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 27

Monday, December 31, 2001

Randy, Nicole, and the Flagstaff contingent, including Duane and Michelle, headed back to Randy and Nicole's house after the wedding. Trey and Myleigh had been there and left and as far as Randy knew were on their way to Camden, a motel, and an airport in the morning. The eight of them still there had a relaxing evening, which included a soak in the hot tub of course. However, they knocked it off early; Duane and Michelle headed back out to the trailer at Run-8 Kennels, while the Flagstaff bunch got to bed early. They had an early plane to Florida the next morning, and a week or more of lying around on the beach, surfing, and shooting the bull with Buddha and Giselle.

Early the next morning, Randy and Nicole watched Al, Karin, Crystal and Preach get into the rental car and head for parts southward. It was a cold morning. Scraping frost off the rental car and warming it up had taken a while, and it still left a cloud of vapor behind as it departed up Lakeshore Drive.

"Don't you wish you were going with them?" Nicole asked as she and Randy stood watching their friends drive off.

"Of course I do," Randy snorted. "Hell, as cold as it is out there, Florida really sounds nice. But there are such things as priorities, and the realist side of me says going to Florida has a lower priority than the other things I have to get done this week. They ought to have a good time, and I wish them well. But I have my own fish to fry."

There was no doubt in Nicole's mind that Randy was still touchy about the whole thing, and she decided she'd better not go any further in that direction. "So, what do you have in mind for today?" she asked.

"What I want to do and what I have to do are two different things," he shrugged. "What I have to do is get work made up that I lost time for being sociable with everyone the last few days. I've got some serious homework to do so as to not get hosed in that meeting with the Three Cherries people later this week. It'll be quiet out at the office today with no one around and no phones ringing, so I might be able to get something done."

"I suppose," Nicole sighed. She'd had other things in mind, but she understood that sometimes work had to come first to Randy. "Would you like me to pack you a lunch?"

"No," Randy shrugged. "If I hit a good break point around noon I'll just come home and grab something."

"Why don't you give me a call just before you leave? I'll throw something together."

So, Randy went off to work on Sunday, leaving Nicole home doing odds and ends. After having company around for so long, there was a lot of cleaning to do, and a lot of laundry to get done. The house full of friends they didn't see often enough was fun, but it got old after a while, too.

Noon came, then one, then two, and there was no call from Randy. Nicole thought about calling him, but decided against it and put together a sandwich for her own lunch. He finally showed up about 4:30. "Sorry I didn't make it home for lunch," he said. "But I got buried in figures and didn't want to break my concentration."

"I understand," she said. "At least you're home a little early. Why don't you go soak in the hot tub while I get started on an early dinner?"

"I've got a better idea," he smirked. "Why don't we both go soak in the hot tub and then go out for dinner? I think the cafe is open."

"Well, all right," she smiled. "Maybe we can get some quality time in afterwards."

"Sounds good to me."

Randy was up early again on Monday morning. With New Year's Eve falling between the weekend and New Year's, many people took it off. But, Randy still faced an appalling pile of work on his desk to prepare for that meeting, and he still wanted to at least think about what he would have an assistant, presumably Carlos, doing for him. This time, he managed to make it home for lunch, although it was clear that, when his mind wasn't on the Three Cherries ski lodge, it was on surfing in Florida, where he would have been if it hadn't been for the lodge. He was so distracted that Nicole was glad to see him heading back to work. This afternoon, there wasn't much for her to do but to find a good book and curl up in front of the fireplace; the house seemed empty after having guests around for so long.

Randy was not unaware of the fact that the next day was both New Year's Day and his second anniversary. He also noticed that Nicole had been getting restive, so he more or less had plans to knock off early, get some hot tub time in, then take Nicole out to the Spearfish Lake Inn. There was supposed to be a band out there that evening; maybe they could have a few drinks and double-dip the holidays. Tomorrow, he could take the day off; he and Nicole could watch a couple parades on TV, and generally screw around. It was pretty clear to him that they both needed a day off from anything but themselves.

