Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Back in her room, Susan took the opportunity to unpack her bags. There were things that would have to go through the washing machine, but some of it could be put away. She hadn’t taken a lot of clothing to Germany, instead filled out her wardrobe shopping there. But, being back home, she decided to wear some of the things still in her closet. It was a little surprising to find that a favorite pair of shorts were now uncomfortable, a touch on the small side.
There could be no doubt – she’d filled out some while she’d been in Germany, and more than she was happy about, especially around her hips. She’d never had a bubble butt by any means, but the results of a year’s worth of good German cooking were obvious. Another item for the list of things to be working on over the next year, she thought, along with cleaning out the closet of other stuff that was too small, or was now too teeny-bopper for the tastes she’d acquired.
Since the party was going to be an open house, Susan figured she’d better dress up a bit or her mother would have kittens. After some pawing around in her drawers and closet, rejecting things that she would have thought appropriate a year before, she decided to wear a black skirt that had hung a little low on her hips when she’d last worn it, to the point that her mother had made a pointed comment on it. Now, it proved to ride a little higher and consequently a little short. But, it was July, after all; it was going to be hot, and a short skirt seemed appropriate.
She added a turquoise sleeveless knit top that was on the tightish side, then checked herself out in the mirror again. Not bad, she thought; like other things, her tastes in her appearance had changed in the last year, but not all that much. Cindy would probably find something to pick at her about, but then Cindy usually managed to find something anyway.
Unable to think of anything else to stall off the inevitable, she made a final couple of adjustments and headed back out to the living room. She was a little surprised to discover that Cindy wasn’t there. However, Henry was sitting on the sofa, with a cup of coffee in his hand and a bleary look on his face. “Good morning, sunshine,” she said in a cheery voice. “Ready to face the day?”
“Not if I can help it,” he shook his head, looking glum and barely awake. “How does it feel to be back in the world?”
“I never left the world,” she smiled, “although it would have been interesting. But being back in Spearfish Lake is kind of a bummer. It’s kind of like my coach turned back into a pumpkin.”
“Yeah, I imagine,” he said. “You must have had some adventures worth remembering.”
“Oh, yeah,” she smiled. “I had a good time, and I think I learned a lot. There’s a lot more to the world than Spearfish Lake.”
“Well, yeah,” he shrugged. “But you knew that already.”
“There’s a big difference between knowing it and experiencing it,” she replied. “Tell me, isn’t Springfield a lot different than Spearfish Lake?”
“In some ways,” he said. “It’s not bad, but it could be better. I’m probably not going to be there too much longer, anyway.”
“Yeah, Cindy was saying something about that earlier,” she commented.
“Oh, Springfield is all right,” he shrugged. “But Springfield is not quite where I want to spend the rest of my life. The stations are all right, but it’s not where the action is. I’m tired of doing penny-ante stuff like Restaurant Report Card. It’s just space filler at best and management treats it like it’s a big deal.”
“So, are you satisfied with going into electronic journalism?”
“Well, pretty much,” he sighed. “You know that I’ve always liked journalism, but if I’m in print there’s too much chance of having to come back here. I’m like you; I want to see the world a little. You’ve done a better job of it than I have so far.”
“I’m still thinking about what I want to do,” she said sympathetically. “I’m wondering if electronic journalism will allow me to do that.”
“To be honest, knowing what I know now, I’d be doubtful. Except for a few top-end people, it’s cheaper for the networks to hire producers and the like who are local people, and oftentimes they don’t pay much. If you’re looking at journalism as a ticket back to Europe, you can pretty well forget it.”
“I’ve wondered about it,” she replied, seeing one otherwise interesting job possibility most likely shot in the ass, and it would have been one easy to work into with her family background and experience already.
“I’m not saying it isn’t a possible solution,” Henry said, seeing Susan’s disappointment. He could read her pretty well, after all. “But doing it from a network viewpoint is going to be just about impossible starting out from the bottom, even with your language skills. But there might be other angles. I happened to notice a travel show on a cable network the other night. It was part of a series, and they seemed to get around Europe pretty thoroughly. I’ll bet there aren’t more than two or three people on that crew including the gal who narrates it, and they probably do all the cutting and everything else. It seems like a pretty marginal way to make a living, but they seem to explore and show a lot of new places.”
“Well, that’s something to think about,” Susan replied, brightening a little bit.
“Oh, there’s got to be a way,” Henry commiserated. “You just have to find it. Actually, I think the best bet isn’t in media at all, but somewhere in business. I don’t know where, but there has to be some place that’s crying for your language skills.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I just have to find that someplace.”
