"A Spearfish Lake Story"
The schedule they were keeping wasnít a lot less strenuous than running the Iditarod, what with everything, and they got the chance for what they called their twenty-four-hour break on Sunday.
Actually, the break was longer than that Ė once theyíd gotten home and fed the dogs on Saturday night, there was nothing they actually had to do but the dog feedings until Josh took off to open the store Monday morning. Needless to say, they did eat something that was more than a sandwich grabbed on the run, and they spent a lot of time in bed, most, but not all of it sleeping.
One of the issues that theyíd talked about in the cab of the SDs the past week was the house, and it was one thing that they had more or less agreed on Ė the time had come to do something about it. When Josh had first parked the trailer on the lot, he hadnít put it in the obvious spot for a house, saving that for the future. But, now, they werenít that sure the spot was the best place for the house. It might be nicer to be a little farther away from the dogs, especially if they were to have a dog handler, who could continue to live in the trailer if they didnít move it. Theyíd pretty well talked it to death in the living room, and finally had pulled out coats and boots and went out into the decaying snow to the house site, to stand in the place to get a little better feel for the discussion.
They were standing there, discussing whether they wanted to orient the house toward the road, the driveway, or the dog lot, when they heard someone coming up the hill. They could hear the rattle of lifters, telling them it was a diesel engine, and, in a moment, they were sure of what they were hearing Ė it was Phil and Brandy, coming up the driveway in the muddy dog truck, four thousand miles of two-lane highways behind them. Dog heads hung out the doors, and they could see the dogs knew the long haul was over and were glad to be home. Tiffany and Josh had made the trip many times before. They knew how good it felt to drive up that driveway, road-weary and sore, and to know that they could drop the dogs, tie them off at their houses, and just not have to get back out on the road for more weary miles.
The truck came to a stop in front of the barn, and Tiffany and Josh walked over to meet their friends. The driverís door opened, and Brandy started to climb down from the seat. "Have a good trip?" Josh asked nonchalantly.
"Pretty good," Brandy said. Tiffany noticed that she had on an insulated jacket with muddy spots on it, and with a pocket a little torn away, and a disreputable pair of jeans, equally muddy, and smeared with what had to be dog shit. She knew that after a dozen dog drops or so along the highway, you just quit caring and looked forward to getting home, having a good shower, and throwing the clothes away.
Phil walked around the front of the truck to meet them, looking equally disreputable. "Itís a long trip, but there are some pretty spots along there," he said. "Iíve always wanted to do that drive, but just now, Iím looking forward to sitting down on something that isnít moving."
"Yeah," Brandy agreed. "Iím just glad to finally be back home."
"Figure anything out?" Josh asked. He knew from Tiffany why the two of them had driven the dog truck back from Alaska.
"Not a lot," Phil said. "But we did work out one thing."
"Whatís that?" Tiffany asked.
"If you kids arenít doing anything next Sunday," Brandy smiled, "Weíd like you to come to our wedding."
The days grew longer and warmer; daylight savings time started, so there was the chance to get out in the evenings after work, so Johnís mood lightened a bit. It was still pretty chilly to go out riding his bike in the evenings, but at least it was out in the open air, and that was refreshing.
Without much hope of success, Candice started an appeal on Shayís assignment to Hopkins, noting the difference in distance of the two schools, but a lot of people were making similar appeals, so chances seemed slim. She was contacted by a mother who was trying to get up a presentation to the regional board, asking that the assignments be changed. Candice agreed to support her actions, but even the woman didnít think there was much hope.
Candice also spent some time looking around for private schools that were a reasonable alternative to Valley, but without any luck. The ones she found all had something wrong Ė they were too expensive, they were too small, or they were too religious. She submitted the application to Valley, not really wanting to do it, but not seeing a lot of alternatives.
The boysí spring break was coming up early in the month. John and Candice considered letting the boys stay at home during the day; they were getting close to old enough to leave at home without constant supervision, and they could be checked on by phone during the day. However, they thought about it and decided that they werenít quite old enough yet; it could wait for another year. The fact that Candice had a lot of vacation days riding on the books, and would start to lose some if she didnít take some time off was a factor in the decision for her to spend the week home with the boys. Maybe while school was out she could make some progress on the school issue, she hoped.
It was a nice spring day the week before the break when Candice came home to find Johnís car already in the garage. That was strange, she thought; he almost never came home early. She and the boys went inside, but there was no sign of him. She was starting to wonder a little what was going on when she looked out the living room window and saw him riding up on his bicycle. "What are you doing home so early?" she asked as he walked in the house.
"Getting some exercise," he replied. "I took off early. Itís hard to let a nice day like this pass by. Why donít you change your clothes and come with me?"
It was about the last thing she wanted to do at the moment, but there was something in his voice that told her that it wasnít a casual suggestion. "How long should I tell the boys weíre going to be gone?"
"Oh, an hour or so," he said, his look confirming to her that something was up. She went upstairs and quickly changed into casual clothes and a jacket, half expecting and half dreading what she figured she was about to hear.
In a few minutes, they were on their bikes, heading down the quiet street at an easy pace. "All right," she asked as soon as they were away from the house. "Whatís up?"
"I bailed," he said. "I got out while the getting was good."