He worked a little later in the afternoon than he had planned, but his idea was to dig the pile on his desk down enough so that he wouldn't have to feel guilty about taking New Year's Day off. He got home about 4:30 again, to find Nicole just starting a movie on videotape. He hadn't seen it before, but it looked pretty good, so he sat down in the living room to watch it with her. During a slow spot, he raised the thought of going out to the Inn for the evening. Nicole said it was a good idea, but that she was getting into the movie and would like to finish it before they left. Randy didn't object; it turned out he didn't much care for the movie, and wound up falling asleep in his easy chair.

He woke up after dark; the movie was just ending, and he decided he hadn't missed much. "Are you about ready to head out to the Inn?" he asked as the credits began to roll.

"Another few minutes," she said. "I've got a few things to do to get around."

"Fine with me, I'm in no rush," he replied. "Dress up, do you think? Or can we get by with what we have on?"

"I don't know about you," she told him, "But I'm going to get out of this sweat shirt and get on a nice sweater."

Randy was starting to think sarcastic thoughts about women taking so long to get ready for anything when he saw lights pulling into the driveway. Now what, he wondered. He got up to see, and Nicole joined him from the kitchen.

They opened the door to see several cars sitting in the driveway and people coming toward them, carrying things. "Now what?" he wondered again, this time saying it softly to Nicole. As their visitors got closer, Randy could see that it was Duane and Michelle, Josh and Tiffany, Danny and Debbie, with Blake and Jennifer bringing up the rear. "Hi, folks," he said. "What's up?"

"Surprise!" Everyone yelled – Nicole, too.

"Surprise?" he said. "What the heck?"

No one answered him until all were inside, when Nicole told him. "We knew you were disappointed to not be able to go to Florida," she smiled. "I was talking about it with Jennifer at the wedding, and we decided that since you couldn't go to a beach party there, we'd have one here for our anniversary and New Years."

"Beach party?" he smiled. "Nicole, I hate to tell you, but it's a little cold to sit out on the beach tonight."

"Who said anything about sitting out on the beach here?" she smirked. "We've got most of the makings right here in the house. We've got friends, we've got a fire, we've got hot dogs and marshmallows, we've got beer, we've got warm water, and if you want to go out to the garage and bring them in we've even got a couple surfboards for decorations. We've even got guitars. What more do you need?"

*   *   *

The gas fireplace didn't have exactly the ambiance of a wood fire on a beach somewhere, but with the gas turned up high it made an adequate substitute. It was possible to roast hot dogs on skewers over the fire for those who wanted to, but for most Nicole put the microwave to work. To help with the feeling of a beach party, Blake and Duane shoved the furniture back so there would be more room to sit on the floor, which despite the lack of sand served nicely as a beach substitute.

This was the first time most of them had seen one another since Myleigh and Trey's wedding a couple days before – in fact, some of the food Blake and Jennifer brought looked suspiciously like leftovers. Naturally, rehashing some of the events of the wedding was a good place to start conversation. "That was an absolutely perfect gag you guys pulled on Myleigh with the handcuffs," Jennifer grinned. "The look of wistful frustration on her face when she realized that she wouldn't be able to play that harp was absolutely priceless."

"I'm glad it worked out," Nicole said. "You have no idea how much time Randy and I spent trying to come up with something. We had lots of good ideas but nothing that seemed to fit."

"When I found out about the harp it really fell into place," Randy laughed. "She really seemed complacent about the handcuffs until she saw that harp, and that really made it work. I'm just glad I found out about it."

"I wonder what they're doing right now," Michelle giggled.

"Considering that it's their honeymoon, I'd be willing to guess that they don't have much on in the way of clothes," Debbie snickered. "After all, it's only around eight, that's plenty late for them to be staying up. Do you have any idea where they were going?"

"I guess I can say it now," Randy said. "Trey was trying to surprise her, so he was trying to keep it quiet, but he told me when we drove out to see if the ski hill was open. He said he wanted to go someplace warm, on a beach, and where there weren't a bunch of little kids hanging around. They're going to Mexico, some place on the Yucatan, the Maya Riviera, I think he said. Someplace called the Tiburon Bahia Resort that he found through a travel agent in Kansas City."

"Yep," Danny laughed. "They're going to have a memorable honeymoon, all right."

"You know this place?" Josh asked.

