All My Children

by Thea Zara and Deref

Chapter 14: The Moon in The Man


The full moon was so bright that it washed out all but the brightest stars, and when he turned his head, Jake could clearly make out the colours of the buildings and the fields beyond. But when he'd tried it Willow had quickly gripped his temples between her hands and put his head back where she wanted it. She didn't speak, but the message was clear: don't move. He could see the flicker of the candles that Willow had placed around him as she moved in and out of his field of vision.

"What are those leaves she's using?" Helen whispered to Coyote.

"Rosemary, sage, thyme, a few others," he whispered back.

"Is she going to cook him or cure him?"

"We're vegetarians, remember?"

"We don't have to take our clothes off do we?"

"I don't think so, but you can if you want to."

They were silenced by an icy glance from Willow.

Jake stared up at the moon. Soon, he thought, three men would actually go there. He imagined what it would be like; saw himself lying back on his seat as a barely-controlled explosion flung him into space, iron bands of g-force thrusting him down into his seat, each of the five huge first-stage engines burning three tons of fuel every second, until the massive pumps shut down and the tin can with three men aboard went into free fall, loosing the bonds of gravity, floating, silently moonwards...

Willow's voice jerked him back to Earth with a thud. "All is ready. Now..." He crossed his eyes trying to keep the crystal pyramid in focus as she lowered it slowly onto his forehead. "...as the cosmic forces are focussed by the mystical power of the pyramid, we invoke the name of Osiris!" She picked up a book and started reading by the candlelight...

Homage to thee, Osiris, Lord of eternity, King of the Gods, whose names are manifold, whose forms are holy, thou being of hidden form in the temples, whose Ka is holy. Thou art the governor of Tattu, and also the mighty one in Sekhem. Thou art the Lord to whom praises are ascribed in the name of Ati, thou art the Prince of divine food in Anu...

The words meant nothing to Jake, and the more the tried to feel the cosmic forces focussed by the mystical power of the pyramid, the more he wanted to sneeze. Willow's voice droned on.

Thou art the Lord who is commemorated in Maati, the Hidden Soul, the Lord of Qerrt, the Ruler supreme in White Wall. Thou art the Soul of Ra, his own body, and hast thy place of rest in Henensu. Thou art the beneficent one...

He faintly heard the exchange between Helen and Coyote, and had to force his thoughts elsewhere. He remembered his conversation with Helen's father.

You know there are some really interesting things about my business, Jake. The things that the right mix of chemicals can do when you're not properly protected. You're a good chap, I think, and I'm not silly enough to tell you not to touch my daughter. But I will say this--if you don't do the right thing by her, there won't be a body to find.

Jake had gulped and nodded in agreement. What he didn't remember, because he'd left the room by that stage, was that Amy had spoken up from her hiding place behind the door.

Wow, Dad! That's so cool! Which chemicals are you talking about?

Amy!

Pickle juice? Ketchup?

One of these days, young lady, you're going to get yourself into serious trouble with this eavesdropping habit of yours!

Yeah, but think of all the interesting stuff I'd miss! I never realised the wholesale grocery business was so dangerous!

Jake imagined himself climbing through the command module's airlock into the Lunar module; feeling the silent vibration as the docking collar released the captive Eagle; watching the command module getting smaller as they dropped, weightless, towards the tar-black Lunar surface...

...Thou art the beneficent Spirit among the spirits. The god of the Celestial Ocean draweth from thee his waters. Thou sendest forth the north wind at eventide, and breath from thy nostrils to the satisfaction of thy heart...

"Jake!"

His eyes snapped open.

"You were snoring," Helen said.

"I..." he started.

"No, it's cool, Lavender," Willow interrupted. "It means that it's worked, see! His Ka's at peace! Don't you feel it, Jake?"

"Uh, yeah, sure," said Jake, who was feeling so at peace that he would have gone back to sleep if the opportunity had arisen. Noticing that the pyramid was gone he sat up and felt Helen put her arm around his shoulder.

"You know what you two need now?" Willow asked.

"Sleep?" said Jake.

"Food?" said Helen.

"Sex," said Willow.

* * *

"Um, this is a little embarrassing..." Helen nervously fiddled with her earring as they sat on Willow's bed in the Kombi van.

"Hey - remember when we used to ride our bikes around the neighbourhood? Remember that old lady the one we used to think was a witch?"

Helen smiled and nodded.

"What were we? Five?"

"Maybe six," Helen answered.

"And remember..."

"Oh no. Not that!" Helen said, pushing Willow away.

"Yeah! Yeah! When you peed your pants in fifth grade? That was soooo funny!"

"Not for ME it wasn't! And it was YOUR fault! You KNEW I needed to go, and you made me laugh!"

"And remember," Willow said quietly, "that talk we had after the stunt driver thing?"

Helen smiled and nodded again. "We stayed up all night."

