s Haven

Introduction

Having taken care of her ailing mother until she died, a young woman was now free to set out on a journey to find contentment, love and romance. When the local scene failed to deliver the ever elusive Prince Charming she decided to investigate the on line dating scene. Some swore by it and said they had met some very nice people that way, others warned her about the scams and the creeps who were lurking out there. The web is a minefield of imponderables for the lonely and desperate people seeking to find someone to love and have them love them in return. Joy or heartbreak can be just one mouse click away, but they all feel it is worth the risk to find someone to love. Nobody could have prepared Maureen McLeod for the horrifying experiences she would soon undergo because of it. Everyone talks about the dangers of the internet and they are all too real. There are scams of all types out there and the people on some of the dating sites are not always who they say they are. Maureen had explored a few of the sites, met a few people, some good some less so. She was just about to give up on this avenue – when a particular ad caught her eye. This looked promising she thought. However what she was about to undergo nobody could have warned her about – or even thought of for that matter. This naïve, shy and lovely young woman would go through unimaginable hell first – but she would finally find her Prince Charming. It would be in the unlikeliest of places, and, unbelievably, he would have in fact crept through a dense forest to rescue her from this nightmare too. However, this was no fairy tale. Maureen had travelled down a very dark road indeed prior to being rescued by her handsome prince. She had absolutely no idea of what she was about to face in her search for someone to love. She had been lured by experts who prey on the naïve and innocent and she would pay a high price. While it did have a happy ending – this was one road Maureen would never suggest that others seeking love, romance and eternal happiness might wish to take. However this dark cloud did indeed have a silver lining, one she would never have suspected and it also came with its own rainbow. It was what lay at the end of that rainbow that would change her life forever. The experiences that she and her Prince Charming had endured would now be put to work serving others who were suffering from PTSD and other psychologically induced conditions. They would go on to help start a facility that would help a large number of people to restore their faith in humanity and lead them back to a normal life. Maureen’s journey home would indeed be joyful. It was a road that would indeed have a rainbow and a pot of gold at the end. The rewards they would receive from this would almost make up for the pain that they had suffered in order to get there – “almost” being the operative word. Read on to learn why?

 

Maureen’s Journey Home

Chapter One

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Maureen McLeod had lived on the East Coast all of her life. Not always in the same place perhaps, but always in the general vicinity. She was a rather shy girl in her disposition, despite her attractiveness, and she had not gone to university like some of her friends. Instead she had married her childhood sweetheart, Robert Hurst, at the age of 18 and then moved to a nearby village for a few years until he was tragically lost at sea in one of those fierce Atlantic storms. He had been swept overboard by a rogue wave and was never seen again. A thorough search had been conducted, but they never recovered his body.

Like his father and his grandfather before him he had become a fisherman, it was the only life that they knew. Life was harsh in those fishing villages on the coast. Money was always a problem and it was totally dependent on the catches that the fishermen brought home and the going rate for those catches on that day. Everyone was more or less in the same boat so to speak, apart from the fishing boat’s owner that is. As a result everyone led a rather simple life, but the community spirit was high and everyone shared just about everything with everyone else. They were very tightly knit communities and they shared a common bond – the sea. Social activity revolved around the church and the local pub and while sobriety was a rarity on Saturday nights, most folks overlooked those that had a few too many as a rule. Of course, being a small community everyone knew just about everything about everyone else and secrets were all but impossible to keep. The anonymity of the big cities did not apply here. One could live in a city for years and know very few of ones neighbours – not so in the villages of Nova Scotia. Everyone shared in your joy and also your sorrows too. They were always there for you and you simply never felt all alone in times of need. When Maureen’s mother fell ill everyone rallied round as usual. They would visit regularly, bring by books etc. and anything else that her mother might be able to use. Maureen then moved back home with her mother in Murdoch’s Cove in order to provide 24/7 care for her. Her mother had been diagnosed with cancer, but the doctors could not give Maureen an accurate prognosis regarding the time frame involved suggesting it would be in months rather than years. This pernicious disease cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy in most cases. Sometimes it goes into remission, it often slows down and yet on other occasions it speeds up. The doctors simply cannot determine what it will do in every case as each case is different. Mary McLeod looked just fine, the very picture of health in fact. Anyone meeting her on the street would never suspect that she had cancer and was now on borrowed time. Such is the nature of this disease. Maureen’s boss at the local pharmacy had been very accommodating and had allowed her to set her own hours in conjunction with the other lady who worked there also. She too bent over backwards to help Maureen out as she knew Mary too – as did everyone else in Murdoch’s Cove. As she was casually doing her grocery shopping in the supermarket one day she heard a familiar voice call out to her.

“Hi Maureen, are you going to the dance at the church on Saturday night?” asked Helen. Helen Logan had been her best friend since her schooldays and had remained in the village as a teacher in the local school after graduation from teachers college.

“To be honest Helen I hadn’t given it a thought, it completely slipped my mind.”

“Well you should come, it will do you good to get out and who knows, you just might meet Prince Charming there.”

“Yeah and even if he was there I don’t think I’d be his first choice.”

“Hey don’t be so hard on yourself, Maureen; you still have what it takes when you make the effort. You may be a little out of practice due to looking after your Mom – but trust me girl –you can still turn heads if you wanted to. Get yourself down the Betsy’s hair salon and get with it. Who knows, you could have the guys lined up around the graveyard waiting for their turn to dance with you.”

“Oh so I’m only good for the ghosts now am I, Helen?” she laughed.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it. When was the last time you had any fun, Maureen – a long time ago, that’s when. You need a break, so come on let your hair down and come and enjoy yourself. Remember our Graduation Day dance; we really let our hair down that night. I can still see you and Grant Bentall sliding out into the parking lot to do god knows what. The things you remember eh! Anyway, let’s just say you had a great night that night and you could certainly use another one like it. You certainly can’t let those cobwebs build up or let the rust set in. Come on it’ll be fun, let’s kick up our heels and enjoy ourselves, let your drawbridge down for the night.”

“I suppose I could do with a night out, I don’t think my Mom would mind.”

“Of course she wouldn’t mind, she’d be delighted for you to get out and let loose for a change. She doesn’t want to keep you chained to the house. She’ll be happy for you and probably relieved too. She doesn’t want to feel guilty about you having to stay in to look after her 24/7. Seeing you having fun will be beneficial for her too. So, Maureen, I’ll expect to see you there on Saturday night, okay?”

“Oh alright Helen, you’ve convinced me, I’ll be there I promise. Incidentally are you still going out with Nash Jarvis?”

“Not anymore, he is going with Mavis Jennings now – they are having a baby next month I think.”

“Oh sorry, I didn’t know, are they married now?”

“I’m not sure, I don’t think so, but I don’t know and most certainly don’t care. He knocked her up while he was still dating me so I had a narrow escape there. He’d have done that after we were married – had we decided to get married that is, so I consider myself lucky, Maureen. I’m not seeing anyone right now, but hopefully that will change on Saturday night. A girl can hope anyway, right?”

“Well I certainly hope so; I’m in the same boat myself, Helen.”

“I have to go now Maureen, I’m sorry – but I’m late for an appointment. I’ll see you on Saturday, Bye.”

With that fleeting farewell both women parted. Maureen continued with her shopping and went around with her list of advertised specials for the week picking out what she needed. She was stopped by several people as she walked around the store – all of them enquiring about Mary and how she was doing. They were genuine enquiries from well-wishers and not just idle curiosity mongers. Maureen gave them all an update and told them her mother was doing as well as could be expected. That was perfectly true of course; it just didn’t go into excessive detail.

Once she arrived home and put all the groceries away she sat down with her mother and told her about all the people who had asked about her and what they had said. She also brought her up to date on all the local gossip and told her that she had run into Helen Logan and that she was going to the church dance on Saturday night.

“Well good for you dear”, said her mother. “It’s about time you got out and had some fun instead of staying in with me every night. You are only young once and you have to make the best of it. Robert would want you to have a full life and to enjoy yourself – it’s time for you to do that now Maureen, you need that now”

“I know Mom and I will, I just haven’t wanted to up until now. Who knows, maybe things will change after this dance. I certainly won’t be rushing into anything, but it might be nice to meet a man again – if we are compatible and he can put up with me.”

“Oh behave yourself, Maureen, any man would be lucky to have you as his wife, stop selling yourself short – it doesn’t suit you.”

On that note Maureen went upstairs to her room and began to sort through her clothes to see what ravishing and alluring garment she could come up with that would turn everyone’s heads and attract Prince Charming if he did put in an appearance. Then there was the question of lingerie. This was cause for considerable thought and the potential message that could be sent if things progressed a little faster that she planned. She hadn’t dated for some time and Maureen was never a fast cat at the best of times, unlike Helen. Helen just had this flirtatious way about her. She was gorgeous to look at and dressed to attract. It was tasteful rather than in your face, but the men certainly got the message. She would display just the right amount of cleavage – nothing out of line or slutty and her perfume was always subtle too. You would be aware of it – but it was certainly not intrusive or getting up your nose all night long. Hanging out with Helen would guarantee some male attention – even if she were to be their second choice. This was an overly harsh assessment. Maureen may be a little on the shy side, but she was still a beautiful woman in her own right. She did lack the self-assurance of Helen, but she was just as lovely to look at. It was Helen’s attitude and outgoing persona that attracted more attention than Maureen’s more demure demeanor, but the right man would see that she was a real diamond and not just another pebble on the beach.

Murdock’s Cove had a long history with the sea and most of the men had been out there fishing at one time or another in order to feed their families. It was a family tradition for most of the people in Murdoch’s Cove and Maureen’s father and all of her uncles had been fishermen of one kind or another. Some had worked in the canning plant or in other related industries, but generally only when they could no longer go to sea due to age or health reasons. The dance on Saturday night at the church would be a welcome change for most of the men. Their drinking arms would get some relief as alcohol was prohibited in the church hall. However, that said, one or two gallant sailors would no doubt show up having had some spiritual courage beforehand – and by spiritual I do not mean religious fortification. That would indeed be a stretch. Like most such dances, the men tend to prop up the bar until almost at the end of the evening and then they all come out of their shells in order to have the last dance and to take the lady home. It was a time honored ritual, or so it seemed. It all boiled down to the fact that they wanted all the rewards without having to put forth the effort first – most of the women were less than impressed by that – but there were always one or two who let the side down so to speak. Thankfully there would be a fair number of single men there on Saturday night and many of them had been away at sea for quite a few days. Their desire for female companionship would more or less oblige them to ask the girls up to dance, girls like Helen and Maureen for example.

Maureen, having now picked out her outfit for the evening, and all the other necessary accessories, was ready to go and kick up her heels. She had made an appointment at Betsy’s hair salon so she was now prepared to go out and have a fun night. Mary was totally delighted to see her daughter going out to have some fun and she told her how beautiful she was too as she was leaving. Maureen and Helen had a fun filled evening and were seldom sitting idle, but Prince Charming appeared to have had a conflicting schedule that night. Despite their having a lot of fun and laughter they did not manage to find the right man with whom to strike a chord. Reputations were another thing one had to be careful of. The wrong one tended to stick – and nobody wanted that. There were also plenty of names to go around too – all of which you needed to avoid, especially in a small place like Murdoch’s Cove. Being labelled, easy, uptight, or a tease, to name a few of the more genteel titles was the kiss of death. Helen and Maureen had so far managed to avoid them all as they had navigated that fine line of having fun but not being a party girl. The men reluctantly respected them and never really expected them to jump into bed with them at the drop of a hat. They were just two nice girls and nobody would be saying anything different. Helen’s aunt on the other hand was another story. She was a colourful character to say the least and was liked by almost everyone. She was outgoing and flirtatious, but only with the younger men. This promoted speculation that she was a cougar. Being divorced, this label tended to suggest that she was not a threat to the husbands of married women and so their marriages were safe. As such they turned a blind eye as to what their sons might be up to with her. They tended not to dwell on that and when the matter did arise, it was always someone else’s son that would be involved in their minds. It was pure speculation as nobody could name names and those suspected of having such a liaison had never disclosed it. This in itself provoked thoughts of spells being cast as they were lured into her web. Perhaps it was the threat of blackmail or some other form of threat that would keep the boys silent thus protecting her reputation. It could be that telling another living soul would preclude a repeat performance in the future – and that the boys dare not risk if she was that good – just a thought, but they all wondered. That said, she was a volunteer at the church and gave of her time freely and frequently visited those in need at their homes. She would go around and cheer them up and get groceries etc. for them. She was highly regarded for this and people were more than willing to overlook whatever other predilections she may or may not have towards the young men in the village. Boys will be boys was the general attitude and as long as it was someone else’s boy nobody was upset by it – and they all thought that way. Divorced women are often considered a threat, especially if they are attractive, and they can be made into social outcasts on the strength of it. That was not the case here as the wives all felt safe in their marriages. Their son’s activities was none of their business and besides – it was all supposition anyway, there were no hard facts and they left it at that – albeit tongue in cheek. Margo Burns, while not considered to be the most chaste woman in the village, was certainly not branded as a scarlet woman either and, Helen, her niece, was quite happy with that.

***

A few miles away in the town of Chester a young man had just returned from Afghanistan having served in the armed forces there. He had signed up to see the world and to travel around a little as Nova Scotia, although rather scenic, was but a small part of the world and he wished to see more. Paul Machin had gone overseas and served his country well. He had also enjoyed the fact that he was actually helping the local people and protecting them from the draconian treatment that the Taliban doled out. He was a Master Corporal at the time and he led his team of men on various missions in hostile territory and saw things no human being should ever see. He and his team had come under fire many times and he had seen first-hand the ravages of war and sensed the loss one feels when a comrade is killed. Day in and day out he was subjected to the horrors of this kind of desert warfare and over time it takes its toll. Paul Machin was not the same man when he returned home to take care of his ailing mother and a sister recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Upon arrival back home he threw himself wholeheartedly in to taking care of his mother and his sister. He was also a frequent visitor to the local VA office to receive the follow-up help that he needed for his PTSD. They did their best to counsel him and tried to talk him through it all – but this is not an easy thing to do as these poor men cannot turn the off switch and forget all about it. It can come back to haunt them, not 24/7 as a rule, but quite frequently, and it may be triggered by the most innocuous things, like sounds or smells. Keeping the mind focused on other things often helps and it most certainly did in Paul’s case. His mother’s M.S. had progressed and that meant that Paul had to do most things for her during the day. His sister Margaret had recently undergone a radical mastectomy and had both breasts removed and she was in no shape to help out right now. She was awaiting reconstruction surgery, but somewhere along the line a problem developed as an infection had appeared that complicated things somewhat. Paul took it all in stride and did everything he could for them both. He would take Margaret to the hospital for treatment and follow-ups and pick up things from the store that she might need. It kept him pretty busy and this was extremely beneficial for Paul. He was pretty exhausted every night and so he slept well. The family and their friends all rallied round and did their best for Margaret and his mother, but they all knew that Lillian’s M.S. had now reached the critical stage and the end was near. They had no idea of how fragile Paul really was as he seemed such a tower of strength looking after both his mother and his sister. They were amazed by how well he had coped with it all. He really was an amazing young man. In addition to his compassion, Paul was also considered to be a hunk. He was very well built, square jawed and handsome and his body was muscular and military fit. He was a very attractive young man – but he was not on the market right now and the local girls were biding their time.

When Lillian passed away in her sleep one night it was considered a blessing. She was no longer in pain and suffering. Margaret had fallen apart in grief, but Paul stoically carried on. He organized everything, delivered a beautiful eulogy that was a real tribute to his mother at the funeral service. The church was not exactly filled to capacity as they were a small family and they did not have a large number of friends. Once the funeral was over Paul took care of all the legal requirements and notified everyone that needed to be notified. He gave no thought to the idea that his sister was also pretty ill and could possibly die too. Margaret was still grieving the loss of her mother and this took its toll on her too. Paul was doing his best to keep her spirits up, but it was an uphill battle and one he lost a few weeks later. Margaret too passed away in her sleep – but from an overdose of pain medication. The stoicism that Paul had shown previously now evaporated and he too now simply fell apart at the seams. He had lost his mother and his sister within a month of each other and he was now all alone. He was numbed by it at first as the denial phase kicked in. Then when the anger phase started, things just went to hell really quickly. His demons came back to haunt him now and he sought solace in drink. Paul’s friends didn’t know what to do for the best. They couldn’t let him stew at home and go quietly insane, but letting him get smashed every night to dull the pain wasn’t the answer either. He was on a downward spiral and they didn’t know what to do for him to pull him out of it. Veteran’s Affairs and the Legion had tried to help him and various medical specialties had been consulted too – but the demons kept appearing. Paul had seemingly lost the will to live, and those around him could understand why having been through what he had in the past few years. Then suddenly he was gone. The police called round to his house as they hadn’t seen him for a while, and he had been a regular visitor of theirs lately. In fact there was talk of them charging him rent on his cell he was there so often. When they called round to his house it was simply deserted. It was all locked up and looked neat and tidy as usual when they looked in all the windows. Paul had simply up and vanished – headed to God knows where and in a very fragile state of mind. The police put out a BOLO on him (be on the lookout for) – but no reports had come in. The police concluded that he was still alive at least – but they had no idea where he was. It would be some time before they heard about him again.

Chapter Two

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Maureen tended to Mary over the Christmas period and made her as comfortable as possible. She had put up a Christmas tree and decorations and adorned it all with shimmering lights. It all looked very festive and cozy. They both knew that this would be Mary’s last Christmas and Maureen had done everything possible to make it a memorable one for them both. The presents were all wrapped up under the tree and many friends had dropped by and placed even more gifts under the tree. A bed had been set up in the living room now so Mary could see out of the window and also see the Christmas decorations and the crackling log fire too. Mary herself was in great spirits, although pretty weak right now. She would converse and joke with all her friends when they dropped by and to all intents and purposes she was quite happy. There was no sadness about her and she was doing her level best to cheer everyone else up. Maureen too was putting on a brave face and trying to show her mother that her mother’s efforts in trying to cheer up her daughter were in fact working. It was very painful for both of them, but they were doing their very best for each other. Christmas came and went and they had invited friends over for Christmas Dinner and an evening of card games. Everyone enjoyed themselves and it was indeed a memorable Christmas for them all. Mary’s health deteriorated early in the New Year and she passed away peacefully one afternoon in her bed looking out at the snowflakes as they fell gently down on her favourite chair outside her window.

When Maureen saw her mother looking out of the window with a sort of half smile on her face she knew that her mother had passed away peacefully. The angels had dropped by that afternoon to carry Mary up to Heaven, her pain and suffering here on earth was now over as her facial expression confirmed. She was finally at peace having lived a very good life and she had been loved by many.

Even when it is expected it still hits you hard and it did just that with Maureen. She went over to her mother, hugged her, and just sobbed uncontrollably. Helen and Maureen had planned for this day and they both knew very well it was close at hand, but one is never totally prepared for the impact that it has.

Helen came over immediately once she received the call from Maureen and now they were both sobbing on each other’s shoulders. When they regained their composure the funeral home was called and their prearranged plans were now put into motion. They had set it all out beforehand and now knew exactly what needed to be done, who had to be notified and what arrangements needed to be made. It all ticked along smoothly like Swiss Watch. Maureen had picked out her Mom’s best dress as it was to be an open casket affair at the funeral home. They had done a beautiful job in laying Mary out and she looked lovely. Everyone commented on it and lots of tears flowed that day. She had lots of friends and many of them spoke at the service and delivered some very powerful and emotional tributes to her memory. Maureen was totally overwhelmed of course and unable to speak. Helen spoke on her behalf and delivered a heartfelt eulogy that brought tears to everyone’s eyes with its grace and sincerity. It was a sad day and yet it was beautiful too as they celebrated the life of Mary McLeod, the things she had done and the friends that loved her. It was a day Maureen would never ever forget. At the reception after the service many people came up to Maureen and told her wonderful tales about her mother that she was totally unaware of. It warmed her heart to hear those stories and to realize just how wonderful her mother had been – not only to her, but to lots of other people too. They had shared a very close relationship and one that Maureen would now miss deeply.

Maureen now threw herself wholeheartedly into work. On the weekends she would go through the house and do her best to clean it up and get rid of things that were little more than clutter and of no particular sentimental value to her. She then went on a painting spree and painted the inside of the house to freshen it up. It was springtime now and the flowers would soon begin to appear so she busied herself in the garden getting it in order prior to planting her flowers. Helen came over occasionally to give her a hand in doing it and the place looked really nice now and very homely.

Helen had dragged Maureen into Liverpool a few times to dances and social events to see if there were any eligible men to be found. Unfortunately all the good ones appeared to be taken. There were of course the usual lounge lizards lurking around all too eager to get them into bed. Even in their deprived state they were not that desperate. However, Helen did meet a fellow teacher one day while she was attending a conference in Halifax and he was actually working at a nearby school in Liverpool too. That relationship was in its early stages, but it just might have potential as Helen put it. She felt a little guilty now as she was spending rather a lot of time with her new boyfriend and rather less with Maureen. She was happy and contented with life whereas Maureen was rather lonely now as she had nobody in her life other than herself and a few other acquaintances. She had asked her new boyfriend, Hamish Taggert, if he had any single friends, but apparently none sprang to mind – none that would be suitable anyway. It was now that Maureen started to spend more time at home on her computer. She was exploring all kinds of things on the internet and broadening her horizons on many fronts and learning all kinds of new things. It was on one of these explorations that Maureen came across a dating website. She looked through it and read one or two of the profiles and saw some of the pictures and thought to herself that she was not alone out there. Judging by what she had read there were lots of lonely people like her out there seeking someone to love and to love them back in return. With this in mind she decided to check out several more sites and see what was out there and whether it might be a worthwhile venture for her to explore and see if she could find Mr. Right on one of those sites. She mentioned this idea to Helen and Helen thought it was a good idea. She had heard of several women who had found men this way – but she also warned her to be careful. This was the internet after all and there were a lot of scams out there so be very careful and don’t give out your home address etc. Bearing all of that in mind Maureen answered a few of the ads she had thought to be promising. Having corresponded with one or two of them over a short period of time she soon weeded out those who were less than desirable and those that she did not have anything in common with. Some of the guys were very nice, but they were just not her type and others were downright creepy. She was just about to give up on this idea when one particular ad caught her eye. It showed a picture and gave a write up on the man and it sounded ideal. He was a forestry management engineer currently on a rural site in Ontario right now, but he was usually based in British Columbia. As these sites were rather remote he had limited chances to meet women. Their current location was not too far from a town and some limited shopping and social life. However, the camp itself had married quarters and they had lots of social get togethers in the logging camp itself he had explained. Maureen then decided to write to this guy and see what developed. He then wrote back and so the relationship started. He seemed well educated and knowledgeable and Maureen soon grew to like what she was hearing. He was saying all the right things and she just loved to hear them. He wasn’t overly flowery or flattering, just more matter of fact like, but he seemed genuine. When he offered to fly her out there to meet him, well, that just added a little extra zing to the mix. He had told her that she would not be the only candidate and that he was also flying two other ladies out too. This way, both he and they could meet and see if they wished to proceed further. This made perfect sense to Maureen. He had promised to meet them at the airport, put then up in a hotel for the night and they could take it from there or return home the following day. He would mail them the the airline tickets, in Maureen’s case from Halifax to Toronto return. When she did receive the tickets in the mail at her post office box as promised, Maureen was convinced that he was genuine. Who would waste a thousand dollars for nothing, she thought. Maureen then packed up her suitcase and was all set. She told Helen what was happening as she had kept her up to date from the start. Helen too was of the opinion that this was on the up and up and that Robert Graham the forestry management engineer was indeed genuine and real. Anyway, they were due to meet at Toronto Airport so what harm could there be in that. She had a return plane ticket and it was genuine so everything else ought to be too. Helen had read his e-mails and this man was educated and certainly not some lumberjack who was built like a barn door and just as dumb. No, this looked promising, assuming the other women failed to measure up. Fired up with anticipation, Maureen set off for the airport the following day. She had chosen her clothes carefully for this flight as she was to meet this man at the airport and definitely wished to make a good first impression. The other candidates would no doubt be doing the same – so casual flight attire was out for this trip. Robert had sent her an e-mail telling her that he would meet her at the airport and would be carrying s sign with her name on it. When she arrived at Pearson Airport she was met by a man with a sign, but it was not Robert. He escorted her to some seats where five other women were seated. They were all introduced to each other and told that some problem had occurred on the site and that both Robert and this other man Grant, who the other three women were to meet, had to stay behind to sort it out. They were then handed an I-phone and told to text each man to verify it. Back came the replies full of apologies and pointing out that they could simply return home if the wished and there would be no hard feelings. On the other hand this man they had just met could put them on a flight the next day up to Thunder Bay and from there they would be brought out to the camp – it was their call. They all decided to stay at an airport hotel overnight and be put on a flight in the morning to Thunder Bay. That evening they all got to know each other a little better and they found out that they were all in the same boat. They were all lonely and seeking companionship and possibly more if things worked out as planned. This excursion was a little adventure, but so far everything looked good and all promises had been delivered – with one minor glitch, but they could hardly see a problem at the site before it happened –right? That was just unfortunate they all thought. They were about to find out just how unfortunate – for them!

***

Over the meal in the hotel restaurant that night they learned a lot about each other and just how much they had in common. They had all had some unfortunate experiences with men in the past of one kind or another, but they still had hopes of meeting that handsome prince. Despite the evidence to the contrary, as borne out by their past experience, they still felt that this Unicorn existed and they could find him. Loneliness is the greatest fear humans have, followed by public speaking and these women were lonely and hated being in that situation. On top of that they were not getting any younger and, as they saw it, the sands of time were running out and their biological clock’s ticking was getting louder. It was quite an illuminating dinner, but it also reassured everyone that they were not freaks and that others felt exactly the same as they did. They were not fashion models, perhaps, but they were all attractive and had good personalities and all of them had lots of love to give to the right man. As Maureen looked around the table she felt that she could be friends with each and every one of them. They were no different from her, lonely, for sure, but still with a lot to give and a long life ahead of them in which to give it. The photographs of the two men they were going to meet were ordinary and not underwear models, so that added to the belief that they were genuine. The man that met them at the airport had been hired by phone to meet them and been given instructions on what to do. Those that wished to go ahead would have tickets waiting for them at the desk in the airport the following morning. They would all be put up at the hotel overnight even if they didn’t wish to proceed further. All of this tended to reinforce the belief that this was no scam. Everything that they had been promised so far was delivered as they were told. As a result they now assumed that what lay ahead would be also and so they all decided to go on to Thunder Bay and then on to the logging camp site. They all had considerable excitement about this now. They had all got along well together and if in fact two of them were selected in the end they would at least have a friend there. This cheered them all up knowing that and as a result they were really looking forward to it now. They still had some apprehension of course and then there was the potential for being let down if they were not selected. This was a real romantic adventure and that was how they viewed it –if nothing came of it they had at least had a mini excursion out of it.

The following day they took a taxi to the airport and the man that met them the day before took them to the ticket counter to ensure they all received their tickets. These tickets were only one-way, but they just figured that they would get their return tickets in Thunder Bay if things didn’t work out. The man knew nothing and was unable to help them, he was just told to make sure they got their tickets and they did. He then bid them farewell and left. He was a nice man and had talked about his wife and kids and this too added to the picture of nice men being involved. Yes it was a lumber camp and the men would not be wearing suits and be as refined as bankers – but these two men were management types and even in a blue collar environment they would still be mannerly. Well that was the presumption anyway.

The flight up to Thunder Bay was pleasant and it was a beautiful day and the Dash 8 aircraft just floated along smoothly on the 2 1/2 hour flight. When they entered the terminal building they saw another man with a placard with the camp‘s name on it and they were then taken by mini-van to the logging camp site. It was a lengthy ride to the logging camp and the last thirty miles or so was on a dirt road that was little more than a track. It was totally desolate out there, just trees. Maureen was looking to see where the so called shops were and concluded that they must be on the other side of the camp as there was nothing to be seen here on this side. She had seen a few wild animals and a couple of black bears, but no humans or any sign of their ever having been there. Then at last, just up ahead were a few buildings and some large log carrying rigs. It was just around lunch time now, well a little past really, but they were dropped off at the canteen initially so that they could have lunch. It was after lunch that things started to go downhill.

They had seen no men around, just the women in the canteen. It was they who had prepared their lunches and they were now busy scurrying around and cleaning up. The lady who had met them and told them to sit down had also served them their lunch. When Maureen asked her a few questions she told her that she would answer their questions a little later. After the lunch was finished and dishes cleared away the lady came and sat down with them. She told them that her name was Gwen.

“Ladies, whatever you have been told so far you can forget as of now. I was in your shoes a few months ago and so I know what a shock you are in for. As you can see this is a lumber camp and these men are horny lumberjacks and as of right now you are to become their new sex slaves. Six other women were returned home this morning and now you have replaced them. What that means is this, tonight when the men return you will be assigned to one of them and then rotated around all six to see who wants who on a more permanent basis. Forget what you think you know about men – this breed ain’t human, they can screw and booze all night long and you will have no say in it. You will be raped daily in effect and by any number of men if it suits them. At any one of their drunken orgies they can invite their friends over to give you what they call a test drive. Often several wives are involved. Yes that‘s what they will call you, wives. The have contests to see who responds best and to whom. You are supposed to come on to these people as they drape their sweaty, urine stained, beer soaked bodies all over you with breath that would make a pig vomit – and believe me that is no exaggeration.

“How long have you been here, asked Maureen?”

“I have been here almost three months now”, replied Gwen.

“How long had those other women been here, the ones that left today, asked Chloe, one of the other women?”

“They had been here for four months give or take.”

“Is that how long we can expect to be here as sex slaves?”

“That’s about the size of it, yes.”

“I have never seen anything in the papers about it or on TV. One would have thought that someone would have reported something once they returned home.”

“Well that depends, who would want to admit to all of that in the press. What man would look at them again once they knew that about them? Men would have a hard time coming to terms with a woman that had seen more pricks than a second hand pin cushion and been abused like that. No I can well imagine the women not wanting that information to get out and therefore keeping quiet about it.”

The others just looked at each other – they could see that, they would keep quiet too.

“Why do the women stay, why can’t they just leave on their own?”

“In case you hadn’t noticed we are thirty miles from anywhere in bear infested woods and there are other wild animals in there too that would eat you for breakfast. Running away is not an option, if it was we would have done so long ago. Oh and by the way, compliance is mandatory. If you object and put up a fight about anything you will be punished”

“What kind of punishment could be worse than what they are already doing?”

“This kind” said Gwen and she lifted up her dress and turned around.

She was naked under her dress and all across her back and bum were whip lash marks, some still raw and painful.

“This is what they do to us if they feel like we deserve it, and believe me, they get upset easily and they are quite brutal. Like I said before, these men are worse than animals and getting them mad is not something you want to do – so play nice even if it makes you sick – and it most certainly will. Ladies, I am not trying to scare you, although I more than likely have done. I am telling you the god’s honest truth here. I didn’t whip myself for fun just to show you. Some of the other women are far worse off.”

“Do they beat their women daily?” asked Brenda, another one of the ladies.

“Some do others not too often; it’s the luck of the draw. Today, as I said, you will begin the initiation phase, or as they like to call it, the breaking in phase. They call it that for a reason. They know you will rebel at first, that’s what normal women do when subjected to this kind of abuse. In order to show you that they are in charge they will beat you into submission, force you to do things that you don’t want to do and then rape you. They will do this repeatedly if required until you have lost your spirit and conform to their needs and desires willingly. You will have been broken in then as they call it as the fight will have gone out of you. The sooner you accept this fate as a fact the less pain you will suffer. It won’t be easy to do, but trust me, it would be better for you in the long run – I know, take another look at the evidence.”

Gwen turned around again lifted up her dress once more and turned 360 degrees this time. The women cringed at what they saw. That poor woman had really been whipped and probably marked for life, or so it would appear. It was all too obvious how painful such a flogging would be and they all got the message.

“You will meet the six men later this afternoon when they return from the forest site and you will draw straws to see who is paired off with whom. Each man has a cabin and you are responsible for looking after it and him. You will clean and wash and all of you will help prepare the meals. When you have your period you will be left alone, the other women will then have the pleasure of your man’s company and you in turn will share theirs when they are. God be with you, ladies. Just wait here until the men arrive. It won’t be too long now before they return. Just pray that the four months goes by quickly.”

***

When Gwen left they just sat there taking it all in. Their heads were spinning, was this a wind up? Nah it couldn’t be, those welts were all too real. How could this be happening, they never signed up for this? As they talked amongst themselves the more scared they became as the realization finally set in – they were now sex slaves to a group of lumberjacks. They had cell phones –but there was no service out where they were. They had seen the bears on the way in so they knew that they were out there and walking back for thirty miles and running the risk of being attacked by one was not an option. They consoled themselves by telling each other that although the welts were real perhaps not all of the men were brutes. People exaggerate all the time. Gwen was probably laying it on a little thicker than was necessary just to get the point across. They told themselves this, but they were all very scared just the same. What if Gwen had not been lying to them? As they were sitting there fretting they heard the sound of a truck. When they all got up to look out of the window they saw a large black truck pull up and two dozen men or so jump off and head off in all directions. Six of those men were headed straight for them.

“Well now ladies, welcome to our camp. I hope you had a pleasant trip. By now you have no doubt come to the conclusion that you have been duped. You are of course quite correct in that. The two men that you have been corresponding with don’t exist. Let’s face it, would you be here if it were our photographs you had received or our e-mails? As you can see we are not exactly the flowery romantic types now are we? What you see is what you get, but it’s not all bad. When you ladies were back at home you lacked male companionship – that’s why you responded to our ads. By definition therefore, you were also sexually deprived. We were just the same up here, we lacked female companionship and we too were sexually deprived. So we’ll be good together then, right? That’s what we thought too. Now we may not resemble Greek Gods to you right now, but we are all fit and healthy men with strong appetites and I can assure you that none of you will be sexually deprived whilst you are with us. Gwen has no doubt outlined the rules to you and your duties, and how the initial phase works in selecting a mate. The six of us here will take a number and then the one who draws number one has the first choice and so on. You will be rotated each day so that you end up with the right man for you – well the right woman for the particular man anyway. Do you have any questions?”

“Do we get a say in this at any point.”

“Good question – no you don’t”

“Are we considered to be as your sex slaves now, is that it?” asked Maureen.

“Wow this bunch catches on fast, eh, guys. That’s putting it rather harshly, but in truth that’s correct. We prefer to refer to you as our guest wives and we shall treat you just as we would our own wives. However, that may not be quite the way the previous men in your lives may have treated you. Out here in the woods things are a little different. Here in the woods we are a little stronger on discipline than what is acceptable in the cities. A wife out here must do her husband’s bidding – it’s not a democracy here. You have to do as you are told whatever you are told. Sex here is a wifely duty and you must perform when required and I do mean perform. Lying back and letting it happen is totally unacceptable and will merit punishment. I’m sure Gwen mentioned that aspect to you all. We prefer not to dwell on that and we hope it will not be necessary in your case – you being so smart an’all. We also run contests from time to time to see which of you is the best at certain things. We place bets on you in fact. It spices up things a little for us; it’s kinda like playing the ponies at the track. It also shows us who we should spend time with in order to take advantage of those abilities. It also shows you how you must improve in order to avoid being punished for your inadequacy in that area. Now if there are no more questions let’s start the draw.”

There were no more questions –they were all too dumbstruck to even think of anything to ask, their minds were simply frozen in disbelief at what they had just heard.

“You go first Hank and write out the numbers and put them in your hat.”

At that point Hank then got up wrote their names down on a pieces of paper and put the pieces in his hat.

“Oh while you are up there Hank introduce the crew to the ladies so they know their names, my name is Seth incidentally”, he added.

Hank then named all the other men and picked on Chloe to identify the women in similar fashion. Then the draw began. Seth drew Chloe and a man named Zeke drew Maureen. Gwen had not been lying at all, they were an aromatic bunch to say the least – dung heaps smelled better. Each one of them cringed at the thought of what the next four months would be like as they walked away with their first night’s date to face god knows what in his cabin. This was a far cry from a palace and Prince Charming was a long, long, way from these specimens of humanity. The dangers of the internet had now taken on a whole new dimension – one that terrified them all. No amount of warnings could have prepared them for this – this was way of the scale.

Chapter Three

***

Paul Machin had simply fallen apart after his sister’s death. The loss of his mother and now his sister had hit him hard. The denial phase of grief protected him initially, but once that wore off things started to go downhill. His house no longer felt like home to him anymore now that the two most precious people in his life had gone. He would look around at the furniture, the pictures on the wall and the dishes in the display cabinet and be constantly reminded that his Mom and Sister were gone and would never sit around the kitchen table again. All the memories of past Christmases, birthday parties and all the card games came flooding back to him now. These things had gone forever and he would never have them again. He had remained strong up until now – but now the anger phase set in and overpowered him. He sought solace in a bottle then and that never works for long. He would get hammered almost every night and generally wind up in police custody. They felt sorry for him at first, but now their patience was wearing thin. He would mumble incoherently and then start to scream out orders while lying in his cell. The police could clearly see that he was suffering and they could almost see the scene that was forever replaying in his mind. He kept on repeating something about a woman and a child and a dead soldier or several dead soldiers and then he would totally breakdown in tears and scream, No! No! No! many times over. Whatever it was he had seen or done over there had had a dramatic effect on him and left him in this troubled state with his mind in constant turmoil. They could all see that Paul was a changed man, still a good man at heart, but due to those experiences a very troubled man. Then one day he just vanished off the face of the earth. Initially they thought he may have taken his own life to escape from his demons – but further investigation ruled that out. It took them a while to track down all his former military friends and none of them had seen or heard from him. There was one man in Montreal they couldn’t find and his friends were worried about him too. Like Paul he had suddenly up and vanished also. He was living on his own in an apartment and then one day he was gone. His rent was paid automatically every month by a bank transfer, but there was no sign of Andre LaChance. He too had his demons his friends pointed out – perhaps the two friends had gone off somewhere together they suggested. It was a wild guess or pure speculation at best, but it was in fact quite true. The authorities however gave up looking for the pair after a few days due to manpower restrictions and besides no crime had been committed. People were certainly allowed to go off to parts unknown and not tell anybody, it was hardly an infrequent event.

Paul had indeed gone to Quebec to see his friend. He was the only one who could understand as he too had undergone the same experience. He had been there and he was the only other survivor besides Paul. They both cried on each other’s shoulders and decided that they had to get away from people for a while. They then bought a couple of tents, back packs and supplies and headed out. They had no idea where they were going – it just had to be away from civilization. They had hunting knives and boxes of matches and also a small portable cooking stove that ran on propane. This they would use as backup in case of rain. The rest of the time they would rely on a camp fire to cook on and to keep them warm at night. They were skilled outdoorsmen and so they would be able to survive for quite some time out there in the wild with what they had. While they did have some food supplies it was basically an eat what you kill operation and the forest was full of prey of one form or another, deer in particular. They had hitch hiked from one truck stop to another on their way up north and had settled miles from anywhere, or so they thought. They had hiked in from the road through the forest for many miles until they reached a lake. They had to be miles from any civilization out here and they were to all intents and purposes. The only sounds to be heard was the birds singing or the coyotes howling at night. The peace and tranquility was therapeutic to both men. This was nature’s beauty at its finest. The water in the lake was crystal clear and damn cold too noted Andre when he stepped into it. As both men stood there surveying their new camp site, they just knew this was the place for them. The wind in the trees was also soothing to these troubled men. There was no real danger here. Well the animals could be, but if you left them alone they would generally leave you alone too. Lighting a fire would help in that regard as that would keep them away – unless the smell of food enticed them. Mostly the animals were more afraid of you than you were of them. They would become dangerous if you cornered them, but chasing them away was a far better option if you could. Armed with a stick and a razor sharp hunting knife the two men could cope with just about any animal threat if they needed to. There were rabbits and deer and squirrels in abundance so food was going to be plentiful. Then they may also be able to spear some fish too if they saw any. This was just the place they needed to be right now in order to heal themselves and try to get back to normal. City life and a multitude of therapists had not been able to make these men relax; perhaps this tranquil forest would be able to be of considerable benefit in that respect.

They now set about pitching their tents, setting out the camp site and gathering wood for a fire. While their drinking water would come from the lake, they would still have to boil it first just to be on the safe side. It was probably quite safe to drink as is, but acid rain had polluted many of the lakes along with the overuse of pesticides. Andre went off to catch dinner and Paul set about making a fire and getting sufficient wood to last for a day or so. Tomorrow they could go and explore their new surroundings and see the beauty of nature to its fullest. Right now they were tired and hungry, so first they had to eat and then get a good night’s rest. They would build the fire up and throw on some hard wood logs or tree stumps that would burn slowly – that should keep the animals away. When Andre returned with a pair of rabbits, they skinned them and had rabbit stew that night and then went to bed.

The following morning they were up bright and early to be met by a wonderful day, the sun was shining and the white puffy clouds were just aimlessly drifting across the sky obviously in no hurry to get anywhere. Paul then made some coffee and some oatmeal and the two men sat down for breakfast. They were fully rested now and more than ready to go and explore their surrounding area and see what there was within a one or two mile radius. They may not cover it all in one day – but hey, they had all the time in the world to do that, they were not going anywhere. On the third day they struck gold so to speak. They came across this abandoned hunting cabin that had burned down some years ago. Outside it, however, was a canvas sheet and some rope – but pulled up onto the shore was a small boat and two oars. Now that was a real find, it could also help them with their fishing – well maybe anyway. They threw the tarpaulin into the boat and rowed back to their camp site. They could now string the tarpaulin up between the trees in such a way as to allow then to keep their wood dry and also to keep a fire going in wet weather. This made a huge difference now; they could even set up a table to eat their meals in comfort on those rainy days. Their tents were not exactly conducive for dining in. They provided shelter and they were dry, but it ended there. The remainder of the day was consumed by setting up everything the way they wanted it and putting everything in its place. They had saved all the cans they had used for their meals, well I say all, there were only five of them and they made an alarm system out of them. If any animals strayed into the camp at night they would trigger these tins and either scare them away or wake up the two men. It was worth a try anyway they thought.

From time to time each man would just disappear into the forest alone; it was not an unusual practice in the middle of a forest with no toilet facilities. However, this was not the only reason. Both men would go off to simply breakdown and cry without affecting the other. It was cathartic and they both did it out of pure necessity. The visions of that particular day in Afghanistan were vivid in their minds and they probably always would be. They had seen many things together and a multitude of atrocities besides seeing some of their comrades blown to bits by IED’s (Improvised Explosive Device). One day as they were returning from patrol they saw a Muslim woman walking up to the sentry post with what looked like a loaf of local bread she had baked by way of a gift. The vehicle that Paul and Andre were in was rocked by the explosion and they were thrown sideways by the blast. It had not been a woman in that Burka, it was a Taliban suicide bomber and he had blown himself up and taken three other men with him. They had been friends of Paul and Andre and when the guardhouse blew apart they never had a chance. This sight had played on their minds for some time. Then a few weeks later a similar event occurred when Paul and Andre were on patrol in a local village. One is never really sure if the locals are friendly or not. When a burka clad woman approached them carrying a small bundle in her arms Paul told her to stop. In fact both he and Andre told her to stop and signaled her to do as well. She didn’t and kept coming towards them. Once again they warned her to stop but she ignored them. This time, remembering the episode at the gate, Paul opened fire. Too late they realized their mistake. The bundle she was carrying was her child and Paul’s bullet had killed the baby and then killed the mother too. He then fell to his knees screaming No! No! No! repeatedly. He had done what he had to do – but there was no consoling Paul after that. It’s a dilemma that the soldiers faced daily, were the locals friendly or not, were they actually women or not? If you are wrong your comrades may be killed and they are reliant on your judgment to stay alive. Nine times out of ten your instincts are correct, this time due to the gate incident, Paul erred on the side of caution and the result was tragic. Andre and Paul were numbed by this and quickly led away by their comrades. It was an unfortunate accident caused by the war and this innocent woman and child were simply collateral damage. Paul and Andre however couldn’t forgive themselves. If only he had waited a few seconds longer he would’ve seen it was a child – but then, had it not been they’d now be dead. That said, he had still shot an innocent mother and her child and he just couldn’t forgive himself. That was the reason both these men would go off alone, sit down on a fallen tree and just sob. Paul had the same recurring nightmare and was haunted by seeing the angelic ghost of a baby crying and asking why? Who wouldn’t be affected by that?

***

Across the lake and several miles to the west was a logging operation. Paul and Andre were totally unaware of its existence as the sound never carried that far. Just across from that on their side of the river, but a little farther West again was a hunting lodge. Paul and Andre were not as isolated from humanity as they thought, but as yet, they had no idea either place existed.

Maureen McLeod certainly knew it existed as did all the other unfortunate women who had been lured there and then been caught up in this the web of deceit. They all now fully understood how a fly must feel when caught in a spider’s web. They were very much aware of what fate awaited them, but they were powerless to escape and avoid it. They had all been led off to the various cabins with the man who had drawn their number to await that fate. They found that although the cabins were Spartan to say the least, they were spotlessly clean. That of course was courtesy of the women who had just left for home. There was no point in unpacking their case, they wouldn’t be staying there long as tomorrow would be a different scene altogether. In fact none of them got the chance to even open their cases. Once the cabin door closed behind them the men began undressing them immediately. Offers to assist were refused; they were going to do it their way. There was no finesse used here and while the clothing had not been torn off them exactly – it wasn’t far short. A romantic interlude it wasn’t. They were stripped naked, then looked over in detail and physically explored by their hands from head to toe. There were no gentle caresses being given and then the women were invited to undress them too. Well it was a command rather than an invitation and once they were naked the women were obliged to demonstrate their oral skills on them. They were advised that it would be in their best interests to perform admirably and failure to satisfy would merit punishment. It was the start of the initiation phase.

The following morning after the men had all gone off to the site the women all sat together for their breakfast prior to their having to perform their household chores of washing and cleaning. The tales told all had a familiar ring to them. Each woman had had her physical flaws pointed out to her; all of them failed in their oral sex efforts – well so the men had claimed. Then when it came to their performance in bed they failed miserably at that too.

“We have the same trouble every time” they had been told. “Whenever we get a new guest wife we have to train her. What is it with you women? Your husbands must have been going crazy, you are useless sexually, it’s no wonder you are now on your own? When you leave us those deficiencies will have been corrected. Trust me; you’ll be a sex goddess by then.”

Each woman got the same speech – almost verbatim it would seem. Each of them being told to sharpen up for the next nights exploits. None of them had been physically beaten or even marked in any way. They would not be until all six men had been with them. At that point the men could have their pick and from then on they would belong to that man. The humility, embarrassment and degradation they had suffered so far would pale in comparison to what lay ahead for some of them. At the end of that first week they now knew that Gwen was right – they were not human beings and they stank far worse than any dung heap. As for their breath; that would indeed make a pig vomit, and you dare not strike a match in front of them.

