Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

The Homestanders
Book Four of the Bradford Exiles
Wes Boyd
2005, 2011

Chapter 2

The Tylers and the Heislers had to leave not long afterward; they’d left their four preschoolers with their respective Bradford parents, and they had to be getting back to the Lansing area. There was nothing wrong with sitting and talking to Emily and Kevin; while they weren’t dinner-party-type friends, Jason knew both of them pretty well. The Spee-D-Mart Emily managed was like the Chicago in that everyone in town stopped in there sooner or later, and Jason was no exception. Jason ate breakfast out here most work mornings, although usually at the big community table at the far end of the room; about one morning in three Kevin was there.

Vicky had probably told him years before that Emily had been a top-ten student in high school, but at graduation she’d had no desire to go to college and all the desire in the world to get married. Kevin had been an old friend of Emily’s family, four years older, and he’d spent the four years of her high school period in the Air Force, waiting for her to graduate. They were married within a month of her graduation, and she was pregnant within another month. She’d had a part-time job at the Spee-D-Mart in high school and had just never moved on. She managed the store now, while Kevin ran a machine at Macy Controls, out past General Hardware on Taney Road.

“I sure wish I knew them better,” Emily sighed. “I really don’t know Amber well, just from her coming into the store when they’re in town to visit his folks, and I’ve only talked with Sonja a few times, but she looks like an interesting woman, and I know she’s even more interesting than she looks.”

“Pretty lady, very exotic looking,” Jason smiled. “You don’t see someone who looks like her around this town very often.”

“No, you don’t,” Emily agreed. “I remember when she first started going with Scott, up at State when they were freshmen. Shelly was going there too, and she spread it all over town that Sonja was black. That really got the rumor mill running. They’d been going together a couple years before we finally met her. Remember that, Vicky?”

“She’s dark, yes, but the skin tone isn’t right for black.” Vicky nodded. “It was at that weenie roast at your place when we first met her. She and Scott said they were just friends, but you could take one look at them and tell it was a hell of a lot more than that.”

“And then, to top it off, she told us she was technically a draft dodger,” Emily smiled.

“A draft dodger?” Jason bristled. He’d volunteered for the Army, and Vietnam, at a time when most kids were trying their damnedest to stay out of the military, and it was a touchy subject. As it worked out, the military had been good for him and there had been times he’d wished he’d stayed in. The superior attitude of some of the draft dodgers back in those days had pissed him off severely. “How the hell could she be a draft dodger?” he asked. “Even if she’d had a sex change she’d have been too young, and they never drafted women, anyway.”

“They do if you’re an Israeli,” Vicky grinned. “Back in those days, she had dual citizenship from her real mother. Maybe she still does, I don’t know. The story she told at the weenie roast was she got really pissed about a draft notice from the Israeli Army. She’d never lived there, except visiting for a couple months, but her mother is an army officer, and she took it personally when Sonja told the Israeli Army to go to hell.”

“That’s different,” Jason nodded.

“Oh, yeah,” Emily smiled. “Remember, we met her mother once, and she sure seemed like someone you didn’t want pissed off with you.”

“I remember her from their wedding.”

“Sonja’s mother showed up out of nowhere right after the weenie roast to try and browbeat her into doing her duty, so she was hiding out with Scott’s family. Well, this dark, foreign-looking woman with a strange accent came into the store, wondering how to find Scott’s house. I put two and two together before she made it back to her car, and was on the phone really quick. The two of them beat it out of town on about two minutes notice. Scott’s folks wouldn’t tell her anything, and she hung around town for days looking for them.”

“Did they ever patch it up with her mother?”

“Not till after they were married and she was pregnant with their daughter Sabra,” Emily explained. “It must be that she’s still at least partly an Israeli, because her mother thinks Sabra and Scotty have dual citizenships too. The story I heard was she hopes the kids will do their duty even though their mother wouldn’t.”

“She isn’t over it,” Jason shook his head. “Shit, I wouldn’t want to be in Israel, where you can get a Palestinian dumb bomb going off at any time.”

“I know they’ve visited,” Emily reported. “I guess it’s not all that bad if you stay out of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, from what Barb Tyler told me, anyway.” She let out a sigh. “Oh, well, at least some of us lead exotic lives, but I guess I’m just as happy where I am.”

“I’ve heard that out of you before,” Vicky smiled.

“Well, OK, I am a little jealous,” Emily said. “Hell, you are, too. I guess it’s like when you were back in college. You’d come home and tell me the stories of all the fun you’d had, and all the parties, and all I could talk about was how much fun it was to have two kids in diapers. Vicky, you know me well enough to understand that even though I married Kevin and stayed in Bradford because I wanted to, it would have been fun to have some of those adventures. And I know if it had worked out, that you’d have been the one to have the kids in diapers, and it would have been fine with you.”

