"A Spearfish Lake Story"
"Look, Shay, Cody, there’s Mommy!" John said.
The boys looked over the rail leading to the accessway to the plane and waved, and John waved, too. After the previous spring, he thought he’d gotten used to being apart from Candice, but having her gone to Quebec for eight days had been more difficult than he’d imagined. It was hard to believe how much she’d looked after the boys and kept the house. It must have been hard on her the last spring to not have him around, but now it was good to see her walking off the plane, next to Tiffany, both of them wearing jeans and "Spearfish Lake Outfitters" T-shirts, carrying the backpacks they’d taken as carry-on luggage.
They both looked good, but it was especially nice to see Candice’s tanned face. A year ago, even six months ago, he’d never have imagined her out in public dressed like that, but things had changed, and she looked pretty good to him anyway.
The two came into the waiting room and over to the rail, where the boys gave their mother a quick hug – they thought they were getting a little bit too big for more than that – and John gave her a longer one. "Hi, honey," he said. "It’s good to have you back."
"It’s good to be back," she said. "I missed you guys, all of you."
"How was the trip?" John asked.
"Yeah, Mom," Shay chimed in. "Did you see any whales?"
"We saw some," she said. "I think I may have a picture or two, but we’ll have to wait till the film is developed."
"If we got the one I hope we got," Tiffany added, "It’ll go on the web site. Your mother is in a kayak in the foreground, and a great, big humpie is breaching in the background."
"He got clear out of the water," Candice said. "It was so neat. How was the tournament?"
"We got beat in the finals," Shay said, with only limited enthusiasm. A losing baseball game was nothing against his mother paddling her kayak with whales. "But it was only by one run."
"The boys played ’em tough all the way through," John said. "You should have been there to see it. They did real well."
"Where’s Josh?" Tiffany asked as she led the group toward the baggage pickup.
"Some people came in and wanted to do a guided overnighter out around the east end of the lake, so he asked me to come down and pick you up," John said. "We were going to come, anyway. So, how was the trip other than that?"
"Oh, the trip was good, and the clients enjoyed it," Tiffany said. "We had plenty of other problems, but we managed to work them out. I’m just glad Candice remembers some of the French she had in college, or we’d have been up the creek."
"We had a rental van," Candice explained. "And for whatever reason, it had Ontario plates, so all the French Canadians thought we were Anglos, and forgot whatever English they knew. When they found out we were Americans, they remembered it."
"Yeah, but it was a pain," Tiffany added, watching her language with the boys present. "I think I’m going to talk to Josh about trading the Jeep for a van, so when we do this trip next year we’ll drive right through and take our own stuff. That’ll mean we have plates from our side of the border."
"The rental costs are a killer," Candice said. "I’ll run the numbers over when we get back to the office, but we wound up a little in the black, I think. We’d do a lot better if we take our own boats and gear from Spearfish Lake, even with all the road costs."
"I think we need to keep doing it though, even if we lost a little money," Tiffany said thoughtfully. "It gives a lot more adventurous image to our list of trips. If we’re going to go to all the hassle of hauling boats and gear up there next year, maybe we could add on a second section."
"That would spread the costs out," Candice agreed. "But it probably would mean that we’d both have to go again. One of us would have to stay in Quebec with the gear while the other flies back to Camden with the old group and comes back with the new one."
"Well, we can work that out sometime," Tiffany said. "We probably ought to be thinking about it now, though, before we get into dog training, since we have to publish the list of trips for next year before Josh and I head to Alaska. So, John," she changed the subject, "How are things at the store?"
"It’s still there," John said. "Josh stuck his nose on our side of the wall a couple times and wasn’t complaining, so I guess everything is going all right."
"Do you know if that shipment of harnesses got in?" she asked.
"Haven’t the foggiest notion."
"If Josh wasn’t complaining, it must have," Tiffany said. "That joker was calling twice a day. They’re already training up in Alaska."
