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 19

Friday, December 14, 2001

Marienthal was a small college, but one that took pride in a high-quality liberal arts education, something that was relatively rare in a world that seemed to be diluting the standards of college degrees. Standards were high, and the administration went to great effort to keep them there. With well under a thousand full-time students, usually only a handful had a mid-year graduation, and this year Trey Hartwell was one of them.

With only seven students graduating at the end of the semester, there was no call for a formal graduation, although graduates were invited to return in the spring if they wanted to attend a ceremony. But Marienthal wasn't the kind of place where graduates in such conditions were only invited to show up at the registrar's office to pick up their diplomas in exchange for payments on any final bills. Being realistic, the college did demand all bills be paid, but then the graduates were invited to a formal tea in the in the administration building conference room where the college president made a little show of handing out the diplomas and congratulating the new alumni.

The president, Dr. Paul Hamilton, was considered by most of the students and faculty to be a rather formal and stuck up sort. He had proved to have a sense of humor and humanity at times, if someone were lucky enough to find it, and he did take pleasure in this event. It was, after all, the ongoing goal of the college – to educate students well and get them on with their lives. He gave the graduates a little talk – it could hardly be called a speech – about how the graduates had accomplished something major in their lives, and how proud he was that Marienthal had been a part of it. Each graduate got a handshake and a few personal words, mostly inquiries about what they intended to do in the future.

There were a handful of friends and relatives at the truncated ceremony, and the faculty present far outnumbered the graduates. One of the faculty members present, it almost goes without saying, was Dr. Myleigh Harris from the literature department.

Once such ceremonies as there were had been completed, Trey did something that Dr. Hamilton didn't expect. "If I could have your attention for a moment, please," he said to the relatively small number of people in the room. "There's something that I'd like to say. Dr. Harris, could you step up here, please?"

Dr. Hamilton grinned; he was pretty sure he knew what was coming, and so did most of the faculty. Myleigh walked over to him and said, "Yes, Mr. Hartwell?"

"I have a special presentation," Trey grinned. "Dr. Harris, you have been a special inspiration to me in my time here at Marienthal, and you've gone far beyond what's required by the college to make my time here both productive and rewarding. You are, without a doubt, the best and most memorable lecturer I've ever had, so I have a small token of my esteem that I'd like to present to you." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a modest diamond ring. "Myleigh," he continued, pointedly not using the formal honorific, "Will you marry me?"

"Of course, Trey," she said with a huge grin. This wasn't a surprise; they'd worked it out well ahead of time to be able to make several points. "I would deem it both a great honor and a great pleasure, now that our forbidden love is forbidden no more."

Trey slipped the ring onto her finger, and they had a rather romantic kiss in front of the group. "You realize, I hope," Dr. Hamilton grinned, seeing that his suspicions had been confirmed, "That may be the worst-kept secret on campus, don't you?"

"We tried to not be excessively blatant about it," Myleigh replied unapologetically. "Although there were times that maintaining a modicum of propriety proved difficult."

"For the most part you accomplished it," Dr. Hamilton replied jovially. "But this is a small campus, and I don't think you fooled anyone. Dr. Harris, we're going to miss you at the end of next semester when you move on to your new position. You've brought something to this campus that I think we're going to miss. Marienthal will be a better place for having had you here. And, Mr. Hartwell, you shouldn't think of yourself as just another student, either. You're a brave man, Mr. Hartwell, and I think you're going to have your hands full with your future wife."

"There was never any doubt about that," Trey laughed. "But I think it ought to be interesting."

It took a while for the gathering to break up. In addition to the graduation, the formal engagement had added a touch of romance to the proceedings, so there was plenty to gossip about. Of course, Myleigh had to show off her ring and Trey had to endure a bit of joshing, but it was a reasonably good way to end his college career.

Eventually the event wound down; Trey gathered up the precious piece of paper, then he and Myleigh headed for the door. "Well, that's that," he said once they were outside and heading for his car. "It was a little more ceremonial than the ending of the last major act in my life. There was no thank you or goodbye ceremony when I left the Army. It was just filling out paperwork until some pimply PFC said it was over with and I could head for the door."

"Yes, it was a very nice ceremony under the circumstances," Myleigh agreed. "Have you made up your mind if you'll participate in the spring ceremonies? I shall be expected to be present, of course."

"I could, I suppose," Trey shrugged. "I'm likely to be here to move you out of here, anyway. I'm sorry I'm going to have to spend time in Spearfish Lake while you're here."

"Do not let that bother you, my hero. As far as I can ascertain from talking to Blake, you should not be torn from my loving arms overly much. I just fear the winter term is going to be dull for you whilst I have to remain here."

