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 18

Over the next couple hours they found lots to talk about as the steaks were grilled and eaten, and finally things were put away. Eventually it got late enough that Emily and Vicky had to be going – both of them were new enough on their bikes that they didn’t want to be out with them after dark. It was cooling off now, and it felt good to pull on leathers after which the Heislers and the Tylers stood around the motorcycles in the driveway. “It’s been good to see the two of you again,” Scott said. “We really ought to get together more often.”

“Come on down sometime,” Emily said. “It’s no farther from here to Bradford than it is from Bradford to here. Kevin and Vicky and Jason and I ought to be able to find a grill or something. We could even take you out to Malvern Hill and see if they’re throwing cantaloupes or shooting cannons or something. They are capable of ‘or something,’ that’s for sure.”

“That sounds like it might be fun,” Sonja grinned. “Addictive, but fun.”

“That’s kind of how I see it,” Vicky said. “On the other hand, this is just about the right distance for us to go riding, too.”

“Well, come on up sometime, bring Kevin and Jason,” Scott suggested and added with a grin, “We could even work it out to have the kids sat somewhere, so we could spend some time in the hot tub.”

“That might be an idea too,” Emily snickered, knowing now how the Tylers and the Heislers dressed in their hot tub when the kids weren’t around. “That makes me think, though,” she said to change the subject a little, “Are you guys thinking about doing a Halloween party again this year?”

“Hadn’t really thought about it one way or the other,” Aaron said. “It was fun, and it’d be good to see some of that gang again. On the other hand, if someone else decided they wanted to organize it, maybe down in Bradford even, it’d be fine, too.”

“I hadn’t really thought about it like that,” Emily nodded. “Oh, well, we’ve got some time.”

“We might have to get together sometime and kick it around,” Vicky suggested. “I’ll tell you what, though, you guys put on a party that would be hard to top.”

“Let’s think about it a little,” Emily said thoughtfully. “Maybe we can get together in a month or so and work on some details.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Scott agreed. “Give us a call or we’ll call you or something. You two take care riding back, now.”

*   *   *

It took Emily several kicks to get the Sportster going, while the Street Hawk fired up at a touch of the starter. They walked the bikes awkwardly backward down the short driveway to the street, gave some waves and shouted some final goodbyes, and then twisted their throttles and headed down the suburban side street.

While they’d been getting their leathers on they’d worked out a plan for going home to Bradford – they’d go back the way they came, down side roads to M-99, and then south. Once they got to I-94, they’d agreed to stop at the interchange and see how busy the four-lane looked. If it wasn’t too bad, they’d get on it for a few miles. If it proved to be a little scary from the speed and the traffic, they could get off at the next exit and continue the two-lanes back; but if it went all right they could ride down to I-67 and go home that way.

It only took a couple stop signs and a few slow city streets before they were out in the country and up to speed. Vicky was getting a little more used to being at speed on the Street Hawk, and didn’t feel like she needed a hundred percent of her concentration every second to ride it, like she had only a few weeks ago just idling around the block.

Despite the Harley running along next to her, it was almost as if she were alone with her bike. There was absolutely no chance to talk to Emily, roaring alongside on the Harley; in fact, she was more aware of the V-twin’s steady roar than she was of the purr of the bike between her legs. There was much to see, much to feel and somehow the experience was much more intense out here in the wind, with nothing but visor and leather between her and the elements – even in the Firebird, she seemed somehow insulated from the real world. To no surprise whatever, she found herself thinking and reflecting about the day.

It had been one of the most pleasant and enjoyable days she could remember in a long time, easily the best day she’d had without Jason around since sometime way the hell before Augie entered her life. While things like the visit to Malvern Hill and the chance to just spend some good casual times with old friends, firming up and expanding friendships, were fine, they seemed secondary to just being on this bike by herself. Though it had really been a pretty simple, easy trip, it seemed as if a door had been opened for her – taking the trip on the Street Hawk had been a milestone of independence, of courage. When you got down to it, it was no big deal – but there weren’t many women she knew beyond Emily who would have even attempted a simple trip like this on a motorcycle. Both Sonja and Amber had said there was no way; they’d be frightened out of their wits. For that matter, she knew plenty of guys who would have never attempted it, Augie right at the head of the list. Well, it was their loss. But yes, she’d experienced the freedom of the road, the wind in her face – it was as if this trip had opened a whole new world for her, and she liked what she felt.

