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 33

Saturday, July 1, 2000

Two by two, the four Harleys rumbled up the quiet, shady suburban street, likely rattling the window panes in the houses they passed. It was an older neighborhood, an upscale subdivision from perhaps the fifties, consisting of moderate-sized, comfortable homes with impeccable yards, the kind of neighborhood young professionals with young children would be likely to want to live in. It was not the kind of neighborhood where a pack of noisy motorcycles would be expected to roll slowly and menacingly past. Vicky couldn’t help but wonder how many people were thinking about calling the cops.

The four bikes stopped at a stop sign, made a left turn, and toward the end of the street, made another. Up in a cul-de-sac stood a gray brick house, with several midsize trees in the yard. Emily didn’t need to refer to the notes in her pocket to realize that this was the place, so she led the four of them right up the driveway and stopped in front of the garage door next to a white Ford Taurus. One by one, the bikes were shut down and leaned onto kickstands. Helmets and gloves were coming off when they heard a familiar voice say, “You don’t exactly need to knock on a door to announce you’ve arrived, do you?”

They all glanced up to the front porch, where Eve was standing, a grin broad on her face, wearing a nice summer dress, with her slightly taller, dark-haired husband wearing khaki pants and a sport shirt. Both of them looked like midgets, because behind them stood a very tall blonde, seeming to be head-high to the eaves of the house, wearing a tank top and short shorts, with enough belly showing between to make it look as if she’d just grown a foot, a giantess indeed. Her long, long legs reached down to one of the highest pairs of heels any of them had ever seen on a woman. “Darn right,” Shae grinned. “I’ll bet you have the neighbors hiding the silverware. You look like a motorcycle gang rolling in.”

“Right,” Emily laughed. “The Knives have arrived to pillage and plunder. God, it’s good to see all of you.”

“You’ve been having a good trip?” John asked with a grin.

“Very good,” Emily reported. “We caught one day that was wet and crummy, but that’s something you just have to take when you’re traveling like this. But the scenery has been awesome, and we’ve seen some sights and had a lot of fun.”

“You’re going to have to tell us all about it,” Eve grinned. “That has to be such a neat trip. I’ve never even ridden on a motorcycle; I just admire all of you for doing it. You’ll have to come in and tell us all about it.”

“We’ll have to give you a ride before we leave,” Vicky replied. “Give us a few minutes to button up, get out of leathers, and into something comfortable. They’re OK for riding but they get a little uncomfortable just sitting in the sun.”

Shae cocked her head. “Sounds like someone woke up. I’ll go see.” She turned, ducked her head to get under the door frame, and went inside.

“You know,” John grinned, “Sometimes I wonder who the mommy here really is. I think she gets as much fun out of Sergei and Milla as we do.”

There was some degree of confusion for a few minutes as people unloaded gear from motorcycles, went inside to use the bathroom and change to shorts, T-shirts and tank tops more appropriate for this hot day. In a few minutes, they were gathered on a shady patio in the back of the house.

“Before we get too deep into the serious reminiscing,” Eve said, “There’s probably one thing I should ask. Everyone here knows about me, of course, and so do Mom and Dad and Chad and Cheryl, who will be here tomorrow. But we’ve made a point of not telling the neighbors, and I’m afraid they’re freaked out enough already by having a giantess hanging around much of the time, and now a bunch of crazed motorcyclists on Harleys. The couple next door is especially nosy, and I’d expect they’ll make their appearance some time. If they should happen to show up, I’d appreciate it if you were a little discreet.”

“Sure,” Vicky said. “We realize things have to be hard enough on you as it is, so there’s no point in our making it worse.”

“I appreciate that,” Eve smiled. “It’s something we’re prepared to handle if we have to, but being new here, and having the children here even newer might make things a little awkward. Emily, are we going to be having any more visitors?”

“Afraid not,” she replied. “It’s like the last time I told you. Mandy has something going, I think with her boyfriend. Dave Patterson and his wife are going to be at some family thing on Cape Cod. I haven’t talked to him directly, but his mom told me at the store he’d rather be here. She said his wife’s family thinks their dealie is more important than he thinks it is. I get the impression he doesn’t get along with his in-laws very well and is trying to not make waves.”

“That’s a shame, but I know what it’s like to have difficult in-laws,” Eve nodded. “And they don’t even know I’m ‘T’. That would make it much worse.”

Shae was the last to arrive, carrying two blonde-haired children barely a year old. “This must be Sergei and Milla,” Emily beamed.

“They’re not all the way awake yet and they’re just a little bit cranky,” Shae said, handing Milla to Eve, who took the child in her arms, and Sergei to John, who did the same. “I’ll go get them something to drink.”

“You sound like the perfect nanny,” Emily grinned.

