"A Spearfish Lake Story"
"Do you realize just how long itís been since itís just been the two of us, together alone?" Tiffany said dreamily, recovering from the welcome-home activity that sheíd been looking forward to more than anything else, in the familiar bed she and Josh had shared for five years.
"A long time," he whispered into her ear, his head on the pillow right next to her. "Going on two months. Not since Phil flew up to meet us before the Quest."
"Thatís too long," she smiled. "I mean, I love Phil like a brother, but having him in the trailer with us all the time did get old after a while. And it was hard for me out on the trail, knowing that you wouldnít be in Nome."
"I missed you, Tiff," he said, kissing her lightly. "Itís hard to say just how bad it was. Itís been pretty lonely down here. Iíve stayed busy, and that helped, but I really wanted to be up there and out on the trail with you. You have no idea of how hard it is to sit back here and follow the race over the internet. Itís just not the same. I donít care if we have to close the store for a couple months, but I donít want to have to do it that way again."
"Me, either," she said. "I mean, we donít usually see each other out on the trail much, but itís not the same, knowing youíre down here."
He put his hand on her warm, bare breast. "I think it was worst when you finished. I was in the office, just staring at the screen, and wanting to be there so bad I could almost have cried. I was kicking myself for not staying in Alaska and flying out to Nome to be there. I thought Iíd done a good job of covering it up to everyone, but I guess I didnít." He told her the story of how he had been staring at the computer screen in the store, half in tears, when Joe had showed up with champagne and a group of friends.
"That was nice of them," she smiled.
"You know what?" he grinned. "Theyíve been having finish parties since the beginning, and never one word have I ever heard about them. It turns out that even when you finished at what would have been three in the morning here a couple years ago, they had a champagne breakfast."
"I never heard a word about that," she said, genuinely surprised.
"Well, at least Phil had the good sense to finish in what was evening, here. We really didnít have that big of a party at the store, since everyone had to go back to work. We just popped some corks and had some pizza, and I have to say that champagne goes pretty well with pizza. But then, we had a second party at Gil and Carrieís that evening, for Philís finish, and that was an even bigger party. It got kind of late."
"I sort of wondered about that," she smiled. "I tried to call home after I got up. It must have been about midnight, and I didnít get an answer."
"Probably because I was sitting on the couch at Gil and Carrieís, with my fingers wrapped around one of those exotic beers that Greg Mears finds somewhere." He smiled at the memory. "It was a little bleary the next morning."
"Iím sorry I missed you," she said quietly. "I needed to talk to you."
She weighed telling him. Sheíd gotten used to keeping the fear to herself. But, if there was anyone she could talk to, it was her husband, lying in the bed next to her. Perhaps it would be best to get it out in the open, now. "Josh, I fucked up," she managed to finally say.
"You remember me talking about Topkok, in the car today?"
"Yeah, it sounded pretty hairy," he replied casually.
"Josh, it was far worse than I could let on to my parents," she said, the fear beginning to creep up on her again. She thought sheíd been able to put it behind her, but now the memory of the howling cauldron of whiteout seemed real to her again. "It was worse than I could ever have believed it could have been. Even with Rick leading, I donít know how either of us made it through. It was just a solid whiteout in the blowing snow, or would have been if it had been light. I donít think Hobo was ever more than twenty feet behind Rick the whole stretch, and Iíd go minutes at a time without seeing him in the headlamp. And, my God, it was cold. It must have been blowing a hundred miles an hour through there. The trail is marked real well through there, and I never saw many trail markers. I know Rick was off the trail at least twice, maybe more, because we got down to the driftwood line on the beach at least that often. Weíd been warned by the checker at White Mountain that there was open water not far offshore, and I was so scared that we were going to run right out into it. Josh, that was the dumbest thing I ever did in my life, following Rick down into the blowhole."
"Well, you came out of it all right," he said, pulling her close.