Once again she sent a silent, grateful thanks to Jason, wherever he was, presumably on the highway somewhere heading back from Maine. She remembered last winter, pouting and jealous of Emily for having someone to give her a beautiful motorcycle, and even more for the willingness and the love to give her the freedom to ride it and not just hang onto his back. Never had she expected Jason would give her the Street Hawk; even riding a motorcycle herself hadn’t been something she thought she could do. But he thought she could do it, in fact, needed to do it – and today he was being proved right. Just this simple ride was proving once again that he thought she was more than she thought she could be.

How many times over the years had Jason taken her by the hand, showed her the way, pushed her just a little to be something more than she was? Countless times, clear back to the tricycle. When you got down to it, there had been no man in her life except for her father who had been more of a positive influence on her life than Jason had been, and this was just another example of it.

It was just a little bit strange. She resolved that she wasn’t going to get morose about it, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t examine the poignancy of the fact that she’d married Augie within a month or so of the time Aaron and Amber had married, and Scott and Sonja had married. Well, two out of three ain’t bad, she thought. Both the Heislers and the Tylers obviously had very happy and successful marriages, had some nice kids, had good careers, and had some fun in their lives. The members of both couples had complained over breakfast back the day after the reunion that their lives were dull and ordinary, but just who took their spring vacation at a topless beach in Israel? There were vague further travels together on the drawing board; Europe and Japan and the Caribbean had been briefly mentioned over the course of the afternoon as possibilities for the next few years. For a pair of couples who didn’t even know where each other lived a year ago, they’d become close friends.

It would be possible to envy them that – but pointless, for in the last few months things had changed for her, too. For many years, clear back into grade school, Emily had been her best friend, but after Emily married the relationship changed as it had to. It had made Vicky feel like she was the outsider – which she was – and that maybe her friendship was in a position to get between Emily and Kevin, which she didn’t want it to. Then she married Augie, and there was a time there she just hadn’t seen much of Emily at all. Oh, they’d talked on the phone now and then, got together a little when she could drag Augie down to Bradford for a day, which was only a very few trips, but the conversations were shallow, a ghost of their former days when it seemed like they could tell each other everything.

When she left Augie and then came back to Bradford after her stay in Las Vegas, things had changed again. By now, Emily and Kevin had young kids, and she’d felt even more the outsider. Emily was helpful, supportive, but it wasn’t the same. In the last few months, Jason had started to add a fourth wheel to the structure, making it stable again. They could get together, two or three or all four of them and have fun as friends. It hadn’t gone as far as an overseas vacation at a topless beach, but there was talk of doing shows together, taking trips together, and they’d spent a lot of time together. Except for the fact that Jason was only her boyfriend by courtesy – she wouldn’t use that term about him, although others would – it seemed like the door was open to a new plateau there, too.

Would things have worked out anything like as well if her plans for Scott had come together? As well? Hard to say, but differently, for sure. Sonja was part of that, of course; pleasant and placid as she was, her odd heritage had been the spark plug for a number of things, the trip to Israel at the head of that list, of course. Any relationship Vicky had with Scott would have been far different, and might not have worked out as well.

Her plan that summer never even made it to the starting gate. Several times over she had hinted to Scott, sometimes rather blatantly, that she’d been available for a date, but the hints seemed to roll off him like water off a duck’s back. Shelly was going to State and had reported Scott was seeing this black chick, but it didn’t seem too serious to her, so Vicky kept on trying with no success. Emily had been aware of her efforts and tried to help. While the weenie roast was at least partly to get together with some old friends who were in the Bradford area, permanently or for the summer, the genesis of it had come with the possibility in mind of putting her together with Scott. But then, he’d unexpectedly showed up with Sonja, and the looks in their eyes were all that was needed to tell she didn’t stand a chance, and thus it proved.

Really, in the despair following Melissa’s death, it was one of the reasons she’d turned to Augie – he may not have been much but at least he had been someone, which is more than she had. That he wasn’t worth the effort had more or less been obvious at the time but it had seemed like he was better than nothing, which was what she got. Well, she’d been wrong, and she’d paid for that mistake ever since. While she had no jealousy for Sonja whatsoever, if it hadn’t been for her, things might have worked out a lot differently. It was something she’d probably never know, of course. It might have been fun once upon a time, but it was water under the bridge, now.

