Dante's Peak 2
Part 3

They stopped, over Rachel's objections, at a fast food franchise, then Rachel drove them all back to Portland and the Regency Hotel. The desk clerk seemed pleased that they had suitcases this time, but he still looked at bit askance at Ruffie, even with a new collar and leash.
In the room, Harry called the landlord of his apartment, and told him that he would be moving out the next day, and agreed to pay out the month's rent. Then, he called the airlines and made a reservation for four to sunny Florida. "We're really going?" Lauren asked, her eyes shining up at him.
"We're really going," Harry told her. "So if I were you, I'd start making that list of things you want to stock up on." She went to the small table and pulled out the notepad and pen, writing furiously.
Graham was looking uncertainly at Harry. "What's wrong?"
"I heard someone at your office talking about your going back to work there," Graham told him. "Are you going to?"
"They want me to," Harry told him honestly. "They've offered me a desk job, and they've given me a month to decide." He could sense Graham's uncertainty. "Hey.
Whatever is decided, it will be all of our decision, Graham. What's best for us." He ruffled the boy's dark hair. "Now why don't you go help your sister with her list?"
"All right, Harry."
Rachel came into the room after putting up the children's clothes, pausing by the table. "What are you two up to now?"
"We're making a list of things to take on the fishing boat," Graham told her.
"Oh." She looked at some of the items. "Sounds yummy to me." She smiled at Harry. "It's time for a bath, Lauren."
"Can't I finish my list first?"
"You can finish it tomorrow," Rachel told her. "Let's go."
Harry picked up the newspaper that had been delivered earlier, and put on his reading glasses. There were still two pages of articles about the Dante's Peak eruption, and the allegation that the USGS hadn't moved quickly enough to insure the safety of the town's residents was prominent. He felt someone reading over his shoulder, and looked up to find Graham there. He turned the pages to the comics. "Let's read the funnies together," he suggested, patting the seat beside him.
Graham's face was tight as he came around. "They're not going to stop, are they?"
"Oh, they will. I'll wager that once we're in Florida, we won't hear another word about it. Now, which one of these is your favorite?" he asked, looking at the comics.
When Rachel and Lauren returned, the little girl was wearing a brand new nightgown, and she climbed into Harry's lap without asking if he minded as her mother said, "Your turn, Graham. Hit the shower."
"But Mom-"
"Do as your mother says, Graham," Harry told him.
"Yes sir." He slid from the couch and went into the other room.
"Lauren, Harry might not want you sitting in his lap-"
"I don't mind," Harry assured her. "Graham and I were just looking at the comics," he told her. "Which one is your favorite?"
She pointed to one. "This one."
"Excellent choice," he said, watching as Rachel took the paper that Stan had given her from her pocket and put her hand on the telephone. "Why don't we go into the other room," he suggested, "And give your mother some privacy for her telephone call?" He put the paper under his injured arm, then stood, holding onto Lauren with the other. "I might even be able to find a story to tell you before bedtime."
"Really?" Lauren asked. "Mom used to read to me before bed, but she's been so busy-"
"Well, that's going to change," he told her, seeing Rachel's grateful smile as he closed the connecting door.

Rachel dialed the number slowly. "Hello? Is Jane Fox there? It's- Rachel Wando-"
A moment later, Jane's voice came on the line. "Rachel?"
She sat down as her legs began to shake. Of everyone in Dante's Peak, Jane had been her only real friend and confidante, the only one Rachel had felt able to talk to during those horrible years after the divorce and Brian's desertion. "Jane. I just got your message this afternoon. Are you all right?"
"I should be asking YOU that. I saw the TV reports- I can't tell you how glad I was when I heard that you and the children were alive."
"How many got out?"
Jane fell silent, and for a moment, Rachel thought the connection had gone. "We lost about twenty, as far as anyone can tell. Les and Elliot were killed in the helicopter when they paid Steve tried to fly them out."
Rachel remembered seeing that helicopter, watching as it bounced over the truck she and Harry were in before crashing in a ball of flames. "Who else?"
"Mr. Cluster didn't make it. He tried to drive through the river when the bridge became impassable- It was a nightmare, Rachel. Everyone trying to get across that bridge at the same time- How's Ruth?"
Rachel felt tears in her eyes. "She didn't make it either."
Jane seemed to understand. "Here I am going on about what a nightmare I went through, and it couldn't possibly be near what you put up with."
"Where is everyone? Is there a shelter- or-"
"Most of them went to hotels or family. I'm with my sister in Vancouver. You remember Judy, I think?"
