"A Spearfish Lake Story"
Candice held on tight to her husband’s bare back, and her legs were still wrapped around him as sense slowly started to return to her. The mattress on John’s old bed was lumpy, and the springs had squeaked, but she was far beyond caring, or even noticing. He was pressed down on her, cheek to cheek, both of them sweaty and exhausted – and sated, a little, for the moment. It felt wonderful.
"We don’t get to do that enough anymore," she whispered dreamily.
Years before, they had learned that she was prone to moaning and screaming when she and John made love. It had been all right before they had kids, and even when Shay was very little, but they had learned that they had to be silent in their pleasures. It had been bad enough in their apartment in Camden, but their too-expensive suburban tract house outside of Decatur had walls so thin that they were scared the boys might hear even quiet lovemaking.
But, once in a while they were able to be free of the kids for a bit, and when that happened, it was carpe diem. After lunch, John’s parents had offered to take their grandkids out for the matinee of the new Christmas movie, Santa’s Secret Helpers, but both she and John had begged off, claiming they needed a nap after their late drive the night before. It was too good a chance to pass up; for once, Candice could scream and moan to her heart’s content, and they were sure of enough time for at least another bout, maybe two.
"No, we don’t," John whispered back. He eased his weight off of her and rolled to the side.
She rolled with him, her arms still around him, and freed a hand just long enough to brush her long black hair out of her face. "Maybe someday," she replied hopefully. "It’s nice to be able to do it and not have to worry about the boys hearing a flea fart from four rooms away."
John grinned. She knew he liked to hear her use an earthy line every now and then, and it turned both of them on, but they were careful to never talk like that around the boys.
Their mutual sweat was starting to get a little chilly – it was an upstairs room in an older house without a lot of insulation – so she freed an arm and pulled the covers back over them. John helped. She rolled her head so it snuggled up against his. "It’s times like these that I sort of envy Josh and Tiffany," she said quietly. "They don’t have to worry about the walls having ears."
"I don’t know whether to envy them or not," John replied thoughtfully. "They’re so busy with the dogs and everything else they do, that you have to wonder if they ever have time for this. I’ll bet that when they go to bed they’re just happy to get a few hours of sleep."
"Well, it’s not like we get many more chances," she replied, a little wistfully. "Between the hours you work, and the boys, it seems like all we ever get to do in bed is try to get enough sleep ourselves."
"They’re doing what they like to do, and I guess that’s the price they pay," he said, absently caressing her breast.
"It was nice of them to have us out there this morning," she said, enjoying the touch of his hand, and anticipating what would happen again in a little while. "You know, I sort of miss having animals around. I mean, it’s not the same thing as the horses and cattle we used to have, but, well, I feel like the boys are missing something important."
"Yeah, at least they didn’t bug us too bad about wanting a dog this time." The subject had come up many times before, and they both knew that it wouldn’t take much of a hint to Josh and Tiffany for the boys to have a puppy or two as Christmas presents, but they knew their relatives would clear it with them, first. "I wouldn’t mind having a dog or something."
"I wouldn’t, either," she replied. "But there’s just no way we can have one. We’re just not home enough to take care of animals. Maybe that’s what bothers me a little. Having the animals means having the responsibility to look after them, and they’re not getting the chance to learn that sort of responsibility."
"Oh, I agree. We just couldn’t have pets, the way we live now." He snickered a little, silently, but she could feel him laughing to himself.
"What’s so funny?" she asked.
"I was thinking about what it would be like to have a dog team where we live. Can’t you imagine the neighborhood association screaming if they saw a dozen or two doghouses in the back yard, or a team of huskies running up and down the sidewalk?"
"We’d have the cops down on us so fast it wouldn’t be funny, even if we just thought about it," she agreed. "Even if you just had one dog staked out in the back yard, we’d be getting complaints about animal abuse."
He rolled a little bit, to let his hand slide down to her lower breast. "Can you imagine having a horse in the back yard?"
