"A Spearfish Lake Story"
They were gathering in the living room when Josh and Tiffany arrived. "Sorry weíre late," Josh apologized to the group. "Bud wanted to talk, and I couldnít get away."
It was an excuse; Josh had left the railroad office in plenty of time, but the conversation with Bud had put a whole different spin on their Iditarod plans. Racing this winter was a lot less of a sure thing than it had been a few hours before, although the jury was still out.
"Youíre just in time," Blake said. "Since weíre practicing tonight, I wanted to keep this light."
"Iím a little surprised Danny and Marsha arenít here," Brandy commented quietly to Jennifer. "I know theyíre out at the club."
"Theyíre out there," Jennifer replied quietly. "But why should we louse up a pleasant social dinner by having Marsha around?"
Brandy was a little surprised to hear Jennifer say something that strong and catty about anyone, but in this case, she agreed. "Yeah, theyíre having problems," she nodded. "Dannyís going to have to do something about that, Iím afraid."
Josh overheard the exchange, but said nothing. He knew about the problems Danny was having with his wife. Danny had given him a call the day before and explained that he couldnít get together with him without her throwing a fit. "Sheís pissed about the way you dumped Amy," heíd explained. "I know Amy dumped you, but she doesnít see it that way, and Iíve heard about it over and over again, and thatís not all. Maybe someday, good buddy, but I donít dare risk another blowup right now." Josh had heard other stories from Brandy and Jennifer about their youngest brother and his wife and suspected they were on a downhill road. He missed Danny; he was about the best friend heíd had in school, but the years Ė and distance, and Marsha Ė had pulled them apart.
Jennifer raised her voice. "Shovelhead canít get away except on evenings this week," she said. "But with Ken and Judy here, we can be social for a while before we have to get busy."
"Once they get practicing, why donít the rest of us head on over to our place?" Phil suggested. "We can fix all the problems of Spearfish Lake and Arvada Center and drink the refrigerator dry over there, just as well as we can here."
"Not real late," John protested. "We have to pick up the boys before bedtime."
"I have to get up early, too," Brandy said with a grin. "People, I have an announcement to make."
"The last time we heard those words, we got a real surprise," Tiffany smirked, not wanting to elaborate; she wasnít sure everybody here was in on knowing that Jennifer was pregnant.
"Most of you know that Iíve been a little at loose ends this summer. Several of you told me to be patient and wait for the right answer to come along. Well, today, I think it did."
"Well, come on," Blake smiled.
"As of about eight this morning, Iím the new Spearfish Lake basketball coach, and . . . "
"Thatís not a bad idea, sis," Jennifer smiled. "Thatíll keep you hopping for a while."
"I didnít finish," Brandy continued, a huge smile on her face. "And, as of about ten oíclock today, Iím also the math, physics, and geology teacher at the high school."
"Well, that ought to keep you busy enough to suit you," Josh said. "I mean, if itís something you want to do, and you can be happy with it, thatís great news."
"I think so, too," Tiffany said. "Youíre replacing Culpepper?"
"I think thatís the name," Brandy said.
"Good," Tiffany smiled. "He was a jerk, anyway." She was the one with the most recent experience of Spearfish Lake High School, after all.
"I didnít know you had a teaching certificate," Candice commented.
"Well, I donít actually," Brandy said. "We had a long talk with the superintendent. Iíve got all the classroom qualifications, and I used to have a provisional certificate, but it expired years ago. We had to go a couple of rounds, but there are two or three things we can try to get everything in order before school starts, and if one of them doesnít work, another will. Iíll probably have to get some refresher work done before I can get a permanent certificate, but Iíve got a little time on that."
"The basketball will keep you busy enough," Shovelhead commented. "That whole program is a shambles."
" It was a shambles," she smiled. "But, Brandy Evachevski has returned, and she is pissed." They all laughed, and she got more serious. "Seriously, they do have some problems, but I think I can work out most of them if the kids will give me half a chance," she said. "I at least have the advantage of being part of the solution, not part of the problem. Thereís not many kids out, they donít have a lot of talent, and they have good reasons not to. But, maybe we can win a few, and if they can learn how to win, maybe we can have a halfway respectable season."
"Weíd better get rolling on dinner," Blake said. "Lex, would you like to help me serve?"
"Sure," she said.
