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 34

A warm summer afternoon, a nice back yard with a pool, a grill, and a few friends have been all the ingredients needed to make for any number of memorable parties, perhaps the best of all possible parties. It didn’t take long before everyone was in swimsuits, splashing around in the pool – well, everyone but Shae. She was wearing a spectacular string bikini that somehow emphasized her height even more, but she gave the pool a pass to keep a close eye on Sergei and Milla in a small plastic wading pool, while the rest of the adults splashed in the bigger pool. Vicky still felt herself heavy enough that she would have preferred to wear a one-piece swimsuit in most semi-public circumstances involving pools, but in the spirit of keeping the load down had only brought a tiny black bikini with her.

About the only thing even slightly incongruous was that the four from Bradford – men and women alike – on several occasions stole glances and surreptitiously shook their heads at Eve in her stars and stripes theme bikini, which was proportionately even more revealing than Shae’s, if such a thing were possible. All four of them, Kevin included, remembered Denis Riley, and in spite of knowing Eve’s history in detail it was still hard to believe. Visually there could be little doubt there was an attractive, nicely-shaped young woman barely wearing that bikini. But still, nothing was said; Eve had come a long way to be the person she had wanted to be, and had been as successful as she possibly could.

In time, Eve, Vicky and Jason wound up in chairs back in the shade, watching the others play. “You know,” Vicky said, “When you think about it, this is all pretty incredible.”

“That things could have worked out like this?” Eve smiled. “Vicky, a dozen years ago when Shae took that gun away from me, no one would have been more surprised to see this scene than I would have been. I’ve come further than most, but at least I made the trip.”

“Gun?” Jason asked, mildly curious. He hadn’t been present the evening following the Class of ’88 reunion when Eve had detailed her story, and this part had never been passed along to him.

“It’s a long story,” Eve said. “One day back in high school I’d been bullied even worse than normal, and I’d had enough. I was all set to settle a few accounts before I settled my own. Shae caught me, decked me, and took the gun away.” She looked down for a moment; it was still hard for her to remember the stress of that day. “It got very emotional after that, but in the next few minutes I admitted to her, to my parents, and really to myself what I thought I was and what I wanted to be. To my eternal amazement, nobody laughed at me and everyone helped, not just then, but afterward. Among many other things, that was the day that set me on the road to who I am now and the day Shae became my best friend forever.”

“I remember you telling us about that after the reunion,” Vicky nodded. “I’m ashamed to admit that if it had been me, rather than Shae, I wouldn’t have handled it nearly as well.”

“I’m still amazed that Shae did,” Eve shrugged. “My greatest frustration the past few years has been the fact that I haven’t been able to help her solve her problems the way she helped me solve mine. I understand her frustration with her problems in finding a guy. I just got lucky as hell myself, or I’d be right there with her.” She glanced over at Shae playing with the two little kids in the wading pool; one glance told them there was some question as to who was having more fun. “She would be a great mother,” she shook her head. “She’s said on occasion if she doesn’t find a guy in a few years, she may just take a swing at single motherhood when Avalon runs out. I’m not too sure I’m in favor of that.”

“It’s a tough row to hoe,” Jason shook his head. “I had to take a swing at being a single parent twice, and I couldn’t have done it without a lot of help. My folks and Christine, of course, but Vicky’s folks and Vicky all helped out.”

“I remember playing with Duane in a wading pool like that,” Vicky nodded. “Duane must have been right around that age, so I must have been nine or so. I’m pretty sure it was even before you were going with Christine, or at least around the time that started.” She shook her head. “I remember looking forward to the day I could do that with my own kids. Oh, well, some people get lucky, others don’t.”

“Is there some reason you can’t have kids?” Eve asked. “I mean, I’m walking proof that while adoptions are a pain in the butt, they can work.”

“Oh, no, there’s no physical reason I know of,” Vicky shook her head. “I guess I have to say I’m lucky I don’t have kids at this point. My ex was a real louse, but in your business you have to have heard that story before.”