She smiled ruefully. "I can. We’d never hear the end of it. We’d hear more horse manure than we’d have horse manure. I guess I’m still a country girl at heart, and I sometimes wonder what I’m doing trying to live around all the city people who think milk comes from plastic jugs at the supermarket."
She could feel him shrug. "I grew up in town here," he replied. "But, I know exactly what you mean. Small-town people aren’t the same as city people, either. I mean, I haven’t lived here in Spearfish Lake for fifteen years, and I still know a lot of people, know who lives in which house, know Jerry at the hardware store and Frank at the bank and like that. I can’t tell you who lives in the house beyond our neighbors on either side at home. That bothers me sometimes, and it bothers me that I don’t care that I don’t know. And, it bothers me that it’s the normal thing for the boys."
Candice knew he had a point; it had bothered her, too. "You and I may be a small-town kid and a country kid," she said. "But we’re raising a couple of city kids."
"Yeah," he said quietly. "I don’t know what we can do about it, either. Not where we are in our lives, right now. And, by the time we could do something, it’ll be too late."
"If it isn’t, already," she agreed, and sighed, "I guess that’s the price we pay for doing what we do." They were getting into a discussion that she didn’t want to air just now. It wasn’t the first time they’d discussed being uneasy with where and how they lived, but that kind of introspection could easily get in the way of what they were trying to do at the moment.
"It was nice of Phil to ask us over," she said, reaching for something else to talk about. "I haven’t seen him since the night we graduated. We had a party out at the Legion, and I remember sitting out on the steps listening to Bob Watson pick away at his guitar and watching Phil and Alison feel each other up. I know they got in some back seat time before the night was over with. I mean, nobody said anything, but you could tell from the way they acted that they’d been screwing each other’s brains out. They’d been a couple all through high school, but I think that was the first time they actually got laid. I mean, we were a little surprised, because we all thought Alison was the sort of girl who would have to have a ring on her finger before she spread her legs." She’d felt that way about herself at the time, but didn’t mention it to her husband – those feelings had melted away after she’d met him and long before they were married. Those had been good days, nice to remember.
"What happened to them?" John asked a little curious, and liking to hear his wife talk that way.
"I guess they broke up when Alison went to Western and he went to Michigan Tech. She found someone she liked there, and the next thing I heard was they were married. I guess Phil got hooked up with this Brandy a year or two after that. After he got out of college he got this job as a tech rep and was supposedly stacking up the cash like something else, but that’s all gossip I heard at the class reunion."
"I went all through school with Brandy," John recalled. "Brandy was . . . uh, different. Sharper than hell, missed being valedictorian by like less than half a point, and got rooked at that.
"Got rooked? How?"
"Oh, Joanie Pacobel was the valedictorian, but she only took gut classes. General English, lots of home ec, lots of phys ed, that kind of thing. She ducked anything where she’d actually have to study. Brandy took all the hard courses, the science and math stuff, but they all counted the same. She was a real jockette, great athlete, but she just wasn’t the social type. She would never have made a cheerleader; she always wanted to be in the action, not cheering someone else on. She was kind of plain, but she always had this attitude that seemed to say that if you messed with her, you were going to get your butt kicked. A real direct actionist."
"You dated her?"
"Never actually dated her, but there was a gang of us who hung around together, and went places together sometimes. She really wasn’t part of it, and I really wasn’t either, but sometimes we’d get included. She wasn’t what you call a real close friend, but I knew her better than some. We were in a lot of classes together, but I would never have dared to actually date her. Mom never had much use for the Evachevskis and the Matsons. You know how that works."
Candice did, of course; there had been families who didn’t get along well down in Arvada Center and Willow Lake, too. "Should we pass up the invitation?" she asked.
"No, let’s not. It’s been fifteen years, after all, and things have changed. But, maybe we’d better not let Mom know whose place we’re going to, just in case it hasn’t."
