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Strength of a Bear

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“You were with Dad’s lover?” Shelly was shocked. “I can’t believe it; you were with the female who took Dad away.”

“She didn’t take your father from me; he took himself away.” Carla was packing a picnic basket for their day in the country.

“What was she like?” Daniel asked uncertainly. He didn’t share his sister’s horror, but it did seem odd for his mom to befriend her ex-husband’s former-lover.

Carla paused and stared into space. “She’s such a frightened, lost, little thing. Her family is angry about her affair.” She turned a motherly gaze at her two. “It is compounded by the fact that she carries your half sibling.”

“What!?” both stared at Carla in shock.

Carla laughed. “You always wanted a little brother or sister; now you will have one. Shelly, get a bottle of wine from the basement cooler.”

“Are you going to invite her over for supper?” Shelly asked with an almost accusing tone before she disappeared down the basement stairs.

“No, but I am going to give her all your old baby things. The Spirit knows neither of you seem inclined to give me grandcubs.”

“That would be a little hard for Norman and me,” Danny said with a shrug.

Carla’s eyes opened. “Is that an admission of having found your life mate?”

“What is this?” Shelly popped up out of the basement with a bottle in her hand. “Are you and Norman legitimizing your illicit relationship?”

“Shell! It’s not illicit…” Daniel saw her grin. She got him again. He shook his head. “We’ve talked about it; that’s all.”

“We have to meet him and approve,” Shelly announced in her command voice.

Carla took the bottle, rinsed the dust off, and stuck it into the basket with a corkscrew. “Let’s talk about this when we reach the falls. Danny, did you pack the rods?”

“Yup, and Shell picked up bait.”

Northington Road took them straight north out of Haresburg into the mountains west of Zootopia. Suburbia fell away quickly to steep, old-forest trees covering the side of the rising mountains. There were scenic overlooks placed along the road where they could see the water between the west bank and the canal district with the spires of Savannah Central rising in the distance. The trees were starting to change color, but the sky was blue and the air warm. All three were looking forward to the chance to put their worries behind them.

Shelly pulled off the main road at a green sign with a tree on it stating this was the beginning of the Rourke’s Cliffs Protected Forest. The dirt road led them to a parking area with an information kiosk and rest room. Several paths branched away; all had signs. Daniel carried the basket and struck off immediately along the trail that would lead them to the falls. Shelly followed carrying the fishing rods and a krill with the bait. Carla sauntered at her own pace bringing up the rear.

It was about two miles along a winding path that rose gently. They stepped out of the canopy onto a grassy bluff beside the crest of the falls. The bluff overlooked the creek 100 feet below that hurried down toward the bay.

There was a family of gazelles there as well. Carla picked a place that wouldn’t intrude on their privacy. The three sat down and became silent, each with their own memories and thoughts.

“Remember the first time Dad brought us here?” Shelly asked at last. “He bought us those toy fishing poles and taught us how to cast and stuff.” She indicated the swirling pools of water just before the cataract.

“You fell in when that trout took your line.” Daniel chuckled.

“But I landed it,” She was quick to defend.

“And we had it for dinner,” Carla said. “Your dad filleted it and grilled it.”

Daniel opened the wine bottle and poured three glasses. He raised his to the sky. “Here’s to you Dad. You screwed up a sweet deal, but we love you anyway; we miss you.”

“Hear, hear,” Shelly murmured.

Carla sighed and held her glass. “I miss him too. We used to have such fun.” She shook her head. “What went wrong?”

Both her children realized it was rhetorical. There was no answer. No one thing went wrong; it was a series of things beginning with Randall’s inability to be faithful.

“A mountain bluebird,” Daniel said cocking his ear. He gave a whistle that was answered.

“Your dad taught you to do bird calls,” Carla reminded.

“I tried but never could get the hang of it.” Shelly chuckled.

“Your gift is shouting orders to be heard on the top-gallant spars during the howling gale of an ocean storm.” Daniel poked her arm.

“This isn’t the age of sails; this is the age of technology,” she countered. “We don’t have to shout, we all have headsets.”

“So, Daniel, tell us about you and Norman,” Carla prompted with the eagerness only a mother could have for the life-time happiness of her son.

Daniel smiled shyly. “We’ve talked but nothing serious. Sorta along the lines of ‘what would we do if…’” He noticed Shelly wringing her paws. “What’s wrong, Shell?”

She bit her lower lip, obviously reluctant to voice a concern. “I… I wonder about… Do you… Is he faithful?” She finally blurted. “I mean all those years Mom, thought Dad was her one and only and she his, and then he goes and…”

Carla pulled her into a hug. “Norman and Danny aren’t your father and I. That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”

Shelly was crying into her mother’s shoulder. Carla held her and let her get it out. Daniel reached over and petted his sister on her back. No one said a word as Shelly cried herself out.

At last she pushed herself upright and rubbed her eyes. “Doesn’t it make you angry, Mom?”

Carla handed her a napkin. “Oh, you wouldn’t believe how angry I was.” She chuckled at herself. “I threw all his stuff out the second-story window so hard I was hoping it would all break when it hit the ground. Shirts don’t break.” She shook her head. “I don’t even think his clippers broke when they hit the ground. And the names I called him. I didn’t know I knew so many bad words. I wanted to hurt him in the worst way.” She stared at the sky and sighed. “That passed, and I grieved for the loss of what had been.” She looked at both her children. “Just as you must. Don’t carry this forward and let it poison your life. Remember the good times: the fishing trips, the vacation to Walrus World, hiking in the Tetons, pick-up baseball games in the back yard with all your school friends, how proud he was of you.”

“I’m young; there’s plenty of time for me to find love. But what about you?” Shelly looked pleadingly at Carla.

Carla huffed and put on a mock-offended expression. “Are you implying I’m too old to find a new love?” She laughed at Shelly’s embarrassed expression. “I’ll be fine. I’m worried more about you and your fears. How do you know if your partner is true and faithful to you? You have to believe he or she is. If you don’t, you have no basis for a trusting relationship.” She turned to Daniel. “Do you have doubts about Norman’s fidelity?”

There wasn’t a hesitation when Daniel shook his head. “No.”

“And you’re not mad at his lover?” Shelly was still amazed at Carla for befriending the Asian Sunbear.

“Again, I was at first, but when I saw how much his actions had hurt her, I couldn’t be mad at her. Randall caused all the pain she and I feel. Bian and I never intended to hurt each other. That was all Randall’s doing.” She stroked Shelly’s cheek. “She’s not much older than you and pregnant and alone in a foreign land. She needs friends, not condemnation. She knows more than anyone the mistake she made, as I know more than anyone the mistake I made.”

“What mistake is that, Mom?” Daniel asked.

“Not listening to everyone’s warnings about your father being unfaithful.” Carla shrugged. “I wanted the dream I had created to continue. It did, in my mind, until it could no longer sustain itself.” She looked at Shelly. “So, what are YOU going to do when you meet a male who makes you feel like a little girl again, who brings joy and happiness into your life, who says you bring him joy and happiness?”

Shelly looked over toward the family of gazelles. The three children were laughing and piling up on their father. She wondered if that life was for her; she loved the Navy. She shook her head. “I don’t know.” She looked at the ground. “I just don’t know.”