"Yeah, but when I think of how goddamn dumb I was, it bothers me," she whispered into his ear, seeing that he didnít understand. Well, it would probably help to talk it out, and there was no one better than him to talk it out with. "It was cold when I left White Mountain, and blowing right down the river, so I figured Topkok would be pretty wild, but there were enough people not far behind me that I figured Iíd better take a look. Thereís always the chance that some of the smaller holes are blowing and Topkok can be calm. I mean, you donít know how bad itís going to be until youíre there, right?"
"Sure," he said. "It was pretty bad when I went through there two years ago, but that was in daylight."
"Well, it was blowing so bad in some of those valleys that lead up to the summit that I stopped to put dog blankets on the dogs Ė all the dogs, not just the upwind ones. So, I got up to the summit, and took one look, and knew there was no way I was going down there. Josh, I just canít describe the noise. Iíve been through there when I thought it was bad before, but the wind was literally screaming down below, so loud you could barely hear yourself think. I was just trying to make up my mind whether to just bivouac in the sled bag right there, make for the shelter cabin, or backtrack to the creek bottom where it was a little out of the wind. I wasnít sure I could even find the shelter cabin, and was getting set to turn around when I saw Rickís headlamp coming up behind me. He said, ĎLetís go,í and I just went and did it."
"You sort of figured, if he could do it, you could do it, right?"
"Yeah, I guess," she admitted, shaking her head. "I never thought of it that way. What I do know is that one minute, Iím standing there and trying to figure out where to hole up, since thereís no way Iím heading down into that fucking hurricane, and the next minute, Iím heading down there, without even thinking about it, just because someone else is."
"Like I said in the car, if youíve got to head down there in those conditions, I canít think of anyone better to do it with than Rick Swenson."
"Yeah, and I think thatís part of what bothers me. I mean it was a dumb thing to do, and it was a dumb thing for him to do, too. I keep wondering if he wouldíve gone if Iíd said something about waiting for daylight. Even he knows itís not a good idea to go down there alone in those conditions, although heís done it before, but he knows that Iíve been out there, before. Did the fact that I was going with him keep him from sitting it out, waiting till dawn, or at least till it died down a little? Or, was it because he thought he would pass me for a place?"
Josh shook his head. "Well, knowing Rick, heíd have gone. Maybe if heíd been out there by himself and with no one close behind him, he might have waited it out for a bit. Or, maybe not. Did you talk about it afterward?"
"Yeah, we talked about it in the Board of Trade, but I never got the guts to ask him if heíd have waited it out with me." She smiled. "You know Rick, heíd never have told me, anyway. And I never mentioned how pissed with myself I was that Iíd followed him."
"Did you tell Phil, or Brandy?"
She shook her head. "No. Brandy wouldnít have understood, sheís never been out there. Phil, maybe, but I never got the chance. Besides, I wanted to talk to you about it. Josh, it scared me. Not about Topkok. That was scary, but at least I can look back on it and see that I fucked up and really shouldnít have gone down there, Rick or no Rick. No, whatís really got me scared is the way I made that decision."
"Iím beginning to see what youíre talking about," he replied, furrowing his brow.
"Right," she said, pulling him closer and whispering in his ear, "Itís one thing to be a rookie and make a dumbass mistake like that through ignorance or inexperience, but I think Iíve been up the trail enough to know what Iím doing, but maybe that proves that I donít. Or, maybe Iíve been up it too much, to think that I can just overlook obvious dangers and make dumb, dangerous decisions. I mean, once I knew Rick was there, I didnít think about it again. It was a place I was losing if I let him pass me. It was goddamn stupid to take that kind of risk for a place. It was stupid for him too, but it was his decision."
"Well, like you said, it worked."
"But, Josh," she said, pulling back to look him square in the eyes. "Iím not sure I want to let myself get into a position where I can make that risky and dangerous of a decision that casually again."
He pulled her close and kissed her again, then pulled away and said, "At least you know it. Maybe if something comes up like that again, youíll remember it and know to give it a little more thought."
They lay there silently for a while, her face buried on his shoulder. "Maybe I wonít," she finally said in a small voice. "Josh, I could have died out there because of my stupidity, my not thinking about it. Maybe I shouldnít go out there again at all."