“It wasn’t all that damned great in college,” Vicky snorted. “I’ve told you that. I told you those stories to at least make myself think I was having fun. But you’re right; I’d have just as soon had the kids in diapers.”

“There were times I would have traded with you if I could have,” Emily shrugged. “But what’s done is done, I guess. I’ll admit, I like hearing the stories of what other kids have done that I’ll never do. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me, but last night it bothered me a lot. I mean, take Dayna. She and Sandy go all over the place, play in places you and I wouldn’t dream of. They’ve put a quarter of a million miles on that motor home, in forty-nine states and nine provinces. I spent that couple weeks with Dayna four years ago and got a taste of that life, even though it was pretty subdued, with Sandy not there and Dayna eating her gut over it.”

“That was fun,” Vicky nodded. “I did a week, too.”

Jason knew the story. Dayna and Sandy had nearly died from severe food poisoning. While they were recovering, Sandy’s mother put a lot of pressure on her and goaded her into marrying the son of her best friend, which effectively split up the act. Dayna wasn’t healthy enough to go on the road by herself but had some dates that absolutely had to be played if she planned on keeping her career. She could do it with offstage help, so Emily had organized a series of Bradford ’88s to be volunteer roadies for her. Vicky had been one, and reported that Dayna led a hell of a fun life and it had to have been even better with Sandy around. Months later, when Sandy got beaten up by her own husband, she’d called Vicky, who lived nearby at the time. Vicky had picked her up, cleaned her up, and put her on the plane to Las Vegas and a divorce.

“Darn right it was fun,” Emily nodded. “I mean, if it weren’t for Kevin and the kids I could live like that, at least if I had any musical talent, but I don’t. And you’d have to leave out the lesbian part, whether it’s true or not. But I kept listening to everybody last night. Scott and Sonja say they lead dull lives, but who’s going to Europe and Israel on vacation? Or Shae, a sports reporter, model, and actress, in New York, yet! Or John Engler! Granted he’s been through three wives, and that’s an adventure of its own. He bought a failing business in Florida and, according to his dad, he’s getting into the million-dollar bracket now. I don’t think I could handle the prostitute part of it, but there’s Jennlynn, a millionaire who flies her own Learjet, for God’s sakes!”

She shook her head and picked up her tone as her rant continued. “And as for how that goes, then there’s Eve. Lord knows I wouldn’t have wanted to be in her shoes, but she’s done things the rest of us will never dream about, and the closest we’re ever going to get to them is to hear her talk about it. And Vicky, even though some stuff has gone sour for you, at least you went to college and have some stories to tell. So there I was last night, and all I could say was I still work at the Spee-D-Mart, I knit, and ride around on the back of Kevin’s Harley.”

“I know, hon,” Kevin said sympathetically, “I felt some of it, too.”

“And you’ve at least been to Europe, to Japan, you were stationed in Nevada for a while,” she said, fairly bristling now. “Cripe, it’s a couple years since I’ve even been to Chicago, that’s less than two hundred miles, and then it was for a Cubs game. Jeez, just once, I’d like to do something a little different.” She let out a sigh. “Jason, could you teach me how to make a knife? That’s not exactly a feminine hobby like knitting.”

“I could take you through it by the hand, like I did with Vicky that time,” he said. “Getting good at it, well, you have to have the knack. I tried to teach Duane when he was younger. He can make a workable knife but not an art object.”

“I doubt I would,” she shook her head. “I don’t have arms like you do, that’s for sure. But jeez, something. Like I said, I don’t fault Kevin for anything, but I wish I’d had some off-the-wall adventure or talent or something.”

“There’s lots you can do,” Jason counseled. “It just takes figuring out what and then doing it. Hell, look at Duane. When he graduated from high school, he and Cory Luma backpacked from near Grand Rapids to Ironwood on the North Country Trail; it was 800 miles and it took them almost two months. Now he’s talking about the Appalachian Trail when he gets out of college, that’s 2100 miles.”

“I don’t think there’s any way either of us could get away for that long,” she shook her head. “And I don’t think backpacking is exactly my thing, either.”

“That was a for-instance,” Jason shrugged. “Do a long canoe trip. Take up sailing. Hell, buy yourself a motorcycle to go with Kevin’s and ride it out to the rally in Sturgis. I know you don’t have tons of money but you’re not pinching every dime until Roosevelt farts, either. Like I said, all it takes is thinking of something, and then doing it. There’s nothing keeping you from that.”

