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 18

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Michelle joining Duane in Spearfish Lake started new rounds of socializing for him with some of the people more or less connected with dog sledding or rafting. Over the next few days, they had dinner a couple times with Josh and Tiffany. Phil and Brandy's legendary mutual inability to do anything constructive with cooking meant that they took the two out to dinner at the Spearfish Lake Inn, the big motel out on the highway that was considered the best eating place in town. Even Danny and Debbie invited them to dinner, which turned out to be one at Blake and Jennifer's. They were all good people, all of them interesting, all of them with fascinating stories to tell – but the people both Duane and Michelle felt most comfortable with in Spearfish Lake were Randy and Nicole Clark, mostly because they were, to some degree, Canyon Tours people. They'd each made a couple trips down the Canyon, more as crew than as customers, so Randy and Nicole were about the only people Duane and Michelle could talk Grand Canyon with and know what they were talking about.

Duane had been to Nicole and Randy's house before, but the night the two of them showed up was the first time Michelle had been there. Her eyes were wide from the moment they drove up to the new, striking avant-garde structure. "Wow, this is quite a house," she said to Duane, who was driving the two of them in his Jeep.

"Wait till you see inside," Duane grinned.

"I don't get it," she protested. "I didn't know the two of them were rich."

"They aren't hurting, but if you want a house like this it helps if you run the construction company," Duane told her. "You don't see it on the river, but in this town Randy is a moderately big cheese and getting to be a bigger one."

Randy had been watching for the two to drive up, and met them at the door. "So, Duane, Michelle," he said as he held the door for them to come in, "How's it been following the huskies around?

"It's going pretty good finally," Duane reported. "According to Tiffany, we're getting caught up a little. At least we're not lacking for snow now."

"Yeah, we've been having a fair amount," Randy agreed. "Let me take your coats. So, Michelle, how do you like working with dogs?"

"It's not as good as the Canyon," she smiled as she peeled out of the parka she'd just bought the other day. Skiing clothes and the things she'd brought from Flagstaff weren't quite cutting it on the back of a dogsled in Spearfish Lake. "But it's fun for a change, when I can't be running in the Canyon, anyway. Randy, this is quite a house."

"Nicole and I like it," he replied. "Actually, it's a little overboard for what we need, but it was intended as a model home, a demonstration of how the company does building houses, so that makes up for it somewhat. I can show you around a little if Nicole doesn't have dinner ready yet."

Randy's house was intended to be a showpiece, and he enjoyed showing it off, especially the great room with its huge windows overlooking the lake, now shrouded in darkness but showing the lights on the far side of Hannegan's Cove. Michelle was suitably awed, but with a reservation, of course: "Now if this was overlooking the Canyon, it'd really be something."

"You know, Michelle," Randy laughed, "I think you have Canyon Fever about as bad as anyone I've ever seen. Even Al takes a trip off every now and then."

"What can I say? I like the Canyon," Michelle smiled.

"Maybe you need a little variety in your life," Randy laughed. "I would have thought that dog sledding would give it to you."

"Oh, it's fun and all that," she agreed. "But it reminds me of just how good I have it when I'm in the Canyon."

"If you two are about through yanking each other's chains," Nicole called out from the kitchen part of the great room, "We could be sitting down to dinner."

"Ah, food, one of my other favorite things," Michelle laughed.

The four of them gathered around the dining table, all in a good mood. Duane had told Randy to tell Nicole not to go to anything special for dinner, but what she served was an old family beef and noodles recipe, which Randy enjoyed a lot and didn't get very often. It was probably just as well, since it was possible to put on weight just looking at it.

"So," Randy said as they settled in to eating, "Did you hear that Scooter and Jim aren't going to be here for Myleigh's wedding after all?"

"No, I hadn't," Duane replied. "I haven't heard anything from her since I went back for the weddings and the crew party."

"Me, either," Michelle added. "Did she say why she wasn't coming?"

