Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Susan and Megan didn’t go much further than they had the first time in the hour or so they were parked out there by the river, but they kissed some more and talked some more without settling anything, except for perhaps a little of the confusion in Megan’s mind. After a while, they decided enough was enough and drove down to the Frostee Freeze, a one-time A&W that was still a drive-in, and the predominant teenage hangout in Spearfish Lake, at least when it was open in the summer months.
That blew up the rest of the afternoon, and sooner than either wanted, it was time for Susan to drop Megan off and go home for dinner. On her way home, Susan reflected that as far as she had been concerned what she’d done with Megan had all just been in fun, and she could see letting it get quite a bit further sometime if things happened to turn out that way. While she liked guys, and being in bed with guys, it carried a danger of getting hooked up with some guy along with it, something she didn’t really want to do, at least yet and maybe not ever. While it might be the right thing for many girls, Susan thought, it could force her to give up a lot of her dreams of seeing the world. That was something she didn’t want to risk, at least at the moment; there were too many things to do and places to see, and she needed the time and freedom to do it.
As far as that went, it might be fun to go much further with Megan some time, at least if Megan could manage to not take it as seriously as she seemed to be doing. Whether Megan could do that remained to be seen, but if so, then Susan thought it might make her last year in Spearfish Lake go a lot faster, at least assuming that they could keep it very, very discreet. The rumor mill in Spearfish Lake worked fast, like in most small towns, and the wrong kind of gossip going around school could be very hurtful, especially as fragile as Megan’s concerns about her orientation seemed to be. It might be better to not do it at all – but then there might be some fun missed, too. At any rate, a decision didn’t have to be made right now, she thought.
Susan had never worried very much about if she was straight or bi or lesbian or what – as she had told Megan, sex right now was all just for the sake of fun. She’d explored just about every angle on the subject possible with her friends in Germany, who had been carrying on in various combinations before she arrived and were glad to include her in their circle. Presumably they would continue as before now that she was gone. It wasn’t as if they did it all the time, but every now and then when the time was right . . . it was as she’d told Megan, all in fun, and she’d had a lot of fun with it. It was a big reason why she missed her German friends, and the prospects for that kind of outlet seemed very limited in Spearfish Lake. It was possible when she got to college that things would be different since the rumor mill that ran rampant throughout this town probably wouldn’t be as prevalent in a bigger place, and from what she’d heard, people in college tended to be looser and less judgmental, anyway. It was just another reason why she wanted to have the downer of another year in high school out of the way, even if it was her senior year.
Perhaps it had been a mistake with Megan, but then, maybe it hadn’t, either. One of the advantages of having that sort of fun in Germany was that it was a long way from home, and maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to get involved with it where her parents might hear about it. But whatever happened, the next few months seemed to have a little more potential than it looked earlier in the day.
Monday rolled around inexorably, as Mondays have a way of doing. Now that she was getting her internal clock a little closer to local time, she only slept until about nine or so. Her folks were both at work when she got up – Mondays were a big day at the Record-Herald – and she lollygagged around the house trying to figure out what to do. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to get back together with Megan right away, she thought. Perhaps in another day or two, but not just yet; she didn’t want to give Megan the idea she was desperate. This soon would send that sort of signal.
The most logical thing to do was to head over to the school, see Mr. Hekkinan, and get the registration business settled. Although it needed to be done, even considering it was a little depressing; it seemed like an admission that her carriage had indeed turned back into a pumpkin and that her wonderful year as an exchange student was over. But, after some breakfast and some other attempts to delay the inevitable, she decided that there wasn’t much else she could do.
She pulled on a lightweight halter-top sundress that seemed appropriate for visiting the school off season. To go with the outfit, she put on some white pumps with a little heel, just to help the good impression; it wouldn’t look well to wear beat-up tenny-runners with the nice dress, would it?
Susan didn’t do slob easily, and just wearing shorts and a T-shirt for something as routine as what she planned didn’t seem right to her. One of the things she’d already known before she went to Germany is that people took her more seriously if she was nicely and appropriately dressed. The American habit of teenagers dressing like slobs had widely infected Germany and the rest of the world from what she could tell, and it didn’t impress her in the slightest.
In a few minutes, she was in her car – her car, she was still having trouble getting used to that fact of life – and heading across town to the school. She walked in the front door and up to the office, noticing that the place seemed still and stale and empty; desks and chairs and a myriad of other things were stacked in the halls, and there was the sound of a floor buffer running somewhere. The place even smelled funny, and didn’t have much of the life as when there were kids around, the way she was most familiar with it.
Mrs. Foxbender was in the school office; it seemed like that much hadn’t changed. The kids called her “The Dragon Lady” because she was pretty aggressive about grilling them over absentee slips and the like, but that was nothing for Susan to worry about – today, at least. Sometimes Mrs. Foxbender seemed pretty sour, but as Susan walked up to the open sliding glass window onto the main hall, the secretary was cheerful in her greeting: “Hello, Susan. So how was Germany?”