“It’s got to be a lot like TV,” he shook his head. “You spend most of your life looking for it. Once you think you’ve got a spot, you’re looking for the next one even before you get the first one. It’s not like being a high school teacher where you get tenure after a while. You have to figure on keeping moving, and don’t be surprised if some of the places you end up include some hot and dirty and dangerous places like, oh, Iraq.”
“I’ll take Europe, thanks.”
“So would I. So would almost anybody, except for maybe a few danger freaks. But sometimes, that’s going to be part of the price you have to pay. About all I can say is don’t let yourself get locked into a specialty. Stay flexible, so you can fit into a lot of different places.”
That was darn good advice and Susan knew it. She’d always known her brother had a good head on his shoulders, although what he saw in Cindy escaped her completely. Susan had gotten along pretty well with him as kids, even though he was so much older than she was. And, what he was saying wasn’t anything she hadn’t thought about at least a little over the past few years. There had to be a spot where she could accomplish what she wanted to; all she had to do was find it.
The party was set up as an open house, which meant that there would be people coming and going all afternoon, and Susan knew that she would have to at least greet everyone and have a few words with each. There were a few people she didn’t much care for who were invited because they had to be, but she knew who they were and would interact with them as little as she could get away with.
There were a few people, though, who she was genuinely happy to see, and the head of that list was Oma Birgit, of course. In the past year she had aged more than Susan had imagined she would. As soon as they saw each other they started in on an excited conversation in German about the things Susan had done – well, some of them, anyway. Susan didn’t think Oma would be all that interested in some of the personal details even if Susan had wanted to tell her, which she didn’t. Those were things best left in Germany, she thought.
When they both came up for air, Susan heard a voice next to her say, “Wow, you really are good at that, aren’t you?”
“I’ve done it most of my life,” Susan replied, turning to see Megan Szczerowski standing next to her. She was a little shorter than Susan, and had long, curly brownish-red hair parted in the middle. “And Oma here is where I learned most of it. So how have things been in Spearfish Lake?”
“Pretty much the same,” Megan replied unenthusiastically. “Not much changes here. I’m looking forward to getting this next year over with so I can get out of here.”
“Well, I have to say pretty much the same thing,” Susan replied.
“No doubt,” Megan smiled. “Although if I know you, your definition of ‘out’ is a little broader than it is for the rest of us. So, did you really like Germany?”
“I loved it,” Susan smiled, willing to be a little straighter with Megan than she might be with some other of her classmates. Susan had never been a high school social butterfly; she had her own goals in life and they sometimes were a lot different than those of many of the kids she’d gone to school with. That meant she hadn’t had many school friends, as evidenced by the fact that Megan was the only one who had shown up for the open house, at least so far. But then, Megan was a much closer friend than most of her other classmates, maybe all of them. “I had a really great time, saw a lot of stuff I wanted to see,” she replied, and continued honestly but obliquely, “And I got to do a lot of things I never expected.”
“So,” Megan said “are you glad to be back?”
“Not particularly,” Susan replied, still being honest. “I was having such a good time it was hard to give it up. It’s going to be hard to go back to all the familiar little petty squabbles around school.”
“That sure hasn’t gotten any better while you’ve been gone,” Megan shook her head. “There’s all too many girls who can’t find anything better to do than gossip about each other when they’re not trying to stab each other in the back over a football-player boyfriend or a spot on the cheerleading team, or something.”
“Yeah, I was pretty tired of the fluttering social butterflies before I left, and I can’t imagine it would have changed very much while I was gone. It all seemed so, well juvenile to me. There was some of it in school in Germany but nothing like it is here. There you have kids who are in school to learn, and not just there to advance their social standing.”
“I suppose you don’t want to hear any of the dirty details, then?”
“Not now for sure, and maybe not ever,” Susan shrugged. “I’ll be back living in the middle of it all too soon. I take it you’re trying to stay out of it when you can.”
“Well, yeah, pretty much,” Megan replied. “It hasn’t made the summer go any quicker. My older sister had a baby last spring, and I’ve been helping out with my new nephew a little.”
“You mean Mrs. Clark?” Susan replied with a bit of surprise. Mrs. Clark – her first name was Nicole although she never used it to her face – had been a teacher she’d liked more than most. She was one teacher who knew what it was like to have an itch to do something more than hang around Spearfish Lake. Mrs. Clark had spent a summer hiking the Appalachian Trail after she’d gotten out of college, and there had been a couple of AT posters in the classroom when Susan had taken classes from her. “I didn’t know she was pregnant. I guess I did miss some news.”
