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 22

Sunday, December 23, 2001

It was getting close to Christmas now. As they wrapped up training one evening, Phil commented to Duane, "Hey, Dude. You're from southern Michigan, right? You figuring on heading home for the holidays?"

"Not really," Duane replied. "I haven't been home since a year ago last summer, and that was a one day in and out, so I wouldn't mind going. But it's close to a day's drive each way, and there's stuff to be done here. Besides, Michelle isn't planning on heading back to Flag for the holidays, either."

"Oh, hell," Phil snorted. "You've been putting in seven-day weeks without a break. Tomorrow morning, you and Michelle hop in the Jeep or her car and get out of here for a few days. We're going to give the dogs a break over Christmas anyway, and I think I can get enough friends and relatives to help with any needed training while you're gone."

"Well, when you put it that way," Duane smiled. "I guess I'm up for it if Michelle is."

"Works for me," Michelle grinned. "I'm always up for a road trip."

"Will it be all right if we get back, oh, Wednesday or Thursday?" Duane asked. "We've got that wedding on Saturday; there'll be people in town we'll want to see. Maybe even take some of them for a dogsled ride."

"Sounds all right to me," Phil said. "Just remember that once the wedding is over we get real serious about training."

"And you're going to have to do it without me," Michelle said. "I'm pretty much figuring on hitting the road right after the wedding, the next day if the weather isn't too bad. I'm set up to do some surfing for a few days in Florida before we head off to the Bahamas."

"We're going to miss you," Phil told her. "You've really picked this up well and been a lot of help, but I guess we'll just have to get along without you. But you two have a good holiday."

After the dogs were fed and Phil took off, they headed into the trailer. While he watched Michelle make dinner, Duane felt just a little morose. He'd had a terrific month with Michelle, especially in bed – she'd taught him things he'd never dreamed! But it was clear to him they were still just friends, fuck buddies, and nothing had been said or intimated about anything continuing once she headed for Florida. In that month, they'd learned that they had even more in common than they'd thought; though the Canyon was at the center of it, they tended to see things a lot alike, and had a lot of fun together. She'd come out of the woodwork in total surprise, and now he knew he was going to miss her for more reasons than just sex. But sex was still part of their agenda, and they had another few days to enjoy it; Duane figured he'd better make the best of what he had left.

It's close to five hundred miles from Spearfish Lake to Bradford, Duane's hometown. Unfortunately, that five hundred miles took them through Milwaukee and Chicago. Cities were something these two wilderness-oriented people didn't endure well, and the bigger they were, the more pronounced the aversion. By the time they got through the worst of Chicagoland, Duane was just about fit to be tied. "How can people live like this?" they both wondered aloud.

Before many more miles had passed they were on the Indiana turnpike, the last lap to Bradford, and traffic had thinned out enough to allow them to relax. In the past, he hadn't had much to say about the place, other than a few stories from time to time, but now he told a few more. "So what's your dad like, anyway?" she finally asked.

"Oh, he's pretty cool," Duane told her. "We get along pretty well; it's just that there hasn't been enough time to go home since he got married again."

"I thought maybe it was because you didn't care for your stepmother," she said.

"No, not at all," he said. "I suppose Vicky is technically my stepmother, but I don't think of her as that. She's not a whole hell of a lot older than I am, eight years or so. She was my babysitter some when I was little, especially back when mom was dying, so we got to be real close. Then she went to college and got married. That lasted for a couple years, then she broke up with her husband and moved back in with her folks, who are right across the back yard from Dad. He's known her forever, too. Well, finally, just a couple years ago, they realized they were such good friends that they ought to get married. I don't know what took them so long; it was obvious to everyone else. Anyway, they just had a baby last fall; I've never seen my new little sister."

"That's got to be a little strange, having a sister young enough to be your own daughter."

"I haven't really thought about it," he shrugged. "It might be even stranger for Vicky, since her mom used to date Dad back when they were in high school."