They walked through the terminal, down a flight of steps, and into the baggage claim area. The baggage from their flight hadn’t started to come through yet, so John offered to go get the car while the women and boys waited. It was a long haul back to where the car was parked, even for an airport as small as Camden’s, so the four were waiting on the curb of the passenger pickup area when he pulled up. He popped the trunk lid, got out, and helped Tiffany and Candice throw their bags in the trunk, while the boys piled in the car.
"Hey, Dad," Shay piped up, "Mom says we can do a kayak trip."
"I said your dad and I are going to have to talk about it," she said. "But if we’re going to do one yet this summer, we’re going to have to get it in before school starts."
"That’d have to be in the next couple weeks," John said, "And their football league practice starts the week after next."
"Probably the sooner the better," Tiffany said. "Once we get started dog training, I wouldn’t be able to watch the store on Saturdays."
"What do you think?" Candice asked. "Out to Little Woodlark?"
John frowned. While he’d been on the water with the boys, they’d just been paddling some of the smaller rec boats, and they weren’t that fast. "I don’t know," he said. "That’s a pretty long haul."
"I wouldn’t recommend it, not for a first trip," Tiffany said. "You’ve got that crossing at the mouth of Goose, or else you have to go way the heck back up to the end of the bay. That beach we stopped at on the north side of Goose might be a good trip."
"That’s still farther than the boys and I have gone," John said. "I just figured go out a couple miles, camp out, and come back the next day. Keep it short and fun."
"You could take a couple of the doubles," Tiffany suggested. "Put the boys in the front, and load the nose a little heavy to trim them. With the both of you paddling, the north side of Goose wouldn’t be that far out of line."
"That might work," John said. They needed to get out and do something as a family. They really hadn’t done as much of it as he hoped this summer, but what with Candice working, getting settled in his own job, and the baseball season, the summer had flown by. It was barely here, and now it was gone.
The traffic was a little heavy heading out of the airport, surprisingly heavy for a Sunday, but soon they were on the bypass around Camden, heading north to home. It was still a little strange to think of Spearfish Lake as home again, but he was getting used to it.
It was surprising how much they’d changed in only a few short months, John thought as he tried to blend with the traffic, and while Tiffany and Candice told him and the boys stories of the trip to Quebec. Their lives were so much different than they’d been in Decatur. He and Candice had more friends, did more things with them than they had even after they’d spent years down there. The boys were making friends, too, the Curtis kids, and others, and didn’t miss the kids they’d left behind in the big city. That could only get better once school started. John was still a little hesitant about letting them run quite as free as they were, but with Mom and Dad not home during the day the past month, they’d spent more time with their friends. They had been good about calling the office or the store to let their parents know what they were up to.
He and Candice were more independent, too. Down in Decatur, the whole family had been closer, it seemed like, if for no more reason than there hadn’t been much else to do but be together. Both of them had picked up new interests in the first few weeks they’d been back in Spearfish Lake, and the new interests pulled them in different ways. Part of the reason that he’d wanted to leave Decatur and the job possibilities was so that he could be closer to his family, spend more time with them, and now that he’d managed it, it was turning into a struggle as everybody seemed to find different ways to go. It would have been nice if Candice could have made it to more of the boys’ games. She’d made it to several, but he’d been to all of them, and the practices, besides. Work at the store, and kayaking with her friends in the evening had cut into the time she’d spent watching the kids.
It might have been different if Candice hadn’t taken the job at the store, even though she was really getting into it, even after only a month. It turned out that she had a knack for it, and really enjoyed it, much more than she’d enjoyed her admittedly dull job at First Decatur. If she’d decided to stay at home, then she wouldn’t be spending the day gone, nor do things like take off for a week in Quebec. But she’d worked before, and even he couldn’t expect her to be a stay-at-home mom now.
Besides, while she wasn’t making all that much money at the store, her paycheck was already starting to make a difference between things being tight and being comfortable. Eventually, when he got done buying out Joe, things would be a lot looser, but right now they still needed to be a little careful.
