"A Spearfish Lake Story"
Blake smelled bacon frying as he came down the stairs of the big old house on Point Drive, and he could hear Jennifer busy in the kitchen on the back side of the house.
When Jennifer had first bought the house years before, it had been conventionally oriented – the living room and the front of the house faced the road, which was a nice neighborhood, but typically residential. Except for a small porch, the back of the house all but ignored the tremendous view of the lake, and it had irritated them both. Early on, they’d reoriented the house so the living area faced the lake, with the kitchen and a small breakfast nook toward the road. It had meant a major and expensive tearup, but the results had pleased them. Among the dividends was that the kitchen was sunlit and cheery in the morning, at least on a sunny day, and that helped get the day off on a bright note. He found Jennifer in the kitchen, busy making breakfast.
"I could have done that," he chided her. He did most of the cooking, and was a far better cook than Jennifer would ever have dreamed of being.
"I figured you’d have a head on you," she said. "You should know better than to try and keep up beer for beer with Shovelhead."
"He can put them back," Blake smiled, a bit ruefully. It was definitely the morning after the night before. He looked at the grill. "That’s a big breakfast you’re making."
"We’ve got company coming," Jennifer replied, flipping pancakes. Blake looked at her quizzically, and she explained, "Josh and Tiffany are coming over any minute now. We set it up last night. They’re running a tight schedule right now, and this morning is the best time for them to get free before we take off."
"The race, I suppose?"
"I’m sure," she replied. "I know they’re uncomfortable with it, and I don’t blame them. I’d be uncomfortable if I were them, too."
"We’ll just have to deal with it," he replied. "That was quite a party, last night."
"It was a good time," she smiled. "One to remember. Mom got on me a little, though."
"Nothing I didn’t expect, just things like how she expected to get more than two grandchildren out of five kids. It was what she obviously didn’t say that was more important than what she did say, considering how long Brandy and Phil have lived together."
"It’s not the same thing."
"Of course it isn’t," Jennifer frowned. "But I can tell that from her viewpoint, the old reasons she knows about don’t hold a lot of water anymore, especially with Brandy and Phil’s example."
Blake shrugged. "I suppose we could get married," he said. It was an observation, not an offer, and Jennifer understood without question.
"Yeah, but why louse up a beautiful friendship?" she smiled.
Blake looked at her, standing at the grill, apron tied around her waist, her long blonde hair cascading down her back. The last thing he would have expected was to have someone like her in his life. After all these years, it was still mind-boggling that he could have gotten so close to this incredible person. This incredible . . . woman.
In his wildest imagination, he’d never expected it could wind up like this when he’d been trying to break into the business in LA, years before. He’d learned that you couldn’t sleep your way into success out there; there were an awful lot of good-looking people of both sexes trying to do the same thing. His screenwriting aspirations had been going absolutely nowhere, and to make a living, he had been working as a security guard. He’d wound up as part of her security team doing a county fair tour, night after night on the road for a month. It had been tiring for everyone, he hadn’t much cared for the music, and he was a better musician than most of the performers, anyway. Under the stress of the road, it had become "us" on the bus, and "them" outside, and despite stresses, people had gotten a little closer than normal.
The tour had ended with Blake hoping that he’d never hear another steel guitar in his life, and figuring that he’d never hear from Jenny Easton again. But he did hear from her a couple months later. There had been some probably crank threats that had still made her feel a little uneasy, and she was looking for a live-in bodyguard.
He’d had doubts about the job, and told her why. "Look, Blake," she’d told him. "Think about it from my viewpoint. I don’t want to have to have a bodyguard to protect me from my bodyguard. I’m not asking you to work for me in spite of the fact you’re gay. I want you to work for me because you’re gay."
It made sense, although he wasn’t totally immune to Jenny. A brass monkey couldn’t have been totally immune to Jenny, especially in those days. She’d worked hard on her sexy image, and Blake could understand it, even help with it, in a detached sort of way that was hard to put into words. He supposed that it must have been something like one straight guy looking at another straight guy, and imagining that he could be pretty sexy if they were bent. But, more importantly, the fact that the polarity difference took the sex charge out of their relationship had meant that as time had passed, he’d gotten a lot closer to Jenny than he would ever have been able to manage if he had been straight.