"Yeah, that's strange, all right." she smiled. "But everybody is still good friends, right?"

"Oh, yeah," he replied. "I think I told you that most people consider both Dad and Vicky to be a little strange, anyway. I mean good strange. Dad is mostly Scottish, and he's really into Scottish cultural stuff. He's got a Scottish accent he'll turn on at any time and likes to wear kilts, even around the house or around town."

"Yeah, you told me about that," Michelle grinned. "That's got to be a little different for a small town. I'm starting to get interested in meeting your Dad and Vicky. It's been too long since you've seen them."

Duane's father Jason proved to be at home when they arrived. He was a tall, lean man with short graying hair, and an infectious smile. Vicky was a solid woman, a brunette about Michelle's height, also with a nice smile. "We're used to getting strange looks and sometimes having strange people around," she explained. We'll have some of off-the-wall people here tonight, you'll fit right in."

"Uh-oh," Duane shook his head. "Did we walk in on something?"

"Aye, but 'tis no great matter," Jason smiled. "We was havin' some friends in for a wee ceilidh tonight, 'tis all."

"It'll be mostly people you know and will want to see you anyway," Vicky explained. "Emily and Kevin, Dayna and Sandy, and like that. Maybe some people in town for the holidays, we're not sure."

"'Twill be nae more than sittin' around talkin' an' bein' wi' friends," Jason explained. "Might hoist a wee dram or two ta' be sociable."

"Well, I guess," Michelle replied dubiously. "If you don't think anyone will mind."

"Oh, there'll be some giggles," Jason replied, dropping the Scottish accent. "But it'll be good enough to have some time with Duane and hear some new stories from the both of you that I don't think anyone will have any problem with it. I have to admit to some surprise that my son showed up with a girlfriend. That hasn't happened for a while."

"Oh, we're just friends," Duane protested. "Not boyfriend-girlfriend friends. We've run trips together on occasion the past two years."

"Michelle, I can't believe you're a river guide," Vicky shook her head. "You don't look old enough."

"Everyone who meets her says that," Duane explained. "You should meet her folks. Vicky, they look about your age, and they're closer to Dad's age. She's the senior boatman in the company, except for the guy who owns it. Believe me, there's a lot about her that doesn't meet the eye."

"Well, it's good to have you here anyway," Vicky smiled. "Girlfriend or not. Duane, just to bring you up to speed, we're having dinner here on Christmas. My folks will be here, along with Troy and Brittany, and Casey and Alissa. Michelle, Troy is my brother, and Alissa is my sister. They'll have their kids with them, too."

"It'll be good to see Troy again," Duane nodded. "It's got to be at least a couple years, maybe more than that for Alissa."

"If there's anything I can do to help with dinner, let me know," Michelle smiled.

"I appreciate the offer," Vicky said. "This is the first time I've gotten stuck with doing dinner for the whole crowd."

"Oh, no big deal," Michelle smiled. "Duane and I can handle it. It's only a dozen people or so, after all."

"A dozen people? That's a big dinner," Vicky said.

"Not to us," Duane laughed. "We're used to kicking out meals for thirty people or so, doing it on a couple gas burners set up on a sandbar somewhere, and we don't get many complaints about our cooking."

"I've literally done thousands of them," Michelle smiled. "It's no big deal."

"Duane was right," Jason laughed. "There's more to the both of you than meets the eye."

"While I'm thinking about it," Vicky smiled. "We're planning on dressing up a little for Christmas, mostly to pull my sister's leg. She thinks we're weird, and there's no point in letting her think she's wrong. We're not planning on telling her about that ahead of time, though."

"Duane and I were involved in a wedding like that last fall," Michelle laughed. "It was supposed to be a casual wedding. Just T-shirt and jeans, you know? Well, the bride had pulled that same stunt on most of the people at the wedding at one time or another, so everyone showed up in ball gowns and tuxes and like that."

"We heard about that from Duane," Jason laughed. "In fact, that's where we got the idea."