"I don't know," Trey said. "I suppose I could audit a class or two. It wouldn't matter if I have to take off for a while. On the other hand I don't know how much Jennifer and Blake are going to have me up there, or how much I'm going to have to do to the house to get it ready for us. That's something I hope to be able to get a reading on while we're up there the next few days."

"I confess that I shall be happy to see the winter term come to an end," she sighed. "I find myself anxious to get on to the next phase of my life."

"Two weeks from tomorrow," he reminded her.

"Yes, and I find myself anxious to see those two weeks in the past," she sighed. "I fear it shall be difficult to survive the period. Trey, forgive me for sounding vernacular, but you would not believe how horny I am. I fear that when you finally bed me that you or I will risk serious injury. I have wanted to make love to you for so long that I don't know how I shall be able to survive another fortnight, but we agreed upon it and I have reluctantly come to agree that waiting is appropriate, if very frustrating indeed."

"I can hardly wait, too," he grinned. "But we've made it this long; we can make it another two weeks." He decided that with the direction the discussion was heading he'd better change the subject. "If you don't mind, let's take a swing past the dorm room. We can haul the rest of my stuff out to the car, and I'll be out of there for good."

"It's probably the logical thing to do," she agreed. "Do you realize, Trey, that in all the time we've been friends, compatriots and even lovers, I've never been in your dorm room?"

"I know," he said. "It's nothing special. It's your basic dorm room. You know what they're like. Besides, it's pretty much Justin's room, now. A couple more loads and there won't be anything of mine there."

"I noticed that he did not attend the proceedings we just finished," she observed.

"My guess is that he tripped over an empty beer can," Trey snorted. "He used to drink a lot before he turned twenty-one, but now all bets are off. He's got some growing up to do, but I'm just as glad I don't have to deal with him anymore."

Two trips each down the stairs in the dorm finished up the job of moving Trey out of his room. "I think that's it," he said. "If there's anything left, Justin can either get it to me or keep it, I don't care. I'll tell you what, my love, I spent about as much time in barracks and dorm rooms as you did, and you don't know how glad I am to have that stage of my life behind me."

"Ah, yes," she smiled. "I do know how glad you are, as I suspect that it was about as glad as I was. I have some happy memories of my time with Crystal and Randy in the dorms where I was an undergraduate, for they were about the happiest times of my life up until a year ago. We had some excellent adventures and a warm friendship, and I fear I miss those days in a way. But we have all changed and the unexpected has happened, especially to Crystal and myself. Now, we both face new adventures before us. It was a huge thrill for me to have my own apartment, my very own space that I did not have to share with anyone. But I confess that I often found it lonely. Now, I can hardly wait to share a house with my husband."

"It's going to be a little while on that, yet," he shook his head. "You know, I've been thinking about it. I don't know how many trips we're going to be making between here and Spearfish Lake before the first of May, but it strikes me that we probably ought to start our move up there right away. At least, anything we can get out of your apartment is something that won't be crowding us out of there the next few months. Besides, it'll cut down the work when we have to move the rest of the stuff."

"That's very like you Trey, ever the practical person I so admire," she said. "At least it shall allow us to put our mark on our house in some small way. I take it to mean you're suggesting we spend the afternoon packing things so that we might be upon our way before the birds arise in the morning?"

"Shouldn't take that long," he shrugged. "Granted, we've got a lot of stuff that will have to go anyway, but we've got enough stuff that's already in boxes that we should be able to top off the load if we're taking my car. You know, I almost hate to say it, but we might be getting to the point that we ought to think about getting a minivan the next time we trade a car."

Myleigh let out a long sigh. "You know, we're already sounding like an old married couple talking about things like a house and a minivan, and we aren't even married yet. I confess, I'm not sure I'm ready to abandon my little car yet. It was the first major purchase I made for myself, admittedly with Randy's assistance, and it marked a milestone in my life."

"Yeah, I'm not all that sure how much I'm ready to give up mine, either," Trey admitted, wondering how she would feel when she found out what her wedding present from Blake and Jennifer was. They'd run it past him for his opinion, with the promise to keep quiet about it. "And for a lot of the same reasons. But we'll have to see. It might make some sense when we think about it, and we've got plenty of time for that."

*   *   *

Randy would have liked to have gone down to Kansas City for Trey's graduation, more for Myleigh's sake than for Trey's. But, it really wasn't in the cards, and he'd never really planned on it. While Trey was receiving his diploma, Randy was sitting in his office at Clark Construction working on preparations for the Blair gym. Things were coming along well; after having done several school projects the past few years, Randy had a pretty good idea of which buttons to push and how hard to push them. Problems would arise – they always did – but he felt like he was getting a better start than he had on some projects in the past.

