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

Pulling Even
Book Seven of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
2004, 2009, 2011

Chapter 2

The windshield wipers flipped back and forth, sloshing the heavy rain out of the way as Nicole drove down Lakeshore to her home on Hannegan's Cove. It was blowing pretty hard outside, coming right off the lake, to boot. That shot the hell out of going out for a walk after school to try and think the whole thing out.

Nicole didn't actually think Randy would act badly, but she knew he would be disappointed – and there had been far too many such disappointments in the past, running well back before their marriage, and she'd been responsible for many of them. Crystal's phone call in the middle of sixth hour came as a surprise on many fronts, but it was good that she had called, for it gave Nicole some time to get her own thinking in order for what clearly wasn't going to be a happy evening.

It was a relief to pull into the driveway, to pop the controller for the garage door opener, and to drive inside the garage, where at least it was dry. She and Randy had lived in the big lakefront house just a little less than two years. Home again; she could tell from the other bay in the garage being empty that Randy wasn't home yet. By this time of year, he rarely beat her home, anyway.

There was work to be done, though, dinner to be started, papers to grade. It was best to do what she could before Randy got home, so she could give him her undivided attention. He deserved it, to make up for all the times that she couldn't give it to him. He'd given her an awful lot of slack, a lot of freedom – and as she looked out the window at the rain falling, she knew she hadn't been very good about repaying it. But damn it, there were a couple questions that had to be answered pretty quickly, like maybe tonight, and she doubted the easy answers were going to be the right ones.

The huge living room with its big windows opening on a view of the lake always awed her, even though she couldn't see much out of them right now with the driving rain splashing against them. When she and Randy had designed it, and when Ken had first showed the rendering, she'd known it was going to be pretty awesome – and sometimes it was even intimidating. I sure never expected this, back when I was in Kindergarten and first met Randy, she thought.

Though she and Randy had a long relationship, it had been a rather casual one for much of it. They'd just sort of fallen into being boyfriend and girlfriend, without being able to pick out just when. They'd been juniors when they'd taken each other's virginity, out on Turtle Hill in the back seat of his old Dodge, and they'd had a few other adventures along the way. But, when it worked out that she decided to go to Weatherford College, down near Camden, and he'd decided to go to Northern Michigan University in Marquette, they'd both decided soberly that it was a little useless to try to maintain a long-distance relationship.

She didn't see Randy for two years; in that time, she got engaged and disengaged, while he'd simultaneously picked up two steady girlfriends, Crystal Chladek and Myleigh Harris. The only way that had worked was that none of the three thought there were any long-range prospects for him with either of the girls, who were the best of friends, anyway, and Randy was as aware of it as anyone else – it was just fun, a casual thing.

Nicole and Randy started going together again after two years, but very casually, without long-range prospects. They both knew she had one thing going for her that Crystal and Myleigh lacked – she'd be willing to stay in Spearfish Lake, where Randy was pretty well going to have to live to take part in the family business, while the other two were not willing. In that time, she'd gotten to be pretty good friends with both Crystal and Myleigh – she'd hiked a part of the AT with Crystal, and Myleigh had introduced her to surfing. They were still good friends, and when one or the other was in Spearfish Lake, which wasn't often these days, they were always house guests, although Myleigh was here much more often than Crystal. None of us have been very fair to Randy, she thought. And damn it, I'm just as bad as they are.

It had been right there in this big living room, just yesterday afternoon, that Myleigh and Trey had decided to consider buying the house up the street. She knew damn well that three years ago, if Randy had even dreamed Myleigh would wind up teaching at Weatherford, playing with the band with Jennifer and Blake more than just once in a while, and living in Spearfish Lake, she wouldn't have had a chance with Randy. She had no worries that anything might happen with her living up the street, for over the weekend it had become clear to both of them that Trey had broken through some of Myleigh's reserves that Randy had never been able to penetrate.

Actually, maybe having Myleigh and Trey close at hand would help with a nagging problem for both of them: though they were natives of the town and grew up there, virtually everyone they knew from school had left town, to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Oh, there were still kids who they'd been in classes with, but not the kind of headed-for-college kids they'd hung out with. As a result, they had few friends their own age in Spearfish Lake, with the exception of Josh and Tiffany Archer. They weren't real close with them, since Josh and Tiffany were extremely busy with their several businesses and dog training – and with Tiffany just having had her baby, that would probably put them farther away.

There were a handful of friends who Nicole worked with at the school around her age, but only a few and none of them social friends. Randy did have several people he worked out with, played in the band with – but most of them were at least twice his age. Well, that's not fair, she thought, but enough older that there's some distance. Myleigh and Trey looked to break that problem a little, even though it would be spring before they'd be there for much more than a long weekend or so.

