Dante's Peak 2
Part 7

They left Florida a month after their arrival, with Ruffie having to fly back inside a carrier in the cargo hold. But Lauren was more secure now than she had been before, and the thought of being separated from the animal didn't distress her as much as it would have a month earlier. Harry had called Terry, and asked him to check on the cabin that he had leased two years before, planning to go fishing, only to be called back to work.
When Terry and Nancy met them at the airport, they told him that the owner of the cabin was willing to agree to a long term lease, with an option to buy later.
"You're going to love the place," Nancy told Rachel. "Terry and I drove out to see it yesterday, to make sure it was livable and to drop your truck there, Harry. We even stocked the fridge," she told Harry. "And Mr. Harrington, the owner, said he'd meet us there this afternoon."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Harry asked as Ruffie's carrier appeared on the carousel. "Get Ruffie and let's go."

The first thing Rachel thought when she saw the "cabin" was that someone had scooped Ruth's log house and Mirror Lake from below Dante's Peak, then set it down here, against the backdrop of a snow covered, non volcanic mountain. She looked at the children, saw that they felt the same way. Harry looked uncertain. "I hadn't realized how much- Perhaps this wasn't such a wonderful idea."
"It's beautiful, Harry. And it feels like home, right kids?"
"Yeah," Graham agreed.
Lauren looked at the lake with frightened eyes, then relaxed as she saw the fiberglass motorboat by the wooden dock. Her eyes widened again as they caught sight of a tree swing. "Look, Graham!"
Rachel squeezed Harry's hand. "You did good, Harry," she told him softly, her eyes shining up at him.

Mr. Harrington came from the house as the truck stopped, greeting Harry with a smile. "Dr. Dalton. It's been a while. Glad to see you're looking so much better than you were when I saw you on TV."
"It's been a month, after all." He made the introductions, then Mr. Harrington insisted on showing the house to Rachel and the children. "There are three bedrooms, all upstairs, two and a half baths. There's a room off of the living room that can be used as a study, and the kitchen was just modernized this year-"
"Well, Rachel? Children?" Harry asked as Mr. Harrington placed the lease before him. "Shall we take it?"
All three nodded eagerly. "Yes, Daddy, please?" Lauren begged.
Harry signed the lease after reading it, giving Mr. Harrrington a check for the amount he had specified, then the man left. Graham turned to Harry. "Can we go outside?"
"After we get our things from Nancy's truck," Harry said.
"I get the front bedroom," Graham announced.
"Mom? Why can't I have that bedroom?" Lauren wanted to know.
"Because Graham spoke for it first," Rachel said.
Harry tweaked Lauren's nose. "Besides, the other room is closer to your mother and me. Now go help Graham with your cases."
The thought of being closer to her parents seemed to mollify Lauren, and she turned to follow her brother. Nancy sat back on the porch rail, shaking her head. "I'd
never have believe that you'd be this good with kids, Harry," she said, her voice filled with wonder.
"I think he surprised himself," Rachel told her. "I think they're going to need some help with those suitcases. For some reason they're heavier than they were when we left."
"Probably all that Florida sand," Nancy pointed out. "I remember that it got into EVERYTHING," she said.
"You've been to Florida?" Rachel asked as they moved away.
"Been there? I was BORN in Florida."
"Then how did you become involved with volcanoes?"
"Ask Harry," Nancy said. "It's all his fault."
Rachel turned to look at Harry, who scratched his ear and grinned. "Terry and I will stay up here and supervise," he told them, smiling. "I'll have to remember to thank Nancy for that one," he commented to Terry.
"That's Nancy, always willing to help," Terry said, laughing. "You look happy, Harry. Happier than I've seen you in a long time."
"I am happy, Terry. Rachel and the kids- I think the day I met her was probably the luckiest of my life."
"And theirs. If it wasn't for you, they might not have made it."
"Who do you think is going to take Paul's job?"
"Stan's next in line for it. I think he'll accept."
"What about you?"
"Don't want it. I'm not a chief. I'm an indian, content to stay back out of the limelight and let someone else take the heat." He looked across the lake. "Nancy and I
are driving back up to Dante's Peak again tomorrow-" He saw Harry's surprised look. "Follow up. Take some readings, check the mountain out."
"Good luck," Harry said. "Right now, I hope I never see the place again." He stood up as Rachel returned carrying three cases. "Let me take one of those," he told her, relieving her of the heaviest suitcase. "Where does this go?"
"Our room," she told him.