Now they had all been permanently assigned to one of the men all bets were off. They could now be beaten for just about anything, from leaving the cap off the toothpaste to not ironing a crease out of his shirt. Having a headache was a non-starter as was being too tired. When the man came home you had to be ready, full of the joys of spring, and willing to do whatever he asked whenever he wanted you to. On occasion he would come home tired and expect you to take the lead and rape him for a change – and god help you if you didn’t. All the women had experienced that. Once a week they had a group dinner and invariably a drunken orgy would ensue. The wives would prepare this banquet and wine would be served, along with god knows what else including drugs. In actually reality they could just as easily have served up string soup with cardboard croutons for the notice the men took of their culinary efforts. They just inhaled the lot with no gratitude whatsoever. It was the dessert that they were interested in – and the women were the dessert. As the evening wore on it was open season for anyone to screw anyone else – but only for one night. There was only one rule –you couldn’t damage anyone else’s woman. That meant they couldn’t be whipped and marked, or given a beating with their fists. They could rape her and make her perform and do other vile things to her – but she must not be injured by it, only their so called husbands could do that.

Maureen found that the psychological pain was far worse than the physical. She had been placed in all kinds of positions, been raped and given oral sex to another man at the same time and then been raped again. They all had, but some had been brutalized beyond belief and definitely scarred for life. Maureen had been beaten, spanked and whipped, but not so badly that she would be marked for life. As the women congregated each morning after breakfast all the stories would come out regarding who had done what to whom – they were not fairy tales. Their self-esteem had been sunk like the Titanic, but probably much deeper.

One morning as they gathered for breakfast they all noticed that five of the women were missing. When Maureen looked around she saw that Gwen was one of them. When she enquired she was told that Gwen and four other women were going home tomorrow and had been taken to the hunting lodge across the lake. A plane would come for them in the morning and they would be flown to Thunder Bay and then home from there. The following day Maureen did in fact hear a plane and she saw it coming down to the lake to land but her view was obstructed and she didn’t see it actually land. Two hours later she saw it skimming across the lake and then take off, presumably for Thunder Bay with the five women on board. She was correct as to the planes destination, but wrong in assuming that the five women were on board.

***

Upon arrival at the hunting lodge the five women were met by the lodge manager.

“Good morning ladies, welcome to Cupid’s Hunting lodge. It’s a strange name for a hunting lodge I know, but we have this arrangement with the logging camp whereby they send over a few ladies once a month to give a little romantic interlude to our hunters. They have been here for two weeks and they have missed feminine companionship for that time. You ladies have been invited over to – how shall I put this – to relieve their frustrations. Now these men may well be a little more refined than your logging camp husbands, but they still have the same carnal expectations. Right now they are out hunting in the forest so that leaves you free to roam around the grounds at your leisure to discover how beautiful they are. Tonight when the hunters return you will have dinner with them in the dining room and then later in the evening you will provide them with all the comforts of home – if you get my drift. As a reward, in the morning, before your flight home, you will be taken on a scenic canoe tour as there really is some magnificent scenery just around the headland. It would be a shame to come here and not see that. The plane will leave for Thunder Bay at 1:30 pm but you will be back well before then. Are there any questions?”

“Where do we leave our suitcases when we go on the canoe trip?”

“Oh they can be left here in the lobby, they’ll be quite safe.”

“How long will this canoe trip take?”

“It usually takes two hours, but that depends on you and how much you wish to see, it really is quite beautiful. So if that is all, Ladies, enjoy the rest of your day, you will be flying home tomorrow as you know. I need hardly remind you that when you get back into main stream life it may be in your best interests to forget about your brief visit up here. Polite society may not quite appreciate having you ladies around their husbands once they learn what you have been doing and how sexually proficient you are now. Single men may be enthralled by your new found expertise, that is true, but as for marrying such a woman – forget it. They couldn’t bear the thought of their friends knowing what you were doing up here, even if it was somewhat involuntary. It’s just a thought, but one you should keep in mind. The ladies that were here before you certainly observed those suggestions. I heard only last week that two of them actually got married last month. I very much doubt that had told their husbands about their vacation up here – but so what, they did get married and it can happen to you too. Keeping a few secrets adds to a woman’s mystique and this is one secret that is definitely worth keeping to oneself as I am sure you will all agree.”

When the hunters returned, they were paired off prior to going into the dining room in a “get to know you session”. These men appeared to be from all walks of life, but they certainly had money. They were far less brutal than the lumberjacks, but something was off about them all the same. The ladies were indeed wined and dined and taken to bed, but they were not subjected to the same degree of brutality. The men had showered before dinner and they were clean, and did not give the women the impression they were in a pig sty with a huge slimy boar on top of them as they were back in the logging camp. However Rape is rape no matter how you wrap it up, but these women thought this was the last time they would have to suffer this indignity. They were quite right in that assumption –but for the wrong reason.

The following morning all five women were on top of the world, their ordeal was finally over. Today they were headed back to civilization, to their friends and their families. This horrific experience could be put behind them and all of these inhuman bastards could now be made to pay for what they had done to them and hopefully be sent to prison. They would have preferred the death penalty, but that was no longer an option in Canada.

Right on schedule at 9:30 am the canoe arrived to take them on this scenic excursion. Apparently it was named Cupid’s Arrow Bay due to some rock formation so they were told. The lake itself was quite beautiful right where they were, so if it were to be better just around the headland it must be something else and definitely a sight to see.

The manager was there at the dock to see them off and he told then that coffee and biscuits would be waiting for them upon their return. With his last words still ringing in their ears, they set off in the canoe with a man in the back paddling. As they rounded the headland they saw a really magnificent scene. The foliage on the trees was truly amazing and very picturesque and the colors were simply spectacular.

“Ladies take a long hard look at this scenery; you’ll never see such a sight again.”

He was absolutely right about that, but the women were still completely unaware of the terror they were about to face. A little farther up the lake the man pulled the canoe over to the bank and told the women to get out. They had seen the rifle in the canoe from the start, but they were told it was a safety precaution in case they encountered a bear or a wolf or something equally dangerous. That was perfectly reasonable and they saw nothing wrong with that statement at all.

“Okay ladies; gather round please”, the man said as he slung the rifle over his shoulder. “Now I don’t know what the lodge manager told you earlier, but whatever it was you can forget it. That guy is just full of BS. He wouldn’t know the truth if he fell over it. Here’s the real deal. This place is called Cupid’s Arrow Bay for a specific reason. The hunters use crossbows here and not rifles, they are far quieter and don’t alarm the prey as they draw near. Our guests at the hunting lodge pay a lot of money for this extraordinary weekend excursion. It is the conclusion of their stay with us. They get to have sex before they go out on their final hunt to kill their prey. Magical sex at that, where any and all fantasies can be involved to the fullest with you ladies as their sexperts as we like to call you. It is a unique feature that we alone offer to our guests and why they keep coming back. Our competitors do not offer that option. Then after a satisfying evening of fine dining and glorious sex, our hunters then go on their final hunt to kill their prey. Oh! Did I forget to mention that you are to be their prey? This way their wives will never find out what they have been up to with you – no divorces and no future paternity suits. I’m sure you can all see the wisdom in that. The condemned man always gets a hearty meal in prison before he is put to death – we can surely do no less. You had a hearty meal last night and in addition you had one final sexual romp, even the condemned man doesn’t get that pleasure. Incidentally, for what it is worth, the men all thought you were truly great in bed, ladies. Apparently you have indeed become sex goddesses – well according to these hunters anyway. Each and every one of them was very satisfied by your erotic performance they told us. Well done, ladies, we do try to keep our guests happy and contented, so thank you for that. It works out very well for them and for us of course as they pay a lot of money for this. Unfortunately it is not so good for you, as you are now going to play a game of life and death – “Yours”. When I fire this gun you will have a one hour head start before the men come after you with their crossbows. If they find you they will kill you – you have to make sure they don’t. Everyone is fully motivated here and the adrenaline levels will be running high. They don’t want you to escape and alert their wives as to what they have been doing and you ladies wish to remain alive. There is no stronger motivation than that. Good luck ladies and God help you – nobody else can.”

With that he spun his rifle round and fired one shot that could be heard back at the lodge. The clock was now running – and so were the five women.

Chapter Four

***

The familiar sound of the rifle crack sent both Paul and Andre diving for cover instinctively. They both looked at each other anxiously and awaited the next shot – but it never came.

“I guess there must be a lone hunter out there, Andre.”

“He may not be alone; I mean who would be all alone out here in the middle of nowhere?”

“Good point, let’s head that way to find out, but be careful, they may be amateurs and just shoot anything that moves.”

“Yeah, they just might at that,” he agreed.

They had set off earlier that morning to explore an area that they had never been in before and it was a few miles away from their camp site. The forest was quite dense in some areas and even the sky was obscured in places, but the occasional ray of sunshine did break through periodically. There was the ever present smell of pine cones all around and that added a sense of freshness to the air. Chipmunks and squirrels were darting around everywhere and the birds were all chirping away merrily. They had ventured about three miles when they heard that shot and now curiosity had gotten the better of them. There were no roads that they knew about; they were literally miles from civilization and hunters wouldn’t usually trek that far as a rule. So if they had, what was it that had drawn them to the area? It was this question that had both Andre and Paul intrigued. They just had to find the answer to that question. They then set off in the general direction of the rifle shot, but being very stealthy about it. They certainly had their ears pricked listening for the slightest sound that was out of place. They had travelled about a mile or so further when they both heard a noise up ahead. The looked at each other and froze, each hiding behind a tree. Suddenly a woman rushed past them only a few yards away panting with exhaustion. She glanced behind her fleetingly and instantly tripped over a tree root and fell to the ground. That trip saved her life as an arrow whizzed through the air and lodged itself quivering in a tree beside her. As she lay there on the ground totally spent of all her energy a man ambled up to her casually aiming his crossbow at her. He then stood above her and told her she had been a worthwhile adversary and that is was a great shame that he had to kill her. The poor woman just looked up at him, her eyes wide and fearful and too scared and too tired to move.

“You know Gwen; I wish we had met under different circumstances. I really do like you. You are smart and intelligent as well as beautiful and you were fantastic in bed. I know I am going to regret this, but I really have no choice now do I?” he said as he placed his finger on the trigger.

They were the last words he spoke. Incensed with rage at this point, Paul just hurled himself at the man and with one mighty chop to the back of his neck the man fell dead on the spot. Andre leapt out from behind his tree and went over to Gwen. They then heard a voice calling the man’s name and it was not all that far off.

“Fred, where the hell are you man?” the voice called out. “Come on man, call out and give me a clue – that bitch can’t be that far away? She ain’t going anywhere.”

When no answer came back the man then said,

 

“Ah! Now I get it, you fancy screwing her again first eh! Okay then, I’ll leave you alone if she’s that hot – you have certainly paid good money to screw her –nobody said you could only do her once.”

Andre and Paul had picked up the exhausted Gwen and carried to where there were some bushes and they hid behind them in silence. They motioned her to be quiet and she was. The voice never came any closer and seemed to be going in the opposite direction now. The man had apparently assumed that Fred wanted one last fling with Gwen before he killed her and his presence would not be appreciated.

Andre and Paul then picked up Gwen between them and headed back to their camp. Both men could clearly see the fear in her eyes, the poor woman was terrified of them and they had just saved her life. What could possibly have happened to her to make her so fearful? They had tried to comfort her by telling her she was safe now – but nothing they said made any difference. Having been through what she had been through, trusting men was something she was certainly not prepared to do just yet. When they arrived back at their camp Gwen could hardly stand. She was totally exhausted and her heart was still racing. Although she had been saved from certain death by these two men, what ambitions did they have for her? Relaxation for Gwen was out of the question for now as her adrenaline was still pumping. The two men put her into Andre’s tent and Gwen now feared the worst, but she was way past caring anymore. When the two men lay her down, put a blanket over her gently and then left she was both relieved and surprised. She then fell asleep wondering just what kind of men these two were. Needless to say, recent experience with men had been traumatic, degrading and humiliating. She had almost forgotten what it was like to be treated like a human being. They had all lied to her and it had cost her big time, what kind of animals do we have here this time she wondered? At this point she wasn’t at all sure.

When Gwen awoke she could smell dinner cooking. She lay there for a while not daring to tempt fate by poking her head out of the tent. Then after a while she decided to bite the bullet and emerge. The two men did not pounce on her or try to undress her; in fact they were just the opposite, falling over themselves trying to make her comfortable and being very gentle with her. They then started with the questions.

“Look Gwen, we don’t want to pry here, but, what the hell was going on back there, the man was going to kill you?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Well give it a try at least and see if we can follow it.”

Gwen then started to tell them her story. The two men just sat there looking incredulous as she related everything that had gone on in that camp. When she burst into tears at one point André leapt up and sat beside her and just hugged her. He let her compose herself and then she continued. The look on the faces of the two men told her that they wouldn’t hurt her and that they were shocked by what she was telling them. They just looked at each other periodically in total disbelief thinking to themselves – surely this can’t be true. Who would want to hurt such a beautiful woman in a pretty pale blue dress? These two damaged soldiers were all about protecting people – this just didn’t make sense to them – and here in Canada too. She described in detail what the men had done to her and she then stood up, lifted up her dress and showed them her injuries. This time she was wearing underwear, but once again the look on the men’s faces told Gwen that these two men were genuine and perhaps the unicorns she and the others had been seeking. They did exist after all. It simply never crossed her mind they would live in a forest, but she thought that she really had found a couple now alright, time would tell, she told herself.

The two men sat and listened to the whole story and cringed in places as they continued to prepare the meal. They told her that she could sleep in Andre’s tent and they would share Paul’s. They chatted some more around the campfire until bedtime and then they just added a few more logs to the fire and turned in for the night. Gwen fell asleep quite content that night, it simply never crossed her mind that one of the men may creep into the tent in the middle of the night and rape her. Restful sleep was something she had not been able to have for some time now. The next morning she herself was up with the birds and had the coffee going before the two men crawled out all bleary eyed and lethargic. She had washed her underwear as soon as she got up and hung it on a tree to dry and was now only wearing her pale blue dress. This was all the clothing she had and maintaining personal hygiene was not easy under those conditions.

“Good Morning, guys she said I have the coffee going.”

“Thank you ma’am that’s very good of you.”

“How are you this morning, Gwen?” inquired Andre, “did you sleep well?”

“Like a log, Andre, and I haven’t been able to do that for some time.”

“I can’t even begin to imagine it”, said Andre.

“Me neither said Paul, those bastards are real sick. How could they treat a woman like that?”

“Well we have the evidence right here – poor Gwen lived that nightmare” said Andre.

“She’s the lucky one, sick as that sounds, the other poor women are probably dead now. Those bastards have to be made to pay for this. If we do nothing it will continue indefinitely” said Paul.

“I agree” said Andre.

“Look, based on what we know so far, no other women will be killed for a couple of weeks at least, Right? So with that in mind I am going to row over to the logging camp and see how the land lies and, if I can, I can bring back another woman. Can you draw me a map of the camp Gwen?”

‘Yes I’d be happy to, but be careful. Those men are brutes.”

“Don’t worry about Paul, Gwen, it’s those guys who won’t be safe, trust me, Paul can take care of himself. You saw what he did to the man who tried to shoot you. Hopefully he can avoid being seen and that way they won’t know that we know all about them and what they are doing. That way, hopefully, they won’t try to destroy all the evidence so to speak. It will take us a few days to walk out to the nearest road, Gwen. Do you think you’ll be up for that?”

“If it gets me out of here and away from those people I’m good for anything even if it kills me.”

“Oh we’ll go at your pace, Gwen, that’s the least we can do after what you have suffered – today you can just take it easy and rest up.”

“As soon as breakfast is over I’ll take the boat and go and recce that camp over there. If I can I’ll try to rescue another woman and bring her back with me, but that may be tough as I cannot be seen by anyone in case they blow the whistle on us. I want to nail these bastards for what they have done. We have to get enough evidence to take to the police so that they can nail these guys and no slick lawyers can get them off. Another woman’s testimony will be sufficient I think, well enough to get them to investigate anyway. If they then raid the camp they’ll get everything they need to put them in jail. If it were up to me I’d do to them what they did to the women – and then shoot them with their own crossbows.”

“Works for me” said Andre.

***

The hunting lodge had been in a total panic last night when Fred Matthews failed to return and his GPS tracker had not been activated. That device he was supposed to plant on the corpse of his victim so the cleanup squad could locate it and bury it quickly. A search party had been organized, but it was called off when it got dark and resumed the following morning. They found him lying face down in the forest with a broken neck and his crossbow beside him. Speculation was that he either fell or was swatted by an angry bear. Had the woman somehow managed to do it she would have taken his crossbow to defend herself against the animals. The ground was hard and no other tracks were evident so they took him back to the hunting lodge and called the police. When the police arrived by helicopter they explained to them that they had to bring the body in or the animals would have feasted on it. The police accepted that explanation and took statements from everyone – all of them pretty much saying the same thing. There were of course certain omissions and the women were never mentioned naturally. The police then took the body to be examined by their pathologist and later the relatives would be able to collect the body for funeral arrangements. No foul play was suspected, it was simply an unfortunate accident. He had perhaps come across a Momma Bear with young cubs and that was that. In the absence of any other explanation – that was what they recorded for the official record – misadventure.

There was no mention whatsoever about the search for the missing woman. That was totally off the record as far as the Lodge management were concerned – the women simply never existed. How one could have survived and not been found was a mystery. This they simply couldn’t understand. No clothing had been found and she just couldn’t have travelled too far as she would have been exhausted. If she survived the night it would be a miracle and she certainly couldn’t survive two nights out there with no food and surrounded by hungry coyotes and other predators. When she was not found on the second day they gave up looking and assumed the bears had got her and the coyotes would remove all the evidence. It was case closed as far as they were concerned. The police had accepted their story as plausible and that was that. The woman never existed and the other women had been buried and would never be found – or so they believed. All the other hunters would return home to their wives and carry on as if nothing had happened. Their wives would never suspect a thing; certainly not the horrific events that had actually taken place. They would never believe in a million years that their husbands would be capable of such things, not their husbands. They had just gone away on a hunting trip to a lodge up north. While they may not like the idea of their husbands hunting Bambi for fun, they figured that there were far worse things he could be doing. How right they were on that point – but they would never think of this.

***

The following morning Paul set off early in the boat to visit the logging camp and see just what the situation was over there. He would row across the lake and along the shoreline a little way, but the rest had to be done on foot in order to avoid being seen. Gwen had told him that the men were usually away all day, but one could show up at any time if they got hurt or felt ill or something so he had to be careful. He had studied the layout that Gwen had given to him so he knew what was where in the camp now and could act accordingly. The weather was ideal that morning, it was quite warm with a gentle cooling breeze and the lake was placid. The only ripples were those that he was making as he rowed across to the other side and those made by the odd fish that would jump up to take a look around or to catch a fly. There was no sound out there in the middle of the lake; it was so peaceful and idyllic. He would rest on his oars from time to time to soak it all up. This perhaps is what heaven must be like he thought to himself, totally relaxing, but with your loved ones close by. He pondered on that for a few minutes and picked up the oars again. He was on a mission here; there was no time to daydream.

Back at the camp Andre had disappeared into the forest as Gwen was tidying up and washing the breakfast dishes. When he had not returned after what seemed like ages, Gwen went looking for him. She knew now that she had to move stealthily in the forest and she was doing so. She hadn’t gone too far when she heard the familiar sound of someone sobbing. This was a regular feature of life in the logging camp – but this time it was Andre she was hearing.

“Andre, honey, what is it, what’s wrong?”

Andre was startled by Gwen’s appearance as he had not heard her come up to him.

“Oh I’m sorry; I didn’t want you to see me like this that’s why I came out here.”

“Whatever is wrong, Andre, tell me? God knows I have told you all my troubles, the least I can do is listen to yours.”

“It’s not something we talk about, Gwen?”

“Who’s “We”, do mean you and Paul?”

“Yes, it’s something that happened some time ago and sometimes it comes back to haunt us. That’s why we came out here to try to put it behind us – nothing else has worked.”

“So just sit there and tell me the whole story, I may not be able to help, but I can certainly listen. Sometimes that helps to put things in perspective, Andre, and it just might be of some help.”

“You are already helping Gwen, just by being here right now.”

With that he told Gwen the whole story. The things that both he and Paul had seen and how they had dealt with them. The friends that they had lost and how it had affected them. He even told her about Paul’s recurring dream with the baby crying and pleading to be told “Why?” Gwen listened intently and never spoke a word. She just took it all in, every single word of it as she cuddled Andre and wrapped her arm around his shoulders. He broke down in tears several times, but Gwen took it all in stride. She now had a completely different opinion of these two men. Like herself, these two unicorns were damaged goods, but they were most definitely unicorns. They had hearts of gold and they were very caring men. Andre had been nothing but caring and gentle with her and this now resonated with Gwen big time. This big powerfully built man was a gentle giant, but like her, he too had his demons. Out here alone in this huge forest perhaps they just might be able to comfort each other and possibly ease each other’s pain a little. As they sat there just holding each other, each in their own world – a chord had been struck. Neither of them realized it at the time, but the flame had been lit. Romance was the last thing on their minds out there, it simply wasn’t a consideration – but there was a magnetic pull all the same. Given time Gwen just might be able to repair this broken Unicorn if given the opportunity – but that thought had yet to cross her mind – but it would before she left that forest.

***

When Paul reached the other bank of the lake he rowed along the shoreline for a while before pulling the boat up on the bank. He sat down for a while to gather his strength; it was hard work rowing that boat and physically taxing. Once he’d had his break he set off to find the logging camp. After a while he began to get a whiff of burning wood, it was coming from the camp and the cooking stoves that the women were using. They were not cooking anything right now, but the stoves had been lit in readiness for the afternoon meal. As Paul crept up to the camp silently he would stop and listen periodically to get a sense of the atmosphere. His military training had kicked in and he was in full stealth mode now. Gwen’s map had shown him where the kitchen was and he had seen several women in there. Some of them had departed now, but he could see at least one in there still. He waited until nobody else was in sight and then he went into the kitchen silently via the canteen. He paused once he was inside to see if he could hear anything other than the woman – he didn’t. Stealthily he crept up behind her and clamped his hand over her mouth to stop her from screaming out.

“Shush” he said, “please keep quiet and don’t make a sound. Gwen sent me to rescue you. Well not you specifically, just any of the women here. Gwen is safe with us, but I can only take one woman back with me for now. We have to move very quickly so you must move fast. Can I release my hand?”

The woman nodded assent. When he did she asked, “Who is we?”

“That is my friend Andre, but we don’t have time now to discuss it. We have to move quickly and travel light; you can’t carry anything in your hands as you’ll need them to be free. I want you to go back to your hut, or whatever you call it, put on as many sets of clothing as you can move comfortably in and maybe bring me a couple of your skirts. I can maybe wear them if I don’t zip them, it might give you a few more outfits to wear. Gwen has nothing other than what she stands up in so perhaps you can share some of these items with her. While you are doing that I’ll see if I can pocket a few food items. I can’t pinch too much as they’ll know you had help escaping and that we mustn’t do. Oh what is your name by the way?”

“Maureen McLeod she replied.”

“A good maritime name is that”, said Paul. “Go and grab some clothing now, Maureen, and let’s go quickly before someone sees us.”

With that Maureen fled back to her cabin, put on almost all of her underwear, several blouses, three skirts, and threw a dress over it all, unzipped of course. She also carried two more skirts for Paul to put on and he did too. They looked a sorry sight indeed, but thankfully nobody saw them depart. They had heard a woman sobbing as they crept by her cabin and slid quietly into the forest, but they did not have the time to stop to comfort her. Paul kept up a blistering pace and soon Maureen was exhausted. To say that she was overdressed had a completely new meaning here and it was very tiring for her to race through the forest weighed down by all of it. Paul was not exactly moving through the forest with his usual fluidity and grace due to wearing two of Maureen’s skirts. Finally they reached the boat and Paul began to row them back to their camp. He too was feeling tired now and it took far longer to row back than it did to go out there.

As Maureen was sitting in the boat she began to wonder what she had done. Why had she simply done as he asked – had she jumped from the frying pan into the fire here? She had landed in this mess by listening to men in the first place and here she was doing it again. Sure he sounded genuine and he did mention Gwen’s name, but so what? What the hell had she landed herself in now? The initial reaction to being rescued now turned to fear again, god knows what fate she would be facing now. “Maureen McLeod will you ever learn girl, are you totally insane she asked herself?”

As Paul reached the shore he called out to Andre and both he and Gwen came running. When the two women saw each other they just threw themselves at each other and sobbed. Maureen now realized that she had been rescued after all and Paul was genuine. Upon seeing Paul in Maureen’s skirts Andre just had to make a few remarks on that – who wouldn’t? However, the bottom line was that it was totally practical and necessary. Now both women would have a change of clothes and that was a huge improvement for Gwen and one she deeply appreciated. That night the two women had a lot to catch up on and they talked well into the night. Both of them now knew the men’s story and the men knew theirs. The two women got a good night’s sleep that night, something Maureen hadn’t had in a while. Tomorrow they would begin their trek out to the main road. It would take a few days but strangely enough all four of them felt positive about it. For the first time in a long time the two women were not afraid of the men they were with. Damaged they may be – but they were very gentle and considerate to them. The nurturing element in each of these women was now emerging. These broken soldiers were about to be restored to normal – they just didn’t know it yet. The women themselves hadn’t quite realized it either just yet – but they soon would. It would take time – but they had plenty of that and a lot of love and caring to go with it.

Chapter Five

***

When the lumberjacks returned that afternoon and found out that Maureen had run away they were not at all happy. A search party was set up immediately and they all rushed off to find this wayward wench as they called her. Oh how they were going to teach her a lesson when they got her back. She would be made an example of in front of the other women so as to warn them against trying to do the same thing. The remaining women were now praying that Maureen would get away and not get caught – they couldn’t bear to think of her fate if she were to be caught. The men searched till past dark and then returned home unsuccessful in finding Maureen. This of course delighted the other women, but even now they were scared for her out there all alone surrounded by dangerous wild animals. Could she survive the night? That was their primary fear. If she did, would the men find her in the morning? God help her if they did. The next morning came and went and still Maureen was not found. Like the people over at the lodge the lumberjacks were now convinced that the animals had got her. They were somewhat perplexed by the fact that no clothing had been found – but they dismissed that with little thought given to it. She just couldn’t walk thirty miles and survive with all those hungry animals out there just waiting for a meal to come by. They just couldn’t believe she could have been so stupid; it was pure suicide doing what she had done.

“It serves the stupid bitch right”, snarled Zeke.

“Yeah, she had it pretty good here” added Hank.

“Damn right she did”, added another man, “what was she thinking?”

“That’s just it” replied Hank, “that stupid bitch couldn’t think. She was good on her back, but she didn’t have a brain in her head.”

“Well that’s true; none of them do”, said Zeke.

“They don’t need brains, Zeke, as long as they can cook and fuck, why would they need brains? We ain’t gonna be discussing politics now are we?”

“Yeah I guess you have a point, Hank.”

“It makes the numbers a little uneven though” yet another lumberjack added.

“Ah that’s okay, Butch, we can share for a few more weeks, we’ve done it before. I’m sure the ladies won’t mind now will they?” said Hank. “Like they say – variety is the spice of life, right?”

The men all laughed at that, the women had no say whatsoever and would be obliged to do what they were told. Having completed the initiation phase, they now knew what was expected of them and objecting was the last thing they would do now. They had fantasies about Maureen escaping and making it through the forest and alerting the authorities who would then come racing in to rescue them. Perhaps not riding on white horses – but they didn’t care how they arrived as long as they did – and soon. While they may dream of such things, they knew in their hearts it was just a dream. They simply couldn’t believe Maureen could survive that thirty mile trek surrounded by wild animals – that was too big a stretch. They wanted to believe it – but contrary to what the men thought, these women were far from stupid and they knew the odds were against her making it.

Most of the men went back to work the next day, but a few continued their search. They were all cursing and swearing and voicing their opinions on what they would do to her once they found her, but of course they never would. Hank had considered calling the lodge on his Sat. Phone to see if she had made it over there, but Zeke had talked him out of it.

“She ain’t no Olympic swimmer, Hank, no matter how great she is in bed.”

“Yeah I guess you’re right.”

“Besides, we don’t want the Lodge guys to get bent out of shape because one of our women is MIA. They’d more than likely freak out if they knew that.”

“In my opinion just let things die down, the animals would have got to her. If they didn’t the first night they would the second and no way in hell could she get by for three nights” Zeke concluded.

With that the loggers considered the matter closed and subsequently forgot all about it. The next consignment of women was not due for several weeks and so meanwhile they would have to share them all. It was hardly an earth shattering adjustment; they were more or less doing that anyway. The women continued to oblige these demons and satisfy their lust and desires – but now there was a time horizon, or there soon would be. The dream of Maureen escaping was a fact and not a dream and once she reached civilization their rescue would be immediate. This was something Maureen and Gwen were dreaming about also – they just had to help their friends – and this thought would propel them through the forest now and overcome their fatigue with their sheer determination.

***

Andre and Paul were up bright and early the next morning and quickly tidied up the camp site. They had breakfast organized and the coffee going before the two women poked their heads out of their tent. Their back packs were fully loaded now except for the tents which would sit on top. Each man would also now add the women’s clothing. Andre would take Gwen’s and Paul would carry Maureen’s. Once they had finished breakfast and cleaned up they set off for the road which was at least three to four days slog away from where they were right now. The two men had water bottles with them, but the women had none – that made sharing a necessity. It also meant they had to find a source of water along the route or make detours in order to reach a lake or a stream. Both men were now racking their brains trying to remember what they had encountered on their way in and exactly where that was. It would be a challenge, but it was one they were certainly up to as they were skilled outdoorsmen. They also knew that the two women were weary and their pace through the forest would reflect that. Paul would push them as hard as he could – but he was well aware of their fragility. He would call for rest stops frequently to enable them to recharge their batteries. Slogging through the forest was hard work even for the men – it was doubly so for Gwen and Maureen. Lunches would be from tins as they still had some of their original supplies left and Paul had pinched a few extras on his visit to the camp. Dinners would have to be caught, skinned and then cooked. Bearing that in mind Paul figured that he would stop each day around four o’clock. That would give him and Andre time to set up, hunt dinner and then get back to cook it. Exactly what that might be they had no idea – it would all depend on what was around at the time. It would be a pretty Spartan menu, but probably a healthy one nevertheless. That night they dined on duck. Sometime around mid-afternoon they came across this small lake where there were numerous Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks roaming around. The captured two of the ducks and so their dinner was secured for tonight. They would worry about tomorrow night’s menu tomorrow. Right now they had food and water to see them through until then.

Paul and Andre went around scavenging for wood after dinner to ensure the fire would last all night long. One or more than likely both of them, would wake up in the middle of the night and add more logs to it anyway. The fire should keep the animals at bay, but they had set up their tins as a safety feature also. They sat around the fire just talking and getting to know each other better. It was then that Maureen and Paul realized that they were both from Nova Scotia and lived not all that far from each other. They also learned that each of them was lonely and they had issues to deal with. No judgments were being passed here; they were all in the same boat. Both Gwen and Maureen could see that Paul and Andre were skittish. The slightest sound that was unexpected could make them start and look around anxiously. Knowing their story now the women could understand why they would act that way and why their nerves were frayed. They themselves were only now beginning to relax and feel safe around these two men – something they couldn’t even think of a few days ago. These two men treated them like real human beings and considered them as equals. They both knew how they had been treated and what degradations they had undergone – but it didn’t seem to faze them at all and they most certainly didn’t look down of them because of it. They were angry at the men for doing it to them – but not at them for having endured it.

“Andre”, said Gwen, “last night as we were lying in the tent, Maureen and I were kind of nervous about the sound of those coyotes. We were wondering if we could share a tent with one of you? Now don’t get me wrong here, there are no strings attached, but we would feel safer if we had a man with us. I know that may sound crazy after what we have told you – but being eaten alive in our sleep freaks us out too.”

“That will be fine Gwen, Maureen can sleep in my tent, if that’s alright with you Maureen?”

“Oh yes please, that’ll be fine with me, Paul, I was scared last night.”

“Well that takes care of that then” said Andre.

Later that night when they had all turned in, both women snuggled closer to the men once the coyotes’ cries filled the night air. The men simply wrapped an arm around them and drew them closer and they fell asleep that way. This allowed the women to sleep peacefully as they really did feel safe with these two men. It was a realization that actually surprised both women. They had only known these men for a couple of days and here they were now trusting them with their lives and being quite comfortable with it too. Gwen was really taken with Andre, and Maureen saw it clearly and casually mentioned it when they were alone together.

“So you and Andre are getting pretty close Gwen, do you have feelings for him already?”

“Yes I know it’s crazy Maureen, but I think I do. There’s just something about him. He’s strong and powerful and yet vulnerable at the same time. They have both been through Hell and yet he is so gentle and considerate to me, I feel so safe with him. I know it makes no sense in just a couple of days and that it could be pure hero worship, but it’s how I feel, Maureen.”

“Gwen if that’s how you feel then that’s how you feel. Having been around the kind of men we have for the past weeks, these two are saints. Yes they are damaged and have their own issues, but underneath all that they really are nice guys. I certainly like Paul too – given time he could very easily grow on me – and not too much time either. Let’s face it, we are damaged goods too, but Paul and Andre don’t see us that way. They know our story and we know theirs and it really doesn’t matter to any of us does it? We just accept each other as is. How the rest of society may react is another matter – but for now here we are. As of this minute both these men want to bubble wrap us and take care of us. We need that now maybe – but not forever. Over time we need to let them know we are real women and not “Dresden China” dolls. Let them feel our warmth and we can soak up theirs and let things develop naturally.”

“Yes but what if they can’t get past our history, you know, the second hand pin cushion bit.”

“Gwen, these guys don’t think like that, trust me. If they did they would not be treating us the way that they do. We were victims of circumstance just as they are, although in a different sphere. They want what we want – love and understanding. Okay so it may take some time. However, we have the time – especially having been through what we have. Andre and Paul are men, they don’t think like us women. They may know they are thirsty – but you have to lead them to the water. You won’t have to teach them how to drink once they are there – well hopefully you won’t.”

Both women laughed at that scenario.

“No I guess not” said Gwen. “I’ll just need to be patient then is that what you are saying Maureen?”

“That’s exactly what I am saying, Gwen. Give the man a little time, he’s broken, but you can fix him given time. You have already seen how thoughtful and caring he is – let him come to realize how he feels about you in his own time. He will, I have seen the way he looks at you, just give him time.”

“Is that what you are going to do with Paul?”

“Possibly, but you have known Andre a day longer don’t forget. A girl simply cannot rush into these things, Gwen; a day is a long time in the forest.”

Once again both women burst out laughing and they both came to the realization that it had been far too long since they had laughed at all over anything. Laughter was something one never heard in the logging camp, well certainly not from the women anyway.

***

Paul kept them moving forward as fast as he could. It was arduous trekking through the forest and one had to be ever vigilant for the wildlife and especially the bears. One certainly didn’t want to stumble upon a mother bear with her cubs accidently. Later in the afternoon on the third day they found a stream and decided to spend the night camped beside it. They could replenish their water bottles once they had boiled the water. They could also boil enough of it to wash, shave and clean themselves up somewhat. The two women in particular appreciated that, being sweaty and sticky around these two men bothered them. The men, however, were not exactly smelling of roses either, but it was a more pressing issue for the women. Anyway when the men went hunting for dinner the two women lit a fire, boiled several pans of water and made themselves feel a little more human. They had no cosmetics, to complete the transformation, but at least they felt clean. They were painfully aware however that they would not be featured on the cover of Vogue Magazine in their present state. They had cleaned themselves up as best they could and were delighted when the men returned with dinner and actually noticed.

“Wow you two clean up well, even in the forest”, said Paul.

“They sure do” added Andre. “Just think what they must look like back home when they have access to the rest of their war paint.”

Paul laughed at that and put his full hand over his mouth and made the sound of an Indian going “Woo, Woo, Woo.” The women too laughed at that point. They were secretly delighted that the men had noticed their efforts and even more so by their comments of how they would look back home. It reinforced in Maureen’s mind at least that they found these two women attractive despite the ordeal they had been through. The guys were certainly not dwelling on that at all –they liked them for who they were and that was huge for Maureen. It had not been lost on Gwen either and she felt it too. As the men began to skin what looked like a groundhog for dinner, the women just watched them. There was admiration in their eyes now. While they were being drawn ever closer to these two men, they started to realize that the men just might feel the same way. In fact with a little encouragement things could get real cozy if they were all on the same page. The attraction was definitely there and apparently on both sides too – but was that purely circumstantial here in the forest, or could it run deeper? Both women were thinking exactly the same thing as they watched the men prepare their dinner. Later in the evening when the two guys went to get firewood Gwen and Maureen opened up to each other on what might be – given the right set of circumstances. They now knew exactly how they felt about the two damaged Unicorns – but they were uncertain as to how the guys really felt about them. They decided to explore that around the camp fire later on to see just how things really stood between them.

“You guys know exactly what we have been through, and all because we were lonely and trying to find someone to love us. Do you think any other men will still look at us now that we are damaged goods asked Gwen?”

“What! are you serious?” responded Paul.

“Are you crazy?” said Andre simultaneously. “You two are beautiful both inside and out. A man would be crazy to let you pass by.”

“Amen” to that said Paul. “Physical beauty is one thing, but it only goes so far. What really matters lies inside your heart and the depth of character you have. Andre and I were discussing that when we were gathering wood for the fire. You two girls are beautiful even without make up, but that is purely physical. Inside you have compassion, warmth and understanding and you have this ability to actually care for others. That in itself is remarkable considering what you two have suffered. We both know we have our own issues, but it didn’t stop you from trying to help us get by and trying to understand us. How many women would bother to do that? It isn’t just because we are here in the forest all alone – it’s just who you are. So in answer to your question, any guy out there would be lucky to have you. We most certainly would if we were fit and well, but as you know we have our own problems and few women would want to take that on 24/7.”

“Well now Paul, why would you say that? Let me tell you something and I think I can speak for Gwen on this too; we have seen what is out there in terms of single men, married ones too. We have tried everything to meet good decent men, including the internet and look where that got us. Then out here in the forest we meet you guys. You are kind gentle, considerate and respectful and above all caring. You are not bullies and you make us feel totally safe and protected. Yes you have issues, so do we, so what? As you pointed out, its character that counts, and you two guys certainly have plenty of that. Apart from your obvious physical attraction, Gwen and I are attracted to you for just who you are as is – and with all your flaws, Right! Gwen?”

“Truer words were never spoken, Maureen. I feel exactly the same way. You make me feel so secure Andre, especially when you cuddle me at night. However, I was concerned that you may not want to come near us sexually after what you know about us.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth Gwen.”

“Having been through what you girls have suffered, Paul and I figured you would want to be left alone and not be used as a sex object. Let’s face it, men have not treated you well and we didn’t want to add to that. You are right, Maureen, we do care, we care very much and that is why we kept our distance so to speak. However, for the record, we most certainly do find you to be sexually attractive in addition to all of your other qualities – so now you know.”

When they turned in for night, their cuddling took on a whole new dimension that night. For the first time in a long time the women really felt relaxed and satisfied and totally content afterwards. The tenderness and the gentleness of the caresses as the men explored their bodies pleased the women to no end. This was exactly how it should be. The warmth and the nuzzling of their necks sent tremors through their bodies as the sensations intensified. Their responsiveness simply went off the scale that night and the local bunny rabbits were totally put to shame by their explosive performance. They all fell asleep knowing that tomorrow would be the start of a whole new scenario. The flame that had been lit before was now becoming a fire. In the very near future it would take on volcanic intensity in terms of heat as they all realized how fortunate they were to have found each other – and in the most unexpected place too.

Chapter Six

***

They set off on the last day in the forest with renewed vigor. They had a mission to complete, but now that romance was in full bloom their energy level had risen significantly. They got up bright and early, had breakfast and packed up all of their equipment. The two men were not sure just how far away the road was – and they didn’t really care. They now had someone to care about and more importantly, the women actually cared about them and that was huge for these two damaged men. That in itself wouldn’t solve all of their problems and quell their demons – but it was a hell of a good start they thought. Their minds would now spend more time on the two women and far less back in Afghanistan dodging bullets and IED’s. However, right now the job in hand was to get out of this forest and back into civilization and tell the police just what was going on out there. Most ordinary people would have a hard time believing this to be possible – but the police see all kinds of depravity and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for them to imagine this. They would never have encountered it before – but they would never underestimate man’s insane behaviour. This would simply be a new twist to them and one they would eagerly pursue. Paul and Andre never doubted for one minute that action would be taken immediately once they could muster their forces. Considering the numbers involved in this enterprise, the raid itself would have to take on military proportions in order to capture all of these miscreants. The very thought of this raid taking place was inspiring the two men to accomplish this task with all due haste.

They finished the last of their tinned foods for lunch that day and they never even considered having to provide for dinner. It simply never crossed their minds that they would spend another night in the forest. They were all driven by the urgency of rescuing those poor women from the hell they were going through- spending another night in the forest was simply unthinkable. Around two thirty, as they were still surging onward, they heard a train whistle off in the distance. It was music to their ears. They could not be too far away from the road now. An hour later they could hear the sound of the odd vehicle in the distance and then they were out. Here they were at the side of the road now, with the forest on both sides of the road. They now had to wait and get a ride into town, or anywhere amongst people. They got really lucky that day and they were picked up by a school bus within a few minutes. It was one of those short school buses that had just taken a load of kids to camp and was on its return trip empty. The driver welcomed the company as it was a three hour drive to Thunder Bay from there.

“Well howdy folks, did your car break down, or fail to show up to pick you up? I guess you’ve been camping in the woods, eh, judging by your back packs?”

“Yeah” said Paul, “we’ve been trekking through the forest for a few days and we got kinda lost.”

“Yep it sure is easy to do that in there, damned dangerous too, lots of bears and other wild animals in there too. You can’t be too careful in the forest.”

“Oh Yeah, you got that right” said Andre as he looked at Paul and winked at the women.

“Where can I drop you folks? Do you have a particular hotel in mind – I can take you there directly if you like. It wouldn’t be out of the way for me.”

“That’s very kind of you sir”, said Paul, “but could you drop us off at the police station, we have something to report first?”

“My pleasure folks, that’s right around the corner from my depot, that’s no trouble at all.”

He did not question what they had to report? That was their business not his and he was not about to enquire. They continued on their way with the driver telling them what had been happening in the world while they had been in the forest. When they ran out of conversation the driver turned on the radio – something they had not heard in a long time. The two women were snuggled up against their men and fell fast asleep in no time having been soothed by the music on the radio.

“I guess the ladies are tired out, eh”, said the driver.

“Yes it was quite the trek for them the last day.”

“Yes, I’ll bet”, he said and left it at that.

Andre and Paul dozed off a little enroute, but it was spasmodic at best but the women had to be woken up when they arrived at the police station.

“Thank you very much, Sir, for your kindness” said Paul. “It was very much appreciated and desperately needed.”

“No trouble at all folks, glad to be of service to you all, have a good evening and enjoy your stay in Thunder Bay.”

With that he drove away and the four of them went into the police station to give them their story.

***

When they entered the police station and went up to the desk a young constable greeted them.

“Good evening folks can I help you.”

“Yes you most certainly can, is your Watch Commander available?”

“I can get him, Sir, but can you first tell me what it is regarding as I may be able to help, you?”

“It’s about Rape and Murder on a grand scale and it’s still ongoing – the rape part as we speak.”

The young office paled a little as he looked at them and asked – “Is this for real, Sir?”

“Yes officer it damn sure is and when I tell this story it will make your hair curl, well when these ladies tell you their story that is – they lived it.”

“Please have a seat folks, I’ll go and get the watch commander.”

A few minutes later and police sergeant and a man in plain clothes came out.

“I’m Inspector Evans and this is Sergeant Jeffries, I believe you wish to report a rape and murder.”

“Well multiple actually”, said Paul “and what we are about to reveal will stagger you, well it did us anyway. These two ladies will tell you the story, but I suggest we do so in an office with the door closed if that’s okay with you, guys?”

“Yes that will be just fine, lead them to my office, Tony. Just follow Sergeant Jeffries if you would please and make yourselves comfortable.”

They then followed the sergeant into the inspector’s office, sat down and made themselves comfortable. When everyone was seated the story was then told.

“Why don’t we all introduce ourselves first and then we can start at the very beginning and go on from there” said the inspector.

Maureen then started to explain her story and how she had become involved with a fictitious man supposedly named Robert Graham who had wooed her and provided plane tickets to and from Toronto in order to meet him. That then led her to the logging camp. Gwen then related a similar story of how she ended up in the logging camp.

“Our daily routine was one of sexual slavery basically”, said Maureen. “We were obliged to cook clean and perform all manner of sexual favors for these men or be punished if we failed to please them. We would be whipped, beaten or raped by any number of different men depending upon the offence. That could be for trivial things like, not making his coffee hot enough or not pressing his underpants – yes his underpants. It could be even be just for the hell of it. Then at the weekend parties we could be shared or made to perform in contests. Who was the sexiest, who performed best and who gave the best blow jobs? Some of those contests were just sick, but we had to go along or else. The losers would be whipped or beaten – so they more or less forced all the women to put forth their best effort or else get whipped and beaten.”

The Inspector and the Sergeant just sat there aghast listening and taking it all in. Gwen then added her two cents worth, but she also lifted up her dress and showed them the evidence and both men winced when they saw those welts. The just looked at each other, this was no fabrication, this was true. These women had actually lived this nightmare – but it was not over yet. The sex orgies the police were used to, they had seen all manner of them in their careers. Perhaps not as brutal as these were, but some were pretty gruesome. However, they soon pricked up their ears when Gwen told them about the Hunting Lodge and what went on there.

“We were told we were all going home the next day, but we had to provide sexual favors to their guests first. They would wine and dine us first, but we had to screw them and satisfy their needs one more time. We were also advised to forget that we had ever been up there. In addition we were told we would be taking a scenic canoe trip prior to our flight back down to Thunder Bay. This we did, and then it really started. We were told that these hunters had paid a lot of money to hunt up there. On their last weekend they would get to screw us and then hunt us with crossbows and kill us so we couldn’t tell their wives. We were given a one hour start and that was it. Once that gun went off we had to run for our lives and we did.”

The two police officers were dumbstruck. They had heard some tales in their time, but this one was something else. This was totally insane, and yet they seemed like genuine people, surely they couldn’t be making this up. Having seen Gwen’s injuries up close they had no doubts what they were hearing was true. Andre and Paul then told their side of it and how they had heard that rifle shot and gone towards it.

“We were out exploring our surroundings when we heard a rifle shot. We set off in the direction and then suddenly this lady goes hurtling by; she looks over her shoulder and trips over a tree root. As she fell this arrow zips by and lodges in a tree beside her. Then this guy walks up casually and says he’s sorry but he has to kill her. He put his finger on the trigger, but Paul felled him before he could fire that arrow.”

