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 30

Sunday, February 13, 2000

“I have seen more thrilling winter days,” Emily said a little nervously from the back seat of the Stratus.

Among them, Vicky, Jason, and the Holsts, they owned a good number of vehicles. At present, there was a total of six motorcycles, since Vicky still had the Street Hawk and Jason still had the ’56. Beyond that, there were two pickup trucks, the Firebird, a minivan and the Stratus. That meant when the four of them wanted to go somewhere in the winter they were pretty well stuck with the last two; the Stratus was more comfortable in the back seat than the minivan, so it got nominated without discussion.

“We could have ridden the bikes,” Jason offered from the passenger seat, hearing Emily’s nervousness since he shared a little of it, but the decision had been made and he might as well try to be light about it. “That way, when we got there we’d be cold enough we wouldn’t care.”

“Right,” Kevin snorted from the far side of the back seat. “But what would we have done when we headed back?”

Winter – defined as that time when the leaves are down – is longer than summer in southern Michigan, and during the depths it can often be gray, cold, and miserable for day upon seemingly endless day, which is what this day was doing. There had been more than their fair share of that the past month, and on several occasions when two or three or all four of them had gotten together there had been discussion that they ought to go somewhere and do something to break the spell a little.

They’d talked about leaving Kayla and J.J. with their grandparents, heading north and renting snowmobiles for a weekend, but that seemed to make the situation worse and not better. Heading north for skiing had the same limitation, and the negatives were increased by the fact that only Kevin had done any skiing and that had been a long time ago. There had been some discussion of heading toward one of the bigger towns around, finding a luxury motel with a nice pool and hot tub, and just spend some time lying around in swimsuits, having a nice dinner and maybe catching a movie or show. That almost came off; Phantom of the Opera was playing at the Stranahan in Toledo, but tickets proved impossible to get. Whatever movie happened to be playing at any of the multiplexes around the town just didn’t seem to fill the hole.

Then one evening a few days before, Scott and Sonja had called Emily just to talk for a little and catch up on things. Over the course of the discussion, the Tylers had indicated they wouldn’t mind some socialization with a few fresh faces just to break up their own cabin fever. That wouldn’t solve the problem but might alleviate it a little, so Emily bounced a quick one off Kevin and he’d accepted. At first, it had been just the Tylers and the Holsts with all their children, but then Scott had suggested that they think about bringing Vicky and Jason; Emily said she couldn’t speak for them but suspected they’d be glad to come.

One thing led to another, and after a bit more discussion Scott suggested that they could invite Aaron and Amber. That was starting to make things a little kid-heavy for an afternoon of grownup discussion, so Sonja said she thought they could get their regular babysitter, Brianna, to stay with the Tyler and Heisler kids at the Heislers, if Emily and Kevin could find babysitting for Kayla and J.J. That was no problem; there were two sets of grandparents nearby and both liked doing it. Scott suggested they could fire up the grill; it still worked no matter what the weather, and they wouldn’t have to eat outside.

Things were getting pretty well advanced when Sonja made the comment, “Bring some robes. There’s nothing that drives away the winter blues like sitting in the hot tub with the water up to your nose and the snow blowing in your face, but it gets a little cold getting from the porch to the tub.”

“Sounds like a deal,” Emily said – and then remembered how the Tylers and the Heislers usually dressed in the hot tub, too late to back out gracefully.

Realistically, Jason and Vicky could have backed out of the deal – they hadn’t committed to it, after all – but after some two- and four-cornered discussion decided to go along anyway. They were having cabin fever just about as bad as Emily and Kevin, and maybe it wouldn’t be quite so embarrassing if the crowd was that much bigger. In the end, they’d all brought swimsuits just in case they wouldn’t have to go through with it, but each one had agreed that they’d feel pretty embarrassed to be the only odd one out in a crowd of naked flesh.

Jason was the most complacent about the whole thing, and decided to lighten things up a little. “Come on,” he said. “Didn’t any of you ever get involved in a mixed skinny-dipping party out at the lake when you were kids? When you’re, oh, sixteen or seventeen, it’s one of the more thrilling things you can do.”

“Never did,” Emily said.

“Me either,” Vicky shook her head. “Well, I did with a guy a couple times, but that was one on one, so it was sort of different.” Jason knew she was talking about John Engler. She hadn’t told the story right out, but he doubted that Emily, and certainly not Kevin, knew about that.

“My God, you ’88s were a bunch of squares,” he snorted. “At least I can say I did. And Emily, your mother was part of the group. So was yours, Vicky, and your father.”