But that didn't deal with the here and now problem. About all she could do was get the papers graded and have dinner going when he got home, since she was sure as she could be that there wouldn't be any time for it afterwards. Unless Randy worked later – and he'd call if he had to – he'd get home about ten after five. God, she thought, there has to be something . . .

*   *   *

Be positive, Nicole thought as she heard the garage door opening. There's got to be a bright side somewhere. Find it.

As she often did, she greeted him at the door with a kiss. "Hi, lover," she said warmly. "Anything interesting happen today?"

"Yeah," he said offhandedly. "Looks like we won the bid on the Blair gym. It's not all pinned down yet, but it looks like that'll be the big project for the summer. Solkow-Warner was way high. Anyway, the target date on groundbreaking is April 1."

"So that means no spring Canyon trip, I take it?" she said, trying to ease her way into it.

"Yeah, well, the odds were against it anyway," he shook his head. "If it hadn't been that, it would have been something else."

"Well, maybe next fall," she said brightly.

"Not likely," he shook his head again. "We'll probably be dealing with the punch list up through the end of the year. Guess it's just as well. I had a call from Crystal today. She was getting loaded for the last trip of the season and she said the weather stank."

"Any news from her?" Nicole said.

"Yeah, she and Preach are getting married, like the 24th, out in Flag, I guess."

Nicole shook her head; she wanted to be impassive, since Crystal had already told her that news – and the worse news. "It just strikes me as a little surprising, I guess," she said. "I mean, back in August you could tell they were getting close, but somehow I never figured on Crystal marrying a minister."

"Well, me either," he said. "But Preach was up for making the sacrifice of his own goals to become a Canyon bum with her, so the best man won, I guess. They're going to be using the sailing trip to the Bahamas for their honeymoon, so I invited myself out."

"I know," Nicole said. "Crystal called me to tell me, too, and she told me what you said. Randy, I'm sorry."

"Yeah, what the hell," he shrugged. "It was only a week."

Nicole could tell that he was down and didn't blame him in the slightest, but he was taking it a lot better than she'd dreamed. That worried her. "So, are we planning on going to the wedding?"

"We probably should," he replied. "But I think I'd just as soon give it a pass. They'll be up here in another month. Let Mohammed come to the mountain for once."

"Maybe we should go," she frowned, wondering what was going through his mind. "I mean, we do have friends there who won't be coming to Myleigh's wedding."

"Yeah, and most of them are rafters," he said sadly. "They'll be sitting around talking about the great times they had in the Canyon, and I'll just be wishing I could go do it again and know I can't. There's no point in torturing myself." He let out a sigh. "Shit, we can't even send them a toaster for a wedding present. There's no place for them to plug it in."

"We could still go to Buddha and Giselle's," Nicole said, beginning to see what the point was, and yes, he was a lot more negative than he seemed on the surface.

"In theory, we could," he agreed listlessly. "But the real chance of that got blown up when Myleigh and Trey set their wedding for the 29th. That means we couldn't fly down before the 30th, and I have to be back on the third. What with everything, flying eats up the whole day each way. That only leaves a couple days down there we could surf, so it's not worth the money or the effort. Then it will probably be flat as a baby's ass, like it was on our honeymoon – alleged honeymoon – we got screwed out of half of. No, I think I learned my lesson today. Don't plan anything since it won't come off." He shrugged. "If you want to go down and surf, you might as well, since you don't have to race back for an important meeting that doesn't mean anything."

"Randy, I am not going without you," Nicole said flatly. "Can't you get that meeting moved?"

"I suppose in theory I could," he said. "But I bitched and whined and moaned enough as it was; I don't want to have to go back to them again."

"You could go back to them and tell them things have come up," she said. "And they have."

"Yeah, I know," he said glumly. "But if I do, then some other damn thing will come up. Nicole, I've planned one too many trips, screwed around with one too many dates, and then have to stay here and work instead. So, screw it. I guess Crystal and Preach found out where they're supposed to be, which is in the Canyon. I'm supposed to be out busting my ass at Clark Construction, and the Canyon or the Bahamas or Florida or whatever the hell is not where I'm supposed to be. So, fuck it. I won't try any more. Crystal and Preach get to go places, Myleigh and Trey get to go places, you get to go places, but I guess I don't. So be it."

Oh, God! This was every bit as bad as she'd worried it might be. "I knew I should never have done that trip in August," she sighed.

