Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
January 3, 1988
At six feet two inches, Joyce Kirkendahl was tall enough to feel self-conscious about it, and with Mike even taller, and their other kids topping out over six feet, there had been absolutely no doubt that Shae was going to come out tall, too. To be honest, they’d figured that she’d wind up about as tall as Joyce, or her older sister Michelle. Both she and Mike had reasoned that there was nothing wrong with tall, and both of them had had good careers in high school basketball, as had Joyce and Mike Junior, the oldest, so they had brushed off the suggestion by a doctor before Shae hit puberty that a little estrogen therapy might be indicated to keep her height under control. But, for whatever reason, Shae hit puberty late and kept on growing. By the time she shot past her mother, and then her father, there was no stopping it. Over the years, Joyce had become used to shorter people, shorter women especially, having to look up at her, but she had never quite understood how they felt until she had to elevate her gaze five inches to look her youngest daughter in the eye. The last time she’d been measured, just before Christmas, Shae had stood a full six-foot seven and a little; the doctor predicted that the worst was over now, although she might get a little taller.
Back when Joyce had been in high school, and on the far side of six feet, she’d spent a lot of time slouching around, trying to hide the fact that she felt like such a freak. It made her ashamed to remember those days, how odd, how out of step it had made her. When she married Mike and it became clear that all their kids were going to be tall, she made up her mind to drive home to them every way she could that being tall was nothing to be ashamed about; if anything, it was something to be proud of. She’d done well; Mike Junior, at his father’s height, had been a power center for the Bulldogs all four years of high school, which had ended five years earlier, as had Michelle, at six-two. It had been very interesting to go to the basketball games when Michelle had been a senior and Shae a freshman, but on varsity because of her height. With that kind of defense the Bradford girls just didn’t get scored on a lot in those days, but they hadn’t had a power forward with a hot shooting eye like Cindy Dohrman yet, either. Even though Joyce had played basketball in her youth, and been pretty good, it was before Title IX, so people had taken even less notice of girls’ basketball than they did now. But with Shae carrying on a family tradition of basketball power, there had been even less reason for her to be ashamed of her height.
Which is not to say that Shae didn’t know she was tall, because she did – but Joyce still couldn’t imagine the amount of brazen exhibitionism it took for her six-foot-seven daughter to routinely wear four- and five-inch heels. "As long as I’m going to be a freak I might as well enjoy it," Shae had laughed once, "healthily" Joyce had thought. But still – to stand six foot two and have to look at her daughter’s throat when she wanted to talk to her was intimidating, at best. Shae could use the excuse of having to see the tops of door frames, but Joyce knew that her daughter simply liked to be looked at, to be the center of attention. Objectively, Shae wasn’t the prettiest girl in the school, but she wasn’t bad looking either, and if she worked at it a little, with that kind of talent at drawing boys, she could have gotten herself into lots of trouble.
So it was a little surprising that she had spent much of her time in the last year with Denis Riley. It was a relief in a way, many ways, but surprising, nevertheless. Joyce and Mike had known Bill and Arlene Riley for years, long before Bradford, back when both Mike and Bill had worked in the General Hardware Retailers corporate headquarters in Wheat Ridge, on the outskirts of Denver. It had been especially nice that both of them had been transferred to Bradford at about the same time. Although they all had lived there close to nine years, they’d never really become Bradfordites – it took more like being born there to be true locals. Like all the top management at the distribution center, they were corporate people, which some townspeople might consider to be carpetbaggers. Bill and Arlene were ten years older, and Bill was a bit further up the corporate ladder, but with both families outsiders in Bradford, they’d become even closer.
Virtually as long as she’d known Bill and Arlene, she’d known that Denis was a late child, and unexpected; the older Riley children had been enough older that they hadn’t gone to the Bradford schools at all. Tom, the oldest, had even been out of college when Bill and Arlene made the move, so neither of them came to town very often, and then only briefly. But for Bill and Arlene to have their youngest child even younger than Shae had helped the families to become close. As General Hardware Retailers corporate people holding the gates against the heathens, they’d traded babysitting back and forth for years. Joyce was one of those who preferred to work, even if the job was at a lower rate of pay than she might have had in a corporate office in a big city. Arlene, on the other hand, was just as happy that she didn’t have to work, although she spent several hours a week as a Red Cross volunteer, presumably at least partly to make her family look like they took their responsibility to the community as General Hardware managers seriously. But Arlene’s being around meant that for several years most of the babysitting load had fallen on her. Joyce felt a little guilty about it at times, and told Arlene so, but Arlene was always gracious about it.
Still, it had always felt like a debt to be repaid. Then, after the problems at the school last spring and the death of the Mansfield and Sharp boys, Shae had volunteered to keep an eye on the sickly little Denis and try to keep the bullies off of him, and she felt it sort of repaid the debt a little. She felt a little guilty about that, too, having her daughter paying off the old debt. Shae had told them several times that she didn’t mind – she had no intent of fooling around with some Bradford guy, risking going a little too far and winding up having to spend the rest of her life in this dump. To use her words, "I want to make it out of high school a virgin," she’d rather bluntly told her parents, leaving the corollary to them: staying a virgin was going to be pretty easy if she was hanging around with Denis.