While getting somewhere with Scott might have been fun, or with Aaron, for that matter, it hadn’t happened. That was then, and this was now. Back in the fall she’d toyed with the idea of trying to get closer to Jason, romantically closer, not just-friends closer, and they’d moved that way quite a little over the last few months. They’d been together enough that the people they knew were starting to consider them a couple, a little – maybe even more than a little. But it seemed like there had to be a limit to their friendship and it lay well to this side of romance.

The biggest reason, of course, was the age differential – Jason was almost twenty years older, not that it had to be that big of an issue. But raising a family was still one of her biggest goals; her life would seem incomplete without one, and the passage of months and years without getting any closer had been one of the things that had made the last several years so bleak. He knew that, of course; they’d talked about it more than once – many times, in fact, clear back to when she was a little girl. He had been through raising a family, been through it the hard way, in fact; she knew it from when it happened and had done what she could do to help, just as her parents had done. Now, those years were behind him. Was it fair to ask him to even consider doing it again? Even though marriage hadn’t been very good to him, there was no question he’d been successful as a father. She thought that given the chance she might be a better wife and a better mother than Jody had been – that wouldn’t be any trick, after all – or even than Christine had been, overlooking her chronic poor health, of course.

She had something valuable in Jason as things stood right now – a good friend, the best male friend she’d ever had, and only Emily a closer friend – maybe. After all, there were things she and Jason shared that she and Emily couldn’t – their own history, of course, but some of the skills and crafts they both enjoyed. She’d helped him with the forge on occasion; even back in high school he’d talked her through forging her own blade from stock metal, and finishing it to a presentable dirk. In some of the finishing skills she was as good as he was, in some areas maybe even better given her relative lack of experience and practice. They shared a sense of being able to work together on something that involved concentration, happy for each other’s presence without bothering each other. Even Emily couldn’t have understood that, which might be why Kevin was starting to get tolerable with the forge and the machine finishing, but just couldn’t handle the delicate hand artistry. Friend though Emily was, she’d known instinctively not to try to work on anything critical with her present and jabbering away because she couldn’t understand that there were times her concentration shouldn’t be broken.

Given all that – was it worth trying to push on to something more romantic with Jason? It wasn’t a new question, after all, but after seeing the Heisler and Tyler kids this afternoon, and a few other things that had happened recently, the question had become more acute. She had to reluctantly admit she’d be turning thirty in little more than a month – Emily and Scott and Aaron and Sonja and Amber were all within a year of that point, one way or the other. All of them but her had lives established, had families, had kids. There was a part of her that desperately wanted to push ahead as she felt the time passing and her own clock ticking, but there was also a part of her that just as desperately didn’t want to take the risk of screwing up what she already had.

Though she tried to examine the question in every way she could as she rode down the country roads on the Street Hawk beside Emily’s Harley towards home in Bradford, she was no closer to a resolution than she’d been when she first posed it to herself last fall. As she let it roll around in her mind, she knew they were covering miles but not totally aware of where they were, so was a little surprised when Emily didn’t merely slow to turn onto the entrance ramp to I-94, but pulled to a stop just short of it. “Doesn’t look too bad,” she heard her friend yell over the rumble of the idling Harley. “Want to give it a try?”

“Give what a try?” she almost answered, then remembered the plan was to go at least a short distance on the four-lane to experience the heavier traffic and the yet higher speeds. She’d been woolgathering much of the way from Okemos, and this would take more concentration, but maybe since she was getting no nearer to a conclusion, the need to concentrate would drive those thoughts back for a while. “Yeah, let’s go for it,” she replied, without even glancing at the traffic on the four-lane.

“Good enough,” Emily yelled back. “You first, I’ll keep up.”

Vicky had only tried accelerating the Street Hawk hard to highway speed a couple times, but this was one of those times it was needed. The bike wasn’t all that slow, but there was no hope of keeping up with Emily if she had been leading. She twisted the throttle, and the bike began to pick up speed as they headed out on the highway.

In a matter of moments, they were out on the four-lane. Traffic wasn’t heavy, and they were easily able to insert themselves into the traffic, mostly running along in a single lane with a few people running left, of course. Without discussion they knew that this was no time to play freeway freedom fighter, so they settled for sliding in behind a guy in a paint-chipped blue Plymouth minivan and running along behind him just over the limit.

Although they were going twenty miles an hour faster than on the two-lane and she could feel the Street Hawk working harder under her, it soon became less intimidating. She was actually starting to feel herself slide back into the contemplation of the seemingly unsolvable question of her and Jason and the future when she noticed Emily motion at her, and point at a “rest area” sign coming up. For an instant, she took a hand off the handlebars and give her friend a thumbs up, realizing the 7-Up and Diet Coke she’d been drinking that afternoon were starting to make some demands on her.