"We could pass it up if we had to," Candice offered.
"No need to," John protested. "After all, Phil is your friend. Besides, we’re adults, now, and that stuff doesn’t have to bother us anymore. But then, it’s not like I actually did date her – I just sort of knew that it wouldn’t be appreciated."
"Did you date much in high school?"
"Some. Not much. I mean, I never had what you call a steady girlfriend. Not that I didn’t want one, but the girls were always attracted to the jocks, like Josh." An interesting smile came over his face. "I can’t believe it in a way."
"What?" she murmured, as she felt his hand on her other breast again. She began to feel a welcome poking in her belly, and reached down to take hold of him with her free hand.
"When I think of how many nights I lay awake in this bed and dreamed of getting laid." This wasn’t the first time they’d made love here, but it hadn’t been often and the last time had been several years back. "I still sort of miss this place. It still seems like my room, and I haven’t lived here for what? Sixteen years. The time sure passes."
"Well, this is making a nice Christmas present for us," she said, nuzzling his neck. For a few hours, it’d be like old times there, too. John was as wonderful as he had once been, and although she’d put on a few pounds, it seemed like he still found her as attractive as ever. They’d hit it off well, right from the beginning. They’d met in college, down at State, in their freshman year, and the small-town guy and country girl had sensed soul mates lost among all the urban kids. She’d even changed her major from vet tech to business, so they could be together more, and since it had seemed likely that they were going to have to have city jobs, they’d stuck together.
"We wouldn’t be doing this at home," he agreed, giving her a long, deep kiss that still seemed as exciting as it had been down at State. Once again, their hands explored each other’s bodies, familiar but still somehow foreign. It was a good feeling, and she wished it could go on forever. The only fault was that John’s parents and the boys would be home quicker than they wanted, so they had to make good use of their time. The chance might not come again anytime soon.
Yes, she thought. This has all the makings of a wonderful Christmas. And then, for quite a while, she had no particular thoughts, except for the moment. She didn’t even notice the bed springs squeaking again.
It had been years since Candice had helped to trim a real Christmas tree; even her folks had converted long before they’d left the farm down at Arvada Center. Maybe the artificial ones were less of a hassle, and maybe the expensive ones looked nicer, but they just didn’t have that feel of reality and wonderful smell of fresh-cut pine that caused pleasant memories to well up from her youth. There was something about a real tree that made Christmas seem real, the real she remembered from when she’d been a little girl, a reality that transcended all the artificial atmosphere that had come from all the advertising and hoopla that turned a time of family togetherness and sharing into a consumer extravaganza. But from the moment Josh had walked in the door with the tree Shay had cut that morning, she felt a glow about the season that she’d almost forgotten.
There was an excitement about trimming the tree that she’d forgotten, too – in years past, she’d just done it when she’d been by herself. It had become a chore to be done when no one would bother her, but this time was different.
Josh had already fastened a stand onto the base of the tree, and now everybody pitched in, at least a little. Before long, she noticed Walt and Josh sitting in the corner of the room, and she heard words like "brake valve" and "traction controller," so it was clear that they were talking railroad shop. Walt had technically retired from the C&SL when he’d turned seventy a few years before, which had proved to mean that he only worked three days a week, or less if he felt like it. Josh had been running engines for the short line railroad for nearly ten years, now, but Walt still filled in when needed – and more in the winter, when Josh was busy getting dogs ready to race.
Sarah noticed it, too. "Is railroading all you two ever talk about?" she grumped.
"No," Josh replied. "We could talk about dogs or deer hunting, if you like."
"You get a deer this year, Josh?" John asked as he balanced on a stepladder, trying to string lights at the top of the tree. The tallest of everyone by a few inches, he’d been the obvious candidate for the job.
"Got three does, all on permit," Josh replied, keeping his seat on the couch. "There’s a spot out on the pine barrens where I usually do pretty good."
"That’s a long way out there," his brother observed. "Do you take a team out there?"