Denis had been such a weakly, sickly, wimpy, strange kid; she’d known that as long as she’d known the boy, which went well back into Denver days. Really, it wasn’t surprising that he’d been the target of taunts, teasing, and bullies +since early elementary school, since he’d been such an easy target. Joyce had often thought that Denis would have made a better girl than he did a boy. It was really nice of Shae, she thought, to take the poor kid under her big wing, and from everything she’d heard, things were going a lot better for him this year, possibly the best year he’d had in school – that’s what his grades seemed to show, Arlene told her.
The last few days had been disturbing, though. It had been good to have the family together for Christmas, if a little strange: Mike Junior had his fiancée, Sarah, with him; the wedding was going to be toward the end of June. Michelle was home for a few days from Grand Valley State, where she was a junior. She’d hardly been home at all last summer, only for a few days, working on an internship project in Omaha, and there was a fairly serious boyfriend involved with that. The next few months were going to be disturbing, too: first Bill, then Arlene and Denis leaving to go back to Denver, and not long after that, Shae to college somewhere. The house was going to seem very empty and lonely with family and their best friends gone.
She’d been getting a real dose of that ever since Christmas; on the same day, Mike Junior and Sarah had headed back to their jobs in Richmond, and Michelle was off to Omaha; then Shae had left with the Rileys to fly to Florida. While it was nice of the Rileys to take Shae to Disney World, a little in repayment for the favor she’d done for Denis in keeping trouble away, it was a real premonition of the future for Joyce. They were all going to be gone, on their own, all too soon, and she could feel herself getting older than she wanted to be. An era of her life was ending.
As she sat there looking into the changes that were coming into her life and not really welcoming them, she heard a car pull into the driveway, and a car door slam. She stood up and looked out the window, to see that it was Bill Riley’s Chrysler; Bill had the trunk open, and Shae was getting her bags out. Well, at least things would be back a little closer to normal for a while yet, but Bill would be leaving for Denver in about six weeks, and that was going to seem really strange.
She went to the door to open it, and Bill waved at her as Shae came toward the house carrying her bags. "Did you have a good time?" she shouted to him.
"Great time, lots of fun," he smiled. "Got the kids all sunburned and relaxed, and Shae gave half the boys in Florida sore necks, no surprise."
Shae turned and grinned at him. "Aw, that’s not true, Mr. Riley. No more than a quarter of them!"
"I’ll let Shae tell you her side," Bill grinned. "Then maybe you and Mike and Arlene and I can get together for cards along in the week sometime, and we can tell you the real story."
"We’ll have to do that," she laughed, and turned her attention to Shae. "So, how did you like it?" she smiled.
"Disney World was neat, but it was wall-to-wall people," she reported. "I mean the lines were just everywhere. We spent hours standing in line for some of the rides, but I think we got to do everything we wanted to."
"Great," she replied, as she turned to wave at Bill as he got back in the Chrysler. "What’d you do, drop Arlene and Denis off at home?"
"Yeah, that way I could help them unload. Denis can’t be much help, he took a header off a jet ski and cracked a rib; he’s hurting. At least he had fun with the jet ski before it happened."
"That’s a shame. I hope he still managed to have a good time."
"Oh yeah, it didn’t slow him down any, it’s just that he can’t pick anything up without it hurting. The doctor said it’ll probably be a while before he’s better, and until then he’s going to have to have his ribs wrapped. So did anything happen around here?"
"A few things," Joyce sighed. "You’ve had a couple calls from basketball coaches. The man from Ball State seemed especially interested. I told him you were off in Florida and would call him when you got back."
"I’m still not sure about Ball State," Shae replied. "There are good sides and bad sides. They’ve got a good record and a pretty strong team, and more or less the courses I want, but it sort of has a reputation as a party school."
"That’s going to happen a lot with almost any schools that have strong athletics," Joyce noted. "The man from University of Dayton seemed pretty anxious, too."
"Not quite the program I want, and they’re not as strong athletically," Shae said. "Of the two, I’d lean toward Ball State. I still think the WNBA is a real long shot, but I might get a little better look there." She let out a sigh. "In any case, I’m too tired to want to talk to either one of them today, and it’s probably getting to be too late. I think I’ll haul this stuff to my room and unpack and save the story of the trip till Dad gets home."
"Sounds like a good idea," Joyce said.