“I don’t even know if she was pregnant when you left,” Megan shrugged. “You’ve been gone for a while, after all. I guess some things do change. She took most of the spring off on her maternity leave, but she’s going to be back teaching when school starts.”
“Well, good for her, I guess,” Susan said. “There’s a lot of things I haven’t figured out in my life, but one of the things I have figured out is that I have no desire to be a breeder, now or ever.”
“I used to think that,” Megan admitted. “And maybe I still think that way most of the time, but watching her with little Brent has had me thinking the other way once or twice.”
“If that’s what you want, I guess,” Susan shook her head, shuddering inside. As much as she had come to like sex in the past year – something she wasn’t quite ready to admit to Megan or anyone else on this side of the Atlantic Ocean – babies just weren’t part of her life plan. “There’s something about being pregnant that seems a little creepy to me, like having an alien growing inside you. You know, like the movie.”
“Yeah, I’ve thought that way too sometimes,” Megan agreed. “That part of it is a little scary, and there are a lot of other scary parts. So,” she said, pointedly changing the subject, “what are you going to be doing between now and when school starts?”
“Probably just trying to get my mind back in Spearfish Lake,” Susan sighed. “I guess I ought to submit to the inevitable and get over to the school sometime in the next few days to get registered for classes. Are there any new teachers I should avoid?”
“There are a couple new ones,” Megan said. “At least as a senior you ought to be able to avoid Mr. Ordway. He’s a really creepy guy. He’s uh, well, I don’t want to say he’s gay, but he sure acts like he is. He’s pretty weird, gay or not, and the kids I know who had him last year pretty much say to keep away from him. I guess this year he’s going to have most of the junior English classes.”
“Good, I ought to be able to miss him, all right. Another advantage to being a senior, but I just wish I didn’t have to go back at all.”
“Well, yeah, I guess,” Megan said. “But our senior year ought to be at least a little bit fun, too. It’ll be kinda nice to finally be at the top of the heap.”
“I suppose,” Susan sighed. “But right now, it seems like being a medium-sized fish in an awful small pond.”
The conversation with Megan, while not super interesting, was better than some of the others Susan could have been involved with around the room, so she was paying more than usual attention to it, enough so that she didn’t notice her mother approaching. “Susan,” her mother broke into the conversation gently in a low voice, “I know you’ve missed Megan, but you really should be circulating a little more.”
“Yeah, Mom, I suppose,” Susan said, just a little ticked at having her mother jiggle her elbow but realizing there was nothing that could be said about it at the time. “Megan, we’ll have to get together sometime in the next couple days and really get caught up on things. Do you have wheels now?”
“Yeah, a little Dodge Neon my folks got for me,” Megan replied. “It’s old and a little beat up, but it gets me around town. I can pick you up or something.”
“I hear I’ve got wheels too,” Susan admitted. “My folks told me they’ve gotten me a Chevy Cavalier, but I haven’t even seen it yet, let alone driven it. That’s something else I have to do, get acquainted with it. Why don’t I give you a call tomorrow so we can go somewhere and talk about things?”
“Sure, that sounds good to me,” Megan replied, realizing the pressure Susan was under. “Maybe I’ll hang around a bit, grab some munchies, and see if you have some time to talk a little later.”
“I’d like that,” Susan replied. “It’s good to see a friendly face.”
With that, Susan drifted off looking for another conversation to get involved with, hoping to at least keep her mother happy, and eventually found herself talking with John Archer and his wife, Candice. She wasn’t surprised that they were there, since she’d seen their boys, Shay and Cody, around the room someplace although apparently outside or something now. The Archers were shirt-tail relatives; John was the brother of Susan’s oldest sister’s husband. He ran the accounting business downtown, but Candice was something of a celebrity as things went in Spearfish Lake, since she was another Iditarod musher, like Tiffany and her husband Josh had been.
“Do I remember that you ran the Iditarod again last spring?” Susan asked, more to make conversation than anything else.
“No,” Candice told her. Candice was as tall as Susan, and about the same body shape although considerably more muscular. She had long dark hair done in bangs, and it looked pretty good on her, Susan thought. “We were planning on me doing it when you left, but things happened. It looks like I’m going to do it again next spring, though. My first run was all right and an adventure of a lifetime, but I’d like to see if I can do better.”
“Well, if that’s what you like,” Susan said. “I guess you know I’ve never been very interested in dogsledding. Too many other people in the family have already beaten me to it.”
“I can understand,” Candice said. “At least you don’t have the last name of Archer. People think that the Archers are all crazy dogsledders. The heck of it is, they’re pretty much right. I suppose once in a while a kid has to break away from the mold and do other things.”