It was clear, for example, that they didn’t need two cars when they were only four blocks from work and working next door to each other; most days they walked or rode their bikes, although that might change in the dead of winter. It was something he wanted to talk to Candice about when he got the chance. Maybe trade in both the cars for a minivan; as the boys got bigger, they’d need more space than they had in a sedan, anyway.
But, he wasn’t sorry they’d made the move. In spite of a few irritations, things were better now than they ever had been in Decatur, even leaving out the Hopkins hassle. They were still looking for a new balance to their lives, he thought, and it might be a while coming.
The light was streaming in the bedroom window when John woke up the next morning. The bed felt strangely familiar; Candice wasn’t there when he woke up. Ever since the kayak trip the month before, Brandy had been coming by the house at seven in the morning, and the two of them would go out and run for an hour. The girls had only missed a couple morning runs due to rain, and the week that Candice had been in Quebec, of course.
Add to that the kayaking or weight work the two did most evenings, and it had been good for Candice. She’d already lost several pounds that she’d been trying to get rid of ever since Cody had been born, and in John’s eyes, she was leaner and harder and sexier than ever. He knew he really ought to get out and run with them, but somehow it was hard to get up at that hour. He did manage to get out two or three times a week and go for a jog or bike ride in the evening, but those weren’t as intense as the workouts Brandy provided.
The runs, workouts and kayaking did limit their time together, but he realized that it was for the best and would probably be curtailed a little once school started and colder weather set in. But, they were clearly good for her, so he didn’t mind. But, it did mean that the leisurely family breakfasts they had once enjoyed were just not happening now.
John glanced at the clock. Seven-thirty. Candice and Brandy were probably out pounding the pavement somewhere. Brandy and Phil had really become close friends, and also close, but not quite as close, were Josh and Tiffany and Blake and Jennifer, and that was a wider array of close friends – and more interesting ones at that – than they’d managed to accumulate in all the years in Decatur. There’d be time to get up, take a shower, get dressed, and maybe have a few minutes with Candice before they both had to hop on their bikes and head down Lakeshore Drive to work.
Or, maybe not, he thought. She’d come in all hot and sweaty from her workout and head immediately for the shower, then dry her hair, get dressed, and maybe have time for a bowl of cereal and a sip of coffee before work, maybe with the boys up, maybe not. Not what you call quality time, he figured. If he got moving right now he could head out to the Spearfish Lake Café and have breakfast there, maybe talk sports a little with the group that was there every morning. After all, in his business, it was good to be seen out in the community, being friendly. He got out there once or twice a week, and this seemed like a good morning.
There wouldn’t be time to go out there dressed casually, although he could put off putting on a tie. He’d have to drive out to the café, but he’d have to come back here to leave the car before he and Candice headed to work. Maybe he could talk her into walking, today; it’d give them a few more minutes together. He took his shower, got dressed, and headed out to the café.
Most of the usual familiar faces were around the table when he walked in. Josh or Phil came in occasionally, but weren’t here today, and the crowd was a little older than normal, including Joe, Bud Ellsberg, and a face that John hadn’t seen for a long time: Harold Hekkinan. He’d been the football coach and a teacher back when he was in school. "Hi, Coach," he said. "How’ve you been?"
Hekkinan furrowed his brow. "Oh, yeah," he said after a second. "John Archer, right? Must have been ’82. No, ’83. I guess I’d heard you’d moved back here."
John thought it was a pretty impressive feat of memory. He’d never been on any of Hekkinan’s teams, and had only had him for a class or two. After all, it was coming up on twenty years, and a lot of kids went through the school system. "You still coaching?" John asked. "How’s the football team look this year?"
"The team looks promising," Hekkinan said. "But I gave up coaching a long time ago. It gets to you after a while. I still keep an eye on them, since I have to double as athletic director."
"You still teaching?"
"No, I’ve been the principal for a while. I guess about ten years, now."
John looked at Hekkinan. He was just about Bud’s age, he knew. "You thinking about retiring?"
"I could," he said. "I’ve got my thirty in, but I don’t know what I’d do with myself. I guess I’ll tough it out for a few more years yet."