“Now it makes sense” said the sergeant – “the hunter we brought in last week, the one with the broken neck, we thought a bear had swiped him.”

“Well I didn’t mean to kill him, but I guess I hit him too hard.”

“Oh I’m quite sure that can be regarded as self-defense” said the inspector – “you saved that young woman’s life. That is correct is it not ma’am?”

“Yes sir it most certainly is.”

“Well that’s the end of that then.”

He was more or less implying that the police would not be pursuing that aspect at all.

“You say that there were four other women with you who were being hunted by men with crossbows and as far as you know they would have been killed if they were caught, is that correct?”

“Well that guy was most certainly going to kill Gwen if Paul hadn’t dropped him first. There was no doubt whatsoever about that –we saw that first hand. If those other women were found you can be sure they are dead now” said Andre. “These guys are sick.”

“Yes they are” said the inspector. “I have encountered sex-trafficking, with girls from European countries, and some kiddie porn too on a limited basis, but this is just unreal. This I have never heard of before, this one goes right off the scale. People might write books about this stuff – but in real life? Based on what you have told us we shall have to move quickly on this. We can’t leave those poor women out there any longer than we need to. I’ll need to get some extra officers up here to lend us a hand in paying an unexpected visit to that logging camp and also that Hunting Lodge. I’ll get right on that. Sergeant, can you make sure these good folks are suitable accommodated for the night?”

“Yes Sir, I’ll take care of that.”

“We’ll keep you up to date on our activities and any and all developments. We shall of course need your testimonies – they will be vital in sending all of these men to jail and for a very long time too hopefully.”

As the four of them left his office with the sergeant, the inspector was already on the phone to the Provincial Police asking for their assistance and organizing helicopters and buses for transportation. Paul and Andre were very impressed by the speed the inspector was moving at in this matter. He was certainly taking it very seriously and he was getting all his ducks in a row very quickly. He wanted those women out of there as soon as humanly possible. He would wake up judges and whoever he had to, including the Provincial Premier if necessary in order to get the necessary authority to raid those two sites. He wanted these bastards behind bars yesterday after hearing these stories – and he was hell bent on doing it too.

***

As they were leaving the police station to go to their hotel the inspector came out of his office. “Hicks” he said to a nearby police officer. “When they have had something to eat I want you to take Mrs. Holt and Mrs. McLeod to the E.R. and have those injuries taken care of. Tell the E.R. Doc that I want a full and complete report on the severity of those injuries so we can nail these bastards. Explain that too him and tell him not to hold anything back, okay?”

“Yes Sir, I’ll make sure the doc. gets the message.”

“Good man: Ladies once you have eaten, Officer Hicks will take you to the E.R. and then drive you back once you have been treated.”

The four of them then went to McDonald’s for a quick bite to eat. Junk food it may have been, but it tasted pretty good to them right now. After that they all hopped into the back of the police Land Rover and went to the hospital. They had to wait for an hour as the more urgent cases were obviously seen first. Finally Dr. Raymond was free and a nurse came and took them from the waiting room into the treatment rooms. Both women were told to strip and put on those ever glamorous and fashionable hospital gowns. Photographs were then taken of their injuries from various angles. They were then seen by the Doc.

“My God” he said to Gwen, “what the hell happened to you, who did this to you?”

Gwen then told him the story, well some of it anyway. The doctor could certainly put two and two together after that just by looking at the injuries. He took the gown off Gwen and gently laid her flat on her back totally naked. He then examined every inch of her, probing very gently and carefully to establish the severity of her injuries. Gwen said later it felt like a feather was stroking her he was so gentle. She still winced in places though and Dr. Raymond noted every twitch. He then told her to roll onto her tummy and he started on her neck and went south from there. These injuries were more severe and certainly more painful. At one point he gave Gwen a local anesthetic in several places, re-opened the wounds and then stitched them back up again.

“When they heal Gwen, the scarring will be minimal now. I am going to give you some cream to put on these wounds together with some freezing agents and analgesics for the pain. What I have given you tonight will sting a little for a few hours, but after that you should feel no pain whatsoever. If, in the morning, you are still in pain come back in – I’ll still be on duty and I can give you a little extra if it’s needed. You should be fine though, Gwen, and I am so sorry that you have had such a horrendous experience. I will be delighted to testify on your behalf as and when necessary and I will certainly forward my report to the police as soon as I can.”

“Thanks, doc, for everything, I really do appreciate what you have done for me, I really do.”

“That was my absolute pleasure Mrs. Holt and I hope that you will be able to put this horrific experience behind you one day. One or two of those injuries will remain visible, the ones I had to stitch up, but the others will fade in time, well most of them anyway. Rest assured you will not be disfigured by this, Gwen. You will be able to be seen in a bikini – not next week perhaps, but certainly next year.”

“Thanks Doc.” said Gwen and she got off the table stark naked and hugged him. She did it instinctively without even thinking, but it didn’t faze him at all. He just took it all in stride and then went to tend to Maureen in the next cubicle, but her injuries were less severe. Once she had been treated, Officer Hicks then drove them back to their hotel.

***

It was well past midnight when they got back to their hotel rooms. They looked so inviting after the accommodations they had been used to lately. It had been some time since they had experienced the luxury of hot water for a shower. The men were used to taking a dip in the lake, a very quick one too due to its temperature; the two women had used pans of hot water off the stove. They would boil the water and then dilute it with cold water to make it go around. That way more women could wash and clean up in warm water at least. Now they were in the hotel they were in a whole new world. Tonight they would sleep between clean sheets and be able to snuggle closer to the men without a sleeping bag getting in the way. They really would sleep well that night. The trek through the forest had tired them out physically and their afternoon nap on the school bus apparently made little impression on their general fatigue. They would go shopping in the morning to buy one or two necessities that they had left back in the logging camp. As they were lying there thinking about this they suddenly realized that they had no money or credit cards. Hopefully they could borrow some from the two guys. They were still mentally wrestling with that when they fell fast asleep.

While they were having breakfast in the dining room the following morning, the hotel manager came over to Paul and told him he had a phone call. This totally surprised him as nobody knew they were there, except the police. When he went to the desk to take the call it was indeed the police. They wanted to get a map of the logging camp and hunting lodge pointing out what was where.

“Yes Inspector, Gwen can do that for you, she drew one for me and that is how I managed to rescue Maureen. I’ll have her draw one up right now and we’ll drop it off right after we finish breakfast.”

“Perfect” said the Inspector. I have two teams ready to leave. They are being briefed as we speak and once they get your map they’ll be off and running. We shall use a helicopter for the Hunting Lodge as it is inaccessible by road.”

“Thanks for the update Inspector; we’ll be over there shortly, Bye”

Fifteen minutes later the police were on their way armed with a detailed map laying out all of the buildings and what they contained. They would arrive on site at approximately 2:00pm, rescue the women, and then await the arrival of the men. All of them would be arrested immediately and transported back to Thunder Bay. Their reign of terror was over – but they might soon be experiencing their own nightmares once the prison inmates learned of their crimes. They take a very dim view of rapists in prison as they have their own code of ethics in there and sex offenders are disliked intensely and are made to suffer the consequences for their actions. They will now receive the same degree of sympathy that the women had in that camp – and their lives would certainly not be envied by anyone now. They had richly deserved this after what they had done and nobody would feel sorry for them. Except for themselves that is – they would certainly be feeling very sorry for themselves in the years ahead.

The police arrived on site just after 2:00pm and stopped just short of the actual camp itself. They were gathered together, split into small groups and then dispatched to their allotted locations. When the women saw them arrive they rushed up to them and threw their arms around them like they did in WW11 when the allies came to town to rescue them. It was an incredible scene and one the cops themselves will never ever forget. The women were then told to gather all their belongings and collect in the canteen when they had done that. They were then sent back to Thunder Bay on a police bus to give their statements etc. They would then be allowed to go back home once the doctors had cleared them. Like Maureen and Gwen they would need to have their injuries seen to first. This time the hospital was expecting them and all the necessary equipment was on hand. Dr. Raymond had warned the next E.R. shift what to expect and he had not been exaggerating the severity of those injuries they soon learned. One woman was admitted on the spot her injuries were so severe.

All of the women were now excited at the prospect of going home. They were laughing and also crying at the same time in some cases – their traumatic ordeal was now over. Words cannot begin to express the sheer joy that they were now feeling. The darkness had lifted; they were no longer living in fear in the bowels of that dismal forest and being abused by violent demons. They were now safe and on their way home. They were human beings again, something we all take for granted, - but for these women this was a real and precious gift. They would heal in time, but it would take time and probably therapy too before they could look at men again. Some comfort may be had from knowing that these demons were now headed for jail for what they had done to them – but not much. Nothing could compensate them for what they had suffered, the indignity, the humiliation, the degradation, the ridicule and the soul destroying lack of humanity. These vile and sick individuals were running a modern day death camp in that forest and nobody knew a thing about it. Well they did now and it was all over- but the satisfaction in knowing that was insufficient to dull the pain – one day maybe, but certainly not today.

Unknown to all of them at this time was the fact that some good would eventually come from all of this evil. Effective treatment for the pain and suffering from PTSD and other similar conditions would soon be available. It wasn’t right now, well not in the way the new facility would provide it, but this incident would initiate its formation.

Chapter Seven

***

Once they had dropped off the map at the police station they all went shopping. The two women would have to wait until later that day before they would have their own credit cards returned to them by the police along with the rest of their luggage. Meanwhile Andre and Paul would purchase whatever they needed on their cards. The men themselves required very little, but the two women needed several items, mostly cosmetics and personal hygiene products. It had been some time since they had been to a shopping center and the two men followed along like obedient puppy dogs. They were now once again in the civilized world, along with everyone else. As they were walking around the various department stores this fact hit home with the two women. Now that they were free again they would be in competition with all the other women out there, women with far less baggage than they now had. They would both glance around from time to time and weigh up the competition so to speak – and there appeared to be no shortage of it either. The women were attractive; some very well dressed, while others wore figure hugging attire that accentuated their shapeliness. Yes indeed there was no shortage of competition out there. It was always that way they now remembered – it was just something they hadn’t thought about in a while – due to their unusual circumstances. Now that they were back in circulation again these realities would come back into play – or would they? Andre and Paul seemed to be totally disinterested in other women and some of them were very pretty and available, according to their ring fingers anyway – but the two men never even noticed them. Well that might be a stretch – they did see them, but they certainly didn’t ogle at them. They seemed only to have eyes for Gwen and Maureen. Now this was either one hell of an act – or they two guys really were smitten and really did only have eyes for them. By the end of that shopping spree the two women were convinced; these two Unicorns were indeed theirs. They had no interest in playing the field; they had seen something magical in these two women and that was it for them. Maureen and Gwen felt the same way, these two guys were different. They had their issues, but their plusses far outweighed their minuses and the two women were well aware they themselves were far from perfect either.

They would all stay in Thunder Bay for a few more days now so that they would be available to attend court. All of the accused pleaded not guilty initially – based on the premise that the women wouldn’t wish to testify in open court and have their faces splashed all over the national press. They didn’t know these women at all. Maureen and Gwen wanted these men to pay for what they had done to them – and if that meant going to court to testify, then they would do exactly that.

Once their lawyers had taken their depositions and examined the prosecution’s evidence – those pleas would change to guilty immediately. No lawyer in his right mind would let those women take the stand – they just might re-introduce the death penalty having heard their testimony. The best they could hope for was to throw themselves on the mercy of the court – and there would be precious little of that coming their way once all of this came out. The press would not receive all the details and in particular who the victims were – but they would get many of the details. Their anonymity would be respected, but those atrocities would be reported – they sell newspapers and these details were far too juicy to pass up. What they didn’t report as fact they would write in such a way that the public would put their own interpretation on it. They may come close to the truth – but much was never reported or even imagined. While the evidence itself may not be presented in court – the judge would in fact read it all.

Theoretically they are cool and dispassionate people who merely administer the law- theoretically that is. They too are human beings and reading all of this would no doubt color their judgment when it came to sentencing – minimums would be off the table, as would early parole. Some of these people would be spending the rest of their lives locked up in prison and never be free again. This of course would serve them right. They had acted like wild predatory animals that were a danger to society – now they would be caged up and treated like them.

The preliminary court hearing went as predicted – they all changed their pleas to guilty. The judge then set a date for their sentencing some time in the future. He then pointed out that should any of the victims wish to attend they would be more than welcome, but their attendance was not mandatory. At best it might give them some closure – but they would be well advised to put this unfortunate experience behind them and move on with their lives. Most of them were more than prepared to do just that. It may require professional help in order to accomplish that – but they were determined to do it. These creeps were not going to win and they would get their lives back or die trying. They all felt the same way.

***

Once the two women had their own clothes returned to them the two guys got to see a whole new side to Gwen and Maureen. They were no longer mud spattered and unkempt and rambling through the undergrowth of the forest in anything but a ladylike fashion. They were more girlie and feminine now, fully made up and totally beautiful. It was a real transformation and one that Paul and Andre duly appreciated – and also voiced. This pleased both Gwen and Maureen to no end. They had wanted to look good for Andre and Paul and now they had seen their reaction – and that just delighted them. Words are just words. They are nice to hear, but often they are simply pro-forma and insincere. Physical reactions on the other hand can say far more than words, especially spontaneous ones. When the two women saw the look on the men’s faces, further reassurance was unnecessary. They were now theirs beyond a doubt and they both knew it. Crazy as it seemed, it was still only a few days in after all; and yet they just knew. It was an intrinsic feeling they both shared and it went way beyond hero worship. They just sensed it and they were quite right. The men felt the same way. In essence they all thought they just might have a future together with each other. They had no idea just how meaningful a future that would be for all of them and how many others they would help along the way. However, for now they were just living one day at a time and enjoying each other. They grew to learn more and more about each other every day – and the more they learned the more they liked. It just seemed so much more than personal magnetism and sharing a common experience – they just blended in with each other. Each one had something to offer the other despite it being unspoken; it was just instinctive and much appreciated by the other. Their romance now blossomed because of it and its intensity was now one of magma like heat and passion. Maureen’s shyness was a thing of the past now. Her modesty had now returned; well apart from in the bedroom that is. She was back to being Maureen McLeod again and learning how to put the past behind her. She had found a man to love and he was crazy about her too. She had never felt like this before. The passion was there, but it was so much more than that. This big powerful man had this gentleness about him and magical fingers to go with it too. When he caressed her body she became totally electrified, and that could be from him just simply rubbing her arms. Needless to say when he did become amorous Maureen’s responses were duly intensified and produced volcanic results. Compatibility in that department was never in doubt right from the outset. The rabbits in the forest could attest to that.

***

When they left thunder Bay they headed down to Toronto. It was the largest city in Canada and it had just about everything for the tourist. It was in close proximity to Niagara Falls, The U.S, border, and it had a multitude of tourist sites that could be taken in – and of course the famous CN Tower. After what they had been through they all felt that a brief holiday was in order – very few people would argue with that.

“Maureen, have you ever seen Niagara Falls?” Paul asked.

“No I haven’t, have you?”

“No I haven’t seen them either, well apart from in pictures or at the movies. Would like to go and see them for real, it’s only an hour or so away?”

“Oh Yes, I’d love to go, Paul”

“Andre, how about you, have you seen the Falls before?”

“Nope, I haven’t, but if you guys are going why don’t we all go? Are you up for this Gwen? I know you have been before.”

“Oh I’ve been a few times, but there are still things I have yet to do there, so yes I’m in.”

“I have always wanted to go on the “Maid of the Mist” that would be fun” said Maureen.

“It is fun” said Gwen, “but you’d best take your shoes off, they’ll get soaking wet. The rest of you will remain dry as they do give you raincoats. You can always wear sandals or cheap shoes you don’t care about, that’s what I usually do. It sure is a lot of fun though and the sound of all that water falling down just adds to the whole thing. They even have caves behind the falls that you can walk through too.”

“Really! I didn’t know that” said Paul, “me neither” added Andre.

“You buy your tickets up top and then you go down by elevator. There are lots of things to do there; there is even a Butterfly Conservatory nearby too. When you walk in the butterflies are flying all around you and some even land on you and they have beautiful colors to them too.”

“Oh I’d just love that” said Maureen, “that would be lovely. We would need a map though wouldn’t we?”

“Yes, but we can pick one up in the lobby downstairs” said Andre. “They have a whole rack of tourist brochures down there.”

“Well let’s get the car rental organized first and then we can figure out where we are going and in what order” said Paul.

It was an absolutely beautiful day outside so they all decided to go across to Center Island by ferry. This is just off the coastline on Lake Ontario right across from the city itself. At night one can get really nice pictures of the Toronto skyline from there. The ferry itself only takes a few minutes and that in itself can be quite refreshing if you prefer to be up on deck rather than in the cabin section. The island is an ideal picnic spot, has a few beaches (One of them Nudist) an amusement park, and a bicycle rental facility. This in fact is what they decided to do in the end. They all rented bikes and set off to explore the island, the quaint little homes, the marina area and all the boats that were moored there. It was all casual and they stopped at one of the many Hot Dog stands for lunch. They just strolled around the grounds taking in all the sights and the beautiful flower arrangements in the gardens. They were walking along with their arms wrapped around each other’s waist oblivious to the world around them. To the casual observer it would appear that they didn’t have a care in the world – and nothing could be further from the truth. However, having said that, these four people were beneficial for each other. Their minds were now focused on the other person’s needs rather than their own issues. The romantic element was in full swing and bringing out the very best in all of them. They were all loving and caring people to begin with – but now they were head over heels in love it added a whole dimension to the equation. When they left the island they had dinner in a downtown restaurant that evening and then walked around the stores for a while before returning to their hotel. Tomorrow they would head off to Niagara Falls and they were all looking forward to that.

When they arrived back at their hotel the front desk manager told Paul that he had a message for him.

“Mr. Machin, I have a message for you. It’s from the police up in Thunder Bay.”

“Thank you” replied Paul.

He had no idea what it would be about and he was rather curious to find out. It was from Inspector Evans asking him to call him back when he had a minute. It wasn’t urgent he had said, but it just might be something Paul may wish to follow up on. Paul was really intrigued now and immediately called the inspector back.

“Thunder Bay Police may I help you?”

“Yes, this is Paul Machin returning Insp. Evans call.”

“One moment please Mr. Machin, I’ll put you through.”

“Inspector Evans” came back the response.

“Inspector its Paul Machin, you left me a message.”

“Thank you for calling back Paul, yes I most certainly did. I received a call today from a leading industrialist – Tony Braxton of Braxton Electronics. He had heard of the exploits of your group and he wants to get in touch with you. Their head office is in Markton just north of Toronto and he has an idea he wishes to bounce off you. Braxton’s charity division apparently runs a women’s shelter in the area, well several apparently and they wish to establish one for men. It is this idea that he wishes to discuss with you and Andre. He didn’t go into details, Paul, but this man is one who gets things done and he is very well connected. He gave me his private number for you to call him and asked that you treat it confidentially. I assured him that you would. I have no idea about your future plans Paul – but if I were you, I’d give Mr. Braxton a call. Having him as a friend can open a lot of doors. Anyway, I have delivered the message as promised, what you do about it is your business – good luck to you Paul – and also your friends.”

“Thanks Inspector, I’ll call him tomorrow morning, and thanks again for everything, Bye.”

***

“Mr. Braxton you don’t know me but Inspector Evans of the Thunder Bay police told me that you wanted to speak to me, my name is Paul Machin.”

“Yes Mr. Machin I do, thank you for returning my call. I realize that this is coming right out of left field for you, but I need to talk to you with regard to your recent experiences. I wish to start up a facility to help victims of severe stress. PTSD and other related issues, but in this case it will be primarily for men. It is my belief that you will be ideally qualified to run such a facility. You do not need to say anything today; I just want to give you the broad strokes first so that you can think about it. That is of course if you are even prepared to think about it?”

“Yes Sir, I will certainly think about it – but I must point out that I have my own issues that I am dealing with.”

“I am aware of that Mr. Machin, but I appreciate you candor in pointing that out – that goes to your integrity and simply confirms my opinion that you are the man for the job.”

“Well thank you for that, Sir, but I just wanted to make sure that you knew who I was and what flaws I may have.”

“Oh trust me, Paul, may I call you Paul?”

“Yes of course Sir.”

“Then in that case please call me Tony. I am quite thorough in my research, Paul, and everybody I have talked to said the same things about you. Yes they pointed out that you have PTSD and that you are wrestling with it still. In my experience people who have actually been there are of far more help to others suffering from the same illness than those who have not. Book learning takes you only so far, Paul. Living it gives a whole new dimension to it all. Some things cannot be described, only felt – having been there you’ll fully understand that. I firmly believe that you will be able to be of significant help to others, just by being who you are. The facility I envisage will also have professionals to help out – people similar to those who have reached out to you in the past. You too could talk to them and confide in them as and when necessary. However, you can offer to these people something nobody else can – actual first-hand knowledge. Patients often cannot articulate just how they feel and thus become frustrated – you will just know. The feedback you will then impart to them will be priceless. This is what I have in mind, Paul. I know I have laid a lot on you with all of this, but I would like to meet you in person to discuss it in more detail. For now I just want you to consider what I have said and then, if you wish to learn a little more, then call me back. We can then make arrangements to meet, how does that sound to you?”

“That sounds perfect Tony. It’s a lot to take in and I’d like to include Maureen in this decision.”

“I’m glad that you brought that up Paul. If Maureen is interested I have a lady who would just love to meet her. She runs the Women’s Shelter and Maureen would be a tremendous asset, however, one thing at time. Think about it for a day or so and then call me back the let me know what you decide. Incidentally I would like to include Mr. La Chance and Mrs. Holt too if they might be interested. Perhaps you could mention it to them and then get back to me later with your feelings on the matter?”

“Thanks Tony, I will do, I promise. Just give me a little time to ponder on all of this and to figure out if I can handle it, I wouldn’t want to let you down.”

“That comment right there, tells me all I need to know, Paul. You won’t let me down or anyone else if you can help it – that’s why you are the man for the job. I have enjoyed talking to you Paul. I’ll look forward to hearing from you in a few days.”

With that the phone call ended and Paul now had quite a lot to share with the others about what had been discussed. His head was spinning and he was rather excited about where this might lead. Having Tony Braxton seek you out for a position was something in itself considering just who he was. In addition he did enjoy working with people and if he could help them he would – so this new position would certainly appeal to him. The question being – was he up to it? Tony Braxton certainly believed so. Paul himself was a little less certain; at least he was until Maureen straightened him out. However, first things first, they had a trip to Niagara Falls to look forward to and that was job one for today. Meaningful discussions on future business opportunities would have to wait –today was all about fun and enjoyment and maybe a little romance could be fitted in too. There was no maybe about that as far as Paul was concerned and strangely enough Maureen and the others were also on the same page. All in all that would be a fun day all around.

***

That morning they were up bright and early, inhaled their breakfasts and headed off to Niagara Falls. There was a lot to accomplish on this trip and time was of the essence here. On the drive down they were still discussing Tony’s offer and vacillating back and forth as to whether to accept it or not. They would certainly meet him to learn more – but could they do the job? When they arrived in Niagara on the Lake and headed to the Butterfly Conservatory they had still not reached a consensus – but they dropped the topic until they would meet with Tony to learn more.

When they walked through the double doors the two women were totally enthralled. The first thing that hit you was the heat, but then you were surrounded by a multitude of colorful butterflies of various sizes, some of whom landed on you. It was truly beautiful in there and the lush greenery was so vibrant as were the exotic flowers – far different from the forest of a few days ago. Both women were oohing and aahing as different butterflies would land on them and then fly away again.

“Oh Paul, aren’t they just gorgeous?” exclaimed Maureen.

“Yes they are pretty cool” he replied.

“I have never seen so many beautifully colored butterflies before,” said Gwen.

“Neither have I” said Andre.

They walked around taking all of this in with their arms around each other. It was like a tropical paradise, or what they imagined one would be like. The heat and humidity made them feel like they were in some tropical jungle somewhere in the orient. Each of them was living in their own dream with a Tarzan and Jane like theme to it. Such a setting was ideal for these new found lovers and they were totally enrapt by it all. It was relaxing, therapeutic and it most certainly took their minds off their other problems – allowing them to nestle in each other’s warmth and love.

When they left the conservatory they went to the Falls itself which was only a few miles away. Once they parked the car they could walk to everywhere, well almost everywhere. Marineland was beyond their walking distance, but they may not be able to fit that in today depending on the time frames involved. They would if they could, but time would determine that. Right now they were headed to the Maid of the Mist ticket booth. This was one ride they were all looking forward to. When they were in the lineup waiting to get on board they realized just how international this attraction was. They lost count of the number of languages being spoken around them. The people all had either cameras or cell phones and were using them to their fullest. Once they were on board the Maid of the Mist the spray would limit the quality of the pictures. As they would near the Falls and that cascading deluge it would turn into one giant cuddle fest for these two couples. The two men would hold their women tightly and the two women would snuggle closer to the men as the spray drenched them all. The roar of the water and its awesome power was totally awe inspiring as they leaned over the rails to take it all in. The little boats would get up quite close, stay for a while and then turn and be whisked back to the dock by the fast flowing current. It was an experience they all enjoyed. Although they were soaking wet, their faces dripping from the spray, they could still see the love in each other’s eyes as they snuggled closer together. There was a certain magic in this and the rainbow that the mist created. Romance was certainly in the air – even if it was a little on the damp side. Maureen and Gwen couldn’t care less how damp it was. This fairy tale was real, they had now captivated their men and been transported on this mystical ride with them surrounded by the majesty and the deafening roar of Niagara Falls. This to them was a dream come true as they sailed into that rainbow the mist had created – they were no longer looking for the pot of gold though –they had already found it.

Having walked around the adjacent gardens and relaxed on a bench for a while, they decided to go and explore the Falls from even closer this time – by going through the caves right behind them. It didn’t quite have the same romantic pull as on the boat – but it was still an awesome experience and an amazing sight to see.

They had then wandered around the top of the falls after exploring the caves, visited the gift shops and also walked up into the town and ridden on some of the amusements. They even played a round of mini-golf, which Maureen won by one stroke. It had been a rather action packed and fun filled day, but now they were getting tired and also hungry. It was around 7:00p m now and definitely time to eat. They headed back to one of the restaurants overlooking the falls and ordered dinner. There was a spectacular light display every night aimed at the falls and they would now all have a ringside seat to that as they ate their dinner and relaxed with a few drinks. In terms of romantic dates; today would be right up there with the best. Both women had enjoyed this date and they were really happy now and contented. They had found their real life Unicorns now and they were very attentive, considerate and gentle ones too – it just didn’t get any better than that. On the drive back home, both women fell asleep leaning on each other as Paul drove them back to their hotel. That would indeed be a day to remember – and that night wouldn’t be forgotten too quickly either – by any of them.

Chapter Eight

***

“Tony its Paul Machin. I have thought over what you said and discussed it with Andre and with Gwen and Maureen too and we are eager to learn more.”

“Excellent Paul, I’m pleased to hear that. It is all in the early stages right now and your collective input will be invaluable. I’m rather tied up for the remainder of the week, but I could see you all on Monday morning at, say 9:00am, if that works for you guys?”

“Oh that will be fine, Tony, we don’t’ have a hectic timetable these days.”

Tony just laughed out loud at that.

“No I can well imagine that, Paul. Perhaps after our meeting that might change a little, at least I am hoping so. I am all fired up about this project, it is most worthwhile and desperately needed and you guys will be the people who can really make a difference. Anyway we shall discuss all of that on Monday morning, Paul. I’ll look forward to seeing you all then, have a nice weekend.”

“You too Tony, we’ll see you on Monday, Bye!

Later that day they decided to take in a Baseball Game. The Toronto Blue Jays were hosting the New York Yankees. Neither of the women had attended a baseball game in the past so this would be a new experience for them. The Roger’s Center (formerly Skydome) housed about fifty thousand people or so and it also had a retractable roof. Games could be played in there come rain or shine. The atmosphere itself was electrifying and they had this huge Jumbotron screen that added to the attraction with all kinds of extra material and playbacks and biographies and stats of players. The only problem was the seats they had were in the so called “Nosebleed Section” as it was known. It was a sellout crowd that day and they were the only tickets that Andre could get. There was one advantage though – they would not be subjected to bird droppings from the seagulls. They were flying around the stadium at a lower altitude and they were now looking down on them this time.

The following day was a Friday and they decided to take a jaunt out to St. Jacob’s, which was the home of the local Amish people. It was only an hour’s drive West of Toronto –but a worthwhile place to visit. The craftsmanship in their work was old school, something one seldom sees today. The items on sale reflected that and the quality was absolutely superb. The quilts that those women made were simply exquisite – and very reasonably priced considering the amount of work that went into them. When they had their lunch in a local café, the desserts were made by the local Amish women. They were simply out of this world in terms of taste. The fruits were fresh and the cream was too and the pastry just melted in your mouth. The farmers market across the road sold all of these items in their raw state – and they were selling like hot cakes too. Maureen and Gwen made a mental note to come back here one day if they were going to be staying around in the future. Nothing had yet been agreed upon and even their personal relationships had not been firmly established as yet, but they were still envisioning this in the future. That told both of them exactly where their hearts were at – not that they needed to be reminded. They too were looking forward to Monday morning and meeting with Mr. Braxton. He was a billionaire industrialist and they had never met one of them before – and he wanted to meet with them. This was huge and they were rather nervous about it all. It was the men that he really wanted to see, but he had said that they too might be valuable in the women’s shelter. They both knew that they would need to find a job if the two men were going to stay here – but they had limited credentials for big city life. Neither woman had a degree – but then neither did Andre and Paul. That cheered them up somewhat. If Mr. Braxton was keen on the two men and they didn’t have degrees, then maybe he might find something for us too they thought.

***

The Braxton parking lot was full, but the visitors section still had several spots vacant and Paul drove into one of them. They then got out of the car and entered the main building. As they expected it was quite palatial, mahogany furniture and leather cushions to match. The coffee table in the seating area had the latest newspapers neatly folded on top together with a book on the history of Braxton Electronics.

“Good morning Sir, said the receptionist, may I help you?”

“Yes, we have a 9:00am appointment with Mr. Braxton.”

“Just one moment please” she said as she picked up her phone and called upstairs. Mr. Braxton’s assistant will be right down, Sir, to take you up to his suite, please have a seat.”

They had only just sat down when a very smartly dressed young woman came down the staircase and came straight towards them. Her clothes were obviously high end and so were her shoes, but her manner did in no way reflect that.

“Good morning, my name is Rachelle and I am Mr. Braxton’s personal assistant.”

She was very warm and personable and very genuine. She had a casual charm that came naturally to her, but one could tell instantly that she was as efficient as she was well dressed.

“Could you please tell me your names so I may have name tags made up for you – security you know?”

They were then escorted up to Tony’s office and Rachelle then introduced them all to him. He was far younger than they thought he would be. He was a billionaire industrialist and yet he was only in his thirties – or else he had some brilliant plastic surgeons on staff somewhere. His manner when addressing them was far friendlier than they had expected. There was no pomposity or airs of superiority about him at all. He was straight forward and very much down to earth.

“I am delighted that you all could make it here today. Right from the start, let me say how sorry I was to learn about your unfortunate experience” he said addressing the two ladies. “I can’t begin to imagine how terrifying that must have been for you, I am so sorry. That said, it is because of that experience you are here ladies. As I mentioned to Paul on the phone I have been contemplating opening up a facility here in Markton similar to the one we have for the women, but this one will be for men. However, having said that; I would like to tap into your recent experience in the hope that you could be of help to other women. I certainly hope they will not have had to endure what you went through, but your experience could help them in coping with their particular difficulties. The Women’s Shelter deals primarily with battered women and who better to understand their plight than you two ladies. I took the liberty of inviting the lady who established that shelter and who now runs it to come over here this morning. If you are agreeable I would like to introduce her to you. She could then explain far better than I just what they do over there and how you could help them if you chose to do that. This is entirely your choice ladies and you are under no obligation to participate whatsoever. I am the one being selfish here – I am using you two ladies to assist in my programs at the shelter. You can politely decline and I assure you that there will be no hard feelings or pressure brought to bear in order to change you minds. I do however hope you will at least listen to Mrs. Malcolm before you make your decision. She was once a nurse serving in Somalia and she too knows all about pain and suffering, that’s why she founded this place. May I bring her in and introduce her to you both.”

“Of course, Mr. Braxton that would be just fine” responded Maureen.

“It’s Tony to you, Maureen, not Mr. Braxton.”

“Thank you, Tony; we would like to meet Mrs. Malcolm.”

“Rachelle, would ask Mrs. Malcolm to come in please?” he said into the intercom.

“I don’t think she has arrived here yet, Sir.”

“Okay, then show her straight in when she does would you please?”

“Yes Sir I’ll do that.”

“Right then gentlemen let me outline what I have in mind for you – assuming I can twist your arms into coming to work for me on this project” he said laughing.

He then went on to outline to program, the professionals who were already on board and the type of facility he envisioned. In fact he had a place in mind. It was a little run down right now, but with a little TLC it could be turned into something worthwhile. As he saw it, it just might be therapeutic for the residents to participate in that restoration themselves. Apparently the psychologists agreed. There was a certain team building element to it, socializing with others and personal accomplishment all rolled into one.

Andre and Paul were both transfixed listening to all of this. Tony was definitely enthusiastic and really into this and considerable though had been put into it. As they were listening and taking in every detail they could very well see themselves right there in the middle of it all. The more Tony outlined the more interested they became. Tony’s magnetic personality and personal charisma had also played a part, but it was the idea itself that captivated them. Neither of the men were certified tradesmen, but they were pretty good DIY guys and they could wield a hammer and nails with the best. They had to be pretty handy where they came from as they could ill afford skilled tradesmen to do menial jobs – so they learned themselves – often the hard way, but then “that’s life, right?”

“Now let me explain about this property. It stands in its own grounds and is quite large. It also has a gatekeeper’s house and also a carriage house above which is an apartment for the chauffeur. That however was some time ago now. I have had both of those renovated and they are now in move in condition – quite tiny perhaps by modern day standards, but livable all the same. Should you decide to accept my proposal these accommodations come with the package. The main building does need some work and we shall also be building an additional wing to provide residential capabilities for those who may need it. The idea being we wish to make the place a safe haven for those people – without it seeming like an institution. A nurse will be on hand 24/7, but no other medical staff will be there after business hours. You two gentlemen will be on the grounds and should the need arise the nurse could call upon you to render assistance. Is this something you might like to take on?”

“Well based on what I’ve heard so far I’m in” said Paul.

“Me too” said Andre.

“I would like to hear a little more about the professional help that will be available, said Paul. “You know: what form it will take, the treatment programs etc. if they exist, and things like that?”

“Well I assume it will be similar to what you have had – but that is up to the psychologists and psychiatrists and how they see things. I’m not qualified to offer any kind of opinion on that. You guys on the other hand are. You have been there, experienced these traumas, lived with the aftermath and can understand their pain. The rest of us can merely try to imagine it – you have lived it and that gives you an edge when it comes to helping these people.”

“Well I’m not a therapist by any stretch Tony.”

“No you are far more than that Paul – you just don’t realize it yet.”

“When you were in therapy, now think back here. Did you honestly feel that they actually understood you and how you were feeling? They were well meaning and dedicated true enough – but did you feel that they fully understood you?”

“Well no not really, how could they, there weren’t there.”

“Precisely, they hadn’t been through such an experience so naturally they wouldn’t fully comprehend your pain. They would know you were in pain and they knew why – but living it is not quite the same thing. Having been there, Paul, you will instinctively know how they feel and they will sense that in you. No professional can offer that, no matter how well meaning they are. When you tell a patient something they will listen – this is the voice of experience talking, not some quack. This guy has been there, he knows how I feel. Therefore if he says it then I can truly believe it – he won’t BS me. That is what you will be giving to them, Paul – yourself. I told you earlier that you were a man of integrity and that I believed you were the man for the job. I have only known for a matter of minutes – and I am more convinced than ever that you are the man for the job. More importantly these people will sense that in you too. When they see that you trust what the professionals are saying – so will they. You will then be in a position to explain to the professionals what they may not be able to for one reason or another. Everybody wins here Paul and especially the guys we are trying to help. The big question being: have I convinced you to sign on with me to set all this in motion?”

“Yes, Tony I am totally on board. I may require a little guidance along the way though”

“Of course you will and you too Andre, assuming you are on board too.”

“Oh Yeah, I’m on board too, this sounds like a worthwhile venture to me and I’d like to be a part of it.”

“Mrs. Malcolm has just arrived Sir” announced Rachelle over the intercom.

“Show her in please, Rachelle.

***

 

As Rachelle brought Mrs. Malcolm into the room Tony got up from behind his desk to greet her.

“I’m sorry I’m late, Tony, I had a crisis to deal with” she said as she walked forward, her arms outstretched, to embrace him. Tony gave her the hug she was expecting and then introduced her to the others.

“Rachel let me introduce you to the other people here. These are the two women I was telling you about: Mrs. Maureen McLeod and Mrs. Gwen Holt. Next to Mrs. Holt we have Mr. Andre LaChance and at the end is Mr. Paul Machin. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Mrs. Rachel Malcolm. She is the lady who runs the Women’s Shelter I was telling you about.”

“Good morning to you all and once again I’m sorry for being a little late.”

“Rachel, what I had in mind was for you to have a chat with the ladies and explain what your operation is all about and how you could use them in it if they are agreeable. Does that sound reasonable to you?”

“Yes Tony that would be fine. On the other hand I could actually take them over there and show them first hand – assuming that the ladies have the time.”

“Do you have the time ladies?” asked Tony.

“Oh yes, that we certainly do” replied, Maureen, for both of them.

“Then that seems to settle that” said Tony. “In that case I should take you guys and show you the facility I have set up and the housing that goes with it. This will then give you an idea of what I have in mind and where you will fit in should you choose to join us. Rachel, perhaps you could bring the ladies over later once you have shown them your workplace. In fact why don’t we all go for lunch? We can discuss the matter further then, it’s always easier on a full stomach. You are all free for lunch I take it?”

“We certainly are” said Gwen.

“I am too Tony, said Rachel, but are you?”

“Good point, Rachel, let me check.”

“Rachelle, I am free for lunch today am I not?” he said into the intercom.

“Yes Sir, you have nothing until 3:00pm”

“Thank you, Rachelle; you can have an extended lunch too.”

“Thank you, Sir; she replied I do have some shopping to do.”

Rachel Malcolm then took both women to visit the Women’s Shelter and showed them around. She would also show them the other facilities which comprised of a quadraplex and a house with classroom facilities in the basement. The classrooms were used to teach women useful office skills to enable them to become employable and the other rooms were to house them and keep them safe.

“How many people can you house?” asked Gwen.

“Well comfortably we can manage around 12, but at a pinch we can go up to say 16 in an emergency – but not for long as that is overcrowded. However, as you appreciate, they don’t care about that as long as they are safe.”

“These rooms are lovely” they must really feel at home in here” said Gwen.

“Yes they do, but their time is limited to six weeks at the most due to the demand” pointed out Rachel. “They help out in the decorating and doing the household chores too, so that keeps them occupied and busy as well as it being therapeutic. The classrooms are used to teach them office skills, but they can be used for teaching crafts too; sewing, knitting, crocheting and things like that. We try to give the women a skill they can be proud of. If it can uplift their spirits and their self-worth then we are all for it. This is what these women need most and we try to provide it here.”

As they were sitting there discussing the issue another lady suddenly appeared.

“Oh I’m sorry, Rachel I didn’t know you had somebody with you” she said as she turned around to leave.

“No don’t go Debbie, it’s alright. I’d like you to meet them, come on in for a minute please. Ladies this is Debbie Curtis; Debbie this is Maureen McLeod and Gwen Holt. I am trying to persuade them to join us.”

“I am delighted to meet you both” said Debbie.

“They are two of the women involved in that forest incident, Debbie, and their experience will be invaluable here don’t you think?”

“Oh my god, I am so sorry, that must have been a nightmare, I can’t even begin to imagine it – and I thought I’d had a rough time.”

“Debbie was a client of ours before she joined us as one of our volunteers.”

“Yes I was and I haven’t looked back since and I certainly hope you will join us. If anyone can understand terror and humiliation you two can having lived through that and survived. Please come on board, we need women like you we really do.”

“Before you ask, I didn’t know that Debbie was going to drop in and I certainly didn’t pay her to make that plea” she joked. However, every word was true and I do hope you will join us. You don’t have to give me your answer today – but we want you here with us.”

“I certainly do said Debbie, the shelter helped me and now I am trying to give some of that help back – but you two can give so much more and be of tremendous help.”

“Do you get many battered women coming here” asked Maureen.

“Way too many, that’s for sure” replied Debbie.

“Yes we do” Rachel added, but they aren’t the only ones. Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes and so do the actions that cause them. When a woman feels afraid of something they can and do come here and we endeavor to help them. Sometimes we can, but at others we cannot and have to refer them elsewhere.”

“Can you give us an example of some of the other issues that you deal with,” queried Gwen.

“Well last week we had: Incest, Bullying, Blackmail and Rape. The week before we saw cases of; depression, suicidal ideation, low self-esteem enforced slavery, and non-sexual domestic abuse.”

“Wow you do cover a wide range here don’t you, Maureen said.”

“Pain comes in many forms, ladies, but I need hardly tell you that. That is why we need your knowledge and experience here. You will be able to understand them better than anyone who had not undergone such an experience. Based on what you ladies endured in that forest you have been through it all from A to Z in terms of humiliation, loss of self-esteem and total shame. The women we get here could indeed benefit from your knowledge and helpful advice in order to overcome these issues. Most of our volunteers are former clients, isn’t that right. Debbie? Mrs. Miller herself was once a client as I believe I mentioned.”

“Oh there I go again, I keep forgetting that you and Dave are now married and your name is now Curtis.”

“I do too at times,” said Debbie. I never thought anyone would ever want me and my baggage. I had a teenage daughter – but you were right and then I found Dave.”

“You see, ladies, this is what we do here. We re-establish their self-worth and send them off to lead their lives totally renewed. As I understand it you two and Andre and Paul are sort of an item, am I right?”

Gwen and Maureen just looked at each other dumbstruck. How could she know that?

“Tony is very thorough in his research, he likes what he saw in all of you, hence you being here. He is a very kind and giving man and he loves to help others less fortunate than himself – and that covers a lot of ground as you can well imagine. When it comes to understanding the pain and suffering in people’s lives – you guys will be right up there. You won’t be dispensing any platitudes and giving them any BS. You have lived this, you know and that will come across to these women. Then when they see that you ladies have all been renewed and are now living normal lives the encouragement that will give to them will be priceless –right Debbie?”

“It sure worked for me, Rachel and from what I have seen since it has for many others too.”

“Anyway ladies give it some thought and now let’s go and join the guys for lunch. You can come along too Debbie, you’ll be more then welcome and Tony would be happy to see you.”

“I’d love to. Rachel but I’m meeting Dave for lunch today, thanks anyway. Enjoy your lunch and it was a pleasure meeting you both, I really do hope you’ll join us, Bye.”

Chapter Nine

***

Tony had taken Andre and Paul on a sightseeing tour of the property and explained his vision to them both, and quite the vision it was too.

“This is where the professionals will have their offices and see their patients; over there will be the recreation room and the pool tables. The TV room will be next door,” he explained. The patient’s rooms will be upstairs, they will be pretty Spartan, but still contain what they need. They won’t have all the comforts of home for a reason – we want them cured and out on their own. If they get too comfortable here they won’t want to leave –why would they? Your office will be in here, Paul and Andre yours will be in the annex when it is completed – until then you guys can share.

Both guys could see the potential here and they were totally enthralled with the idea behind it all. It was off the beaten track true enough, but not all that far off. It was peaceful enough there, but one could still hear the distant sounds of traffic if the wind was blowing in the right direction. The house itself could not be seen from the road itself as it was surrounded by trees and a solid brick wall. The rear of the property backed on to a local farmer’s field and this too was fenced. On either side of the main house was where the future buildings were to be placed in order to accommodate more people. It was quite the undertaking, but then Tony was a billionaire and had the means to accomplish all of this. It had certainly impressed Paul and Andre. They were then taken around to the coach house apartment and the gate house. Tony was right, they were small, but they were cozy too. They had been newly renovated and they were spotlessly clean and came with all the appliances, both were also air conditioned too. They décor itself was neutral –builders beige in fact. However, with a little imagination together with a woman’s touch, these places could be made quite livable. In addition they were rent free and that was huge in itself. As yet no discussions regarding salaries had taken place – or even if they were to be paid at all for that matter. However, they assumed that some sort of compensation would be involved and the details could wait until later. Having seen everything both men were totally sold on it. They only question being were the two women equally keen? Then there was the question of whether they would be willing to move into the accommodations with them. It was hoped so – but such assumptions couldn’t be made and they both knew it.

“So guys, now that you have seen the proposed establishment, how do you feel about it. Are you on board?”

“Well I certainly am said Paul, but it will depend on Maureen’s approval in the end I guess. I think she will go for it, even if she doesn’t accept a position in the women’s shelter. I’d like to show her the house first though to see how she feels about it all. We haven’t known each other all that long and this is a huge step for both of us.”

“Oh indeed it is Paul and I will certainly not be rushing you. Yes, as a couple you are ideal together from what I have seen – but one has to be realistic, you have only known each other for a few weeks. Having said that, the day I met my wife Cathy I knew right away she was the woman for me. She was and I haven’t looked back since. After lunch, why don’t you take Maureen and Gwen back here to show them where they could be living? Oh! And another thing, we have yet to discuss salaries for these positions. We can sit down and negotiate them later once you have decided to accept my proposal. I certainly wouldn’t expect all of you to be putting forward all this effort for free. I think you’ll find my offer to be reasonable – but it is negotiable. I know I am taking a lot for granted here and you could in fact turn me down cold – but I sincerely hope that you don’t.”

“I think we will be joining you, Tony” said Andre – regardless of the pay. It’s the whole idea behind this that attracts us. Yes we are a pair of broken soldiers. We were not ready to be taken out of the toy box to be played with before – that’s why we ran off to the woods.”

“It was the women who sort of nursed us back from the brink” added Paul. “It is for that reason we have to ask them how they feel. We are not indecisive, Tony, but to be honest we need them in our lives, and this is a very big decision.”

Tony just looked at both of them and then purposefully walked over to each of them and shook their hands.

“Gentlemen, you would not be the men I thought you were if you felt differently about it. I fully understand, I really do and I will give you all the time you need to wrap your heads around all of this. Paul you have a house out East right? You’ll need to think about that and whether you’ll want to keep it and rent it out or not or whether to just sell it. Maureen too will no doubt have the same issues to deal with. Likewise Andre, you have an apartment in Montreal and Gwen has one too I believe. All of these logistics have to be dealt with and I am well aware of it. That said, I want you guys, all of you and if you have difficulties disposing of your properties, I will take care of it. I’ll buy the damn places if I have to. That should tell you how much I think of you. On the other hand I’m a fool too, I’ve just tipped my hand –you can hold me to ransom now regarding your salaries.”