"Yeah, I went there with my ex once upon a time," Danny said. "Very comfortable, very personal, a nice beach, and clothing optional, too."

"Clothing optional?" Randy frowned.

"Oh, yeah," Danny smiled. "I wonder if Trey knew that. There was no way I could ever get my ex to go anyplace where she couldn't hang her bare ass out in the sun."

"Oh, my God!" Nicole laughed, almost howling. "What if he didn't know it?"

The room erupted in laughter at the thought of the two of them not knowing it and discovering it the hard way.

"God, that'd be embarrassing," Michelle giggled.

"Yeah," Randy laughed. "But you know what? I'll bet that Myleigh took it in stride while Trey was the one dithering about it. God, that would have been fun to see!"

"So the magic question becomes if they got down to the buff," Tiffany giggled. "I wouldn't have had any problem with it, and I know that most of us here probably wouldn't either. But Myleigh, well, you never know quite what to think. She comes across as so straight most of the time, but you learn pretty quickly that she hears a different drummer out there somewhere."

"No fooling," Randy grinned. "Sometimes I think she hears a lot of different drummers."

"It wouldn't surprise me if she went bare-assed," Michelle grinned. "If she wants to, she won't be shy about it. Look at those times during the recording sessions."

"What's this?" Blake asked. "Nude recording sessions? I never heard about that!"

"Oh, yeah," Michelle giggled. "She didn't tell you about that? Well, only Trey and I were there." She went on to relate the story of the occasions when Myleigh felt more comfortable playing her harp in the nude, while being driven by her unseen muse. "All she ever said about it was she could feel that was the way it had to be done to get the music she wanted," she concluded.

"She's not body shy if she doesn't want to be," Nicole agreed, and told the story of the two of them wearing their alleged swimsuits a few nights before.

"Oh, God," Michelle giggled. "A one-piece made out of T-shirt material and fishing line? God, that sounds like a scream. I've got to get me one of those!"

"Michelle," Duane snorted. "I don't know about you sometimes, though I'd love to see you wearing something like that."

"Oh, don't be silly," she smiled. "It's for a tease, nothing more, nothing less. Hell, all of us are probably going to wind up nude in the hot tub tonight, and with ten of us it's going to be cozy. It won't mean a thing. But a suit like that is playing peek-a-boo; it's bound to be sexier. You like sexier, don't you?"

Danny broke into the conversation. "Seeing as how I've been around nudists much of my life, I'd have to say that I find a woman wearing a really tiny, daring bikini sexier than if she were nude. There's a thrill of exploring the unknown involved that isn't as much fun as when you know what's there. It's part of the reason why if I had a choice of hanging around a public beach or a nude beach, I'd take the public one. There's more room for the imagination to work."

"Well, given a choice I'd rather hang around a nice, warm sunny beach than freeze my butt," Debbie said. "I never thought I'd find myself saying this, but I think I've come to where I can say it doesn't matter to me whether it's a nude beach or a public one."

"Yeah, as much as I like winter, I like summer better," Tiffany said – a startling statement from a retired Iditarod racer.

"Well, maybe when summer rolls around we'll have to put together a surfing trip somewhere," Randy said. "Sorry Duane, Michelle, you won't be able to go, but I'll bet that Myleigh and Trey would be glad to take your spots."

"We had a great time when we went surfing with them last summer," Jennifer commented. "I never was much of a surfer, but it was fun."

"I've never tried it," Tiffany shrugged. "I was always too busy with my dogs. It looks like it ought to be fun, though."

"If you're a halfway decent swimmer, it can be fun," Randy told her. "Danny, Debbie, you've never tried it either, have you?"

"Afraid not," Danny said. "I lived all that time in Florida and it never crossed my mind. Now that I'm a thousand miles from the ocean, it sounds like fun, especially if it's someplace warmer than Lake Michigan, and lots warmer than Lake Superior."

"A lot of it is dependent on weather," Randy said. "But when it gets to be summer, I'll keep my eye on it. If we can find a good weekend, we can load up and go, even if we have to go to the far side of Lake Michigan or something. You don't often get good surf on the big lakes, so you have to grab it when you can."

