A/N: So...here's the next part...with more of Tess and Claire...


49

A week after Claire had first met her sister Tess she stood at the sink in the Drovers kitchen, pouring herself a glass of water.

She had helped Jodi bring some cattle in, that Drovers wanted to sell at the auction in Gungellan the following day and they had just come back.

It was the second time Claire had helped out on Drovers in that week, the first time right after Tess had come home because one of the shearers had walked out on them and this time because Tess, who was originally supposed to help Jodi, had had to drive her son Jack to the hospital because the boy had climbed up a tree and fallen down.

They hadn't heard anything from Tess yet but Jodi had told Claire that the boy's arm had looked pretty bad and was probably broken. Since all the other hands had already been assigned to other jobs Jodi had called Killarney if she could borrow one of their hands but had only reached Claire who had offered her help right away.

She had to admit after the first awkwardness between her and her sisters was gone she actually enjoyed spending time with them. And since Alex had taken both girls out to help him with some fences and all three of them had decided it should be a morning without Mum she felt a little useless on Killarney.

Claire just placed down the glass when the phone rang. She knew she was alone in the house, Jodi was still outside giving the hands some orders, Tess was at the hospital, Meg and Terry had gone into town to visit some friends, but she wasn't sure if she should pick it up.

She waited a bit…maybe the person calling would give up if it took too long or the answering machine would take it. But she was out of luck…the phone kept on ringing and it looked like Jodi had forgotten to put the answering machine on.

With a sigh Claire picked up the phone that was resting on the kitchen table and looked for the right button to press.

"Hello? Drovers Run?" she said and prayed that she had done the right thing.

"Claire? Is that you?"

Claire sighed in relief…it was Tess.

"Yeah, it's me…we just came back from bringing the cattle in…How's Jack?"

"Pissed he has to stay in the house now…proud of his cast" Tess chuckled "His arm's broken as I thought and he'll have to wear a cast for at least four weeks…everything else is fine. I'm glad he didn't hit his head, tho. I'm calling to tell you we're on our way back now…I was expecting the answering machine to take the call…"

"Yeah, me too. But it looks like Jodi forgot to put it on…you having lunch in town or shall we keep something for you?"

"Nah, we've had something from the hospital cantina, that should do till dinner…Claire?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for helping Jodi…I know you're on holiday…"

"And feeling useless…it's ok Tess. I'm on holiday to get to know my family. And what's better than bringing in some cattle together? Drive safely…I guess I'll still be here when you're back…"

They hung up and Claire smiled. She really liked Tess. And Jodi. It still felt a little weird to know they were her sisters and not being able to remember them but Claire could feel all the love that they had for her and saw in their eyes how happy they were to have her back and how hard it was on them to hold back the way they did. Maybe one day she could give them back what they wanted…she really hoped she could.

"Hey Claire…I thought I heard the phone ring…"

"You did, it was Tess. Jack's arm is broken and in a cast now and they're on their way back now…shall I fix us some lunch? Tess and the kids had something at the hospital so it's just you and me…"

"You're my guest here Claire, I should fix you something!"

"Umm, thank you Jodi…Tess told me about your attempt to cook eggs without water…I think it's safer if I do it…"

Just then the phone rang again and Jodi answered it only to hand the receiver to Claire a few seconds later.

"It's for you…Alex."

"Oh…" Claire said and put the phone to her ear "Alex? What's up?"

"Claire…I just had a special delivery…the papers came back!"

"Papers?"

"You know…the ones about Emily's birth certificate and the one about your death…"

"Oh…those papers…and?" Claire was curious. They had gotten notice that the papers had been sent to the justice of peace Tuesday. The fact that they got them back now probably meant everything was solved and changed…at least Claire hoped so!

"All changed and official!" Alex happily said "You are officially alive again and Emily is officially my daughter…"

Claire heard how Alex's voice got a soft tone when he said the last words. She knew he felt the same way about Emily that she felt about Charlotte. It still amazed her every day to see the girl walk around and laugh and have fun and know this was her daughter. She wanted to make up for all the years she had missed in her life but had to be careful she didn't spoil her. And the same was true for Alex and Emily.