“Really nice,” Susan replied. “I had a great time!”
“It was pretty good when my husband was stationed there,” Mrs. Foxbender said. “But that was a long time ago. So, what can I do for you today?”
“Well,” Susan sighed. “I came to see about getting signed up for classes.”
“I thought that might be the case,” the older woman smiled. “You’re going to have to see Mr. Hekkinan for that, but he said a few minutes ago that he wanted to see you anyway when you came in. He’s on the phone right now but shouldn’t be very long.”
“That’s all right,” Susan replied. “Do you think I could look at the list of courses offered so I can review it a little bit?”
“That’s probably a good idea,” Mrs. Foxbender said, shuffling around on her desk. “If you’d like to come sit back here until Mr. Hekkinan is free, you’d be welcome.” She handed Susan a couple of sheets of paper that listed the graduation requirements and the available classes.
Susan glanced at the graduation requirement lists. She had come close to completing everything needed to graduate, especially with some of the classes she’d taken at Johannes-Staudinger Gymnasium in Regensburg. There were a couple exceptions – she needed senior English, for example – but there weren’t very many.
She turned to the list of classes. There weren’t many available to her, and fewer that would do her any good. She noted with interest that the school now had a Spanish 1 class, apparently for the first time this year, taught by Mr. Delehayne, who had been her French teacher. In theory she could have taken that, but she’d passed Spanish at a high level in Gymnasium, so there was no point in going back to a basic level class, except maybe to pick up the credit hour while sleeping through the class. In any case, there would be no challenge for her there, except in trying not to appear too bored.
In another case, she could have taken calculus, which had a prerequisite of pre-calc, which she hadn’t taken. However, she had taken and passed calculus in Regensburg, and probably at a higher level than was taught here. Taking pre-calc would just mean another class where she’d have to look like she was staying awake. Oh, she could have taken “weight training”, which was on the list mostly for an easy credit for dumb male jocks, but pointless for her, even if she liked being around jocks, which she didn’t.
There were things she could do, like taking an art class or two – but she didn’t want to, and not just because she didn’t like the teacher, who seemed like a vapid, pretentious little twit. All in all, the pickings seemed mighty slim for her. Christ, she thought, this is going to be a long, pointless year. If she’d just stayed in Germany, she might be heading off to uni with Hans right now, instead of being stuck taking Hauptschule-level classes in what amounted to a Realschule. What a waste!
She was sinking into an angry depression when she heard Mrs. Foxbender say, “Susan? Mr. Hekkinan will see you now.”
“OK, thanks, Mrs. Foxbender,” she replied brightly, at least looking like she was trying to make a positive impression.
She got up and went into the principal’s office. “Good morning, Mr. Hekkinan,” she smiled.
“I’m afraid you’re not going to think it’s a good morning,” the principal replied glumly. “Sit down, Susan; I’m afraid I’ve got bad news for you. I made a huge mistake this morning, and unfortunately the consequences are going to fall on you. I just got off the phone talking to your father about it, so I suppose I might as well make you unhappy, too.”
“Is there a problem?” she asked innocently, a stupid question and she knew it. There was a huge problem or Mr. Hekkinan wouldn’t have been this up-front about it. She knew he was a long-time friend of her father, and he’d always seemed to be an upbeat person. This was not upbeat.
“I’m afraid there is,” he sighed. “You may not be aware, but we have a new superintendent as of the middle of last month, Mr. Gingrich. He’s, well, he’s new to the area, and you may not have heard of him.”
“Never heard of him,” Susan replied. She could see that Mr. Hekkinan was struggling to break whatever the bad news was to her gently, and wished he’d get on with it.
“I wish I hadn’t,” he shook his head. “But that’s something I really shouldn’t say. In any case, I was talking to him this morning, and I’ll have to admit that I was a little proud that you were returning to us, and told him that your being here offered the possibility of bringing some valuable alternative viewpoints to some of your classmates.” He let out a sigh. “He missed the point almost entirely. What he focused on was that you’d skipped your junior year here, and, well, he insisted that since you missed the whole year here that you be registered as a junior, rather than as a senior.”
“What?” Susan said, her cool, collected demeanor falling away in an instant. “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard! I worked hard for two years, more than that, to get all the class requirements in before I left. We had an agreement on that, and I did everything I was supposed to do. Now, why would he want to take that away from me after it’s too late for me to change things?”
“I told him that,” Hekkinan shook his head. “In fact, I told him we had plenty of paperwork on it. He, well, he said it didn’t matter, that was something the previous administration had done, and that he wasn’t bound by it.”
