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 24

Wednesday, December 26, 2001

It was getting along toward dark when Al, Karin, Preach, and Crystal showed up in a rental car following their flight from Phoenix to Camden, changing planes in Minneapolis-St. Paul. It was indeed a lot less spectacular arrival than two years before, and they were rather more travel weary as a result.

"Hey, everyone," Randy said as he greeted them at the front door. "It's good to see you again."

"It's good to be here," Al grumped. "I find myself less and less enthused about airline travel every time I get on a plane. As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to travel it's hard to beat a raft."

"Your feet don't get as wet on an airliner, at least most of the time," Randy shot back. "But that's about all I'll give the damn things. I take that to mean that things didn't exactly go as smoothly and quickly as they did the last time you flew into Spearfish Lake."

"Boy, you got that right," Crystal replied about as grumpily as Al. "Oh, well, only one more flight to go and then that'll be the last one for a while."

"Well, come on in, take a load off," Randy smiled. "I can guarantee you comfortable seating, plenty of elbow room, good companions, and a meal you don't have to pay for that tastes good."

"Beats an airliner any way you look at it," Karin said as she headed on inside.

"Well, Randy," Preach said as he headed inside, the last to come in before Randy closed the door behind them, "Crystal was right. She said you had quite a house, and this is quite a house."

"It'll do," Randy shrugged. "It doesn't have the view of the average sandbar on the Colorado, but there are fewer rocks to trip over."

Myleigh, Trey, and Nicole were waiting right inside the entrance for them. There was a round of greetings and hugs for the next couple minutes as the new arrivals took off their coats, and Nicole went to hang them up. They headed for the living room and found seats. It was cozy there, with a warm fire in the fireplace and the huge tree setting the atmosphere. "Good to see you all here," Al said. "I half expected Duane and Michelle to be here, too."

"No, they went to do the Christmas thing with Duane's dad down in Southern Michigan somewhere," Randy replied. "They're supposed to be back tonight or tomorrow, I guess."

"Well, no big deal," Al shrugged. "I'd hoped to have a few minutes to sit down with them but this wouldn't be the right few minutes anyway. So, how have you been?"

"About the same," Randy shrugged. "Busy. We had a big job just come up for next summer that I wasn't expecting, so it's going to be a rush to get ready."

"That's why you bailed out of going to Buddha's, right?" Al asked. "I'm sorry that had to happen, Randy. I'd been looking forward to kicking back and telling a few stories."

"Yeah, well, shit happens. I guess I've gotten used to it, and I might as well because it's always going to be that way."

"Does that mean you're going to dump the Bahamas trip, too?" Crystal asked.

"No, that's still on, at least for now," Randy said.

"So, Crystal," Myleigh piped up. "I am most curious as to how married life is treating you. The opportunities to change my mind are dwindling."

"Oh, pretty decent," Crystal replied noncommittally. "Telling Canyon stories in church basements all over the southeast is not exactly what I envisioned for a honeymoon back when we were in college, but it's been pretty much all right. Given a choice, I think I'd rather have done something like Scooter and Jim."

"Yeah, what do you hear from them anyway?" Randy asked. "We haven't heard much."

"Apparently they had a good surfing trip down on Baja somewhere," Al reported. "At least until Dave got hammered by a wave and wrenched his back. He's getting better, so they're going to go do Baja phase two for a few days, and then drive to Florida for the sailing trip."

"They're not going to be at Buddha and Giselle's either?" Nicole wondered.

"I guess not, and I don't blame them," Crystal replied. "I mean, if the surfing choice is between Buddha's and Baja, I'd have a tough time making the call, too."

"Right," Al agreed. "It's not going to be as big a deal as it once was. I mean, if it weren't for the fact that Buddha is an old buddy I'd be half tempted to head down there with them. Karin and I might still do it after we get back from Florida."

"Still catching up, Karin?"

"I'll never catch up," Crystal's mother replied. Her previous marriage had been distinctly without thrills and adventure, and now she had a reputation for trying to make up for lost time. "That doesn't mean I'm going to quit trying, though."

"So, Myleigh," Crystal asked, "Are you getting all ready for the big day?"