"Yeah, they talked it over with Dave and Mary and are going to do some trip down there, Al told me when he called today. It seems they decided they want to go over to some place named Punta San Jose so Scooter and Jim can teach Dave and Mary how to surf. Beyond that, Al said they're having a great time, wish you were here. I guess we'll find out more when we see them. It's not a surprise to me that they're not coming. I sort of got the impression that their coming was more or less a maybe, anyway as Scooter and Jim don't know Myleigh and Trey all that well."

"It doesn't surprise me, either," Nicole snorted. "If I remember correctly, Punta San Jose is over on Baja somewhere. I'll have to admit if I was given a choice between surfing in Baja and going to a wedding of someone I barely knew, off in a frozen wasteland somewhere, I probably wouldn't have a hard time making a decision, either."

"Yeah," Michelle agreed. "I guess it doesn't surprise me all that much, either. I think she originally planned on coming just because the rest of the gang was planning on being here, especially with Crystal being here. It wouldn't surprise me if she's starting to realize that things aren't the way they used to be, and that she and Crystal aren't living in each other's pockets anymore."

"That still seems a little strange when you stop and think about it," Duane said thoughtfully. "I mean, as long as I've known them, you hardly ever see Crystal without Scooter being there, or the other way around. Or, if it was off season, Michelle being with them. I ran with both of them last summer, and it really was a little strange to see one and not have the other close by."

"Yeah," Michelle nodded. "I don't think we're going to see much more of that. I mean, Preach and Jim seem to get along all right, but I think if you get right down to it, they don't really like each other all that much. I mean, not that they're sworn enemies or anything, it's just, well, they have different interests and see things a different way."

"In spite of the fact that Preach isn't a minister any more, he's still pretty spiritual," Duane observed. "Jim, well, he's not. Scoot is right with him on that. They're much more physical, more dedicated to the way things are now, so to speak. I'm with Michelle, I don't think we'll see them hanging out together all that much. Sharing the house, that's a different thing, they'll rarely both be there at the same time. But raft guides have to be able to get along with people, so maybe it'll work out."

"Things change when you get married, that's for sure," Nicole said. "I mean, I didn't think things would change all that much for us, but they changed a lot. Even though I was gone for college and everything else, I still was living at home when I was home and had a solid relationship with my family. Randy and I were close, but nothing like as close as we got to be when we finally got married and started living together."

"You didn't live with him before you got married?" Michelle asked, almost incredulous at such a concept in this day and age, even though she'd just seen Crystal and Preach do much the same thing. Of course they were on the river together all the time, and that made things a little different.

"We would have liked to," Nicole sighed. "And we managed a couple vacations together. But this is a small town, and people talk, so we really couldn't do it while we were living here. I mean, both our families are here, and I don't think either of them would have minded if this was a big city where we could be relatively anonymous, but it isn't and we're not. But it all worked out for the best, I think."

"I think so, too," Randy said. "Sure, Nicole and I had a few things we've had to work out, but I don't think either of us have yet come up with what would have been a show stopper if it had surfaced before we got married. Of course, we've known each other since we were little kids, so that counted for something too. Actually, I think we have a pretty good understanding of each other now."

"Didn't you get close to marrying Crystal once?"

"Not really," Randy shook his head. This was a long and complicated subject that he didn't want to get into. "I had a standing offer to marry her after she turned her back on her family, but she never showed any interest in it. I guess it's just as well. The last year proved I didn't know Crystal as well as I thought I did. I mean, I don't think I misread her or anything; it's just that there were things in her I didn't see when she, Myleigh, and I were messing around in college. I always expected she was going to have the wild geese calling after her, and I guess I was right. Of course, the last few years, we haven't seen all that much of each other, and I guess we've developed in different ways. Everybody I've talked to has said that they're surprised that Crystal wound up marrying a preacher, and I guess I'm one of them, too. But when you stop and think about it, maybe it's not all that surprising."

"I don't know," Michelle frowned. "I guess I always pretty much figured her as being a lot like Scooter. I mean, an action person, not a head type or a spiritual type. But I guess I was wrong about that."

"She kept it pretty well hidden from everyone, at least while I was with her a lot." Randy said. "Myleigh and I haven't talked about it in those terms, but I've never heard Myleigh say anything like that, either. I talked with Preach on that trip last spring enough to know that he and Crystal were pretty good buddies when they were running rafts on the Ocoee, down there in Tennessee. I got the impression that he saw something in her that was different from what I saw. I take that to mean that there was something in her that I never got to see."