“Jesus H. Christ,” Susan fumed, ignoring the fact that she shouldn’t be swearing in front of Mr. Hekkinan. “I was just looking at the course list to see what I might be able to take this year, and there are hardly any classes left where I can learn anything. With only one exception, what’s available to me is only warehousing classes or stuff where I’ve already taken and passed harder classes elsewhere. What possible reason could he have for pulling this kind of thing?”
“That’s not a simple question to answer,” Hekkinan replied. “Look, I don’t know how much you know about how school funding works, but basically the state gives us $6700 for each student each year. That’s called the foundation grant. Since you weren’t here last year, we didn’t qualify for the foundation grant for you. Apparently, Gingrich seems to think you should be here for four years so the school can qualify for the full foundation grant for you.”
“That’s crazy!” Susan said, her frustrations showing. “What would have happened if I’d taken off from here and gone, oh, to Albany River schools for a year then came back? Does he think I’d have to do four years here anyway?”
“That’s a little different,” Mr. Hekkinan said. “He wouldn’t have a leg to stand on there; it’s another school in this state, and in this country, for that matter. Gingrich seems to be of the opinion that your going to Germany last year counted for nothing more than skipping a year of school, and he seems to think you should make it up.”
“My God! How can I do that? That’s crazy!”
“I think it’s crazy too, especially since you’re one of our best students. But what I told you was the official reason, and I don’t think it was the real reason.”
“The real reason? What’s that?”
“I’m only guessing,” Mr. Hekkinan told her. “Look, Susan, I need to tell you something that has to stay between you and me, at least that I was the one who told you. You’re from a newspaper family; you know how background sources and off the record work, right? You can use the information but you can’t say where you got it, right?”
“Sure, Dad taught all us kids about that.”
“Well, this is background information, and it’s strictly my opinion. I told your dad this, by the way, so you can talk about it with him, OK? But I don’t want you quoting me about this to anyone else. Can you live with that?”
“I guess I have to,” Susan sighed.
“All right,” Mr. Hekkinan shook his head. “I’ve met a lot of people in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever met someone I disliked as thoroughly on first meeting as Earl Gingrich. He’s not a big person but he has that arrogance a little person sometimes has, and I’m not talking in pure size, but the size of his mind as well. I have no idea why Glenn Aho, the school board president, pushed so hard to get this joker in here. I know he had to pull in some favors to manage it, then get a little cute to get the board to approve Gingrich as superintendent on a four to three vote. But Gingrich is superintendent now, and he’s not going to let anyone forget it. You understand what I mean?”
“You’re saying that he’s an arrogant jerk and he wants to show he’s the boss, right?”
“Right. In fact, that says it pretty well. So, I have to admit that I made the mistake of telling him you were the daughter of the local newspaper editor. My guess was his first reaction was to show just how much he’s the boss by taking a swat at someone prominent in the community and making it stick. Unfortunately, you were the one who got caught in the crossfire.”
“So because of this jerk wanting to throw his weight around I’m supposed to be stuck here for another year, right?”
“Yeah,” Hekkinan replied glumly. “So the school can get an extra $6700 foundation grant out of an eleven million dollar budget, but according to Gingrich we have to save what money we can.”
“Pardon my French,” Susan said dryly, “but c’est des conneries!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hekkinan cracked a smile, the first she had seen all morning.
“This is pure bullshit.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Hekkinan agreed, apparently in a slightly better mood. “That’s what we used to call really dien cai dau when I was in Vietnam.”
“Mr. Hekkinan,” Susan grinned. “I may speak four languages but Vietnamese isn’t one of them. What does that mean?”
“It could mean a lot of things, but ‘this is bullshit’ is one of them. And, bullshit is a pretty good description, too. Anyway, ever since this came up I’ve been trying to think of some way of mitigating this crock of bull he’s laid on you. I’ll admit I haven’t had much time to think about it, but I’ve come up with a couple ideas.”
“How about taking it to the school board?” Susan suggested.
“I think it could be counterproductive,” Hekkinan replied. The tone of the meeting had changed with the exchange of obscene wisecracks – now they weren’t talking about how bad the problem was, they were considering solutions. “I think it might strike some people on the board as seeking special favors. Remember, Gingrich did get hired by the board, no matter how narrow the margin, but the way things work in these situations the board is going to cut him some slack until he gets his feet under him. No matter the agreement that was already established, Gingrich is going to contend that he’s not bound by the decisions of a predecessor. And before you bring it up, your father and I pretty well agreed that making a stink about it in the Record-Herald would mostly be counterproductive, too. If it was any other kid in the school, it might be worthwhile, but in your case . . . ”
“I get the picture,” Susan agreed. “It’s too close to home. Dad has always warned us about that. But I wonder if it would be worth talking to Dad about a lawsuit.”