“I spend a lot of time around little kids,” Shae smiled as she headed inside. “I like them, but I never get to spend much time around kids this small, so it’s a real treat.”

“Shae has been a godsend the past couple months,” John said. “She comes over most weekends to help us learn how to be a mommy and daddy.”

“Shae spent years teaching me how to be a woman,” Eve shook her head. “Now she’s doing it again. When you grow up a boy, you just don’t learn all the ins and outs of managing small children that you soak up almost automatically when you’re a girl.”

“It’s been a problem,” John conceded. “I mean, I got more of it than the normal boy, but Shae is still way ahead of us. But we’re still gaining ground, even though we wound up with twice as much parenthood as we were after.”

All of them knew that there was a story waiting to be told, but they only had the outline of it; now they got to hear it in detail. Even when they’d been just getting together back in grad school, John and Eve knew they were strongly inclined toward parenthood, despite the obvious impossibility of Eve bearing children. Their decision to get married years before, back when both of them were starting work on their doctorates, carried with it the agreement to eventually adopt children. Since they had schooling to complete and careers to establish, they’d decided to put it off until the time was right.

With Eve’s background – which couldn’t realistically be covered up in the circumstances – both of them had expected a little more trouble than average in arranging for an adoption. They’d optimistically thought their well-paid professional jobs, high level of education, and especially Eve’s work in human services would overcome some of the obvious difficulties. They’d far underestimated the difficulties – “We got the runaround for two years and never even got our feet in the door,” John sighed.

“We had to deal with some of the most prejudiced, stupid people you can imagine,” Eve snorted. “I know ‘T’ people who have worked their way through that system, but apparently not in Pennsylvania. I have no idea how they could have managed it.”

As time went on and difficulties increased, their thoughts began to turn more and more to a foreign adoption. “There are some incredible scams and con artists running around in that field,” Eve reported. “The legitimate people are hard to find, but I was able to use some professional contacts to make things work. It still wasn’t cheap, and you would not believe the paperwork.”

Three months before, with everything arranged to pick up Sergei, they’d flown to Russia on what they expected would be a fairly quick trip – but at the orphanage, they discovered a poignant situation. In the bed next to Sergei was a little girl with a captivating smile. They were told that her planned adoption had just fallen through, and they knew from all the trouble they’d had with Sergei that there was a planned change in regulations going into effect shortly that was going to make future adoptions more difficult. John and Eve had only to look at each other to wordlessly make a decision to add the little girl to their family.

It was not a simple process on either end; the Russian end was only managed because John, who had a course in the language back in undergraduate school, had spent a year of intensive language study with this trip in mind, figuring that he might need the skill. He was right. “We’d never have been able to manage it if Milla’s adoption hadn’t been well along anyway,” he explained. “Some of the paperwork was transferrable, especially with a few bribes here and there. Then there were more hassles on this end, but we finally got all the paperwork stamped.”

“We got back home to find out Mom and Dad and Shae had redecorated the kids’ room for us,” Eve grinned. “A second crib, more toys, you name it. If we hadn’t had them to run around on paperwork on this end, we’d never have managed it, either.”

“I suspect that there may be the odd office or two here and there that thinks Shae is Mrs. John McClellan,” John shook his head with a smile.

“Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies,” Shae laughed – she’d since rejoined them, carrying spill-resistant cups of juice for the kids.

“I suspect Shae may have stared the odd bureaucrat down, too,” Eve snickered. “It is very hard to win a staring-down match with Shae, especially when you have to look so far up to look her in her evil eye. She can be rather intimidating when she wants to.”

“At least I get a little claim on the kids that way,” Shae shrugged. “I’m beginning to think I’ll never have kids of my own, so maybe I’ll have to borrow John and Eve’s once in a while.”

“Been there, done that,” Vicky nodded bleakly, trying to keep a smile on her face. “I’ve borrowed Kevin and Ems’ kids on occasion, but they’re getting a little old for that. It helps, but it’s not the same thing.”

“I thought you had a boyfriend, Shae,” Emily observed politely.

“I did,” Shae sighed. “I finally gave up. Too much jock mentality, too infantile, too much sleeping around. It’s not unknown in the NBA, but it finally got to be too much to handle. Besides, I wasn’t all that sure how bad I wanted to have kids with someone who was taller than me, anyway. It was hard enough to grow up a freak like I am; I wasn’t sure I wanted to run the risk of having kids who were taller yet. I mean, I wouldn’t want to wish it on them. So I’m not even seeing anyone now. Not wanting to take anything away from Eve, but sometimes I wish I hadn’t let her marry my prom date.”

“It took being in the right place at the right time,” Eve replied smugly. “You were down in Greenville or someplace when my chance came.”