“Yes,” Eve grinned. “Of course, with my specialty it’s usually quite a bit different. But your ex is getting to be a long way in the past, and you’re still a young woman. Is there some other reason?”

Vicky was silent for a long moment. She glanced at Jason, who had his eyes on her, almost asking his permission to speak. “Yes,” she said softly, almost tearfully. “I promised Jason a long time ago I wouldn’t put him in the position his first wife put him in.”

Eve was more than professional enough to realize she was getting into some very touchy ground – but she was also professional enough to walk that ground realizing there were unresolved issues there. “What was that?” she said softly.

“We had to get married,” Jason sighed. “We, uh, we enjoyed the fooling around, but we never figured on it getting serious. Then, after Duane was born, she just couldn’t take motherhood.”

“And left you holding the bag,” Eve nodded.

“I don’t like to put it like that,” Jason replied. “Given a choice, I would have preferred that it hadn’t happened. Or, if it did, that it would have happened a different way. I was left with a situation I didn’t want, but I tried to do my best.”

“From everything I ever heard, and that includes what we were talking about earlier, your best was pretty good,” Eve nodded. “It wasn’t easy, was it?”

“It worked out pretty well,” Jason nodded. “Yes, it was hard, very hard, and I had to love and lose another wife along the way to do it. But I think of my son down there on that river having the time of his life, doing the kinds of things I would have liked to have done if I hadn’t had to raise him. At least I can realize he’s getting to do the sort of things I would have liked to have done.”

“That’s what I mean,” Vicky sighed. “Jason, you’re the only man alive I would like to have children with, but I just can’t ask you to go through it again. You’ve already done so much for me, I can’t ask that of you too.”

“I’ve thought about it,” Jason replied. “In fact, I’ve thought about it a lot. There’s a part of me that would love to do it over again and get it right this time. But Vicky, I’m no spring chicken anymore. I’m almost twenty years older than you are. There’s just no way I can do the job I did with Duane again. To top it off, while I’m in good health, I see guys younger than me dying, and I wouldn’t want to wish a couple of small children on you as a single parent. It wouldn’t be fair to them, and it wouldn’t be fair to you. I don’t want to pull a Christine on you. That was even harder than Jody leaving me with Duane, because at least I loved Christine.”

“Look, you two,” Eve said. “I can’t tell you what to do. It has to be your decision. I can’t give you advice, but if you want to talk about it, most of my job consists of helping people communicate with each other and working out what they want to do. But let me point out that nothing in this life is certain. You have to accept a certain amount of risk if you’re going to move ahead.”

“I can accept that risk,” Vicky said. “Jason, I love you, and I don’t want to lose you, ever. I realize you are older than me, so yes, there’s that risk. But there’s also a risk the other way. I promised you I won’t pull a Jody on you. I’ll keep that promise at the expense of never having kids, no matter how much I want them. That doesn’t mean if we had kids that the risk doesn’t exist of me pulling a Christine on you, and there’d be nothing I could do about it. That would be a hell of a thing for me to do to the man I’ve loved most of my life, and the past couple years have come to love more than ever.”

“The odds are against it happening that way,” he said. “Twenty years does make a difference.”

“Yes, it does,” Vicky said. “Like I said, I can accept that risk. As far as being twenty years older as a father, I could accept that. Things would be different than they were with Duane, there’s no doubt. But there’s some ways they might be better, if for no more reason than you would have more time to do a good job since you wouldn’t have to be pinching every damn dime and working overtime to provide the basics.”

“There is that,” Jason conceded. “You know, we’ve been talking about this deal with Kevin and Emily, and I’ve thought about it on the bike quite a bit. But I’ll tell you this, however it works out, at a minimum it’d have to be done in such a way that you’d be left with my pension and a paid-for house. I won’t risk that, no matter what, even if it means the rest of it doesn’t happen.”