John had been a little more reluctant than Candice about sending the boys to Valley next fall, but having Shay assigned to Hopkins erased any remaining doubts. "I suppose we ought to apply for a change," was his only comment. "After all, we might get it. But, we might as well get the applications in to Valley, too."
As he drove home from work the next day, he thought about where they were right now, wondering what Candice had heard at work. He pretty well agreed with the initial reactions Candice had about the news from First Decatur. It wouldnít necessarily be good news, but it wouldnít be a disaster if she lost her job, either. Fortunately, theyíd kept a good eye on their money, were putting money in the bank and not living paycheck to paycheck like some people did. Theyíd bought a house in an older subdivision when theyíd first moved to Decatur, rather than going all out for what their budget could afford, and that had made a lot of difference.
But what John hadnít told Candice was that he was getting a little worried about his own job.
It was nothing he could put his finger on, but from the beginning, heíd been a little uneasy about the long-term prospects with Rotunda. It seemed to be a little too narrow of a specialty in a fairly competitive consumer market, and while the companyís operating overhead was low, he knew from his own job that the company was a little bit leveraged in the stock market. It had been started, after all, to take advantage of the founders being able to ride the shares up on an IPO, but those heady days were pretty much over with. John had come aboard in the early days, and heíd gotten a lot in options over the years, but the value of the company had been slowly slipping over the last several months. He knew that Rotunda could disappear from the market with hardly any notice, the way a lot of other computer technology companies had done over the years, some with a much better market position. He figured that there wasnít much chance that heíd be retiring from there, anyway, and that heíd be looking for a new job one of these days.
Heíd already had those doubts when heíd talked with Phil back at Christmas. Not that Phil put any ideas into his mind that John hadnít already thought of, but the talk with Phil had sort of reinforced them. He didnít think of his Rotunda stock as a high flyer anymore.
The real thing that had gotten him concerned was that the earnings report that came out at the first of the year just didnít exactly jibe with the sort of numbers that had been crossing his desk.
Christmas sales had been soft, to say the least. They were actually down from the year before, although only slightly, but well behind projections, even though the market share appeared to hold steady. That meant everybody was down.
It was obvious to John that as long as the market held up, his options were worth money. But, if the company took a header, or the market took one Ė and both could happen at the same time Ė then he was going to be one of the ones who took a hit.
He hadnít really come clean on his fears to Candice Ė in fact, he really hadnít come clean on them to himself Ė but it did seem that perhaps holding onto the Rotunda shares was getting a bit risky. That much he had told Candice, and sheíd agreed that things werenít as rosy as they had seemed the year before, and perhaps it was time to get in a little more conservative position. So, slowly, without saying anything, John had been cashing out of his Rotunda options, turning them to stock, and selling the stock at the market. It was a little bit of a double shuffle, but by the time it was completed, most of the cash that had been in Rotunda was residing in a conservative mutual fund. While part of it was sort of earmarked for college expenses Ė not all that far off Ė it could also be used as a cushion if times did turn bad.
John knew that things would turn bad, sooner or later. While he wasnít as vehement about it as Phil had been, he agreed with Philís general position Ė things had been too good for too long. They could only get better or get worse, and after this much time, better seemed unlikely. That went for the economy in general, but it went for their own lives, too.
As he pulled into the driveway, he again wondered what Candice had heard. At least he was home early, and would be able to spend some time at home.
Candice and Shay met him at the door. Shay greeted him with an unhappy, "Dad, I donít want to go to Hopkins, but I donít want to go to Valley, either."
"Whatís this?" John asked.
"A lot of the kids at school were talking today about how they are going to have to go to Hopkins next year. I thought we were going to Avery. I asked Mom, and she said that Iíd been assigned to Hopkins, but that you were going to send me to Valley Christian, instead."
John shook his head. Theyíd hoped to keep this from Shay until they had some idea of what they were going to do, but since heíd found out, Candice had done the right thing to come clean with him. It was a tough thing to hit him with at the front door, without being able to coordinate a response with her, first. "Nothingís settled yet," he said. "But let me ask you this: if it came down to a choice between Hopkins or Valley, which would you rather go to?"