“It’s possible,” Hekkinan shrugged. “The problem is that it probably can’t be settled quickly. Honestly, it could take years, and I know you don’t have years to sit this one out. It’s patently unfair to you, that’s for sure, but it will get into questions about interpretation of school policy, and there’s a risk that you could lose. Either way, it would be expensive. But I don’t think it’s an alternative that can be ignored, either.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” Susan replied dejectedly. “Sit around here like a bump on a log for two years, and graduate a year behind my classmates, just to allow this idiot to throw his weight around?”
“I’m sure that would thrill him to death,” Hekkinan said. “It would prove that he’s controlling his space. But, I have come up with one idea that I think you need to look into, and that’s dual enrollment.”
“We have an agreement with Riverside Community College,” Hekkinan said. “It’s designed for seniors, or sometimes juniors, who are looking to get courses that we can’t give them here. Usually it’s technical-type courses, but any course they offer is open for it so long as you meet the other qualifications, such as prerequisites. The nice part about it is that you fill the class-time requirements here, while getting college credit, and the school will pick up the tuition, up to six hours per semester. I don’t need to have Gingrich’s approval to enroll you in that, we can just do it.”
“So I get some college credit and get to take courses down there?” Susan brightened. “It’s a haul down there, but I think I could manage to do that.”
“Do it right with the scheduling and you might not even have much time to spend in classes here,” Hekkinan grinned. “For instance, if you were to take their English 101 course down there, it covers some subjects you have to know in college, like how to prepare research papers, do citations and footnotes, and things like that. If you take their English 101 and 102, you’d get credit for your senior English here. Our senior English class here doesn’t do that because we’re teaching to a more general student population, not just college prep students.”
And does that mean this is a Realschule or what? Susan thought as she said, “So I kill two birds with one stone, right?”
“Pretty much,” Hekkinan said. “And it’s a course that you’d have to take anywhere you went to college, so it’s a good chance to get it out of the way. Which brings me to a point that I need to make to you: I would think it’s very unlikely that you’ll do your whole college career at Riverside Community College. In fact, if you’re going for a four-year degree, you can’t. That means that you should make sure that the credits for any class you take will transfer to a four-year school. I imagine English 101 you can transfer just about anywhere, but something that’s technically oriented, like, oh, auto body shop just to pick something out of midair, might not transfer except to another community college.”
“That sounds logical,” Susan agreed. After all, there was no way all credits earned in a Hauptschule or Realschule could automatically transfer to a Gymnasium, either.
Susan and Mr. Hekkinan talked about the whole situation for a few minutes. Susan got the impression that he was genuinely sorry about what had happened and that he was on her side in the affair, but that didn’t make it sting much less. At least he’d offered an alternative that seemed at least a little bit better than sitting around the school for the next two years not doing much of anything, although as far as she could see it wasn’t the best alternative, either.
In any case, considering the amount of time she had left before classes got under way, it seemed like it might work. Mr. Hekkinan suggested that she drive down to Riverside as soon as possible and check things out personally, take some time to go through their course listings, and see what else could be done.
“I do have one question,” she said. “What happens when this Gingrich character finds out about this? Is the dual enrollment program suddenly going to get its door slammed on me before I start or not count after I’ve already done it?”
“This is a little different, I think,” Hekkinan told her. “The arrangement we had worked out with you on taking the exchange year was an administrative agreement. The agreement we have with Riverside is contractual, and is sanctioned and accepted by the state. The best I can say is that if he tries to change horses in midstream he has precedent against him, as well as a contract. Worse than that, other students would be involved, not just you. There’s no guarantee he might not try, and he might be able to cancel the contract for a future year although it wouldn’t be to the benefit of the other students in the program, too. But we haven’t gotten near that bridge yet and he hasn’t brought up the subject.”
“Still, you have to wonder what he’s going to say when he sees a tuition bill from Riverside cross his desk with my name on it.”
“True, but it’ll be there with several other students, and that would mean it’s something your dad can make a stink about in the paper,” Hekkinan pointed out. “And as I said, the best part about it is that the tuition costs come out of that $6700 that Gingrich thinks he’s getting for having you here,” Hekkinan said. “I realize this isn’t the best solution, but it’s a better one than having you sitting on your fanny here bored to tears. I don’t think the question of whether we’ll have to keep you here for two years is settled yet, and it may take a while, but this way at least you’ll be getting some useful education, rather than just filling a seat.”
“Before this came up, that was my main concern about this year anyway,” Susan agreed, feeling a little better but still upset about the whole thing. “And I’m still not very pleased about having to sit around here for two years, even though I’ll be picking up a little college credit while I’m waiting.”
“This isn’t settled yet,” Hekkinan reiterated. “In fact, it’s a long way from being settled, and it could still wind up in court. The dual enrollment would be a good solution if this was to be your last year here, but it may not be to your advantage to have to do it for two years. At least we have some time to work on it.”