Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Winter Layoff
a novel by
Wes Boyd
2011, 2013

Chapter 18

The next morning, Jim mostly stood around and watched everybody do their final packing up. The tools and equipment had mostly already been packed. Now it was just tents and sleeping bags and other camping gear, and most of that was packed up as Bud prepared a final breakfast.

Once again, Jim made the rounds, trying to get to everyone and thank them for their efforts. It hadn’t been quite six weeks ago when Jim’s mother suggested that he see what he could do to help her sister and her husband. He’d thought it would be impossible, and in a way it was – and would have been if it hadn’t been for the help of his friends and co-workers. He felt that he owed everyone a real big one in return. Jim felt a quiet satisfaction in having the job done.

It was still very early when Randy started up the semi, gave the air horn a couple toots, and pulled out into the street. The furniture truck followed, along with some other vehicles, including Bob driving Jim’s pickup. They faced a long drive back to Spearfish Lake, and Jim couldn’t help but wish them the best of luck.

The lot continued emptying. A couple more vehicles headed over to the Amish project, and Bud was right behind them – he planned to head over to Mobile to get some more groceries to keep the crew going. Finally, Jim was left standing alone in front of the house where he’d spent the night, in his sleeping bag spread out on the new bed. It had been a lot more comfortable than spending the night in the camper.

Just as the last vehicle left, Jim realized he’d screwed up – he had both the dump truck and the backhoe sitting on the lot, and both of them needed to be over at the Amish project. Idiot, he thought. You could have one of those guys drive the dump truck, but you didn’t think of it in time. Well, he could hook up the trailer and tow the backhoe over there with the dump truck, but that seemed like a lot of work.

Maybe he could get one of the guys to drive him back over here. That seemed like the best idea. He walked over toward the dump truck, and was more than a little surprised when Rachel stepped out from behind it. “Hard to see them go, isn’t it?” she said.

“Rachel, what are you doing here?” he said. “I thought you were in the semi with Randy!”

“That was what I’d planned,” she explained. “But then, this morning, I realized that I wasn’t ready to head back yet, and I figured you could use some help with the dump truck. So, when I packed up my stuff I put it in the house instead of the back of the semi.”

“But I thought you had to be getting back to Jared.”

“I probably should be,” she said. “But I had a long talk with him last night. He’s doing fine staying with Nicole, and, well, he was the one that suggested that I stay. I don’t know but what he was right. He’s a wise kid for the age of ten.”

“Rachel, it’s probably too late to tell you, but you realize it’s not going to be the same thing with most everybody gone.”

“I know that,” she smiled. “In fact, it’s one of the good things. Jim, I’ve been happy here, and I’ve felt useful. You know I’ve had some things hanging on to me, and this has been the best thing I could have done to clear some of them up. I’ve just got some more ground to cover, and it’s probably better to do it here than in Spearfish Lake.”

“Well, suit yourself, I guess,” Jim sighed. “I suppose we’d better get over to that Amish project and get started.”

As Rachel climbed up into the cab of the dump truck Jim walked over in the direction of the backhoe. He didn’t even have time to start wondering what this new development might mean because the familiar dirty white pickup pulled to a stop in front, and the little guy always recruiting for the Beach Boulevard project got out. “Got your job done, I see,” he said. “Now, we really need you over on Beach Boulevard.”

“Nope,” Jim said. “The boss has a contract for us to work on, that comes first.”

“A contract? Where at?”

“Over helping those Amish workers build houses.”

“Oh, that doesn’t mean diddly-squat,” he snorted. “We really need you on Beach Boulevard!”

“Doesn’t matter, my boss told me to head over and help the Amish, and I get paid by him, not by you.”

“Maybe I’d better call him up and explain just how bad we need your help.”

“Be my guest,” Jim said, tired of the guy – not that he hadn’t tired of him a month before. “He’s on the road, and probably won’t be back in the office till Monday. But I think I can tell you that if you make too much of an issue of it, he’ll just tell me to load this rig up and haul it back home before I take it over and work on your casino project.”

“But it’s important! I need your help!”