Terry and Nancy left not long after they unloaded the truck, with Harry telling Terry to call him when they got back. Graham and Lauren were exploring the area, and Rachel turned to Harry. "Where are Terry and Nancy going?"
"To do a follow up on Dante's Peak," he told her, looking at the lake. "Watch Lauren," he told her.
It took a moment for Rachel to find her daughter, but when she did, her attention was caught. Lauren was beside the lake. She would take a step toward the water, then stop and back away, as if something frightened her. "What's she doing?"
"Just watch. Come on, sweetheart," he whispered. Lauren took another step, then stopped. With each forward step, she came a little closer to the water, closer to her fear. At last she knelt and put out her hand, placing a finger into the water, then jerking it back out to inspect it. "That's it, Lauren. That's it."
Rachel turned as Harry moved to the steps and off of the porch, his steps taking him toward Lauren. She hurried to catch up with him.
At last Lauren placed her hand in the water, leaving it before pulling it out. "Lauren?"
When she turned, her smile was filled with delight. "Did you see, Daddy?" she asked, running toward him. "I did it. I did it just like you said. I- faced my fear."
Harry went to his knees. "So you did, sweetheart. So you did." He gave her a big hug. "So you did."
Rachel hugged her daughter as well. "Is Lauren all right?" Graham asked, having seen them at the lake's edge from a tree he'd been climbing.
Lauren smiled widely. "See what I can do, Graham?" she said, putting her hand back in the water. "See? I'm not scared of it anymore."
Graham grinned. "Hey that's great, Lauren! Now maybe you can take a bath!" Lauren scooped her hand, bringing it out of the water and tossing the liquid toward her brother. "Hey!" he yelled, jumping back.. She missed Graham- and the water hit Harry in the chest.
Harry reached into the water, intending to douse the girl, but she ducked and Rachel found her shirt wet. Before long, all four of them were wet and laughing loudly.