In time, he’d managed to get down past Jenny Easton to the Jennifer Evachevski who lived underneath – and had discovered, a little to his surprise, that Jennifer Evachevski was a desperately unhappy camper. It was mostly homesickness and loneliness. Jennifer hadn’t known what she was getting into when she got on the bandwagon of fame. She was not a person whose psyche fed on glamour, on adulation, on roaring crowds. Home, back in Spearfish Lake, represented a happier time, a happier life. The high point of her week had come each Thursday, when the Spearfish Lake Record-Herald arrived, via next-day air. Jenny devoured it, cover to cover, everything in it – even the legals, the obituaries, the ads for used snowmobiles. She kept back issues of the Record-Herald around and read them over and over again, sometimes for months, until they were almost worn out.
Blake couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, to see the popularity, the fame, and the unhappiness that lay beneath. Quite simply, he had become her only friend, the only person who she could relax with – the only person in LA who she could be Jennifer Evachevski with.
If he’d ever thought for a minute that making love with her would have helped her misery, he’d have been willing to give it his best shot. But, he’d known it wouldn’t help, for he had only slowly become aware of the deepest secret of all: while People Magazine had once called Jenny Easton "the sexiest woman in America," Jennifer Evachevski got more thrills out of a glass of milk and a plate of cookies than she’d ever gotten out of sex.
Not that he hadn’t been in bed with her – but those had been on nights when she had been so desperately unhappy and lonely that she’d just needed someone to hold on to, to remind her that she wasn’t alone in the world. It got so bad that at times a suicide attempt wouldn’t have surprised him.
But those days were long ago and far away, now, and Blake was a still a little ashamed that he’d been part of the problem by trying to help her be Jenny Easton, and not part of the solution. One summer, she’d left him behind in her Malibu home while she took a vacation in Spearfish Lake – well, he’d needed a vacation from her, too – and while home, a Jenny Easton problem had come up that Jennifer Evachevski couldn’t handle. She’d confided in Mike McMahon, an old friend. Blake would have been able to deal with the issue, but not as well nor as elegantly as Mike managed, given his home-field advantage.
Mike also managed to help her to understand something far more important. Realizing her unhappiness over a series of discussions mostly out at her parents’ cottage at West Turtle Lake, he’d made her understand that Jennifer Evachevski wasn’t someone to keep hidden in a box and only dragged out to be unhappy. It was Jenny Easton who needed to be kept in a box, and only unlocked when necessary.
Part of that realization led to Jennifer moving back to Spearfish Lake – to at least keep it as a home base, from which Jenny Easton could occasionally emerge. Blake had been extremely reluctant to come to Spearfish Lake with her, for the obvious reason, but finally he decided to come along for a while to help her with the transition. He could keep it in the closet for a while; Mike knew that he was gay – Jennifer had told him – and Brandy and Phil knew from when they’d met in LA while they’d still been in college. They knew to keep it quiet, though, for Jennifer’s sake, and as far as Blake knew, they’d never told.
But that had been a dozen years ago, and his secret had only drawn Jennifer and him even closer together. A city boy, Blake now despised LA almost as much as Jennifer did. He’d learned to fit into Spearfish Lake. At one time, he’d have thought that there was nothing for him there, but it hadn’t proved the case. He’d made friends there, too – straight friends, to be sure, but friends.
A martial arts expert since high school days, Blake had thought his talents would deteriorate from lack of practice, but Jennifer’s dad offered to practice with him. Gil hadn’t known anything about formal martial arts, but had taught unarmed combat to Green Berets for years, and quickly proved he hadn’t forgotten much. Over the years, a small, informal group had evolved that usually met in a spare room above the appliance store, and Blake had learned as much as he’d taught, and had developed the closest male friends he’d ever had in the process.
Gil had gotten him into fly fishing, too, and Jennifer’s mom had gotten him into cross country skiing. Josh and Tiffany had taught him a little dogsledding, and more recently, kayaking; Lex and Shovelhead had gotten him into motorcycles. Others had given him other interests. For example, a couple years before, Mike McMahon had put him together with the high school principal, who had been looking for someone to direct the school play. Blake had seen directing often enough, and knew the ropes. It had proved a lot of fun, and the kids thrilled to Blake’s carefully chosen Hollywood stories. A lot of that wouldn’t have happened if he’d been openly gay.
As far as that went, Blake wasn’t so sure how gay he really was, anymore. These days, he thought of himself as bi if he thought about it at all. He and Jennifer had made love once, at a time of a particular emotional high, when she’d canned an agent who had spent too much time pushing stuff at her that would take her career where she didn’t want it to go. It had been sort of a symbol of her taking control of her life, and the experience had been, well, interesting. He’d been a virgin, at least as far as women went, but it had been better than he’d expected. A lot better, in fact. He’d made it clear to Jennifer that in the future, he would be available if needed, and, for that matter, she had made the same offer to him; both of them had renewed it from time to time. But participatory sex still didn’t interest her much, and he knew it, so he’d never felt desperate enough to press himself on her.