Dinner, as promised, was a little light, but it was a Blake Walworth dinner, through and through: African peanut soup, lobster tails, eggplant surprise, and multiple varieties of slaw.
While they were eating, and talking mostly about Brandy and her new job, the phone rang, and Blake got up to answer it. He came back to the table with a smile on his face. "That was Logan," he said to Jennifer. "He says he can do it."
"The twenty-seventh?" she asked.
"Yep, and the day before to set up."
"Well, thatís the last piece," she said, and spoke up in a very businesslike manner. "Bob, Randy, Myleigh, Shovelhead, we just got the camera crew for the twenty-seventh, so itís on like we planned. The six of us will have to rehearse pretty heavy the week before, but weíre going to shoot it all in one day at the Pike like we talked about."
"Good deal," Shovelhead said. "Iíve got that week pretty well cleared away, but I may have to deal with emergencies."
"First things first," Jennifer said. "We can work around that some if we have to."
"Shouldnít be any problem for me," Bob said. "If it slid much later, it would have been a problem."
"It had better not run late," Myleigh smiled. "I shall have to be back at Marienthal to teach the next morning, but I believe thereís a redeye out of Camden I could use."
"Donít worry about it, weíll see that you get to class on time," Jennifer smiled and turned to the rest of the table. "Any of you who want to come and be part of the crowd are welcome, but Iím afraid that Iím going to have to ask you to pretty much be around all day. Itís a Sunday, so work shouldnít get in the way too bad. We need about a hundred for the crowd, so if thereís anybody you would like to bring, bring them. However, weíll have ticket admission, so get with Blake for tickets. No kids; this is supposed to be a Saturday night barroom crowd. And, weíll need to know pretty quick, since weíre going to make tickets available on the web site and the newsgroup, first come, first served."
"Youíre not going to have any trouble filling the place like that," Shovelhead said.
"No, but I want to make sure that friends get tickets first, and spots down front," Jennifer said. "I notice everyone here has been nice and kept quiet about it this evening, but you all know why this is my last performing appearance until next spring. But, itís still a secret to the general public, and I want it to stay that way until after the taping. Mostly, I donít want fans batting it around the newsgroup until I can make the announcement. We will have fans here who are on the newsgroup and would just love to break it ahead of me, and that might mess up the sale and promotion of this show. But, with the exception of my parents, youíre the only ones who know, and I can depend on you to keep it quiet during the taping."
" Are we going to do Pipeline?" Bob asked.
" Itís still on the tentative list," Jennifer said. "We havenít been able to settle on it yet. But I want to do it, and we need to work on it some this week, anyway. Blake and I have done it as a two-part for so long itís going to be a little hard to break it back into four parts. Foggy Mountain Breakdown is a definite, though, and that should be easier."
"Good," Bob said. "We should be able to work that up without too much problem."
"Right," Jennifer said. "Bob, do you have any overalls?"
"Never wear them."
"Get some," Jennifer said. "We may want to use the farmer bit in the promo, maybe even go down to the farm and shoot a cut-in, but thatíll only take an hour or two, and weíll do it after the shoot if we have some crew available. Have Lori give them a couple good shots of bleach in the washer, then have her run them every time she runs a load of clothes. I want them to look a little worn and faded. Myleigh, would you have any objection if I got a local cameraman down in Kansas City to get a few takes of you in your classroom and around campus?"
"Of course not," the smiling dark-haired woman said. "I suspect there will be a surprised look or two around campus when this is released. I confess that Iíve not made any mention of my connection with you down there."
"Is that going to cause you any problems?" Jennifer asked.
"No," she smiled, "Except that there will doubtless be a few students, and perhaps faculty, surprised to discover that their English Literature professor is not quite as stuck up and square as she appears."
"We wonít tell the camera crew what this is about," Jennifer grinned. "Thatíll let you keep your little surprise."
"You going to want some Harley shots?" Shovelhead asked.
"Yeah, but we can do that on Saturday," Jennifer said. "We can mention Dr. Metarie, or not. Your choice."
"Letís not," he said. "Enough of this is going to come into the office, anyway."
" All right, thatís that," Jennifer said. "Blake, I guess weíre about ready for dessert. Then, we can let the rest of these folks head over to Phil and Brandyís, while we sort out Saturday Night Paradise and Fencerow. If weíre not too tired, maybe we can run through Pipeline a few times."