“I know,” she said, deflating now. “But I never seem to think of anything, and tomorrow morning I’ll be at the Spee-D-Mart again. Really, most of the time, I don’t mind; it’s not that bad a job, considering.” She shook her head. “But I’ll be damned if when I hear a roar go overhead, I won’t be imagining it’s Jennlynn and her Learjet.”

*   *   *

“I can understand how she feels,” Vicky commented as they walked out across the parking lot to the Firebird. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Kevin and Emily head for their minivan. “Mostly because I’ve got a pretty good dose of it myself. Not quite the same thing, but pretty close.”

“The wanting to be something different from everyone else, do something different?”

“Yes and no,” she nodded, flicking her half-smoked cigarette out onto the parking lot; no smoking was a hard-and-fast rule in the Firebird. She’d known it for years; it wasn’t because of the smoke smell, but because Jason didn’t want to risk burn holes in the upholstery of the valuable classic. “Christ, I didn’t have that good a time in college and you know it,” she continued. “Except for a few incidents it was a pain in the ass most of the time, and what did I get out of it? Not much, except for a huge student-loan debt. She may have envied me for being in college, but I envied her for having a husband and two kids she dearly loves. Hell, ten years ago, that’s about all I wanted, and I really haven’t changed much. But she’s got it, and the closest I ever got to it was the jerk I married. As much as I wanted to be a mother, thank God I never got pregnant from that dickless wonder.”

She knew it was a rant he’d heard before. “At least that much worked for you,” he shrugged as he held the door of the passenger side for her.

“Yeah, I suppose,” she said as she got in. “Thanks, Jason.”

“My pleasure,” he smiled as he closed the door and began to walk around to the driver’s side. “You just want to head back, or would you be up for a little drive, just to clear the cobwebs?”

“There’s not going to be many more days like this,” she told him. “And I really don’t have much to do today anyway.”

“Fine, let’s take the back roads over to Amherst and back.”

“Works for me,” she said as he got behind the wheel. She shook her head and continued, “Shit, Emily just doesn’t realize how good she’s got it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, maybe things are a little dull for her, but that’s something that can be solved if she wants to. It’s a little hard to do some of that stuff when you’ve got little kids, but Kayla and J.J. aren’t all that little anymore and are going to be teenagers before long, so that’ll free them up some. But she’s got a solid job, even if she’s not going to get rich at it. She’s pretty well respected in the community and has lots of friends. She’s got a husband who she thinks walks on water, and she’s got a couple of real nice kids. What’s more, if something needs to be done she’ll grab the bull by the horns and do it. Yeah, maybe she needs to take up skydiving or something so she’ll feel a little special, but what the hell? I envy her for all of it and would trade places with her in a minute if it wouldn’t take anything away from her.”

“So you feel shorted by comparison?” he asked as he started the Firebird.

“Shit, yes,” she snorted. “Hell, you go back ten years, my goal in life was to have a nice husband, a couple nice kids, a nice house. Ever since I left high school I’ve passed up good in hopes that better would come along, then I mostly got left with a choice between bad and worse. And it seems like I wound up with worse most of the time. I still want all those things, but I’m not getting any younger, either.”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I guess when I was that age that was more or less what I had in mind, too. I mean, it wasn’t quite as important; I wanted my good times before I settled down. But yeah, I wound up with some choices between bad and worse; you know that. I couldn’t have made a much worse choice than Jody, but at least when she left me, she left me with a kid who eventually turned out pretty neat.”

“I guess,” Vicky sighed. “I really don’t remember her very well. I was only like eight or nine, and you were living across town then.”

Vicky knew the story of course, and there was no need to go over it. Like Vicky, Jody had been a homecoming queen candidate who had ridden in the parade in the back of this car. She’d thought she had a lock on it, but in those days there was a bigger difference between the town kids and the country kids than there was by the time Vicky was in high school. That year, there were three town girls in the contest, but only one country girl. For reasons long forgotten, the guys in the FFA decided to all throw their votes to the one country girl candidate, which none of them were going with, just to keep it out of the hands of the city girls. Jody got edged out by two votes, and was devastated. As they got off the football field, Jason had the only available shoulder to cry on, and cry she did. One thing led to another, and before the game was over with they were out at a place off of a quiet country road with her sexy gown up in her armpits, and he was discovering she was not a virgin.