"Oh, my!" Myleigh grinned. "We do have that on the schedule, don't we Trey? We've been so busy working on the next album with Blake and Jennifer along with arrangements for our new house that it almost slipped my mind. Do you think we'll still be able to work it in?"

Trey caught the drift. "Yeah, I think we can if we don't bother changing clothes next Saturday, but as soon as it's over with we'll have to get right back to stripping paint off the banister."

"Oh, wow," Crystal shook her head. "You guys sound like you have it bad already."

"Oh, not that bad, I dare say," Myleigh smiled. "However I confess that the last week has been quite busy, between recording preparations and domestic arrangements. In all honesty, Crystal, I had not quite anticipated all the details that needed to be attended to, but Randy and Nicole have been quite helpful in easing the load."

"Are we going to be able to see this house?"

"It shouldn't be any problem," Trey said. "It's empty and cold right now, and kind of a mess. It's just a house, not a spectacular showpiece like this one. But I feel certain we ought to be able to make it fairly comfortable. Come and see it a year from now and it'll look a lot different."

"We'll have to do it," Crystal said. "At this point we don't have any plans for next winter, but that could change. It's too far in the future to make plans for something like that anyway, but we ought to be able to make it up here sometime."

"You're always welcome," Nicole smiled. "If I might break into the catching up, Myleigh and I have thrown together a little dinner. I don't know how hungry anyone is, so it's all buffet stuff, all you can eat style. We figured that would slow the reminiscing down as little as possible. It'll just take us a couple minutes to set it up."

"Food sounds like a real good idea," Crystal said. "We figured you guys would do something like that. We had a burger at Minneapolis-St. Paul that cost too much and didn't do anything about filling me up."

"Ah, yes, you still do pack it away, don't you Crystal?" Myleigh giggled. "I might suggest that you proceed with your ablutions whilst Nicole and I prepare the repast."

"Huh?" Preach frowned.

"You haven't gotten used to Myleigh have you, Hon?" Crystal giggled. "She told us to go wash our hands."

It was a pretty decent buffet, reminiscent of Canyon Tours river trips. It really hadn't taken Nicole and Myleigh much work; most of it only had to be pulled from the refrigerator, and a couple items microwaved. Since it had been unclear when the four from Flagstaff would arrive, the hot items were mostly things that could simmer for hours, like a tasty beef stew. They wound up eating Canyon Tours style in the living room, dishes in their laps or whatever while the conversation went on.

As they ate, they got Crystal and Preach to talking about the church tour. In one sense of the word, it had gone pretty well – they'd had good participation at most of the places they'd gone to, and collections had been taken up for them at enough places that it covered the cost of the tour, and then some, but not by much. After a few presentations, it had all become pretty routine, with Crystal or Preach giving the presentation of a slide show that had been loaded on a CD and shown through a laptop and aprojector . Crystal generally took the part about the Canyon, the scenery, and the adventure, while Preach made a little talk about the spiritual side of things, which was to be expected in a church tour, of course. They took questions – pretty much the same questions over and over again – and tried to be personable. In general it was well received, but it had been designed for a particular audience. A few issues had been skirted, like the age of the rocks in the canyon; there was no point in setting off undesired arguments with pinheaded doctrinaires, even Preach didn't like to get involved with arguing with them.

That was pretty much the good side. The bad side was that they were on the road all the time, traveling to a different place every day and not always short trips at that. Often they were invited to stay with a church family, and of course they did, even though it obviously cut into newlywed intimacy. Fortunately, the tour was pretty much over with; they still had the Atlanta show for Canyon Tours and a few odd church dates between the surfing at Buddha's and the second half of the Bahamas trip, so they weren't going to lack for anything to do.

"All in all, I wish I hadn't agreed to do it, at least in this time frame," Preach summed up. "But then, I didn't know we were going to be getting married when I agreed to it, either. I think we've generated some interest in the Canyon, and there have been people asking about taking trips, especially the special trips we've been talking about, so we're probably doing some good with it. I don't think the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the best time to be doing this sort of thing, and I think that we'll want to do it later in the winter next time, if we do it at all."