The non-performing part of the group headed over to Phil and Brandyís house after dessert, but Josh and Tiffany only stayed for one beer; both of them wanted to get back to talking about Iditarod plans. Besides, it was clear that a lot of the discussion was going to revolve about the good old days in Arvada Center, where neither of them had ever been, and Tiffany would be seeing Ken and Judy in the morning, anyway.
They knew they wouldnít be coming to any decision tonight, and it seemed clear that if they decided to run the coming winter, it would be the last one. But, just quitting now had merit, too, and in the way theyíd become used to, they knew they had to talk it around both ways until they were comfortable with whatever decision they made.
They got home and plopped down in lawn chairs, looking out over the dog lot. A lot of their lives had gone into that collection of dogs, and trimming it down to a level that would be more appropriate for tours and the occasional weekend race would mean a lot fewer of them. More importantly, it would mean a lot of changes for them, too, and they knew they wanted to have a decision pretty well cast in concrete, whatever they decided, to cut down on second-guessing later. But, if they were definitely not going to run the winter after the coming one, there were some economies and cutbacks that could be made immediately, and that took a lot of discussion, too.
They were kicking around which dogs they thought they should sell, and which they thought they should train, when a strange car came up the driveway. It proved to be Danny. "Didnít think I was going to see you," Josh said as he got out of the car.
"I canít stay long," Danny said. "Marsha wanted some stuff from town, but since youíre on the way I thought I could steal a few minutes."
"A few minutes beats nothing," Josh said. "Guy, itís good to see you again."
"Itís good to see you," Danny said. "I wish it didnít have to be this way, but itís the way it worked out."
"Marshaís being a pain, huh?"
"Iíve been trying to hold it together," Danny said. "I donít know how bad I want to try, anymore, but Iíve got to try until I give up. Iím just glad we donít have any kids."
"Jennifer . . . " Tiffany started to mention her pregnancy, but stopped herself. Danny might not know; probably didnít know if sheíd heard Jennifer correctly earlier. "Jennifer said you were having problems," she caught herself.
"Yeah, but it just gets worse and worse. I donít even know why weíre here. We couldnít afford it, anyway, and she just hates everything here that doesnít have anything to do with the club. Itís not quite as bad at home."
"I heard you had a pretty good job." Josh said.
"Itís a crappy job, and I make shitty money, but she thinks itís the most wonderful thing on earth," Danny said. "Josh, you donít know how lucky you are that Amy dumped you."
"I had some regrets, once," Josh said. "Not many, and none since Tiffany and I got married. Howís she doing, anyway?"
"Not a lot better than Marsha and me. Two kids, and been through two husbands, and frankly sheís turned into a slut. Just be glad you donít know how lucky you are to have Tiffany. Of course, to Marsha, that makes you a child molester or something."
"I know it would have been a lot different," Josh said. "But a lot of things have changed since those days."
"Yeah," Danny said sadly. "I thought I saw a lot of Brandy in Marsha, and maybe thatís why I got going with her, I guess. But that was only the good part, and I didnít see the bad part. Now, I donít know what to do."
"Hey, good buddy, you do what you have to do," he said.
"Yeah, I guess," Danny said quietly. "I just wish I knew what it was I have to do. I donít know. Maybe Iíll just have to leave and come back here and start over."
"If you have to, well, thereíd be something for you," Josh smiled. "I can always use a summer brakeman."
"I may take you up on that," Danny said with a grin, the first theyíd seen, but it didnít last long. "Look, I better be getting back, or sheíll start wondering what happened to me and screeching about it, and if she does she wonít quit for hours. Iíll have to drive pretty fast."
"Hey, I understand," Josh said as Danny got back in the car. "Itís good to see you for a few minutes, anyway. Hang in there, and remember, no matter what Marsha says you still have friends here."
"Thatís good to know," Danny said. "Hey, next time, OK?"
"Yeah, next time," Josh said. Danny started the car and drove off, but Josh could see there were tears in his eyes. He stood there watching till the car was out of sight, somehow doubting that heíd ever see his old friend again.
"Thatís a bitch," Tiffany said softly next to him. "I never knew Marsha that well, and I was pretty little, but I could never see what he saw in her."
"He thought he saw something, I guess," Josh said sadly. "Have I ever told you how lucky I feel that things worked out this way between us?"
"On occasion," she smiled. "No more than four or five times a day."