Things usually slowed down around the company over the holidays; if there weren't any pressing projects, construction sometimes shut down, although administrative functions continued. What with everything, it was beginning to look like Randy would be able to take some time off and not have to worry about it. His mind was actually more on Myleigh's wedding, or at least the prank that Duane had suggested a couple evenings before. It was a very good idea, but it would take a lot of coordination and timing to pull off. He was beginning to wonder if it was worth the trouble of trying to do. It had sounded like a good idea in the hot tub, but in the light of day it had some problems.

The phone on his desk rang, taking him away from his woolgathering. Oh, well, it wasn't as if he ought to be thinking about that right now, anyway. "Clark Construction, Randy," he said into the phone.

"Mr. Clark, this is Carlos Gutierrez," the voice on the other end of the phone said. "I don't know if you remember me or not."

"Oh, yes," Randy replied. He remembered Carlos, all right. He was one of the kids up at Northern that he'd talked to back at the tail end of November, when he'd made a special trip up to his old stomping grounds in an effort to come up with a summer intern, and/or someone who could be trained to be a possible assistant. Carlos had been far and away the best candidate for the latter position that he'd talked to, but Randy had been left with the impression that he already had a job lined up in southern Michigan someplace. "So how did the rest of the term go?"

"It went very well," Carlos replied. "I got A's across the board, and I think I got a lot out of the classes I took."

"Good," Randy said. "I know I got an A here and there in classes where I didn't really think I learned anything." He crossed his fingers, at least mentally, and continued, "So how can I help you today?"

"Well, I've been thinking about what you said up here a couple weeks ago," Carlos said. "The more I think about it, the better I liked what you were talking about. I just called to see if the job was still available."

"It's still available," Randy said. "I didn't really plan on bringing anyone in until the next term ends, but I wouldn't mind getting someone lined up for the spot so I can start feeding them with stuff to get ready. I take it you're interested, then?"

"Interested enough to look your operation over and see if it's going to work out," Carlos replied. "Is there any chance I could come up right after New Years, look the place over, and get a feel for the job?"

"Yeah, sure," Randy said with relief. His impression of Carlos was that he was a crackerjack kind of guy who really knew his stuff. He remembered that the kid came from a family involved in construction, and had taken a couple years off school to work as a carpenter and in a few related jobs so he wouldn't have to rely on student loans to get through college. That made him a little more mature and knowledgeable about the real world in general and construction in particular than the average kid just out of college. "I'm going to be gone up through the sixth," he continued, "But any time the next week would be fine. We could probably spend a couple days at it and I can give you an idea of what we're up to here. I'm sure my wife and I can put you up so you don't have to pay for a motel room on top of everything else."

"Well, I could if I had to," Carlos sighed. "But I'd really rather not. My dad is going to be having heart surgery on the seventh, and I really think I ought to be there since the whole thing is kind of iffy and I'm really concerned about him. Assuming he makes it out of the woods all right, I could probably swing by on my way back to school, say on Friday."

"I'd sure love to have you, even if you have to come by on a weekend after school starts," Randy said. "Maybe you could blow off a Friday class and come down here on a Thursday night."

"That might work," Carlos replied, obviously a little disappointed. "I really hate to cut classes, even if there's a job involved. I mean, I'm there for a purpose."

That told Randy a good deal more about Carlos – he was dead serious about what he was doing and a detail person, both of which were sterling qualities as far as Randy was concerned. "As far as I'm concerned, your dad comes first," he said. "I'm willing to keep it loose on this end, but I'm also going to be gone for a couple weeks at the tail end of January. Other than that, there's no reason I can't work you in when you can get here, so long as I have a little warning."

"We ought to be able to work something out," Carlos replied.

The two of them talked for another few minutes, with Randy getting Carlos' phone number and e-mail address before he hung up. In spite of the timing issue, this was good news. Carlos had seemed to be one smart cookie, and was rather likeable. He ought to be able to hit the ground running and do a good job. Maybe he could get free over spring break to settle in a little; Randy hadn't brought that up during the phone conversation, but made a mental note to do it when he saw him in person.

Given the clearance to bring on an assistant, Randy wanted to have someone in the job in the spring, but one thing was clear: what the job would entail would depend a lot on who held it. The more capable the person was, the more Randy could throw at him. Someone as capable as Carlos seemed could take a lot of the load off of Randy, but someone less capable would mean more work for him. The only real model Randy had for the job was what he had done before his grandfather's heart troubles started to show up, and there were limits to how far he could use his own experience for a model. There were plenty of questions to be answered, but the end result was that, once the assistant had been on the job for a while, Randy might start to have the semblance of a normal life.

Randy sat and pondered the whole puzzle for several minutes, until the phone went off again. The caller proved to be Norm Eaglebeak, from Three Pines. "So, what's happening down at your end of the phone line today?" Norm asked.