“You’re kidding!” Emily exclaimed. “She never told me about that!”

“Do you tell your kids everything?” Jason teased. “Or, do you plan to tell them when you get old enough?”

“Mom never said anything to me about it, either,” Vicky sighed.

“She was pretty sexy naked when she was a kid,” Jason teased. “It was after dark, but there was a full moon so you could see quite a bit. Not that I could see a whole hell of a lot, because she spent most of the time in a lip lock with her boyfriend.” Who was not Joe, either, Jason thought, but Vicky didn’t need to know that.

“It’s just hard to imagine,” Vicky said from behind the wheel.

“I’ve heard it said that every generation thinks it invented sex,” Jason grinned. “If anything, you kids backed off a little from what it was like back in the hippie days when I was a kid.”

Vicky twisted her head to glance at Emily, and the return glance told her all she needed to know: there was no backing out now.

In the end, it wasn’t all that bad. Robes and sandals weren’t enough to really protect them from the cold, biting wind that even penetrated the privacy-fenced hot tub area in Scott and Sonja’s back yard. There was little time to think about it and an absolute minimum time taken between losing the robe and getting in the hot water. Once immersed, there wasn’t much to see in the frothing water, although both Kevin and Jason managed a somewhat longer glance at Sonja and independently agreed without saying anything to each other that she had one hell of a body and that Scott was a lucky man indeed.

The hot tub was just big enough to be comfortable for eight, but cozy enough that there was some bare-skin-to-bare-skin contact. Jason wound up with Vicky on one side and Sonja on the other, and thought that while it was nice to be bare hip to bare hip with such a stunning woman, the one under his right arm was much the more preferable.

“So are you guys going to Israel again this year?” Emily asked in an effort to get a conversation going and allay the reserve of nervousness she felt.

“It’d be nice,” Sonja said. “But we can’t go as the four of us. It’s getting a little awkward since we’ve got Sabra in kindergarten now, and Aaron and Amber have Clayton there, too.”

“I’d forgotten that,” Emily said. “They do grow up on you, don’t they? It gets a little more cumbersome than when they’re little.”

“We’ve been pretty lucky,” Amber added. “It’s not that far to run them down to Bradford to stay with their grandparents, but it can’t be done while they’re in school, so that’s going to just get worse. Since we found we’re so close to each other, it’s simplified a few things since we can share babysitting, and it’s going to let us get a little tricky this year.”

“How’s that?” Vicky asked.

“Clayton’s in school in Mason, while Sabra’s here in Okemos,” Sonja explained. “They go on spring break different weeks, so we’re going to watch each other’s kids for a week so we can get a week to go some place separately.”

“Where are you going?” Emily wanted to know.

“We’re going to Las Vegas,” Aaron announced. “Catch some shows, play the slots a little, maybe rent a car for a day or two and do some sightseeing, like Hoover Dam, maybe drive all the way out to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.”

“Not taking a run out to see Jennlynn, I bet,” Vicky giggled.

“It’d be tempting,” Aaron replied. “I haven’t discussed it with Amber, but I doubt she’d think much of the idea. I mean, cut-my-heart-out-with-one-of-Jason’s-knives-and-feed-it-to-me not think much of the idea.”

“Well, you could,” Emily said, half teasing. “If you remember the reunion, she said that if anyone felt like checking it out, they have a real good restaurant there. It’s open to the general public for breakfast and lunch and no involvement in the other available, uh, activities required.”

“It’s an idea,” Amber said dryly. “But I don’t think I’d ever want to admit to seeing the inside of a Nevada whorehouse, no matter how innocent it was.”

“Maybe we’ll have to do it sometime, hon,” Kevin teased his wife, taking the heat off of Amber. “It’d make a real neat item for the class newsletter. Or, even better, for the Courier.”

“God, you really want Reverend Swift to burn our house down, don’t you?” Emily snorted. “Preferably with us in it.”

“Freedom of the press, and all that,” he grinned, and then to divert another exchange asked, “Scott, I suppose you and Sonja have some interesting and exotic plans.”

“Not really,” Scott replied. “We’re going to fly down to Florida, rent a car, and visit a few friends and relatives. My mother’s folks, Sonja’s dad’s folks. We’ll catch a couple of sights, do whatever seems interesting. We haven’t nailed it down, but probably we’re going to spend a night with John Engler, too.”

“What’s he up to these days?” Vicky asked, more out of curiosity than anything else, although there were some ties to good days there.