“That’s pretty close to right,” Susan said. She liked Candice; she was a very friendly woman, though not exactly a Spearfish Lake native; she and her husband and kids had only been in town four years or so. “When I was little, it seemed that a lot of the life around the house revolved around Josh and Tiffany and their teams. You know who I’m named for, right?”
“Susan Butcher, the Alaskan musher,” Candice smiled. “I heard that story a long time ago. That was Tiffany’s idea, right?”
“Yeah, and I think Mom might have not been thinking too well at the time,” Susan smiled. “Although I’ve come to like it, especially since I’ve heard some of the other names Mom and Dad were throwing around. But to have so much dogsledding going on around me when I was little made it all seem very everyday and normal to me, so much so that I wanted to do something else. I think that was part of the reason I spent so much time with my grandmother.”
“And learning German every step of the way. So, how did you like Germany? I mean, really?”
“Really, I liked it a lot,” Susan replied. “I don’t know exactly how to say it, but there’s a mindset there that’s a lot different than we’re used to in America.”
“Maybe I ought to ask it this way,” Candice smiled. “What didn’t you like about Germany?”
“Honestly?” Susan smiled. “Being an American was the worst part about the whole experience. There are a lot of people in Germany who are very critical of American policies, especially in Iraq, and of course they wanted to argue with me about it. I swear, the first couple months there the question, ‘Did you vote for Bush?’ came up in about the third sentence I exchanged in every conversation, and I had to explain that I’m not old enough to vote yet, and I wouldn’t have voted for him if I could have. Usually that didn’t matter; I’d be ranted at for fifteen minutes about all the sins the Amis are committing all over the world. That shit got very old after a while. Most people here aren’t aware of the fact that I speak German with a little bit of a Plattdeutsch accent I got from Oma. That’s what some people call ‘Low German’ and is a lot closer to Dutch than High German. That worked out in my favor, since no one expects an American to be speaking Plattdeutsch. I finally learned to bear down on the Plattdeutsch when I was talking to someone new, and try not to mention that I’m an American. After that it went pretty good, but I suppose it made me think a little more like a German, too.”
A new voice joined in the conversation. “That had to be difficult, having to try to be diplomatic when you really aren’t thrilled with the government’s policies in the first place.” Susan glanced over to see that it was Harold Hekkinan, the high school principal and a long-time friend of the family. He was older than her father, somewhere around sixty, Susan thought, and the gossip around the school before she left was that he had to be getting pretty close to retiring.
“Well, I always thought Bush was an idiot, but it was hard to convince people in Germany that I really felt that way,” Susan replied, turning to look at the principal. “Enough people there are upset with his whole policy, not only in the Middle East but elsewhere, that they really like to sound off about it to anyone they think they can rant at. For a while, that was me, and I didn’t think it was real fair to saddle me with that responsibility. But, like I said, I learned how to avoid getting into those kinds of conversations after a while. Or, if I did, I had to just forget that I was an American and go along quietly.”
“I agree, he’s not winning any votes in Europe, but there aren’t any there for him to win, either,” Hekkinan replied pragmatically.
“Well, I sure wouldn’t vote for him, not that I’d be able to this year, anyway,” Susan pointed out. “And that’s not my German experience talking, either.” She realized that this discussion was getting a little political for a family open house, so she changed the subject. “So, how are things at the high school?” she asked.
“Pretty much the same,” Hekkinan replied. “I think I can say that we’re looking forward to having you back so you can bring some of the viewpoint of a different place in the world back to your classmates. Most of them don’t have anything like your depth of experience, or really fully realize that there’s much of a world beyond Spearfish Lake, or at least the borders of the country. It really should be a bit of enlightenment for them.”
“Well, that’s part of the reason I did the exchange-student thing in the first place,” Susan told him. “I think it would be a great idea if more kids were to do something like I did. I admit, I have language skills that made it easier for me to do than most people, but it’s not that difficult if a kid is willing to try, and accept different viewpoints.”
“I’ve said that for years,” Hekkinan replied. “But in my experience, you’re only the second student who’s taken an exchange year since I’ve been principal, and the other one went to Ireland, where the language issue didn’t matter anywhere near as much. That makes you pretty unique, and like I said, I think it’ll be good to have you back with us. You’re going to have to come over and register for classes pretty soon, since you missed that back in the spring. There might be a class or two you’re interested in that is already full, but there should be some other options, too.”
“Yeah, that’s one of the things I realize I have to do,” Susan agreed. “I’m planning on getting over there the first of the week.”