Oh boy, here we go, Randy thought. Norm was not the kind of guy who called up to yak about the last Packers game. If he called, he had something he wanted to talk about, and with the potential of three different jobs up at the reservation next summer, it could be almost anything. But he had to be sociable. "Not a bad looking day around here," Randy replied. "Looks like it might snow, but maybe not. What's on your mind today, Norm?"

"You mean other than the fact that it's obviously BIA policy to drive me nuts? The damn bureaucrats can take anything and drag it out for years."

"That's not BIA, that's government in general," Randy snorted. "You have to try building a school some time. Every government agency you ever heard of, and more that you haven't, seems to think they have to have their fingers in the pie and a truckload of your documentation in their files."

"Yep, that's the BIA all over," Norm agreed. "I just got out of a long council meeting. I won't go into all of the ins and outs since they don't amount to a hill of corn. But the upshot of it is we're not going to be building either the new lodge or the addition next summer. We're going to keep pushing them and hope we can get the new lodge approved for another summer."

"I pretty well figured that was the way things were going the last time I talked to you," Randy said.

"Yeah, not news," Norm agreed. "The only thing different is it's official now. So, it was voted to go ahead with the ski lodge as next summer's project. The council seems to think they'll be seeing revenue out of that about as quick as they would with the new lodge, so I guess the time has come."

"I've been hearing about it for years," Randy agreed. "So the ski lodge is a go?"

"Ninety percent," Norm told him. "It's a go from the tribe's point of view, but there are questions about being able to do it in that tight of a time frame."

"Without even having seen a rendering, let alone plans, I can't give you an answer on a completion date," Randy told him. "All I can say is that we'll give it our best shot and see what happens, and right now anyone else who's honest would give you the same answer."

"That's about what I told the council, and that's what I expected you to say. The problem is that there aren't any plans yet. There are a couple of half-assed renderings, but we're not even dead sure on the location, let alone how big of a building we want."

"I'm not trying to cut my own throat here, Norm," Randy sighed, "But it might be more cost effective to build something that's a little on the smaller side and add to it in phases. It takes a while to develop a clientele, no matter how much you advertise."

"Yeah, I told the council that, too," Norm replied. "The architect pretty much agrees, so we're talking a start on the main lodge, somewhere around eighty or a hundred rooms, plus all the other stuff a ski resort needs. Lifts, and like that, I don't know what all. Our architect is a guy by the name of Tom Cornplanter. He's Sioux, and he's been involved with a lot of ski resort stuff in Colorado and Utah. This is going to be the first big project he's doing on his own."

Oh crap, Randy thought. That would add three months to the project even if they were building nothing more complicated than a one-holer outhouse. A young architect with a new organization, no matter how experienced, was just not as efficient as someone who had been around the block a few times. "Never heard of him," Randy said. "But if he's a ski resort specialist, there's no reason I would have. You realize that if we're starting from scratch on this, we're already on a tight timeline to get something open by next year?"

"No question about it," Norm said. "That's why we think it's essential to have the builder in on the project from the beginning. There's a lot of input we'll need. Like I said, we're not even sure where we want to put it. I mean, pretty sure, but there are questions. I seem to recall you telling me that you skied."

"I can ski on slats," Randy told him. "I actually prefer snowboarding. I was kind of thinking about trying to get out with my wife tomorrow for a little, but we've got friends coming in late, and we have to be here for them, so naturally she's in a fury about housecleaning."

"Tell you what," Norm replied. Any chance you could get up here tomorrow? Maybe bring your wife? Tom wants to try out the spot we've got in mind; it probably wouldn't hurt to have a second opinion."

"I suppose," Randy said, thinking that he at least wanted to meet this architect before he made any commitments. He might be a guy he could work with, and he might not be. He might as well find out before he was up to his neck in it. "The only thing is that you don't have any ski lifts there yet, so we might not get to do much skiing."

"No ski lifts yet," Norm confirmed. "But we've got the next best thing. This place is just about awash with snowmobiles; they ought to fill in for what we want to do."

"Yeah, that'll work," Randy agreed. "Can we get this started early? I mean, you know we're going to want to spend half the day kicking around this idea or that one, maybe try out an alternate hill or something. Nicole and I need to be here when our friends get here. They're driving in from Kansas City."

"Maybe having that for a deadline will keep from letting this drag out all day and half the night. That always seems to happen, and there are things I want to do tomorrow, too. But if we want to open this thing next winter, we're going to have to get our ducks in a row in the next three or four weeks, and that's with the holidays messing everything up, of course."

"It's going to be interesting," Randy agreed. "Do you ski, Norm?"

"Hell no," he replied. "I'll just watch. I'm not interested in breaking things, especially if it's my bones that are being broken."

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