"Yeah."

"I was so stupid."

"No you weren't." Willow half-turned towards Helen. "You were always the thinker, Helen. I was always..."

"Impulsive?"

Willow nodded. "Mm hmmm. Impulsive. I never told you this, but I was really impressed that you did something like that...on an impulse."

"It was stupid. I don't want to do anything impulsive again."

"It wasn't stupid. It was...cool."

"I thought it would be," Helen said sadly. "But it wasn't. It hurt. And after it stopped hurting it hurt more when I realised how dumb I'd been."

"Hey..." Willow grinned. "So you gave your cherry to some good-looking dork. You think you're the only one who's ever done something like that? Now you are being stupid. Stop stressing about it. It's no biggie!"

"It was to me."

"So," Willow said, "you want to be a little more cautious this time. Is that it?"

Helen blushed. "Maybe."

"You really like Jake, don't you?"

Helen nodded. "He 'defended my honour' once." Helen said, making the 'quote' signs with her fingers.

Willow sat up. "What? Defended your..." Willow grinned.

"Remember? The guy in the restaurant?" She paused, and Willow saw her cheeks colour.  "And he might just have saved my life a few days ago."

"What the...?"

"That guy the one who raped the girl in Montana?"

"Oh yeah! He was in the paper!"

"I heard Michael talking to Coyote about it. I didn't realise it at the time, but he tried it on me when we were on our way here. Jake scared him away."

"You're kidding!" Willow gasped.

"No. Jake didn't know who it was, he was just being overprotective. I yelled at him. I told him I could look after myself."

"You yelled at him?" Willow shook her head in disbelief.

Helen shook her head. "I'm not going to tell him. He's insufferable enough as it is. I'd never hear the end of it if he knew what had happened. And don't you say anything to him either."

A wry smiled appeared on Willow's lips. "Hmm. Okay, but I still don't understand. I mean...gratitude's fine, but there's gotta be more to it than that."

"It's...complicated. I don't know whether I really understand it myself."

"Then what's the problem?" Willow asked, taking her hand.

Helen blushed again. "I told you. It's embarrassing."

"Helen," Willow said. "It's me. Remember?"

Helen paused again. "I'm so stupid."

Willow moved over to sit beside her. "You're one of the smartest people I know. Whatever it is, I'm sure it's not stupid."

"I don't want...oh GOD this feels..."

Willow sat quietly, waiting for Helen to speak. Finally, she turned to look at Willow. "What if...what if he...?"

"What if he says 'that was fine, thanks Ellen. Close the door on the way out?'"

Helen looked away and nodded.

*  *  *

"Um, this is a little embarrassing..." Jake looked out across the fields.

Jake and Coyote sat down on a log behind the toolshed. "I thought you were gonna choke when Willow laid the sex trip on you," Coyote said,  a faint smile animating his face. "So you and Helen haven't...?"

"Well...um...no," said Jake, turning to Coyote. "Not that I wouldn't want to," he added quickly.

"So there's nothing wrong with the, uh, equipment, then?"

"No!" Jake exclaimed in surprise. "No I mean I don't think so."

"Never done it before, huh?"

"Yes! I mean no...I mean...sort of..."

"You've 'sort of' done it before?" Coyote cocked an eyebrow.

Jake sighed. "It's a long story. I guess I have. I mean everything...works." Maybe too well, he thought. "That's not what I'm worried about."

"So...?"

"Well, it's just that...I mean...I've only done it once, and that was a sort of...accident..." His voice took on a worried whine. "What if..."

"What if you're not good enough?" Coyote asked kindly.

"Yeah. I guess," Jake said. "I really like her, man. I mean I really like her. I don't want to blow it. What if I get nervous and I can't...you know..."

Coyote bent down, picked up a stick, and started doodling in the dirt at his feet. "Hm. Yeah. I get it, man. I mean who can work out the sisters?"

Jake smiled.

"You'll do just fine, man. It's not about performance, at least not at first. It's more about just being there, y'know what I mean?"

"I guess."

"There are a couple of things that can screw it up. I'll give you some hints if you want."

"Thanks man, I'd appreciate it," Jake said nervously.

* * *

"Goodnight," Helen said, standing by the door of her room.

"Yeah, uh, goodnight," said Jake.

"Goodnight, people," said Willow. "Don't worry about keeping it down. Some of the couples here get quite, um, vocal some nights. We can hear them from the Kombi."

Helen and Jake laughed nervously and watched Willow and Coyote walk away.

"After you," said Jake, holding the door open.

"Thanks," said Helen, turning hesitantly and walking in, followed slowly by Jake, who closed the door behind him.

They stood, looking down at the bed.

"Well," she said.

"Yeah," he replied.

"Um, I guess we should...um, you know..." She pulled the drawstring of the bow tying her blouse and, glancing at Jake, slipped it off over her head and hung it up carefully in the closet.