Later, after dinner, Rachel and Harry sat on the porch, watching Lauren and Graham playing in the yard. "This place really is perfect, Harry," she told him, handing him a glass of wine. "Are you sure you won't mind the twenty minute drive to the university?"
"It won't be that bad. We have to check into getting you some kind of transportation so that you're not stuck out here all day. Are you certain you won't mind the isolation?"
"It's only two miles into Cuttersville," she reminded him. "It looked like a nice little place."
He took a sip of wine. "What are you going to do here during the day when I'm gone?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe I'll see if Cuttersville needs a new mayor," she said with a crooked grin.
Harry laughed, shaking his head. "Wait a little while, at least. Seriously, Rachel. Have you ever given any thought to going back to school?"
"Oh, sometimes," she admitted. "But I decided to wait until the kids were older -Hard to run a business and take care of them if I'm trying to go to school, too."
"Why not go now? You don't have a business to worry about anymore. And I can help with the kids. What did you want to study?"
"Never really given it any thought. When I was in school, all I ever wanted to be was a wife and a mother. After I opened the store, I thought about going to school and taking some courses in small business, but there never seemed to be enough time."
He looked at her. "What did you want to be when you were very young?"
"Promise you won't laugh?"
He quickly crossed his heart. "Promise."
"A lawyer."
Harry turned back to watch as Graham pushed his sister in the tree swing. "Because of your father." She'd told him that her father had been an attorney who had handled most of the legal work for the citizens of Dante's Peak, and that he'd been the city's mayor before his death.
"Why don't you go back and do that, then?"
"Oh, it would take YEARS," she said. "And I don't want to take that much time away from you and the kids." Rachel refilled her glass of wine. "You're trying to distract me, aren't you?"
He shook his head. "Not that I know of. About what?"
"Nancy. And how you lured her into chasing around after volcanoes."
"I didn't lure her into anything. She was already a geologist when I met her." He took a drink from his glass. "After Marianne died, I took a six month leave of absence- USGS' psychologist's suggestion."
"What did you do?"
"A friend of mine who taught volcanology at the university had gotten a fellowship to attend a major conference in Java- and needed someone to take over his class for that year."
"So you volunteered."
"It was what I had wanted to do, after all. Nancy was in the class- she was considering getting out of the field, said it didn't interest her as she had thought it would. But after being in my class for two semesters, she came to me and told me that she'd decided to go for her doctorate in volcanology. She's another year from that, I think."
"So you were responsible."
"It was Nancy's decision. And believe me, no one can force her to do anything she doesn't want to do."
"What time are you supposed to be at the university tomorrow?"
"Nine," he told her. His gaze fixed on the sun's rays fading behind the mountain. "I finished the journal," he said.
"Finished? When did you find time to work on it? I haven't seen you-"
"At night. After you went to sleep, other times when you were busy in the kitchen or with the children. It's on your nightstand. I want you to read it tomorrow."
She smiled, nodding. "I will." She stood up. "Graham! Lauren! It's time to get ready for bed."
"Oh, Mom. It's still early," Graham said, coming to the steps.
"And you've had a long day today."
Harry finished his wine. "Don't argue with your mother, Graham."
"Come on, Lauren," Graham called, climbing the stairs.
"Graham," Harry said, causing the boy to pause. "If you get a good night's sleep tonight, we'll go fishing after I get home tomorrow."
Graham's expression lightened. "Really?"
"Me too, Daddy?" Lauren asked.
"You, too, Lauren." He smiled as they raced toward the door.
"You're bribing them," Rachel accused.
"It worked, didn't it?" he asked. He got up from the chair, taking her in his arms. "And if you're a good girl tonight, I'll let you come along as well."
She slid her arms around his neck as Lauren's voice reached them. "Mom? Where's my nightgowns?"
Rachel wasn't sure who sighed more deeply at the interuption. "Where did you put them when you unpacked, honey?"
"I looked there.-"
"I'll be right there, Lauren," Rachel said, touching her lips to Harry's before saying, "This shouldn't take long. Don't lose my place. Now where did you put them,
Lauren?" she asked, going inside the house.
Harry went to the railing of the porch, looking out over the now dark lake. He was glad he'd thought of this place. It was the perfect place for Graham and Lauren to grow up. From what he could recall, Cuttersville was a bit smaller than Dante's Peak had been, with the same small town atmosphere. Watching the light breeze on the water, he smiled, recalled Lauren's triumph over her fear at the water's edge. He only hoped that he would be able to overcome his own fear tomorrow when he left Rachel and the children alone to go to the university. The last time he had gone to see Dr. Richards he'd had another anxiety attack- not as bad as the first one, but enough that he had been forced to call Rachel again to satisfy himself of her safety. He couldn't afford for that to happen tomorrow. He lifted his gaze to the mountain. No volcanic activity there- never had been. Rachel and the children were as safe as they could be. There was nothing here that could possibly hurt them.
"A penny for your thoughts," Rachel said softly, returning to find him standing, staring at the mountain.
"Oh, they're worth much more than a penny," Harry told her, pulling her to him again. "I was just thinking about having to leave you here tomorrow-"
"You'll be fine," Rachel told him, unfastening the top buttons of his shirt. "Just think about how much fun we're going to have when you get home." She kissed his chest.
"I'd rather think about the fun we can have tonight," he said, lifting her face to his and kissing her lips.
"You go tell Lauren and Graham goodnight," she reminded him. "I'll meet you in the bedroom."