Jody was a senior then, and Jason wasn’t all that much older although it had seemed like it at the time. In fact the age differential was about the same as between Kevin and Emily, maybe a little more. But it was enough that her parents weren’t real thrilled about it, and he and Jody didn’t continue dating just then. In the years that followed, Jason had gotten the impression that she’d bedded another two or three guys in high school after that, and more while she was a freshman in college. That had been back in the wild days of the seventies, and it had never bothered him much – after all, he’d had some other action of his own in those days, too. When she came home after her freshman year, they happened to run into each other one day, and a few memories of homecoming were revived. Since her parents were out of town that evening, he wound up in her bed, where among other things a scheme was hatched. A week later, he took off on vacation, telling his folks he was heading north to do some fly fishing, and she left too, telling her parents she was going to visit a friend. They met fifty miles up the road, drove to the family hunting cabin near Baldwin, and hardly wore clothes for the next week even though the mosquitoes were pretty bad. But then they weren’t outside very much, either.

Back when Vicky was messing around with John Engler after high school she kept what was happening from her parents pretty well, or at least she thought she had. But either it hadn’t escaped Jason, or possibly her folks got him to put it to her with the hopes that the message would get through better than it would from them: “Jody was using birth control that she said was ninety-nine-percent effective. Maybe it was, but if it was I must have fucked her a hundred times. Shit happens, Vicky. Don’t let it happen to you.” Except now, she often wished it had happened to her, despite what happened to Jason and Jody.

Jody never went back to college; none of their folks were very happy about it, but Jason tried to do the right thing by her. They were married late that summer and moved into an upstairs apartment across town; Duane was born the following February.

Vicky wasn’t clear on the details, but in general Jody made a lousy mother. She resented being tied down to an infant, resented the restrictions marriage and motherhood put on her freedom. Finally, one day while Duane was still very small, Jason came home from a hot day at work to discover the toddler had been left with his parents. Jody and her clothes and things were gone – where, he had no idea, and still didn’t. If her parents knew – they might have, although he doubted it – they didn’t tell him; they’d moved out of town years ago and never mentioned anything about her in their Christmas cards either.

There just wasn’t a hell of a lot he could do but move back in with his folks and lean on his mother for help with the child care. It took two years for the divorce for abandonment to come through, with him understandably getting full custody. By the time that arrived, Jason was getting set to marry Christine.

Christine was about as different from Jody as could be imagined. She was small, thin to the point of being emaciated, quiet, and rather shy. Without ever being told, Vicky had the impression that Jason’s need for help in raising Duane played a big part in his getting interested in her. Vicky had never gotten very close to her, but suspected that Jason may not have, either. They never had children, not for the lack of desire, but a much more tragic reason: leukemia. It was a slow-acting form, and she may have already had it when they got married, although it wasn’t diagnosed until several years later. The result was that in addition to a son to raise, Jason had a sick and progressively sicker wife to nurse. The open house for Vicky’s high school graduation was one of the last times she’d seen Christine out and about on her own two feet; she was permanently in a wheelchair soon after that, and in a nursing home not much later. Christine died when Vicky was a freshman in college; she made a special trip home for the funeral. She remembered holding Duane in her arms as he cried over the loss of the only mother he’d ever known.

Back when Jason had been getting set to marry Christine, his folks had their sights set on a new home on the outskirts of town, and Jason needed a home for his son and his new wife. He really didn’t want to move, and since his neighbors were used to the noise of him hammering on hot steel in the blacksmith shop in the old garage, he worked out a deal to buy the house from his parents. That meant Vicky was again right across the back yards, and over the years she’d spent enough time helping raise Duane that in a way she was almost a third parent. To a lesser extent, Jason and Christine became almost a second set of parents to her – after all, he’d looked after her a little from time to time even before Jody came along.

Vicky was eight years older than Duane, but even at age ten she could play with the toddler under supervision, and for a few years there Jason and Christine would baby sit her while she helped baby sit the little boy. As the years passed and Christine got sicker, Vicky could take a lot more responsibility when watching the youngster. He was just starting to get to the age when being watched wasn’t quite as necessary when she graduated from high school and left for college.

She shook her head and looked over at him. “Jason,” she continued. “Do you realize you’re the best friend I have anymore? I mean, except maybe for Emily, and it’s not quite the same thing. I’ve literally known you and been friends with you as long as I can remember.”

“I realize that,” he nodded. “A lot of water has gone over the dam since a little girl came to me and asked me to make her tricycle well.”

“I’ve never forgotten that,” she smiled, “You made it good as new.”

“You were what? Five or six?”

“Maybe not that old,” she shook her head. “But I remember it like it was yesterday, watching you work magic with flame and hammers, just to make a little girl happy.”