"Oh...yeah," muttered Jake. He bent down and untied his shoes, slipped them off, and put them neatly together at the foot of the bed before taking off his pants, folding them neatly, and draping them over the back of the chair by the head of the bed. Helen slipped out of her sandals and her jeans, folded them, and put them next to Jake's on the chair, turning and laughing nervously as Jake, slipping out of his shirt, returned her laugh at their pants laying together over the chair.

They stood, facing each other. Helen took a step towards Jake. Jake took a step towards Helen. Uncertainly, they put their arms around each other, closed their eyes, and leaned in...

"OW!" Jake yelped, jerking back as Helen's teeth collided with his lips.

"Oh Jake I'm sorry," Helen gasped, raising a hand to her mouth as she let go. "Are you alright?"

Jake lifted a finger to his lip, pulled it away, and examined the smear of blood.

She gently touched his lip where it was bleeding. "I'm sorry," she said quietly.

"Helen," he said, precisely at the moment she said "Jake,"

"Go on," they said together.

"We don't have to do this," he said quietly.

Helen looked down at her feet. "No...we don't."

"Maybe it'd be better if...we...you know..?"

"Waited until we're ready?"

"Yeah," Jake said with relief. "Until we're ready."

Helen looked up at him and smiled. "But I'd like it, uh, that is if you don't mind, I mean it'd be nice if we, um..."

"Slept together?"

And, until the morning sun woke them, they did, soundly and dreamlessly.

Outside the open window a bird was singing and the new day smelled of a fine country morning. Or maybe Jake just hadn't cleaned his shoe off very well. Helen slowly turned over and looked at him as he lay asleep beside her. How many guys would have taken it so well, she wondered. How many would have forced the issue? If he had, would it have ruined everything? Probably, she thought, feeling that perhaps she hadn't made the wrong decision this time. If only I can keep myself from wringing his neck, she thought with a private smile, and she snuggled in next to him, enjoying the warmth of his body.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door and, as Jake grunted and stirred, she sat up, pulled the sheet up, and said "hello?"

Willow's head appeared around the door. "Well?" she smiled.

"Well what?" asked Helen as Jake grunted again, rolled over, and opened an eye.

"Well how was it?"

"Muh, glmph," Jake said as Helen looked down at him, then back to Willow.

"It was nice," Helen said with a smile.

"Nice?" mumbled Jake, confused.

Helen looked down at him, quietly said "Very nice," and leaned over to kiss him.

"And that," said Willow, "looks like my cue to leave. See you at breakfast. Don't be too long, we've got some travelling to do today," and she closed the door.

"What was nice?" asked Jake. "Did she mean...did we...oh my God! Helen! I can't remember!"

"No, Jake," Helen sighed. "We didn't. I meant it was nice sleeping with you!"

"Oh," said Jake, grinning sheepishly.

"Though it might not be a bad idea if we let Willow think...that we did more than that, okay?"

"What did she mean about 'we've got some travelling to do'?"

"Oh, I forgot. Willow and I were talking about taking a drive into the state capital and..."

Jake sat bolt upright. "What? But Helen! We can't go anywhere today! Don't you know what today is?"

"Sunday?"

"Helen!" Jake exclaimed, his eyes wide. "Today's the day they land on the moon!"

* * *

750 feet, coming down at 23 degrees . . . 700 feet, 21 down . . . 400 feet, down at nine. . . . Got the shadow out there . . . 75 feet, things looking good . . . lights on . . . picking up some dust . . . 30 feet, 2 1/2 down . . . faint shadow . . . four forward . . . drifting to the right a little . . . contact light . . . O.K. Engine stop.

We copy you down Eagle.

"Far fuckin' out," croaked Michael, wisps of smoke escaping through his lips as he passed a half-smoked joint to Jake.

Houston. Tranquility Base here. Eagle has landed.

Physicians at Mission Control noted that Neil Armstrong's heart beat had increased from a normal 77 to 156, though his voice was as calm as if he were reporting the success of a trip to the store for a loaf of bread.

"YES!" Jake yelled, Jumping up, as Coyote, Grey Wolf and Michael clapped, and said "cool", and "amazing".

Roger Tranquility. We copy you on the ground You've got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot.

"I'm turnin' blue waitin' for that J, man."



"Will he go outside now
?"

"No, I'd guess they'd have a lot of stuff to do before he can get out."

"So...do you want to go and get some lunch?"

"No way! I'm not going anywhere. I'm not gonna miss a second of this."

"I'll go down and get us something from the diner then. Anything you'd like?"

"Yeah, sure," Amanda said, her eyes glued to the TV.

"The usual then?" Vincent asked. "Broken glass and bubble gum on knotty pine?"

"Yeah, great."