“This medical supply company he bought is supposedly going great guns,” Scott replied. “He sure got smart and made the right move at the right time. They sell cardiac monitors and defibrillators to ambulance companies and hospitals, but their old supplier went out of business. The place was going down the tubes, and he bought it for peanuts and then hooked up with a new supplier from Japan. He’s rapidly getting into serious big-bucks country. I sure wish I could trip across a deal like that, but I guess you have to be in the right place at the right time.”

“I always said it only takes one good idea,” Jason commented. “Making knives was mine, but it’s not in the same category.”

“I guess I always knew you must pick up a few bucks here and there at it,” Scott probed lightly.

“I’ve done all right considering the time I put into it,” Jason replied. “Granted, some of the sales are pretty big, but it takes some time to do the job right. I could make more money if I put more time into it, and there’s a few shortcuts that could be made to increase the return, but I’ve always treated it as a hobby. That means if I want to do something else I can go and do it. I couldn’t do that if I was trying to make a living at it. That’ll change some when I retire in a few years. I’ll have more time to throw at it if I want to since I won’t have to be working forty hours on top of it.”

“It’s hard to believe you’re thinking about retiring,” Aaron commented. “Jeez, it seems so far away for me.”

“Doesn’t seem all that long from this end,” Jason smiled. “In fact, I’m surprised it’s here this quickly. It could be as soon as about two years, depending on buyouts and the amount of vacation time and sick leave I have accumulated.”

“Got any plans after you retire, other than making knives?” Scott asked.

“Not really,” Jason admitted. “Back when my son was hiking the Appalachian Trail last summer the thought crossed my mind once or twice that I was pretty jealous of him for getting to do it. On the other hand,” he said, reaching out under the water to grasp Vicky’s hand, “I’ve come to realize that I’m not sure I want to be out of Bradford for that long. But it’s two years off and a lot could happen. I’m not old enough to move to Florida and wait to die.”

As he felt Vicky give his hand a hard squeeze under the water, Emily said, “It’s hard to believe you’re as old as you have to be. I mean, I kind of think of you as being a little older than Kevin, but not a lot older. But then on the way up here when you were talking about hanging out with Vicky’s mother and my mother and father in school I have to believe you’re as old as they are.”

“I’m looking at fifty in another year,” Jason smiled. “When I was in high school, fifty seemed downright elderly, I mean, ready-for-a-nursing-home elderly. Now that I’m here, it doesn’t seem so old at all. I guess you’re only as old as you feel, and frankly, a lot of the time I have trouble believing I’m as old as I am. I can accept being just a little older than Kevin, since that’s about how I feel.”

He felt something else as he made that statement – Vicky’s hand slipping out of his and reaching a few inches away to grope him; he grew hard at the touch. He looked at her and smiled with a look that said, “If you keep that up I’m going to be forced to do you in this hot tub right in front of everyone,” and received an enigmatic grin back that seemed to say, “Fine with me.” To prove she meant it, she twisted a little to lean back against him, putting a breast within easy reach.

Were there any question, she let go of him just long enough to take his hand and put it there. Her words masked her action: “I have trouble believing it, too. But you’re still the same guy who fixed my tricycle when I was tiny, so I guess it has to be.”

“Is this a story I haven’t heard?” Emily asked.

“It might be, I don’t know,” Vicky said as she resumed her pleasurable grip under water. She went on to tell a brief version of the tricycle story, while luxuriating in the feel of his hand playing with the very hard nipple of one breast. “We’ve been friends ever since,” she concluded.

“I’ll tell you what,” Jason said, trying to cover up the very pleasurable touching he was getting under the opaque froth of the water. “One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is to come to the realization that Vicky is all grown up now. In many ways she’s still the little girl who asked me to make her tricycle well.”

In time, they were pretty well cooked by the warm waters of the hot tub, and one by one and two by two would have to sit up on the edge of the tub in the frigid air to cool off a little; no one seemed to mind, now.

In the next hour or longer they talked of many things: the Heislers and the Tylers were planning a kid-free summer trip to Norway, and another one to Cedar Point with the kids. If that went all right, they planned on doing Disney World in a future year, but conceded that Scotty and Cheyenne, the younger kids, were just a little bit too young this year and it might be another year.

They talked of other plans, too. The Holsts, Vicky and Jason still had tentative plans for a week on the bikes, doing a trip east, visiting Eve and other friends in the east, then riding down the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway as far as they could get in the time remaining. The four of them were planning on taking the Holst kids on a motorcycle camping trip in northern Michigan; that would be a short one, two or three days to see how the kids got along with it. Emily and Kevin planned on taking another week to do a trip somewhere with the kids, and Disney World was on a possible target list that hadn’t been firmed up.