"Anyway…" Alex then said "This shouts for a party, don't you think?"

"What, tonight? But we have to get up early because of the cattle auction! I don't think it's the right day for a party!"

"Party? We're having a party tonight? Why are we having a party?" Jodi now asked excitedly. She had been standing next to Claire the whole time.

"I haven't said yes yet Jodi! Alex wants to have one because everything's official now…" but soon after she had said that Claire heard two people begging her to give in with at least one making a puppy face…so she finally said "Ok, ok…we're having a party tonight…where?"

"Drovers? It's a McLeod party after all so…" Jodi suggested and all three of them agreed.

After Claire had hung up Jodi called her mother in Gungellan to go shopping before she and Terry left and Claire decided she would go back to Killarney to have a shower and get into some fresh clothes then she would come back to Drovers with the girls and Alex to help with the party preparations.

A few hours later Drovers had gone through a dramatic and quick change. Jodi had proved her talent in decorating and now the veranda was decorated with colourful balloons and festoons and there were lampions all over the garden.

Meg, Tess and Claire had prepared all kinds of salads and Alex and Terry were just starting the grill. Jodi was playing games with the kids so they would be entertained till everything was done.

When everything was finally ready, it was Meg who called them all together.

"Grab a glass everyone! It's time for a toast to get this party started!"

Everybody did as they were told, champagne for the adults, orange juice for the kids. When everybody was holding something to drink in his hands Meg continued.

"We've so spontaneously gathered here today to celebrate the return of a long lost member of this family and the arrival of a brand new one.
Claire…it's still like a miracle to all of us to have you standing here amongst us and I don't think there's anybody here that isn't overly happy that you are alive. From today on it's official that you didn't die in that accident twelve years ago.
I know you can't remember your old life but let me tell you this…even when we all thought you were dead you were always a member of this family and you are to this day…with or without your memory. Welcome home Claire Louise McLeod! To Claire!" Meg raised her glass and so did everybody else.

"To Claire!"

"Now to you Emily. Since we never got the chance to have a naming ceremony for you after you were born like we had for your sister and cousins, your aunts, Terry and I have decided that the changing of your name is just as important as the giving of the name in the first place.
It is tradition that the honoured person receives little gifts from everybody that wishes them well so we've all done some quick shopping and got a couple of things for you which we hope you will like. Since you are a little older than your sister and cousins when they had their naming ceremony, the presents may have turned out a little bigger than theirs.
With this little ceremony we want to welcome you in our family and hope we can spend many happy years together from now on to make up for the years we all lost so tragically. Welcome to the family Emily Rose McLeod-Ryan! To Emily!"

Once again everybody raised their glasses, then the party started. Alex and Terry took turns grilling, the girls chatted away, Emily was overly proud about her wonderful presents and everybody was just having fun.

Claire stood on the veranda and leaned at a post overlooking the scene with a smile on her face. Today was the first day since this whole mess had started that she really felt like she was part of a family again.

Meg's words to her and Emily had touched her deeply and she had once again experienced the unconditional love from all the people around her. They had accepted she was a different person now and loved her anyway, now it was time to give something back to them, as hard as it was for her. And she would start right away!

So Claire went over to Meg who was just trying to load some pudding into a bowl.

"Meg, can I talk to you for a second?"

"Sure Claire…" the older woman answered and placed the still empty bowl on the table.

"I just wanted to say thank you for everything you've done since last week…I know how hard it was on all of you to hold back your feelings and I'm very grateful for that. With your words today you made me realize that I really am a part of this family and I should start behaving like one…"

Claire closed the small gap between her and Meg and closed her arms around her. It didn't take long till she felt Meg hug her back and Claire knew she was doing the right thing. Hugging Meg and letting her hug Claire felt good, right. They let go of each other and Meg squeezed Claire's hand and said once again "Welcome home…"

Claire had to fight back a few tears as she went on to look for Jodi. She found her sitting on the grass, Jack on her lap, helping him playing a simple card game with his sister and cousins. Claire had seen Jodi handle the kids all week and knew she was a natural with kids. Too bad she hadn't found the right man yet to have a couple of her own.