“A beautiful woman like you, Shae,” Jason shook his head, “I can’t believe you aren’t beating men off with a baseball bat.”

“It’s not as simple as it seems,” Shae sighed. “I could have a different date every night of the week if I wanted to date someone with a fetish for tall women dominating them. Maybe hanging out with Eve has made me more sensitive to it than I need to be, but that’s just not what I’m looking for in a guy.”

“Yeah,” Jason nodded. “I guess I hadn’t thought about it, but I can see how it could be a problem.”

“Maybe someday the right guy will come along,” she sighed again. “But we don’t need to get into that. It’s a downer and this is supposed to be a happy time. So come on, tell us about your trip.”

“It’s been pretty good,” Emily said, understanding the conversation had been nearing a touchy area. Even back in high school Shae had been respected because of her athletic ability, but never very popular – she was too much of a freak. Thinking back, Emily could remember Shae doing very little dating – Dave Patterson a couple times, and then a hot romance with Denis, of all people. She now knew, of course, that the latter had only been the appearance of a hot romance the two had fabricated to cover up what was really going on with him. But, underneath that, as unlikely a pair as the two were, they’d been the best of friends since high school days, and even marriage hadn’t lessened the friendship much. Emily knew that Denis, and later Eve, had leaned on Shae quite a bit over the years to make it through, but realized without being told that the reverse was also true. It also went without saying that in spite of everything, which included being the title character on a popular kids’ television show, a fairly sought after model, and a part-time sportscaster, that Shae, except for her two special friends and now their children, was really a pretty lonely woman.

Over the next few minutes, Emily and the other three bikers gave a brief account of the trip. It included the ride through the Smokies, the whitewater raft ride, the ride back north through the mountains of the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah National Park, the beautiful views. Then, yesterday afternoon, the incredibly moving visit to Gettysburg, made more meaningful by their familiarity with the cannon hobbyists at Malvern Hill. Those cannons may have been toys, but the real things had been responsible for a bloodbath – this just one of many bloodbaths in the Civil War. The chill was still with them as they’d camped at Pine Grove Furnace State Park last night, then rode through the Pennsylvania Dutch country to here.

“It sounds like a great trip,” Eve smiled. “I’ve been trying to cut back on my travel, but I still have to do a good deal. It’s almost always on business. It’s been a long time since we’ve gone anywhere just for the sake of getting away. Chad and Cheryl and John and I made a couple of Florida trips when we were still in school, but that was years ago, when Shae was still in Durham. Perhaps we’ll have to plan something like that again someday, but having children now puts a different spin on things.”

“It sure does,” Emily agreed. “But I don’t even have to hint about how much fun you’ll have when these two little tykes are big enough to take to Disney World.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Eve beamed. “I’ll say this much, I never dreamed how much work it would be to become an instant parent, but I never dreamed how rewarding it would be, either. It’s already worth all the trouble we went through, and I can see there’s going to be better times ahead. So do you have any more big trips planned in the future?”

“It’s hard to say,” Jason replied. “At one point we’d talked about going out west next year to take a river trip with my son, but now there’s a chance it might not come off.”

“Your son?” Eve frowned. “Oh, yes, I remember him! He’d have to be all grown up now, wouldn’t he? What’s he doing?”

“The last thing you’d ever expect a Bradford kid to be doing,” Jason smiled, then stopped and looked at his hostess with a grin. “No, the next to the last thing. As we speak, he’s at the oars of a raft, guiding a trip down the Grand Canyon.” There was no point in explaining it was Duane’s first trip as a full boatman – he’d made his insurance qualifications easily, he’d told his father the last time they’d had a phone call, and they were shorthanded enough that there was no waiting around.

“A Grand Canyon raft guide?” Eve smiled, catching Jason’s allusion easily. “You’re right, that’s a little more unusual than running a fork truck at General. Did some problem come up that you’re not going out for a trip with him?”

“We’re not sure,” Kevin said. “All the indications are the place Vicky and I work at may be closing in a couple years, so we’re thinking we may want to hold onto our money. It’s not a done deal in any way, but it’s enough to get us thinking.”

The other three Bradfordites just glanced at each other. They’d talked a lot about the possibility of expanding the knife business, but they had agreed to keep it among themselves for a while. It had been a prime topic of conversation in every motel and campground along the way, and several good ideas had been developed. Vicky hadn’t brought a notebook with her, but she picked one up at a truck stop the second day out and already had it pretty full of some of the ideas and notes they’d generated. The more they’d talked about it, the better the idea had seemed – but there were too many questions that couldn’t be answered on this trip.

“Hopefully you can work it out,” John said. “That would be a neat trip to do sometime. How did your son get involved with that?”

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To be continued . . .

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