"Well, hang on and I’ll have some kids coming at you. They’ll be in fourth and sixth grades this fall."
"You having any luck on a basketball coach?" Joe asked.
"Nothing," Hekkinan said. "I can’t blame Culpepper for leaving, after all the shit he’d been taking, and at least he got a better job out of it. He’s going to be middle school principal down at Coldwater."
"Man, I wouldn’t want to be a middle school principal," someone down the table who John didn’t know said. "That’s hormone hell."
"It’s bad enough at the high school," Hekkinan agreed. "But, like I said, it’s got to be an improvement for him."
" Had problems with the basketball team?" John asked. "I remember reading something about it in the Record-Herald, but I thought that had all blown over last year."
"I wish," Hekkinan said. "We got the program going again, but after it’d been closed down for two years, we didn’t have any kids who knew shit about playing basketball. We only had ten girls out for the girls’ team, and they got so tired of getting their asses whipped every game, and I mean like 46-3, and 50-5, that they kept quitting. It finally got to the point where there weren’t enough kids to make up a team. Of course, the parents were all screaming at the coach, like it was his fault and there were all the old personality issues from the lawsuits. I knew damn well Culpepper was going to get the hell out of town by taking the first job he could find."
"How’d the boys do?"
Hekkinan shrugged. "They managed to make it through the season, but they got skunked, like 0-22. Never even a close one. The end result is that we haven’t won a basketball game in three years, boys or girls, and nobody wants to take on coaching a team knowing they’re going to be facing all that kind of shit. Besides, everybody I can think of who would be a candidate was either on one side or the other of the lawsuit, so no matter who I put in the job, they’re going to have half the people pissed at them from the opening whistle of practice."
"Tough damn row to hoe," Bud said. "I don’t know anything about basketball, but I don’t think I’d want anything to do with it even if I did."
"Hell, I can’t blame them," Hekkinan said. "And practice starts today for the girls. Guess I’m going to have to fill in till I can find somebody."
An idea had been flickering around the back of John’s head since the conversation started. Well, why not? It couldn’t hurt to ask. "I know someone you might talk to," he said.
"I’ve probably already talked to them, but who?"
"You remember Brandy Evachevski?"
"Of course I remember her. That girl could do things with a basketball I’ve never seen done before or since. Good shot, and a magician at a fake. Not an ounce of quit in her, either. They may have lost some games back then, but they never got beaten."
"Well, how about her?"
"I know she still lives around here," Hekkinan nodded, "But she’s out of town most of the time."
"Not since last spring," John said. "She quit her job to stay at home, and I know she’s been looking for something useful to do."
"Brandy Evachevski, huh?" Hekkinan said, looking thoughtful. "A lot of people are going to remember her, and she wasn’t even around while the lawsuit fracas was going on. Might be worth asking her about it."
"She’s Brandy Wine, now," John reported. "She got married last spring. She and her husband live in Barney Reynolds’ old place."
"Yeah, that might be worth thinking about," Hekkinan repeated.
Coach Hekkinan thought about the idea long and hard – about as long as it took him to polish off his breakfast, guzzle his coffee, and get in his car.
He wasn’t sure that Evachevski or whatever her name was now had ever done any coaching, but at this point he didn’t much care. The girls’ team was in enough trouble that any basketball experience at all would be welcome. Brandy had played on some good teams, both here and at Tech, he knew, and she had to know something about coaching if only by example.
He parked his car in front of Barney Reynolds’ old place, and walked up the sidewalk. From the side yard, he could hear the unmistakable thumping of a basketball being dribbled, so went around the house to see Brandy out there by herself, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, making moves and practicing on shooting. She looked older, more mature than she had when she had been in school – not surprising, it had been almost twenty years, after all – but she still had a lean, hard, muscular body. She’d obviously tried to keep herself in shape, and he could see that she still had many of the moves.