"Uh, I donít know," Shay replied. "I donít want to go to Hopkins. The black kids beat up on the white kids. Mike Swordís older brother got beat up real bad by some black kids last week. But, I donít want to go to Valley, either. They make you pray all the time."
John didnít think that Hopkins was quite that bad, but suspected that there was some truth to the story. The place did have a reputation for being rather rough. Damn it, any good parent wanted to do the best for their kids Ė but why did the school administration want to screw around with their social engineering using his? However, Shay had left a slight opening to dealing with the current problem, and he would use it. "Would you rather go to Hopkins and be praying all the time that you donít get beat up?" he asked.
"Well, no. I guess if it was one or the other, Valley would probably be better. At least itís easier to get on the teams there. But the school is just so icky. I wonít have any friends there. At least some of my friends are going to Hopkins."
"Nothing is settled yet," John assured his son. "Itís still several months off, and lots of things can happen. You may be going to Avery after all. You may be going to Valley. And, you may be going somewhere else. I donít know yet. But, you wonít be going to Hopkins, if I can help it. I donít like the neighborhood. Itís too rough, and the school is too rough, too. Is that fair enough for now?"
"I guess so," Shay replied.
"Look, Shay. Not everything in life is easy," John philosophized. "Sometimes, youíre faced with having to make a choice between bad and worse, and you just have to do the best you can. This is one of those times, and all I can say is that your mom and I will do the best we can. Even if you wind up going to Valley, it wonít be all bad."
Shay clearly wasnít real happy about the idea, but he could see that there wasnít much he could do about it. He and his parents talked for another few minutes before he went back to his computer games, and finally John and Candice got to talk by themselves.
"He caught me flatfooted," Candice admitted. "There wasnít much I could do but tell him."
"No big deal. Itís probably better now than later, anyway."
"What was that you said about his maybe going somewhere else?"
John shook his head. "Iím not sure it comes down to a choice just between Hopkins and Valley. There may be other options. Weíve mostly focused on Valley because itís so close. We really havenít taken the time to investigate if there are other private schools around that might not be quite so religious."
"Thereís Country Day," Candice said, cocking her head to one side. "But we could never afford it, even if we could get him in there."
"There have got to be other possibilities, even if they involve more driving. We just havenít looked."
"Youíre right. I guess weíll just have to take the time. I sort of got the hint that you thought there was some other option, too."
John shook his head. "Well, not so much an option as the realization that we donít want to get locked in. Other things could change, too."
"You mean, like my job? We didnít hear anything today that wasnít on TV last night."
"Yeah, or maybe my job. I havenít heard anything definite, havenít heard anything at all, but sales are still soft, and theyíre going to lay off some shipping and service people this weekend. Thereís going to be an advertising cutback, too. Theyíre saying itís a reemphasis and redirection, but the bottom line is that the budget for advertising is quite a bit lower. Thatís not a good sign. In this business, when you cut advertising, youíre cutting your own throat. I think maybe the time has come to think about looking again. There is a chance if that happens, we might want to think about moving."
"Do you think thereís much of a chance of that?" she asked, a worried expression stealing across her face.
"Thereís been a chance of that since the beginning," he said. "We knew that when we moved here. Rotunda has been good to us, but Iíve never forgotten where the ripcord is, and I just sort of get the feeling that the time to use it is getting closer. Did you find out anything about your job?"
Candice shook her head. "Not really," she said. "We got an announcement today that said what was on TV last night, nothing more. Of course, there are rumors going around, but no one really knows anything. Everybody seems pretty sure that our office is going to get closed, but thereís nothing official about that, and, like I said, no one really knows anything."
"Well, just another reason to not tie ourselves tightly into any one thing," John said.
"I donít expect weíre going to go for months before we find out anything," she observed. "This strikes me like it was pretty well thought out, and has been in the works for a while. Thereís probably already some action plan on someoneís desk, ready to get used."