Harry reminded Graham and Lauren about their fishing plans before he left the next morning, gave Rachel a long kiss, then got into the suburban and headed toward Cuttersville. Rachel told the children to go out and play, but to stay within sight of the house for the time being, then poured a fresh cup of coffee and opened the notebook she'd bought Harry to write in. She reread the part about Marianne's death simply because she enjoyed reading Harry's writing. Here was the part about his six month teaching stint at the university, about Nancy Wilton deciding to pursue a career as a volcanologist because of his own enthusiasm about the field.
Rachel read about his return to investigating volcanic phenomena, about his ambivilance toward his work, his belief that he might make a fatal mistake one day soon, a mistake that would end his life much as Marianne's had been ended- in the line of duty. He'd thrown himself into his work, refusing to take time off when offered and suggested- or scheduling trips only to cancel them when something came up at work, and Paul Dreyfus had taken advantage of the fact that Harry couldn't stay away.
A month before he was sent to Dante's Peak, the USGS psychologist had recommended that Harry take some time off to relax and get away from work. He'd resisted the idea, insisting that he was fine, knowing that he wasn't, that he probably did need the time off. But the psychologist had been more insistant, and Harry had agreed to a two week vacation. He'd told Paul that he was going to take the fishing trip he'd been planning for three years, but he'd been home for two days when Paul had called and left a message on his machine to call the office.
Harry had tried to resist, had even packed a bag to leave, and was set to go the next morning. As he was doing his pushups- fifty, as he had every morning until breaking his arm,- Paul had called again, and Harry had really intended to drive through Vancouver to where he'd been going to go fishing. But his route had taken him past USGS, and he'd stopped in, knowing that the fishing trip would be put off one more time.
He'd put the chances against an eruption of Dante's Peak at ten thousand to one, but his curiousity had been piqued by the activity that the monitors had revealed. He'd told Paul he would go check it out on his way, and then, since he expected to find nothing of interest, continue his vacation plans.
Rachel smiled at his desciption of his first meeting with her and the children. Had she really been that frustrated by Graham's refusal to listen to her? Or embarrassed by Ruth's asking if Harry were her "boyfriend"?
"I could have told her that I wouldn't mind being the boyfriend," Harry had written, "but I had the feeling that Ruth Wando wouldn't take kindly to any man who tried to take her son's place with his family. Besides, I wasn't there to become involved, I was there to check the volcano. I kept telling myself that. But the more time I spent with Rachel, the harder it was to remember."

By the time Rachel finished the journal, it was noon, and she prepared sandwiches for lunch which she and the children shared outside beside the lake. Harry had been more frightened during that ride across Mirror Lake than Rachel had realized. He'd been certain- especially after the motor quit, that they couldn't possibly make it to shore before the acid ate enough of the boat to sink it. Ruth's jumping into the lake to pull the boat to shore had been Harry's inspiration to continue, to get Rachel and her children off of the mountain and to safety.
She opened the notebook and reread the final entry about their rescue, smiling to herself at the words Harry had written.
"Paul hadn't made it. I'd had my disagreements with him, but he'd been a friend, someone I never thought would have been taken by nature's vaguaries. I thought of Marge, wondering what her reaction would be, then I thought of Rachel.
They gave the word that they were going to move the truck from the mine tunnel so they could try to reach Rachel and the children, and as I moved closer, followed by the paramedic, Stan, Greg, Terry, and Nancy, I said a silent prayer, promising that if she were all right, I'd never want to see another volcano again. It seemed an eternity before the call came back that there were survivors, and I held my breath, waiting, watching.
When I saw Graham leading Ruffie on a rope, followed by Lauren and Rachel, my knees very nearly gave out, so relieved was I. I could tell Graham was surprised by the number of people, his eyes searching the crowd until I called his name, drawing his attention. When he and Lauren reached me, I wanted to hug them so tight, to never let them go ever again. And I could see that they felt the same way, especially Lauren.
Then I looked up and met Rachel's eyes, saw her approaching slowly, steadily, tears in her eyes. I wanted nothing more than to run to her, to hold her- but I couldn't move. So I smiled, hoping she could read everything I wanted to tell her in that expression. How much I admired her, how glad I was that she was alive, how much I loved her. Her answering smile almost made everything we'd gone through worthwhile, and she ran toward us, holding me as tightly as I was trying to hold her, kissing me as I was kissing her, not caring that the children were watching, that we had an audience of hundreds- perhaps more, considering the media. When the kiss ended, I brought the children back into the circle, feeling that I'd finally found what I'd been searching for, what I'd been waiting for all of my life. A family of my own.
Rachel and the children were cursorily checked out be the paramedics, and I told my friends that I would see them later before getting into the helicopter that was to take us to the hosipital in Portland. Graham asked if I had meant it about going fishing in Florida, and I told him I had. I wanted to tell him that I didn't care where we went, as long as we were together. Rachel seemed to understand. She reached out her hand and clasped mine, holding on tightly, as if I were some kind of lifeline. I know she certainly was- and is , and always will be -mine."