Hekkinan smiled to himself; at least it was summer, so he had jeans and track shoes on, rather than the suit and tie he’d have to wear once school got started. Her attention was pretty much on the basket in front of her, and she didn’t know he was there, so he quietly walked up near to her and waited for a chance. She shot a basket, and taking advantage of surprise, he rushed in front of her, grabbed the ball, and shot a lay-up, then went for the ball again. Not a chance; he had his fingers on it, but her steal was so quick that he barely knew what happened. He moved to guard her, but she made a quick double-fake, ducked under his arm and went up for two.
"All right, I give," he said. "I guess you’re faster than I am, anymore."
"I always was," Brandy smiled. "How are you doing, Coach?"
"Oh, pretty good," he said. "Still at the same old stand, but I’m principal now. What are you doing these days?"
"Not much of anything," she said. "I quit my job last spring, and I’ve just been trying to stay in shape while I’m looking for something to do."
"Well, I might have something. Are you interested?"
"Might be." she said noncommittally, letting the ball drop to the ground. "What do you have in mind?"
"I need a basketball coach. Bad."
"Boys or girls?"
"Both, but I’ll settle for girls right now. Practice starts this afternoon, and frankly, right now, it’s you or me."
"OK. What time?"
That was easy. Too easy. "It’s not quite that simple, Brandy," he said. "Look, I’ve got to be fair. There are some problems you should know about."
"You want to sit down and talk about it?"
They went over into the back yard behind the house. Hekkinan plopped down on a lawn chair, while Brandy sat on the back steps. "Brandy, I’ve got to be honest," he said. "I’d say the whole basketball situation sucks, but that isn’t a strong enough word to describe it."
"I was talking to Anissa Hodges – that’s Anissa Petersen – here a while back," she said. "She said that there had been some problems with the basketball team, but we were talking about something else and we never got back to the subject."
"Some problems is hardly describing it," Hekkinan said. "You don’t know anything about all the hassles we’ve been through the past three years?"
"Other than that, no," she said. "I was out of the country, mostly, and I didn’t get around much when I got home."
"Well, I guess I’d better start at the beginning," he said. "Back three years ago this fall, we had a pretty good girls’ team. Darn good, in fact. It got down to the end of October, and the girls were getting ready to play for the district championship on Friday night. We had this one parent, Lisa deLine. Her daughter was one of the better players on the team, a junior. Well, you know what it’s like with basketball, you have the cheerleaders with the boys’ team in the winter, but in the fall, the cheerleaders are with the football team. She got this notion that since it was the district championship and all, the cheerleaders ought to put in an appearance."
"I can understand," Brandy said. "That always pissed me off a little, too. Girls should stick together once in a while."
"I won’t say it pissed me off," Hekkinan continued. "But I will admit she had a point. The football team was two and six, and they were going up against Moffatt Eastern, so everybody knew that they were going to be two and seven when the night was over. So, I said, what the hell, and told the cheerleaders and their coach to go down to the girls’ game."
"And that pissed them off, since the girls wanted to go nuzzle up against their boyfriends and be the cutesy-poo cheerleaders in their cute little skirts," Brandy commented, knowing that some things never change.
"Right. So, I had this revolt on my hands. I went to the district game. No cheerleaders. Turns out they went to the football game instead, coach and all, didn’t wear their uniforms, but they got out there on the field, just like always. Well, the boys lost and the girls lost, and I had a screaming match with the deLine woman, and a screaming match with the cheerleading coach, and I figured that was the end of it."
"And, it wasn’t?"
" No way. Things rolled along till boys’ basketball opener, and at three in the afternoon, I get this injunction laid on my desk. We’d been hit with a Title IX lawsuit, and a judge had ruled that we couldn’t have any basketball games or cheerleaders until it was settled, or until the injunction was lifted."
"And the shit hit the fan, right?"
"Yeah, you bet. I won’t go into the ins and outs of everything, but we had suits and counter suits and counter counter suits and injunctions and counter injunctions and God knows what for the next two years before we finally could play a basketball game again. And, we still are under an injunction – we can’t have cheerleaders for anything, not even team cheer. You would not believe the pissing and the moaning, and there were a bunch of personality issues involved, too. When the deLine kid graduated, a lot of people booed her when she crossed the stage."