One summer evening she’d been riding her tricycle in the driveway when her mother called her in to go to bed. Without thinking about it, she’d left it in the driveway, and the next morning her father had backed his car over it, bending it up badly. Her folks thought to teach her a lesson about leaving her toys lying around. They said it couldn’t be fixed and she’d have to go without. She was in inconsolable tears, but her mind was working. She knew that Jason worked with metal out in the garage, and she dragged the wreckage over there to ask if he could fix it. “Maybe I can,” he smiled at her. “Let’s find out.”

He set her down on the messy workbench and told her she had to stay there watching until he was done. He started in on it, talking to her about everything he was doing, explaining what he was doing and why he was doing it. She understood little of it, but realized that what he was doing wasn’t simple or easy. Dealing with bent and crushed lightweight tubing isn’t the easiest thing for a blacksmith, he told her, but he took it as a challenge. It took several hours of heating the metal of the frame with a torch, hammering and working it until it was straight again. She was a little girl and got fidgety sitting on the workbench, but he told her that sitting and watching him fix the results of the mistake she’d made was going to have to be the price she paid for him fixing it. One of the wheels was bent up pretty bad, but once he got the tire off it responded to the same tools. Finally, back together, he painted it with cans of spray paint. “Vicky,” he’d said when the paint was wet and glistening on the little trike, “You can ride it again tomorrow after the paint is dry. You made a little mistake last night. It took hours of work to make it right, and it took you hours of watching. If you leave it in the driveway again, I won’t fix it next time.”

She promised she wouldn’t, and she hadn’t, having learned the lesson that things aren’t just given to you by your parents, that people have to work for them and take care of them. She took care of her tricycle after that, even after she’d long since quit riding it. She knew her father had offered to pay Jason for his work, but he turned him down, saying, “I didn’t do it for you, I did it for her.” Some years later her mother suggested putting it in a garage sale, but she protested mightily, and to this day it was in the rafters of the garage, a memento of the day a quarter century before when the guy across the back yard had become her lifelong friend.

He had probably heard the story, but if so had never mentioned it: not long after that, someone had asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up. “I want to grow up and marry Jason,” she replied immediately. That hadn’t happened, of course, but when you got right down to it, in a way that was what she’d been looking for ever since: a guy who would be a kind and gentle mentor to a little neighbor girl, a guy who would take an unwanted child who had been dumped into his lap and do what anyone in Bradford would agree was a superior job in raising him, a guy who spent years gently and kindly nursing and caring for a dying wife who Vicky suspected he really didn’t even like all that much.

Vicky hadn’t seen Jason much during the years after Christine died; she’d been in college, and then later in Warren with Augie, but she was not really surprised to come back home and discover that he hadn’t remarried. After Christine died, needing a mother for Duane wasn’t quite as important; he was on the verge of being a teenager. More importantly, she knew that marriage had kicked him in the gut badly twice. Even though he’d gotten along all right with Christine, and appeared to be moderately happy, her long, slow, agonizing decline and death showed him plenty of downside – but if nothing else it also showed just how kind and caring and gentle a man he really was. She was happy that he was her lifelong friend, and knew instinctively she wouldn’t want to do anything to louse it up.

“Oh, you made me happy, Jason,” she sighed. “Over the years, you’ve made me happier than any other man has managed. I just wish it had worked out differently, that’s all.”

“I’ve thought that from time to time,” he smiled as he turned onto the winding Stowe Highway, brilliant with fall color under the bright October sky. “You’ve been a darn good friend to me over the years, too, especially when you were younger, and I deeply thank you for it.”

It was too damn bad, she thought, that there was twenty years age differential. Well, eighteen. But maybe . . . well, maybe she’d been right after all. Somewhat surprisingly, it was a new thought, one she really hadn’t considered before. Or, if she’d considered it, she’d automatically rejected it before it got to the forefront of her mind. Now it was there and demanded some thought. More than some, lots; the bottom line was whatever she did she didn’t want to louse up their friendship. But now, seeing it in a little different light after all the years, it was worth consideration. That argued for thinking it over, taking her time, and being very careful.

But she could take a first step; when you got down to it, it wasn’t all that different from some other things they’d done since she moved back home. “I really thank you for all you’ve been to me, too,” she smiled, possibly seeing him in a light she’d never really considered before. Might as well try her luck, she thought. “Jason,” she said after a moment. “I’ve been thinking about this costume party. It sounds like fun, but I really don’t want to go by myself. I think I’d be about the only solo there, and well, it’s not as much fun. If I go, would you go with me?”

“Sounds like fun,” he smiled. “But I’m not doing drag, whatever happens. Not that I’m opposed to the idea per se, but there’s no way I’m shaving off this beard for a party.”

“I think we can manage something else,” she smiled. “Something that will work whether it’s a drag party or not.”

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To be continued . . .

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