"Maybe I did see a little bit of it," Michelle said with a frown. "I mean, when we were down in the Bahamas the past two winters, Scooter and I were always ready to party, to pick up some guys and get it on. But Crystal never wanted to do any of that. I mean, it wasn't like she was down on us or anything for doing it; she just didn't want to do it herself. It was always, 'You guys have fun.' I guess now that she was starting to show signs of settling down, I mean as much as a raft guide ever settles down."

"Do you think things are going to work out for them?" Duane asked.

"Hell, Duane, you can make just about as good a guess as I can," Randy snorted. "Like I said, the wild geese were always calling after her. You've got the same disease, you know what I mean. I don't think Preach has it near as bad. That's something they're going to have to work out with each other."

Duane started to say something, thought better of it, and shrugged. "Time will tell, I guess."

"It usually does," Randy agreed. "I'd like to think that I'm going to stay friends with Crystal, but I suspect that we're going to be seeing even less of each other now that she's married. No regrets, though. We had some good times, kayaking, surfing, lots of stuff. But as far as I'm concerned, some of the best times were just sitting around the campfire with our guitars, just hanging out."

"Oh, God, that's right," Michelle exclaimed. "You play guitar with Jennifer, don't you? You must be pretty damn good."

"I'm barely adequate with a bass guitar but I'm usually available if needed," Randy smiled. "That's all. I'm no magician like Blake, or like Jennifer, for that matter. I've had some fun getting together and playing with the gang, but I'm sure glad I'm not trying to do it for a living."

"I've seen you playing bass guitar," she smiled. "You play a six string too, don't you?"

"Oh, yeah, I fool around with it. You can't hang around Blake and Jennifer with a guitar in your hand and not learn something."

"Cool!" she beamed. "I brought my six string with me. I don't have it here tonight, but maybe we ought to get together and jam a bit. We need to think about taking a guitar down to the Bahamas with us."

"Well, that's possible," he said. "I don't think I'd want to take a good guitar with me on a sailing trip, but I have a couple old junkers, too. Maybe I'll take one."

"You two have fun with it," Nicole said. "I'm afraid I can't play much more than the stereo."

"Yeah, me either," Duane nodded. "I will admit that I've had a lot of fun watching Michelle play the guitar around the campfire. Among other things, I think she knows more dirty songs than any other boatman in the Grand Canyon."

"I know a few," Michelle laughed. "But it's not often we get a trip where everybody's cool enough for me to do some of the rowdier stuff. When you get a group like that it can be an awful lot of fun."

"I know a little rowdy stuff, too," Randy smiled. "There's a guy named Steam Train John who shows up at Jennifer's every now and then. He knows all sorts of goofy stuff, and I've picked up a little of it. I mean, nothing terribly dirty or anything, but funny."

"Hey, that's cool, we'll have to work up a little of that on the trip," Michelle grinned. "I can always use more fun stuff for campfires and stuff."

Nicole shook her head and looked at Duane. "I can see where this evening is going," she sighed. "The next thing you know they're going to have a couple guitars out and be working on some song they'd never dare play around Preach and Crystal, while you and I are going to have to break out the chess board or something. Maybe talk about the AT while these two are reworking bawdy lyrics to some perfectly innocent song."

"Yeah, Michelle," Randy said thoughtfully. "She's got a point. Maybe we'd better save that stuff for the Felicity Sue or whatever that boat is called."

"Felicity Ann," Michelle said. "Yeah, we're going to have a good time there."

"Not to want to change the subject," Nicole said, "But to change it anyway. Randy, if you'll help me clear away the dishes we can break out the chocolate pudding cake."

"Sounds good, if there's any room left to pack it away after this great dinner," he smiled.

After they finished their dessert, Randy helped Nicole with the dishes, and the four of them moved into the comfortable chairs of the "living room" part of the great room, where they sat around and talked about one thing and another. Duane and Nicole got to trading Appalachian Trail stories – they'd each spent a summer on the trail and had more than a few of them. Randy told a few stories on Crystal from back in college days, and somehow or other more than an hour got away from them quite enjoyably in front of the big gas fireplace.