“Well, the boss doesn’t think so, and neither do I, so you might as well quit bugging us and go find some other sucker. I can tell you that the only way that this machine is going to Beach Boulevard is if you pay the going rate, in advance. That’s one eighty-five, by the way.”

“A hundred and eighty-five bucks a day? That’s outrageous! You’re supposed to be volunteering.”

“I may be volunteering but the machine isn’t,” Jim snorted. “And it’s a hundred and eighty-five an hour, not a day. Unless you’ve got a signed check that won’t bounce, there’s no point in your calling the office Monday.”

“Well, we’ll just by God see about this,” he fumed, storming back to his truck.

The confrontation was just enough to get Jim’s mind off of whatever the implications of Rachel staying behind in Pass Christian might be. He’d pulled the hundred and eighty-five-dollar figure out of mid-air, but thought it was large enough to make the guy choke a little. If it did, so much the better. As far as he was concerned, getting people back into their homes, which they were close to doing with Rita and John, was more important than some casino operator lining his pocket. Granted, the donation Three Pines had made had been critical in getting this project done – at least according to what Rachel had said. But Clark Construction did a lot of work at Three Pines and were paid well for it. This just wasn’t the same thing.

He got the backhoe running, warmed it up a little, then got out on the street with Rachel following behind in the dump truck, heading for the Amish project, which was less than a mile away. The thoughts about that joker and his casino project kept him occupied all the way, and soon he pulled up in the street in front of where the Amish – and some of the Clark Construction guys – were working on framing up a house.

“Glad to see you made it,” Aaron said after Jim idled down the backhoe and got off. “I admit I wondered a bit.”

“Had to see the rest of the group off,” Jim explained. “Now, what is it you need done?”

“Just clear off the lots on this side of the street,” Aaron explained. “There are some lots we don’t yet have the agreement to build on yet, but we might as well have you clear things away.”

Jim glanced up the street in the direction Aaron was pointing. There was evidence of some work done on the next lot, just some small stuff cleaned up, but there were some large branches and a tree that remained – nothing like the monster that had been left where Rita and John’s house had been, but big enough. The next few lots looked a little worse – there was lots of debris lying around, and the occasional downed tree, but nothing like as bad as the situation had been at his aunt and uncle’s. “OK, I can chainsaw that to get it down to a manageable size,” Jim told him. “Try to not mess up the house pads, right?”

“Yah, we’re rebuilding on them when we can,” Aaron told him. “We may find some where you’ll have to remove the pads, but we won’t know until we can get to them.”

“Good enough. I can do that,” Jim told him. “By the way, just so you know in case someone tries to lay a line on you, I had a little set-to with the guy from the Beach Boulevard project this morning. No matter what anyone tells you, I’m not leaving here until Randy tells me to.”

“That will be good,” Aaron said. “We shall have several more families back in their homes by the time we all have to leave as a result.”

Cleaning up the lot went fairly quickly – the job had already been started, and the lot was smaller than his aunt and uncle’s anyway. They made good progress until noon, when Aaron sent a young Amish man over to where he and Rachel were working. “Aaron said that you’d be welcome to join us for lunch,” he said. “The women bring lunch to us right here.”

“Sure, we’d be glad to,” Jim said, idling the backhoe down. He and Rachel headed over to where a group was gathered around a black Amish buggy, where a couple women in long blue dresses were busy serving up thick sandwiches and pie.

It was a good lunch, but no one took much of a break, and soon they were back at work. By evening they had the lot cleaned up and had made good progress on the next one. Dinner proved to be with the Amish, as well, at their tent camp a couple blocks away. The camp even seemed Amish – big wall tents, canvas flies, and cooking done over open fires.

Well, some of it was done over open fires – somehow Bud and the Amish women had worked out an agreement to let him contribute to the joint dinner, and he’d come up with some excellent baked beans and several other dishes. It all seemed like a big church potluck, and there was no reason for anyone to leave hungry.