Vincent smiled. "Comin' up," he said, scooping up Wind and groaning with the effort as she passed. "Come on, let's go and get Mommy some food."

"Da. Da!" said Wind.

"Oh, that reminds me," Amanda called after him, as he was closing the door.

"Uh huh?"

"A bottle of vodka to go with the bubble gum."

*  *  *

"Oh my God! He blew it!" Amanda said quietly.

That looks beautiful from here Neil.

Vincent, lying on the sofa with his head on what remained of her lap, turned from the TV to look up at her. "What?"

"It has a stark beauty all its own"

"He blew it! Did you hear what he said?"

"That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind?"

"No, I bet that's what he meant to say, but he said 'one small step for man not a man'."

Vincent smiled. "Subtle, but I get it. It doesn't matter. But imagine how much pressure he's under. I'd probably say something like 'Hey - I'm walking on the goddam moon!'"

Amanda laughed. "Yeah, you probably would."

Are you getting a TV picture now Houston?

"So tell me more about that job that The Voice wants you to do," Amanda said, turning back to the blurry grey images on the screen.

"Wow," breathed Vincent, suddenly engrossed in the scene on the TV.

Neil, yes we are getting a TV picture.

"Honey...?"

"What?"

"That job. What's it about?"

Okay. Are you ready for me to come out?

"Some music festival. I don't know much about it," he murmured.

"Festival? Where? Who's playing?"

Yeah. Just standby a second. I'll move this over the handrail.

"Uh, upstate somewhere. Bethel I think. Wherever that is. I don't know who's playing. Don't know much about it yet."

"Oh. Okay. When is it?"

All right. That's got it. Are you ready?

...

"Vincent?"

"Oh, sorry. Um, this time next month I think. OW! Your child just kicked me!" he grinned, turning from the TV to smile up at her, his eyes shining with delight.





And so, taking leave of their friends at the Aquarius Commune, Helen, Jake, Willow, and Coyote set off westwards in search of America. In the first hour on the road hardly a word passed between Helen and Jake as they followed the floral Volkswagen along summer roads. From time to time Helen glanced at Jake, once to find him glancing at her, and smiling, and she reached a hand across and squeezed his. When the sun was high overhead they turned into a picnic area where concrete tables and benches were shaded by shingled shelters, where tall poplars marked the line of a stream that trickled lazily through the midday heat. They sat in the shade as Willow brought out a picnic basket that the commune members had packed for their trip.

"This is so cool," Helen said as they watched Willow take out a loaf of bread that had been baked that morning, a bowl of tomatoes picked fresh from the vine, a cucumber, various sprouts, carrots, and a soy bean loaf.

"Special people, Lavender," said Willow. "Huh? What the..." She took out a paper parcel and read a message hastily written on it. "It says 'This is not to say we approve'." She unwrapped the paper to reveal a dozen slices of ham and another note. 'We hope you enjoy it, Jake. Try to remember that you don't need meat.' "It's signed Michael". Willow smiled while Helen tried to look vaguely disapproving

Jake grinned and tore off a piece of ham and tasted it. "Oh wow! This is great! What a guy!"

They ate well. As Jake was just deciding whether to make himself another ham and tomato sandwich, Coyote looked round. "Hey - what was that?"

"What was what?" Willow asked, taking a bite out of an apple.

Coyote put his finger to his lips and they held their breaths.

"I heard it!" Said Jake, and he stood up and looked around. "There!" He pointed and started walking slowly and quietly towards the source of the sound, the others following.

"It's a puppy!" Willow exclaimed as they started running towards the sound, finally arriving at a concrete drain sunk into the ground and half-covered by brambles. The puppy's whimpering echoed in the  drain as they cleared away some of the tangled branches in front of it.

Coyote knelt down and tried to encourage it. "Here, puppy, come on. Nice puppy!"

The whimpering changed to a happy yapping, but  there was no sight of the dog. Jake stuck his head down the drain. "I can't see it. There's a bend down there."

"The poor thing," said Helen. "It must be stuck."

"It's probably been abandoned," growled Coyote. "There's nothing for miles around here. Someone must have dumped it."

"Bastards," said Willow. "We can't just leave it there."

Jake stood up. "I'm gonna see if I can get in there. I think I could, it's narrow here but it gets wider farther down. Hold my feet, man," he said, lying down in the ground and starting to wriggle forward into the drain. The yapping stopped. "Here fella. Good dog. Come to Jakey!" he said wriggling farther in. The puppy started whining again.

No-one noticed that Willow had run back to the picnic table and returned with the rest of the ham. She took it out of the paper wrapping and leaned in past Jake's legs. "Here puppy," she called, waving the ham in the air. For a second there was silence. Jake turned to see what was happening, and almost immediately a small brown pup, yapping happily, bounded out of the drain, using Jake's back for purchase, across his legs, and into Willow's arms where it hungrily swallowed the ham and started licking her face, its tail wagging furiously.