"Kids…would you interrupt your game for a few seconds? I need to talk to your Aunt Jodi…" All four of them nodded so Jodi got up and followed Claire till they were out of hearing range of the kids.

"What's up Claire? Are you all right?"

Claire had to smile. Jodi was still worried about her because of the breakdown after the phone call with Tess.

"Yes, I am all right. And I wanted to thank you for making me feel so welcome here on Drovers. Today made me realize that I am still a part of this family and that I should pull my weight like everybody else while I'm here. Alex doesn't really need me on Killarney but after today and now that Tess has to watch that little wretch of a boy of hers I thought you might want my help for as long as I'm here…"

A huge smile appeared on Jodi's face and she nodded before Claire opened her arms so she could give her youngest sister a hug that wasn't overshadowed by the awkwardness that she had felt when Jodi had first hugged her that Saturday.

After they let go of each other Jodi went back to the card game with the kids and Claire went to search for Tess. But nobody had seen her sister for a while. So Claire wandered around and finally saw Tess sitting on the rim of the old bathtub at the windmill, looking away from the homestead.

Curious why her sister was sitting there all alone while there was a huge party going on she walked up to the windmill and sat down next to her.
Tess seemed a little startled that Claire was suddenly there but she turned her face to the wide open spaces again, her eyes looking lost and sad.

"Are you all right Tess?"

At first her sister didn't answer then she said "Yeah…go back to your party Claire…"

"You don't look all right Tess. Do you miss Nick? Argentina?"

Claire realized that she must have hit a sensitive topic because Tess had tears running down her face now.

"Hey…" Claire said instinctively putting an arm around Tess and pulling her close. "Not long and you can go back. Everything will be all right…why don't you tell me what's bothering you?"

"I really don't wanna burden you with my problems Claire, you have enough of your own…"

"You know what…just today I realized that I really do have a family now and you are my sister. So tell me what's up and maybe my own problems don't look so huge anymore beside yours…"

Tess smiled a little and rested her head on Claire's shoulder and it felt right to Claire to just caress her sister's hair while she talked.

"You are right, I miss Nick but that's not my problem. It's rather…now that you are back and I've been home for a week…I don't really wanna go back to Argentina. I've missed this place, you don't know how much. Here I'm the one in charge and I have my own life, in Buenos Aires I'm only Nick Ryan's wife…I wanna come home but I can't…and now you are here and I want to get to know you again, who you are now but that won't happen if I'm thousands of kilometres on the other end of the world…Oh Claire, what shall I do?"

Claire gently rocked Tess and kept on caressing her hair. "There's really only one thing you can do, Tess…talk to Nick. I don't know him but from what Alex and you told me about him he seems like a good man. I'm sure he will understand how you feel if you tell him and you can only find a solution together…"

Tess stayed silent for a bit till her tears stopped then she lifted her head "I'm sorry Claire…now you're all wet…it's just those bloody hormones…I'm pregnant again…"

"You are? Congratulations Tess…why haven't you said anything yet?"

"I wasn't sure till I was at the hospital today with Jack…I haven't even told Nick yet…I think the baby made me realize that I want it to know the country that I love so much…Drovers Run. Claire and Jack don't really know anything about this piece of land and it makes me sad…you're right, I have to talk to Nick…don't tell the others about the baby, ok? I think Nick should be the next to know…"

"Sure Tess, whatever you want. Now…dry your face so we can go back to the party…if we have to have one the night before a cattle auction I wanna enjoy it at least!"

She handed Tess a handkerchief and the two sisters walked back to the others arm in arm for the first time in twelve years…and it felt right to both of them…


What did you think? Claire's officially alive again...Emily has a father...the sisterly bond between Tess and Claire is growing and Claire even got to be the first to know that she'll be an auntie again. Now...next up...the cattle sale...wondering how that will go? Check back to find out...