In a minute, they were slowing in the deceleration lane, then pulling into the parking area close to the restrooms. They shut their bikes down and got them onto the kick stands, then pulled off their helmets. “It was your idea, why don’t you go first?” Vicky suggested. “I’ll stay with the bikes.”

“I’ll take you up on that,” Emily replied. “My teeth are floating.” In a moment, she was scurrying up the sidewalk to the restrooms.

As she waited, Vicky took the time to just lean back to get out of the position she’d been in for a while, stretch and work out the kinks, glad Emily had thought to make the stop because she’d needed to flex some muscles, if nothing else. She shook out her hair and looked around; it was still a nice day, even nicer out from under the shading of the helmet’s visor.

“Hey babe,” she heard from a car behind her. “Niiiice ride!”

She turned around, to see a guy in a beat-up old Mercury leering out the window. While it was nice to be hit on a little – it hadn’t happened for a while, and then it had been at Walmart – she could tell at one glance this guy was younger than she was, and worse, looked to be even more of a dork than Augie. She started to ignore him, and then got a better idea. “I like it,” she replied, and visibly nodded at the Harley. “My boyfriend gave it to me.”

“Yeah, well, you have a good day,” the dork said and accelerated off, obviously not wanting to deal with a pissed-off boyfriend who rode a Harley. She snickered at his tail lights.

She was still snickering when Emily returned, a Diet Coke in her hand and a look of relief on her face; she giggled when Vicky told the story. “I’m going to have to remember that,” Emily laughed. “Of course, that begs the question of how much a guy is going to want to piss off a girl who rides a Harley.”

“Very true, Butch,” Vicky laughed as she slid off the Street Hawk and headed for the restroom. “It puts me in mind of Sandy jamming gears down the road in Dean’s Kenworth.”

She was back a few minutes later, feeling rather relieved herself and carrying a Diet 7-Up, to find Emily sitting on a bench a few feet away from the bikes, leather jacket unzipped, enjoying the afternoon. “What a day,” she said as she saw Vicky come sit with her and pop the tab on the can. “I can’t think of when I’ve enjoyed a day more.”

“Me either,” Vicky said.

“They are some real nice people,” Emily said with a smile. “They have good lives and they have some good times. But you know what kept running through my mind all the way down here? What happens the next time we go up there, maybe even with the guys, and they ask us to join them in the hot tub.”

“Good question,” Vicky smiled. “I’ll be the first person to admit that there was a time I would have liked nothing better than to get naked with Scott. But that was a long time ago, and not like that, anyway.”

“I don’t know if I could do it,” Emily shook her head. “Of course, that’s why they gave us the heads up in the first place.”

“With the girls, no problem,” Vicky said thoughtfully. “The guys, now, yeah, I’m glad they gave us the chance to think about it. I suspect if everyone else was doing it I could go along.”

“Yeah, me too,” Emily nodded. “I think I’d just as soon have Kevin there, though.”

“It would make it easier, that’s for sure,” Vicky said. “It wouldn’t be the same thing with Jason and me, though. I mean, you and I aren’t coming from the same place on that.”

“True,” Emily sighed. “You ever think about trying to do something about that?”

“I’ve thought about it a lot,” Vicky said truthfully, distilling her thinking of the last hour and more. “Part of me wants to so bad it isn’t funny, despite the obvious downsides for both of us. Part of me is saying, ‘It’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ I can’t give you an answer, and in the end it’s a question he has to answer as much as I have to. I do know this much: there’s no real need to rush it, and we don’t have to answer it in the next week or two. The next year or two will be fine.”

“I can’t tell you what to do,” Emily replied slowly. “I think I know what I’d like to see you do, since you’ve been happier in the last few months than any other time since you’ve been back. But there’s things you know that I can never know, and that means you’re going to have to be the one to make the decision.”

“Believe me, I haven’t just been letting it lay there.”

“You know,” Emily said slowly. “You remember Mr. Robertson in our freshman biology class?”

“I remember it was one of the more boring classes I had, except for a few things.”

“I got a fair amount out of it,” Emily smiled. “I remember him saying one time that in nature the tendency is toward change. Things don’t stay the same in nature. They grow, or they wither and die.”

Vicky sat there for a long time digesting that statement without saying anything. Finally, all she could manage was, “Yeah.”


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To be continued . . .

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