"That’s really crappy," Brandy said, "No matter what."
"I thought so, too," Hekkinan said. "Bearing in mind that while I agreed with the deLine woman in the first place, we were way beyond speaking terms through most of it, but still, I thought booing her kid at graduation was pretty fucking bush, if you don’t mind my French. Well, anyway, that was a year ago. We only had a handful of girls out for basketball, no returning lettermen at all, of course, only a few girls who had played JVs and middle school, and even they hadn’t played at all in two years. To say that they got their butts whipped would be a charity. It was really pathetic. Girls kept quitting the team after they went down with scores of like 50-5 time and time again, and frankly, I don’t blame them one damn bit. It finally got to where we didn’t have enough girls to field a team, and we had to wash out the rest of the season."
"The poor girls," Brandy said sadly. "I mean, I know you can’t win ’em all, but nobody likes being a doormat all the time, either."
" It might have been better," Hekkinan explained. "But the basketball coach made some remarks in the Record-Herald that I would rather he hadn’t made, and that got people pissed off all over again. The upshot of it is that we haven’t won a basketball game, girls or boys, in nearly three years, and we had games where we got goose-egged along the way."
"I didn’t hear anything about that, but if it was last fall, I was in Bolivia," Brandy said. "This is all news to me."
"That’s about the gist of it," Hekkinan said. "I could go into the personality issues some, but you’d be hearing my opinions, and maybe you’re better off not hearing them. Look, we have to at least attempt to field a girls’ team, or we’re going to be in more Title IX trouble. I’d really appreciate it if you’d take a shot at it, but I won’t blame you if you decide you don’t want to."
"I said I’d do it," Brandy told him. "We may not set the world on fire, but I’ll do my damn best to keep the kids from being doormats. Girls and boys?"
"I’m most worried about girls, right now," he said. "We can find someone for boys, maybe, if we need to."
"Hey, Coach," she said. "You remember the spring of ’83?"
"Couldn’t forget it. That was still the last state championship we won in any sport." He’d been there; Brandy had made an unassisted double play in the ninth to keep them from being shelled while two runs down, then with two out had walloped a ball that had been intended as an intentional pass. For all Hekkinan knew, that poor girl from Camden St. Dismas might still be still chasing it.
"We had a man coaching a girls’ team. I don’t see how there’s anything wrong with a woman coaching a boys’ team."
Hekkinan smiled at her. "Well, not in this town, not if her name is Brandy Evachevski," he said. "We’ll see how the girls’ season goes. If you want out, I won’t hold you to it."
"I promise, you won’t be sorry," she said.
"Look, we don’t have a lot of girls out for basketball, as far as I know," he said. "I’ll come to practice this afternoon and introduce you. Your name still rings a little in this town, and maybe some parents will remember you and drive a few more kids out for the team."
"Thanks, Coach," she said. "I don’t know what we’ve got to work with, but that’ll at least give me a start. What time?"
"Three, in the old gym," he said, leaning back in the chair, his tension easing considerably. "Thanks, Brandy. That was half my problem for today, but maybe my easier half."
Brandy relaxed, too. Coaching basketball was something she knew she could do, it would be a challenge – oh, would it be a challenge – and it would put her talents to use. It was the first time since spring that it felt like there was something useful for her to do, even if it didn’t fill the whole problem. "What’s the other problem?" she asked conversationally.
"Well, the old basketball coach was also a math and science teacher. A couple math classes, physics, and we wanted to do a geology section. Math and physics teachers are always tough to find, but that last is going to be really hard to fill . . . "
He looked across at Brandy, who had the strangest expression on her face. She had her hand up like she was a kid in a classroom, waiting for the teacher to call on her. There was something going on that he didn’t understand.
"Brandy?" he asked quietly.
"Uh, Coach, guess who’s just a dissertation shy of a doctorate in geology? And who had a double minor in math and secondary education?"