"Ah, summer," Jennifer sighed. "It'll come eventually. I'd love to do something like that, and I'll have had the baby by then. As much as I like this town, winter lasts too long here. You know that it's been going on too long when twenty degrees starts to sound reasonable."

The talk went on like that for a while, and eventually Michelle decided that the time had come to break out her guitar. Jennifer and Blake decided to beg off playing this evening; all too often they were the ones who wound up with guitars in hand. Jennifer came right out and said that it was a treat for her to sit back and let someone else worry about the music; she liked watching as much as anyone else, and at a party like this she and Blake rarely got the chance.

Michelle proved to be pretty good with a guitar – not up to Jennifer or Blake's standards, but pretty good, and she had a repertoire of some good campfire music, some of which indeed proved to be pretty rowdy. She'd added to her collection a little from Dayna and Sandy down in Bradford, who also had a good collection of bawdy songs, even if they were a little more slanted toward renaissance faire audiences. Many of her songs were new to most of the crowd, which also was something that didn't happen around Blake and Jennifer very often. After a while, Randy went up and got his six-string to make a duet out of it; it proved that there were a few songs both of them knew.

"Hey," Randy said at one point. "I've got one that ought to go well with what we were talking about earlier. Michelle, do you know Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini?"

"Of course," Michelle smirked. "Except I changed the words a little. In this day and age, it has to be something more like Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Tiny Yellow Thong Bikini."

"Perfect!" Randy mugged. "I'll bet you've got one, too."

"Oh, of course," she grinned back. "You'll get to see it down in the Bahamas, too, that is if Nicole will let me wear it."

"Wear whatever you like," Nicole told her, a grin broad across her face. "I'll even give you a yellow T-shirt material and fishing line one-piece if you'll use it to get Randy wound up tighter. I want him roaring and ready to go when he gets back."

"Are you sure?" Michelle asked. "I mean, it's like I told you before. Since we'll be the only two on the trip without spouses, people are going to sort of push us together. There's no point in my teasing him that much if we're not going to do anything about it."

"Tease him all you like," Nicole laughed. "Look, Michelle, I want him to have a good time. I want this to be a vacation he'll remember, but I also want him gritting his teeth until he can make it back to me."

"All right," Michelle replied tentatively, but with an evil grin in her eye. "You asked for it. Randy, let's take a run through Tiny Thong Bikini."

Somehow, it was like they'd been practicing it for weeks. The two of them had styles that complimented each other, and voices that fit well together, too. It soon proved the two of them had a pretty good repertoire of Jimmy Buffett and Beach Boys songs. Some they couldn't get together on quite as well as Tiny Thong Bikini on the first try, and a couple times they went back and did a song again just for the sake of trying to get it right.

"You two are pretty good," Jennifer finally said. "Do the two of you know Little Old Lady from Pasadena?"

"'It's the little old lady from Pasadena . . .' the two started to sing in unison as a reply. They couldn't remember all the words, but between them they managed to work their way through most of it, laughing most of the way.

"You guys are just too cool," Blake laughed as they finished it up. "Jennifer, we ought to write a few goofball novelty songs for them, just for the fun of it."

"Oh, yeah!" Jennifer replied enthusiastically. "Do you remember . . . no, that's more of a Myleigh song, we'll have to run it by her sometime . . . oh hell, why can't I think of it? Oh! Long Blonde Hair."

"I think so," Blake smiled. "We only played around with it for a day or two, and that was years ago. Long blonde hair, swingin' in the breeze, blowin' in the wind, shakin' my knees? Yeah, you're right, that'd be a hell of a song for them. We never worked much instrumentation into it, but just a couple of guitars and good voices like theirs would make it work out just fine. I don't remember all of it off the top of my head, though."

"Now that I'm thinking about it, I think I remember at least some of the lyrics. Michelle, would you loan me your guitar? I usually remember a song better when I'm playing it."

As Jennifer had said, the instrumentation was simple, but playing it brought it to memory. She went through it once, then handed the guitar back to Michelle, who ran through it a couple times with Randy. By the second run through, they had it down pretty good and were adding some embellishments. "Yeah," Michelle said. "We'll have to do that one down in the Bahamas."