In the first few years they’d based themselves in Spearfish Lake; while on the road Blake had still had some action of the kind he was familiar with – always with Jennifer’s assent, and frequently with her assistance – she’d set him up several times. But even that had tailed off to nothing; it had been five years since he’d been to bed with a man, and it hadn’t seemed imperative to him then. Blake suspected that Jennifer’s lack of sex drive was rubbing off on him, and, on balance, he really didn’t mind. He was privileged to be sharing his life with the closest friend he could imagine ever having, and that was more than enough.
He shrugged and replied, "Things aren’t what they were years ago."
Since Jennifer apparently felt like playing the hostess today, Blake let her serve the breakfast, although he helped. He suspected she was doing it to help put Josh and Tiffany at ease. Most of the time, the kids were friends as good as any they had in Spearfish Lake, but once or twice a year they had to sit down and talk money, and it always made them feel awkward.
Blake knew that there were two ways to handle the situation. They could sit and talk small talk for a while, with the kids uncomfortable every inch of the way, knowing what was coming, or they could get the business out on the table, get it over with, and then have a nice chat. But, Jennifer usually took point on such issues; not only was she the better businessman, she had a much better sense of people’s feelings. Since she was in and out of the breakfast nook, and not able to pay much attention, he figured that he’d better keep it light till she could join them. "Glad you kids could make it over this morning," he smiled. "I hear you’ve been busy."
"That’s hardly the word for it," Tiffany said. "It may be more relaxing in the race, but it should ease up some once the kids get out of college and I don’t have to be a brakeman, along with everything else."
"That’s got to make it tough," Blake replied as Jenny set a plate in front of him. "How’s it going with the store?"
"The store is doing all right," Josh nodded. "I’m afraid we’re shorting it a little on time, but April isn’t really the busy season. Once we get Tiffany freed up, it’ll be OK."
Jennifer served up a plate for herself and sat down across the table from Blake. "So, have you worked out your plans for next year, yet?" she said in a businesslike tone while shaking salt on her eggs.
"Not really," Josh replied, visibly relieved to have it out in the open. "A lot depends on what Phil wants to do, and he just hasn’t made up his mind if he wants to run next year, or not. We’ve kicked around several different options, but until we know what Phil wants to do, we figure we have to at least be thinking that we’re going to run two teams again."
"Makes sense," Blake said.
"We don’t have to make a decision just yet," Tiffany added. "At this point, we’re just feeding the dogs. By, oh, the end of August, we’ll have to be working out what we’re going to do. We’ve considered running just one team, but really, it’s not a big a savings of time or money."
"Look," Jennifer said. "We could talk around this all morning, but let’s get right down to it. Figure out what you’re going to need, and let me know."
"Thanks, Jennifer," Josh said. He started to add something, but she cut him off.
"I am going to add a condition," she said firmly. "You two are working much too hard. I realize why you’re doing it, and we’ve talked about it before. But, when was the last time you took a vacation?"
"We’ve never really had a vacation," Tiffany admitted. "We’ve always considered driving the dog truck back from Alaska our vacation, our chance to relax and get away."
"What would you say if I were to give you, say, a couple airline tickets to Hawaii, and pay for the hotel? You could just go and lay on the beach for a week or two, take in the sights, and not have to do anything but eat, sleep, play, and maybe get a little romantic."
"I don’t know where we’d find the time," Josh admitted. "And, to be honest, after about three days, I’d be bored shitless."
"I don’t think it would take me three days. I’m not much of a tourist. I have to be doing something."
Jennifer shook her head. "I don’t know about you two," she smiled. "You’re hard workers, and you’re ambitious. I appreciate the fact that you’ve tried to do the absolute best you can with what I give you, and that it cuts into the other things that you do, and they suffer because of it. That’s not right. I guess I can’t make you take a vacation, but it makes me feel guilty that I’m assisting in working yourselves out of your lives. You can’t carry on like that forever, and you shouldn’t. And, I won’t let you, if I have anything to say about it."
She took a forkful of egg while Josh and Tiffany looked at each other, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Blake could see that Jennifer was letting them hang for a moment, just to be sure that she got her point across.
"Blake and I have talked it over," she continued finally. "We’ve agreed that you’ll get any support you need this year. If you need the money to hire someone to help with the dogs, or the store, or whatever, that’s fine. But, if you don’t get this time issue that’s tearing you two up straightened out so you can get some time for yourselves, then this will be the last year."