Startled by the suddenness of the puppy's appearance, Coyote let go of Jake who promptly slid down into the drain and landed in a pool of stagnant water, yelling "Gaaaahhhh" as he went.

"Oh shit!! Sorry, man," Coyote exclaimed, leaning into the drain and reaching out a hand to Jake. Willow and Helen hardly noticed, cooing over the puppy, as Jake clambered up out of the drain, dripping noisome greenish liquid. "Far out - you're gonna have to get out of that gear, man," Coyote observed unhelpfully.

"Thanks," Jake scowled, holding out his hands as the water dripped from his sleeves.

"Oh Jake!" Helen said. "Look! Isn't he gorgeous?" And then, tearing her eyes away from Willow and the pup, she looked over at the dripping mess that was Jake, and stifled a laugh. "Oh, Jake! Come on. Let's get you some dry clothes," and she led him, dripping, back to the cars as Willow and Coyote fussed over the pup.

Helen rummaged around in the trunk of the car and brought out some clean clothes. As she handed them to him, her nose wrinkled. "Eewww. You're going to have to wash - you can't ride in the car like that, clean clothes or not. Come on." She led him over to where the stream ran clear and fast around a jumble of water-worn rocks and boulders.  It looked cool and inviting, and the fact that he had no choice made Jake's decision easy.

"Okay. Just leave my clothes here. I'll wash off," he said.

Helen walked back to the cars, where Willow was sitting on the grass playing with the pup. As she approached, it turned, jumped off Willow's lap and bounded towards Helen, who picked it up and held it out as it wagged its tail furiously and tried to lick her face. "Oh you cute thing," she cooed, bending down and putting it back on the ground.

Coyote walked over to pat it, but the pup stopped wagging and backed away nervously. "Wow," said Coyote. "I bet the poor little tyke's had a hard time from some guy. He's OK with you chicks, but he's really leery of me."

"Leary!" exclaimed Willow! "Yeah! That's what we'll call him! Here, Leary, here boy."  He bounded over to her and leapt into her arms, wagging again.

"Where's Jake?" asked Coyote.

Helen flicked her head in the direction of the stream. "Washing off."

"Ah. Cool. What's the stream like?"

Helen described it.

* * *

Jake lay back in the cool, crystal-clear water, feeling the heat of the summer's day drift away with the stench of the stagnant water. He looked up at the sky, at the trees, at the green bank, listened to the trickle of water tumbling over rocks, and felt totally relaxed and at peace. He closed his eyes in ecstasy.

Suddenly the pup's yapping made him sit up and, before he realised what was happening, Willow and Coyote ran, naked and laughing, into the stream.

"Hey, man - this is so cool! You weren't gonna keep it all to yourself were you?" Coyote hooted, scooping up a handful of water and splashing it over Willow, who ran at him and pushed him over into the pool beside Jake.

Helen, holding Leary, walked up to the bank and stood, watching. The pup jumped out of her arms and stood on the bank, barking and wagging, clearly wanting to join the fun. Helen watched as Coyote swung his arm round through the water, splashing the surprised Jake, whose expression suddenly turned from embarrassed surprise to outrage as he spat out a mouthful of water. He stood and ran towards Coyote, pulling him down into the pool as Willow, laughing, dived in beside them.

From the bank, Helen looked down at Leary, up at the hot sun high overhead, across at the three people frolicking in the cool water, and sighed.

Jake turned and froze, watching transfixed as Helen, leaving her clothes in a pile on the bank, picked up Leary and walked across the rocks to the pool. Willow and Coyote smiled at each other, quietly crept around beside the hypnotised Jake, dived under the water and grabbed him around the knees. Helen squealed with laughter and Leary yapped excitedly as Jake fell backwards into the water.





"Honey, I...whoa." Amanda's gaze froze Vincent in his tracks. "Um, what...?"

"'Some music festival. I don't know much about it.'"

"Oh. That. Well, yeah, so what's...?"

"Look." Amanda threw the newspaper at him. He caught it and read. "Oh," he said.

"Yes. 'Oh'. So tell me, Mister Lane, who's playing at this 'some music festival'?"

"Um, well..."

Amanda snatched the paper from him and read, speaking each name individually. "Joan Baez. The Band. Paul Butterfield. Canned Heat. Joe Cocker. Country Joe and the Fish. Credence Clearwater Revival. Crosby Stills and Nash. The Grateful Dead..."

"Yeah, okay, I know..."

"I haven't finished," she said icily. "Arlo Guthrie. The Incredible String Band. Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix for God's sake! Jefferson Airplane..."

"Honey..."

Amanda looked up at him over the top of the newspaper, ice and fire in her gaze. "Janis...Joplin. Melanie Safka. Santana. John Sebastian. The Who. Johnny Winter..."