Jason and Vicky had earmarked a week for themselves; the destination hadn’t been decided either, but riding the bikes north and around Lake Superior had been discussed. Jason, with his seniority, might or might not use some of his greater amount of vacation time to visit Duane, wherever he might be, assuming Vicky didn’t decide to go with him and leave the Lake Superior trip for another year.

When the time came to head in, they were so heated up by the warm waters that it really wasn’t any big deal to get out and head for the house in the nude, only grabbing their robes in passing; after the last hour, the nudity wasn’t embarrassing at all. Jason and Vicky headed for Scott and Sonja’s room to change back into street clothes, but as soon as the door was closed, Jason whispered in her ear, “You little imp! The way you were groping me it was all I could do to keep from doing you right there.”

“Don’t think I didn’t want it right there,” she smiled as she put her arms around him. “But if we’re quick, we can still squeeze one in.”

Ten minutes later, they headed back out to the living room, fully dressed but with smug and satisfied expressions on their faces. “You know,” Jason commented thoughtfully, “I might have to think about getting one of those another year.”

“A hot tub?” Vicky confirmed.

“Dern tootin’,” he smiled at her in mutual enjoyment of their little adventure carried out under everyone’s noses. “After all, I can’t buy you a motorcycle for Christmas every year.”

“So, Jason, Vicky,” Amber asked casually, “Any plans to get married?”

Vicky glanced at Jason, to see him glancing back. For many months, perhaps as close as a year, they’d had the same question thrown at them – but never that bluntly. It had always been more gently phrased – and rarely thrown at them both at the same time. Emily had been as curious as anyone else, but knew Vicky and Jason well enough to know that if there were such plans they would have talked about it. But the people here didn’t know them as well as she did, or some of the other people they knew.

“We’ve both thought about it,” Vicky replied casually. “But we’ve decided not to decide just yet.”

“There’s no rush,” Jason added. “After all, we’ve been good friends for over twenty years, so why hurry?”

“No problem in taking your time,” Aaron shrugged, somehow realizing that his wife had unknowingly hit on a touchy area. “Amber and I went a year between our first date and when I proposed to her, and sometimes that seemed like things were moving awful quickly. We discovered we had a lot more to find out about each other and about ourselves than we’d ever dreamed.”

“No matter how well you know someone, there’s always things you don’t know,” Emily observed. “I mean, Vicky has been my best friend all my life, and I never knew about her knife throwing until the Maple Leaf last year.”

“Like I said, there were reasons to keep it quiet when I was younger,” Vicky replied defensively. “And after I moved back to Bradford, the subject just never came up until then.”

“I guess I knew Jason was pretty good,” Emily smiled. “As much else as you’ve picked up from him over the years, I should have suspected that, too. But it’s just not something I would have thought of.”

“I suppose there’s a lot of things like that,” Vicky observed. “I mean, about everyone. You just don’t see the obvious because it’s so obvious that you overlook it.”

“True,” Aaron nodded. “And then you find the truly unexpected, and it can really floor you.”

“Well, yeah,” Vicky said, “I mean, back when I was in high school I never thought I’d be riding a Harley around.”

“I think a lot of us have done things we never expected when we were in high school,” Emily said, picking up on Vicky’s attempt to change the subject. “I certainly never thought I’d become the mayor, of all things. It’s really not that big a deal, but it wasn’t something I ever thought I’d do.”

“Or that you’d wind up with your boot marks on the city manager’s backside,” Kevin laughed.

“I didn’t fire him,” Emily grinned, the conversation’s direction adequately changed. “He did it to himself.”

“Sounds like there must have been an interesting evening in dear old Bradford,” Aaron laughed.

“It was just a matter of time,” Emily shrugged, and turned to their friends. “Our old city manager, well, I don’t want to call him incompetent, but he could have done a better job, especially at not getting people mad at him. He really thought it was demeaning to have to work in a town like Bradford, and it really ground at him that I’m a woman, I’m not a college graduate, and I manage a convenience store. We went for months when he could barely hide his contempt, and sometimes he couldn’t manage that. He also wasn’t smart enough to realize keeping his job depended on keeping at least four votes on council. He had two votes against keeping him from the minute I went on council, and the arrogant way he was acting after I became mayor made me wonder just how bad I wanted to vote to keep him, too.”

“It helps if you can avoid biting the hands that feed you,” Jason grinned.