After dinner, Jim parked the backhoe next to Bud’s motor home. “I’m going to leave this here,” he told Bud and the Clark Construction people. “I’m going to take the key, and do a couple other things to immobilize it. I don’t want that joker from the Beach Boulevard project appropriating it in the middle of the night. If he shows up here, no matter what he says, he doesn’t have permission to use it.”

“From what I hear, that guy has been a real pain in the butt,” one of the guys told him. “Don’t worry, it’ll be here in the morning. Park it up next to the motor home, and we’ll surround it with the other vehicles.”

“That’ll work,” Jim nodded.

“Rachel?” Bud asked, “were you planning on staying in the motor home? It’s kind of snug in there already.”

“No, I’ll be staying over at the house,” she said. “My stuff is already there. See you in the morning. I’ll ride back over in the dump truck with Jim.”

“Yeah,” Jim said. “You guys get to the point where you want a real shower, don’t forget that the one is working over at the house.” It was not connected to the sewer system, left to just drain out onto the sandy soil, and one of the small things Jim had to deal with when the sewer was usable, but it wouldn’t be a big job. It had been used heavily from the day it had been put in.

It wound up that most of the guys came over to use the shower, and they were there for a while, also taking advantage of the fact that there was beer cold in the refrigerator – it had been agreed with little discussion to not have after-work beers around the Amish.

All in all, it was well after dark when the last of them left, and Jim was ready for bed. “If you want to use the shower first, go ahead,” he told Rachel courteously. “Ladies first, after all.”

“Thanks, Jim,” she said. “It was kind of fun to be grubby down here the first few days, but when you guys got the shower in and connected, it sure made things a lot more civilized. I’m probably going to be a while.”

“No problem,” he said. “I’m just going to sit in the living room and contemplate this whole miracle.”

It did take her a while, not that Jim was surprised. Even in her worst days, Carolyn had taken a while in the shower, too. Eventually he heard a hair dryer running and figured that she was done. In a few minutes, Rachel came out of the bathroom, wearing only a long T-shirt. “OK, Jim,” she smiled. “Your turn.”

Jim went to his room, stripped down to the buff, then pulled his pants back on for the trip to the bathroom. Going to have to make a laundry run here pretty soon, he thought, then realized that he wouldn’t have to do that – the washer and dryer in the house were hooked up as well, although the washer drain still had to be connected to the sewer system, too.

It still seemed strange to Jim that Rachel had stayed behind, although he hadn’t thought about it very much. He was glad to have her with him. She did a good job of driving the dump truck, but more importantly, she was pleasant to be around. It was just too damn bad, he thought, that it wasn’t likely anything could be worked out with her in the long run. She was about as different from Carolyn as different could be.

He dried off and pulled his pants back on for the quick trip to the bedroom. The light was out in Rachel’s bedroom already, She must be tired, he thought. Then he turned into his bedroom, and his heart almost stopped at what he saw.

His own sleeping bag had been unzipped and spread flat, as had Rachel’s, spread over the top partly folded back. Rachel was between them, with enough of her showing that he could see she wasn’t wearing anything but a huge smile.

“Rachel?” he managed to say. “I mean, what the hell?”

“Why do you think I wanted to stay back here in Pass Christian with you?” she grinned. “I wanted to do this days ago, but I couldn’t with everybody around. Now, it’s just me and you.”

“But . . . Rachel . . . ”

“Come on, Jim,” she said. “We’re adults. What’s more, I’m an adult who hasn’t had sex in a year and a half and good sex in a hell of a lot longer. I get the impression that it’s about as bad for you.”

“Well, worse than that,” he said, still trying to take in this latest turn of events.

“It’s something we both need to get out of our systems,” she smiled. “We both have pasts we need to get behind us. Besides, you kiss so well, I want to find out if you do the rest of it as well, too.”

“But Rachel . . . oh, hell, I’d be a liar if I said I hadn’t dreamed about it. You’re sure, right?”

“Sure, I’m sure, or else I wouldn’t have stayed back here to be with you.”

In the back of his mind Jim was still sure he must have some reservations about this, but Rachel was a good-looking woman and was both willing and able, and yes, he had dreamed about what it would be like to make love with her. “All right,” he said with a grin, “I’ll try not to disappoint you.”