"No, I think the dog smell would drive off the deer," Josh said, shaking his head. "We don’t see them around the house very often, and I think that’s probably why. Besides, if the smell of the dogs didn’t scare ’em off, then the barking you’d hear if the dogs ever smelled one would run any self-respecting deer clear over past Walsenberg. If I actually did get a shot off, well, let’s face it, they’re not gun dogs, and I’d have to walk back, tie line or no tie line. So, I just take the railroad’s hi-railer pickup down the tracks to get out there anymore."
"I suppose they all become dog food," Candice commented. The subject wasn’t much better than railroading for a family occasion like this, but at least it was a little better. This was hunting country, after all, and while she wasn’t a hunter, she’d been brought up in a family who did, and she’d heard hunting talk from when she was little.
"Well, a little of it does," Tiffany explained with a smile. "But mostly we take it out on winter camping tours. I never used to care for venison much myself, but Sarah taught me how to cook it right. Some people still don’t like it much, so I take some steaks, just in case."
"I learned from my mother," Sarah related, while changing a dead light bulb in a string of lights. "My folks lived out in the woods, back in the Depression, and venison was about all they had to eat. I’m a little young to remember those days, but we had venison a lot all the time I was at home. Of course, Dad didn’t bother about permits, much."
"How do you do it?" Candice asked At least talking about cooking venison was a little more of a domestic topic than talking about hunting it. "I never cared much for venison, either."
"It’d almost be easier to show you than it would be to tell you," Sarah replied. "I like to sauté it with a lot of onions, but I use some herbs I gather out in the woods. Sassafras, and like that, ground up real well. It doesn’t work real well with moose, though, like that moose Tiffany got last winter."
"I didn’t know there were any moose around here," John said.
"They planted some a few years ago, and they’re coming along," Tiffany said. "You can’t hunt them yet, though. No, this was up at Talkeetna, when we were getting ready for the race last year. There’s moose all around up there. I was out getting some night training in and came around a corner, and here was that moose, and the dogs were in under her before I could yell ‘whoa!’ Well, she started kicking dogs, and I had to shoot her. It was a little exciting there for a minute."
"That’s sort of like calling a tornado ‘a little windy.’ She was seeing moose around every corner for days," Josh said dryly, then expanded on the story. "If you shoot a moose in self-defense up there, you get to keep it, so she put the injured dogs back in the sled, came back to the camp, and I went out there and gutted it out. Let me tell you, the average thousand-pound moose weighs about half a ton, and we had a heck of a time getting it back. It tastes real good, though. Sort of like a rich beef. Our tour customers like it better than the venison, but it’s harder to come by."
"You had a gun with you?" Shay asked, eyes wide. He wasn’t used to women who carried guns, even if she was his aunt.
"I always carry a gun in moose country, Shay," Tiffany told him, stopping hanging an ornament to look straight at him. "Usually I don’t keep it after Unalakleet, and I send it back, but last year, there were polar bears reported out on Norton Sound, which is way south of where polar bears usually ever come, so I kept it all the way to Nome."
"There was a kid in our school who got into a lot of trouble for bringing a busted gun to school," Shay related. "They sent him to the detention center, and the whole school was closed for a couple days. They had counselors and everything when we came back."
"There are places where it’s not good to have guns," Tiffany said, more to Shay than to the adults. "School is one of them. It’s different when you’re out in moose country with a team, and at night."
"That was the damnedest thing," John said, finally finishing up with the lights and climbing down from the stepladder. "I mean, a revolver, busted or not, is just not a good thing to have around school, but people went so ballistic it was weird. I mean, when I was in high school, it was no big thing to have a rifle in your car so you could go hunting after school, but that was then, in Spearfish Lake, and this is now, in the city."
"It’s sad," Sarah agreed. "I don’t know what the world is coming to. I never was much on hunting. That’s what Dad and my brothers did. But, I knew what a gun was, I knew how to shoot it, and knew how to handle it safely."