“That’s what I mean, not smart enough to realize that,” Emily smiled. “His contract was up for renewal the end of February, and he was dumb enough to file a proposal asking for a twenty-percent increase in pay, increased benefits, and things like that. He cited a study he’d done of what city managers in other similar sized communities were getting, but I noticed – we all noticed – that all the communities were in the Detroit area. Towns in our part of the state, like, oh, Wychbold or Amherst were conspicuous by their absence. I knew darn well the city manager in Wychbold wasn’t making anything like he wanted, because I asked when we did Mayor Exchange Day a year ago. I mean, I might have been willing to go along with a reasonable salary increase, but he was trying to see how much he could take us yokels for. So I had the last vote and it was three to three when it got to me. He looked at me with a look that said, ‘You wouldn’t dare!’ I looked back at him, smiled, and voted no.”

“He didn’t like it, I take it?” Hannah smiled.

“Not one bit. Like I said, I would have been willing to discuss a decent counterproposal, but he wouldn’t have anything to do with it. He got real surly and said, ‘Very well, you’ll have my resignation in the morning.’ There was something in the way he said it that really ticked me off, so I told him, ‘Just write it out on that sheet of paper in front of you and we can accept your immediate resignation right away.’ See, I knew what he was trying to do was to buy himself time until the next council meeting so he could maybe talk Jim Warner or me into changing our minds, but the way he acted I wasn’t going to let him. If there was any question that it was his time to go, that settled it in my mind. Well, he got all in a huff, wrote it out right there, and we accepted it 7-0. We named Jack Conroe, the waste water treatment plant supervisor to be the interim city manager since he’d done it three times before and did a good job. I could see the old city manager was still in a mood to make trouble, so I told Conroe that I’d appreciate it if he and the police chief were present in the morning when he got his personal stuff out of his office to make sure no city property went out the door with him. I mean, if he can be insulting, I can too.”

“I’ll go along with Kevin,” Aaron laughed. “You landed a motorcycle boot square in his backside. So did he go quietly?”

“He wasn’t done making trouble,” Emily sighed. “He gave a very mouthy interview to some young reporter from the Telegram that evening, but I thought that might be the end of it. I mean, he was the one who resigned; he was the one who didn’t want to put up with a bunch of country bumpkins like us. So we went through the whole search committee thing over the next couple months, and by the end of last month we had it narrowed down to three finalists. Of course, who they were was published in the Courier, just like it was supposed to be. Well, this joker called up all three of the finalists and ranted about what a bunch of brainless, insensitive backcountry yokels we were, and all three of them bombed out, which tells me they weren’t capable of doing the job, anyway.”

“Probably good thinking,” Amber smiled.

“I thought so,” Emily nodded. “Well, it came to me one afternoon down at the store that we’ve had Conroe as interim city manager three different times. Each time he’s got things running smoothly after the previous city manager left so a new one could louse them up again, so I got to wondering, why don’t we just give him the job in the first place and let him keep it? So when Janine came in, I headed down to the plant and put it to him, and he said he’d think about it.”

“Smart move,” Scott observed. “He knows what he has to do and who knows what, so you don’t have to spend months teaching the guy where Main Street is.”

“That was my thinking,” Emily grinned. “I even thought my idea was original, but no. Every member of the council and a dozen members of the community went to him with the same idea, and eventually he went along with it. So now, we have a city manager who likes it in Bradford and doesn’t see it as a place to make a reputation to take somewhere else. It was the long way around, but I think it worked out in the end.”

“And in the process, you gave the old city manager another boot in the ass,” Kevin smiled. “Serves him right, he needed his little red wagon fixed.”

“He might make a good department head in a larger city where he could have regular supervision,” Emily shrugged. “He just wasn’t a good fit for our community and that was that. If he could have kept his arrogance and his contempt for us under control I wouldn’t have voted against him and I don’t think Jim would have. I’ll tell you this much. If I could pick a city motto, it would be, ‘We like it here’. I know Bradford isn’t a big deal and I know being mayor is no big deal. It makes me a somewhat bigger fish in a very small pond, but it’s my pond, I’m satisfied with it. There are a lot of kids from the class who have taken the on-ramp over the years, but I’m just as glad I didn’t.”

“How about you, Vicky?” Scott asked. “Do you feel that way?”

“I took the on-ramp once,” she shrugged. “It was the biggest mistake I ever made, and I was real glad to make it back to Bradford. I don’t want to leave, now,” she continued, reaching out to touch Jason’s hand. “After all, everything I want is there.”


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To be continued . . .

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