“Not a chance in hell of that ever happening, Tony, trust me on that” said Paul. “After what you are doing for us we couldn’t even dream of such a thing. The respect that you have for us is dwarfed by the admiration and respect that we have for you and what you are doing for the likes of us. There are plenty of guys out there with nobody to look out for them or even care about them as they wrestle with their demons – If we can help them we will. How could we not after seeing this idea of yours?”

“Well guys I’m glad you see it that way, I’m quite sure Rachel will have convinced the ladies of how valuable they are too. So show them the new accommodations and convince them to accept. I’m sure they won’t regret it.”

***

When Rachel and the two women arrived Tony suggested that they go to the golf club for lunch. They sat there and chatted away merrily, everyone apparently on the same page. Maureen and Gwen had driven past the gatehouse and the chauffeur’s garage apartment on their way in, but they had not had a chance to see it properly – that would come after lunch. Just like the two men, the women were equally enthralled by what they had seen and they were keen to get involved and help others in need.

“So ladies, Rachel tells me that you like the facilities that we have to help women in need and that you wish to join us, it that right?”

“ Yes it certainly is Mr.Br – er Tony, sorry. We very much wish to become a part of this if --.

Tony interrupted Maureen right there.

“If Paul and Andre are agreeable – right?”

“Well erm Yes, I guess that’s about it.”

“In that case, why don’t you let the two gentlemen here show you the accommodations that come with these positions, once we have finished our lunch? Paul you can drop the keys back at the office later. The guys are on the same page as you ladies in principle – so go and check out the living arrangements and see if it works for you.”

“Sounds like a plan for me” said Gwen.

“Yes, I like that idea, said Maureen, thank you Tony, I really do appreciate that.”

“That’s my pleasure ladies. Rachel can you give me a ride back to my office and then I can let Paul have my car?”

“Absolutely, Tony, that’s no trouble at all.”

“Good we are all settled then. If I am tied up in a meeting, just give the keys to Rachelle.”

Right after lunch they went back to have a closer inspection of the Gate House and Coach House apartment. As Gwen and Andre were living in apartments before they felt the Coach House apartment would suit them as they had less furniture to worry about. Paul and Maureen both had their own houses full of furniture so perhaps they may need a little more room. All of this was on the presumption that they would be moving in with their respective partners. It had not been discussed at all up to this point. They were sleeping together now and they definitely had deep feelings for each other – but this had a more permanent ring to it. They were moving in together and making a home together and possibly co-mingling furniture. This was huge for all of them. It was far more than allowing them closet space in their home or giving them an underwear drawer etc. – and yet they were all taking it for granted. It just seemed so natural to all of them. It was only when they really got down to details that the penny finally dropped. The men were the ones being given the accommodation, so they were secure. The women were moving in with them –but where was their security? Love is wonderful – but it has its limitations and being homeless is not a barrel of laughs. Who was selling what in terms of residences – who was going to rent out their place? These were issues that had to be addressed. The blindness of their love had obscured these things until now. It was now time to face them. They were all well aware of each other’s frailties and they were deeply in love – but was that enough? Well apparently it was. Having looked at the accommodations and taken an even harder look at themselves they were prepared to go ahead. The thought of living without the other was simply unthinkable for all of them. They knew the risks and they were aware they had only known each other for a short while – but the thought of being without the other terrified them all. Love it seems does conquer all – it certainly had in this case.

***

That night after dinner they each went to their respective rooms – they had a lot to talk about.

“Paul, are you really sure that you want me to move in with you, this is a big move.”

“Of course I’m sure, Maureen. I have given this matter quite a lot of thought in fact. Oh I know only too well that we have only just met, but I just feel we were meant for each other. Yes it sounds crazy, but it’s just how I feel. I was kind of hoping that you felt the same way. I know I have my demons, but I think I’m improving and maybe in time you might learn to overcome that issue. You have made me feel better than I have in a very long time and I really care about you. There’s just something about you Maureen and I just don’t want to lose you.”

“Are you quite sure about that Paul? I have a lot of my own issues you know. I am not as pure as driven snow anymore – not after that camp. Not many men would be willing to overlook a problem like that, Paul.”

“Perhaps not, Maureen, but that would be their loss. It’s what is in your heart that counts, Honey. Not too many women would fancy a guy who kills a baby and its mother regardless of the circumstances. I am still haunted by that and wake up screaming occasionally. How many women would want to take that on – yet it didn’t faze you at all. You could see that the man who did that was not the man you met in that canteen. The woman I met there is not the one standing in front of me now. As we go through life we all have to face unsavory and often terrifying circumstances that are not of our choosing. What happened to you would have destroyed a lesser woman. In your case it made you stronger. Your physical beauty pales beside the woman inside and the love that resides in her heart. This is the woman I know, how you became that woman is merely history – it’s the future that counts, Honey, not the past. You can’t live your life through the rear view mirror.”

Maureen suddenly jumped out of the chair, flung her arms around Paul’s neck and kissed him.

“You make me feel so special Paul, that’s why I fell in love with you. I really do love you. I just needed you to tell me that you loved me back and you just did. You have shown me that you care in so many other ways – I just needed to hear you say it.”

“Well I didn’t say those actual words, Maureen – so let me correct that right now. I love you Maureen McLeod – is that clear enough for you?”

“Oh yes, Paul that is perfectly clear, and a little later on I’ll show you just how much I appreciate you saying that to me.”

“Well they do say that actions speak louder than words, Maureen” he said with a glint in his eye.

“Oh indeed they do, and trust me, I have quite a few actions you haven’t seen yet.”

“Calm down there Princess, we have a lot of things to discuss first. Things like houses and contents etc. I think we need to both go back the Nova Scotia and figure out a few things together. “Oh Yes I think that will be a good idea, but my mind is elsewhere right now. You have no idea how happy you have just made me.”

With that comment she just launched herself at him and the household content discussion was immediately put on hold. The passion that these two shared could have been measured on the Richter scale that night as Paul was shown some of those actions Maureen had mentioned – but only a few of them. A lady never reveals all of her talents at once. Her mystique must be preserved and it should only be doled out in small doses. Paul certainly appreciated them though, even in small doses. There was absolutely no doubt about that and Maureen knew it too.

They would call Tony in the morning and tell him that they needed time to go to Nova Scotia and then when they returned they would take up his offer. Across the hall similar activities had been taking place and they too had been involved in meaningful discussions with regard to relationships and their future together. Apparently they were all on the same page – but the hotel’s foundations had managed to withstand the geological tremors that night as it was still standing the following morning. It was obviously a very soundly constructed building to be able to cope with such stresses and strains. In that respect it resembled the two couples who were responsible for it all. They two were strong and resilient individuals with a solid future ahead of them. The road ahead was no longer dark and it certainly had no land mines embedded in it. They now really did have a future to look forward to.

***

“Tony, its Paul, having had long and meaningful discussions last night we are all on board and will gladly accept your offer. We all need to go back home for a few days first to sort out a few things, but we are all enthusiastic about your plans and vision and we wish to be a part of it.”

“You guys have just made my day, Paul. I was pretty sure that you would accept my offer, but now that you have confirmed that belief I am delighted. How long will you need to handle your affairs back home? I’m not trying to rush you in any way, take all the time that you need, I just need an idea so I can get to start other things prior to your return.”

“Well to be honest I’m not too sure, Tony, but certainly no more than ten days. Can I get back to you on that?

“Absolutely, Paul, I just needed to have some sort of time frame in order to get my professionals advised and the contractors lined up. I have a few candidates in the wings already and they will be our first patients once we are up and running.”

“Maureen and I will return as soon as we can Tony as we really are Gung Ho on this.”

“Are Gwen and Andre of the same mind?”

“Oh indeed they are, Andre will be calling you to let you know their schedule once he has it figured out. That could well be in the next few minutes, Tony – so I’ll free up the line and call you back later, bye for now and thanks again for the job, boss”

“The pleasure is all mine, Paul, I’m sure this venture of ours will be a huge success now that you guys are on board, – enjoy your trip back home, bye.”

No more than five minutes later, Andre called Tony and gave him the news that he and Gwen were also on board. He was going to take Gwen up to Montreal to show her his furniture and decide what to move down to Markton, if anything, and what to dispose of. They would then go down to Gwen’s and do likewise. As they saw it, they would both be earning and as they were living rent free they could soon have the new place just how they wanted it. Both of them were really excited by all of this and saw it as a great opportunity for them both. They would now begin to heal together and put all of their past nightmares and traumas behind them. It wouldn’t happen overnight – but it most certainly would happen now that they had each other to love and be loved by. This would then be beneficial to others as they became aware of just what was possible if they worked at it, both in the Man Cave, as it would be known, and the Women’s Shelter.

***

Maureen and Paul had gone to Paul’s house in Chester first to see what if anything they may wish to take back to Markton or have shipped there. It was a quaint little house, well not so little really, close to the town center and it was in very good shape. Maureen fell in love with the place almost immediately and felt it would be rather a shame to have to part with it. Her home was somewhat smaller and not quite so well furnished as this one was.

“Oh Paul, this is lovely” she said. It’s a shame we can’t just place the whole thing on a truck and take it all back with us.”

“I know, I grew up in this house, there are a lot of memories here for me.”

The words were hardly out of his mouth when a police cruiser pulled up outside and the officer called at the door.

“Oh it’s you Paul” the officer said as he recognized him. I thought you might be a burglar; we have been keeping an eye on the place since you left. You kinda left in a hurry, Paul; you caused quite a stir for a while. I’m glad you are alright – welcome home”

“Well I won’t be staying; Martin,” he said addressing the officer. I have been offered a position in Ontario, in Markton, and I shall be moving there, at least for now.”

“I see, and this young lady is no doubt the reason for it all I assume?”

“Oh I’m sorry Martin. Yes this is Maureen McLeod, my girlfriend. Maureen, this is Martin Clark a longtime friend of mine and now a police officer as you can see. I brought her home to see what if anything we may wish to take back with us. The truth is we seem to want to keep the place as it is – maybe rent it out or something. We are not at all sure what we want to do yet. Renting can be a minefield if you get the wrong kind of tenants.”

“That it can, there’s no doubt about that. However, should you decide to take that route, Paul give me a call. My girlfriend and I are moving in together as soon as we can find a suitable place – and we would take good care of the house for you. Keep us in mind Paul. It’s been nice meeting you Maureen. Take good care of this guy; he’s kinda well liked around here for some unknown reason. See you around, bye for now – and don’t be a stranger, Paul. There are a lot of guys who’d like to see you before you leave and to meet you too ma’am.”

“He seems a very nice man,” Maureen commented.

“Yes Martin is a good guy; he carried me home more times than I care to remember. He kept me overnight in the cells more than once too. We went to school together. If we decide to go the rental route I couldn’t have a better tenant than him. I know he would look after the place – that’s just who he is and his girlfriend Violet is a neat freak too. If he is still going with Violet, that is? – I have been away a while you know.”

“Oh I love this house Paul, you can’t sell it. Perhaps one day you could come back here to live permanently.”

“Well only if you were to come and live here with me – if you have not tired of me by then?”

“Don’t be silly, Paul, of course I’ll come with you, I’ll go anywhere with you, I love you.”

“Yes I know Maureen, I was just teasing you. In fact I was imagining you and I retiring in this house. I could quite easily see that happening – but let’s live a little first eh?” Retirement is a long way off.”

“That’s true, but as long as we are together I’ll be happy and that project in Markton sounds very promising – I think we shall both enjoy that, Paul. It will probably help us as much as it does others – if not more so.”

“Yes, Honey I think you could be right, I am really pumped about that and I know that Andre is too.”

The insurance company’s check had arrived regarding his Mother’s and his Sister’s Life Insurance policies and he was in no apparent hurry to open them. The policies were not for a lot of money, but it would allow him to keep the house and still buy furniture for their place in Markton. With that settled he called his friend Martin and told him that he could rent his house if he still wished to do so. Martin did and the appropriate paperwork was then signed. Maureen and Paul then went to Murdoch’s Cove to see Maureen’s old home. Paul could see that Maureen was upset at the prospect of having to sell the house, but she was prepared to do it. He then persuaded her to rent her place out too. There was no rush to do so, he had more than enough to furnish their new place and this was a huge move. It could be sold just as easily at a later date when things were calmer or even kept on as a rental income property. After all, real estate was always a good investment. It was a sound argument and Maureen accepted it.

***

Gwen and Andre had a rather more difficult time trying to decide what to do as they both lived in apartments. They were both taking a huge leap of faith here and after only a few weeks of knowing each other. What they didn’t ship to Markton would have to be stored –they couldn’t just dispose of it, just in case things didn’t work out. They both realized that they had to be practical here despite their currently undying love for each other. Nobody stands at the altar saying their “I do’s” with unsigned divorce papers in their pockets – and yet many couples do end up on the rocks. Gwen and Andre were fully aware of the risks they were taking, but they took them anyway. Each had a say in what was to be taken and what was to be stored – at least for now. They could both live with that arrangement. With all of that under their belts they headed back to Markton and the new world that awaited them. They would all heal from their wounds over time as they embarked of this new journey. The love that they had for each other was powerful enough to overcome their doubts and apprehensions – but it also allowed them to see that pain in others. It was this that Tony was counting on. They were uniquely qualified to help these people and guide them along the path to restored health and self-confidence. They might have their doubts right now – but Tony would be proven right over time and they would help a lot of people in one way or another. Heading back to Markton was now step one down that road.

Chapter Ten

***

One week later they were all back in Markton and all set up in the Gate House and the Coach House. Paul and Maureen had now bought most of their furniture, whereas Andre and Gwen had moved some of their own in with them. Both places were now quite cozy, but Andre and Gwen’s apartment had a few more familiar items that reminded them of home. In Maureen and Paul’s case it was probably just as well to have new things rather than to be reminded of the loved ones they had lost and having their knick knacks around as a constant reminder. They thought of them every day as it was – further reminders they didn’t need. It was mid-November now and the weather was now cooling down and going for walks up and down the local country roads required warmer clothing now. It was still nice to stroll hand in hand into the sunset and share each other’s dreams. They did that most night’s after dinner, but soon that would come to an end once the snow arrived. The T.V would then become a poor substitute on those dark winter nights – but a much warmer one all the same.

Andre and Paul were kept busy up in the annex getting it ready for the new residents when they arrived. The main house now had a few new residents, but as yet Paul and Andre had not seen them. In fact they would not be seeing them for a few weeks yet, so they were told. They had rather severe burn injuries and they were very self-conscious about being seen in that condition. The professionals were working on that, but it could not be rushed. Once the annex was completed and the local authority had inspected the facility they could then house more people.

Maureen and Gwen meanwhile had spent a lot of time over at the Women’s Shelter and they had learned a great deal. They themselves had been through hell – but they were now learning that Hell came in all shapes and sizes and covered a whole spectrum of painful and agonizing experiences. It was educational to say the least – but they could both empathize with these women. They had both sat down and discussed all manner of topics with these women in addition to the hell that had brought them here. As is often the case, the teacher can learn far more from the student than what they impart to the student at times. As Maureen and Gwen listened to the stories that these women were relating it gave perspective to their own situations.

“God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason” a wise man once said. “That is because your ears are twice as important as your mouth. When you are talking – you are not listening. Only by listening can you determine how another person is feeling. Listening lets that person know that you care – not listening is construed as being dismissive.”

Rachel had voiced those words to Maureen and Gwen on their first day there, and they had soon seen the wisdom behind them. It had never really struck them before, but it certainly did now. They had always bemoaned the fact that men never listened – and they were by no means alone in that, but it never really had an impact. Now it most certainly did. Paul and Andre would find this out for themselves also in the very near future.

The women in the Shelter were there for a reason – whatever that reason was, it would not be pleasant. Many would be ashamed to admit to it, others were just too distraught to even discuss it. A sympathetic ear could be beneficial – providing it didn’t come with a dose of advice and a string of platitudes. Just listening in a non-judgmental way and being there to offer support and perhaps give them a hug, can be far more therapeutic than tranquilizers – it just might heal them faster too. Having someone who understands, without having to be told is indeed beneficial to the healing process. Being accepted and not being considered warped or defective in some way is vital to sound mental health – this is what the Shelter was all about. Maureen and Gwen were now a significant part of that program and were very grateful for the opportunity to participate in it.

***

“Maureen do you have a minute” Rachel called out as Maureen walked passed her office. She then turned back and went in to see what Rachel wanted.

“Maureen this is Kelly Robbins and she is now joining us here. She arrived late last night and I’d like you to show her around if you would please.”

“Certainly I will, that would be my pleasure. I’m pleased to meet you Kelly. I’m kind of new here myself so we’ll make a good pair.”

“Yes, Kelly, Maureen is new here, and like you she too has undergone some considerable trauma in her life. If ever you feel like talking to someone, Maureen is a good listener. It’s just a thought Kelly, but for now let her show you around and how we do things here. I’ll be here all day if you have any more questions, Kelly, and again –Welcome to the Women’s Shelter.”

With that, Maureen took Kelly on a tour of the facility and the gardens surrounding it. There was a tall brick wall around the facility now and that gave the women a sense of security. They were not overlooked by anyone and the property was gated. The only men allowed on the property were tradesmen who were called to repair things, washers, dryers, and other appliances and of course police officers. Maureen did not pry into why Kelly was there. She just took her around and showed her where everything was. Once she had done that they ended up in the kitchen where Maureen made them both a cup of coffee. They chit chatted about many things, Kelly’s kids mostly and how they were doing in school. Kelly then suggested that they go up to her room as she had some photos of the children up there and she could show them to Maureen then. They finished their coffees and went upstairs to Kelly’s room. It was bright and airy, but luxurious it wasn’t. Kelly then pulled her suitcase out from under the bed and laid it flat on top of the bed. Maureen only had a quick glance inside it, but it seemed as if that was everything the woman owned in the world, her photo album being her most prized possession.

“Oh they are so cute” Maureen said, “how old are they now?”

With that simple question the flood gates opened and Maureen was given the whole story then as to what had landed that poor woman in this facility. She had married a Tunisian way back when and they had been blissfully happy. They had two children and they were doing just fine, they lived in a nice neighbourhood, had good neighbors and their children were enrolled in good schools. Then the wheels fell of the bus. Her husband lost his job. He felt it was because he was an Arab and they now considered him a potential terrorist. That simply was not the case; it was just the economic downturn that was forcing companies to downsize. Anyway, he took it the wrong way and became very bitter because of it. He had never been particularly religious previously, but now he began to turn and soon he was very anti- western and pro Islam. With no money coming in Kelly had to find work. Having no particular skills it was hard to find a decent well-paying job. Well apparently her husband had a connection who owned a gentleman’s club and they were in need of a hostess/receptionist. The money was good and the hours were favourable too and Kelly was delighted. She was earning money and they were keeping their heads above water and could now pay their bills. This however was not all that it seemed. Kelly had no idea whatsoever what was really behind all of this. The husband wanted to return to Tunisia and take the kids with him – but he couldn’t, not without Kelly’s permission. He knew very well she would never give that. The only chance he would have was if she were to be declared an unfit mother. So with that in mind he set out, with the help of his friends, to engineer her downfall as a mother. Getting her the job in the gentleman’s club was the start. Now she would be encouraged to progress to the dancing on stage part. Far more money was involved now due to the very generous tips. Kelly didn’t want to do this; she was not that kind of girl. Her husband pressured her to earn more money and suggested that his friend could help her overcome her nervousness - with a little non-addictive pharmaceutical assistance. Kelly was terrified the first time she got up on the stage to perform and she fled in fear before she got started. Omar, the owner, then gave her a little something the following day and Kelly was away to the races. She had no inhibitions that night and guys were shoving all kinds of cash into her G string – her bra was long gone by then. When she recovered she could remember nothing, but she had a pile of cash to show for it. Slowly but surely they turned her into a drug addict and then prostitution followed. She was still at the club doing her act, but now she would screw the patrons too if they asked – and of course be paid so she could feed her raging drug habit. They had set her up big time and one night the police were tipped off and raided the place. She was caught in possession of narcotics, was as high as a kite and was screwing some huge fat slob. All of it captured by video tape - purely by chance of course. Her husband now had grounds to have her declared an unfit mother. He threw her out of the house claiming that he had no idea. He thought she was a receptionist and nothing more. His friend said he felt he couldn’t tell his friend what his wife was now doing to earn a little extra cash. He felt it wasn’t his place and he didn’t wish to throw a grenade into their marriage. Kelly was then charged with a variety of charges and sent to rehab to get clean. Meanwhile, her husband filed to have her declared as unfit and if he won he could take her kids to Tunisia. Kelly was now just fresh out of the rehab center and totally scared to death by the prospect of losing her kids.

Maureen just listened to all of this and had her arm around Kelly’s shoulders the whole time. She didn’t say anything, she just sat there and listened and let Kelly cry it out.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to burden you with my troubles” Kelly said when she regained her composure.

“Why not Kelly? That’s what I am here for. If you can’t tell someone like me who can you tell? I am quite sure Mrs. Malcolm will have people who can help you regarding the court case in fighting to keep you from being declared an unfit mother. She has a lot of connections in this town, Kelly. I’m quite sure she’ll have a few tame lawyers hidden away in the attic somewhere.”

That comment provoked a smile from Kelly.

“Do you think so, really, Maureen?”

“I only came here because I had nowhere else to go, I didn’t know they offered other help as well.”

“Well, trust me Kelly, Rachel has a heart of pure gold and she has similar minded friends too. I have met a few of them and they have a lot of pull in this town. Is Rachel aware of your story or am I the only one that you have told so far?”

“I was too embarrassed to tell her, I’m not even sure why I told you.”

“Well Kelly I’m glad that you did. Now that we know, assuming that you will now tell Rachel, we can set about helping you.”

“Will you come with me when I go to tell Mrs. Malcolm?”

“Yes of course if you want me to, Kelly. We want to help you, that is why we exist; you are by no means alone here, Kelly. There is no judgment here – just assistance for those who may need a helping hand to get their lives back on track.”

Maureen then led Kelly back to Rachel’s office and let her tell her story all over again. Rachel just sat there and listened. At the end of the conversation she simply picked up the phone.

“Is Mary there please?” There was a short pause. “Mary I have a lady here you may wish to speak to. This one is right up your alley and something you’d really enjoy doing.” She listened for a few more minutes and then ended the conversation with – We’ll drop by this afternoon, Mary, around 3:00 pm. Thanks a bunch for fitting us in, Bye.”

“Well Kelly we are in luck, this afternoon you and I are going to see a friend of mine who is one of the sharpest lawyers in town. Her name is Mary Marsh and she is very, very, good. I am quite sure she will take your case, she loves this type of thing.”

“I have no money Mrs. Malcolm; I can’t pay for a top rate lawyer. Few of us can Kelly, but Mary won’t charge you for this one. Like I said she is a friend of mine and also of the Women’s Shelter. When she can, she takes on some of our clients for free – you are one such case. If anyone can help you its Mary, she could even have your husband thrown in Jail if what you claim is true and she can prove it.”

Kelly left Rachel’s office floating on air. A huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She never though for one minute she could fight this case – but with a good lawyer this was now possible.

“Maureen I’m so glad I told you and that you took the time to listen. I feel like I have a chance now after all.”

“Kelly these people have pure hearts, Rachel was once a nun as well as a nurse. If they can help they will – and so will I.”

“You already have Maureen, you already have.”

When Maureen went home that night she knew she was working in the right place. Her own troubles were slowly being pushed further and further to the back of her mind. Being in love and being loved back had bolstered her spirits significantly. However, being of help to the likes of Kelly Robbins really boosted her self-esteem. She no longer thought of herself as excess baggage – she now had a purpose in life and that was huge for Maureen. Paul had seen this in her and he had told her so – but hearing it from Kelly really endorsed it and made her feel valued. Life had a whole new meaning for her now.

***

Paul and Andre were just finishing work for the day and were walking through the hallway of the main building when a man came out of the pool room. He was all bandaged up and when he saw them he didn’t know what to do. His instinct told him to run and hide, but he had nowhere to go.

“Hi there Buddy” said Andre, “just been shooting a few balls around in there on your own eh? I used to do a lot of that in the armed forces when I couldn’t find a mate to play with.”

“Yes and he always lost too” chirped in Paul.

Both men then walked over to the man and introduced themselves. He was heavily bandaged down his left hand side and was wearing one of those E.R. style hospital gowns. He certainly needed the loose fitting aspect as his burns were still sore. Andre and Paul made no comment regarding them.

“Have you been here long?” enquired Andre.

“Only for eight days or so” replied the man whose name was Ralph Collins.

“Well when you feel up to it, give us a call and we’ll come over and have a game with you” said Andre.

“Do you play Euchre by any chance?” asked Paul. “If so we can get a few more people together and have a tournament – that could be worthwhile, if you’d like to that is?”

“Yes I do play and my brother-in-law does too.”

“Is he in here with you?” asked Paul.

“We both came in together, but he was burned more seriously.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. How are you doing right now, are you getting the help that you need?”

“Yes they are very good to us here.”

“That they are, they really are wonderful people. We’ll let you go back to what you were doing or where you were going and we wish you a speedy recovery. Meanwhile, like we said, when you feel up to it give us a call and we can have a game night. It might break the boredom a little and it should be fun too” said Andre. “We are always floating around here somewhere, so you’ll have no trouble finding one of us.”

Both men then walked away still cringing inside thinking of the agony that poor man must be in. They would feel it even more when they learned the reason behind it all.

If anyone needed to have a little fun in their lives right now it was Ralph Collins and his brother-in-law Ken Heath. Both men had been seriously burned trying to rescue their families from Ken’s burning home. The two men had gone into town to celebrate Ralph’s promotion to regional manager. His office colleagues had arranged a little shindig in a downtown hotel to recognize this and to roast him at the same time. Ken had gone along as the designated driver. The evening had gone very well and everyone had really enjoyed themselves. Ralph was duly anaesthetized at the end having imbibed more than a few celebratory cocktails, but Ken was as sober as a judge. They were laughing and joking all the way home – until they pulled onto their street. They saw the flames immediately; the whole of the ground floor was engulfed. Ken phoned 911 immediately and followed Ralph into the burning home. They gave no thought whatsoever to what they were doing – they just did it, but it was simply beyond them. Ken managed to rescue his wife and child and one of Ralph’s children, but they could not get to his other child or his wife and they both perished in that fire. Ralph was now blaming himself for being drunk and unable to rescue his wife and his other child – but there was nothing he could have done even if he were sober. Ken had gone around to the rear, but Ralph had charged straight through the front door. That was where the fire had started they determined later. Ralph ran into a wall of flame and was beaten back by the heat and he collapsed from the smoke. The fire department revived him later, but he had serious third degree burns. His brother-in-law had climbed up on the rear verandah and dragged his unconscious wife and the two kids out. He then went back in for the others and he then too collapsed. The fire department worked on him for several minutes, but they brought him back finally. His burns were even more serious than Ralph’s. Both men were in intense pain, but their emotional pain was crucifying. This fire was deliberately set – but it was a case of mistaken identity. The house next door was a drug lab it turned out. A rival gang had tried to burn it down to put it out of business – they got the wrong house. How does anyone live with that? Ralph was a basket case; he had lost his wife and son to a gangster’s mistake. His daughter survived thanks to Ken – but he felt responsible for it all. Had he not gone to that celebration, had he not gotten so drunk, had he been there at the time etc.? He just couldn’t forgive himself. The Fire Marshal found that gasoline had been poured onto the ground floor through the letter box and side windows and one window at the rear. Had the men not arrived home at that precise time nobody would have survived – and had they been asleep inside themselves – they would all be dead now. Both men were inconsolable over their loss. Right now Ralph’s daughter was being cared for by Ken’s wife and she too was distraught, but coping as best she could. She just had to for the children’s sake. That poor woman was also in agony of her own. Who wouldn’t be after all that? She too was now receiving counselling provided by the Women’s Shelter on an out-patient basis.

When Andre and Paul learned what had happened they just cringed. They knew only too well the kind of pain that Ralph and Ken were facing. The cause was different, but the outcome was the same. The abject sense of helplessness would haunt both men for quite some time. Telling them they were not responsible and they could have done nothing differently that would have affected the outcome would be a waste of breath. This was yet another instance of what Tony had been referring to. Andre and Paul just knew instinctively how these men would be feeling and where their minds would be at – they didn’t need to be told. There was no cure for this – time may dull the pain, but beyond that these two men would have to learn to live with it – just Like Paul and Andre were. Taking their minds off it for a while was a good place to start, playing pool or cards here and there – but this was one long road they had to travel down. However, they would not be alone on that journey, Andre and Paul would see to that.

***

When Maureen came home that night she was full of the joys of Spring. She was really feeling good about herself. It just felt so good to be in a position to help someone and that she had done today. When Paul walked out of the kitchen she just threw herself at him, wrapped her legs around his waist and almost hugged him to death.

“Wow, somebody’s in a good mood today?” he quipped.

“Oh you noticed that did you, Mrs. Machin didn’t raise any idiots did she? I helped a woman today and it made me feel good to be able to do that.”

“Good for you, Honey, I’m so proud of you and happy for you. I would imagine that you’ll be able to help quite a few people in your new role over there. I’d better get myself in shape in that case. If you are going to come home in such a playful mood on a frequent basis then I’d better be prepared. You are in a playful mood are you not Mrs. McLeod?”

“Well now that depends, far be it from me to take advantage of a man after a hard day’s work. I certainly wouldn’t want to tire him out even further with my lustful expectations now would I?”

“Yes I can see why that might pose a problem for you – being a prim and proper East Coast girl an’all.”

With that, Paul gripped her hips tightly and carried her upstairs to their bedroom as she clung on equally tightly to his neck. There was no further dialogue for quite some time as more pressing matters were being addressed. One or two squeals of delight could be heard from time to time as their mattress and its springs was put through their paces – their lustful passion when at full power would test the best of mattresses. However, this was yet to come. Powerful as it was right now, they both had something in reserve. So far they were being pretty conventional – but down the road untold delights awaited them both. The Karma Sutra would be considered a beginner’s manual by comparison to the eroticism and tantric delights their passions would lead to. However, for now there would be no complaints forthcoming either. Each one totally absorbed in pleasing the other – and doing one hell of a job of it too by all accounts.

During dinner that evening – which they had ordered in after their passions had cooled down – they did get to discuss their day’s activities. Paul downplayed his encounter with Ralph Collins as he didn’t want to unduly upset Maureen. Telling her that story would rain on her parade that night and this he didn’t wish to do. He told her he had met a guy who had a few burns and that he and Andre would be dropping over to have a few games of pool with him and perhaps a few hands of Euchre too in the days ahead. All of that was perfectly true – not quite the whole truth perhaps – but the truth all the same.

“Oh I’m sure he will like that, Paul, It will be nice for him to have someone to play with.”

Paul suddenly went quiet and Maureen picked up on it immediately.

“What is it Paul, what’s wrong?”

“Oh I’m alright, Honey, my mind just drifted back to a place I’d rather not go. I’ll be fine.”

Paul’s mind had gone to Ralph not being able to play with his son anymore and that then triggered the image of the baby he had shot – he couldn’t play with his dad in the future either. Maureen had no idea that her comment drew this out of Paul and he certainly never told her. All she had said was that “it would be nice to have someone to play with”. It was Paul’s mind that shot off on a tangent bouncing from one scenario to another. Maureen just got up from the table and went and gave him a hug. She didn’t say a word; she just hugged him and then began to clear away the dishes. Paul would go into such moods occasionally, but they were far less often now than they used to be. Maureen was the reason for that and Paul knew it. Having her in his life was like winning the lottery. Maureen on the other hand felt the same way about Paul. He was kind, gentle and supportive and he loved her for who she was warts and all. What woman could ask for more?

Chapter Eleven

***

It was early December now and all their thoughts turned towards Christmas. Paul and Andre had been into town and bought two artificial trees and Maureen and Gwen had armed themselves with the decorations to put on them. All four of them were determined to make this Christmas far better than the last – but none of them were actually voicing that fact. This would be their first Christmas together and they were going to make sure it was a memorable one. There was a little snow on the ground, but nothing to write home about, so to speak. Hopefully Christmas Eve would give them a little more. All four of them had idle thoughts of how it would be and memories of Christmases past were coming to mind. For the most part they were all good memories, times with family and the games they had all played, going back almost to childhood. Maureen thought wistfully about those days long ago and a warm glow came over her and wrapped itself around her like a blanket. Here now with Paul she felt that she could have those days back again, well sort of anyway. For the first time in a long time she had something to look forward to. Those horrible, brutal men in that logging camp were slowly fading from her mind. She had told Paul everything now, in full Technicolor just so everything was out on the table. It hadn’t fazed him at all and he loved her to pieces despite all of that. He really was a prince of a man and one she duly appreciated. His love and caring was helping her overcome those horrible days – but she would never fully forget them. She realized that and she also knew that Paul would be haunted by his demons for some time too. They had found each other at the right moment in their lives, they had fallen in love and now the future was theirs to make. In addition, the experiences that they had endured could now be put to beneficial use in helping others. As she sat there idly gazing out of the window and looking at the twinkling stars that were plentiful that night – she realized just how fortunate they all were. They would all have a great deal to be grateful for this Christmas. Maureen was not the only one who had reached that conclusion. All four of them were on the same page here as their new lives stretched out before them. This was one Christmas they would never forget.

Over at the Women’s Shelter they too were making preparations for Christmas. All of the women were pitching in, even though one or two of them wouldn’t be there then as their time would have expired. They had the tree up, but they were still in the process of decorating it. There were presents already wrapped up to go under the tree when it was finished but nobody knew where they had come from, well apart from Rachel and Debbie that is. Each woman and child would receive a gift specifically designed for them and containing exactly what they needed the most. Braxton Industries did this every year as the Shelter’s Mystery Santa. The local Rotary Club and the Lions were also contributors to the festivities. A Santa suit was also packed away in a closet, but as yet they had no one to wear it. One morning as Maureen, Gwen and Rachel were having a coffee break the subject of who could act as Santa came up.

“Well we couldn’t possibly ask either Paul or Andre” said Gwen. “That would be too painful for both of them.”

“Yes I can understand that well enough. The same would apply to Ralph and Ken too, for similar reasons” said Rachel. She had no sooner said that when in walked Debbie. As if by telepathy the three women came to the same conclusion on the spot.

All three of them slowly turned their heads to look at Debbie.

“What” she said, looking puzzled by their looks?

“We were just discussing who was going to be Santa this year?” said Maureen.

“Well don’t look at me, that’s a man’s job.”

“Yes it is, said Gwen, and we were hoping that you might be able to persuade your Dave to do it this year. Knowing how persuasive you can be if you put your mind to it we though he would be the man for the job and who better than you to persuade him.”

“Ah I see, so you want me to use my charms on my husband to get him to rise to the occasion and perform that duty, is that it?

“Well I wouldn’t have put it quite like that – but in essence “Yes” we would.”

“Now ladies let’s not get carried away and remember that we are ladies. I used to be a Nun, remember, and my ears burn easily.”

That was of course quite true, she had been a Nun, but there was nothing prudish about Rachel. “Let us just be thankful that Debbie is prepared to make this selfless sacrifice on behalf of the Shelter, and that she can indeed persuade David to participate. How she accomplishes that is none our business, ladies – despite our possibly vivid imaginations.”

All four women were now laughing at Rachel’s quip. Whatever else Rachel might be – a prude she was not. They never doubted for a second that Debbie would be able to persuade her husband to step up and act as Santa that year. As for their imaginations in determining exactly how Debbie might accomplish such a feat – well that’s another story.

***

Over at the Man Cave a young boy had just been brought in by the police. They had arrested him for vagrancy initially, but they soon realized there was far more to it than that. He had been in a cult, but the leaders had kept him in a dark room alone for most of the day. He had managed to escape, but he was one scared kid the officers said when they dropped him off. Children’s Services had felt that his best interests would be served here rather than in the foster care system, he needed special help and they had that facility here. He had issues obviously, having been caged up all day, but perhaps they might be able to restore him to normal over time. That was the hope anyway. It was Andre who had signed him in and the kid immediately took to him. It seemed like he was a little duckling and attached himself to first thing he saw moving and considered it to be its mother. The boy was terrified of just about everything and everyone. The cult had told him that non-cult members were Heathens and they were very dangerous people who were all going to Hell. More to the point, they wanted to take any strangers with them so “Beware Boy”. That was the message he had been given. One can clearly see why the kid was terrified – de-programming him was going to take time – but for some reason he considered Andre to be okay. He knew he was called Jacob – but he had no last name and didn’t understand what a last name was. He had no idea of how old he was either, but they estimated him to be twelve or possibly thirteen. He couldn’t even tell the police where he had come from as he had walked for days. If they did manage to restore the boy he would be handed over to the local child protections services. Paul and Andre were by no means happy about that – but then he couldn’t live there forever either. That problem was years away and would be dealt with then. Meanwhile he would be loved and cared for and also given educational training at the Women’s Shelter. The women over there would soon give him the love that he had lacked previously. Andre and Paul had no doubts whatsoever about that and they would be proven right.

Christmas was almost upon them now and most of the arrangements had been made. Rachel and her husband John had invited Maureen and Gwen over one night and Tony and Cathy Braxton had them going over there on another evening. The weather cooperated beautifully – they were going to have a White Christmas this year. The grounds would look pure and unspoiled and the snow would be glistening in the light of day. It just had that magical quality about it all and that uplifted everyone’s spirits. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day they were all mainly involved with the Shelter’s activities or those at the Man Cave. The people in those facilities were the ones who needed the uplift. Paul, Maureen, Andre and Gwen were already flying high now that they had found each other and their future looked rosy. These people were somewhat less fortunate and some had no idea whatsoever what the future had in store for them. Therefore it was up to them to make their Christmas one of fun and joy, even if only for one day. Dave Curtis did a magnificent job as Santa. He joked with the women, played with the kids and let them ride on his back like a horse and then joined in their games. Rachel and Debbie commented later that he had enjoyed himself more than the residents – and they were right. A couple of the women went up to Rachel later to enquire if Dave could be allowed to come back that night to play some more games. They were aware of the “No Men” policy, but could an exception be made in this one case, he was their Santa after all. Rachel told them they would have to have a vote on that subject and one objection would kill it. Apparently there were no objections. In fact it turned out to be most beneficial in the end. A few of the residents made remarks later to the effect that – “Why couldn’t I have found a man like that?” or similar remarks. It had in fact alerted the women to the fact that men like him did exist. Maureen and Gwen could empathize with them; they had been there themselves – and not too long ago either. They would endorse that view in the coming weeks to let the women know that Dave was not unique, rare perhaps, but not impossible to find. You just had to look in the right places. That gave them the opportunity to relate their own personal experiences to the women and let them see that things could change for them as it had for Maureen and Gwen. Strangely enough they did not denounce the internet and warn people to stay away from such dating sites. They most certainly did warn them as to the dangers that lurked out there and exactly how to avoid them. They pointed out that for some people it was the only way to communicate with or to meet with new people. Many had indeed found the love of their life that way – but it could be a minefield and going through it wearing skis was not recommended. Always meet in public and take you time getting to know the person. The right one will always wait if he considers you to be worth it – if not then he isn’t worth having and so you should then walk away. It was sound advice – whether it would be listened to was another matter. Some people are so desperate to be loved that common sense can be the first casualty in this battle of the sexes. That is why so many of the women were residents of the Shelter right now.

***

Christmas in the Man Cave was one big game fest. The pool table was never idle and neither was the card table. Matches had been set up and some visitors were allowed, Ken’s wife being one of them. She brought a friend with her and that effectively balanced the numbers for playing Euchre later in the evening. Needless to say it was a booze free event. Alcohol was not allowed on the premises for obvious reasons. That could well be the reason for some men being there and so that rule made sound common sense. One doesn’t need drink to have a good time and that was proven that night. The men received gifts from under the tree just like the women did – it just wasn’t delivered by Santa. It was all dignified and above board, but very much appreciated. Young Jacob knew what Christmas was all about from the religious aspect – but presents were a concept he was unfamiliar with. People doing something for other people, and Heathens at that, he just didn’t understand. They were nice and friendly to him, they treated him as they did everyone else and they didn’t want to lock him away in a dark room somewhere. In addition they let him join in their games as not all of them were pool or cards related. In effect he was happy, and that was something he hadn’t been for a long time. He had mental issues true enough, but he was still a human being with feelings and, given help, he would be able to improve. He may never become a brain surgeon or rocket scientist – but he would be able to lead a normal life in the future if they took good care of him now. This they were all hell bent on doing. This poor kid had suffered enough and that was something these people could all empathize with. Each and every one of them had experienced their own particular brand of Hell at one time or another.

Ken’s wife Pat and his daughter Julie were frequent visitors to the Man Cave and they were well known to everyone. Julie gravitated to Jacob slowly as he was the only one anywhere near her age. As time wore on they became quite close and Julie started to bring him comics and books to read. His reading needed a little help and once Julie realized that she jumped right in and started to help him understand the comics she was giving to him. Paul and Andre soon noticed that Jacob was starting to relax a little more now. Julie was having an effect on him.

“How are you doing buddy?” asked Andre one morning.

“I’m doing very well thank you” replied Jacob. Is Julie coming to visit today, Mr. Andre?”

“Well I’m not really sure Jacob.”

“She said she would be coming today when she left yesterday.”

“I see, then in that case, Jacob, I am sure that she will come by a little later. Do you like Julie?”

“Yes, Mr. Andre, Julie is very nice – she is teaching me to read.”

“Oh is she, that’s very nice of her, do you like her to tech you to read?”

“Yes I do, she doesn’t shout at me like Brother Luke.”

“Did Brother Luke shout at you sometimes?”

“He shouted at me all the time – he said I was stupid and useless – that’s why I was put in the store room.”

“Well let me tell you something, Jacob, you are not stupid at all and you are certainly not useless – don’t you ever think that. Nobody here thinks that about you and especially Julie. We all like you here and we want to help you to learn new things. It will take a little time – but I know you will learn them if you want to.”

“I do want to learn new things Mr. Andre; I want to be smart like Julie. I don’t want to be stupid and have nobody like me.”

That last statement stung Andre; this poor kid had nobody in his corner. That was why he was so close to Julie, she was the only person he knew who gave a damn about him. Right then and there Andre swore that he would move heaven and earth to change that for this kid. He didn’t deserve to be treated like that and from now on he would be made aware of how much he was loved and appreciated.

Pat would also bring Ralph’s daughter Heather to visit with him at the same time as Julie. She needed to see her Dad and he very much needed to see her. They just clung to each other now. They were only too well aware of how fleeting life can be. She really missed her Mom, and her Dad was in the Man Cave for now. Pat was doing her best for Heather – but there really is no substitute for a Mom. They were a very close knit family and these were very difficult times.

Pat’s treatment was ongoing, but she was still agonizing over their loss. Her husband would need several skin grafting operations and possibly facial reconstruction – but none of that fazed Pat. How he looked was of little consequence – he was alive and still with her – nothing else mattered. Her brother-in-law had lost his wife, Pam, and his son Robert, and she had almost lost Ken. Pat now realized just how fortunate she was and that things could have turned out very differently. Whereas Ralph blamed himself for everything, Pat was actually grateful to him. Had he not been promoted and gone to that function they would all be dead now, not just Pam and Robert. It had been a cruel blow, and a totally unnecessary one – a stupid mistake by a gangbanger and now her family had been forever changed. They couldn’t even arrest who did it despite knowing who it was that had done it. The gang had all covered for him and gave him a cast iron alibi. They just didn’t care, life was cheap to them. The police knew it was total fiction, but knowing it and proving it are two very different things. Still they consoled themselves in the fact that the other gang now also knew what they did – having deliberately let it slip in the right quarters. It would only be a matter of time before retribution would be taken. Apparently it was, sooner rather than later, the police don’t know when or how, but that character was simply not around anymore. They were not losing any sleep over it or even looking into it – even thugs are entitled to vacations – especially permanent ones.

***

The annex was coming along nicely now, but there was still a lot of work to do. Andre and Paul were now in the construction business, putting up drywall and installing the wiring. The electricians had told them what to do and given them the correct wire to do it. They would come and supervise the installation in some cases and definitely inspect the finished product prior to certification. Young Jacob had shown an interest in this work and Andre and Paul strongly encouraged him to do different things. The praise that they gave to him motivated Jacob to learn and also to excel at what he was doing. He seemed to have a natural flair for this type of work and Paul and Andre were hell bent on encouraging him in this field. They were thinking about the future. They were not saying that Jacob couldn’t make it in the business world due to his educational challenges – that may change over time. However, giving the boy a marketable skill like a trade could never go amiss. Carpenters, Plumbers and Electricians and the like would always be needed. Whereas going to college and learning Underwater Basket Weaving, or some other equally lame degree that had no practical use in the work place, would be futile. It would still leave him unemployable – well in that field anyway. A deck hand on a submarine would have more opportunities. No, both men felt that this was the way to go for Jacob. He would receive academic tuition in the Women’s Shelter, and skill training here in the Man Cave – well at least for the time being anyway. In actual fact Jacob was helping the two men in a multitude of different ways. Firstly he was taking their minds off their own headaches as they were spending time explaining things to him – but they were learning from him too. Things that they took for granted – Jacob had no idea about. This then made them more aware of the difficulties that some other community members may have, if not right now then perhaps in the future. They began to realize then just how much they did take for granted – but only when Jacob inadvertently pointed it out to them. Maureen and Gwen would be given chapter and verse on this subject each night as the two men related their day to them and they in turn did the same thing to them. They were the ones getting an education – even if it was “on the job training”. As Tony had pointed out previously – book learning can only teach you so much – practical experience of life itself was a far better teacher than any college professor. Having been subjected to the things that they had – they now appreciated the little things in life far more than most other people did. The shelter catered to battered wives and abused women in all shapes and sizes – but what exactly does that mean to most people? They feel sorry for those women. Being punched and kicked cannot be much fun – but then why do they not get out of that relationship and leave? Okay! so maybe in some cases they cannot leave for one reason or another. If they know their husband is an abusive drunk – then avoid him when he is in that state. Seems logical right? – but then most folks have never been faced with it – their husbands would never dream of doing that to them and so they themselves just can’t imagine it happening. As a result they feel sorry for these women in principle – but they generally dismiss them. After all, they all live in trailer parks, probably drink like fish all day and don’t feel it even when they are beaten – they’re too drunk, right? Not everyone thinks this way of course – but a significant number of women do – men too when it comes right down to it. That is a totally warped and incorrect picture. Your neighbors could very well be victims – not that you would know – they are too ashamed to tell you. This problem covers the whole social spectrum and they most certainly do not all reside in low rent districts. Andre and Paul would never lay a hand on a woman in anger – and until recently had never given the matter too much thought. Yes, they knew it did happen – but not in their world so it must be a rarity. Well they knew better now and also how to deal with it when they came across it. Maureen and Gwen having been recipients of this on a far grander scale than most – were also in a position to help others who were going through this trauma. No college course could give you this level of education – this was the school of hard knocks – and it certainly didn’t come any harder. The Women’s Shelter could deal with all manner of abusive situations where women were concerned – but what about abused men? Who has the time of day to deal with that?