"I made sure all you kids, even Jackie, knew how to handle a gun, how to respect it," Walt added. "But there are getting to be so many people who don’t even know the basics of a gun anymore. If they don’t know it, how are they going to teach it to their kids? No wonder everybody is so afraid of guns these days. "
John shook his head. "It’s been a long time since I’ve been deer hunting. Not since high school. I don’t even own a rifle anymore. It’d be nice to go deer hunting again sometime, but too many of the twits where I work would think that I’d turned into some kind of homicidal maniac. They wouldn’t even understand Tiffany shooting that moose in self-defense."
"I think it’s a city thing," Josh said. "A lot of the people we get are city people who have never hunted. I mean, they like the outdoors, and all, but I have to be real careful about talking about hunting. I mean, we try to come off as being pretty woodsy and frontiersy, and, of course, running the Iditarod helps give us a reputation as hardened wilderness types. Actually, most of the dogsledding customers seem to understand that hunting is something that goes along with the territory, but especially with the kayakers, it’s best if the subject just doesn’t come up. You hear some of the nuttiest stuff. Once in a while, you’ll get a group who understands, but I usually let the customers bring it up, first. Other times, you’ll get people who’ll hassle you over a little fishing."
John shook his head and came over to join his brother on the couch. "I think it’s the news media. They get onto something, blow it way out of proportion, and just don’t let it go until people are scared out of their wits."
Lights flashed outside the window. "Somebody’s driving up," Candice said.
"It’s probably Jackie and Mark," Walt said, getting up and heading to the door. "I told them we were going to be trimming the tree."
He opened the door and proved to be right. Mark had a grocery bag that was clearly filled with Christmas presents, and Jackie carried a couple of stacked metal pans. "John, Candice, how are you? Long time, no see."
"Well, look who showed up just as soon as all the reaching up high was over with," John said with a smile. Jackie was taller than he was, a good six feet, and Mark taller yet by a couple inches.
"Guess we timed it right, then," she teased back. She set the pans down on a table, and went over to give her half-brother a hug. "So what have you been doing with yourself?"
"Ah, pretty much the same thing. Just working a lot."
"Well, you know what they say about all work and no play." She broke the hug, and turned to Candice. "It’s good to see you again, too. You’re looking good!"
"Well, you look good, too," Candice replied. It had always been a little hard for her to talk to Mark and Jackie. She knew they tended to be a little shy around people they didn’t know well, and she’d never had a chance to get to know them. Jackie was only John’s half-sister, and she’d married Mark while John was still little, so even he didn’t know her all that well. But, he’d often said that they were interesting people with a lot of good stories to tell once you got to know them a little.
"Shay, Cody, I brought some cookies and fudge for when the tree gets done. How’s school going for you?"
"Oh, OK, I guess," Shay replied. He just barely remembered Aunt Jackie; it had been several years.
"It’s going that well?" Jackie asked. "You’ve got to be what? About sixth grade, now?"
"Fifth grade," Shay admitted.
"Do you play sports yet?" she asked.
"Just soccer," the boy said. "It’s kind of fun, sometimes."
"Are you going to play football?" Josh asked from his seat on the couch.
"I don’t know," Shay replied. "I get to try out next year. I hope I’ll make the team."
"They’ve got a PeeWee league down there," John explained. "A kid pretty well has to make that and do well before they let them on the middle school teams. There’s not enough spots on the PeeWee league as it is, and the middle school only takes about half of those kids."
Josh shook his head. He’d been a pretty good football player in high school – all region, and honorable mention all state. "That’s a shame. A kid should be able to play sports if they want to."
"It’s not like when we grew up," John replied. "I never was much to play sports, but I did run track and cross country. But, we never had to worry about getting on teams. If you wanted to play, you played. But, the schools down there are so much bigger than we were used to, and they still can only take so many kids."