After lunch, Rachel agreed to let Lauren and Graham play in the edge of the lake, with Graham promising to keep an eye on his sister without being told to, and then she went into the house.
Harry had set up the laptop computer in the study, and now Rachel, who had gotten over her fear of the machine, sat down to begin typing the journal into a form that could be used to send it to a publisher. Not necessarily for publication, she told herself. She just wanted Gail to look at it, give her take on Harry's writing abilities. Rachel knew she was too close to the events he described to be unbiased in her assessment.

When Harry turned into the short drive to the house, the first thing he saw was Lauren, sitting in the tree swing, watching for him. She ran to meet him as he got out of the truck, giving him a hug. "I missed you, Daddy."
"I missed you too, sweetheart. Where are your brother and mother?"
"Graham's looking for worms. Mom's inside typing something on the computer."
"Why don't you go find your brother and let me change clothes, then we'll go do some fishing, okay?"
"Okay," she said, grinning, turning to run toward the back of the house. "Graham! Daddy's home!"
Harry entered the house and went into the study, putting his briefcase on the desk where Rachel was just closing her file. "Hello there," she said, raising her face for his kiss. "How'd it go?"
"I missed you.. What were you working on?" he asked, noticing the now closed notebook beside the computer.
"Oh, nothing," Rachel tried to say. "Just a letter to Jane Fox-"
"Why not just call her?" heasked, reaching over her shoulder to press a button, which brought up a box that showed what file had just been closed. "Harrys journal?" he questioned, clicking again to open the file.
"Harry, -"
"You've been transferring my journal to disk. Why?"
"I know we discussed this, Harry, but after reading all of it, I decided that I HAD to send it to Gail to read." She saw his uncertainty. "Not necessarily to publish it, but just to let me know if it's as good as I think it is. You're really a wonderful writer, Harry. I expected something dry, a recitation of the events that took place up on that mountain. But it's so much more than that." When he didn't speak, she moved her finger toward the "delete" command. "If you really prefer that I-"
Harry grabbed her hand. "Send it to your friend," he told her. "I suppose it can't hurt. Besides, I can afford to be generous today."
"You took the job?"
He smiled, nodding. "You are looking at the new head of the Volcanology Department of the University of Oregon at Portland."
Rachel threw her arms around his neck. "I'm glad. When do you start?"
"Monday, officially. There's a press conference tomorrow afternoon to make the announcement. And I'm going to call some people over the next couple of days to see if they're interested in teaching a class. There are already fifteen students registered to take the course."
"When does it start?"
"Early September."
"That's only six weeks. Are you going to have everything ready by then?"
"I think so. And they upped the salary as well," he told her, opening his briefcase to pull out the contract. "Said their original figure was based on my being unmarried. Since I have a family to support, they increased the amount substantially."
Rachel's mouth dropped open when she read the numbers. "AND a signing bonus?" Her eyes widened in shock as he showed her the check.
"What do you say that we all go fishing for a couple of hours, and then go into Cuttersville and get something to eat? We'll celebrate."
"Sounds wonderful."
Graham caught the biggest fish, and reluctantly let it go upon Harry's advising, "He'll get bigger, Graham, and you'll catch him again."
"What about dinner?" Graham asked, "Thought we could have it tonight-"
Harry put his arm around Graham's shoulders. "Tonight, we're going into town to celebrate my getting that job. So you and Lauren put up the fishing tackle- there's a good boy, then go and get cleaned up. We have to make a good impression on our new neighbors, after all."
To be Continued...

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