"Yes. Jane, do you know who told the press that the USGS was negligent in not ordering an alert sooner?"
She sighed into the phone. "Mary Kelly."
"But she went along with Les and Norman-"
"Well, now she's saying there should have been an alert. She's blaming Dr. Dreyfus for talking us out of it."
"It wasn't Paul's fault. Jane, I'm going out of town for awhile-"
"Then go. Rachel, you have to stop feeling responsible for the town. There's NOT a town anymore, for goodness sake. Cut loose, take care of yourself, those kids-and Harry too. And let him take care of you. I think you've found a keeper there." Rachel smiled as the door opened and Harry came into the room. "I think so, too, Jane. But-"
"No buts, Rachel Wando." Harry sat beside her, his good arm around her shoulders. "You've paid your dues, honey. Been to hell and barely got back alive. The future's yours to do what you want. Keep in touch, okay?"
"I will."
"And give the kids- and Harry, my regards."
Rachel hung up the telephone, resting her head against Harry's shoulder. "She sent her regards."
"How is she?"
"She sounds fine. Les Worrell and Elliot Blair were in that helicopter."
"I'm sorry, Rachel," he said quietly. "I know they were friends-"
"I'd known Les for years. We ran against each other in the last election. Elliot- he was a newcomer. Someone Les introduced to the Council in hopes he would help the town." She fidgeted with a button on his shirt. "Jane thinks you're a 'keeper'," she told him softly.
Harry grinned. "And what do you think?"
Rachel lifted her face to look at him. "I think that I can't imagine what my life would be like if I hadn't met you." She raised up to kiss him. "Is Lauren asleep?"
"I told them we would be in to say goodnight after you finished your call."
Ruffie was on Graham's bed, and as Harry sat down, Graham asked, "How did you know that we'd be alright in that old mine, Harry?"
"In my experience, the back of a mine is usually the sturdiest part. I took a cursory look at the walls, and I noticed that there wasn't any sign of rocks having fallen in there. So I knew it was probably pretty safe. The tunnel, however, was a different story. My biggest worry as that your air supply would run out before they found you."
"That's what Graham was worried about with you," Rachel told him. "After the quakes subsided enough, he convinced me to let him go out and start trying to dig through the rocks in the tunnel- slowly, trying to reach you."
"That could have been very dangerous," Harry told him. "As unstable as that tunnel was-"
"Once the quakes stopped, nothing else collapsed. I called you a few times, but you never answered. I was afraid that-"
Harry pulled the boy to him. "Couldn't happen, Graham. I wouldn't let it. I heard you calling, but I thought I was imagining it." Releasing him, Harry fixed the covers.
"Now, time to get some sleep and dream about all those big, fat fish we're going to catch."
Rachel gave Graham a good night kiss, then did the same for Lauren. Lauren held her arms up to Harry, so he bent to give her a kiss as well. "I love you, Harry," she told him.
"And I love you too, Lauren. Sleep well."
"Shall I leave the light on?" Rachel asked.
"I'll turn it off," Graham told her.
Alone in their room, Rachel felt suddenly as nervous as she had that night in her kitchen. She knew it was silly, after all, they'd taken a bath in the same tub last night, but there was a difference tonight. As she turned down out the lights, she heard the sound of a sliding door, and looked up to see Harry standing in the doorway to the balcony. "Let's go out here for a few minutes, shall we? Give them a chance to get to sleep."
He put his arm around her and they went to the wrought iron railing. "Rachel, I wasn't going to ask you this until we spent some time Florida, got to know each other a little better-" he wasn't looking at her. He was looking the city lights, the skyline, anything except her. "But I don't know that I want to wait-"
Rachel craned her neck a bit to look at his face. "What are you trying to say, Harry?"
"I told you once that I've always been better at figuring out volcanoes than people. And I know that we've only known each other for a week and a half- but- What do you say to turning this trip to Florida into a honeymoon?"
"A honeymoon?" She repeated. "Harry- are you asking me to marry you?"
"That usually preceeds a honeymoon, I think."
"Harry, look at me." When he finally did, she smiled at him. "Why are you asking me to marry you? Out of some overblown sense of responsibility to me and the children?"
"No more than you would say yes out of gratitude," he said gently. "Rachel, I don't want to ever leave you- it has nothing to do with the children. It's you and I that matter at this particular moment. I was impressed by you the moment I saw you on that podium talking about your town. You cared. And the more time I spent with you, the more I came to realize that it wasn't only the town that mattered to you. When they dug me out, the first thing I told them was that you and the children were farther back in the mine, that they had to get you out. Because if they hadn't, I wouldn't have cared if the next volcano took me to the pits of hell."