"I think Rotunda is heading for the toilet, and quick. They postponed the announcement of the earnings report this morning. I donít know what had to be in it, but I do know that our cash flow has really stunk up the joint for the last two quarters. They about had to have taken a big bite out of the cash reserves for earnings the last quarter, but that stuff is above my level. I think the big boys are getting their acts together before they pull the ripcord. I figured Iíd better get out of there while I could still get my last paycheck and severance pay. I took the leave I had coming as notice, hand carried the check through processing, and had it in the bank within an hour. Iím just guessing, but Iíd figure it will be Monday before they make the announcement, so it ought to clear in time."
She shook her head. "Well, itís not like we didnít suspect this was coming. I guess I just didnít expect it to happen so soon." The reality of it happening was hard, though, and what she had to tell him wasnít much better: "They announced today that theyíre closing our office. Iím being reassigned."
"The regional office in Woodland Park. Way the hell across town. I donít have the seniority to hold my pay level, so itís about a seven thousand dollar cut, too. I have to start there a week from Monday."
"As you said, itís not like we didnít suspect this was coming. And, it does sort of point the way toward solving one problem?"
John was one step ahead of her. "Whatís that?"
"If I wind up getting a job in Decatur, we might as well move over toward Woodland Park somewhere. Thatíll take care of the Hopkins issue."
"That wonít be an issue if Shay is going to Valley," she protested.
He shook his head. "Shay isnít going to Valley," he said. "I took a look at the mail when I got home. They turned him down."
That was a shocker that she hadnít been expecting; sheíd been led to believe that acceptance at Valley Christian had been a done deal. "Why?" she wanted to know.
"The letter said something about our not having enough church involvement. I take that to mean that weíre not evangelical enough. I always thought that place was a little gung-ho, and as far as Iím concerned, that proves it. Itís actually a relief, in a way. Those jokers could really brainwash him."
"Well, I was reluctant, too." she admitted. "But, it seemed like the best alternative. So, now what?"
"Well, I stopped by Walker, Wade. They do have an opening there, but the money is nowhere as good as what I made at Rotunda. The job would be more stable, and the hours are more regular. I was sort of told I could have it if I wanted it, but I want a little time to do some looking."
She shook her head. "You werenít crazy about Walker, Wade when we were still up in Camden."
"Iím not crazy about them now, either," he said. "But, I donít think I have to grab the first thing that comes along, just because itís there. We can afford to look around a bit. Itís not as if weíre hurting financially, because weíre not. I want to nose around here some more, but I do think I want to look around Camden some, too, like we talked about. I thought maybe Iíd take a run up there in the next few days. But, thereís several places I want to go around here, and I have a few things I need to do, too. The big thing is to find a realtor and get the house listed."
"Do we really need to move?"
"The letter from Valley put the icing on the cake, as far as Iím concerned. You said yourself that the other private schools in reach are even less acceptable than Valley, for one thing. Shay is not going to Hopkins, and thatís that. Even if we stay around here, I want to move out of the city school district. Woodland Park or somewhere over in there would be all right, if it comes to that. Thatís a suburban district, and theyíre not going to send white middle class kids to crappy schools in black neighborhoods for the sake of social engineering. I donít like to think Iím being racist, but I donít intend to see my kids sent to a crappy school if I can do anything about it, and that includes moving. If thatís racist, well, Iím a racist, I guess."
"When you put it that way, I have to agree," she said. "Itís just that moving is going to be a heck of a lot of work."
"I know," he said. "But think of it as an opportunity."
"What are we going to tell the boys? If we put the house up for sale, weíll have to tell them something."
They rode along in silence for a while. "Tell them the truth," he said, "Or, at least most of it. We donít need to get into the turndown from Valley, but weíll just say that I had to leave my job, and youíre being transferred, and we may be moving to Woodland Park, or somewhere around there, but that we might be moving somewhere else, too."
"Itís going to be hard on them. They do have some friends around here."
"It was going to be hard on them whatever happened. I donít think moving is going to be as hard on them as Hopkins would be. Weíd better be heading back."
They turned and rode back silently. They had held a lot of hope when theyíd moved here a few years before, and, all in all, the place had been pretty good to them, but already it seemed part of their past, not their future. There was no telling what the future might bring, but it wouldnít be here.
They got back to the house and got off the bikes. The ride had felt good, cleared some air. Candice headed into the house to head for the bathroom before she started on dinner. John hung the bikes on their racks and followed her in. When she came out of the bathroom she found him on the phone. "Iíll have to ask her," she heard him say. "There she is, now."
"Whatís up?" she asked, noticing him turn the phone to his shoulder to muffle it.
"You want to go to a wedding in Spearfish Lake this weekend?"
"A wedding? Whoís getting married?"
"Brandy and Phil," John smiled. "Weíre invited."
"Thatís a long trip for a weekend," she protested. Theyíd shied away from weekend trips to Spearfish Lake before because of the distance. "And, we really donít know them that well."
"Itís not like we have to be back Monday," he said. "In fact, I could leave you and the kids at the folks and spend a day or two in Camden. Itís not that far from Spearfish Lake."
"Sure," she said. "We could stand for a few days away from this place."
He put the phone back up to his head. "Weíll be there." he said.