Vincent sighed. "Okay, enough. I know it's not just some festival, but Amanda..."

"But Amanda? But Amanda WHAT?"

A pained expression appeared on his face. "Amanda, you're..."

"The biggest freakin' music festival EVER. 'Just some music festival'? And you thought you were going to get away without taking me?"

"But honey..."

"But NOTHING, Vincent Lane."

"Amanda. For God's sake..."

"Yes! I know! I'll be three weeks away from giving birth..."

"Two weeks and three days to be precise...."

"Stop splitting hairs!

"It's not splitting hairs, Amanda. Two weeks and three days is just too..."

"Lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place, Vincent! This one'll probably be two weeks late, and if you think that I'm going to miss the chance to see all those bands - not to mention Janis - then you're crazier than I think you are!"

"This is not something we're going to discuss, Amanda." Vincent said sternly.

Amanda wilted. She stood, staring at him, frozen, mouth half-open as if ready to reply, the colour draining from her face.

"This is not something we're going to discuss, Amanda. Your Aunt's expecting you. You leave in the morning."

"But I..."

"ENOUGH! You've done your part in this, you and...whoever got you into this mess! Now..."

"His name's..."

"I SAID ENOUGH!"

Amanda lifted a hand to her face, feeling the heat of her father's handprint. The last year vanished; she was a frightened little girl again, missing the certainty of her parents and her home, and the weight of her loss descended on her.

Vincent watched, horrified, not understanding what had happened, but sensing that it had been something terrible. Against her courage and strength of will there was a fragility in Amanda that lay buried, waiting for a trigger, always waiting in the sadness behind those Wedgwood-blue eyes. He stepped forward, uncertain about how to react, and gently held her half-expecting that she'd be tense, but she was limp, as if the will had gone out of her. He put his arm around her and stroked her hair, feeling their son move again inside her and the pressure of her painfully swollen breasts against him, and he felt as if he'd just kicked her.

He kissed the top of her head. "Honey?"

She put her arms around him, her head bowed.

"Amanda?"

She looked up into his face. Though there had been no external sign, her face was wet with tears.

"Honey! I'm sorry," he breathed, his heart aching, and he kissed her forehead. "I'm sorry. Look - you're probably right. I mean, what're the odds that..."

Amanda shook her head. "It's not that. It was...what you said."

"What did I say?" he asked, recollection of specific words lost in the reaction they'd caused.

"You..." she sniffed "...it was what my father said...when..." The tears welled in her eyes. "...and I tried to call him from Vegas, but the number was disconnected, and..."

Amanda had never told him the details of that day, or about the phone call to her parents from Las Vegas. As the story unfolded two resolutions took immutable form in Vincent's mind. Amanda was going with him to Woodstock, no matter what the consequences. And after that, as soon as they possibly could, they were going to find her parents.



"The Sink?"

"Sure," said Jake, looking up at the sign.

Willow screwed up her nose. "Somehow I doubt that they do soy bean and lentil casserole."

"They do beer," said Coyote happily.

"They probably do salads," Helen sighed. "And I suppose we'll have to make some concessions to the presence of two carnivores in our caravanserai."

"Yeah," Jake beamed. " Besides, when in Boulder, do as the, um, Boulders do."

"Now you be good," Willow told Leary, pouring him a bowl of water and putting him back in the Kombi. "We'll be back in a little while with some meat." The word dripped distastefully off her tongue, and she closed the sliding door as Leary yapped disappointedly.

"I'll leave the window down a little for him, so he can get some fresh air," said Coyote, opening the front door and winding the window down.

As they walked through The Sink Jake looked around in amazement at the walls decorated with beatnik and hippie murals, and he thought about Baker's Bar where they'd gone for Willy's stag party. As he led them down the back to a table just like the one they'd sat at that night he wondered how things were going for Willy and Hilda.

"Okay! Beer!" said Coyote, interrupting Jake's train of thought.

Several beers, some sloe gins and Coke, three surprisingly good salads, and half a Sinkburger later (the other half being wrapped in a paper napkin for Leary) the well-fed group headed for the door.

"It's gonna get cool pretty quickly at this altitude, we'd better head out to find somewhere to camp for the night," Coyote suggested.

"Yeah," said Jake. "I'll see you guys outside - I gotta visit the bathroom."

He pushed through the pine door marked "Buckaroos", next to the one marked "Buckarettes", and attended to his needs. As he stood at the basin washing his hands a short, thin, dark-haired man at the basin beside him spoke.

"Now you look like a man who appreciates the finer things of life."

Jake turned. "What? The finer things...?"

The man looked around to make sure no-one was watching. "Nature's bounty, my friend, the blessings of mother Earth," he said conspiratorially.

"Oh," said Jake. "Yeah! Colorado's beautiful alright. We're gonna spend a little while here and see the Rockies."