"Special trips?" Randy asked.

"We're talking about doing a couple of Team 2's regular trips as special church trips next season," Al explained. "Pretty much the normal trip, but with a more spiritual background, to take advantage of Preach's qualifications. We're getting some takers, and they're clearly a result of what Preach and Crystal have been doing. If it works out well, we may continue to do it, but there's no way of telling until we find out."

"Makes sense when you talk about it like that," Randy said. "I mean, doing a special interest trip like that."

"Special interest trips of one kind or another have been done for years, everything from naturalist to nudist," Al said. "I've never had a lot to do with them, but you do what you can to have full rafts when you leave Lee's Ferry."

"From what you've said, your church excursion doesn't seem to be what I had anticipated it being," Myleigh observed. "I confess I had a rather more evangelistic vision of what you were doing."

"Oh, there has to be some of that," Preach told her. "But it's more low key than I think you were imagining. It's more about living among the glory of God's wonders."

"Well, it certainly is glorious," Myleigh said. "I confess to a bit of a spiritual experience there myself, but you know about that. One of Randy's friends was very instrumental in allowing me to put it in perspective. They were here for dinner the other night and the discussion with them was most interesting."

"Who's this?" Crystal asked.

"Debbie Elkstalker and Danny Evachevski," Randy explained. "I don't think you've met them. He runs the appliance store here in town and wound up selling Myleigh and Trey a bunch of stuff. She's a Native American, a Shakahatche from up at Three Pines. She can get a little mystical; she's what the tribe calls a katara, which translates to shaman among a bunch of other things. Myleigh's right, she can be very interesting and a little magical. She helped Nicole and I get a few things straightened out between us, too."

"She's pretty cool," Trey said. "You'll meet her; she and Danny are coming to the wedding. Danny is Jennifer's younger brother, and we're going to have the wedding at Jennifer's house."

"That reminds me," Preach said, "You've never said anything about whether or not you were expecting me to do the wedding."

"No, the mayor is going to do it," Trey said. "That was set up even before we knew about you guys getting married. She's pretty cool too. We had dinner with her and her husband the other night."

"You're doing a civil ceremony?" Preach frowned. "Isn't that a little worldly for something as solemn as a wedding?"

"Perhaps," Myleigh replied. "Preach, you must understand that Trey and I are rather worldly people. We are not terribly spiritual, and having a spiritual wedding seems hypocritical at best to me. In fact, it seems more than a little hypocritical whenever a minister marries a couple who have no particular religious leanings. We did not wish to put you in that position."

"That strikes me as very thoughtful of you," Preach said. "I'll admit, I didn't feel any particular leading that I should be performing the service, one way or the other. I have to assume that God was telling me something in that."

"I appreciate your understanding," Myleigh said. "Trey and I look upon this as a formal commitment before friends, and in some cases family. We do not wish to purport to be something we are not."

Randy glanced at Nicole, and wordlessly reflected her smile back at her. He'd seen that bullet coming, and so had Myleigh. In spite of the power and pervasiveness of the local rumor mill, it wasn't well known around Spearfish Lake that the mayor was Wiccan. Randy and Nicole weren't sure if Myleigh and Trey were aware of the fact and didn't plan to tell them, but they had expressed to each other their curiosity of how high Preach would blow his top if he managed to discover that fact.

Eventually, everyone had downed all they felt like eating and then some. It had been an excellent dinner, and a warm renewal of old companionships, with much laughter and bringing things up to date, which there hadn't been much opportunity to do at Crystal's wedding. Well after the food had been put away and the dishwasher was running, Nicole asked casually, "Anyone for a spell in the hot tub? It'd be cozy but comfortable with eight in there."

"I was beginning to wonder when someone was going to bring that up," Al said. "I heard you talking about it at Crystal's wedding."

"We packed swimsuits near the top just in case," Karin added. "Al, there have been times I've thought we should have one."

"I've kicked it around," Al admitted. "It's always been one of those things I've never gotten around to doing."