“It’s a joke right?” “Tell him to grow a pair and get on with life.” “He should just Man Up and not be a wimp.” Who has any sympathy for such a man? Most men will laugh right to your face at such a prospect. Paul and Andre would have too once – but not anymore. They were far more enlightened now.

Chapter Twelve

***

Maureen and Gwen had been putting in long hours at the Shelter and performing all kinds of duties there. In general, this would entail hand-holding and guiding the women through the various procedures and bureaucratic hoops that they had to jump through in order to secure their legal rights. Legal niceties like restraining orders, child custody orders, legal aid forms etc. were the most frequent problems. However, there were more pleasant duties too – like going shopping. In the basement of the Shelter there were racks of clothes that had been donated by many people and they were used to help out those who arrived with only the clothes on their back. When some of the women were attending interviews or had secured employment they needed to have suitable attire. Braxton Industries had endowed the Shelter with funds to supply such clothing as and when required. Maureen, Gwen and Debbie would then go on a shopping spree with the candidate to ensure she had the appropriate clothing for the position. The basement held only a minimum number of outfits and did not have an unlimited selection or a wide range that would cover all manner of positions. Factory workers do not need the same clothes as bankers or those in office positions. Then of course there was the problem of quantity. One simply cannot show up to work in the same outfit every day or every other day. Some women were indeed very well coordinated and knew instinctively what would go with what – others perhaps lacked that degree of perception and needed help in that area. So, based on that premise, one of the three women would accompany the woman and pick out mix and match items that would appear to amplify the woman’s wardrobe. Once they became established in their new jobs they could add to it once funds allowed. In certain cases first and last deposits were provided on a loan basis and the repayment schedule was very favourable – far better than any bank would offer. All of this being designed to assist the woman in getting back on track. There was a sewing machine in the basement of the Women’s Shelter and it was in pretty good shape too. It was a middle of the range machine, but it was ideal for making alterations, general repairs or even dressmaking if called upon to do so. Maureen was the expert in that department and she gave instruction to the women on how to use the machine and help them produce what they needed. Some of the “Off the Rack” outfits in the basement often required minor fitting adjustments to suit a particular woman and Maureen would do those alteration jobs. She was apparently very good at it too by all accounts. While beggars cannot be choosers, the women seemed to really appreciate her skills and craftsmanship and they were not merely doling out platitudes. Her work was highly regarded, and not just by the residents. Rachel, Gwen and Debbie had also had items altered by Maureen and they too were delighted with the results.

Maureen herself now decided to extend her own wardrobe now that she was working and so she and Gwen decided to have a spree of their own. Few things inspire a woman more than a shopping trip to the mall, Maureen and Gwen were no different. Paul and Andre were going to be working at home so they were free to go and browse around their local mall. Their home towns did not have such shopping facilities, but Markton certainly did. They could spend hours in the mall browsing around the large department stores or checking out the specialty stores. Victoria’s Secret was quite a fair sized establishment in that mall – not that they needed to spice up their arsenal of bedroom attire. They considered that to be largely a waste of money when they considered how long they would actually be wearing it once Paul and Andre cast eyes upon it. Later on it might have possibilities once this initial passion they were currently enjoying had cooled down – and it would in time, but that was some way off they felt.

They went in all the fashion boutiques and checked out all the outfits that were on display, but the price tags almost made them faint and so they did not purchase anything in those stores. The quality was certainly there – but you were paying fifty percent or more simply for the name. With a little diligence you could find very similar items of comparable quality for less than half the price. This was the route that Gwen and Maureen decided to take. They were not quite in the same league as Cathy Braxton and her friends so this would be just fine for them.

When they came home exhausted that evening they were eager to show Paul and Andre what they had bought. Both men were apparently very impressed with their purchases, some of which they demanded to see immediately – to see how it looked on them of course. Oh Yes, the guys did indeed like those outfits – and they didn’t baulk at the prices either. It had been a long time since either woman had been admired by a man like that – but they were now. Both guys were very impressed by what they saw and how their women looked in those dresses and skirts. Paul was particularly delighted with the pleated kilt that Maureen had bought. It was the Royal Stuart Dress tartan, which is multi-colored and quite striking and when coupled with the ruffled blouse he was really taken with it. He then made his mind up on the spot what accessories would really enhance that outfit and make Maureen even more beautiful than she was already. He never said a word about his intentions – but the look on his face told Maureen exactly what he thought about how she looked in it. He did of course voice a complimentary statement conveying his approval – but his facial expression said far more than his words. He had made Maureen’s day expressing himself like that. She really had found a Unicorn and one that deeply appreciated her and how she looked. Paul just loved the way Maureen looked, even without the war paint and battle dress. She did look even more beautiful with it on, but he loved her just as she was without having to preen herself for him. Maureen knew that, but she still rewarded him later that night, for his appreciation – or was he rewarding her for her choices of attire? Either way they both had a very restful night’s sleep.

***

The following morning when Maureen was at the Shelter a Pakistani Woman and a teenage girl came in. Maureen immediately had them down as mother and daughter – but she was wrong.

“Good Morning Ladies, may I help you?” said Maureen.

“I’m not at all sure” said the woman. It is not for me, but for Alya here, she is my niece.”

“Hi Alya, I’m Maureen, how can I help you?”

“Alya’s parents have arranged for her to marry a man in Pakistan. He is from a very good and noble family, but Alya does not want to marry that man. He is 58 years old and she has never met him and her parents have told her she must and then go and live in Pakistan with this man and his family. In addition, she has learned that he already has a wife and that she would be subservient to her in all matters. Her main duties would be to give the man more children, he now has ten. As you can imagine, Alya has grown up here, been to school here and is now westernized. Her parents cannot accept that. Her brothers can’t either. They are very traditional in their thinking and they have not accepted western ways. In our culture the men rule supreme and must be obeyed by their women. Family honour is sacred with our people and their word, once given cannot be taken back. Once her father told that man that he could have Alya she no longer had a say in it.”

“Yes, I can see where a young woman brought up over here just might have a problem with that,” said Maureen.

“Well if she does not go through with it, her father and brothers will kill her.”

“Oh My God!” exclaimed Maureen, “Seriously?”

“Yes seriously, that is why we come here seeking help. I am westernized too, but I cannot be seen to be a part of this or they will kill me too. We didn’t know where to turn, we cannot go to family, or the Mosque; we would be shunned if we did. This was the only place we could think of who might be able to help us.”

“Does anyone know you are here, did you tell anyone you were coming here, anyone at all?”

“No we tell no one. I was hoping to leave on my own and leave Alya here – can you help her?”

“I am quite sure the Director will have something she can do in cases like this – let me go and talk to her. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Okay?”

Maureen then went off to seek out Rachel and tell her the story. To her surprise Rachel was not at all surprised by it.

“Maureen, I have come across situations like this many times unfortunately. They have to be handled very delicately. The politicians will not look too kindly on us getting involved in these religious matters. Lots of votes are at stake as far as they are concerned – they don’t like us poking sticks into the hornet’s nest of Islamic traditions and customs. It is controversial at the best of times – and they would rather not get involved and they certainly don’t want us to either. We have to tread carefully, we do get funding from them and if we stamp on their toes – well you get the drift.”

“Oh Yeah, I certainly do – so where does that leave us then?”

“Well like I said, we have to tread carefully. Initially Alya will stay with us, for a day or so anyway. Then we have to move her elsewhere. Her family will come looking for her. It will take them a day or so to check out all of their relatives, friends and other likely places – but one of their women will show up here eventually asking all manner of questions but none mentioning Alya.”

“Wow, this is like being in a spy movie, Rachel.”

“Yes it is, but the consequences are real and they can be deadly. Let me come back with you to have a chat with them.”

Rachel then went back with Maureen and outlined what would be involved now. The aunt could in fact leave Alya with them – on the strict understand that they were never there. She certainly had no problem with that request. Alya could stay there for a few days only and then she would be moved, probably across the country and away from family influence.

“How would you feel about that Alya, you may never see some of you family again.”

“I know, she replied, “but I wouldn’t in Pakistan either and I would far worse off and far more miserable.”

“Well as long as you know the true picture here and the sacrifices you will have to make.”

“I will still be able to stay in contact with my aunty Myna, won’t I?”

“That is between you and your aunty Myna. You will both have to be very careful, but you know that already.”

“Oh Yes”, replied Myna “that we do know. They will be watching me like a hawk for a long time to make sure I know nothing. Alya will not be contacting me directly – my friend will take my messages. Well I say my friend – she is a colleague at work whom I trust and she really is a good friend to me – she is from Mexico. My family will not know anything about her so we’ll be quite safe using Maria for e-mails etc.”

“Excellent, Myna, I see that you have put a lot of thought into this venture. I will now look into doing my part and finding a place for Alya to go and rebuild her life. Now then, Myna, give me Maria’s e-mail address so that I can send you messages if I need to. You can telephone me here at any time to either speak to Alya or to find out where things stand at any time.”

“Oh Thank you, Thank you so much, “May Allah Bless You” for what you are doing for us.” Myna said. The irony in that comment going right over her head. However, Rachel knew exactly what she meant and she acknowledged Myna’s gratitude by giving both women a hug.

Myna then left the Women’s Shelter via the rear door and her visit there had gone undetected. She would now go home, mingle with everyone she could and establish the fact that she could not possibly be involved. Apparently she did an excellent job of it too as it would turn out. The family would fly off the handle and buzz around like angry hornets for weeks looking for the smallest of clues – but they would come up with nothing. This time, nobody turned up at the Women’s Shelter asking any questions as far as they knew – certainly no Pakistani women had.

***

Rachel now went to work on seeing what she could arrange rather quickly to save this young girl from the clutches of her family. Arranged marriages were certainly not uncommon, and some of them worked out very well. Others perhaps were less than ideal, well from the bride’s perspective anyway. Then again, given the divorce rate in our own culture we could hardly claim our system to be ideal either. However we do have a choice, their young women apparently do not. Rachel was now in touch with what amounted to her personal “Underground Railroad.” This was a group of women who could offer temporary sanctuary for women who had to escape from tyranny of one form or another. The women or girls would be whisked away from their immediate area and out of harm’s way and then be established somewhere else. They would have a contact person rather than a full support network once they arrived at their final destination – but they would be given assistance should it be necessary.

In Alya’s case things would in fact go quite smoothly. She was a well-educated girl, spoke English fluently and had an easy going manner. She was a teacher by profession and loved being around children. Her personality was warm and friendly and she displayed a certain degree of self-confidence without coming across as pushy. The main question was where could they send her? It had to be somewhere her family would never think of her going. It was then that Maureen had an idea. She ran it by Rachel first to see what she thought and then made a few calls of her own to try and put this plan together.

“Hi, Helen, it’s Maureen.”

“Hi There girl, How are ya doin’ down there in the big city?”

“I’m doing just fine, I am working in the Women’s Shelter here as you know and I have a favour to ask if you.”

“Sure – what it is?’

“Well I have this young girl here who had to leave town because her family want to marry her off to an old man. She is a teacher by profession and I wondered if you could ask Hamish if he knew of any positions going out there?”

“Well I can certainly ask him Maureen. He isn’t in right now – but I can call you back.”

“That would be great Helen, I really do appreciate it. This girl has to get as far away from her family as quickly she can – they just might kill her if they find her. She is scared to death by that. They want her to marry this 58 year old guy with ten kids and another wife and she has never even met the man. She would be little more than a sex slave cum housemaid over there.”

“I’d run for my life too” replied Helen.

“Well I plan to send out there, Helen, and she can stay in my house for now until she gets up on her feet out there. If she can get a teaching job so much the better – but she is prepared to anything so long as it pays the rent and allows her to live any kind of normal life.”

“Well I will do my level best to make sure she is looked after here, Maureen. I can meet her at the airport etc.”

“Oh she won’t be flying, I’ll put her on the train, and not in the city either. Helen. Her family will be checking those places. I’ll drive her out of town and put her on the train there. I can give you all the details later, Helen if you could do that for her. I know she would appreciate it, I know that I do and she knows nobody out there. Well she’ll know us, Hamish and I will take good care of her Maureen.”

They chatted for a few more minutes about local gossip and catching up in general and then hung up. Later that night, Helen called back. There was a vacancy in a school in Liverpool and could she send her resume there ASAP as they were currently interviewing. Hamish had dug up that information that afternoon after speaking with Helen. Maureen then phoned the Shelter and spoke to Alya and told her fax her resume or e-mail it directly – and to do it that night. Alya was delighted and said that she would. She received a reply early in the morning and also an interview for the following day. Maureen had her on the train that afternoon.

Alya was absolutely over the moon. Never in her wildest dreams did she think this would be possible – and from total strangers who didn’t even know her. Yet here they were helping her and asking nothing of her in return; except that she make a new life for herself and be happy. Maureen received an e-mail from her later to say that Helen met her when she arrived and also took her to the interview the following morning. She got a follow-up e-mail the next day – she got the job.

There were high fives all around in the Shelter that day. Here was some good news for a change. Alya was safely away and all set up in a new life and already had at least two friends. This was what the Shelter was all about – New Beginnings, and Alya had just started hers thanks largely to Maureen and her friends.

***

Paul was really pleased for Maureen. This had really given her a boost. Her life up until this point had seemed to lack purpose – not anymore. She had found her niche; she was making a difference in people’s lives and therefore in her mind validating her own purpose in life. Helen was a teacher; she was educating a future generation. Rachel was a nurse as well as being the executive director of the Women’s Shelter and now she too was in a position to help others. It was Paul who made her realize that.

“You know Honey, one day down the road; Alya will really appreciate the new start that you have provided for her. She is grateful right now for you rescuing her, that goes without saying. The full impact of what you have done is yet to be felt. One day she will wake up and take a good look at her life and know that you were responsible for it all. That, Honey, is something to really be proud of. That is an achievement, and Alya will simply be the first of many, Maureen. I simply couldn’t be more proud of you. Okay I’m prejudiced, I’ll grant you that – but it’s true all the same. I have told you before that you have a heart of gold – this is merely an example of it. One that Alya will never forget, trust me on that.”

Maureen just soaked all that praise right up, and coming from Paul of all people made it doubly heartwarming. Yes, boyfriends are expected to say nice things, that’s a given, but in this case he meant every word of what he said and Maureen knew it. How did she get so lucky to find such a guy? He was supportive, encouraging and caring and super protective all rolled into one. She felt so safe and secure with him in her life, a feeling she had never had before. Now between Paul and this job at the Women’s Shelter she felt as if she had the world by the tail instead of the other way around. Previously she had felt like the whole world was stomping on her tail. Alya was not the only one having a “New Beginning”, Maureen was too and so too were Gwen, Andre and of course Paul. The wheel of life has many compartments, rather like a roulette wheel, some good others less desirable. The fickle finger of fate determines which slot you land on. Well, the first time around for these four people they fell into an undesirable slot. Now however, on their second spin of the wheel, their luck had changed. It was as if they were back in the Garden of Eden and starting over. This time around things were definitely going to be different; they could feel it and they were really optimistic about their futures. The calamitous experiences that they had undergone now made them appreciate just how fortunate they were now. It also gave them an insight into the lives of others who were suffering all kinds of pain in their lives. It was this level of understanding that allowed them to be so effective in helping and guiding others to walk down a different path in order to find the peace and tranquility they sought. It did exist; they knew it now because they had found it. Now they could encourage others to seek it too and convince them by example. Tony had seen this in his vision for these havens – and he was quite correct, it was starting to happen now.

Chapter Thirteen

***

Paul was sitting in his office one morning doing some of his paperwork and paying a few of the Man Cave’s bills. Andre had taken Jacob with him to do some maintenance work on one of the upstairs floors, so they would be busy all day. As he was working away quietly a knock came to the front door. Stood there was a policeman with a sorry looking guy whose face was all beaten up and seriously bruised, his arm was also in a sling. Paul took one look at the guy and assumed he had been a bar fight or something – he couldn’t have been more wrong.

“Come on in guys, how can I help you?”

“Well, the officer said, “I think Mr. Harris could use a little help if you can accommodate him. I’ll let him tell you his story later, but for now can I have a quick word?”

“Certainly, officer just step into my office.”

“Here is what I can tell you for now, the rest must come from him due to privacy concerns. I know the Women’s Shelter deals with these issues on a daily basis and these cases are rare in men – but his guy really needs help. I mean just look at him, his self-esteem has simply evaporated and his injuries, although serious, are nothing compared to the psychological damage he has suffered.”

“What the hell happened to this guy?” enquired Paul.

“His wife did this to him. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you what she subjected him to on a daily basis. Battered wives have it easy compared to that guy, trust me. You’ll be able to determine that for yourself when he opens up and tells you his story. It’s just unbelievable; I mean men don’t let their wives beat them. It’s always the other way around and when it does occur who can they tell without being laughed at? I really hope you can help this guy, he has nobody else”

“Rest assured we shall do our best for him. We have professionals who can probably put him back on track. They are the same ones who visit the Women’s Shelter and they certainly know their way around family violence. He’ll he be in good hands here.”

“Thank you Sir, he could use a few friends round about now. Have a nice day.”

“You too officer, you take care out there.”

With that, Paul went back out and invited the man into his office and had a chat with him. His name was Clive Harris and by just simply talking to him everything seemed quite normal. He was a normal guy who worked in a downtown office building as an import/export clerk. He had three kids, but only one was his, the other two where his wife’s by her first marriage. So far so good thought Paul and then he asked about her. The man’s demeanor changed on the spot and it was certainly visible. His Wife’s name was Bessie and she had one or two anger management issues apparently. Her violent temper however was only the tip of this iceberg. The threats she would make against both him and his little girl were off the scale. She would threaten to burn the house down with them in it, pour acid on the little girls face to make her ugly and she even went so far as to beat herself so as to have him arrested when she told the police that he did it to her. If he fell asleep in his chair, she would fill a pillowcase with all kinds and then beat him with it. His broken arm this time she had done with the fireside poker, again while he was dozing. He would do his best to fend her off, but she was just blind crazy and couldn’t be reasoned with. She was on medication – but its effectiveness was less than desirable shall we say. The reasons why she would fly off the handle were various and totally unpredictable. She could be quite the charmer too at other times – she certainly had the police fooled. I mean come on now – how could such a nice petite woman do that to a far larger man? Where would such a woman come up with such rage and violence? – now her husband on the other hand????? This was how it played out just about every time. She didn’t look like a villain, so therefore she just couldn’t be, could she? Nobody could imagine her flying around on a broomstick at night and Clive Harris knew it. Nobody would believe his story. Only he knew just how vicious this woman could get. He was terrified for the kids and he had nowhere to turn and he couldn’t move out. He couldn’t afford child care on top of rent and if she found out where he was living she was capable of anything. Battered wives were frequently in this position – but husbands? Nah! That never happens right? All he could do was try to stop her from hitting him – if he was awake. If he laid a hand on her he’d be the one in the back of the police cruiser –they’d simply never believe him. The neighbors would confirm nothing – they never saw any of this and she was just lovely as far as they were concerned, the perfect wife and mother. So far she had not harmed the children, hers or his. The threats were there, but then, nobody else had ever heard them. It was this that had totally demoralized Clive and shattered his self-confidence. He knew what she was capable of – but nobody would believe him and he had nowhere else to turn. Now he was in the Man Cave what would she do to those kids? She hadn’t hurt them before, but what would she do now if he wasn’t there?

Paul listened to all of this with an open mind. The evidence was sitting there right in front of him. The man had been savagely beaten and his arm had been broken. It was difficult to imagine a woman doing this to her husband – but here it was and he had no reason to suppose he was lying. What man would come up with a story like this and lay his self-respect on the line unless it was true.

The police meanwhile were secretly keeping their eyes on his house. They had also been to the school checking up on the children. They had not believed Mr. Harris on previous occasions – now they were beginning to suspect that they had got it wrong and he was on fact the victim and not her. She had this “Butter Wouldn’t Melt in Her Mouth” act down to a science, but they were not on board with it this time. If this woman was in fact dangerous they wanted to know it before she did something really sinister and people were hurt or possibly killed as a result. Bessie looked and acted quite normal and she had no history with the police, so on paper she was a model citizen. However, with her husband out of the way and with no one else to vent her anger on – what would she do now? If her husband was correct and she did go off her meds, than just about anything could happen. Her doctor confirmed she had anger management issues, but he insisted that it was under control – she was always in good shape when she visited him anyway. That of course was true, she was terrified of being institutionalized and so she always took her meds prior to her visit with him.

When Clive finished telling all of this to Paul, he just broke down and cried. When he regained his composure he apologized to Paul for letting his emotions get the better of him as he put it.

“My friend, anyone who is living with a person capable of inflicting injuries such as these when they are asleep is entitled to be emotional. You are quite normal in having your fears; you’d be abnormal if you didn’t. We have people here who will be able to help you and you’ll have time for those injuries to heal too.”

“I really do appreciate that, far more than you could ever imagine” he said. I’m not a weak man in general, but I just can’t cope with this, I just don’t know how to.”

“Well, Clive, I don’t know how many people could to be quite honest with you. I’m ex-military myself and I have been around and seen a few things – but I always had someone guarding my back, especially when I slept. You were terrified to sleep in case she beat you, threw acid on you or worse. That “Sir” gives you the right to break down in order to preserve your sanity. I think you’ll find peace here and hopefully a resolution to this problem.”

“Thank you for understanding and being so patient with me even if I am a wimp.”

“You are quite probably a lot of things Mr. Harris, but a wimp certainly isn’t one of them. Come on; let me show you to your room.”

***

That night, Paul told Maureen about the new resident they had in the Man Cave and what had brought him there.

“Oh my God, exclaimed Maureen, the poor man”

“I guess you see a lot of this sort of thing over in the Women’s Shelter, eh, Honey?’

“Yes I’m afraid we do, we just don’t think of it happening to a man though – but now that you mention it I can see that it’s possible. As a girl we had this girl in our class in school who took a delight in going out at playtime and beating up one boy or another. She just seemed to get off on it and she really enjoyed it – she was a real bully, all the girls were afraid of her. One day she picked on this kid who had an elder brother. After school that day the elder brother beat her up pretty bad –he got expelled – but she never touched another boy after that – or girl either for that matter. I guess we have bullies everywhere, but in the end they seem to come off worse. Take those lumberjacks for example, or those hunters. I think they’ll be regretting their actions for a long, long time.”

“Yes indeed and so they should, but you are right, Bullies do get their comeuppance.”

‘What are the police going to do now, are they taking the kids to foster care?”

“Well no, they have nothing to charge the wife with, she has a clean slate with the police and the neighbors never saw anything amiss or even heard a harsh word. There’s nothing they can do, unless of course she steps out of line. The will be keeping an eye on her now though.”

“Anyway, let’s change the topic. What would you like to do this weekend? We could go for a trip somewhere or just veg out in here –it’s your call.”

“Hmm, let me think about that, you have caught me off guard with that one.”

They then both cuddled up on the sofa and turned on the TV. As they were only showing re-runs that night they switched over to the recorder and watched a movie instead. They were comfy and warm and the only thing missing was the popcorn. Then again that would hardly go with the drinks that Paul made half way through –two Blueberry Teas complete with a lemon slice and a sugar coated rim. They were so good that Maureen insisted on him making another. Ah Yes, the emotional component of the movie together with the Grand Marnier and Amaretto cocktail set the tone for a most romantic evening. It most certainly took their minds of work and all that entailed. They had another restful night’s sleep that night – eventually.

The following morning Maureen had reached a conclusion as to what they could do that weekend.

“Paul is it too late to get tickets for the Princess of Wales Theatre – Les Miserable is playing and I’d love to see that?”

“Well let me phone them later and find out. If I can get tickets we can go to dinner first. Oh, and if I do, I’d like to see you in that new kilt of yours. You look amazing in that, Honey, you really do.” Maureen just glowed inside hearing that. It reinforced what he had said the day she bought it. He wasn’t just saying it because he felt he had to endorse her choice – he really meant it.

“Yes, I will wear that for you Darling, I don’t often get the chance to wear nice clothes.”

“Well maybe in time we can change that, but for now, while money is sort of tight, we’ll just have to pick and choose our nights out complete with fancy dining.”

“Oh I’m not complaining, Paul, I was just saying. I’d be just as happy staying at home with you. I don’t need to go out and have you spend money on me”

“Oh I know that, Princess, I do, I just want to spoil you once in a while, I love you.”

That remark prompted Maureen to get up throw her arms around Paul’s neck and say “I know you do and I love you even more Paul Machin.”

Later that morning Paul did manage to get two tickets for the show – he was very lucky in that respect. Ten minutes before he called two tickets were cancelled and he was allowed to buy them on the spot. He gave them his Visa number and that was that – they were going to the show on Saturday night.

With Paul and Maureen being off that weekend, Andre and Gwen would be on duty in both facilities. There was never any shortage of things to do, hands to hold and tears to dry in addition to the actual running of the place. Menus had to be prepared and then people had to be assigned to actually make the meals. All the women would chip in of course, but it had to be organized and chores assigned or else chaos would reign and nothing would turn out right. In the Man Cave they had a cook to actually do the cooking. Some of the men were capable in the kitchen, others were barbeque kings – but the rest were helpless in the kitchen and could barely boil water. If the cook was ill or away for whatever reason, Andre would step in and Gwen would help out too if she was free. All in all they had it covered and the men never went hungry. They were not running a high class restaurant here, but the food was certainly edible and not of a greasy spoon caliber. Your mother could very well have served this up to you from time to time – but not when she had company coming to dinner perhaps. The residents certainly had no complaints – and had they done so they would have been drafted into the kitchen immediately to prove they could do better. They all knew it too and consequently kept their mouths shut – even when there was cause to suggest that something could have been better. Overall, though the meals were very well received and appreciated. Jacob gobbled up whatever was placed before him, suggesting that he had been denied reasonably sized meals in the past. In fact he was starting to put on a little extra weight now. That could well be the result of his physical work around the facility and also the amount of food he was now consuming. He certainly was one happy kid now and everyone could clearly see that for themselves. Jacob had also formed an attachment to Clive too. The two of them were playing games together at night. Due to Clive having only one hand Jacob would help him out whenever a need arose. It was as if Jacob could sense that Clive was not all that he seemed. On the surface Clive gave the impression that he was just fine, apart for having a broken arm. Jacob, because of his past experiences, could sense that things were a little more complex in Clive’s case and this drew him to Clive on the strength of it. It was a two way street. Clive was equally drawn to Jacob. He was different, for sure, but there was just that certain something about him that drew him to Jacob like a powerful magnet. Anyway they both hit it off and were now sharing a companionship that was beneficial for them both.

***

On Saturday morning Maureen went to the hairdressers and when she re-appeared she looked like a different woman. Paul was out when she returned home and he came home again just before lunch. Maureen had thrown on an old dress and so he didn’t get the full effect until later. He had told her that her hair looked nice, but coupled with her old dress the full impact had yet to be felt. A couple of hours later when she emerged, Paul was almost knocked off his feet. Now he could really see the glowing beauty in front of him. She looked absolutely stunning in that outfit. She looked years younger too, almost schoolgirl like. Beautiful didn’t come close to describing her and how she looked. Once again Paul’s face spoke more than his words ever could and that made Maureen’s day right there.

While they were in the restaurant Paul picked up on the admiring glances being cast Maureen’s way by the other men – and also the envious ones by their wives or dates. All of them well deserved, Maureen was indeed the most beautiful woman in the room – and she was all his too. Paul was strutting around like a peacock with two tails that night.

They took their seats in the theatre a few minutes before curtain up and then settled in to enjoy the performance. It was everything they hoped it would be. While Colm Wilkinson and Lea Salonga were not in this production, the singers were of comparable quality. It was simply exquisite according to Maureen later. She had loved every second of it and of course had tears in her eyes several times. It had been a wonderful evening all around and one she wished would never end. The drive home from Toronto took longer this time as there was a sports event on that evening and the Don Valley Parkway was unusually busy for that time of night because of it. It was after midnight when they got home and they were both tired when they fell into bed. They were probably both asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows.

The following morning at breakfast Paul was just gazing lazily out of the window and sipping on his boiling hot coffee. His mind then began to drift back a few months and he began to compare where he was then and where he was now. He was essentially the same man, and yet he wasn’t. Things were so very different now. After his sister Margaret died he was aimless and lost, today he was not. He now had a purpose in life and a lovely woman to share it with. He still had his demons, but the episodes appeared less frequently. He was more at peace with himself now and that was all due to Maureen and the fact that she loved him. Knowing that allowed him to bestow sympathy and understanding on others and give them hope at the same time. Just having Maureen in his life had put him back on the rails and he was doing fine now. The love of a good woman was a very powerful force and he was now beginning to realize just how powerful a force it was. As he gazed out of that window he could see not only the past, but visions of the future. Marriage was something he had never considered previously, he was never that closely linked to anyone, but he was now. He could clearly see himself being married to Maureen and also having children with her too down the road. Right now they had only known each other for a short time and he didn’t wish to rush her – but his mind was now ambling down that road.

Maureen’s was also contemplating a future with Paul. She was hoping that he would ask her to marry him one day. Yesterday wouldn’t have been soon enough for Maureen. However, she too was conscious of the fact that it had only been a short while and men don’t rush into these things. In fact some fear being tied down. She knew that Paul loved her, he had told her often enough, but marriage was a huge step and not one to take lightly. She would sigh to herself and wish he would give some clue as to where he thought their future may lie – but in only a few months? That was an unrealistic expectation.

Well it was not as unrealistic as Maureen thought. When Paul turned away from that window still holding his coffee, he turned to Maureen and said, “I’ve been thinking”

“Oh” replied Maureen, “what have you been thinking?”

“Well I was just sort of daydreaming out of the window and thinking about our future.”

“Our future?” queried Maureen.

“Yes, our future together. I was just thinking of us down the road and it made me realize that we had never discussed it and I think we should. You are the most important thing in my life, Maureen and I want to spend the rest of my life with you – assuming you’ll have me.”

“Paul Machin, are you proposing to me, are you saying that you want to marry me one day?”

“Well yes, that is exactly what I’m saying, but I thought you may wish to get engaged first so that we can save up a little.”

“Well go on then, ask me properly and I’ll consider it” she said with a huge grin on her face.

“Maureen McLeod will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

“Oh Yes! Darling, Yes, Yes, Yes, of course I will. We don’t have to rush it, but I was hoping and hoping that you would ask me one day.”

“Well now I have, Maureen. I just can’t see me life without you in it and I wanted to snap you up before someone else did.”

“You are the only man for me Paul Machin, trust me on that. I have seen what is out there and nobody comes anywhere near close to you. I’ve wanted you from the first moment I saw you in that canteen when you rescued me. I don’t know what it was, Paul, personal magnetism, charisma pheromones or your scent – but I was captivated right then. Since then it has grown even stronger, darling, so you have me for life now, okay.”

“Hey that’s alright by me, that’s why I asked you to be my wife. Mind you to be honest, it was that kilt that did it for me” he said, and burst out laughing.

Maureen picked up the dish cloth and threw it at him.

“I was hoping it was soaking wet after that crack, consider yourself lucky it was dry.”

“Yes Ma’am I will, I promise” he jokingly replied, as he walked around the table to hug her. She could hardly wait now to tell Gwen and for Paul to tell Andre. It would hardly come as a surprise. The more she thought about it the more she thought that if those two were on the same page, perhaps they could have a double wedding? Hey, calm down girl, one thing at a time eh! Don’t go railroading people down the aisle, well not today anyway she told herself. It was a thought though – and one she secretly hoped would come to pass given time.

Chapter Fourteen
***

Paul and Andre were sitting in Paul’s office one morning having a coffee and shooting the breeze when a police cruiser pulls up and two officers get out, one male the other female. Paul recognizes the male officer and calls out to them.

“Come on in Guys, care for a coffee, it’s just freshly made?”

“Not just now, Paul, he replied. We have to deliver some devastating news to Mr. Harris.”

“Oh No, don’t tell me his wife has beaten up his kid.”

The two officers just looked at each other knowingly.

“No Paul, she killed herself and took all three children with her.”

Paul and Andre both just slumped back in the chairs.

“Holy Shit!” said Paul, “this is going to kill Clive. What happened exactly?”

“Well we can’t be sure if it was deliberate or an accident right now, but given her history we are leaning towards the deliberate – but that’s off the record Paul.”

“I hear ya, we’ll say nothing”. Andre nodded his assent to that.

“Well the house was full of gas and they were all dead in their beds inside. A neighbor raised the alarm when they got up the next morning and smelled gas. The called the gas company and they came and then called us. They had turned off the gas immediately upon arrival, but the house was still full of it. If anyone had lit a match half the street would have disappeared. It looked like they had all gone to bed and left the gas stove turned on. The pilot light was not working for some reason – they are still trying to figure that one out. That model of stove had a safety feature that would cut off the gas supply if the pilot light went out. Anyway, they apparently went to bed not knowing the stove was still on and they all died peacefully in their sleep. Now the problem we have is this. She could have set this on purpose to get back at him – could have. Here’s the thing, he now gets the Life Insurance money and that is quite substantial. There’s no way in hell she would want him to have that based on current history.”

“Yes, I can see your problem there alright. It’s what you can prove I guess and proving anything like a motive in this case will be difficult”, opined Paul.

“Personally I will go with the accident scenario”, said the officer. Harris could use a break. The Insurance money won’t even come close to making up for the loss of his family, nothing could, but it‘s better than nothing. If we declare it a suicide he gets nothing. It’s up to the Fire Marshal now. We won’t be pointing out our suspicions to him – they are only suspicions after all, not facts. Hopefully he will call it an accident. Now however, we have to go and tell Mr. Harris.”
“Would you like him to come down here, or would prefer that I take you up to his room?”

“I think up in his room would be better, don’t you, Jean?” he said to the female officer.

“Yes, I think it would be more private and this kind of news will be devastating and he’ll more than likely breakdown and he’ll prefer privacy for that I would imagine.”

“I agree said, Paul, please follow me.”

With that he led both officers upstairs to Clive Harris’s room. That would not be a pleasant conversation to have for all three of them. Nobody wants to hear that kind of news and having to deliver it is almost as painful.

Clive was stood in his room looking out of his window across the fields when they knocked on his open door. The minute he saw the two police officers, he just sort of sank down into his chair like a sack of potatoes. The two officers never got to say a word before he said: “She killed my kid didn’t she?”

“It was a tragic accident, Sir. I am sorry to have to inform you that your wife and children were overcome by a gas leak and they all died peacefully in their sleep last night. We are so sorry for your loss Sir.”

Clive just placed his head in his hands and sobbed. The two officers and Paul felt totally helpless, knowing that there was nothing that they or anyone else could do to ease the poor man’s pain.

“We’ll be just downstairs in Paul’s office, sir, if you need to ask us a few questions a little later.”

They then walked out of his room and closed the door behind them.

“When he’s up to it Paul we will need him to come and identify the bodies, it’s a requirement I’m afraid.”

“Yeah I know, replied Paul. I’ll call you and then bring him down to the morgue.”

“You mentioned something about a coffee, I believe, Jean queried?”

“Memory like an elephant your partner,” cracked Paul.

“You have no idea” came back his reply and both men laughed. Paul then made them all a fresh pot and they sat and chatted for a while and Paul then learned that the officer’s names were Andy Blanford and Jean Gibbs. He would get to know many more officers as time went by.

Clive did not come down before lunch to seek further clarification on how this had happened and the two police offers just left. That afternoon when he was a little calmer, Paul took him to identify the bodies. Needless to say Clive broke down again and Paul gave him time to collect himself before taking him back to the Man Cave.

His house meanwhile had been invaded by the Fire Marshal’s office, the Gas Company and the Insurance Company. All of whom had their investigators working like beavers trying to determine the cause of the failure. It apparently mystified all of them. The house itself had been fully aired out now and was back to normal and so they could re-light that pilot light. When then did so it worked just fine. All three agencies were present and saw this quite clearly. They were just about to wrap things up when the pilot suddenly and inexplicably went out with a pop. The men just looked at each other in disbelief. There was no reason for this, well none that they could see at least. Once again they took things apart and studied them looking for something they had missed. They could find nothing. Obviously there was a fault with that valve, but what. Perhaps it was dirty? It was thoroughly cleaned and put back. The same thing happened again, the pilot worked just fine and then for no apparent reason it went out again. In each instance it failed to shut off the gas supply. They then decided to change that valve totally and the feeder pipe. This time everything was perfect. When the Gas Company technician blew out the pilot light the valve immediately shut off the gas supply. This was repeated several times over the next few days and every time it worked perfectly. They had taken that valve back to the workshop and taken it apart – they could find nothing wrong. On paper it was fine, but they all knew that it wasn’t. It was a mystery, but one thing was for sure, Bessie had not tampered with it. She didn’t have the physical strength for one thing. No this was simply an unexplainable accident and not a deliberate act. The valve itself was then sent to the University lab for them to examine. They came up with one or two theories – but they were just that, theories. In essence they too could find no reason for this valve’s failure – but it had failed and been seen to fail by several people. It was then scrapped with the mystery still hanging in the air. No other valves of that type and model had every failed, before or since. The Insurance Company would be on the hook this time and have to pay out the death claims – suicide was definitely not involved.

That of course was of little consolation to Clive Harris, he had lost his family and right now he was a broken man. The fact that his wife had been a nasty vicious bitch to him was of little consequence now and in fact he now only remembered the good times they had together. This being normal behavior in such cases apparently. Only time would heal this despair he was feeling right now.

***

Across town, Mary Marsh was preparing for court armed with an arsenal of weapons ready to do battle with Kelly Robbins’ husband. He had wrongly assumed that Kelly would not be able to fight him in court due to having no money. Furthermore, he never would expect any lawyer she could afford to uncover his scheming and nasty plans in making her look like an unfit mother. He had been wrong on all counts. Mary Marsh had an excellent investigator on staff, an ex-detective inspector in fact and one who had a stellar reputation when he was on the force. It hadn’t taken him long to dig up all the dirt in this case. As for Mary’s legal skills, she would decimate her opponent in court.

Initially this issue would be argued in civil court, but Mary had a surprise awaiting the husband. The judge came in and sat down and the clerk read out the case to be heard. The husband was on one side of the aisle Kelly on the other with Mary. The husband’s case was laid out first. A very compelling case it was too. Kelly was portrayed as a drunken slut, an amoral pole dancing drug addict who screwed anybody and everybody in order to earn money for her habit. How could she possibly be a role model for her children?

Then Mary rose to her feet and explained everything in minute detail. She laid it all out in chronological order, what had happened, when it happened and why it happened. Her husband’s complicity in all of it was also explained. His so called witnesses were destroyed on the stand, some would now face charges for the testimony they had falsely given. In conclusion Mary told the judge that the husband had engineered this right from the start in order to have his wife declared as unfit in order to take his children out of the country.

“Your honor, this man has tried to destroy this poor woman in the most despicable way in order to have you pronounce her as unfit so that he may take them back to Tunisia. All of this was engineered with that in mind so that you would grant him sole custody of the children.”

“Miss Marsh, having heard all of the evidence before the court today I am inclined to agree with you. I hereby award sole custody to Mrs. Robbins immediately. Miss Marsh, may I assume other arrangements are in the offing.”

“They are your honor and they shall be enacted upon the fall of your gavel. Very well, I am pleased to hear that. The court is now adjourned” and with that her gavel fell.

The sound was still echoing around the room when two burly police officers grabbed hold of her husband and marched him off under arrest. The next courtroom he would be in would be a criminal courtroom. They would certainly not look upon his actions very favorably in that environment. They would take an even dimmer view of it inside the prison walls – and that is most certainly where he would he headed.

Kelly couldn’t thank Mary enough for what she had done for her. Mary for her part just felt so good for having been able to secure this result for a woman who could not afford to pay and yet so richly deserved it. This was one of the problems of the legal system today, glaring wrongs are being let go by because the people are not wealthy enough to fight for their just deserts. Here was one such case. Kelly had been egregiously wronged, but simply couldn’t afford the help she needed to put it right. Well, today it had been put right and Mary was more than happy to do it for free on behalf of the Women’s Shelter. It was always nice to win a case in court; that was her job. However, in cases like this it made her feel something far deeper inside her. In this case she had rescued a woman from the depths of despair who should not have been there in the first place. She had done nothing wrong and in effect she had been framed. In most legal cases there can be blame of some sort on both sides – not so in this case. Kelly’s life was being torn apart by her husband for his own ends. Mary would be more than happy to see him go down for this and she would provide the police with everything they needed to prosecute this case.

Kelly could now take the children back to the Women’s Shelter for a week or so until her time expired there. However, other efforts were underway to try to help her out with suitable accommodation once she had to leave the shelter. Several people were now looking into that issue including Maureen and Gwen.

That night when she went home she told Paul how the court case had gone and that Kelly now had the kids with her at the shelter. Paul was delighted with that result. Over their coffee break the following morning Paul asked Andre if Gwen had told him about the results of Kelly’s case.

“Did Gwen tell you that Kelly Robbins won her case, Andre?”

“Oh yeah, she was over the moon. It was criminal what that bastard did to her. He deserves everything he’s going to get now.”

“Damn right he does, but whether he’ll get a stiff enough sentence remains to be seen. The courts are not doling out harsh enough sentences in my opinion.”

“Amen to that,” said Andre.

“What are you guys talking about” enquired Clive as he was walking by the open office door.

“We were just discussing a court case involving a woman in the Women’s Shelter.”

“Oh what was that about?”

“Well to cut a long story short, the husband set her up to look like a slut so he could get custody of the kids and take them back to Tunisia with him.”

“Yeah and he lost” said Paul. He’ll be the one facing jail time now.”

“What for?” Clive asked.

“Well what happened was this”, said Andre and he related the whole story to him.

“Oh my God, the poor woman, that was a horrible thing to do to her.”

“Yes it certainly was” said Paul. “However she has now been awarded sole custody of the children and for now they are in the Shelter together again. That woman has been through hell and it’s not over yet. She has to find a place to stay now and with two kids and very little money that will be tough.”

That resonated with Clive immediately. He had been in that predicament himself and not so long ago either. He knew only too well what that feeling was like.

“Look” he said, I might be able to help out here for a while anyway.”

“Oh, in what way asked Paul?”

“Well while I am in here my house is empty, if they need a place to stay for now they can use my house. When I have to leave here we can look at the matter again, maybe she could rent from me or something. I could give her break on the rent perhaps until she got back on her feet.”

Paul and Andre just looked at each other: that just might be a solution.

“Are you sure about that Clive, that’s very good of you, but are you sure?”

“Yes I’m sure, I was in that boat myself not too long ago. If I can help that woman get back on her feet even for a short while I want to do it.”

With that Paul picked up the phone and called Maureen and told her what Clive had suggested. She then ran it by Rachel first before mentioning it to Kelly. Everyone seemed to be on board with that idea and so it was decided to first let Clive meet Kelly in person at the Man Cave when she picked up the keys. That way it would give them both the opportunity to back away if they chose to.

That afternoon Maureen brought Kelly over to meet Clive and to pick up the keys to go and visit the house to see if it were acceptable to Kelly. When they arrived at the Man Cave Kelly had her two children with her, a boy and a girl. They were really cute dark haired kids too with captivating smiles that melted your heart, they were only four and five and the little girl was clutching a doll. Kelly couldn’t thank Clive enough for his generosity and Clive had no reservations about letting Kelly live in his house. He liked her on the spot and he could tell that she would look after his house and not wreck it. Later that afternoon when Kelly had seen the house she was simply over the moon. She asked Clive if she could move some of the clothes around in order to give her some space for hers and the children’s. Clive was certainly okay with that and then he made another suggestion that took them all by surprise.

“Kelly, do you think you could help me go through Bessie’s clothes. If it were up to me I’d burn the lot, but I was thinking that the Women’s Shelter could maybe use some of them, what do you think?”

“Well yes Clive I would certainly do that with you, are you sure you want to do that, it would be very generous of you?”

“Yes Kelly, I am quite sure and I know that they will be of benefit to some woman or other when they need it most. Oh Yes, I am quite sure about that.”

***

Rachel, Maureen and Kelly spent a whole day sorting through Bessie’s clothes and also the children’s. They laid them all out in different piles on one of the beds in the spare room. There were some almost brand new items amongst them and the rest were in fairly good condition too. Bessie however was quite a large woman and so some serious alteration would need to be made for most women. Maureen however thought that she could probably adjust most of them and make them fit all but the petite women. When everything had been gone through they called Clive to come over for one last look and to make quite sure that he was fine with this.

Kelly was rather nervous about this whole thing. Here she was giving away another woman’s clothes and taking over her house. She just didn’t feel quite right about that, despite the fact that her husband was the one who had suggested it. She had this feeling that Bessie’s ghost would be hanging around just waiting to pounce. Maureen and Rachel could see that she was uneasy about the whole thing and they tried to put her mind at ease. They pointed out just how much good was going to come from this – nobody, even Bessie, would not want some other woman who needed help to be denied it because her husband had burned all of her clothes. That was their presentation anyway – just how true it might be was an altogether different matter. Anyway, it did have the effect of calming Kelly’s uneasiness.

When Clive arrived he thanked them all for doing all of this for him. He no longer displayed any symptoms of timidity and in fact appeared to be quite normal now. He certainly missed his children, that would take some time to get over – but Bessie he seemed to have dismissed from his mind. He was quite detached when looking at her clothes and told the women that they could dispose of all items as they saw fit. He then went further and told them that they could also have all of her jewellery too.

“Wait a minute there Clive, Clothes are one thing, her jewellery is another. Don’t get me wrong, Clive, we could certainly find a home for it, but I’d like you to really give this one some thought first said Rachel.”

“I’m sorry, you are quite right Rachel; perhaps I was being a little hasty.”

“That’s quite alright Clive, you are still grieving, your mind will not be thinking clearly just yet.

Once it is if you still wish to donate some of it then we shall certainly be most grateful.”

“Yes well we can discuss that later then, but meanwhile thank you all for doing this. Kelly, how are you settling in here so far?”

“Well it’s early days, Clive, but so far so good.”

“I’m pleased to hear that. Perhaps we should get together one day in the future to discuss your long term plans and whether we can make some arrangements for you to rent the house until you become established – at a discounted rate of course. You don’t have to decide today, Kelly, we can discuss that later – closer to the time when I leave the Man Cave. Apparently I still have one or two issues to resolve – so they tell me.”

“Yes that would be fine, Clive. I don’t know what the future holds for me right now?”