"Youíre probably right. Thatís the way things work. Anyway, any word on how Phil finished? I guess we didnít check last night."
"I did check," Candice said. "He finished yesterday, in seventeenth."
"Pretty good, then. Werenít Josh and Tiffany like twenty second or something the first year they ran?"
"Something like that. Tiffany was in ninth, the first woman finisher. Maybe I told you that."
"I think you must have. Itís been a couple days. So, how long have we got before supper? Iíd sort of like to get a few miles on the exercise bike before I eat."
"I havenít really started yet. We can eat fairly quickly, or I can drag it out some."
"Why donít you drag it out? I hate climbing on the bike on a full stomach."
"How does an hour sound? I donít want to drag it out much after that."
"That ought to be plenty," John agreed. He went to the bedroom, changed out of his office clothes and into some sweats, and headed for the basement.
One of the things he didnít like about his job was that it was pretty sedentary, and it was hard to keep in something resembling shape. He wasnít a fanatic about it, but realized long before that he had to do some exercise of some kind. In the summer it wasnít too bad to go for a jog, or get a few miles on his bicycle, but he didnít like to be outside when the weather was sloppy, like today. The exercise bike was a poor substitute, but it beat nothing.
The main problem with the exercise bike was that it was boring, and it seemed pointless, just working off all the energy while doing nothing in particular. It was downright mindless. He did have the television on for diversion, but this time of day, it was local news and mostly babble that didnít interest or concern him much. How much nicer it would be in a month or so, when he could take the bike outside. He knew not to take the bike out on main roads Ė the traffic was much too heavy Ė but it wasnít bad riding around the streets of the subdivision, and some neighboring ones. Once in a while he headed over to a metropark, just for a change of scenery, but after a while even the usual places became rather tedious.
But even with the TV blaring, the exercise bike made a good place to think, and he mostly thought about the prospects with things around him becoming unsettled. Even if the job didnít collapse under him, maybe it was time to be thinking about leaving Rotunda. There really werenít any prospects for advancement there, and he didnít think it was a company he could retire from. Retirement was a long way off, and there were college expenses coming in the foreseeable future, and something a little more stable might well be worth the effort. Besides, the hours he had to work stunk. It was hard to have a home life, hard to have friends or a social life or interests if you never knew how late you were going to be working. An occasional surprise late night was one thing, but never knowing what time he was going to get home just made it hard on everyone. And, what he was doing wasnít all that interesting anymore, anyway. A more stable job might not be quite as rewarding financially, but what was the point of earning a lot of money if you didnít get the chance to enjoy it?
Heíd like to do some more traveling, especially family trips now that the kids were old enough to appreciate it, but still young enough to be close with Mom and Dad. The end of that probably wouldnít be far off, if they turned to typical teenagers; they probably wouldnít be interested in family trips. But his job made it tough to travel. They had managed Disney World the year before, but it seemed like his cell phone was going off every fifteen minutes with something that just had to be dealt with that those morons who worked with him were too lazy or too dumb to take the initiative to do themselves. And even then, thereíd been a huge stack of work when he got back to the office. It had not been conducive to planning future vacations.
The thought crossed his mind that if he did decide to go looking, then maybe itíd be a good idea to do some looking up around Camden. A move back to Camden would settle the school problem once and for all, and would put them a lot closer to the family up in Spearfish Lake, and would even be closer to home for Candice, not that there was much left for her in Arvada Center. But, at least there would be the occasional chance to go there. Somehow, heíd never felt like heíd belonged in Decatur, and he didnít particularly like the town. At least Camden, though a lot smaller, was familiar; theyíd lived there for a while, and still had friends there.
And, if Candiceís job was going to go sour on her, as it looked like it might, there wouldnít even be that excuse for staying where they were. More and more it seemed like a good idea to update the resumé and get a few out. Maybe after the kids went to bed tonight, heíd get online, take a quick pass through some web sites, and see what kind of opportunities were out there.
There was no big rush, he decided. He needed to talk with Candice about it, preferably some time when the boys were asleep, but all the signs were there that it was time to be thinking about a change.