"It's very nice," Randy said. "There's nothing like it to take the tensions out after a long, tough day. I suspect I'm going to get some real serious use out of it this summer when construction season gets going. Now, I'll be the first to admit that when Nicole and I are by ourselves we don't bother with swimsuits, and it does get a little, well, intimate at times. But we can wear swimsuits to preserve the sensibilities of our guests." That ought to do it, he thought. I gave them the option to go either way. Now let's see what happens.

"Well, I'm up for it," Crystal said. "I sort of wish you'd brought it up right after we got here when my back and butt were a little sore from the airliner and the rental car seats."

"No point in talking about it when we can do it," Randy said. "Trey, why don't you help me get the cover off before we head up to change?"

"Sure, no problem," he said, obviously trying to keep a straight face, while the others got up and started for their bedrooms. It only took a minute for the two to get the cover off, and they were both close to cracking up when they did it. "Nobody made a commitment one way or the other," Trey said as they finished up. "Now, this ought to be interesting."

"Remember," Randy grinned. "We just sit back, let Nicole and Myleigh take point and help out where we can. We better get changed, too. See you in a couple minutes."

It took more than a couple minutes, but not much more, before the Flagstaff contingent was heading back down the stairs. Nicole and Myleigh were right behind them, wearing bathrobes and carrying a stack of towels; Randy and Trey weren't far behind, also wearing bathrobes. They were close to right behind each other as they filed out onto the porch.

"Crystal," Nicole said with a touch of surprise. "I'm a little surprised to see you wearing a bikini like that. I would have figured that you had gotten beyond that stage."

"Well, it's among friends," Crystal shrugged. "I figure it's OK for Buddha and Giselle's, but I might not wear something this tiny on the river with customers. At least not anymore."

"Yeah," Preach opined. "That might be a little extreme."

"Honestly, I can't figure why you'd wear a bikini on the river at all," Nicole said, sticking the needle in a little further. "I mean, if you got washed out of the boat sometime you could lose it all. At least you can be pretty sure a one-piece is going to stay on." She started to peel off her bathrobe as she added, "After all, we're married now, and a one-piece is a little more modest."

"She has a point, Crystal," Preach pointed out as Crystal clambered into the hot tub, with Preach right behind her. Al and Karin weren't far behind.

"Absolutely," Myleigh added as she started to pull off her bathrobe, to reveal a white one-piece suit. Although it plunged deeply at the neckline – well below the waist, in fact – it was relatively modest. "It is necessary to maintain a degree of propriety, even among friends. We're not in college any more. What do you think of this? I thought it would be nice for lying on whatever beach Trey is taking me to on our honeymoon."

"Very nice," Crystal said. "That neckline is a little low, isn't it? I can't see how it could stay on very well."

"Oh, it's quite secure," Myleigh grinned. "I certainly believe it enhances my femininity."

"It sure does," Nicole replied complacently, tossing aside her robe to reveal the swimsuit she wore. It was actually a touch more modest than Myleigh's, but still had a neckline about as low and nothing visible along the sides. "Of course, you have a lot of femininity to enhance."

"It's all very well to stand around here comparing boobs," Randy snickered as he unbelted his own bathrobe. "But it's cool out here and warm in the tub. Let's get on with it."

"Oh, very well, if you insist," Myleigh sniffed as she turned to carefully place her bathrobe on a chair. This revealed her backside, which was absolutely bare. Well, not quite absolutely; the strings that held the swimsuit on had been on a roll of monofilament fishing line in Randy's home shop that morning, but in the low light of the porch they were nearly invisible.

"Holy crap!" Crystal sputtered. "Modest, huh?"

"Oh, quite modest," Myleigh said saucily." After all, everything that needs to be covered is covered."

"Absolutely," Nicole added, turning to reveal that her backside was just exactly as bare as Myleigh's. "I really like this suit. It'll be great for getting a tan this summer." Rather than using the step, she sat on the side of the tub and swung herself around, giving everyone in the tub a good view of her backside in the process. At the same time Myleigh stood and turned around in the tub as if looking for a clear spot, only adding to the view. This drew everyone's attention enough to not really notice that Randy and Trey were dressed in what might have been called jock straps though real jock straps had more material and were held on with more than fishing line.