"There were good reasons for you to do it," he sighed. "Not the least of which is I don't want you resenting me because I'd hold you back when you get the chance to go somewhere."

"I realize that," she said. "I've heard it from you before. But Randy, aren't you beginning to resent me for being able to do things?"

"Well, no, Nicole," he protested. "It's just that . . . well . . ."

"You're jealous. Same difference," she shook her head. "Randy, I did some figuring this afternoon. We've been married for ninety-five weeks. We've been gone someplace together four of those. I've been gone someplace without you seventeen weeks. You've been gone without me zip. That's not fair."

"It can't be that bad," he said. "I did that Canyon trip that time."

"If you include that, we have to include my summer on the trail," she said. "Granted, it gets you off zip, but the numbers are even worse. I can't have you resenting me for it more and more. I can't fix what's in the past, but I'm going to do what I can to even things out in the future. Randy, I'm not going to go off on a trip without you until things balance up a bit. That includes Mosquito Valley."

"I thought you wanted to do Mosquito Valley again this year."

"I do want to do it," she said. "Harmony and I are getting the program pretty close to free standing. She may be able to be back this summer, and she may not. Randy, Mosquito Valley is important to me, but you're a hell of a lot more important. The hell with the Girl Scouts."

Randy shook his head. "Nicole, you don't have to do that."

"I think I do," she said. "Crystal, and Myleigh, and I have been awful to you, going off on our adventures and leaving you behind. I can't do anything about them, but I can do my best to make things up. Myleigh told me how lonely you were last year, and so did Jennifer. I won't let that happen again. Now, you're going to have some slow weeks in January and February. While I'd like to go down to Buddha and Giselle's over the holidays with you, if we can't, we can't. But that doesn't mean you can't go by yourself later on. Or somewhere else, I don't care, but go someplace and make me feel jealous for once!"

"There's a problem with that, and you know it," he sighed. "Who do I go with? I don't get any big charge out of being off by myself. Hell, when you did the AT, you had Jackpine with you; when you're at Mosquito Valley, you've got kids and counselors; you had Crystal when you did the Canyon last year. I don't even want to go to Buddha and Giselle's alone. Just who the hell do I go with?"

He had a point, and Nicole knew it. Josh was out of the question; January through March was his busiest time of the year, and much of it would be spent in Alaska. Randy's older friends had jobs and families they couldn't get away from, and didn't have outdoor tastes, except for Rod, who was taking classes, and Blake, who you couldn't get away from Jennifer's side with a wood splitter. There weren't many other possibilities. "I don't know," she shook her head finally. "There has to be someone."

"Believe me, I've thought about it," he said. "In fact, I've thought about it a lot over the last four winters. The only time I've ever brought anything like that off is when Matt and I came and visited you on the AT that time, and that was only over a long weekend, when Janelle was working anyway. It's hard to find someone who can just break free and go that time of year, and not take their wives with them."

"Yeah, that is a problem," she said. "Too bad . . . hey, I got an idea! How about if you call and see if you can get that stupid appointment rescheduled and we can go surfing like we planned? Maybe someone will be staying over a few days. At least you'd have some friends to surf with."

"Could be," he said with a frown. "Even if I can't get the meeting rescheduled, maybe I could head back down and hang around if it looks like someone else is going to be there. But let's try to keep it loose. I'm just getting to the point where I hate planning this shit and having it blow up in my face."

"Probably a good idea," she agreed. "Let's keep it loose next summer, too. We might get a chance for some weekends, maybe even three-days if everything works right."

"Sounds good," he said. "But you're going to be at Mosquito Valley."

"Randy, I said I'm not going to be at Mosquito Valley. I intend to be standing at the door holding a cold beer for you when you come home."

"You don't have to do that," he said, shaking his head. "I mean, I appreciate the thought, but, well . . . it'd get sort of boring for you."

"No more boring than when you've sat around here in January and February, waiting for me to get home from school," she snorted. "I'll find something to do."

"I'm afraid I wouldn't be much fun when I get home," he sighed. "Hell, you've seen me before and after you go to Mosquito Valley. After a fourteen-hour day, I don't want to do much but sleep, or maybe have a drink or two to help me get to sleep."

"I realize that," she said. "At least I can be the one to bring it to you. This summer won't be that bad, will it? I mean, you're not going to be working on an album on top of everything else, at least."

"No, there is that," he agreed. "Jennifer managed to time her pregnancy, so it'll be fall before we start recording. We'll probably do some jamming before she gets too big, but after Labor Day we'll hit it pretty good. On the other hand, the Blair project is a school job, and what you lose on one hand you get back on the other."