“That makes two of us Kelly, I don’t either. I think between us we can work something out. We are both in the same boat I guess, you have left your husband and my wife and children have left me.”

“I am so sorry about that, Clive; I simply cannot imagine how you must feel. I felt pretty cut up about what was happening to me – but that was nothing compared to what you have lost. I feel bad in taking advantage of your grief and occupying your house.”

“Don’t be Kelly, I am happy to do it, especially for you after what you have been through. I mean it Kelly; I want to help you out. It makes me feel good to be of use to someone. It’s not a feeling I have had in a long time and I’m enjoying it.”

On that note Clive bid them all goodbye and went back to the Man Cave. To the casual observer Clive was fit and well and quite normal – but that was a façade. The loss of his family had devastated him far more than he showed. He was used to suppressing his feelings in order to avoid riling Bessie and this had now become a habit, one that had to be broken. He was now on his way down that road – but he still had some way to go. Hopefully he would be able to return home soon and continue his sessions on an outpatient basis.

The three women quite liked Clive. He was genuine and straightforward, but he was less than comfortable around women it seemed. Th en again who wouldn’t be after what he had been through? They all believed that once he had been cured of his phobias he’d make a good catch for someone down the road. How long that would take they were not prepared to speculate on. He needed to heal first- but he would make a good catch. Kelly’s mind was certainly not dwelling on romantic issues right now – but that would change over time. When it did that butterfly net of hers would not have to stray too far from home to net a good catch. Clive and Kelly would come to realize just how much they had in common once Clive left the Man Cave and moved back home. They both had issues to resolve first, but they would eventually become an item down the road and make a very happy family in the end.

Chapter Fifteen

***

Maureen and Rachel had loaded their trunks and back seats with Bessie’s clothes and taken them back to the Women’s Shelter for further selection and donation to the Salvation Army where appropriate. Maureen selected what she could alter and placed them to one side. Other items were then placed on the rack or in drawers ready for use as and when required. They were genuinely grateful to Clive for doing this as the clothes were all in pretty good shape. Some of them had hardly been worn at all, if ever. There were dresses of various styles and waistlines and in a variety of colours. Similarly, the skirts and blouses came in a variety of colours and styles also. On top of all of that were the coats, jackets and windbreakers etc. In all it was quite the windfall for the Shelter and many women would benefit from it in the future. Maureen would certainly not be idle on that sewing machine should such women arrived at the Shelter and were needy.

In the short time that Maureen had been there she had certainly seen a wide variety of social casualties and it made her appreciate just what she now had. Prior to all of this, Maureen had given little thought to what was happening out there and the quiet desperation that some women were suffering on a daily basis. Most of them were doing so in silence as they could see no way out for themselves, especially if they had children. Upgrading their education, seeking a new start, possibly getting a sufficiently well paid job? – These were all pipe dreams for some women. The rest of society simply never gave this a thought as they were totally self-absorbed in their own lives and their own problems.

Maureen had now had her eyes opened and was duly appreciative of what she was now enjoying. Finding Paul was a blessing she had not expected. She had been on a quest to find a mate – but she had travelled a very dark road in order to find one. True, the one she found was beyond all expectations, but it had not been a pleasant experience getting there. Some women she now knew were living under similar conditions in their own homes every single day. How sick was that scenario? Having a man in your life was by no means the be all and end all. It all boiled down to having the right one – and not everyone did. Everyone had their faults and perfection is a myth. One may think they are flawless, but then – they are simply deluded. Everyone else accepts each other’s imperfections – well until they get out of hand that is. Divorce is then the usual escape route, but only as a last resort. Those ending up at the Women’s Shelter were in a totally different league. One that Maureen now understood and could empathize with.

Gwen too understood far more about life now than she had before. Her venture into the cyber world of internet dating had proven to be a very painful experience literally as well as metaphorically. As in Maureen’s case, she too had found herself an elusive unicorn, but the road taken to get there was not a recommended one. She was happy and stable now with Andre – but those horrific memories were frequently on her mind when others entered the shelter with similar injuries. Having Andre to go home to each night was a real blessing, one most women take for granted. That was something Gwen would never do now. She was aware that help centers were available for women just like the food banks – but she had never given it much thought back then. Now, like Maureen, her eyes had been opened.

Back home in Murdoch’s Cove Alya Khan was settling in nicely. She was teaching children in grade 3 and just loving it. Helen and Hamish were keeping an eye on her to make sure she was alright, but she had settled in really well. She was very popular with both the staff and the children and she had adjusted to the community very well. Maureen’s neighbours were very impressed with her, saying she was a quiet girl, but very nice and friendly too. They had no idea at all about her background and how she came to be there. All they knew was that she was a friend of Maureen’s and that in itself was good enough for them. Alya was in constant touch with her Aunty Myna and was kept abreast of all the family news. Her name was never mentioned in the family anymore; that was to be expected unfortunately. Her family had now disowned her. However, it was for the best and Alya and Myna both knew it. She wrote the occasional e-mail to Maureen to keep her up to date, but Maureen was fully informed on most of it by her neighbours and Helen. You just couldn’t sneeze in Murdoch’s Cove without half the town knowing – and that was before the droplets in the air even hit the ground. It was that kind of community and everyone cared for everyone else. Several young men had shown an interest in Alya, but so far it had been a one way street. She was not suspected of being gay – just selective – and nobody had a problem with that. Maureen herself had enjoyed a similar reputation as indeed had Helen. Margo Burns, her aunt, on the other hand, was someone polite society would rather not talk about. She was highly respected for her charity work and her good hearted endeavours towards those in need. Her personal cougar like needs they preferred to dismiss as none of their business and they all chose to remain ignorant on the subject. Not that they were of course – they just wished to appear so. Whispers in the wind apparently kept everyone up to date – but nobody would ever admit to knowing a thing. It was sort of like those trashy tabloid magazines in the supermarket checkout line. You know, the ones that are always sold out – but nobody ever reads, or so they say. Anyway, as long as Alya was settling into life out there Maureen was quite happy.

***

Over in the Man Cave, Ralph Collins and Ken Heath were rapidly improving. Their burns were responding to treatment and the skin grafts had taken and were progressing nicely. They would both be scarred for life unfortunately, but they were alive and that was the point being reinforced in their therapy sessions. Hopefully in a few weeks’ time they could be sent back home, well to Ralph’s home anyway. Ken’s family had moved in there after their home had burned down. It was going to be rebuilt – but whether they could ever face living there again was doubtful. The memory of that fateful night would be ever present for them in there. For now they would be staying at Ralph’s home. It was a very sad situation all around, but life is often unfair and this was yet another example of that fact.

One month later they moved out of the shelter, but they did so with more than they came in with. They also took Jacob with them. He had formed an attachment to Julie and Heather and Ralph now wanted to adopt the boy having lost his own son. His counsellors were somewhat skeptical initially. They figured that he was merely taking Jacob as a substitute for his son and they needed to be convinced otherwise before they would sanction it. Well apparently Ralph convinced them, or maybe Jacob had, but they were all going to be a family now. They would all still be receiving therapy, probably for some time too – but they were getting there. Pat would be the lady of the house and probably cluck around like a mother hen for quite a while until she found peace herself and settled down once more. These things take time, but they now had plenty of that and they were grateful for simply being alive.

Andre and Paul were quite sad to see Jacob leave. They were happy for him, he was going to a nice family who would care for him and raise him to be a fine young man – but they were going to miss him. They now realized just how attached they had grown to the boy. It had just sort of crept up on them, but his departure was a real loss to them and one they both felt deeply. Jacob had become a feature, darting around here and there doing odd jobs and helping out. Yes, both men were going to miss him and this was something they had not been prepared for.

Maureen and Gwen were both made aware of that fact when they arrived home that night. They both had their ears chewed off as Paul and Andre talked incessantly about young Jacob and all the things that he had done and how much they would miss him. Clive did adopt Jacob some time later and he subsequently met and married a young widow and they were now one happy family. Jacob still kept up with Paul and Andre and they both deeply appreciated that over the years.

However, in ranting on about Jacob the way that they did, it told the women something about them. They would both make good Dads. Paul had already proposed to Maureen –he just hadn’t bought the ring or made a formal announcement yet. So Maureen was half-way there. To the best of her knowledge, Andre had yet to make such a pronouncement; certainly Gwen had never mentioned it. Maureen felt she had no choice now; she had to tell Gwen that Paul had proposed and that they were just waiting for the right time to make it official.

“You know Gwen, Andre is just as much in love with you as you are with him. I know that, given your persuasive talents, you could get him to smell the roses and guide him gently down that path. Trust me; he’ll drink if you show him the water first.”

Both women laughed at that remembering a former conversation on a similar theme.

That night Gwen took Maureen’s advice and received the expected response. It was as if a light went on in his head and revealed this brilliant idea. It had been presented subtly and Andre genuinely thought that what he was about to say was purely his idea.

“You know Gwen; my life has improved beyond all measure since I met you. In fact I can’t imagine living without you. Here we are living together in this apartment and sharing our lives together. It occurs to me that I would be totally lost without you. So Mrs. Holt in order to prevent me losing you and being broken hearted, will you become my wife so we can live together forever?”

Gwen, of course, acted with the customary surprised response and threw herself at him in totally rapture, leaving him in no doubt as to her feeling on the matter – throwing a big “Yes” in there somewhere as she swallowed him whole in that passionate embrace.

Maureen and Gwen were high fiving each other the following morning over that achievement. Until the actual moment of the men’s proposals, both women felt somewhat insecure over their past. The men said it didn’t matter and certainly acted like it didn’t – but did it matter deep down? Living together was one thing, getting married and having a family was another. Could they be proud of them as a wife and mother perhaps? They tried to minimize that thought, but they couldn’t totally dismiss it – until that proposal was made. Once it was that was it, they knew for sure now that their past was definitely not an issue for these men, now they knew they had meant what they said. Actions did indeed speak louder than words and both women no longer had any doubts. These two Unicorns were now permanently caged – and it was their idea too – or so they thought.

***

As they were high fiving each other in the kitchen Rachel walked in.

“Oh my, you two are in high spirits today, what am I missing?”

“Andre proposed last night said Gwen and Paul proposed to Maureen last week.”

“Well now congratulation to you both, I couldn’t be happier. When will you be making the official announcement, or is this it?”

“Oh no, we’ll let the guys do that – we don’t want to appear eager.”

All three women now just howled with laughter.

“No indeed, that would not be right at all ladies” said Rachel, and they all howled with laughter again.

“Let me know when it is official, Tony would like to know this for sure, he thinks the world of you guys.”

“Well the guys need time to get the rings first. They haven’t even been looking yet I don’t think said Maureen.”

“Hmm, ask them to come and see me about that. I just might be able to help out on that. My friend Alicia’s husband has a connection in Singapore who does fantastic work. His prices are very reasonable too – but his workmanship is exquisite, look.”

With that Rachel extended her hand and showed them her ring.

“He made this one for me and Cathy Braxton had hers made by him too. In fact quite a few of my friends have jewellery made by him and some of it is truly gorgeous. I can ask Alicia to ask her husband and see if he still has some designs he can show you. John is a great guy; he’s a pilot for Transglobal – that’s how he came to find this man and his work. Anyway, if I can set it up you can see some pictures and make a selection if you see something that you like.”

The following morning all four of them were sitting in Rachel’s office looking over a wide variety of engagement rings. The pictures themselves merely showed catalogue numbers – the prices were on a separate sheet. The ladies saw the rings the men saw the prices – that’s how it worked. Both the Women and the Men were surprised. The women were simply awed by the selection and the quality of the designs, and the men by the affordability of them all. So far as they were concerned the two women could pick anything at all that they liked – it was all within their price range. Those rings were all beautiful and both women had a difficult time in choosing the one that they liked the most. Andre and Paul were consulted as to what they thought of their selection and they of course duly agreed and fully endorsed it. They could see that the women were so excited by their choice and they were not going to prick that balloon. Everything on that sheet looked fabulous – so as far as the men were concerned whatever they selected was just fine with them. The two women also commented on the wedding rings, pointing out which ones they preferred and then came as a matched set in some cases too – both men simply grunted an acknowledgement and turned their attention back to the engagement rings. It would take maybe two weeks or so to get them, but they could wait that long – but it would be an excited wait. They were engaged now and to two wonderful men – walking down the aisle was next. They had more or less got engaged together – why not get married together? It was a thought, but they would need to discuss it a little more first. It might also help if they mentioned it to their fiancés beforehand too. They just might have an interest in the matter – but they would more than likely go with the flow – if they had any sense.

***

Rachel was working late one night when the police knocked on the Shelter’s door. They had a young woman with them who had been roughed up and was obviously in mental distress. It turned out that she was sexually confused and she wasn’t too sure whether or not she was bi-sexual, gay or straight. He father however had no such confusion – she was twisted and therefore no longer welcome in his house. He had caught her with another woman and simply gone ballistic and thrown her out in the street. His wife had left him for another woman several years back and he was still not over that. It was not done quietly either and the whole street knew exactly why she was being forcefully evicted. The young woman was totally devastated by this. She knew her Dad had strict views, but she could never imagine he would do that to her regardless of her sexuality and preferences.

Rachel would certainly take her in for now, but this would not qualify for the full term treatment of six weeks. Harsh as that may sound, other cases were far more urgent. She would receive counselling in the morning from a social worker in the form of an explorative interview to establish the facts of the situation. Her father would then be paid a visit to see how things stood with him. No judgments were being made, but if reconciliation was a possibility that was the way they would go first. Often the initial shock makes people react violently and they regret it in the cool light of reflection. Whether that would happen in this case remained to be seen.

Maureen spoke to the young woman right after the social worker had seen her. She had calmed down a little now, but she was still dismayed by it all. She loved her Dad and never in a million years would she have imagined him throwing her out. It was the only home she had ever known and she lived there with her two younger sisters and an older brother. Well it all worked out well in the end for this young woman. Her brother had gone to bat for her and persuaded her dad that he had gone too far. So what if she was gay or whatever, she was the same person, the same sister and still a member of the family. You don’t stop loving someone over this and you damn sure don’t kick them out. Apparently he had been quite heated on the subject and this in turn had shocked her father. So much so that he decided that he had perhaps acted rashly in this instance. When the social worker called round she met a whole new man, a far more enlightened man – thanks to her elder brother. Gwen took her home that afternoon and it was a very tearful reunion and one filled with apology as he dad hugged her to death and told her loved her regardless. He had been blinded by rage at what he had seen and he lashed out in frustration. His rage was aimed at her mother not at her and he just lost it. He had been wrong to do so and would she please forgive him? He would always love her and he was so, so sorry for his irrational outburst. The daughter duly forgave her dad – amidst a flood of tears from both of them. This story was one of the more positive ones and it was these that made your day at the Shelter – sometimes.

The days were simply flying by it seemed, it was Fall already and they all felt that Spring had only just ended. Where the summer had gone they just didn’t know. The residents of both the Women’s Shelter and the Man Cave had changed and new casualties had taken their place. Their problems were still the familiar ones, only the faces had changed. The economy was not doing so well right now, businesses were laying off people and certainly not hiring new recruits fresh out of college. These were tough days for a large number of people and the stresses and strains were evident as more people were showing up in the Shelter. The Man Cave saw a few of these cases, but it was the Shelter who was more involved with the aftermath of unemployment and the frustrations it caused. This would in turn led to alcohol related fury and taking it out on other members of the family. The problem was huge and far more victims were out there that ever showed up at the Women’s Shelter. Heading towards the Christmas period with no money to buy presents for their families was a stressor for many unemployed men and they didn’t cope very well with that. Al Anon meetings were very well attended at such times – but that didn’t help the pain. The Shelter did offer refuge from the storm – but only temporarily.

Chapter Sixteen

***

A few weeks later Andre and Paul were in Toronto when the stumbled upon a vagrant begging for cash for his drug habit. He was asking for food money, but one look at him told you the truth. He was dirty unkempt and limping badly dragging his leg behind him. All in all he was in a sorry state. As the two men were casually walking by, Andre suddenly stopped short and then turned back. The man was wearing a pin in his lapel, a military pin. As he reached out to touch it the man withdrew in terror. It was then that Paul recognized the man. He had served in Paul’s regiment, but he was not in Paul’s company. When he called his name the man withdrew even more. When Paul told Andre who he was Andre suddenly remember him, he had been a sergeant out there in Afghanistan in B Company. What the hell could have happened to him to end up like this? He had been fearless out there in the desert and his men swore by him –how could he have wound up here on the streets of Toronto in this state? They had no idea what he had gone through to end up like this – but they were going to try to fix it. He was coming back to the Man Cave with them – whether he liked it or not. He was afraid of his own shadow right now –so something terrible must have happened to him somewhere along the way. He was displaying sever PTSD symptoms and he was obviously a drug addict too. He had been a man they respected out there in Afghanistan – now he had been reduced to this. Having experienced their own traumas with PTSD they could empathize with him. How they could help him they were not sure, but they were going to make enquiries to see if someone could – he should not have ended up like this.

When they took him back to the Cave that night they could see that his nerves were shot and he was terrified of them. Paul then decided to take him home instead hoping that the sight of a woman would calm him down a little. It did to some degree, but it was obvious that he didn’t trust Maureen. The following morning they found out why and all the other details would follow over time. While his service over in Afghanistan had caused his PTSD, it was when he arrived home that the trouble started. He had been shot in the thigh over there and his nerves had been damaged. He had been flown to Germany to be operated on and by and large the operation had been successful – or so they thought. However when he got home his wife could see he was not the man she had married and she sought solace elsewhere. It was clandestine at first and then slowly she let him see what was going on leaving subtle clues around for him to find and figure out what she was doing behind his back. When he confronted her about it she told him the truth and she moved in with the guy a few days later. It was then that he went off the rails. The booze and the drugs came first and then the bar fights followed. It was during one of these they he was set upon by two men who beat him up badly and basically kicked the hell out of him. He was hospitalized for quite some time, but the damage to his leg had been severe and had left him with a limp – one that progressively worsened. He was out of the military now – so they no longer wanted to know – he was a civilian problem now. He certainly had no money to pay for surgery on his leg and so he basically fell between the cracks. Drunken drug addicts are seldom at the top of medical waiting lists when it comes to elective surgery and so the downward spiral continued. This was how he ended up on the streets.

The story itself was a familiar one, so many of our troops had experienced similar scenarios once they came home. They were changed men and their wives couldn’t handle it. Andre and Paul were by no means condemning them for this – they could clearly understand why and they did not blame them for not standing by their man. They knew what they had been like before, and expecting a woman to live with that for the rest of her life was a very tall order indeed. Some do of course and they wait it out as their men go through hell but finally emerge as a normal human being again. Their patience is rewarded – but it was a very hard road to walk down.

When Tony was told of this man’s plight he stepped up immediately and had him enrolled in a rehabilitation facility. It was a dual treatment center that handled both drug and stress related issues and had a stellar reputation. In addition to providing treatment for this poor man –Tony also went the extra mile. He didn’t tell anyone, he just went ahead and did it. He arranged for a leading orthopedic surgeon and a neurologist to do whatever they could for the Sergeant and to make him as right as they possibly could. Mentally he was fine now; he just needed his leg fixed.

***

Paul and Andre had no idea how he was doing during this period, apart from the fact that he was responding to treatment. That was all the information they had. However, when they saw the man again nearly a year later they were totally blown away by what they saw. He still had a slight limp, but it was barely perceptible and he looked fantastic. He was well dressed and had a military bearing about him and he just had that commanding presence. Tony had hired him for one of his plants as a foreman and that’s why he had showed up at the Man Cave to say thank you to Andre and Paul. Sergeant Peter Bradshaw was now back to normal.

He had casually walked in the Man Cave one morning and into Paul’s office. Paul nearly fell over when he saw him.

“Peter, is that really you? Man you look great.”

“Yeah, well I believe I have you and La Chance to thank for that.”

“Hey you’d have done the same for us, Pete, and you know it.”

“Probably, but you are the guys that actually did it. You could so easily have turned and walked away when you saw the mess I was back then.”
“Sure we could, but what would that say about us if we had? Andre and I have our own issues with PTSD. They are fading away now slowly, but we could see the pain that you were in and we just couldn’t ignore it, Pete, we couldn’t. We brought you back here and told our boss and he took it from there. After that he just told us that you were doing Okay and you were responding to treatment.”

“Well let me tell you what kind of guy your boss really is. Not only did he send me to that treatment center he also paid for my surgery and then on top of that sent me to school to learn a few basics about management skills in civilian life. Apparently the unions are not too big on military discipline and yelling at the workers.”

Paul just roared laughing – what you shout at your workers – Nah I can’t see you doing that, Sarge, not you”

“That’s what I thought too – but I went along with it out of politeness –after all he had done so much for me, right?”

“Oh Yeah, that was the least you could do for him.” and both men laughed.

“Anyway, Paul he was quite right and I learned quite a lot on that course. At the end of it he offered me a job as a Foreman here at his Richvale plant. He’s one hell of a guy Paul, he really is and he also thinks the world of you and La Chance too.”

“Believe me Pete, it’s mutual, Andre and I idolize the guy, he really is the salt of the earth.”

“Anyway, Paul I just dropped by to say thanks for what you guys did for me, I’ll never forget it, I owe you both.”

“No you don’t, Pete, just seeing you like this is more than enough reward for us. Let me get Andre in here to have a look at the new and improved Sgt. Bradshaw. He’ll be just as over the moon as I am Pete. We were in pretty poor shape ourselves when Tony found us and offered us the opportunity to set this place up. We never looked back and the same will no doubt apply to you too, Pete. You’ll find a good woman out there to make a nest with – Andre and I have, in fact you met Maureen the first night I brought you home.”

“Yeah, well about that, I was in a pretty sorry state back then. I don’t think I would have treated her very well.”

“That’s fine, Pete, she understood, she was putting up with me and my issues and we weren’t even married at the time. That alone tells you what kind of girl she is. We shall be getting married soon too – play you cards right and we just might invite you to the wedding if you are good.”

“I would be honored Paul, but six months ago I was still shaky. I was pretty good, but just not quite there yet.”

“I hear ya Pete, I do – anyway you are now. The past is the past you have the rest of your life ahead of you.”

That conversation would take place twelve months into the future, so let’s return to the present. Right now Sgt. Bradshaw was a mess and just starting out on his road to recovery. Andre and Paul had done all that they could do for him – now it was up to the professionals.

***

It was quite tiring and draining to be working in the Shelter for long periods of time so Gwen and Andre decided to take a holiday. They checked out a few places and finally settled on Ocho Rios in Jamaica. It had a beautiful beach, lots of activities and plenty of sights to see. They were both excited by the prospect, but Gwen suddenly became self-conscious of her body. As Dr. Raymond had predicted only those two deepest wounds, the ones he had stitched up properly, would still be visible. He had been quite correct, they were the only ones. A swim suit would cover them, but not a bikini and this was causing Gwen some distress. Andre did his best to assure her that she was still a very beautiful woman and two barely visible scars where not going to change that. Gwen still paraded herself in front of the bathroom mirror daily convincing herself that Andre was simply prejudiced and would say anything to bolster her spirits. That was of course quite true – but so too was the fact that he was right – they didn’t matter. He then told her to make a list and write down all the good and bad points about her body.

“Gwen, do me a favor will you, write down all the things you like about your body on one side, and all your negatives on the other.”

“What!” she said immediately, “I’m not going to do that.”

“Humor me, it’s not as if I haven’t heard about such flaws since we met – just jot them down.”

Grumbling to herself the whole time she did as he had asked. As he suspected the negatives far outweighed the positives.

“Well now what have we hear” he said as he read down the list. He took his time and studied this list and analyzed it in depth.

“The term for this is totally inappropriate considering what you have been through –but I’m going to say it anyway. This is nothing short of Self-Flagellation – you have to stop this, Gwen. You are a beautiful woman and everyone knows it – well apart from you apparently, hence your beating yourself up. Let’s carefully go down the list shall we?”

He then began to read out what she had written. She was overweight, too tiny in places, too large in others, her hair was unmanageable, her coloring was off, her feet were disproportionate, and her overall figure was certainly not bikini worthy.

Andre then ripped into each of those criticisms and tore them to shreds. Starting with the fact that nobody was perfect, Vogue models, film stars and the like could all make out such a list. Some had even committed suicide because of this lack of perfection or their perceived idea of what perfection was. He then went through each item in detail and put it all in perspective.

“Gwen, tell me someone you know who measures up to these exacting standards.”

She just looked at him. She knew that he was right, she couldn’t think of anyone off hand that came close. However, she still just didn’t feel right about herself in a bikini.

“I can’t help how I feel, Honey, right or not, this is how I feel.”

“Well you damn well shouldn’t –half the women on the beach will be wishing they looked half as good as you and that’s a fact. Everyone has their flaws, plastic surgeons are booked up years in advance in some cases – why is that do you think?”

“Well I hadn’t quite thought of it that way, Andre.”

“You should, oh and another thing, sometimes the operations make them look worse than before they had the procedure done. Just be happy with who you are – I sure as hell am. To me you are perfect, scars included. It’s who Gwen Holt is as a woman that matters to me and whether she loves me or not. The rest is simply noise – so stop fretting about perfection, Gwen, it doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion created by the fashion and cosmetics industry to keep them in business.”

While not being totally convinced by Andre’s comments Gwen was a little more accepting now. Andre certainly wouldn’t object to seeing her in a bikini, of that she was now certain. Any concerns of him being ashamed to be seen with her on that Jamaican beach had now vanished. That much he had achieved. Further scrutiny in front of that bathroom mirror was no longer entertained. If Andre thought she was acceptable then that was good enough for her – well sort of anyway. She was no longer unduly concerned by her lack of perfection. Andre had convinced her that nobody was. He had also pointed out that if she was perfect she’d expect him to be too and he was far from it. He probably couldn’t live with her then if she was obsessed with making him perfect too. He had a point- and so she came to terms with who she was, figuring she wasn’t so bad after all. Andre still loved her.

The following weekend they flew to Jamaica. They would have two weeks of sun and relaxation on the beach. They would also do some snorkeling, go para-sailing and float around in a glass bottomed boat looking at wrecks and all kinds of fish as they swam amongst the rocks. They would also pay a visit to Dunn’s River Falls and actually climb up them. Their hotel room over looked the bay and they could see the cruise ships come and go. The town itself had more than sufficient sights to see including one of the most romantic restaurant setting one could imagine. They had stumbled upon it by chance. It was sort of set in a garden with a natural waterfall cascading down in three streams with the tables positioned around them. When the wind picked up they could actually feel the spray land on them. The way it was situated they had a clear view of the moon and stars above them as the restaurant lighting was very dim for that very reason. It really was a beautiful setting and the food itself was exquisite and mouth wateringly good. One could feel the romance in the air, in fact one could almost touch it.

“Oh Andre”, said Gwen. “I have never ever seen anything like that, it was absolutely gorgeous.”

“Yes it was wasn’t it? – Almost as gorgeous as you in that yellow dress. Everyone in the place was admiring you in that dress and envying me at the same time – well the men anyway.”

“Now don’t lay it on too thick, Andre, I’ll get a swelled head.”

“I’m not, I’m just telling it like it is, and believe me, it wasn’t your swelled head they were admiring. You most certainly filled out that dress; I had to look twice myself to make sure it wasn’t just painted on.”

“Andre behave yourself, flattery will get you everywhere.”

“Well that’s what I was hoping for – but it’s still the truth Gwen.”

That meal was then followed by a long stroll along the beach and a night cap to finish it off. It turned out to be quite the night.

In all they had a wonderful time there and returned home duly tanned and totally relaxed. It had made them both realize just how stressful their lives had been up until this point. While lying on that beach under an umbrella sipping a Pina Colada under a clear blue sky, it made them realize just how peaceful it was. For Andre it was like he was back in the forest by the lake just listening to the birds. It was far nicer here though; he had Gwen and a lovely beach and plenty of cold drinks. Ah Yes, he could get used to this. Gwen was on the same page too. She had never been this happy before and certainly never been outside of Canada. It was a totally new experience for her and with a man that absolutely adored her too. Andre had been quite right when he told her that she would be envied by other women on that beach, she had noticed one or two covert and admiring glances from the men and the glares from their wives on the strength of it. This cured her doubts about her being seen in a bikini. Therapists could have lectured her for days – and not had the same effect as one brief visit to the beach. Gwen Holt, for the first time in many years, was now totally content with who she was. That second hand pin cushion image had disappeared now – she no longer thought about it anymore- Andre had totally removed that from her mind. This holiday had been very uplifting for them both as well as drawing them even closer together – if that was possible. They would now return to their respective positions in the Shelter and the Man Cave with renewed vigor. If nothing else, it had shown them both just how fortunate they were when compared to those they were trying to help.

***

Tony Braxton dropped by the Man Cave one morning and suggested to Paul that he and Maureen should take a vacation like Andre and Gwen just had.

“You know Tony, Maureen and I keep talking about doing it, but something always comes up.”

“Yes and it always will, Paul. However, you need to recharge your batteries too you know. You’ll be no use to others if you are all stressed out yourselves. You need to be relaxed and clear headed in order to listen to their needs and then be of assistance to them. You just can’t do that if you are strung out like a piano wire.”

“Yeah, I know, Tony, I’ll talk to Maureen tonight.”

“No, No, No, I’ll talk to Maureen, I’m headed there right now. You two are on vacation as of Friday night, Paul, so start thinking of places you’d like to go.”

“Yes Boss, Thank you Boss, I’ll get right on it boss,” he quipped and both men were now laughing.

“Seriously though Tony, thanks for everything and not just the time off. What you have done here in this place is amazing. I’m so glad you asked me to be a part of it. You have made a terrific difference in these people’s lives by providing everything that you have set up here. Maureen feels the same over there at Rachel’s. She knows only too well what despair feels like and being able to help others suffering from it – well it’s just priceless, Tony.”

“Yes it is Paul and I too know what that feels like. One day I may explain that to you, but not today. That is the reason behind all of this, Paul. It is the reason that I hired you guys. People who have been there know instinctively what it is all about, how it feels and how helpless they are. That is why they can be invaluable in helping others – when they are rested. So come Friday night I want you out of here okay.”

“Okay Tony I promise, well Saturday morning at the latest.”

“Fair enough Paul, have a great time, See Ya.”

With that Tony drove over to the Women’s Shelter to see Rachel and also have a few words with Maureen.

Tony spoke to Rachel first when he arrived at the Shelter and after he had finished talking to her he went looking for Maureen to inform her that she was on holiday as of Friday night.

When he found her, Maureen was miles away daydreaming as she looked out across the fields. Her mind had drifted back to her childhood and how she and Helen had played together, the dolls they shared and how they set up house. They would pretend to be mothers, just like their own, and play for hours like that. As they grew older they would go down to the dock when the fishing boats returned. Everyone was excited when those boats would come in after they had been away for days or even weeks at times. The seagulls were all flying around squawking at the prospect of free food. The owners were there to weigh the catch and see how much money they had made. The fishermen too had an interest in that as their pay depended upon it and was based on the going rate at the time. The women too had an interest and they had to get their hands on that cash before their husbands squandered it away in the bar or on gambling. Oh Yes, everyone got caught up in that excitement and for a young girl it was just enthralling. She had been a very shy girl during her school days and one boy in particular used to tease her and pull her pigtails. Her boyfriend Robert, whom she later married, would rush over and chase that boy away and that made her feel safe and protected. They were only married a short while when Robert was lost at sea. They had been talking about having children, but they decided to wait until they had more money. Now as she was reflecting upon all of this she realized she was at those same crossroads again, or very soon would be once she married Paul. The thought of being a real mother was once again on her mind and this time it was not make believe. She knew Paul wanted children, that they had discussed, they just hadn’t decided upon when. As she was gazing across the fields she realized that time was not on her side and that sooner was preferable to later in that regard.

“Ah! There you are Maureen” said Tony, making Maureen almost jump out of her skin.

“I was talking to Paul, earlier and I told him it was time for you two to go on a holiday. Now before you say that you are too busy and that you have this and that to do – let me stop you right there. You are going as of Friday and that’s final, okay” he said laughing at her. I don’t care where it is but you and Paul need to recharge your batteries as I told him earlier. Take the next two weeks to unwind – even if you just stay at home – although I don’t recommend that to be honest. Get away somewhere and relax, Gwen and Andre just did and you guys need to do the same. I know only too well how dedicated you are to this place, Maureen – but you need a rest too. If it were left to you I know you wouldn’t go – so I’m stepping in and making you go alright. Come Friday night I want you and Paul gone off to have fun and relaxation somewhere.”

“Thank you, Tony. I guess I could use a holiday. I hadn’t actually thought about it, but now that you mention it I can see that I do need a break.”

“Well I’m glad to hear it, Maureen, so just go and enjoy yourself. The place will still be here when you get back – have a great time, Bye.

Tony then gave Maureen a hug and left her still looking out of the window. However, she was now thinking about her holiday. Perhaps she could persuade Paul to go back out East and see those docks again, smell the wharf and hear those seagulls again. There was certainly a distinctive aroma to it all and Maureen was now feeling the pangs of nostalgia. She was sure that she could persuade Paul to take her back home, the more she thought about that the more she knew that she could. A huge smile crossed her face then as she imagined the many ways in which she just might manage to persuade him. The poor guy never stood a chance.

Chapter Seventeen

***

It was now all set, they were going to pay a visit out East and visit their old haunts. Maureen had indeed managed to persuade Paul that this would be a worthwhile trip. Paul could hardly disagree with her, Maureen’s persuasive arguments had indeed been worthwhile and they hadn’t even set off yet. How grateful she might become when they were actually out there was something to really look forward to, he thought.

Paul rented a car at Halifax airport and drove to Murdock’s Cove first. Alya was going to be their host on this trip and she had prepared the spare room for them. She had offered them the master bedroom as it was Maureen’s house after all, but Maureen refused.

“Maureen, you and Paul can move into the master bedroom while you are here, it is much larger and I can take the guest room.”

“You most certainly will not, Alya, we wouldn’t dream of it. It was very good of you to offer, but no, we’ll be quite happy in the guest room. There’s no need for you to have to move your things around for just a few days.”

“Are you sure, Maureen, it’s no trouble really?”

“Yes Alya, I’m quite sure. How are things going for you out here, are you settling in now?”

“It was lonely at first, I must admit. I was crying to my Aunty Myna each day and she was crying with me. However, it soon got better. I love the school, the children in my class and all of the teachers too. I was accepted by all of them right from the start and even more importantly I was respected by them all too. I was not a potential terrorist or a refugee who had to be given a job under the racial discrimination laws or some ethnic quota requirement. None of that ever came up. To them I was simply Alya, the new teacher and that was it. I was invited to their homes, to share in their get togethers and any other activities that were happening. I was now one of them, I belonged for a change. I never had that back home. Here I am free and can do as I wish with my life – that was not the case before, Maureen. I do miss my family, I miss them very much – but this is the way it has to be. I just couldn’t marry an old man and live in squalor having one baby after another just to please him. I just couldn’t do that.”

“Of course you couldn’t, Alya, neither could I. Here in the West we have different customs and practices and once you become accustomed to them it is almost impossible to go back to being little more than a housemaid and a baby factory.”

“Exactly, Maureen, you understand perfectly, but my family is stuck in the past and they have not yet become accustomed to Western customs and its culture. Perhaps one day they might, but I don’t think so. Aunty Myna has, but she is the only one. She and I are very close. In fact she is planning to come and visit me by train soon. She has to be very careful about her travel plans. We don’t think they are watching her anymore, but we can’t take any chances.”

“I can only imagine how awkward that must be for you both.”

“Yes it is, but we both think it is worth it – one day I hope she can move out here with me. She is talking about it, but she can’t while my father is still alive. Still it’s something to wish for later on.”

“You have kept the gardens looking nice, Alya.”

“Yes it’s a sort of hobby now. I had very little to do in my spare time when I first arrived here and I loved having nice flowers around.”

“Well you have done a wonderful job, Alya, the flowers look so pretty and they really do brighten up the whole frontage of the house. I think the real estate agents call it Curb Appeal.”

“You are not thinking of selling are you, that’s not why you are here is it?” said Alya suddenly all concerned.

“No Alya, of course not, I was just saying how lovely the place looks now. I am not thinking of selling this place at all, not in the foreseeable future anyway. I pretty much spent most of my childhood here and I have lots of memories. Helen and I go back a long way and we had lots of fun in this house. I know that I will have to sell it one day – but that day is a long way off Alya. Seeing how lovely it is now with you taking such good care of it will delay that day even more.”

“I love it here, Maureen, I really do and as long as you want me as a tenant I’ll be staying here. This is my home now; I simply can’t imagine living anywhere else right now. Okay one day down the road I may have to move for one reason or another – but that day is way off in the future I think.”

“Good, then this arrangement is ideal for both of us, Alya. Maybe your aunty Myna could move in with you one day down the road – she can certainly come for visits anyway.”

“Oh Yes, that she can anytime, I’m really looking forward to her visit next month.”

***

The following day, Maureen and Paul walked down to the wharf. It was all quiet now that the fishing industry had all but collapsed. The canning plant had shut down and that put many people out of work for some time. Some had gone out to Alberta to work in the oil fields and others had sought jobs in nearby towns as and when they could. In essence it was still pretty tough to make a decent living out there in Murdoch’s Cove, but the people were getting by despite that. They still had their community spirit and they were always there for each other in times of need. It was this that had drawn Maureen back for a visit – that and the magnetism of the sea. As they both now stood on the wharf with their arms around each other – all the memories of bygone days came flooding back. The smell of the dock and the newly landed fish she would never forget. It was a distinctive aroma indeed and not exactly a pleasant one either. However this was home, this was what she had grown up with and all her memories were here. As she gazed out across the bay to the harbour mouth she could imagine all the fishing boats setting off out to sea to bring home their next catch. Then they would all come back in and land their catch and the partying would begin that night.

As she stood there thinking of all of this her tears began to fall. Not all of the memories were good ones. She remembered as if it were yesterday, the day that he husband’s boat came home without him. The skipper was the first off the boat that day. She knew right away that something was wrong; the skipper was never the first one off the boat. As he walked towards her to give her the bad news she could see that he was visibly upset. He gave her the news with tears in his eyes and the pair of them simply clung to each other in their grief. She could clearly remember his body trembling as he sobbed along with her. It was a sad day for them all. The whole village was in mourning for some time and his loss was felt by almost everyone. It reminded them all that, there but for The Grace of God, it could just as easily been one of their husbands and fathers. It was a risk of the job. They all knew it, but preferred to not think about such things, but the loss of Robert Hurst was a painful reminder of the harsh realities out there on the ocean.

Paul just sensed why Maureen was weeping; he didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. He knew that Robert had been lost at sea and being back here on that same wharf where she first found out that she was now a widow would be painful to remember. He put his arm around her and drew her closer to him – and then held her close to his chest as she totally broke down and sobbed. Paul fully understood and he just let her cry it out and said nothing. There was nothing to be said at a time like that – just be there and be supportive. Memories like that are always etched in your mind and while you may not think of them too often, there are times that they emerge and let you know they are still there. This was one such occasion and Maureen’s reaction to it was to be expected and Paul knew this would be a painful reminder for her and he was prepared for it. Maureen was duly appreciative of his support and understanding too – but she knew he would be, that was just who he was.

The harbour itself still had plenty of boats just floating at their moorings. They were just bobbing about at the whim of the tide’s ebb and flow. Some of them were now in pretty poor shape and in dire need of a paint job. The lack of prosperity in the area was fairly obvious to the casual observer. However, tourism had picked up in that last few years and as a result one or two people had now decided to move into the area upon their retirement. Several tourists were present on the wharf that day; all of them with cameras or smart phones taking pictures of the local scene and of course the occasional selfie. It really was a quaint place, or so the visitors thought, to the locals it was just home.

The local merchants would be happy with that as it would allow them to remain in business. The stores on the main street were neat and tidy and were all well painted. The majority of them were still run by the same people that had run them for years and Maureen was well known to them. They did not, however, know about Maureen’s trauma in the forest. They knew all about what had happened out there and the atrocities that had taken place – but like everyone else, they had no idea who had been involved. They certainly had opinions on what should have happened to those evil men – none of which could be accepted or adopted by the judicial system – unfortunately. The man in the street however would have no problem with that at all.

They had been out to dinner with Helen and Hamish to a local restaurant and Maureen had caught up on all the local news and gossip. Margot Burns’ current activities were not discussed. Maureen was not unduly worried about those and, had she been, any of the local store owners could have filled her in. Strictly off the record of course and on the understanding that anything that was said never came from them. To save them and herself potential grief, Maureen never enquired and they never volunteered any juicy gossip and speculation – which most of it would be. Still it livened up this this sleepy little village – what else could do that for them in Murdoch’s Cove. If the truth be known there were probably several women who were jealous of her too – their own sex lives being on the tame side to say the least. However in sleepy little fishing villages like this, one dare not admit to such shortcomings. Nobody wanted to be the subject of gossip or even worse “Pity”. Margot being the exception – she didn’t care what people thought and they all knew it – and respected her for it too. A regular humanitarian was Margot and she did a lot for those in need. That was the general consensus. Of course, exactly whose needs were being looked after and just how she took care of them was open for interpretation. Very few villagers would delve into that topic.

***

Once they left Murdoch’s Cove they headed up to Chester and to Paul’s house. They checked into a motel rather than disrupt Martin and Violet. They had offered to accommodate them, but Paul had declined, but thanked them for their consideration all the same. They did however invite them for dinner one night and Violet was quite good in the kitchen it turned out. The meal she had prepared very few restaurateurs would have been ashamed of – it was delicious. Maureen and Paul certainly let her know it too, Maureen asking for the recipe. During the meal the conversation turned to local events and the subject of unemployment in the area and the results of it on the community in general. While Chester itself was not too bad, certain other areas were in poor shape. Kids were going to school with no food, wearing the same clothes for days at a time, weeks in some cases. The local schools had breakfast programs to feed the kids, but the need was far more pressing. The teachers were reporting that some of the kids were stuffing their pockets with food as they had younger brothers and sisters at home who were not yet in school and they too were hungry. It was heartbreaking to hear this and Paul and Maureen just sat there horrified. Poverty had always been present, probably always would be – but now for some reason it resonated with them. Martin was explaining how domestic violence had increased, burglaries had gone through the roof and kids were running away from home in droves.

“It’s sad Paul, it really is. We try to turn a blind eye to the drunks and give them a break, but when they beat their wives we have to take them in. The men feel bad, their masculinity being called into question because they can’t look after their families and their wives and kids going without. They can’t find work of any kind locally and you know how prideful they are Paul. They are not accustomed to this and they just can’t handle it. As a result they become annoyed at everyone including themselves and lash out. Knowing you can’t buy you kid a birthday present or even give him breakfast is soul destroying for them.”

“Yes I can well believe that, I didn’t realize it was so bad.”

“Oh it’s there, Paul, we are just so used to ignoring it that it no longer registers with us. I never gave it a thought until I joined the police force. It’s heart breaking to visit some of the homes and see the struggles they are having. The food banks can’t keep up. Donations are not what they used to be either as everyone else has been affected by the recession too, and they have had to tighten their belts also. Not to the same extent of course, but adjustments have had to be made. They are good people Paul, I don’t need to tell you that – but circumstances are driving them to do crazy things. I have to uphold the law, but at times it hurts me to do so. I get no satisfaction running in a guy for shoplifting in a supermarket. He was just trying to feed his kids and this was his only option. The food banks can only do so much and they apply limits to how much you can have. The guy saw no other way. It really is tough out there for large numbers of people these days. We turn a blind eye to lots of things; it’s just how it is. These folks are not criminals by nature, they are driven by desperation. No I know that’s no excuse, Paul, but it’s’ just how it is here now.”

“I hear you Martin, I do. Things have been going downhill for years. I know one or two call centers have been set up here – but they can’t employ everyone. Once the fishing industry collapsed it all started to fall apart. The military was an option for some, but not everyone. What we need out here is more industries. The problem being they need skilled people and these folks don’t have the required skills. They have other skills, but they are no longer needed are they?”

“Exactly, Paul, and therein lies the problem. Sending them back to school to learn new skills is counterproductive when there are no opportunities for them when they graduate from those programs. Manufacturers won’t come if they can’t staff their plants and they can’t let them sit idle waiting for graduates to complete their training, so you can see the problem.”

“Yes I can, Martin, it’s a damn shame. The realities of modern day life, we need the good old days back.”

“Amen to that Paul, we most certainly do. Times were pretty tough for our folks when we were growing up, but they seem so much worse now.

“Martin, are there any women’s shelters in the area?” asked Maureen.

“Yes Maureen, there are, but nothing like the one you work in. That one is Rolls Royce and the ones we have a more Chevy or Ford in that respect. They do what they can, but the need is great and the facilities limited so you can imagine the problem. The donations they receive here are rather less generous than those you receive in Markton and they certainly don’t have a Braxton behind them to help them out. Your facility actually teaches the women new skills as I understand it, they don’t do that here. The funds are just not there nor are the facilities, like classrooms and computers or sewing machines. It’s a whole new world out there compared to what goes on here Maureen. We could desperately need such a facility out here – perhaps you should ask Mr. Braxton to set up a branch office here” Martin said tongue in cheek.

“You know I just might do that, Martin” Maureen replied smiling.

It was only said in jest at the time, but down the road it would be looked at in a more serious light. They spent the rest of their time there visiting other friends of Paul’s and catching up with local events and the various characters that Paul knew from way back when. Despite being quite familiar with the area in general they still went to visit Lunenburg and Peggy’s Cove. Tourism was thriving in those areas and keeping the local economy quite robust. The houses were all painted in bright colors, their gardens neat and tidy and overall it really looked very nice. It belied that fact that not too far away things were very different – but the tourists wouldn’t see that. Paul and Maureen however, were now very much aware of it and deeply sadden by it too.

Based on what Martin had said, Paul and Maureen had to go and see for themselves just how bad it was in those areas. What they found disturbed them even more than what Martin had said. If anything Martin had understated the problem. The housing was poor, leaky windows and in general disrepair – but the people could not afford to fix them up. They couldn’t afford to feed and clothe their kids properly – so property repairs were the least of their worries. It was sad to see people reduced to this, but it was a harsh reality. When they went back to Murdoch’s Cove they had asked Alya if she saw any of this in her school. She then told them stories from her own experience and this brought tears to her eyes as she told them. This was not a third world country – it was Canada. How could this be happening here, but it was. When they examined the problem later they found that it was right across North America. All the major cities had similar problems and the rural areas were often far worse. Food stamps and subsidized housing could only go so far in trying to curb this social disaster. Civic leaders across the land were wrestling with this headache – and generally coming up short. To Maureen and Paul this had been an eye opener. It wasn’t new by any means and yet they hadn’t been aware of it. The question they were now asking themselves was why? If the problem was out there why had they not seen it? As they considered that it became obvious that they had simply ignored it. They knew that poverty was out there, that some folks were unemployed and that the food banks were kept busy. Knowing it was one thing – fully appreciating the implications of it all was another. They chose to overlook that, perhaps not intentionally, but that is what had happened. Apparently they were not alone either; most people were doing the exact same thing. This trip had been a wakeup call, a sharp dose of reality. The romantic dream that they were now living was not shared by everyone. This now gave them even great understanding of the people they were trying to help. However, something Martin had said had in fact resonated with both Paul and Maureen. They were in a Rolls Royce facility and dealing with a wealthier clientele – but the East coast also had a need. It was a need that as of now was simply not being met. It was something for them to think about, and they did.