"I'd be willing," Michelle said. "But I didn't bring any clothes like that. I only brought one dress from Arizona, and I left that in Spearfish Lake."

"No problem," Vicky said. "We're planning on doing something a little more period. I'll just call a friend of mine tomorrow. She probably has something she can loan you that would fit you."

The "ceilidh" turned out to be interesting. Duane knew most of the people who showed up, but all were new to Michelle, of course. Emily and Kevin worked with Jason and Vicky in the knife-making business, with Kevin being a specialist in blacksmithing and machinery. Emily was Vicky's age, about her size but more slender; a perfectly ordinary-looking brunette who managed a convenience store – it was just a little surprising to discover she also rode a Harley, and was the mayor of Bradford!

Dayna and Sandy proved to both be women, rather good looking, and were traveling musicians who spent a lot of time at renaissance faires. Early in the evening, Michelle got Duane off in the corner and whispered, "Is it just me or do those two set off my gaydar a little?"

"No, they're lesbians all right," Duane whispered back. "They don't admit it publicly, but it's no secret. It's kind of the Bradford version of 'Don't ask, don't tell.'"

"Well, they're pretty cool," Michelle giggled.

"They can tell a story," he replied. "And it would surprise me if they don't know more dirty songs than even you do."

"That settles it; I've got to get to know them better."

Another couple who showed up early on was John and Eve McClellan; she was a blonde, smaller than Michelle, and John hardly larger. Vicky told Michelle that both of them had doctorates, hers in psychology and his in engineering. They seemed bright and personable, if on the quiet side.

Andy and Hannah Baker showed up a little afterwards. Vicky introduced Duane and Michelle to the couple, who were both tall, slender, reserved and much better dressed than the rest of the crowd. "These two look pretty normal tonight," Dayna giggled. "You would have to see these two at a Renaissance Faire sometime as King Shahriyar and Scheherazade."

"Huh?" Michelle said, looking a little dazed.

"When I am Scheherazade, my master is dressed in a sultan's garb," Hannah explained. "It includes a turban, a waist sash, and a bejeweled curved dagger that Master MacRae presented to him, along with his whip. I wear a harem slave's garb, am handcuffed, collared and leashed. I must submit to my master's every desire and present the proper respect to him or face punishment, which is why he carries the whip." She turned to Andy and added, "Am I not correct, O King?"

"They are good at it, too," Vicky laughed. "They really get into the part."

"No fooling," Duane smiled. "I caught them back in high school a couple times."

"Why did I think Bradford was just your everyday small town, nothing special?" Michelle grinned.

The evening's discussion ranged over many areas, but since Michelle was new and Duane hadn't been around much since going to work for Canyon Tours, their stories were strange to the rest of the group and they spent a lot of time telling Canyon stories, and more recently, dogsledding stories. As always, people commented on Michelle's apparent youth – unless you knew her, it was easy to mistake her for a high school kid. Michelle explained that she knew she looked very young and liked to look that way since it drew such amazed reactions from people, especially when customers found out that this bubble gum chewing teenybopper was not only a boatman but was going to be their boatman. Duane was part of that – some of the stories were better told on Michelle rather than by her. Everybody had a good time and it was sad to see the evening end.

"That was one of the more interesting evenings I've spent in a while," Michelle said as she and Duane cuddled together in the bed in his old room. "There were some real characters there. You don't expect something like that in a small town."

"Yeah, that was a collection, all right," Duane whispered back. "You get some interesting people on river trips, but everyone's interesting if you can pull it out of them."

"I still think it was pretty far out," she giggled. "I mean, hell, John and Eve were just about the only straight people there." She found herself holding onto Duane, who was bucking with laughter at her statement. It was several seconds before she managed to say, "What's so damn funny about that?"

"No," he gasped for breath. "Eve is hardly straight. She may have been the goofiest one of all, but the topic never got around to her."

"What do you mean? She's a real sweetie."