There were tears in her eyes. "Oh, Harry."
"Words- certain words don't come easily to me, Rachel. But I'm going to say something to you that I haven't told another woman in- a very long time." He looked into her eyes. " I love you."
"And I love you," she told him. "But you have to be sure, Harry. You're not just getting me, remember. You'd be taking on a ready made family-"
"I haven't done too badly so far, have I?"
"No. But-"
"If I didn't know better, Rachel, I'd think you were trying to put up roadblocks-"
Rachel rested her forehead against his shirt. "It's just that- I've been through one bad marriage, Harry. I don't want to make that mistake again. I don't want to put the children through that."
"Was it that bad?"
She nodded. "Worse. Brian and I would argue, then not talk for a days, then argue again. He'd disappear for days, never tell us where he went. When Graham was five, he wanted Brian to go to some father and son thing in kindergarten with him - but Brian had something else to do, as usual. Poor Graham was devastated. He was the only boy in class whose father wasn't there."
Harry lifted her face so he could see her. "I'll always be there for you, Rachel, and for your children. Even if you refuse my proposal, I'll still try to be as big a part of their lives as I can. Graham needs a strong male influence, I've noticed. Someone to keep him in line."
"I certainly haven't had much luck with that," she admitted. "Lauren doesn't really remember Brian. She was only two when he left, and he spent less time with her than he did with Graham."
"Wasn't cut out for a family, I guess."
"He blamed me for having them, said they tied him down too much- "
"I think Ruth was right. Brian was a fool to have ever left you and the kids- and if you'll let me, Rachel, I'll try every day to make the rest of your life so much better."
"Why don't we just go to Florida, see how things go? I mean, a few days with the kids may be one thing, but constant exposure-"
"Rachel, I think the last few days has been pretty constant, don't you?"
"But we're all still in a state of shock from what happened, Harry. I'm not saying no. I'm just asking for a little time."
Harry rested his head on the top of hers. "All right. If that's what you want, Rachel, we'll wait." He took a deep breath. "I think I'll go back to my apartment for the night-"
"Because there's no way I can spent a night alone with you and not-"
"You were willing to before-" She slid her arms around his neck. "Besides, what if Lauren wakes up during the night and wants to see you?"
"That's unfair, using Lauren against me."
"Well, if that's the only way I can convince you to stay-"
Harry's lips came down on hers, caressing, cajoling, teasing. When he lifted his head, his eyes were a deep blue, and Rachel smiled up at him. "Oh, Harry. Don't go."
He looked at her for a long moment, his arm tightly around her. "I don't think I could even if I wanted to, Rachel," he whispered, leading her back into the room, toward the bed. Rachel had pulled the covers back earlier, and now, Harry and Rachel laid on the bed, his arm around her, her head on his shoulder as she slowly worked the buttons of his shirt loose. Her fingers on his heated skin caused him to draw a ragged breath, and when her hand moved to his belt, she smiled at him.
"Oh, Rachel," he sighed, bringing his right hand to the buttons of her blouse, wanting to feel her skin against his. As he freed the last button, and was about to place a shaking hand on her lace covered breast, the connecting door opened and Lauren ran into the darkened room to climb between them.
Rachel sighed, meeting Harry's eyes. She saw her own frustration mirrored there as he pulled Lauren against him, trying to stop her shaking. "There, there, sweetheart. What's wrong?"
"I had a bad dream. About the mountain-"
"Ssh, ssh. It's all right, honey," he whispered, rocking her gently. "Just go back to sleep. We're right here. Nothing's going to hurt you." He watched as Rachel got up and found a night gown before going to the bathroom to change. Harry rubbed slow circles on Lauren's back to calm her down, and finally she slept. Rachel came out, wearing an oversized tee-shirt, and said, "I'll carry her back to her bed," she told him.
Harry shook his head. "I'll do it."
"You can't," she told him. "Your arm-"
He drew the girl against him, using his cast to keep her head on his shoulder as he slowly sat up. Rachel saw his grimace of pain as the movement against his injured arm was painful, but she said nothing. He rose to his feet and took the sleeping child back to her bed, and Rachel was tucking her in as Graham stirred. "What-?"
"Your sister had a nightmare," Harry whispered. "Go back to sleep." He was holding is left arm. "Good night."
"'Night," Graham mumbled, already half asleep again.
To Be Continued...

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