***

Once back home in Markton they both became involved again in the activities of the Shelter and the Man Cave. One day as Maureen was doing some paperwork Cathy Braxton dropped by to say Hi! Maureen then took a break and they went to the kitchen to have a coffee.

“How did your holiday go out East?” asked Cathy.

“Oh it was lovely Cathy, I caught up with all of my old friends and the memories we shared way back when. You know, it’s simply amazing what comes back to you when you go back to your roots.”

“Yes, I suppose it does, Maureen, but not everyone wishes to do that for one reason or another.” Maureen just looked at her surprised and Cathy registered that facial expression.

“Tony and I had our moments when we were in school, Maureen, one day I’ll tell you about those days. Just know it was a far cry from where we are now – but it helped to make us who we are today.”

“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to dredge up past experiences for you, Cathy.”

“I know that, Maureen and you didn’t really, I was just making a comment that not everyone’s childhood was joyful.”

“Oh yes, Paul and I saw plenty of evidence of that while we were out there. Kids going to school hungry, having almost no clothes and those they did have didn’t fit them. They are really struggling out there these days.”

The mention of kids having no clothes resonated with Cathy, she had been in that boat as a child. That evening when she went home she brought up that subject with her husband. They had quite the discussion on the topic and the social ramifications that the current recession was causing. Markton had these problems too – but apparently not on the same scale. However, Tony decided to have a quiet word with Paul on the subject unknown to his wife. He knew only too well how much something like this would bother her and he now wanted to know what if anything he could do about it.

The following day he dropped into the Man Cave for a chat. He and Paul sat down and had a heart to heart on what was really going on out East.

“So how did your holiday go Paul, did you enjoy yourselves out there?”

“We sure did Tony and I touched base with a few of my old friends and visited a few of my old haunts.”

“Good for you – so you are all bright eyed and bushy tailed now then – the rest did you good?”

“Absolutely it was definitely therapeutic, but also sad in one way.”

“Oh and what way was that?”

“Well my friend Martin is a police officer and he was telling us some stories over dinner one evening that were quite sad. Those poor people out there are really struggling; they have no job prospects, no food and precious few clothes for their kids. Maureen and I were appalled and we set out to see for ourselves just how bad it was.”

“So did you?”

“Yes we did and believe me, Tony; it brought tears to our eyes. They are good people and hard workers normally – but once the fisheries collapsed they had nothing to do and they are beyond desperate now. Martin himself was sad as he has to arrest people for stealing food to feed their kids. It’s a real nightmare out there in certain areas. Then again this sort of thing exists everywhere, even here in Markton.”

“Yes it does Paul, but from what you are saying it is worse out there.”

“Oh there’s little doubt about that.”

“Now you say that there is no industry out there – what if there was. Would the people actually go to work or are they reliant on welfare now?”

“Not on your life, they’d kill for a job. It would restore their self-respect. They are hard workers, but they only know the sea. It’s a hard life out there at sea, so hard work isn’t anything new to them – but that’s all they know.”

“Paul, that’s all they know now. What if I set up an assembly plant up there – would they be willing to give it a try?”

“Damn right they would, they’d kiss your feet for that opportunity – or anywhere else on your anatomy for that matter.”

Tony just roared with laughter at that crack.

“Well they won’t have to go that far Paul. I was thinking of setting up an extra assembly line in Markton – but I can just as easily set up in Halifax or nearby. I need good communications and shipping facilities, either rail or air, but I do need reliability. Do you think that would work?”

“I most certainly do, but there is one problem, training them.”

“Yes there is that, but what if we sent them to school while the plant is being built. They and the plant should then be ready at the same time. I can send up a few people from Markton to show them the ropes until they become self-sufficient – what do you think, Paul?”

“Quite frankly, Tony I think you are a saint.”

“Well it won’t be able the help everyone Paul.”

“Perhaps not, but it will help far more then you employ. Those you do employ will in turn help others. Hand me down clothes, food bank donations, breakfast program donations – they will all benefit from that in the end.”

“You paint quite the picture, Paul, I should employ you in our sales department – Nah , you are far too valuable where you are. Let me do some research on this Paul and I’ll get back to you. For now let’s just keep this between us. If it works out I want to surprise Cathy with this – she’ll just love it.”

“She won’t be the only one Tony, so too will Maureen.”

“Yes, I’m sure she would too, Paul.

With that Tony went back to his office to have his people check out the viability of this project and to do their due diligence on it. On paper it looked good and sociologically it was really good, but would it cut it business wise? This had to be carefully examined.

Chapter Eighteen

***

Paul went about his daily business as usual and he never said a word to anyone about his discussion with Tony. Maureen and Cathy were totally unaware of the results of their conversation and what was now in progress. The Braxton executives were now going to be involved in calculations regarding tax breaks, lower salary costs and possible inducements from the Nova Scotia government to persuade them to move there. All of this would be brought into play now. It had to be commercially viable – but if it was, Tony was more than ready to dive in and get the ball rolling.

Maureen meanwhile was totally oblivious to what was now in the works and was dealing purely with the day to day activities of the Shelter. There was certainly no shortage of traumatized women coming through the front doors. The reasons were as numerous as the women and they came in all shapes and sizes. Some of the women had brought it on themselves true enough, if one only looked at the surface. Dig a little deeper and quite often something else would appear that cast a whole new outlook on the situation. Rachel and her staff, including, Maureen, were not in the judgment business and everyone was treated equally. Addicts, prostitutes, housewives and young girls all received the same attention and help. What amazed Maureen was that all of this was going on in an affluent area like Markton. In smaller communities that were less prosperous maybe, but here where everything was available, it just didn’t make any sense to her. Those low rental housing areas out East, with no employment prospects for the people, she could see the “why?” behind everything. Here where there was so much of everything and certainly one could work if they wanted to it was totally different. It may not be the ideal job or one that they might like – but it was a job that paid money and they could at least pay the rent. Well, for certain people, welfare was an entitlement – only fools worked. Why work when welfare paid almost as much, that was their attitude? Those with physical or mental issues had little choice, but the rest were bone idle. Nobody was going to change that any day soon. Forcing them to work would be the ideal solution – but the civil liberties brigade and the unions would be all over that and so that would not happen. It certainly bothered her knowing that the folks out East wanted to work and couldn’t and yet these people could but chose not to – and they had far more facilities available to them in terms of food and clothing courtesy of the numerous thrift shops. Being in an affluent area the merchandise was of a much higher caliber and more plentiful than out East. She was bemoaning this fact to Rachel and Gwen one morning over coffee. It was something they had never thought of before. It certainly made sense now that Maureen had mentioned it. Wealthy areas would by definition have higher quality clothing, could donate more and probably more frequently too. Not having seen the poorer areas of the country, or those in the U.S. they simply hadn’t given the matter any thought. They all could see it now, but their focus was on what they could do for the people in their immediate area. They simply couldn’t help the rest of the world, much as they wished they could.

That evening Maureen related their conversation the Paul over dinner. Paul simply nodded and grunted here and there and had to bite his lip many times. Maureen was quite right, the need was far greater out there, but he couldn’t let her know what plans were now being considered to alleviate some of that need. Like Markton it was only in certain areas, the rest of the Province was doing fine. Paul pointed this out to Maureen in the hope that she might drop the topic – it didn’t work.

“These poor people are really in need Paul. Okay, so what if the rest of the Province is thriving. It is these poor people I’m thinking of. Those with jobs are doing fine, that applies everywhere, but those without; they are the ones who need the help. Here in Markton they can find a job it they want to. They may not like it, but it can pay the bills. Out East that option just isn’t there in those areas.”

Paul just shrank down in his seat rather than face this onslaught any longer.

“Yes Honey, I guess that’s true.”

Hopefully that would be the end of that topic. It wasn’t of course, but with him not saying anything contradictory it soon died out on its own – much to Paul’s relief.

Once the dishwasher had been loaded they sat down together to watch a movie on TV. Paul had selected it deliberately. It was a chick-flick naturally and designed to take Maureen’s mind off the troubles of the world. It worked too and she soon relaxed, snuggled into him and became fully immersed in it. When bedtime came around they were both wiped out and were fast asleep within minutes of their heads hitting the pillow. The following morning they were both up bright and early, fully refreshed and ready to tackle all the world’s problems once again.

***

Over at Braxton Industries, Charles Graham the chief financial officer and his team were now doing some serious number crunching. So far on paper it was looking very good. The cost of living in Ontario and consequently the pay rates were far higher than out East. The cost of housing in Toronto was sky high, three times the price of out East if not more. Several buildings out there, such as the canning plant, were now lying idle and not producing revenue for the Province. Therefore it should be possible to pick one up relatively cheap and certainly for far less than in Ontario. Transportation was not quite so handy, being several hours away from Braxton’s head office, but that was not a huge and insurmountable mountain. They could live with that. Training could be provided by local colleges while the plants assembly lines were being set up. The big question was the Union’s, how would they react to this? One could of course set up a non-union shop – but that was just asking for trouble. They would have to go out there and meet them face to face and hammer out a deal.

Once all their ducks were in a row Charlie Graham went in to Tony and laid it all out for him.

“Well, Charlie all of this looks pretty positive, don’t you think?”

“I do Tony, but we have to get the unions on board, don’t forget.”

“Oh I hear you, Charlie, I do. Who are you thinking of sending up there to meet with them?”

“I was thinking of Frank Brown, he was the shop steward here before he became foreman.”

“Yes I remember that alright, but is he leaning more towards blue collar than white right now?”

“You have a point, Tony, but he is a good negotiator.”

“I’ll tell you what, let’s send Frank, but let’s hedge our bets and send Rachelle up too. In fact why not throw in Paul Machin while we are at it. He’s a local boy, can speak their language and they won’t try to pull the wool over his eyes. Frank may be inclined to give too much away, but Rachelle certainly won’t and Paul will backstop her decisions. He knows only too well what is at stake here and if extra weight needs to be applied then he will be the guy to do it. Rachelle has the business brain, but Paul has basic common sense and won’t be pushed around.”

“That sounds like a plan to me Tony, a very good one too. All the bases are covered, a local boy, a former union steward and a suit –well a skirt in this case.”

Both men roared laughing at that.

“Be careful there Charlie we don’t want to rile the feminism gods and have them descend upon us citing equality violations and gender bias.”

“That’s true enough, but Rachelle isn’t that way inclined. She got where she is on merit and she knows it. She wasn’t promoted to meet equal opportunity guidelines or quotas.

“We know that Charlie, but will those union guys?”

Charlie bust out laughing once again.

“They’ll find out pretty dammed quick if they try to hoodwink her, let me tell you.”

“You have a point, Charlie, Rachelle is not backward in stepping forward and telling it like it is. I’d forgotten that side of her.”

“Oh Yeah she can be fiery, but she has a damn good head on her shoulders and she has the status of a V.P. being your assistant – not to mention the salary that goes with it. They’ll figure out she has some clout – sooner rather than later too if they step out of line.

“Good point Charlie, yes let’s send those people. They are the ones to put this to bed and get things moving.”

Once Charlie had gone back to his office, Tony picked up the phone and asked Paul to come over to his office. When Paul arrived, Tony then invited Rachelle to join them. He then outlined his plans and what he had in mind. He was going to send a team up there to scout around for a suitable site, then, once that was in place, they would go up and negotiate with the unions.

“ I am sending Frank Brown up there as well as you two,” said Tony. He was ex-union as you know, so he’ll have credibility. You Rachelle have the management brain and won’t allow Frank to give away the store so to speak. Paul you are the local boy, you know what’s what up there and won’t let any BS torpedo what we have in mind. So between the three of you we should be able to negotiate a workable deal that placates all of our interests- any questions?”

“When are we likely to be going?” asked Rachelle.

“Soon I hope, but an exact date I can’t give you Rachelle. We need to wrap the site first. There’s no point in going if we don’t have a site to build on. Once we do you’ll be going. How about you Paul, are you fine with this?”

“Yes Sir, my bags were packed yesterday. We’ll get the job done, boss.”

Tony laughed again.

“I never doubted that for a minute, Paul. I know how much this means to you. Rachelle, don’t say a word about this to anyone just yet, please. Paul and I want this kept quiet for now for our own reasons.”

“I won’t Tony, my lips are sealed.”

***

 

Over at the Women’s Shelter Maureen was dealing with a woman who had basically been kicked out of her home by her two step-daughters. It was apparently a very complicated situation. The house belonged to her two step-daughters and although she had been living there with their father, once he died everything changed. They had never liked her right from the start and considered her to be a gold digger. When their mother had died and left them the house they put up with her for the sake of their father. Now they their father had died they set about getting rid of her. They couldn’t legally evict her, but they made her life so intolerable that she left voluntarily. When Maureen heard the details she fully understood why the woman had left, she would have too. The woman herself seemed to be quite nice, a little naïve perhaps and a little too reserved for her own good, but basically a nice person. The two step-daughters on the other hand appeared to make Cinderella’s sisters look good. Something the social services visitor would endorse once she had paid them a visit. While they were acting within the law, and therefore untouchable, they were both a real pieces of work according to her report. It was borderline mental cruelty – but it fell within the domestic abuse area and was difficult to make a legal case out of it given these particular circumstances. She was entitled to the furniture that she and her husband had, just not the house. They were even being awkward in letting the removal guys have access to pick up that furniture. The poor woman was at her wits end, but this was now about to end. A letter from Mary Marsh got results very quickly and apparently panicked those two women. Their step-mother had her furniture two days later and both of them were as nice as pie when she called round to collect her things.

This particular lady was only in the Shelter for nine days as that was all it took to get it all sorted out. She was now in an apartment, her furniture all installed and getting on with her life. Second marriages can be difficult when children are involved, even grown children who should know better. It was by no means an uncommon situation and many women had passed through the Shelter having been subjected to this in one form or another. In this instance it could all be put behind her now and she could walk away from them for good – and this she would do. The two sisters would now be left to comfort each other – or get on each other’s nerves as the case may be.

***

Paul meanwhile had just admitted a young paramedic into the Man Cave. He was a well-built young man with blonde hair and blue eyes and his female colleagues considered him to be a hunk. He had sailed through the training course with flying colors a few years ago and was now an experienced man, one respected by his peers. As in so many areas of life, theory is one thing practice is another. Over the years all of the traumas they encounter can, and often do, accumulate and remain dormant in the brain – until they emerge. This was not simply one particular event that the likes of Paul and Andre encountered; this was a gradual buildup of stress in this particular case. He would go out in his ambulance each day not knowing what he was about to face. Some runs were little more than driving people to the hospital, others could involve picking up severed heads and limbs off the street. Despite all their training, these things add up. They have emotions like everyone else and the twisted remains are of people, people who have families who will miss them, and certainly not wish to see them like this. The police, the fire department and the EMS team are obliged to see all of this every day and be totally professional about it. Well at times it can overwhelm them and this young man had obviously reached his breaking point. He would be treated and returned to duty – but not for some time. The first responders all had programs in place to spot these situations before they lead to a meltdown – but some inevitably fall through the cracks and are missed. This young man was one such case. He was great at his job, very caring as a person and everyone liked him. Nobody saw this coming, and sadly this is quite often the case. Light bulbs are often at their brightest just before the go out or burst. That is exactly what happened in this case. The catalyst in this case was a minor traffic accident where the most serious injury was a broken arm. There was very little blood at the scene and nobody was screaming in agony – but it turned out to be the last straw and it did break this camel’s back. He just broke down in the back of the ambulance and his partner had to drive him to the hospital with a police officer in the back. The psychologists would now take over and slowly restore him to normal health. At present he was considered to be off duty on long term disability until he was restored to his usual self. He was visited by a wide variety of people, most of them young women. Paul and Andre had a quiet laugh over it too. The looks some of those women gave them when another female visitor arrived was just priceless.

“I know I shouldn’t be laughing at a time like this Paul, but it is funny. I was just thinking how stressed I’d be if I was juggling all of these women at the same time.”

“Well we don’t know for sure that he is, we are simply making assumptions here. They could be just work colleagues, Andre.”

“Of course they could and I could be the Pope too.”

Both men roared laughing at that remark.

“You could all but hear the hissing from some of them when the opposition arrived, surely you did notice that, Paul.”

“Well I got the drift that one or two were not exactly BFF’s but as for how many he was juggling – well that I’d rather not think about. I’d far rather juggle chain saws than try doing that. I have enough trouble keeping one woman happy, god knows what juggling three or more would be like. No wonder he’s in here, I’d be in the psyche ward myself.”

“Yeah, and I’d be in the next bed too my friend” quipped Andre. I guess it pays to be ordinary looking.”

“Speak for yourself, Andre. As for myself and those Greek Gods of old, we may have a rough time of it true enough – but we manage to handle our good looks and physique quite well I think.”

“Indeed you do Paul, indeed you do; I guess your unrivaled modesty pulls you through each day, eh!”

Once again both men roared with laughter at that quip from Andre.

***

The two engagement rings had now been made and given to the two men, they were everything and more than they had expected. Those catalogues had not done them justice at all –they were exquisite – as were the wedding rings that matched them. Gwen and Maureen had no idea whatsoever that the two men had ordered them as well. They would not know this until much later.

When Tony learned about the rings he decided to have a dinner party at his house in celebration of this fact. He invited both couples and also Rachel and John Malcolm, but he never disclosed his intentions. He had discussed the matter with Paul and Andre first and they were all on favour of it. This would be one surprise the two women would never forget.

“Why did Tony invite us to dinner, it is some special occasion or something, asked Maureen?”

“I have no idea replied Paul, perhaps he just wanted to have us over, people do that you know.”

“Yes I know, but I just thought there might be another reason.”

“Well the phone is sitting right over the Maureen, give him a buzz and ask him, I’m sure he’d appreciate hearing from you.”

‘Behave yourself, I was just curious, Paul nothing more. I’m certainly not going to quiz him on the subject.”

“Oh but it’s perfectly okay to grill me is it?”

“You are really pushing it now, Sir, now come here and zip me up”

“Yes Ma’am, right away ma’am, three bags full ma’am.”

How Paul dodged that skirt that was thrown at him he never knew. He was certainly quick on his feet that’s for sure. The teasing stopped right there, he knew better than to continue it and he went over and zipped her up and kissed her shoulders by way of penance.

When they arrived at the Braxton’s, the others were already there, drinks in hand and chatting away merrily. The dining room table was all set out and it looked lovely. Well one would expect a billionaire’s table to reflect good taste and it most certainly did. However, there was no atmosphere to go with it, it was all very casual and homely and it really was just a dinner amongst friends. The table had all of their places marked by cards with their names on them and each card had a string that led to a silver water jug on the table.

“What is at the end of those strings, asked Gwen?”

“Well you’ll have to wait until just before the dessert to find that out said Cathy. It was something I picked up from my friend Alicia a while back. She had done it for us when we went over there for dinner one night and I am now copying her idea.”

“Okay, guys, please take your seats, dinner is now about to be served said Cathy.”

Everyone then sat down and the food platters were then sent around for everyone to help themselves. Paul looked at the amount of food on the table and wondered to himself where the other five hundred guests where. There was certainly no shortage of anything – but then it was to be expected he figured. He was even more surprised to learn that Cathy had prepared most of it herself and Rachel had made the dessert. This time Gwen and Maureen had not contributed, but they would on future occasions. The table conversation continued – but not with mouthfuls of food, they had a little more class than that. Then it came time to clear away the main course dishes and the four ladies immediately stood up and began to do just that. When they came back in Gwen asked if they could now pull their strings to see what was inside that jug.

“Can we pull those strings now Cathy?’

“Yes we can, but let’s do it in order shall we. You two guys pull your strings first.”

Paul and Andre then pulled their strings and found two small packages at the end. Inside was a key ring compass with a pen light attached and a toy car.

“Wow, these are great, said Paul. What a good idea Cathy thank you.”

“Same here Cathy, these can come in very handy, thank you said Andre.”

“Okay ladies, it’s your turn now, I know you can hardly wait Gwen”

The two women then pulled on their strings and unwrapped the boxes at the end. The initial gasps were quickly followed by squeals of delight as they realized what was in those boxes. Both women immediately threw their arms around their husband’s necks in unison as if it had all been choreographed to perfection. Both men were then instructed to place the rings on their fingers. The fit of course was perfect. Those two rings were exquisite to say the least. The two men had been pleased with them, but the two women were absolutely over the moon with them. Tony, John, Rachel and Cathy then got up and congratulated them and hugs and kisses were exchanged all around. The two women had been completely taken by surprise by this. They knew they were getting the rings and what they had selected, but this evening had not been anticipated and it was indeed a delightful surprise. The remainder of the evening was spent in general chit chat until it was time to go home. Once they were at home the two men were adequately rewarded for their efforts in springing this surprise on the fiancées. In Maureen’s case she was the one being rewarded that night. Paul had decided to pull out all the stops now. This really would be a night to remember for Maureen now as she commented later.

“Oh, Paul, that was amazing; where did you learn all of that stuff? Did the army send you on a sexual torture course so you could get information from female spies by driving them crazy? I know I’d tell you anything after that. It was glorious, it really was.”

“Well I’m glad you liked it ma’am”

“Liked it, I loved it, I can never get enough of that. Where did you get all that from?”

“Well to be quite honest I did get it in the army, but unofficially. I got it from some of the female soldiers.”

“Oh really, they must have been something else then I guess.”

Paul just laughed.

“I wouldn’t know unfortunately, I was a regular monk out there in the desert. I did however do a lot of reading and I’d read almost anything that was lying around. Some of the girls would throw their books away and I would salvage them and read them. Some of the things written by those women writers were pretty hot to say the least; they certainly put the guys to shame in terms of their descriptive powers. When they wrote a sex scene, boy did they graphically describe it, by the time I had finished reading these books I felt like I could sit my board exams to be an OB/GYN – and pass them too. I mean let’s face it, the next man to understand women will be the first, Right? Adam couldn’t figure Eve out and it went downhill from there. I figured that only another woman would know what women would like and how they would like to be treated and how their men should behave. So I let them teach me by reading their books.”

“Well darling they did one hell of a job of it based on that performance. It proves you can read too and absorb the lessons being taught. I’ll bear that in mind for the future, Paul. Sweet dreams baby.” With that Maureen went to sleep a very contented woman, and Paul was just as happy also.

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

***

A few weeks later Braxton Industries secured a lease on a building outside of Liverpool in Nova Scotia. The government had taken it over when it had fallen into default and they had now jumped at the chance to let Braxton have it at very favorable rates. It would bolster employment in the area, pay property taxes and generally improve the local economy. In addition, this property also came with an adjacent building that was originally the sales outlet for the plant’s production. Braxton had now secured building permission to turn this into a Women’s Shelter and have it staffed similar to the one in Markton with part-time professionals and a full time director. Charles Graham and the V.P. of development had been up there to see these buildings and to negotiate their lease from the provincial government and get approval for their proposed usage. This was now a done deal and Braxton was now ready for phase two – setting it up, hiring the staff and getting them trained. This would be where Frank, Rachelle and Paul would be needed and Tony now called them to his office to brief them.

“Good morning, to you all. The reason I called you here today is to inform you that we have now secured a building out East – just outside Liverpool and we are now ready to start recruiting people and getting the union on board. Ads will be place in the local press tomorrow and Frank – you and Rachelle will interview those who you consider to be appropriate for the various positions. Paul – I have something else for you and we can discuss that after this meeting. So at long last we are now ready to forge ahead. The building we have secured is being refitted to accommodate an assembly line and the cubicles necessary similar to our Richvale facility. The plant manager from Richvale will be overseeing that job. He will also be looking for his counterpart to run the facility once it is up and running. He will vet the applicants and then set up an appointment for you to see them Rachelle and make the final decision. Frank you will be looking for a line foreman and floor supervisors as well as the productions workers. They in turn will be looking for the workers themselves and I want you to take a hard look at them, Paul, and ensure they are the right people for the job. I don’t want any nepotism to take place. This is going to be a sensitive enough undertaking and we don’t need any additional headaches.”

“I don’t imagine we’ll have too many of those, Tony,” said Paul. “These people want to work and regain their self-respect. They will not be in the mood to tolerate anything that could torpedo that opportunity. The union will be very well aware of it too, Tony, and if they aren’t I’ll damn well remind them. There’s a lot riding on this for a lot of people, I don’t see there being a problem here. If there’s any arm twisting to be done, I’ll be the one doing it. You know how badly I want this to happen.”

“Yes I do Paul and I have every confidence in your persuasive abilities to ensure that this all goes smoothly. Frank and Rachelle will no doubt refer any potential difficulties to you should any appear.”

“I don’t think the union will have any problem, Sir” said Frank, well none that I can’t handle anyway.”

“I’m sure that is true Frank, you are an experienced negotiator and you certainly know your stuff. However, Paul here is one of these people, he’s homegrown as far as they are concerned and they will listen to him if it comes down to that. I hope it doesn’t, but we want this deal and no chances are being taken. Paul won’t tread on any toes unless it is necessary, right Paul?”

“Absolutely, and to be honest I don’t foresee any problems at all. It is nice to be prepared though, but in truth this should be plain sailing.”

“Right then, we are all on the same page. The ads start tomorrow so I want you guys up there by the end of next week in order to start interviewing. The local community college has set up a special course funded by us to train those selected – any questions?”

“Good – Paul you and I have a few issues to go through so could you stay behind for a while?”

***

“Okay, the reason I asked you to stay behind Paul relates to the adjacent building that came with the plant. I want to turn that into another facility like the one we have here in Markton. The initial building will be used as a women’s shelter and I would like Maureen to run it as Rachel does this one – but without the nursing side of it obviously. I then want you to run the plant itself. Initially, you will have the plant manager from Richvale to start you off. I’ll clue him in later on that. Then when he comes back here you’ll be up to speed and on your own. Well not quite on your own, I hope to send Dave Bradshaw up there to run the shop floor side of things. He’s doing quite well here now, a little strict on the discipline still, but overall he’s doing just fine. I want you to run the office side of things, payroll etc. Dave can run the lines and he’ll have a foreman and supervisors to help him. You’ll have the title of V.P. and be in overall charge, any questions?”

“Tony I really appreciate this I really do, but I have never run a plant before, this is huge and a great responsibility.”

“Yes it is Paul and I am not in the habit of making stupid decisions. I have watched you over the past year. I have seen how you respond to things, how your mind works and above all else how you relate to people. I have seen the way you handle delicate and sensitive situations and been forthright and direct in others. Bookworms and paper pushers are ten a penny – executives who know what’s what are somewhat rarer. You possess that rarest of qualities these days – common sense. To me that is priceless. That and the fact that you are approachable makes you the ideal candidate for the job. The workers will respect you and therefore any decisions that you make. You have that sense of diplomacy that the shop floor staff may lack, that is why I want you.”

“Well when you put it like that Tony how can I say no, especially if Maureen is going and I’m sure that she will.”

“Yes so am I Paul. I guess you won’t need that compass that Cathy gave you after all. We all know in which direction you’ll be going now.”

Paul just looked at Tony and they both burst out laughing.

“No I guess I won’t at that. I can see my path has been laid out for me already. Still first things first, we have to go up there and set all of this in motion before we can delve into that aspect.”

Tony was just stood there now with a huge grin on his face as he was listening to Paul.

“I just wish you could have listened to yourself just then, Paul. You pulled the conversation down to the cold hard facts and what needed to be done. You didn’t even have to think about it – you just came right out with it as a matter of fact – which of course it was. Now do you wonder why I want you up there – you are a natural leader Paul and a man that gets things done? In addition, you will teach Rachelle a few things too, things that will stand her in good stead down the road. She will appreciate your example Paul, I know that I do.”

“Well Tony I’m deeply touched by your confidence in my abilities. I know I have come a long way since I got here, but I’m not sure I am completely cured yet.”

“I know that Paul, you may never be totally free from that day. However, you are coping with it and you are a better man for it. Life’s experiences make us who we are and by God you have had your fair share, but it has made you stronger and also more understanding. With a good wife beside you in the future you will not simply have a good future in front of you – it will be a great one.”

***

Over at the Women’s Shelter Rachel was sounding out Maureen on the prospect of setting up a similar shelter out east.

“Did you know that Braxton Industries are setting up an assembly plant just outside of Liverpool, Maureen?”

“Yes Paul mentioned it to me; it will help those people out a lot. They have had a rough time of it out there in this economy.”

“Yes I can imagine, do they have any Women’s Shelters out there?”

“They do apparently, but nothing like this one and the ones they do have are few and far between?”

“I see – how would you feel about setting one up similar to this one out there – do you think it might be used.”

“Oh I know it would, there’s a huge need. We would be wearing out Welcome Mats at the front door pretty quickly I would imagine.”

“Well I think you just might get that chance Maureen. It’s early days yet, but Tony had ideas about setting up such a facility out there and I think he wants you to run it.”

“Are you Serious Rachel?”

“Yes I am serious. It is some time away yet, but Tony asked me to find out if you would be interested. He has plans for Paul out there too.”

“Oh I’d just love to have that chance I really would”

“Well in that case I’ll let him know. They have to get the plant up and running first. Once they do, they’ll look at the Women’s Shelter and getting all the professionals lined up. I’ll be sorry to lose you Maureen, but it is for a worthy cause. I think God guided you to us for a reason.”

“Maybe so and perhaps he made Cathy give Paul a compass to keep him on track too.”

Both women just burst out laughing as the meaning of that sank in.

“Stranger things have happened Maureen – he does move in mysterious ways so I am told.”

“Well being an ex-Nun you would know that only too well, Right?” and they laughed yet again.

A few days later, Paul, Frank and Rachelle set off to Liverpool to get the ball rolling. They had received hundreds of applications from a wide variety of applicants and most of them would be given a hearing at least. As expected none of them had factory assembly line experience, but they were all eager to work. It soon became obvious to the two recruiters that these people were really interested in getting a job –any job, and they would be grateful for the opportunity to do it too. Whittling down the applicants was the hard part – some people were going to be refused and not through any faults of theirs. They only need so many and there were way more applicants than positions to be filled. Of course that was good for Braxton’s as they would now be getting the best people – but it was disappointing for the others who would not be hired.

The union leader for the area had been consulted and shown the company’s proposal in terms of hourly wage rates and benefit packages. Initially he had tried to squeeze more blood out of the stone, but while Frank was perhaps more inclined to bend a little Rachelle wasn’t. The union boss, Rory McCain, was not a happy camper and he had tried to dig his heels in.

“Look, I know what you people in Toronto think of us Easterners, but I assure you we ain’t as thick as you guys seem to think” said Rory at the meeting.

“We know that, Rory” said Frank, “we are well aware of that and we are negotiating in good faith here.”

“Bullshit” replied Rory, “I know for a fact that our members in Toronto earn more an hour than what is on the table here. You wouldn’t dare offer them this deal – so why try it here? Because you think we’re dumb as shit right?

It was then that Paul spoke up.

“There’s a lady in the room Rory, watch your manners. If I were to offer you a job in Toronto for fifty percent more than you make now would you accept it? That would be a great offer would it not?”

“Yes it would.”

“Well, would you take it or not.”

“I’d have to think about it first, the housing costs are far higher and so is the cost of living, I’d be bringing home less at the end of the day once the bills were paid.”

“Oh really! Then maybe that’s why Braxton pays a little higher down there in Toronto because it costs more to live there.”

“Yer’s a crafty bastard so yer’s are Paul Machin” said Rory. Yer as bad as this pit bull with lipstick when it comes right down to it – and you are one of us so you say.”

“Well as I said Rory, you might want to tone down your language. I am quite sure that Miss Braithwaite has heard far worse, but that is no excuse. Yes, she is a tough negotiator, Rory. She has to be in order to deal with skilled people like you. You would skin her alive given half the chance and we both know it. However, she didn’t get where she was by simply being a pretty face, with or without lipstick. Rachelle, pass me one of your business cards would you please?”

Rachelle duly opened her purse and produced one and handed it to Paul.

“Here you are Rory; you may keep that for future reference – now read what it says out loud for the benefit of your team.”

“It says Rachelle Braithwaite BSc. MBA executive assistant.”

“Yes that’s right Rory and you were sufficiently respected in Toronto that Tony sent her up here to deal directly with you. He knew you were a tough negotiator who would do everything you could for your members. He could hardly send a novice to face someone of your talents. Yes she is a woman – but a very smart and skilled woman, hence her position at Braxton. The deal that she has proposed is a fair one and we both know it. Both of you have arrived at it through plain speaking. That’s what we do up here right? So let’s not change that now. If I were to go to the “Lobster Pot” tonight with this deal and then tell them that you refused it – what do you think their reaction would be, Rory?”

“All right Paul, I think I can sell this to the members as it stands – but you are still a crafty bastard.”

“You on the other hand are as pure as driven snow, Rory, isn’t that right?”

“Of course I am, Paul, we understand each other so well.”

With that the meeting adjourned and the deal was now a given. It was a very good and fair deal and Rory’s ego had been massaged expertly and his face saved in front of his team. He knew what would have happened had he refused this deal and he knew that Paul knew it too. He had tried to play Rachelle, but she wasn’t moving her position and when Paul said his piece he knew he had to settle. He would have been strung up if he hadn’t and he knew it.

The next few weeks would be spent setting up the new plant and training the new workers. They would go to college first and then be trained on the line once they were established. Things were now moving along nicely and the local people were delighted. This plant was going to revitalize their community and they were all in favour of that.

***

Pete Bradshaw was in his office in Richvale one morning finishing up on a report he had to submit when his telephone rang. It was Tony Braxton on the other end of the line and he asked Pete to come over to his office the following morning. He did not go into the details, but he told Pete he had a proposition for him. It was still tentative as yet, but he wanted his opinion on it. After he put the phone down he drove over to the Man Cave to have a word with Paul and to thank him for all he had done for him and for not walking away when he so easily could have. As a result he was now the foreman of the Richvale plant and Tony now had something else lined up for him. That day he had laughed and joked along with Paul and Andre not knowing what he was about to be offered. He had indeed come a long way from his days on the street dragging his dead leg behind him in a drunken stupor. Pete Bradshaw was now a completely changed man and a man who had been through the mill and survived. Tony had seen his transformation right before his eyes and in truth he had been largely responsible for it. Now he was going to begin the next step on his journey with Braxton Industries and unknown to him right now, be reunited with Paul Machin. Paul would in fact be his new boss, but Pete would be more than happy about that – it was Paul who had rescued him and helped him get back on his feet.

“Good morning Pete, I asked you over here this morning to run something by you. Braxton is opening up a new facility out East and right now we are in the process of tooling up the plant and getting all the machinery all set up. We are also in the process of training the shop floor workers and the assembly staff. Frank Brown and Rachelle Braithwaite have been up there and spoken to the union boss and hired all the right people to run the place. However, we need a general foreman to oversee the floor operations – would you be interested in moving out east to take that job on. Before you answer that – you will report directly to the plant manager – Paul Machin. Can I interest you in taking on that responsibility, Pete? I know that you and Paul get along well, but it is a big decision and does mean a move out East.”

“Yes it is a big decision, Sir, but it’s an offer I deeply appreciate, I do. It is also a huge responsibility too and I don’t want to screw it up – not after you have done for me.”

“Take you time to think it over Pete. I have mentioned the possibility to Paul and he would be delighted to have you with him. That said, this is your decision, Pete, and no pressure will be applied one way or the other. I have every confidence in your abilities on the floor as does your current boss. We believe you are ready for this challenge. It is your call Pete, think it over for a few days, talk to Paul if you want, and then let me know your decision.”

Two days later he happily accepted that position.

***

Maureen, while all of this had been going on, had all kinds of ideas going through her head. If they went ahead with the Women’s Shelter, what kind of services would she set in place? What professionals would she be able to recruit to help out etc.? Would she be able to offer classes, how much fund raising would she need to do to be able to run the place? All of this was running through her mind. At the same time she was gazing down at her ring as it sparkled in the sunlight. This now brought up another topic – her wedding. She and Paul had not yet set a date and hadn’t really had a meaningful discussion on the subject. She knew that they had to really sit down and discuss this – but so far they hadn’t. With this upcoming move to Nova Scotia where would the wedding now take place, here in Markton or out there in Murdoch’s Cove? If it were held out there who would attend – then again who from out East would attend a Markton wedding. She certainly had a lot to think about and that was before the minor details of dresses, bridesmaids, catering, invitations, favors and everything else connected to a wedding. Paul, like most men would be clueless on such matters. She would involve him of course – but she knew he would simply nod and grunt in the right places and not have a clue as to what was happening. He’d order his tux or whatever and rely on his best man to get him there complete with ring – and even that could be iffy. As she was thinking about all of this she realized that she was being a little harsh perhaps and a smile crept across her face. None of that mattered. As long as Paul showed up she would be happy, the rest was simply decoration. The only thing that mattered to Maureen was becoming Mrs. Paul Machin. She had waited a long time to find the right man and she had been dragged through Hell and back again before she found him. Unicorns were certainly rare alright – but she now had hers all neatly gift wrapped. The finer details just didn’t matter at all. Right this minute her thoughts were all about going to Murdoch’s Cove and to setting up the new Women’s Shelter in nearby Liverpool. All her childhood memories were coming back to her now. She suddenly realized that not all of those memories related to the antics of her and Helen. There were other memories of a more adult nature. As a young girl her parents had tried to shield her from the fishermen’s drunken brawls, their wives fighting one another in the pub’s and calling each other rather unsavory names and other such behaviour. It wasn’t always sweetness and light she now recalled. Her parents had certainly tried their best to shield her – but it was an almost impossible task. On top of that it was simply just life – and you cannot escape that, you just have to accept it. One may not fully understand it as a naïve young girl – but now as a mature woman, Maureen knew only too well what tragedies were out there. Being rescued by Paul in that forest had now brought her into contact with people she would otherwise never have met, Tony Braxton and Rachel Malcolm to name but two. In meeting them, she had now been given an opportunity to really help people and make a difference in their lives. She had already sampled that here in Markton where the women had far more than those out on the East Coast had. As a young widow with an ailing mother she knew how difficult live could be and many of the women out there were far worse off. With a good man beside her now she felt as if she could move mountains – and she was hell bent on trying to do just that. She had seen first-hand how Rachel had helped so many traumatized women at the Shelter and she would now try to do the same in Nova Scotia – putting into practice all that she had learned from Rachel and Debbie. In addition, Paul would be there at the end of the day to take her mind off the troubles of the world. A smile now crossed her face as she contemplated just how he might do that. She could feel the heat rise in her cheeks as she lit up like a Christmas tree just thinking about it. He had quite a way about him did Paul, when he put his mind to it. When it came to unwinding Maureen and getting her totally relaxed he most certainly did have that magic touch. What that might lead to once she was relaxed – well that really put a smile on her face now – and also forced her back to reality. Right now you have other duties to perform, Maureen, and stop all of this daydreaming, she scolded herself.

Chapter Twenty

***

Paul and Andre were sitting in Paul’s office a few days later discussing the changeover arrangements. When Paul moved out East Andre would be taking over his duties. It would be a very easy transition in this case as Andre knew exactly how things were run in the Man Cave. Gwen would be assuming Maureen’s duties in much the same fashion. Then the subject of weddings came up.

“So if you guys are moving out East are you going to get married before you go or are you getting married out there, asked Andre?”

“To be honest, Andre, we haven’t discussed anything yet.”

“Well don’t you think it’s time that you did?”

“Yes I guess it is really.”

“Well if you are looking for a best man I guess I could fit you in,”

“Without being too pushy you mean.”

“Exactly, you know me, I’m kind of shy that way and I wouldn’t want to be seen as intrusive.”

“God forbid, Andre, that you could never be.”

“However, now that you have made that magnanimous and selfless offer I will take you up on it. Did you have a date in mind too, or will you allow Maureen and I the privilege of choosing that?”

“Oh I think you could manage that much, Paul. Choosing the date is just about all you’d be doing. Maureen would be doing everything else I would imagine. I’ll even take you to the formal rentals place to get you fixed up with a tux.”

“Well that’s big of you, Andre – so we are having a formal do are we – you have decided that have you?”

“Damn right, this is your big day and one to remember forever, a sports jacket and trousers just ain’t gonna cut it – not for this wedding.”

“That seems to settle that then doesn’t it – formal it is. I assume Gwen will be giving similar advice to Maureen?”

“Oh I doubt it, she won’t need any advice in that area, she has way too much class. She’ll know what she wants, women always do, they’ve had it planned for years. You won’t have a say in it. Well you will be allowed to put your two cents in here and there. If it coincides with their wishes all well and good, if it doesn’t, they’ll just smile at you, give you a kiss and do what the hell they like anyway. You my friend will just go along with it – that’s what grooms do – husbands too come to think of it.”

“Now there’s a ringing endorsement for marriage if ever I heard one. Who could possibly shy away from it after those words of wisdom?”

“Hey! I’m just telling it like it is”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of.”

Both men laughed at that, but they also knew that a serious discussion on the subject was needed – and very soon too.

That night after dinner Paul raised the issue with Maureen and they both sat down on the sofa to discuss it.

“Well, Honey, where do we want to get married, that’s the first question – here or out East?”

“I think here would be better, Paul. Andre, Gwen and Rachel couldn’t leave to travel out East for that length of time, and probably Tony couldn’t either. Cathy would go, but it wouldn’t be the same for her without Tony.”

“Good point, Maureen. Martin and Violet could probably make it here and so too could Helen and Hamish. Outside of them I don’t have too many other people on my list, do you?”

“No not really, one or two cousins but that’s about it.”

“Well then I guess we’ll have the wedding here. Andre has already appointed himself as my Best Man so that about covers it for me. You on the other hand probably have a few more things to deal with – like dresses, bridesmaids and all those other girlie type things that are involved in weddings.”

“Now just hold up a minute here mister – it’s your wedding too you know. You have one or two things to look after yourself don’t forget. The church, the transportation, the flowers – minor details like that – not to mentions anything else I might come up with. I’ll take care of the table favours, bridesmaid’s gifts, place settings and the seating chart. Oh and don’t forget your speech and the toasts.”

“Hey wait a minute here, where do you imagine we are holding this spectacular – the convention center?” I was more inclined to hold it in a phone booth, well maybe a pretty large one.”

“Paul Machin, behave yourself, this is all normal arrangements for weddings. We don’t have to hold it under the Skydome with fifty thousand of our closest friends – but the corner café is out too- right?”

“Well if you feel that strongly about it I guess I’ll just have to bite the bullet and go along with it then eh!”

“Good we are on the same page at last.”

Paul was just sitting there grinning from ear to ear. Maureen could be quite feisty when aroused and he had certainly got her going that time.

“What are you grinning like a Cheshire cat for, you’ll have plenty to do for this wedding? If you think that you and Andre can disappear to the pub or say you have Man Cave business to attend to each night – think again.”

Paul’s grin widened into a real beam now, Maureen was on a real tear now.

“Okay, Hon, I’ve got the message, Andre and I will take the pledge until it’s over.”

“Don’t you get smart with me Paul Machin or you’ll regret it – a girl can develop a lot of headaches at times like these – if you get my drift.”

“Oh Yeah, I get your drift, I’ll be a good boy.”

“Good I’m glad we cleared that up.”

Paul just sat there remembering Andre’s words of wisdom – “just say yes to everything, it’s what husbands do.” Well the smart ones anyway thought Paul to himself; he knew which side his bread was buttered on. If he didn’t before he sure did now.

***

Maureen went to work the following morning like a dog with two tails- she was going to get married. She already knew that she was – but somehow this made it feel more definite. They had actually discussed it - whereas before she had just been given the ring and marriage seemed so far away. Well now it was on the front burner and not the back and she had arrangements to make. Item one was getting a dress – Gwen was going to be her Maid of Honor – at least that was what Maureen imagined without even thinking about it. As she was driving to the Women’s Shelter all kinds of things were going through her mind . It then suddenly hit her – Helen, what about Helen her best friend? “Oh my God, what was I thinking?” How can I not have her as head bridesmaid? She then scolded herself mentally for the oversight – Gwen could still be a bridesmaid of course, but Helen just had to be the head bridesmaid.

When she arrived at the Shelter she met Rachel walking in also and naturally her bubbly enthusiasm couldn’t be contained and she told her the good news. Gwen was the next one to find out and then Debbie Curtis. By break time the whole Shelter was buzzing with the news. One of the women than asked Gwen when she and Andre were going to tie the knot and Gwen just shrugged and said “Soon I hope”. Later that day Cathy Braxton dropped by and Rachel told her the news.

“Oh that’s wonderful news, Rachel, is Gwen getting married also or just Maureen? I mean those two have been inseparable – so a double wedding wouldn’t be out of line would it?”

“No, it certainly wouldn’t, but I don’t think Andre and Gwen have given the matter too much thought. I think the only reason Maureen has is due to their moving out east soon.”

“Well drop a bug in her ear, in fact in both their ears, to see if they would like a double wedding. I’d love to give them something like that as a wedding present.”

“Wow Cathy, that’s very generous of you.”

“Nonsense, Rachel, these two have shared so much together, given back so much to the Shelter and helped a lot of women along the way. They have done way more than had been asked of them and their hearts are in the right place. I would just love to do that for them – assuming they would like that. I can hardly push Gwen and Andre down the aisle – but I’m sure they could be persuaded. If you work on Gwen, I’ll get Tony to have a word in Andre’s ear.”

“Cathy Braxton, I never had you down as a scheming minx – it just goes to show how wrong you can be about people.”

“You of all people, Rachel, should know by now that you should never judge people – they just might surprise you.”

“How right you are – they might indeed.”

At this point both women were now laughing. The stage had been set and both Gwen and Andre were about to be given words of wisdom, not to mention encouragement on the virtues of marriage. It might just be mentioned in passing that given the closeness of the two couples and all that they had undergone together – a double wedding might merit consideration. It would all be done subtly – but all four parties would be gently guided down that path. It would be them that came to that same conclusion on their own – not realizing that they had been skillfully manipulated by experts. A double wedding it would be. However, in setting it all in motion and making all the arrangements Paul and Andre were completely unaware that Cathy Braxton would be paying for it all. That minor detail had been overlooked. What the two couples thought they were getting and what they would get were not exactly the same thing. This they wouldn’t know until the actual day of the wedding.

***

When Paul told Andre that he had had that fateful discussion with Maureen and that arrangements were now in the process of being made, Andre was delighted.

“Good then that is all sorted then is it”?

“Oh I wouldn’t go that far, weddings have a habit of becoming a minefield of imponderables.”

“Ever the optimist, eh Paul.