"Our school was so small that they had trouble filling out the teams," Candice remembered. "I played basketball all through school. I was never much good, but we had fun. But it’s even harder to get on a basketball team at a school down in Decatur than it is to get on a football team, or at least, that’s what I hear from the people I work with. Did you play basketball, Jackie?"
"Never did," the tall woman replied, a hint of sadness in her voice. "I shot up so fast that I was always tripping over my own feet. They tried to get me to play, but I was so clumsy I didn’t want to embarrass myself."
"How about you, Tiffany?" Candice asked.
"I never played school sports," she replied. "I thought about going out for a couple teams, but I was always so busy with my dogs that I never had the time."
Josh smiled. "She did, however, get the first and only varsity letter for dogsled racing that Spearfish Lake High School has ever awarded."
"I was the high school state champion," Tiffany explained. "But that’s not like a regular school sport."
"So, how did the football team do this year?" John asked. "I haven’t heard anything about it."
"They had a really lousy year," Walt said. "I got into the habit of going to the games when Josh played, and after he graduated, well, it was still fun to go. But, they just haven’t done well. They were like two and seven this year, but the JVs and the middle school teams all had good years, so we ought to have some better ones to come. Two or three years ago, we had a real good team. They got to the quarterfinals before they had to play one of those sandbagging Catholic schools from down in Camden."
"They ripped us off, too," Josh added. "I don’t know why they let it happen, but it’s been that way for years. The public schools have to play with the kids in the district, while the private schools of the same size are allowed to recruit and offer scholarships. Guess who wins?"
"It was that way when I was in school," John recalled. "The girls’ softball team managed to take the state championship, but that was just on a fluke."
"The fluke’s name was Brandy Evachevski," Walt smiled. "I’ve sat around the coffee shops and heard people argue about whether she or her dad were the best athletes the school ever produced. I seen ’em both play, and I can’t tell you. ’Course, her dad was a long time ago, now. He’s not a whole lot younger than I am."
"Even I went to that game," John recalled. "It was a couple days after we graduated, and a lot of my friends went. It was against Camden St. Dismas for the state championships. Brandy made a couple of plays in the last inning that were just impossible. She just carried that whole team."
"I played football with her brother, Danny," Josh added. "He was pretty good, but nowhere as good as she was. Back when we were in high school, he and I hung out a lot together, and we’d go over and play two-on-two or three-on-three basketball in their driveway. She was a little older then, and out of college, but one time, just for laughs, she played five of us with one hand tied behind her back and kicked our butts."
"Do you ever hear from Danny?" Sarah wanted to know.
"Not much," Josh said. "After he married Marsha, he got a job in Florida, in sales or something. They haven’t been back in a couple of years. I’d sort of hoped they’d be here for Christmas, but I guess not this year. We did get a Christmas card, though."
"If he ever does make it back, tell him to drop in and say hello," Sarah replied.
"Yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing him again," Walt commented. "He braked with us, what? Four or five summers?"
"Something like that," Josh agreed. "He was a good runner, and I always liked doing the pit run with him. He could run back to the end of the train down in the pit and exchange the EOT on the tail end of the train as fast as I’ve ever seen. He said he needed the exercise after sitting in the cab for that long."
"Yeah, he did pretty good at it," Walt replied. "I remember one time, he and I were on a run down to Camden . . . "
"Now that we’re back to railroading," Sarah interrupted, "And now that the tree is pretty well done, how about if we try out some of Jackie’s fudge and cookies?"
"Sounds good to me," Tiffany said. "Anyone want anything to drink?" She took drink orders, while Candice, John and Mark cleaned up the scattered empty boxes.
The tree looked a little barren just sitting with no presents under it, so Mark started unpacking the bag of gifts he’d brought, while Candice and John went out to the car for the boxes in the trunk. Once they were outside, John said to his wife, "Well, there’s something else that’s changed."
He smiled. "It looks like the topic of the Evachevski family isn’t off limits anymore."