"Wha...oh! Oh yes, truly one of the wonders of the world, my friend. But I was thinkin' more along the lines of Mother Nature's more, how can I say this, more mind-expanding bounties!"

Jake suddenly realised what the man was talking about and he grinned. "Ohhh! I get it!"

The man smiled. "I knew you would. You know, my friend..."

"Jake," said Jake.

"Jake! It's a real pleasure. The moment I saw you, Jake, I said 'Petey, now there's a man of the world.'" He looked Jake in the eye. "I can tell a man who's known the depths and the heights of human experience, Jake, and when I saw you I knew you were such a man. It's in your eyes."

"Well..." said Jake, blushing, "I guess..."

"No, don't say any more Jake," Petey said, looking around again, "Men like you and me, we understand each other. We have an unspoken bond, a special kinship that only men of the world have, right?"

"Uh, I guess," Jake said, uncertain of where all this was going.

"And that's why, when I saw you, I knew that I was going to offer you a chance to share in my good fortune."

"Good fortune?" Jake asked.

"Mother Nature's bounty, Jake, my friend." He looked around again, and reached into his pocket, taking out a plastic bag full of green plant material.

Jake's eyes widened.

"Now Jake, I know a man like you's heard of Acapulco Gold, am I right?"

"Aca - oh, yeah, sure," Said Jake, lying, but not wanting to appear naive.

"Well," said Petey, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper, "I'm willing to bet that you know exactly what this is. Not many people would, of course, but you, Jake, I suspect, know exactly what you're looking at. Am I right?"

"Uh, well, I, uh, I don't..."

"I know! I know!", Petey said, grinning. "You don't want to show off. I knew you'd be modest  too, Jake, the moment I saw you. And I know exactly what you're thinking. You're thinking, and you're right of course, that a bag of Rocky Mountain Green like this would be worth at least two hundred dollars!"

"Two hundred..." Jake said, choking on the words.

"And you'd be right of course, Jake. Probably closer to four hundred, wouldn't you say?" He looked at Jake and waited for an answer.

"Oh. Uh, yeah! Rocky Mountain Green. Four hundred, sure!" said Jake, warming to the task.

"But Jake," Petey continued, "like I said, you and me, we have a bond. Just like the bond between brothers." He looked intently at Jake. "And between brothers, money is meaningless. Am I right?"

"Meaningless..." Jake muttered, staring at the bag.

"Exactly. Meaningless. And that's why I'd like you to have this, as a gift, from one brother to another."

Jake looked up into the narrow, beady eyes. "A gift?"

"A gift." Petey nodded.

"Well, I don't..."

"Jake!" I should have known. I'm so sorry!"

"Sorry...?"

"Now look at what I've gone and done! I've insulted you!"

"Insulted...?"

Petey put his hand on Jake's shoulder. "I'm truly sorry, Jake! I should have know that a man like you would be insulted by my suggestion that you wouldn't want to contribute to my expenses. I'll tell you what. Just to make you feel better,  I'll let you give me a token, what they call a peppercorn, just so's you can feel that you actually paid for it. I mean you and me, we'll both know that it was a gift, but your conscience, well, I don't want my brother's conscience prickin' him. No way. I couldn't live with m'self if I did that!"

"Oh," said Jake, "I'm not..."

Petey laughed. "Jake, you know what they say about Rocky Mountain Green."

"Say?"

"Yeah - you know - they say that when you smoke Acapulco gold you see stars, but when you smoke Rocky Mountain Green you see the planets and the galaxies too! But I know what you're thinking, Jake."

"You do?"

"Of course I do! You're not thinking of yourself! And isn't that just like a guy like you? You're thinking of those friends of yours out there! You're thinking about the look on their faces when you show them what you've got here. You're thinking about how they're not gonna believe how sharp you are! What a sharp bargain you struck with ol' Petey - gettin' - what - five hundred dollars worth of the most famous herb on the planet for, oh, I dunno, let's just say fifty bucks. And you're gonna feel real bad because they'll think you took advantage of your brother - and a man like you, a man o' the world, well you'd never take advantage of anyone. You an' me, Jake, we're so alike I can just tell that you're thinkin' that, 'cause that's exactly what I'd be thinkin' myself. Right?"

"Uh, right," Jake said, thinking nothing of the sort, but thinking how cool it'd be to be able to offer some Rocky Mountain Green around, and to tell them what a sharp bargain he's struck with this dumbass he'd met in the john.

"Well Jake, I don't want you to feel bad. I don't mind at all, because I'll know that my brother Jake is smoking the very finest herb that Mother Nature put on the planet. But Jake, I'm holdin' you up - your friends are probably worried about where you are." He thrust the bag into Jake's hand. You get along now, and all I ask is that when you're blissed out on this miraculous weed, you think of your brother Petey."

Jake thrust his hand into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and thrust a fifty into Petey's hand.