"You know," Nicole said finally. "This is comfortable enough, but we've got a hot tub out on the porch that's only been here a month or so, and we've really been enjoying it. Does that sound like an idea to the two of you?"

"Sure, that sounds marvelous," Michelle said. "We didn't bring swimsuits with us, though."

"We sort of go by the 'No swimsuits in the hot tub' rule here," Nicole smirked. "But if you really want, I'm sure we can find something for you."

"Oh, neat!" Michelle smiled. "I can't speak for Duane, but I'd rather do it that way, anyway. How about you, Duane?"

"Well, if no one else minds I'm not going to mind either," he replied sheepishly. "I've only been in a hot tub a couple times."

"Fine," Nicole grinned. "I didn't think either of you would want to break that rule."

Randy was a little surprised by that, but didn't say anything. The only other couple that they'd been nude in the hot tub with was Danny and Debbie, and that was a little different. Debbie was a good looking woman in her way, but she wasn't the hot, slender young-looking blonde that Michelle was, either. He wouldn't have wanted to be the one to suggest doing it like that, but it was fine if Nicole brought it up – and he'd get a chance to check out Michelle in the buff as a special treat. There was no point in saying anything that might ruin it though.

In only a couple minutes the four of them were out on the porch, stripping down and getting the cover off the tub. Randy didn't get a real good look at Michelle, but enough of one to be able to tell that she was really a natural blonde. The warm water felt really good on this cold night; it wasn't particularly warm on the porch, so the tub felt very good.

"Hey, Randy," Michelle smirked as soon as they were settled into place. "You said Crystal and Preach were staying here with you for Myleigh's wedding, didn't you?"

"Yeah, Al and Karin will be, too," Randy confirmed. "And Myleigh and Trey, at least up till the wedding. That's going to be the most guests we've ever had at one time."

"That ought to be fun," she grinned. "What do you think the odds are that Crystal and Preach will do nude in the hot tub with you guys?"

"Good question," Randy shrugged. "If it was Crystal, say two or three years ago and maybe even last year, no bet, she'd have her clothes off before you finished suggesting it. She doesn't come with a lot of body modesty. Preach, I really doubt it although he's surprised me before. How it'll come down with the two of them together and his influence on her is anybody's bet."

"I sure would like to know," Michelle smiled. "Maybe it'll give a read on how straight Crystal and Preach are really going to be."

"Yeah, interesting question," Duane agreed. "I think I told you that until last summer Team Two was about the most fun crew to be on. Now, they're about the straightest, and I think if I was given the chance to run with one of the others, instead, I'd take it."

"Me, too," Michelle shrugged. "I don't want to think I'm less friends with Crystal, but last summer I almost think they were getting too straight. Of course, having Kevin and Nanci there didn't make Team 2 any less straight, either. So, do you think Al and Karin will join you in the nude?"

"Probably, if Preach and Crystal aren't involved," Randy said. "My guess is that Al is sort of an old time hippie so he'd be cool about it. Karin, well, I know her better, and I don't doubt that she'd do it. It's something else that she couldn't do while she was married before, and that's all it takes for her."

"Randy," Nicole piped up. "What about Myleigh and Trey?"

Randy shrugged and thought about it for a second. "If it was just the four of us, probably. More than that, there might be the Preach angle if Crystal is involved, so there's no way of telling. You can't always figure Myleigh. She might just say that she'd be so dreadfully embarrassed, and dither around for a while. Then she'd go ahead, do it and have a ball. Trey would follow Myleigh's lead, whatever she decides."

"She's really cool," Michelle said. "I think she'd do it. When we were doing that recording trip last summer, one time we were pulled up and doing a recording, and it just wasn't going well. She stopped, started over, fumbled, stopped again, and was getting really frustrated. Then, in the middle of the whole darn thing she stopped, stood up, ripped off her clothes, then sat down and started playing beautifully, the same thing over, without a break. Neither Trey or I wanted to say anything because we didn't want to break the mood."