Josh looked back down the driveway, in the direction Dannyís car had gone. "You were real little those two summers I went with her, but the four of us, Danny and Marsha, Amy and me, we were like the four musketeers. I came so close . . . " He nodded his head in the direction Danny had gone " . . . So close to that. I think I knew at the time that it would be a total disaster in the long run, but Amy was, well, darn appealing. Bud saved me from that, and he doesnít even know it."
"You mean because you didnít go to college?"
"Yeah," Josh said. "Thatís why Amy left me, because she didnít want anything to do with me if I wasnít going to college. She didnít want to stoop that low."
"Iím glad she did," Tiffany said, putting her arm around him. "Her loss was my gain."
"Mine, too," he said.
They stood there for a long silence as the summer sun sank slowly toward the horizon, as if they were watching a piece of the past fade into distant memory. Finally, Josh broke the stillness. "Tiffany," he said slowly, "I donít want to do the race this winter. Weíve had a good run, but weíve gotten to the point where there are other things we need to do with our lives, and we need to pay more attention to them. Iíve enjoyed it a lot, but we canít make a life out of it and we can make one out of the other things that we need to do. I managed to get away from it some last winter, and while I missed it, I think that it was the first step toward a clean break. Letís not do it."
"Iíll miss it," she said. "But, I donít think I want to do it, either. Weíve been there and done that. Now, I think itís time to do the next thing."
Brandyís head felt fuzzy from lack of sleep Tuesday morning when the alarm went off at 6:20. There had been the long evening with their friends, and when she and Phil finally got to bed, she couldnít get to sleep, thinking about the basketball team. There was talent there, maybe not a lot, but enough to put up a credible performance . . . if only the girls could stay with her long enough to learn the very basics that theyíd never had a chance to learn. Granted, the program had been all torn up by the legal jazz, but even what remained hadnít been all that inspiring. It was amazing that as many girls showed up as there were, given the record and the history.
But what could she do to inspire them? The big thing that they lacked was the mental toughness, the desire to win, the will to keep on going when things were going bad, the desire to improve. Not all kids in sports learn it, but at least some develop it. The one thing that these kids had going for them is that they were willing to show up in spite of all the difficulties of the past, but showing up and learning to outthink and outplay an opponent were two different things. There had to be something that she could do to hold on to the girls, to get their attention . . . no wonder she hadnít been able to sleep.
Phil was still sleeping, but Brandy got up and put on a T-shirt and shorts. Sheíd told the girls a quarter to seven, and she still had to be over at Candiceís at seven. She wondered if there would be any girls showing up at all. Had she scared them too much at practice yesterday?
It was still a little early, but she headed on out the front door to do a little early stretching. The sight she saw almost brought tears to her eyes Ė there were six girls standing there, waiting for her. As she closed the door, a seventh came running up the street, the little Augsberg girl, her hair long and black like Candiceís, streaming out behind her.
By God, these girls meant it. How could she have doubted them?
"Whoís missing?" she asked.
"Jessica," Amanda replied. "She quit. She quit last year, too. She said it was just going to be more of the same."
"The rest of you donít think so, huh?"
"My mom said she heard how you read off Mr. Hekkinan over the weight room," Rachel reported.
"I didnít exactly read him off," Brandy said, realizing that the rumor mill had to have been running full bore. "I did tell him I wasnít very happy about it, but itís tied up in the court business, so I took care of it. Donít let me forget, Iíve got some releases your parents have to sign. You all have memberships at the Womenís Fitness Center downtown. They have better machines for women than that junk for football players, anyway."
"Thatís pretty expensive," Ashley said. It went without saying that her family couldnít afford it.
"They're paid memberships, for three months," Brandy said. "No charge, but I do have to have a release from your parents."
"Who paid for it?" Vanessa asked.
"Your biggest supporter," Brandy said.
"Whoís that?" Ashley asked.
Brandy looked right at her. "You havenít figured that out yet?"
"Mom used to play basketball with you," Sarah said. "She said if it can be done, you're the one who can do it. I think all we ever wanted was someone to believe we can do it, and show us how."
"I can teach you how to play basketball," Brandy nodded, trying and failing to hide the pride she felt in these young ladies, just for showing up this morning. "The winning, you have to pull up from inside yourselves, but youíve showed me you want to learn how to do that, too. Now, letís get stretching, and get some miles on."