"That's the first time I've met her as Eve," he giggled. "But I remember her a little from when she was Denis."

"Denis?" Michelle said uncertainly.

"Eve is a transsexual," he laughed.

"A trans . . . she was a boy?"

"Like I said, I never met her before as Eve but I've heard the story, mostly from Vicky and Emily. She started her transition while she was in high school. It was all a big secret up till the tenth class reunion. Emily and Vicky organized the class reunion, and I think they're just a little scared to have another one."

"Well, Christ, no wonder," she shook her head. "Jeez, you raise some strange ones in Bradford. Present company included."

"Oh, I'm pretty typical, well except for being a raft guide and dog musher."

"And just how unusual those in the real world?" she laughed. "And Andy and Hannah! I mean, they're real neat people, real sharp, but I think that they're just a little more D/s than they admit to. But they both seem happy with it."

"I suspect there's some 'don't ask, don't tell' going on there, too," he laughed. "Boy, there's a lot more to their situation than I ever dreamed, and I never realized the depth behind it."

"Eve acted like it was nothing unusual for her."

"Probably not," he shrugged. "You caught the fact that she's a clinical psychologist, didn't you?"

"Oh, yeah. I don't know what that means, though."

"I'm told that her specialty is helping people and their families come to grips with gender identity problems and various kinks, so I expect she knows as much about it as Hannah and Andy. I thought she was more or less mentally taking notes. You have to wonder how much it was an act, and how much of an act she thought it was."

"I thought it was at least partly an act," she said. "I sometimes think I'm a little submissive myself, at least that's why I don't like being a leader and have really gone out of my way to avoid it."

"Shit," he snorted. "I like to think of myself as a good leader, but I'm no dominant and I know it. You're no more a submissive than Godzilla."

"I know I'm no submissive, but I could act like one if I wanted to," she protested. "Just like I could act as goofy as you and Vicky and your dad do, with all that Scottish stuff. I'll bet I could make people think I'm really like that."

"You could do it for a few minutes, maybe," he conceded. "But it would break down pretty quickly and the true Michelle would come out. It's like when you play teenybopper for the customers. They have to find out the truth pretty quick or they'd flip out."

"Yeah, but I'm hardly ever the one to tell the truth," she said. "I just, well, act teenybopper because I like to."

"Never happen," he laughed. "It takes practice."

"I'll bet I could bring it off," she protested again. "Just how bad do you want to blow Vicky's sister's mind the day after tomorrow?"

"Hell, I don't care about that. She gave me up for a lost cause a long time ago. It's Vicky who wants to stick the needle in. On the other hand, for years Troy has tried to sell me on how wonderful it is to be married and have a regular job. Brittany really is the one who wears the pants in that family."

"Let's do it," she teased. "It'll just add to your reputation around Bradford. I'll bet I can pull it off tomorrow, and no one will know unless someone tells them it's a leg pull."

"What do you want to bet?" he grinned as he squeezed her bare bottom.

"Not that," she said. "We're going to get laid either way. Tell you what. We'll probably run together at least some this summer. What do you say that the first time we do, the loser gives the junior swamper a break and empties the groovers?"

That was a serious bet! After almost three weeks of riding in the Arizona summer sun, the portable toilets stank to high heaven, to say the least. Emptying and cleaning them was a job traditionally dumped on the junior swamper, mostly because it could be. Though both of them had done it, it was a chore they were well past and glad of it.

What was worse, Duane reflected quickly, was that it was never a good idea to bet against Michelle. She liked to win bets like this one and you could never count her out on the most outrageous things. On the other hand . . . if she could bring it off it would be great to rub Troy's nose in it – and maybe they might not run together next summer, either.

"OK," he said slowly. "But there are several ifs involved. We really need to run it past Dad and Vicky. We wouldn't want to embarrass them, and they know the truth, or at least think they do. They'll have to be the ones to decide if I can bring it off, if it isn't clear to us."

"All right," she grinned. "Just remember, you're going to have to play your part all the way, too."

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