* * *
It took a few minutes for Shae to get up to her room and get everything unpacked. She was going to have to be careful and reticent about the stories she told, and on a few key points she’d already coordinated her lies with the Rileys. There were a lot of lies, starting with the fact that Denis hadn’t actually taken a header off a jet ski. They’d worked it out as a story to explain why he’d have elastic bandages wrapped around his upper torso for the next five months – Eve’s breasts were showing a little too much to get away with around school. But, Shae’s mother was sure to spread that version around to confirm the story that they’d have to tell at school if the bandages happened to get noticed.
As far as the colleges went, Shae would have been perfectly satisfied with either Ball State or the University of Dayton. The problem was that Denise Everiss Riley hadn’t been accepted at either place, at least not when they’d left for Florida, but they were hoping to have something favorable in the mail box when they got back. They hadn’t wanted to spend the time going through the accumulated mail at the Rileys’, but it was a problem that was going to have to get solved in the next few days.
That was something she couldn’t tell her mother about, of course. Right after Bill Riley announced last fall that he was going to be heading to Denver, it seemed to be an answer to a couple difficulties with Shae and Eve going to the same college. Accordingly, Denis had applied to several colleges in Colorado as "Denise E. Riley". As far as Shae’s mother, and the counselor at Bradford High was concerned, he’d been accepted at Regis College, a small private school not far from Wheat Ridge, and to their amazement, the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley. The extra, embarrassing ‘e’ could be written off to a misspelling – and it wouldn’t matter anyway, since Denis would be going to school in Colorado – the school thought. In the last few months Shae had learned a lot about the webs that got woven when first they practiced to deceive. It would have been impossible to manage if it hadn’t been for the wholehearted complicity of Eve’s parents.
* * *
"Shae, we’ve got something we need to talk to you about," Mike Kirkendahl said over dinner that evening, after Shae had given a thumbnail account of their adventures at Disney World.
"Is this bad news, Dad?" she asked.
"Not good news, but not bad news," he sighed. "Just news, and we’ll have to see how it works out. You’ve known since last fall about Bill Riley being transferred back to Denver, of course. At the time it first came down we thought there was a good chance I’d be taking over the warehouse here. Over the last couple months, we thought it’d gotten less likely, and while you were gone, we were informed that Mark Waltenberg is going to be transferred here from Denver to take it over."
"Oh, Dad!" she said. "I’m sorry!"
"I’m not so sure I am," he shrugged. "There are upsides and downsides. The big thing is that if I had to take over the warehouse here, I’d be here for at least another four to five years. When they move you they like to leave you in a place for a while, although we’ve already been here longer than I expected. Now, the other side of that coin is that since I didn’t get the warehouse here, I’m not likely to be here a lot longer. In six months to a year, perhaps a little longer, Waltenberg should know everything he needs to know about this place, and I’ll likely be transferred. Now, I don’t know where that will be, and it could be to another warehouse, and it wouldn’t be for anything less than manager. If I had to guess, the guy running Adairsville is getting a little senior, I expect he’s the next to get moved, but that’s nothing I want to bet on. Back before you left, Bill and I had a long talk, and he said that if this happened, he might have enough pull to get me back to Denver. I think that’s more likely, but again, we can’t be sure."
"You’d like to get back to Denver, wouldn’t you?"
"You bet," he replied. "Not that I’d turn down Adairsville, either. Your mother and I have often thought that general neck of the woods might not be a bad place to retire, and with all three of you kids gone in not much longer, that’s a little closer to the front burner. But Denver would be much more desirable, if for no more reason than Bill and Arlene will be there. We’ve been such good friends the past several years it’s going to be hard to have them away from us. But, the point is, I know it’s getting late but you haven’t settled on a college yet. This might have some bearing on your plans."
"How do you mean, Dad?"
"Well, you might want to apply out there in Colorado somewhere, on the chance that we’re going to be out there. That would get you a little closer to the Rileys, too."
"The problem with that is the athletic scholarships," Shae replied, temporizing. "I mean, I told Mom earlier that I think the WNBA is a long shot, but it’d be a longer shot if I go into some school’s team as a walk-on. I mean, I wouldn’t have a scholarship out there, I haven’t been recruited there. Walk-ons get less attention than kids who get recruited, since there’s scholarship money invested."
"Yeah," he frowned. "I guess I hadn’t thought of that. But it would keep you closer to Denis."
"Actually Dad," she shrugged, "While the last year has been fun in its way, I’m not going to mind if I pull away from Denis a little. I mean, in the long run there’s no future there." She sighed and continued. "On top of that, suppose I was going to Greeley and you got transferred to Adairsville? That’d be even worse! I mean, you’re likely to be around here for a year or two, and that’ll be the hardest part of getting used to going to college. If you get transferred after that, it shouldn’t matter as much."
"That’s true," he said. "But we might know fairly soon, too, so maybe you ought to think about making some backup applications out there if you don’t get something pinned down around here."
"I could transfer if I absolutely had to," she replied. "It’d cost eligibility, but it shouldn’t matter for the first year or two. On the other hand, Mom says there have been some calls since I’ve been gone, so something could change here quickly."