"We’re working on it," Josh said. "We’ve seriously considered quitting, just for that reason."
"We hate the thought of quitting," Tiffany added. "We’ve gotten so close to where we want to be, it’d be tough to quit now."
"You don’t have to quit," Blake told them just to back Jennifer up. "But, you’re going to have to quit trying to do everything yourselves. But you’re going to have to work out some way to delegate some responsibility. It may be getting someone to work with the dogs. It might be something else, like maybe getting someone to help manage the store, so you don’t have to worry about that as much. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for everything you try to do, and you’re shorting yourselves in the process. It’s probably not helping you with your race preparations, either. We know you can’t make the changes that need to be made overnight, which is why we’re giving you a year. If there’s any help we can be with advice, or guidance, or money, ask. But, get yourselves a life."
"It’s not like it’s not anything that we haven’t half picked to death," Josh said. "We know we’re too busy."
"We appreciate the concern," Tiffany agreed. "You two have been so good to us over the years, it’s amazing. I don’t really understand it, but I do appreciate it. We could not have gotten to where we are today without your help."
"I know," Jennifer said. "That’s what worries me. I hate coming down on you kids, because I know you need the money to go racing, and I don’t want the money to get in the way of friendship."
Josh nodded. "That’s how we’ve always felt," he said. "Frankly, we hate the feeling that we’re leeching on your friendship. One of the reasons that we’ve talked about quitting is so we wouldn’t have to feel that way anymore."
"I know it’s a lot of money for you," Jennifer smiled. "And, I can understand why you feel that way, and I would hope that if I were in your shoes I’d feel the same way. But, I’ve told you before, it’s not a money issue with me. I can give the money to you, or I can give it to the IRS. What I give you is peanuts compared to what I spend on Bubba Winslow, and I get a lot more out of it."
"I’ve never understood that, either," Tiffany said. "I know you don’t have any real interest in stock car racing."
"I have my reasons," Jennifer smiled. Blake could see that she was trying to lead the conversation away from the heavy load she’d just laid on the kids. "It’s a little complicated, and I would never think of doing it if I didn’t do it as a tax writeoff. You see, the base of my fan support has always been the Nashville country people, but my interest really isn’t in country music, so I really haven’t done all that much of it the last few years. The record company is a little uncomfortable with that, and kept bugging me that I needed to stay in touch with my fans. So, I figured that there’s no better way to prove that I’m a down-home country girl than to sponsor a stock car in NASCAR. It’s expensive as hell, and Bubba has never come close to winning anything and probably never will, but I get my face on TV down in the pits once in a while just to let people think I’m a fan, like them."
"It’s kind of fun," Blake said. "We’re going to stick our noses in at Talladega this year. The drivers hate the hell out of the restrictor-plate racing, but the fans love it. It does make it more interesting to watch."
"Just curious," Josh said, obviously a little relieved to have the tension off a little, "But do you have any secondary motives like that about supporting us?"
"Well, yes," Jennifer smiled. "It’s a little harder to describe. Of course, the main reason I’ve supported you is because I like you two. But, you remember, back a few years ago, I did some TV spots for an environmental organization?"
"Vaguely," Josh said.
"I was just a little girl," Tiffany said. "I guess I knew you’d done something like that."
"It’s a long story," Jennifer said. "Basically, I was pushed into it because I didn’t know any better. Blake, to his credit, thought it was a scam. He was right, but I didn’t listen to him. Well, it proved to be a scam and the con men are still in jail, but for years, I got hit on by every wacko environmental organization under the sun, to donate, to do spots, that sort of thing. Now, I’m a reasonable environmentalist. I’m no wacko like some people in the business I could name, but those spots sort of sent the message that I was available. Now, understand, when you’re at my level, when someone hits on you, it’s not just a letter out of a mass mailing, and you can’t just tell someone to go to hell."
"I think I can see that," Tiffany said. "I mean, I’m nowhere like at your level, but the Iditarod does give me a degree of fame, and I get hit on occasionally like that. Not from environmental wackos, though, and I’m on the hate mail lists for the animal-rights nuts."
"You’re starting to get the picture," Jennifer laughed. "I had to do something to send a message that I’m not in their corner. There’s a lot of crossover between the environmental wackos and the animal-rights nuts, and a politely worded negative response on a letterhead that mentions fairly prominently that I sponsor a couple of teams in the Iditarod usually sends the message better than a simple ‘no.’"
That drew a laugh from both Josh and Tiffany.
"We sure don’t mind that," Josh said, still laughing. "I suppose if that doesn’t get the message across, the line about sponsoring the Bubba Winslow Chevy does."