"Randy, is there anything I could do to help? I mean, I know a lot of your time is spent on scutwork. Maybe there'd be something I could do, like say if prints need to get hauled down to the job or something. It might buy you time to do something else."

"I don't know," he shrugged. "Maybe. Hard to say. Granddad just kept up that kind of schedule for forever, six and seven days a week."

"I'm not much on management," she said. "But killing yourself, doesn't seem to be the most effective way. Besides, I wonder about your grandfather sometimes."

"What do you mean?"

"Your father told me once, years ago, that your grandfather didn't keep that kind of schedule before your grandmother was killed in that car wreck. Maybe he started doing it to keep his mind busy, and just never quit. Maybe that's why he never got married again. Now he's loading more and more of it onto you because of his heart problems, but that doesn't mean you couldn't bring in someone to delegate some authority to."

"There's not that kind of money in the budget," he said.

"And who makes the budget? Randy, I'll go talk to them if you won't. I've got arguments you can't use. Look, you told me once, the reason you went to work there was that there wasn't any management depth. There isn't now. Your grandfather isn't capable of handling things like he used to. What happens if something happens to you?"

"Let me think about it a bit," he nodded. "You've definitely got a point, but I need an idea of how the work flow would get changed so I'd know what I'm talking about. As far as that goes, maybe I could get some construction management major down here from NMU for the summer. That could ease the load a little and wouldn't have to cost a ton. It's something to think about, though."

"Good," she said. Really good! This was easier than she'd expected. "Maybe we can get to go somewhere this summer. Probably not a week, but a three- or four-day trip, maybe."

"We'll have to see," he smiled. "I've got to admit, though – Crystal and Preach, that just seems so wild."

"Maybe not," she smiled. "He was a lot different on the trip in August than he was when we ran with him in May. I think the Canyon and Crystal wore a little of the shine off of him, and he wore a couple of the rough spots off of Crystal."

"Could be," he said. "Crystal was always one to play hard, by which I don't mean party hard."

*   *   *

The trick, Nicole thought, was going to be keeping Randy from obsessing about the news too much. He was capable of thinking himself into a serious funk without much difficulty, but, if his mind was on something else until the shock wore off, they might get through the next few days without him being too bitter and negative – and without him dragging her along as a result. In two years, she'd learned that his bad moods, although rare, could get her down just as easily.

It would have been tempting to spend the evening pushing some heavy duty sex at him. They liked their play and they had learned to be pretty good at it, even though the spells between that kind of play were getting to be longer and longer. But she rejected the idea – it would seem to him like a pity fuck, a mercy fuck. That was the last thing Randy needed this evening. What he did need was closeness, understanding, and support, and with any kind of luck, she could provide that.

Fortunately, she'd set steaks to thawing before she left for school that morning. The weather was really too crappy to use the grill on the back porch, so she just decided to broil them, while she talked with Randy in the kitchen. Usually pretty good about pitching in with kitchen chores, he peeled potatoes and some carrots while she fiddled with the steaks and dessert. Once again, she thought about getting into something a little sexier than teaching clothes, just to give him some eye candy – but again, it felt like it could lead to that mercy fuck she didn't think was a good idea. Besides, it was rainy, damp, and a touch chilly, and, oh, a camisole and miniskirt wouldn't be very comfortable this evening.

But that led to a thought – in fact, a lot of them. "Randy," she spoke up, "You know what would feel real good tonight?"

"What do you have in mind?"

"Oh, I was just thinking that a nice, long soak in a hot tub would relax both of us," she smiled.

"Yeah, it would," he agreed. "Maybe we ought to think about getting one, one of these days. It was on the plans for this place, but that was one of the corners we cut to bring it in under budget and on schedule. We couldn't do everything at once back then."

"Couldn't we do it now?" she wondered.

"I suppose we could," he said offhandedly. "It's not like we're going to get to use that vacation money we've been saving. As long as we're going to be stuck at home, we might as well be comfortable."

Is he being sensitive about this or what? she wondered. On the other hand, though, in a way he's right. I think we've come to the realization that we're not going to be able to do the kind of major trips we'd once dreamed of doing. Or, at least, do them very often. From his viewpoint, he's being realistic, even if it means being fatalistic. "You know," she replied thoughtfully. "I think you have a point there. If we're going to be here more than we want to be, we might as well plan on enjoying it. Think how good it would feel after a tough day next summer."

"There is that," he agreed, if a little grumpily. There's not much point to working as hard as I do without being able to enjoy it somehow. Tell you what – I've got to see Danny tomorrow anyway on some of the stuff for his building. Let me see what he's got."

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To be continued . . .

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