Nobody even took notice of Randy and Trey getting into the tub, mostly because Myleigh had dunked herself a little and stood right back up. "Oh my, Randy," she said, revealing that the thin material on the front of her swimsuit had become nearly totally transparent where it touched her skin, notably on her chest, where every detail could be seen. The fact that the material had been salvaged from one of Randy's old T-shirts had something to do with that. "It seems very warm tonight. Did you increase the temperature?"

Randy didn't get to answer, because Crystal shook her head. "Good grief, Myleigh, you might as well not have bothered wearing a swimsuit at all."

"That's how I would prefer it," she replied, settling back down in the tub. "But I thought that we agreed that we must wear swimming costumes in order to maintain propriety."

"That's, uh, some swimsuit," Preach said with a dazed tone in his voice. "I guess you could say that it's slightly more modest than being in the nude."

"And considerably sexier," Crystal shook her head. "I mean, there's nothing hidden there, only the slight hint that there's something that you're not trying very hard to hide. I don't know that you'd have ever caught me on a public beach in a swimsuit like that, even in my wild and wooly days. Good grief, even the swimsuits Michelle likes to wear down in the Bahamas cover more than yours. I mean, I wore one like Michelle's down there a few times last year, I know what I'm talking about."

"Oh, yeah," Preach smiled. "You wore it for me once, I think trying to tease me. I wouldn't mind seeing you wear it more often."

"Good grief, Crystal," Randy shook his head. "Are you corrupting your husband?"

"Trying to, at least some," she sighed. "I gain a little ground here and there, but it's hard." She glanced at her husband with a grin that said more than words could say – a grin that seemed to say what she'd really like to be doing if there weren't other people around. He shot a grin back at her that seemed to say much the same thing. "Oh, the heck with it," she said finally, reaching behind her for the strings of the bikini top. "We're among friends after all, and this gag has gone far enough. Preach, you might as well get used to it. With this crowd there are going to be times like these. Where did you guys get those swimsuits, anyway?"

"We made them this morning," Nicole grinned. "I mean, just in case." She rolled onto her belly in front of her husband and said, "Honey, untie me please? I can't feel this fishing line enough to do it myself."

"Yes, Trey," Myleigh said as she stood up in front of him, back to him. "I would appreciate it if you would perform the same service."

"We usually say no swimsuits in the hot tub because they might clog the filter," Randy said as he worked on the knots in the fishing line. "But with these things, it might really be true if one of them got stuck in the return line."

"We gave some thought to making them out of tissue paper," Nicole added as swimsuits were coming off all over the tub. "But that really would have clogged the filter, so Randy said no." Randy untied the last knot, and Nicole peeled off what there was of hers and tossed it on the floor.

"Boy, Myleigh," Crystal shook her head. "I can just see you taking that on your honeymoon."

Oh, I'm considering it," she smiled. "The right situation might come up for it to be used properly, and do not assume I'm necessarily talking about anything to do with swimming."

"Trey," Preach shook his head. "Do you have any idea of what you're getting into?"

"I sometimes think I do," Trey said. "Then I come to my senses and realize that the answer is no. I figure it's kind of like riding a tiger. There's not much I can do but go along for the ride and enjoy it."

"I think I'm coming to that realization," Preach sighed, naked under the water now. "It hasn't been easy. It's like now. I'm a little embarrassed about this, but I'm trying not to think about how I'm going to feel when the time comes to get out of here."

"Then you haven't been in here enough yet," Randy smirked. "The idea is to get so laid back that you won't care about it when the time comes. After a while you learn not to care about it in the first place. We often find that a little wine is very relaxing with the hot tub. Would you care for some?"

"Well, yeah, I guess," Preach said. "So long as it's among friends."

"You are among friends, Preach," Nicole said. "And we hope you'll always be friends."

*   *   *

Randy and Nicole lay quietly in bed following what had become a nearly inevitable conclusion to a long and happy soak in the hot tub. Both of them felt a considerable glow following their activities as they held each other tight. "I'm glad that worked out," Nicole whispered in her husband's ear. "I'm beginning to think that Crystal and Preach are really going to work out."

"Yeah," Randy agreed. "I'm beginning to think so too."

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