"I've put a pack of rolling papers in there for you, Jakey. God speed, brother, God speed." said Petey, as Jake thanked him and hurried out.

He hurried across the road to where Willow, Helen and Coyote, were standing around, and put his hand in his pocket. "Hey, guess what I just..."

"Jake," interrupted Coyote, "it's Leary! He's gone, man!"

"Because you left the window down enough for him to get out!" added Willow in an accusatory tone.

Helen stamped her foot. "Stop it you two! We'll argue about whose fault it is later. Jake - you stay here with the car in case he comes back. Willow, you take that way," she pointed down the street, "Willow, you look down the block there, and I'll take the road behind us. He's only tiny, he can't be far away."

Jake watched them go, looking up and down the street. It was starting to get dark and, even though it was mid summer, at that altitude the air was starting to take on a chill. I hope they find the poor little guy, he thought as he climbed into the passenger seat of the Kombi and closed the door. He sat, quietly chuckling to himself, thinking what a chump Petey had been. He took out the baggie and looked at it. Wow, he thought. Five hundred bucks worth of Rocky Mountain Green! I can't wait to see the look on Coyote's face when he sees this. He opened the baggie and put his nose to it, inhaling the rich, earthy aroma. Hm, he thought, I guess it wouldn't hurt to sample just a little.

He reached into the bag and took out the packet of Zig Zag rolling papers that Petey had given him, removed a paper, sprinkled a little of the dried vegetation on it, rolled it inexpertly into a thin cigarette, and twisted the ends. Dammit, he thought. No matches. He turned around and looked on the back seat, to see a matchbook, smiled, and reached over to it. He lit up, and inhaled deeply. The smoke was acrid and it burned, unlike the smoothness of Aquarius Gold, and he coughed, clutching his chest. Dammit! he thought. This must be really powerful stuff! He took another cautious puff, and managed to keep it down, then another. Then he waited.

A vague feeling of dizziness made him smile. Ah. It's coming on. He looked up. No stars. And the a thought struck him. Dammit! How could there be stars? You're inside the car! He opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. The sky was getting dark, and the Rocky Mountain air was clear and cloudless. Even though there was still some light from the setting sun the stars were starting to show, clear and bright. That guy was right - they look so big out here. I'm not seeing any galaxies though. He pulled the baggie out of his pocket and eyed it. Hm, I wonder if this stuff really works?

A hand fell on his shoulder, and he looked around to see the grinning face of a corpulent, red-faced man in a blue checked flannel shirt, holding out a silver star badge embossed with the words "Deputy Sheriff" and "County of Boulder Colorado".

Jake stood there, holding a plastic bag full of Rocky Mountain Green in one hand and the smoking end of a thin joint in the other, staring in dismay.

"What is it you hippies say? You're broken? Nah - that ain't it. You're snapped? Oh yeah! I remember! You're busted!" He laughed and put the badge in his pocket.

"Now this here's what the judge's gonna call an open an' shut case. I'll just take the evidence," he said, indicating the baggie in Jake's hand. "You can drop that," he added, looking at the joint, "or finish it, it don't make no difference t'me. There's enough evidince in that there bag t'privide you with free board 'n' lodgin' for quite a while."

Jake was stunned, unbelieving. His mind was racing at a million miles an hour. He pictured himself in a black and white striped suit, a ball and chain around his ankle, swinging a sledge hammer in the hot sun while the deputy, in a guard's uniform and dark glasses, looked on with a rifle slung over his shoulder. The deputy's expression changed from one of pleased amusement to a scowl as Jake seemingly refused to comply with his order to hand over the bag.

"Okay, son," he said, "if that's the way you wanna play it..." and he effortlessly swung Jake around, twisting his arm around behind him as he forced him up against the side of the Kombi.

"Aaaaaarrrgggghhhh," Jake yelled, feeling as if his arm was breaking.

"Now jus' 'cause I'm a friendly lookin' fella don't mean I don't know how t' handle you ugggghhhhhh."

Jake felt the iron grip on his arm loosen and he turned just in time to see Helen rubbing her knuckles and the bulky form of the deputy collapsing on the ground. And it was at that point that things started to get really interesting.



Stay tuned for the next instalment of All My Children.

Disclaimer: All characters are copyright MTV except for Willy and his family who belong to us.

Special thanks: to all our beta readers: Floopyboo, Richard Lobinske; The Estimable Renfield; Sleepless from New Mexico, Martin J Pollard; gearhead; Mike Nassour; Brother Grimace; and to Uvarov for finding the best damn lunar landing site on the web.

Quirks: Deref, who typed the words, is an Australian, so he's used Aussie English spellings and grammar conventions. He may also have inadvertently used some Aussie idioms though he's tried to keep in culture.

Liked it? Hated it? Tell Thea Zara or Deref - please?