“We haven’t worked things out that far,” Vicky replied. “But I’d pretty well come to the same conclusion myself. Let’s face it: it’s a roll of the dice. The odds seem pretty good without working out the details, but at this point it’s a lot of guesswork.”

“Whether Emily and Kevin fit into it or not, I’m sure it would be adequate to pad out my pension, especially with the two of us working at it,” he nodded. “Vicky, I’m sorry we haven’t talked about this before, but I think we’ve been a little scared of hurting each other’s feelings.”

“I’m sure of it,” she nodded. “I think we’ve been scared to louse up a wonderful friendship.”

“I think we have loused it up a little,” he told her, and got out of the chair where he’d been sitting and joined her on the foot of the chaise lounge she was laying in. “We’ve let things stay static when we should have been moving ahead. I think the time has come to fix that. Vicky, will you marry me?”

“Of course, Jason,” she said, tears coming to her eyes. “Nothing could make me happier.”

There was a long, long kiss there. The words both had longed to say for a year or more had been said, and they had been the right words. Finally, she broke her lips away from his, put her chin on his shoulder and whispered, “Jason, does that mean we can have kids? I mean, I don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“Vicky,” he whispered back, “If I hadn’t known that it goes with the territory in asking you, I wouldn’t have asked.”

“Oh, Jason!” she cried, the tears dribbling down her cheeks. “I don’t know what you could do to make me happier.”

“There’s a few things about it I’d like to have agreed upon,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s anything you can’t agree to.”

“I don’t think you’d ask if I couldn’t agree,” she smiled. “But what?”

“Well, kids, plural,” he smiled. “One of the tough things about raising Duane is that he didn’t have any brothers or sisters. You and your brother filled in a lot and I think made a difference, but I still think Duane missed out on a lot.”

“Sure,” she smiled, scarcely believing this conversation could be going on. In fact she had long given up hope that it could happen. “Fine with me. What else?”

“Fairly soon,” he said with a big smile. “I still am no spring chicken, no matter that you’ve caused me to feel a lot younger just now. But I am to the age where the longer we drag it out the harder it’s going to be, and the more risk there is in something happening before we can get them raised.”

“That’s fine with me,” she smiled. “But I’d like to hold off a little while until after we’re married. I don’t want you or anyone else to think I’m pulling a Jody on you.”

“Thank you, Vicky,” he smiled. “I appreciate that. I know you wouldn’t do it, but in a town like Bradford, appearances count for a lot.”

“Sure,” she nodded. “That doesn’t mean we can’t get married fairly soon.”

“I’m willing to do it however you want,” he smiled. “But given a choice, I’d like to wait until Duane can be with us, and with his work schedule that probably means not before November. He might be able to get free briefly sometime before then, but I can’t say until I talk to him.”

“Sure,” she smiled. “He deserves to be there more than anyone besides you and me. Besides, November sounds like a reasonable engagement.” She looked up and spoke up a little. “Eve, thank you for . . . Eve?”

Eve was nowhere to be seen; somewhere in there she’d slipped away from them. Vicky twisted a little so she could look around better, and saw Eve over playing with Sergei and Milla in the wading pool, with Shae looking on.

“There’s the mark of a true professional,” Jason laughed.

“What’s that?”

“Knowing when to butt the hell out.”

They both got a laugh out of that. “Shall we go tell them?” she smiled.

“Might as well,” he grinned at her, and let out a sigh. “Vicky, I still feel like I’m robbing the cradle with you.”

“Believe me, Jason, you’re not,” she snickered. “I’m not the little girl whose trike you made well a long, long time ago.” She stopped and shook her head. “Did anyone ever tell you about what I told my parents after that? I got teased a little about it when I was younger, but I can’t imagine why no one has brought it up in the last year or so.”

“What’s this?”

“Right after that, someone, an aunt or an uncle, I don’t remember, asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I told them I wanted to grow up and marry you. And now, my God, I’ve grown up and it’s really going to happen. Who says dreams don’t come true?”

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To be continued . . .

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