"I think that if Blake and I dig around in our files we can come up with a few more like that," Jennifer told her. "We get silly now and then. Why don't the two of you plan on coming over for an evening in a week or so, and we can jam a little. OK, Randy knows the deal on this; you can't tell anyone where the song came from, just that you heard it from a friend, all right?"

"Sure," Michelle said. "I think it would be a ball."

Randy and Michelle played guitars and sang for a while longer. Blake and Jennifer dredged another one of their creations up from memory, and soon Randy and Michelle were playing that, too. More beer was drunk; Nicole brought out a plate of nachos and dip, and they snacked their way through that. After a while, someone made a suggestion about the hot tub, and in rather short order the party moved out onto the porch, where clothes were shed and the tub was occupied. It was rather snug for the ten of them in there, but no one seemed to mind. There was more laughter, there were more stories told, more teasing.

It was nearing midnight when everyone had about had all the soaking they wanted. People got dressed and gravitated back toward the living room and the fireplace. More bottles were opened, more munchies were consumed, and they all continued to have a good time. As the hands of the clock started to point nearly straight up, someone turned on the television and they watched the traditional descent of the ball in Times Square in New York. "Happy New Year!" they all cried.

Nicole turned and gave her husband a big kiss. "And a Happy Anniversary to you, too."

Once it was past midnight the party died out quickly. Most of those present were early-to-bed, early-to-rise types and it was well past everyone's bedtime. Of course, everyone pitched in with the cleaning up and putting furniture back where it belonged, and an hour into the New Year everyone had departed.

There wasn't much left for Randy and Nicole to do but get around and go to bed. "All right, Nicole," Randy said as they headed up the stairs toward their bedroom. "I guess I was being a bit of a butthead about working yesterday and today, but I about had to do it. This was a hell of a good idea and a hell of a good party, though."

"It wasn't Florida," she replied. "But it was the best we could do under the circumstances. I hope it was good enough."

"More than good enough," Randy told her. "On balance, I think I would rather have had this beach party here with these people anyway. Crystal and Al and the others are our friends, and I hope they will always be. But tonight we had friends we're going to see a lot more of. I mean, with the exception of Duane and Michelle, everyone was from around home, and in a few months we'll have Myleigh and Trey replacing them, so to speak."

He climbed the rest of the way up the stairs in silence, obviously turning something over in his mind as he peeled off his shirt. "You know, wife of mine of two years, I have to think that this evening points the way toward something."

"What's that?" she said, slipping out of the jeans that she'd worn all evening, except while in the hot tub.

"I don't know how to say this," he said. "But maybe Myleigh and Trey moving here has something to do with it. I don't want to cut off our friendships with Crystal and Preach and the Flagstaff gang, but I think we need to concentrate our friendships and social efforts a little closer to home. I mean, this is where we live, and where we're going to spend the majority of our time. I wouldn't mind seeing more of that crowd in the future."

"That was kind of my thinking, too," she agreed. "It seems like we've been working our way in that direction for the past couple months, and I think it's the right direction to take. I hope we'll be seeing Crystal and Preach and that gang some more, too. They're a lot of fun, but Flagstaff is a long way from here, and we're not going to see them very often."

By now, both of them were nude, and it didn't take much reading of each other's nonverbal cues to realize that the evening wasn't over yet. In seconds they were under the covers of the bed, and snuggling up to each other. "It almost seems like I'm not doing the right thing by going on the sailing trip," Randy told her. "It won't have you on it, and won't have any of our friends from around here, except for Michelle, and she's really part of the Flagstaff gang."

"It's not perfect," she said. "It would be nice if it could be, but it's not. Randy, I've told you a hundred times, you deserve a trip where I'm not along, and the sailing trip is perfect for that. I don't know Dave and Mary either, but we both know that Scooter and Jim are cool, and Michelle is something else. You should have a great time."

"Did you really mean what you told her?" he said. "I thought you might, well, sort of resent the two of us going out and doing that stuff."

"I wouldn't mind being there," she whispered. "But I trust you, Randy, and I think I trust Michelle. I think the two of you can have a good time without taking it to bed. If I didn't think that, I wouldn't have been pushing you to go. Now, shut up and kiss me."

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