"Hmmm," Randy smiled. "I hadn't heard that one before. Sounds like Myleigh's style, though. She does what needs to be done to accomplish her goals."

"Actually it happened three different times," Michelle replied. "God, that was the coolest trip I ever made. I've done over a hundred trips and that was easily the most, well, I don't want to say fun, but maybe the most intense trip I've ever been on."

"With Myleigh along?" Randy grinned. "Not surprising. Michelle, people may call you one of a kind, but Myleigh is easily the most unique woman I've ever met, and I started to realize it the first time I really got to talk to her. That leads me up to a question that Nicole and I have been kicking around for a couple months. Maybe you guys can help us with it, since we're totally stumped."

"What's that?" Duane asked.

"You've heard the stories about the stunts that Crystal pulled on Nicole at our wedding," Randy explained. "And of course, you know the stunt we pulled on Crystal to pay her back. Of course, a couple other people took the opportunity, too, so that sort of made it a real raft guide wedding."

"Yeah," Michelle grinned. "That was a ball. I really wonder how that bit with the handcuffs really worked out. I can't help but wonder if they stayed up half the night trying to find the right key."

"I'm sort of wondering about it, too," Randy laughed. "Nicole knows this, but I haven't told anyone else who really knows Crystal and Preach. After we got her handcuffed, when her back was turned, I slipped Preach a spare key, just in case things got out of hand. I'm wondering if he used it."

"Randy, that's sneaky," Duane grinned. "If he didn't use it, I wonder if Crystal knows about it."

"Good question, so don't tell anyone about it until it comes out one way or another or someone may find Preach's broken, mangled body somewhere afterward. But that leads me away from the question Nicole and I have been wrestling with. Bluntly, do we pull something on Myleigh? I mean the four of us were all good buddies back in the old days. I almost think we should pull something on Myleigh so that she doesn't feel left out, and something with handcuffs is a possible option. But I don't know for sure that we should pull anything. Myleigh has a sense of humor that is as different as everything else about her, and this isn't exactly a raft guide wedding. As far as I know, she wasn't involved with the stuff that went on at our wedding, so that's something to think about. Finally, if we do pull something, it doesn't want to be conventional. It needs to be something that takes advantage of some of Myleigh's quirks."

"To put it bluntly," Nicole added. "We're stumped and we're open to suggestions."

"Whooo, boy," Duane shook his head. "Yeah, I can see where you'd be stumped all right, and I don't know Myleigh very well. I know about the conventional wedding pranks, but you're right, if we do something, it needs to be something off the wall, I can see that."

"You're right in that it can't be anything too rough," Michelle nodded. "My family has a tradition of rather rough wedding pranks, so if and when I get married I think a quickie place in Vegas might be the best idea. When my cousin got married, she had a gown that required a corset, and it was really tight. One of the bridesmaids, and it wasn't me, dusted it down pretty heavily with itching powder. Of course she had to wear it for hours for both the wedding and the reception. There was no way she could do anything about scratching herself and it about drove her nuts."

"That's a little rough," Nicole replied. "I don't think that's the kind of thing I'd pull on Myleigh, though."

They sat there for several minutes, recalling wedding pranks that they'd heard of, or occasionally been participants in. Some of them seemed like they'd be really fun to pull on the right person, like the handcuff joke on Crystal – but nothing quite hit the spot. Everything was too conventional, or had some other aspect that shot it down almost immediately on its being suggested.

"You know," Duane grinned, after some time of sitting back on the edge of the discussion, turning thoughts over in his mind until they were well cooked. "I've got a really good idea, although it would take a little work and quite a bit of setting up to pull it off. You could do that handcuff thing, but she'll be expecting it. She won't know it's not the real joke, just a decoy."

Nicole frowned. "So, what would the real joke be?"

"That's the beauty of it," Duane laughed. "Just play with their minds a little."

"And how do you propose to do that? Randy asked.

"There are ways," Duane said, and went on to explain his idea. It took them a while to talk it out, but the more they discussed it, the better the idea sounded.

"Yeah," Nicole summed up after perhaps twenty minutes of group brainstorming, trying out angles to Duane's concept as well as trying to poke holes in it. "That might work real well."

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