“Well I’m just saying.”

“I see – so you have Murphy on the guest list then do you – or you at least expect him to put in an appearance?”

“Things have been known to go awry at weddings and Murphy’s Law has applied to many of them.”

“Well that’s not to say that things will go wrong this time. Besides, I am your Best Man I’ll have it all covered. Murphy won’t be able to gatecrash this function.”

“Good to know Andre, I’ll hold you to that.”

“So, have you booked the church yet?”

“No I was going to do that today. I think we shall both have to go down to see him at some point. They do like to see the happy couple before they marry them I believe.”

“Oh really, and here’s me thinking you just took a number and lined up after everyone else.”

“They do often have multiple weddings in the summer months. Have you given any thought when you and Gwen are taking the plunge?”

“No we haven’t really. Like you I have just been coasting along. I’ll have to raise the subject soon though; now that you and Maureen are going ahead I can’t be seen to be dragging my feet. It’s a pity we couldn’t just walk down the aisle together. We’ve been through combat zones together –what’s one more?”

Paul just roared out laughing at that one.

“You sure do like living on the edge don’t you? If Gwen heard you saying that - ??? Well I don’t need to paint you a picture now do I Andre?”

“You do however raise a very good point – but it has one huge drawback for me?”

”Oh and what would that be?”

“Well, I‘d have to find another best man for a start and they sure don’t grow on trees – not the quality ones anyway.”

“True, you do have the best in business lined up right now – but maybe you could persuade Pete Bradshaw to step up. I know he’s a second stringer compared to me – but he is a solid stand up guy.”

“Well I’m sure he’d be delighted to hear that glowing reference, Andre, especially coming from a man of your prominence and stature in the Best Man business.”

“I am aware of that of course, but modesty prevented me from pointing it out – as I’m sure you understand.”

“I most certainly do – but I’d be careful pointing that out to Pete. That just might muddy the waters if you wanted him to be best man for both of us.”

“You know Paul, I hadn’t thought of that aspect – all joking aside. A double wedding would be nice and I am sure that Gwen would endorse that idea – but it does pose problems.”

“Yes I can see that – but they are by no means insurmountable, Andre. I think if we all sat down and discussed it we might be able to find a way round all the issues involved.”

“You are probably right, Paul, but I haven’t even mentioned marriage to Gwen yet. I can’t put the cart before the horse.”

“Well then you had better get off your ass and get moving then, Andre. The clock is ticking –which is more than can be said for yours if she finds out about this and you are still sitting on your hands.”

“Yeah! I guess you are right about that – hand me the phone.”

“C’mon Andre – you can’t do this over the phone, Jeez. This you have to do in a romantic setting with candles and the whole nine yards. Ladies don’t appreciate this bull in a china shop attitude to romance – a little finesse is required here don’t you think?”

“I guess you’re right, I’m so confused right now I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.”

“Yes I can see that, Andre, you have to calm down – marriage isn’t that scary is it? Then again, how would I know ????”

“Throw some gas on the fire why don’t you, Paul?”. I’m freaked out enough already.”

“Look, when you go home tonight, take Gwen out to dinner and then discuss it while you are waiting to be served and between the courses. It’s not rocket science and it doesn’t need to scare the hell out of you – we have been though worse you know.”

“Okay, pass me the phone.”

“Now what?”

“I’m just going to make a table reservation for tonight like you suggested. Once that’s done I’ll tell Gwen”

“No you damn well won’t. If you do that she’ll worry about what she’s going to wear for the rest of the day. This is a spontaneous surprise for when she gets home. She won’t have time to fret about it – she’ll just do it. The odds are she’ll wear the same outfit she would have been fretting about all day – but this time without the fretting. On top of that women like this kind of thing – you’ll be scoring Brownie points big time on this.”

“Ya Think?”

“Damn right I think. They love these spontaneous and romantic dinners and, in this case, where marriage arrangements are also being served on the menu – well it just goes right off the romantic scale. I think Gwen will soon get with the program, Andre. Just relax and let it all unfold.”

He did exactly that later in the evening and everything worked out as Paul had predicted. Gwen really liked the idea of a double wedding. In fact Rachel had made an oblique reference to the subject earlier that day. It was just a casual remark, but Gwen had remembered it and now it was coming to pass. She was simply over the moon right now and her head was spinning like a top.

***

The following day it was all around the Women’s Shelter – Maureen and Gwen were having a double wedding. The whole place was like a giant bee hive as everyone was seeking all the details and telling them to everyone else. Despite all the misery in their own marriages, they were still caught up in the romance of it all. Obviously they all believed in fairy tales even though they were living here, their lives in an uproar. The irony was not lost on Maureen and Gwen either. They too had been wrapped up in the search for a loving mate not too long ago. Marriage wasn’t to blame; it was the selection of the partner that was questionable. In Maureen’s case the sea had robbed her of her husband – it had nothing to do with marriage. However, when a replacement had been sought, that’s when she realized how difficult a quest that could be. The wrong choice in that area and just about any woman could be a resident in here – including Maureen. As she reflected on this she realized just how fortunate she and Gwen were. In fact they were lottery winners in the husband stakes. Damaged Unicorns they may be – but they were good caring men and role models for their future children. As she walked around the shelter that day she realized that most of the women in there would be envious of both her and Gwen. The men in their lives were not of the same kind at all. However, despite all of that, the women still wanted a man in their lives – some of them still hoped to go back to the brutes that they had married. Maureen and Gwen had seen that happen many times, it’s just the way it is they told themselves. They were hardly living the dream – but it’s what they had settled for. The Shelter could only help those that wanted to change the pattern – but living on one’s own is scary. As a result they would go back hoping against hope that he would change – they never did.

The two women were now fully engaged in wedding plans. The dresses had to be selected and all the other ancillary arrangements along with them. It is difficult to reach a decision when only one wedding is involved – but this was a joint affair. Maureen and Gwen now had to agree on everything and compromises had to be made by them both. There were no serious disagreements, but getting two women to agree on everything is a daunting task. One the two men wanted no part of. They kept well away. As far as they were concerned this whole area was a minefield and one that they totally respected and stayed away from. They were scared of being drawn in and asked for their opinion on something. No way in hell were they up for that – they’d be hung drawn and quartered if they gave the wrong answer – and they would all be wrong answers.

The two couples had been to see the minister at the church and had a lengthy discussion on the merits of holy matrimony and their responsibilities to each other and to God. The minister was a very likeable character and they all took to him instantly and he to them also. He told them that he would speak to Dr. Phillips the organist and get him lined up if possible. Everything was now shaping up and they were actually getting all their ducks in a row – and Murphy had not put in an appearance anywhere as yet. The reception was to be held at the golf club and this made them cringe thinking how much it would cost. Paul had told Maureen that Tony had pulled a few strings and got them a very good rate for the function. Tony failed to mention the subsidy that he was throwing in personally. On paper the whole affair looked to be quite affordable and yet it was quite the bash when one broke down the details. The two women had their minds on other matters and so they didn’t bother with that aspect, if the men said it was fine – then that was fine with them.

The two men on the other hand were taking care of the flowers, the limousines and the photographer and getting their tuxes organized. The reception cost and the bar bill, they had been told, would be at member’s rates. When they saw the estimates they figured they could well afford that. Tony had made sure that those estimates fell within their budget – the actual cost, even at member rates, were way more.

Everyone they had invited from out East was going to attend and so too were several former clients of the Shelter and the Man Cave too. The venue would require a little more space than the phone booth envisioned by Paul, but not quite the convention center he accused Pauline of organizing. On paper everything was now all set. All the minor details had been taken care of and Pete Bradshaw had it all set up in true military fashion and organized with military precision too. All they had to do now was show up – they rest had been taken care of.

Chapter Twenty One

***

Pete Bradshaw now had his work cut out for him as best man to both Paul and Andre. Most of his duties, although now duplicated, were in fact the same thing. The speeches however were another matter and they were totally different and must be seen to be. Both would contain humor, but military experiences would not be mentioned – well other than those in boot camp or other Canadian bases. There were lots of stories he could tell about those days – and have the room in an uproar with tears in their eyes as he did so. He had been honored by their request to be their best man – but both men knew they could not find better anywhere. They knew he was going to make fun of them; they would do the same to him. However, the sentiments expressed would be heartfelt and genuine and that would come across to those in attendance. Although he was a little nervous about getting up and delivering these monologues – he felt that he could do it and they were two of the finest men he had ever met. They had saved him after all and that he would never ever forget.

The day of the dress rehearsal both Paul and Andre were as cool as cucumbers – something that could not be said for Gwen and Maureen. They were anything but calm. It wasn’t necessarily rehearsal related, but they both had a multitude of things on their minds. This being par for the course for Brides needless to say. The two grooms wouldn’t feel any pangs until they were stood in church awaiting the arrival of their brides. If they were going to feel any, that’s when it would strike. Their lives flashing before them, their freedom lost forever as they sank deeper into the quagmire of obligations, responsibilities and future parenthood. If they hadn’t crossed their minds before, they would then. However when they turned their heads around to see their brides walking down the aisle towards them all of that would be forgotten. They were no longer headed for the gallows – now they were walking into the Garden of Eden filled with butterflies and rainbows. Well that might be a stretch – but you get the drift. The two women had been here before and they knew the ropes – it was the two men who had yet to face this new phase in their lives. As Andre had so eloquently stated; “We have survived war zones together – what’s one more?” It was said in gest at the time – how it would be viewed stood in the church nervously awaiting the brides arrival was perhaps another matter. However, this was merely the rehearsal they were having today – the full impact wouldn’t be felt until the actual day of the wedding.

The two women had been to the bridal shops checking to see just what was available and more to the point what was tasteful given the circumstances. As they had both been married previously it was a time honored tradition that the traditional virginal white gown should not be worn. Then considering the experiences in that Logging camp that was magnified even more. At least it was until Rachel and Cathy Braxton got wind of it. They quickly pointed out that it was not only their wedding, but Paul’s and Andre’s too. They should not be deprived of the joy of seeing their wives walk down the aisle looking like Cinderella in a gorgeous white flowing wedding dress. They deserved that and besides – so too did the women themselves. So! They had been married before – so what? The colour of ones dress is a matter of choice and how comfortable one feels. Yes, their experiences in that lumber camp would disqualify them as virgins – but not as human beings. They were just as entitled to happiness as anyone else. The therapeutic value alone would justify the wearing of white for the start of a new life. Nobody in attendance would be pointing out just how inappropriate it was – they all wished the best for them. The church minister had been consulted and he saw no problem with it at all. He pointed out that the only thing that mattered was what was in your heart – and God knew exactly what that was. Between the minister, Rachel and Cathy the two men would now see their brides walking down the aisle in white. Maureen’s first wedding had been a relatively simple affair and she had not had the Cinderella dress and tiara that most young brides dream about – she would this time. Gwen had been down that road and although she would be wearing a white gown it would not be confused with Cinderella’s and no tiara would be worn. Both men would be totally mesmerized by the visions they would see in the church – but they had no clue as yet as to what their brides would look like. While they would not be showing up at the rehearsal dinner in jeans and a t-shirt, glamour would certainly not be a feature either.

***

Maureen had agonized over her dress and whether or not to go for the white Cinderella effect or tone it down to some obscure cream outfit befitting that of widowhood. Her friends at the shelter certainly had opinions on that and they were something less than shy in expressing them too. Each and every one of them had told her that the White Wedding Dress and Veil was an absolute must. How could she be even thinking of anything less and besides that – Paul deserved to see her in one. Rachel, Cathy, Debbie and all the women in the shelter had been most insistent on that point and so Maureen had finally been persuaded to go that route. Once the other women learned that Maureen had never had that experience the first time round they were hell bent on making sure she did this time. She had been to several fittings and the dress was now finished. As one would expect it fitted her like a glove and she looked absolutely gorgeous in it. Rachel had gone with her for her final fitting and pointed out that Cinderella herself would be envious of Maureen and how she looked in that dress. As of now she was the only other person that had seen it, outside of the dressmaker and of course Maureen. The ladies in the shelter had all pressed Rachel for her comments on “The Dress” – but she kept her lips sealed. Gwen for her part was determined to let Maureen have her big day. She had been here before and knew the delights involved and she was not going to let anything get in the way of that. She was more than happy to be getting married to a man like Andre – especially after what she had been through. She still found it hard to believe that a man like Andre would fancy her after what she had done in that logging camp. Not too many men would be able to get passed that – but he had. He could see the real Gwen – her history was meaningless to him. He just loved her and that was it – nothing else mattered to him. Paul was exactly the same with Maureen. How did they get so lucky? It was something they questioned every day as they walked around the Women’s Shelter. The women in the shelter didn’t deserve to be there and most of them were there because they had made the wrong choice way back when. Some figured they would change their man over time – they knew deep down he had issues of one kind or another –but they ignored them. Love can do that to you. Maureen and Gwen were only too well aware of that and they had seen more than their fair share of jerks. The men they were now marrying bore no resemblance to those creeps in their past. They were broken themselves when they had found them – but they were getting better every day. They had leaned on each other, consoled each other and provided each other with the strength to tackle each day as it came and to triumph over it. They had made new friends and were making more each day and helping others along the way. That in itself provided them with considerable satisfaction. It gave their lives purpose and a reason to get up each morning. They would look forward to each new day and the challenges it might have and the problems they may be called upon to solve. Having been through what they had they knew they would be up for any challenge that came along – and they had certainly proven that so far. That was why Tony had opened the new facility out East and suggested that they be the ones to run it and the assembly plant too. Tomorrow would be the big day – but honeymoon plans had not been discussed. Hints had been dropped, but the women had no idea of what arrangements had been made or when it may occur – if ever. They were all busy in the Man Cave and the Women’s Shelter they felt – but then they were secretly hoping that the two guys had something up their sleeves. Right now they were kept guessing.

***

The big day had arrived and Maureen and Gwen were in Maureen’s house now getting ready. Gwen had spent the night and they had kicked Paul out to share Andre’s apartment. The men didn’t have too much to do – outside of showing up appropriately dressed. Pete Bradshaw would have the rings and he would make sure they were fit to attend the ceremony. So as far as they were concerned they had it covered. The two women on the other hand had far more to think about, starting with their hairdresser’s appointment. They were also fretting about the reception despite being told not to worry – everything was all set. The limousines should be there on time – Paul had told then that he had organized that and they were good to go. The Bridesmaids were all organized, their dresses fitted perfectly and they looked lovely in them. All in all there was nothing to worry about – but that didn’t stop them from worrying anyway. Going on the premise that something always goes awry at weddings – they were worried about Murphy putting in an appearance somewhere despite assurances to the contrary.

With only the one bathroom to share – juggling the timetable was a work of art. Thankfully their hair would be done earlier that morning and not need to be blow dried etc. One can just imagine the panic if two hair dryers were used simultaneously and the fuse blew. That never happened. When the limousines arrived everyone was ready. The groom’s limo arrived fifteen minutes before theirs and they saw it come and go. That eliminated any anxiety about whether they would show up or not.

The church itself was all set up, the organ was playing and the people were now arriving and being ushered into their places on the appropriate side of the aisle. The church bells had been ringing out that afternoon and that just added to the occasion. It all now seemed like it was an English country wedding – that is where those church bells originally came from. The weather had also cooperated and this guaranteed that the photographs would be exactly what they wanted and would now be taken in the places that they wanted. In short it should be perfect – but they still worried.

Paul and Andre were now stood at the front of the church dressed in the tuxes and looking very smart indeed. Their military bearing was evident and they sent quite a few hearts a flutter too apparently. Although they were unaware of it – both of them were in fact hunks. Damaged they may have been – but they were getting better every day and that by no means reduced their “Hunk” status.

When the organist suddenly pulled out all the stops and began playing the Wedding March all heads spun round to look at the two brides walking down the aisle side by side. The two grooms spun round too and the look on their faces was captured on dozens of devices and by the official photographer too. They were both completely mesmerized and awestricken by the visions floating down the aisle towards them. Maureen in particular looked astonishingly beautiful, even under her veil. Gwen was the picture of elegance in the gown she was wearing and it fitted her like a glove. It did not detract from Maureen’s Cinderella like gown, but it was gorgeous in its own right. Paul and Andre were just speechless. They knew their wives were beautiful – but what was approaching them down that aisle was simply off the scale. Their faces registered that fact too and sent the temperature in the church surging upwards by at least five degrees.

The ceremony went off without a hitch and so too did the photography session in the park. It was a really perfect day for taking wedding pictures and they all turned out just as they wanted them to. The photographer had done a great job, the stances he had them in; their facial expressions and the sites themselves were perfection itself. Everything was correctly focused, everyone was smiling and paying attention and they looked fabulous. Murphy had not dared to show his face at this wedding it seemed. When all of this had been done it was times to go to the golf club for the reception. As the guests walked through the front door they saw the seating chart right in front of them. They would be ushered into the bar initially until the receiving line was all set up, but that wouldn’t take too long. Having gone through that procedure everyone then took their seats and the evening then got underway. Pete Bradshaw was doing double duty that night acting as best man and also emcee for the event. He did an absolutely amazing job – and in doing so ruined the make-up jobs of half the women in the room. He had them all laughing and crying, often at the same time with some of his stories. They were hilarious tales about the exploits of both the grooms from way back when. Where he came up with this stuff neither Paul nor Andre could figure out. Some serious research had gone into this. There was no mention whatsoever about their service in Afghanistan for obvious reasons. Martin Clark was also brought up to say a few words and he too had everyone rolling in the aisles. Apparently Paul’s childhood had been something less than angelic – but all had been forgiven now. However, he jokingly pointed out, that one wall of the police station was devoted to Paul’s activities and all new recruits had to study them in order to pass their entry exams.

One of Andre’s friends stood up and gave him a roasting too, pointing out all of his childhood transgressions – and they were plentiful too apparently. The two brides got off lightly in comparison. Helen did blow the whistle on some of Maureen’s questionable activities – but it was left to the listener’s imagination as to what she had actually been up to. Some people however do indeed have fertile imaginations – and assumed the worst and then some in most cases. They were all kept fully entertained all evening. Tony got up followed by Rachel and gave an almost eulogistic description of the impact the two couples had had on the community in the short time they had been there. They were very moving and heartfelt words that brought tears to Paul and Andre’s eyes and had both women weeping. It took Paul some time to compose himself before he could get up and give his groom speech – but when he did, he too had the tissues being used at a feverish rate. This time Cathy Braxton’s make up was destroyed and Tony was wiping his eyes too as was Rachel and Debbie Curtis. Paul delivered a very powerful and heartfelt speech of gratitude for all that had been done for them and how much it meant to them all. The sincerity of that speech was self-evident and everyone present knew it too. They all knew the circumstances surrounding their arrival here in Markton and what had transpired since. Hearing the impact their welcome had had on the two couples had taken them by surprise. They knew they were four lovely people – but hearing Paul’s speech and how they felt about them for doing what they had done for these damaged people, as he put it, reduced them to tears.

“We are here today because of all of you guys and what you have done for us. You brought us into your lives, four broken souls with little or no future ahead of them. You didn’t need to do that –but you did. Tony, you gave Andre and I a job – no , let me correct that – you gave us back our self-respect. You built us up and enabled us to do that for others slowly enabling us to heal. What you have done for Andre and I cannot be quantified and neither can out admiration and gratitude for you and for Cathy- God bless you both”

There were some very powerful words delivered that night along with all the jokes. It was an evening very few people would forget – it was a joyous occasion for sure – but one with a lot of depth attached too. The dancing started right after the dinner plates had been cleared and went on until 1:00 am in the morning. The following morning the two bridal couples flew off to the Caribbean on board the Braxton corporate jet. In actual fact Tony and Cathy were themselves of board – but they were going to a different location. They too were taking a holiday and they would pick them up again on their return home. It would be a well-earned rest for them all, peaceful and relaxing and one that was very much appreciated. The harbour of Murdoch’s Cove could not compare to the soft sandy beaches and the warm clear blue waters of the Caribbean. This was paradise to the four of them and they could simply lie on the beach and soak it all up. They also did the usual touristy things like parasailing, snorkeling and going out in a glass bottomed boat to view the wrecks of years gone by. Andre and Gwen had had a similar holiday in Jamaica not too long ago, but it didn’t compare to this. Honeymoons just seem to have that little extra pizazz – well they thought so anyway. The food was of course superb every night and those moonlight strolls on the beach just before bedtime were just priceless. The whole place just added to the romance of it all with its ambiance and the fragrant aromas that wafted on the warm gentle breeze. It was their honeymoon after all – and all four of them took full advantage of it and all the delights it offered – and it was certainly a full menu. It would only last for two weeks, but it would be a very memorable two weeks and they would all be sorry to see it come to an end.

One night after have a few drinks in the bar they were all sitting on the beach listening to the waves lap gently onto the beach and thinking back a few years. They had come a long way in a very short space of time. The wheel of fortune had been very good to them this time. They could all see their future ahead of them and now they were not afraid of it. They now had a future – whereas before they were afraid to even think about it as it was so bleak.

“I’ll be sorry to leave here Paul said Maureen, this had been so heavenly.”

“Yes it has and I feel the same way – I don’t want to go home either. It is just so peaceful here and none of the world’s troubles are with us. It’s as if they simply don’t exist here.”

“They don’t” said Andre, “that is why we don’t want to go home. The lifestyle here is so laid back; time doesn’t seem to matter here. The people probably have their problems just like we do – but we simply don’t see them and so to us this is paradise. They may go to Toronto and say that to them that is paradise. We have the things that they lack here perhaps and they most certainly have what we lack as you have said.”

“Well when you put it that way Andre I guess you are right. The other man’s grass is always greener it seems – but it never is in the end.”

“That my friend is life –we always want what we don’t have – until we get it?”

“Wow Andre, what have you been drinking, or have you been taking a philosophy course on the quiet. You are turning into quite the philosopher here – and right before our eyes too.”

“Stop teasing him Paul and besides you are just as bad, said Maureen”

“Yeah well I don’t know about all of that – but I certainly don’t want to go home. I’m having far too much fun here and I just love how quiet it is here” said Gwen. “Just look at the moon dancing on the water, where else will you feel this relaxed?”

Gwen’s comment stopped them all in their tracks as they studied the sight before them of the moon dancing on the water. She was quite right it was truly beautiful and relaxing – something that they could all use but seldom got in their everyday life. As they all sat there with their arms around each other, they began to realize the significance of Gwen’s statement and they drew just that little bit closer to each other. They were indeed fortunate to be where they were now – it hadn’t been easy getting here, but they were here now.

Chapter Twenty Two

***

The honeymoon was over now and it was back to reality time once more. Both the Shelter and the Cave were full and there were plenty of problems to solve. When it boiled right down to it, very few of the actual problems were ever really solved. They were dealt with and, in general, they had a reasonable and fair conclusion. However, that is not quite the same thing as solving the problem. While one party or the other may now be out of the home and living on their own – the bully or the cheater were still bullying and cheating – but on someone else this time. It was a never ending circle and they only saw the tip of the iceberg – the vast majority of victims never came forward – they just suffered in silence. This aspect they chose to ignore – they could only help those who sought out their help and this they did. They took comfort in knowing that and they had indeed helped a large number of victims and in a variety of ways too. The police and local social services personnel spoke very highly indeed about both facilities and the community as a whole was very generous in their donations as they too respected what they were doing.

Christmas and the New Year had come and gone and the new factory out East was now just about ready to become operational. The adjacent building, where the Women’s Shelter would be, was already finished. It was time for Maureen and Paul to get their affairs in order here in Markton and prepare to move back out to Liverpool. Initially they would be living on the top floor of the Women’s Shelter in the roof top apartment. That served two purposes – they were on site in case of emergencies and it would give them time to find more suitable accommodation. They would be sorry to go and leave all of this and their friends behind – but they could always come back for visits and Tony and Cathy would be visiting them occasionally. Right now they had to think about packing up all of their stuff and moving it out to Nova Scotia. Gwen and Andre would only have to move their belongings across the yard from the coach house apartment to the gate house. That would still require effort though; the distance was irrelevant in that respect. The transition would be smooth and the Man Cave’s daily routine would not be disrupted at all as Andre was already on top of everything. The Women’s Shelter would miss Maureen and her sewing abilities, but they all wished her well in her new position out in Liverpool. They all knew she would do a great job out there – but it wouldn’t be easy initially. She had to find the right volunteers for a start. The professionals were already on board, but as yet she had yet to meet with them. She would be in for a few busy days once she got up there. It would also take a while to establish credibility with the police and social services. One can’t simply hang out a shingle and claim you are open for business. These people are in pain and suffering and the authorities need to know they are not sending them from the frying pan into the fire. Once her reputation had been established things would be fine – but that wouldn’t happen overnight.

Their belongings all packed up they were now ready to go. They would get an early start in the morning, but first they had to say their goodbyes to everyone. That proved to be a very difficult thing to do. Saying goodbye to Gwen and Andre really tore Maureen apart. She had not expected to be that upset. She knew she’d be upset – but not as much as she was. She and Gwen had been through Hell together, rescued together, worked side by side, married together and even been on honeymoon together. The thought of not having Gwen around was devastating to Maureen. It was equally traumatic for Gwen for exactly the same reasons. Their final good bye was a very tearful one. They would still be in constant touch, by phone and e-mail and they would make a point of visiting each other periodically – but today that didn’t lessen the pain. A similar scene played out when saying goodbye to Rachel and Debbie. Cathy she would see quite often so that was not so painful – but it still had them both in tears. Paul was not exactly immune either. He choked up too saying goodbye to everyone and especially Andre. They had been through Hell together, lived there for a while and then come out on the other side. They had not emerged unscathed from that experience and they had clung to each other in order to survive it. Parting after all of that was tough to do for both men. While not in tears, their eyes were most certainly misty. Even the hardened Pete Bradshaw was upset at his leaving them all behind. They had been a very close knit community; they were family for god’s sake – how does one not be upset by leaving them behind. They all felt that way – including the ones staying where they were.

***

Out in Liverpool things were now all ready to go. The building had been refitted and the assembly lines all set up. The workforce had been to school to be given the basics and they had also been run through the training program on the shop floor. They had been fully paid for all of this and they were now ready to put it all in motion and begin production. Pete Bradshaw had been very pleased indeed at what he had seen in terms of effort on the shop floor. As he told Tony –

“These guys are really busting their asses. They put in extra time without thinking about it and they don’t expect to be paid for it. They really are so grateful for the opportunity to work. That said, I do authorize overtime pay when I consider it necessary and they most certainly appreciate it. In fact they work even harder on the strength of it so as not to let us down. I am so proud of these guys, Tony, and I think you ought to come out here to see for yourself what you have done for these guys. They will most definitely appreciate a visit from the boss – and that in itself is a rarity. In this case, Tony, they know what you have done for them and I am sure they’ll be only too happy to let you know that personally. When you get the time – a surprise visit might just be what these guys need in order to let you know how much they appreciate this opportunity.”

“Thanks for the update, Pete. Cathy and I were planning a trip up there soon. Cathy wants to see the Women’s shelter operation once Maureen has it organized. From what I hear it is coming along just fine, but the first client has not set foot in there yet, that I believe is scheduled to start on Monday. Paul will be starting in the plant that day too – full time that is. He has only been dropping in periodically up until now – but once the place is up and running he has to be there to run it. You have all the floor operations ticking along like a Swiss watch he tells me – but the office side he now has to organize so that will keep him busy for a while.”

“Oh I’m sure it will, he has a good secretary/ administrator/ personal assistant though. She came from one of the big banks and she is really efficient too, her name is Angela. She knows her business and she doesn’t put up with any BS. Paul liked her immediately and so do I – you will too, Tony.”

The Women’s Shelter was now totally finished and redecorated as was Maureen and Paul’s apartment on the roof. They could walk out on to the roof top and see the boats bobbing about in the harbour. Maureen just loved that as it reminded her of home – which in fact was not very far away. The sea had always had an appeal for Maureen; and just about every other Maritimer too. Their apartment was quite spacious – all things considered and the women’s rooms below were a little more than simply Spartan. A woman staying there would not feel like she had been institutionalized and should adapt quickly and without unnecessary anxiety. The ground floor had Maureen’s office, the kitchen and the community dining room and the family room. The individual’s rooms did have a TV and those seeking solitude could certainly have it. The family room was for mixing and for the kids to play and meet the other kids etc. The kitchen had been professionally designed and had a huge fridge – which had been fully stocked along with the chest freezer in the basement. “I think Tony has set us up to withstand a siege” Maureen had commented to Paul when she saw all the food supplies.

Maureen had met all the professionals now and also several of the local social workers. The Chief of Police had also dropped by to introduce himself and Maureen had given him a tour of the facility. He was very impressed with it too. The presidents of the Rotary Club and the Lions had also dropped by to let her know they were more than willing to help if needed. Maureen duly thanked them and told them that she more than likely would – Christmas Parties and the like she had said. Both groups were more than willing to participate in that – “Just let us know what we can do” had been their collective response.

Their own apartment was now all set up and arranged the way that they wanted it. Paul only had to walk downstairs and across the yard and he was in his office. He found that to be very convenient indeed. The plant itself was working well. He had walked around several times and seen first-hand how things were going. The lines were moving well, the workers seemed to have a handle on everything and the supervisors and foremen were more than willing to lend a hand when necessary. That appealed to Paul. Leadership by example was his mantra and also Pete Bradshaw’s. That message had obviously been put across to the foremen – and they were now observing that philosophy. A happy factory is a productive factory and the morale here was excellent – it was Paul’s responsibility to maintain it – with Pete’s help of course, and he knew he could always count on that.

***

The first day that the Women’s Shelter opened Maureen had no idea as to what to expect or even if anyone would show up. She was equipped to handle up to twelve women, but at a pinch she could squeeze in fifteen in an emergency. The doors were officially opened at 8:30 am and by noon she had filled eight of the spaces. The local social workers tried to do a sort of triage on who was in the most need of the shelter’s facilities – but it was tough to do. They all needed to be catered to and they were all suffering – but some were indeed needier than others. It was these women Maureen saw. The alcoholics and drug abusers were placed on the back burner so to speak. They did need help, of that there was no doubt – but to some degree it was their choice – but even then not all of the time. A call had to be made and it fell on the side of those who were in physical pain and distress. Having been beaten and pummeled herself, Maureen knew from first-hand experience how those women were feeling. Incest took precedence over rape, homeless women with kids who had been evicted, were ahead of those who were kicked out for drug abuse etc. They would all get treatment – just not at the women’s shelter. One had to prioritize and rightly or wrongly this was what they had done in order to help those that they did take. It was agonizing at times to have to turn people away – but there was no other option at times. Some of the abuse victims that Maureen would see could well have come directly from that logging camp in Ontario they were so badly beaten. In one case it was the woman’s son that had done this to his mother – he turned out to be a schizophrenic, but he had not been diagnosed at the time. Another girl was being systematically raped by her brother and forced by threats to keep quiet. The anguish was out there and deciding who got the help immediately and who had to wait was a trauma in itself. While Maureen didn’t know these women personally, she could easily identify with them. She had been a maritime girl, married a fisherman and lived that life. She had seen the hardships, the recessions, the drinking and the resulting brawls and wife battering. This was certainly not strange to Maureen – but it certainly did upset her. They did not deserve this abuse, they deserved to be just as happy as she now was – but that was a dream. As young girls they would all have had similar dreams. A nice little cottage, a couple of kids and a good man to take care of them all, it was not expecting too much at all. This they could probably all envision as they were walking down the aisle. How they came to end up like this was anyone’s guess – but too many of them did. The economics of the day had a lot to do with it, the lack of opportunity to earn a decent wage and the need for a higher education to get what jobs were available. The frustration would then set in and build up until it reached breaking point. When it did they would lash out and their families were generally on the receiving end of that explosive tirade. At which point they would be introduced to Maureen, involuntarily most of the time, either by the police or the social workers.

That however was the gloomy side – there was also a positive side to this facility. What came in was not necessarily the same as what went out and into the real world once more. They were really helping some of these people and giving them a new start in life. The therapists and psychologists were building up their self-confidence and the Shelter workshops were reinforcing their life skills. In some cases they were also training them for jobs in Braxton’s when it was possible. They really were doing good work here.

Pete Bradshaw had also settled in well and he was well liked too – and that is something for a general foreman. They are not usually the most popular figures in a factory – their job almost guarantees that. They are respected – even feared in some cases, but seldom liked to the extent that Pete Bradshaw was. It was richly deserved however and he had earned the respect rather than commanded it by virtue of his position. Pete was a man who had seen rock bottom, known the element of despair and the hopelessness that came with it. He knew instinctively what the workers on the shop floor were all about and what these jobs meant to them. He did not exploit their gratitude by expecting the unreasonable – or asking them to stay behind to finish things – unpaid of course. Pete would never do that and the workforce knew it. They had no idea about his past – just that he was ex-military and seemed to understand their plight. His fairness had won them over big time and he had gained their loyalty on the strength of it.

One day as he was strolling purposefully across the workshop floor he ran into a group of school children. They were being shown around as part of a field trip. Maureen had been asked by her friend Alya if she could arrange this and Maureen had mentioned it to Paul. His new Secretary, Angela had taken care of the rest of it. Pete had been informed about it all – but it had slipped his mind. He had to address the group too once they had seen all the machinery and assembly stations and gathered in the canteen. It was during this informal chat that Pete’s attention focused on Alya. There was just something about that girl that got to him. Her physical beauty was self-evident and her long lustrous black hair amplified it even more. She really was a striking girl – but it was her manner with the children that appealed to Pete for some reason. He couldn’t put his finger on it – but he was definitely drawn to this woman. Apparently Alya had felt that magnetic pull too. The second she set eyes upon him she felt her heart rate go up. What was that she wondered? He was a handsome devil alright – but that wasn’t it, there was something far deeper inside Mr. Bradshaw. Alya didn’t know exactly what that was – but she sensed it all the same and it definitely intrigued her. Nothing was said about it by either of them – at least not to each other. The odd casual remark had been made to Paul from Pete and to Maureen from Alya a day or so later. Once Paul mentioned it to Maureen that was it – her match making radar went off big time now. A casual dinner was arranged and the two invited guests were who else but Alya and Pete. Maureen and Paul knew the background information on them both – but they said not a word about it. These two would disclose their past as and when it was felt appropriate to do so –Maureen and Paul would let that happen in its own time. Well it didn’t take too long, they both wanted the other to know what they were getting involved with and this information was disclosed right up front. It was accepted by both as being inconsequential – important and good to know – but nothing to worry about and they didn’t. There was no urgency to rush down the aisle, but Alya and Pete knew that was where they were headed down the road. Maureen and Paul knew it too having done some diligent probing to enquire as to how things stood. It had not been too subtle either, but Alya and Pete didn’t mind –they knew where they were coming from and only wished them the best. Several hints had been dropped regarding Maids of Honour and Best Man opportunities and none of them had gone over their heads and Pete and Alya had laughed about it amongst themselves.

***

The Braxton factory was ticking along nicely now and exceeding expectations in terms of production. The morale was high and overall they were a happy and contented workforce. The local economy had been boosted significantly by Braxton’s presence and this was reflected in the attitude of the general population. The activities of the Women’s Shelter were also reduced, not to the point of them being redundant – but reduced all the same. One can never expect that bullying will totally cease or that some men will occasionally become violent. One may pray for such things – but so far those prayers had gone unanswered. It had been several months now since the Shelter had opened and it now had a shingle outside that read “Maureen’s Haven”. Everyone knew exactly what it was and they had considerable respect for the place and what it did. Most folks knew of somebody who had been in there or benefitted from it in some way. For many others it was a case of “There but for the grace of God” – and this added to the esteem in which they held this facility. It was run along the same lines and Rachel’s Shelter in Markton and had pretty much the same facilities. Maureen even had a sewing machine to teach some of the women how to sew and repair and alter their clothing. On occasion she would let ex-residents return at night to use the machine to fix things if they themselves didn’t have a sewing machine and no classes were in progress. Maureen herself was highly regarded for all she was doing in the community and she was also very well liked too. Cathy Braxton had found this out for herself when she was walking around the town of Liverpool on one of her visits there. She had just happened to overhear a conversation between the shopkeeper and a customer about Maureen’s’ Haven and when it was her turn to be served she enquired about it.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation about Maureen’s Haven, is that another ladies store here in town?”

“No Ma’am it’s our local women’s shelter.”

“Oh I’m sorry I thought it was another fashion store.”

“It’s far more than that, ma’am, it gives refuge to a lot of women and the woman who runs it is a very nice lady. Those that have been guests of that place consider her to be a saint. She doesn’t judge or dispense phony advice –she just listens to them and offers words of encouragement. They all suspect that she herself has seen some tough times – but she never talks about them. They just figure that to have the understanding that she has she has to have been there herself. Maureen Machin is her name, she comes from just up the coast in Murdoch’s Cove, so that makes her one of us really. Anyway, she is a very popular girl in this town and well-liked by everyone. Her husband runs Braxton’s and he too is well liked by the workforce in there.”

“They sound like a very nice couple.”

“Oh they certainly are that – you won’t hear a wrong word against them in this town, they really are nice people.”

With that Cathy walked out of the shop having thanked the lady for her help and information. Yes, Maureen and Paul were indeed nice people and it was gratifying to know that the locals had embraced them totally and respected and admired them both. She never mentioned that conversation to Maureen – but she certainly told Tony all about it later that night. He too was pleased, as was Rachel when he mentioned it to her a few days later.

“I always knew she’d be good out there, Tony. There’s just something about Maureen.”

“Yes Rachel, there is and I saw it too the first time I met her. She and Paul have been through Hell and yet they still emerged as lovely people – people I am more than delighted to know and to have as friends.”

“Amen to that Tony, John and I feel the same way about them, they really are nice people.”

***

As everything had been running smoothly in Liverpool, Maureen and Paul had been discussing their future and the prospect of children down the road. While it was not a really pressing issue as Maureen still had plenty of time left on her clock, they decided to stop taking precautions and let nature take its course.

“I know I want children, Paul and I know we could wait a little longer as I am still quite young really – but what if there was a problem? I’d rather find that out now so we could do something about it sooner rather than later.”

“Yes that makes sense to me, he replied. Let’s stop taking precautions and see what happens.”

“Are you sure Paul, I don’t want to rush you into anything you are not ready for.”

“Oh I’m ready, Maureen, well I think I am anyway – does anyone ever know for sure whether they are ready or not?”

“Well when you put it that way I guess nobody does until it happens. They may think they are – but do they really know for sure?”

“Let’s go for it as you say and see what happens.”

Maureen was all “Gung Ho” now – she had always wanted to be a Mom – now that dream was about to come true – or she hoped it would at least.

Paul too wanted to be a Dad and he was excited for Maureen as her saw how much it meant to her. So for the next few months caution was thrown to the wind and they tried to make a baby together. There was no stress attached or sense of desperation and they knew it would probably take a while. Deep down Maureen was terrified that she had been damaged in that logging camp and that her ability to conceive had been destroyed. Dr. Malcolm had assured her otherwise when he examined her in Thunder Bay – but she still worried. As time dragged on she began to worry even more. Paul had done his level best to console her and told her to go and see her doctor to put her mind at ease.

On the morning of her appointment Maureen felt sick and only just made it to the bathroom before she threw up.

“Relax, honey, don’t get yourself all stressed out, you’ll be fine and I’m sure Dr. Grant will tell you so. There’s nothing wrong with you, it will happen in its own time.”

“I know, I just need to be reassured, I’m sorry.”

“Well go and see Dr. Grant, I’m sure she’ll straighten you out.”

Maureen did go to see Dr. Grant and she was given a thorough examination – at the end of which a smiling doctor told Maureen that she was pregnant right now – hence her bout of morning sickness.

“Well Maureen I am happy to be able to tell that as of right this minute you are pregnant. That is why you threw up this morning – it was morning sickness. You are indeed going to have a baby and in my opinion your due date will be April 4th.”

“Really, Jane, I am already pregnant. You sure are Maureen so you have nothing further to worry about – apart from eating healthy foods etc. Avoid stress too and don’t go and overwork yourself – but don’t stop having sex” she said laughing, it won’t hurt the fetus unless you go wild –you are not a wild child are you Maureen?”

“Not anymore, Jane, but I have had my moments.”

Jane just laughed – “Haven’t we all at some point, Maureen, but take a few months off okay – just keep it within normal limits for the next nine months.”

They both roared laughing at that remark, but Maureen was now a very happy and relaxed woman. Dr. Grant had totally removed all her fears now and she could not go home and give Paul the good news. It was now a question of just how she was going to do that and what setting she would choose to deliver this news. She chose an after dinner walk on the beach. They were both Maritimers, they both loved the sea – what better place was there.

When Paul came home from work that evening he asked how the doctor’s visit went.

“So how did it go at the doctors, Maureen? Did Jane put your mind at ease?”

“Oh Yes, she told me I had nothing to worry about.”

“There you go, isn’t that what I’ve been telling you all along, you have been worrying yourself to death over nothing.”

“Yes well I’m not worried now.”

“Did she tell you what had made you sick this morning?”

“Oh she just said that these things happen and there would be nothing to worry about. I told her you had the same food and that you weren’t ill”

“Well that’s good news then.”

“Oh yes very good news. In fact after dinner I’d like to go for a walk on the beach, are you up for that, Paul?”

“Honey, I’m always up for a walk on the beach with you holding hands – I love those times – we have to keep doing those – even when we grow old.”

“Paul Machin, you really are a softie at heart aren’t you.”

“Who me? Nah whatever gave you that idea?”

“I can’t for the life of me think why I would imagine that of you?”

With that, the subject dropped and Maureen went into the kitchen to make dinner leaving Paul to watch the evening news on TV.

***

It was a truly beautiful evening for a walk along the beach. Maureen and Paul were just ambling along holding each other’s hand as their feet sank into the soft sandy beach. There was a warm breeze blowing and the smell of the sea was as distinctive as ever. They were reminiscing about their childhoods and the things they had done back then. Times were very different in those days and they had come a long way since then and experienced many of life’s twists and turns. When they reached a huge rock they climbed onto it. They just sat there with the water lapping at the bottom of it and let their thoughts drift back to those bygone days. They sat there chatting away and not paying attention to the time. It was almost dark now and the moonlight was now starting to reflect on the water as the tide made its way in. They had been talking about how far they had come since that fateful day in the forest. They had both left Nova Scotia to find something; peace and quiet in Paul’s case – romance and affection in Maureen’s. This they now had found having taken a long and hard road to get there. Paul was a damaged ex-soldier and Maureen a secondhand pin cushion. At least this was how they had originally thought of themselves – until they had met each other. Each one had now straightened out the other and they had found true love in each other’s arms at last. They had left to find happiness and now they were back home having found what they were seeking. It was then that Maureen chose to deliver her news.

“Paul, honey, I have something to tell you.”

“Oh! What is that?”

“Well when I was talking to Jane this morning she told me something else – something you’ll be happy about I think.”
“Well don’t keep me in suspense, Maureen, what is it?”

“I’m pregnant, Paul you’re going to be a dad.”

Paul just looked at her in total amazement and then broke down on the spot sobbing his heart out. This completely took Maureen by surprise – but Paul was in a real mess right now. She just couldn’t understand why he had reacted this way. They had discussed it, he wanted to be a dad, so why was he reacting like this. Was it one of his episodes coming back to haunt him at the mention of a baby. She just couldn’t figure him out. She just put her arm around him and let him sob. When he composed himself he told her was sorry and that he was totally delighted that he was going to be a dad.

“I’m sorry I reacted that way Maureen, I didn’t mean to scare you. I am over the moon at the thought of becoming a dad. I never thought I would be. I had convinced myself that God wouldn’t let me be a dad seeing as I had killed that baby in Afghanistan. I just thought that would be my punishment. I didn’t think he’d let me be a dad since I had denied that other man the privilege of being a dad to his baby. I’m just so happy that God could have forgiven me for that. I still can’t believe it, Maureen.”

“Well he has forgiven you Paul, now perhaps you can forgive yourself.”

“You did not do that knowingly – it was war, Paul, things happen in wars, bad things. There is no way you would do something like that normally – God knows that Paul. He has forgiven you – probably a long time ago too. This is just his way of telling you – and at the same time encouraging you to be the world’s best dad.”

As she was saying all of that she hugged him even harder and pulled Paul into her as he was now sobbing again. They were tears of joy and relief. If as Maureen had said that God had indeed forgiven him – then perhaps he could be the world’s best dad. He’d damn sure try to be. Maureen for her part never had one minute’s doubt about that. That broken unicorn she had found was now going to be fully healed. He already was a fantastic husband – now he would become the dad he never thought he would be. This was a priceless gift to Paul and one he could barely believe. They certainly had come a long way together, but the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow made all the hardships of getting here totally worthwhile. The best was yet to come and now they both knew it. When they stood up to walk back home the moon was much higher in the sky and really making the moonbeams dance on the ocean. They both knew for sure now that God was watching over them and that gave them both a very warm and comforting feeling. They had come full circle. They had started here and now they were back home to stay. Maureen’s Haven would help many other women in the future to experience similar happiness and find peace – and possibly find the odd unicorn too – who knows?

 

The End

 

Thank you for downloading and reading this book. It is deeply appreciated and also gratifying when people take the time to read an author’s work and it is a privilege we are all aware of. I hope that you found this book to be enjoyable. If so, you may wish to read similar romance books of mine. \

Alicia’s Triumph

Alicia’s Dream

Second Chances

The Unforgettable Journey

 

Once again, thank you for your time and your support and enjoy your future reading experiences.

Ian

 

The author may be contacted at: [email protected]

 

 

 


Maureen's Return Home

Maureen had decided to explore the world of internet dating in order to find someone to love and to love her in return. It was not an unrealistic expectation and many people had used this route successfully. This time, this young and inexperienced woman would be subjected to a world class nightmare, one few could ever dream of or even imagine. She was drawn into this dark world by experts and Cupid's arrows in this case were far more sinister. The handsome prince that she had sought was now more elusive than Unicorns. One day however he did come - he had even crept through a forest full of wild animals and bears in order to rescue her. This was certainly no fairy-tale, but she did survive it. Once her nightmare had ended, Maureen would now use this horrendous experience to help others who were victimized in one form or another. She had been down a very scary road in trying to find happiness and someone to love - but she had found it. Her life would be forever changed now that she had found her Unicorn. They were quite rare, but she now knew they really existed - and hers was named Paul. Every woman should have one - but not all of them did unfortunately. Maureen now wanted to help other women find the happiness she had in one way or another. Having been through the pain that she had endured- she wanted to alleviate that agony in others. Soon she would be given such an opportunity to do just that – and with a man beside her who truly adored her too. She had found her pot of gold at the end of this rainbow - she had at last found the happiness she was so desperately looking for. Hopefully she could now help other women to find theirs also.

  • ISBN: 9781311006431
  • Author: Ian Macdonald
  • Published: 2015-09-15 01:40:20
  • Words: 94887
Maureen's Return Home Maureen's Return Home