“That would be something very hard for you to do,” she grinned, throwing back the top sleeping bag a little so he could have a better view of her naked body. “In fact, I don’t think you have it in you.”

Though she seemed anxious, and Jim knew he was anxious, they took their time, starting off with one of the long, deep kisses they’d shared in the last few days – but the kisses were even deeper and more sensuous, accompanied by much mutual wandering of hands across each other’s bodies.

Eventually she pulled him on top of her, and he was no less eager. In spite of it having been a long time, Jim did his best to make it good for her, and it seemed to him that she enjoyed it as much as he did. It went on for a while, and in time they lay side by side in the dark, cuddling together and enjoying the warm afterglow. There were no words for a long time. There was no need for them – but there was still the need for gentle kisses and caresses.

“Thank you, Jim,” she whispered finally. “I needed that. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve enjoyed it that much.”

“It has been for me, too,” he said, thinking that there had been times in the beginning with Carolyn that had been almost as good – but things had slipped downhill as she got more interested in drinking and less interested in him. This had been a wonder, reminding him of what he had been missing – and also what he’d missed all along.

“Jim,” she said a little less softly, but still gently. “I want to do that again. Not just this instant, but soon.”

“I think I can say the same thing, but it’s going to take a while for me to recover.”

“We’ve got a couple weeks we can enjoy it, maybe more, and then who knows?” she said. “But Jim, I want you to promise me one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Jim,” she said seriously, even with a worried tone to her voice, “when we’re in bed, don’t ever come at me from behind. I mean, ever. It may not always have to be that way but it has to be for a while. Maybe it will always have to be that way. I don’t know yet.”

“If that’s what you want, that’s what you get,” he told her, holding her close and realizing that there must be something behind that statement. “I don’t have to do it that way if you don’t want. Is it something to do with your ex?”

“Yes,” she said. Her voice didn’t change but he could feel her tense up in his arms. “That was the only way he wanted to do it the last several years, and, well, sometimes he didn’t want to put it where it’s supposed to go. Sometimes it wasn’t too bad, but sometimes it really hurt, and he really liked to hurt me so he could show me who was the boss. I don’t want you to remind me of him. Is that going to be all right?”

“Sure,” he said. “I suppose that’s about the same way I’d feel about seeing you get drunk on your ass.”

“Probably so,” she sighed. “I haven’t been that drunk since I was in college, and I don’t plan on ever letting it get that bad again. Especially when I’m with you, Jim. I realize that in her way she must have hurt you as bad as he hurt me. You’ve been a while throwing it off, haven’t you?”

“Well, yes. I mean, I had such nice dreams of what things could have been like, but they all went to shit when she turned to the bottle.”

“That’s pretty much the way things were with me,” she sighed. “My ex seemed, well, like he had a big future, but it proved to be only big talk. I guess I realized he was really an asshole for years, but I never had the courage to do anything about it until Dad and Mom and Ruth and Randy all but dragged me out of there. It had seemed so hard to contemplate leaving, and once they got involved I could look back and see how dumb I’d been to let things get that way.”

“It was kind of the same way with me,” Jim said. “I put up with it for longer than I should have, and I guess I didn’t come to my senses until she got thrown in jail while I was on winter layoff. It took me a while to see how peaceful my life was with her gone – then it started to make sense to me, and I could see how dumb I’d been to put up with it.”

“It’s a shame that you put up with it for so long, the same way that it was a shame that I put up with my own situation for so long. I can’t see how a woman could be so stupid to pass up a nice, gentle, modest, self-effacing, competent guy like you so she could crawl into the bottle.”

“Well, I can’t see why she’d drink like that either, but she did. My sister would like to get us back together, but it’s not going to happen. She’s in my past and she’s going to stay there. I’m not about to go through it again, no more than you’re ready to start back up again with what you went through.”

“Yeah, that’s it. It’s probably why I’ve held back a little trying to put that part of my life back together again. Sometimes it seems like all men are egotistical, brutal assholes and just like to talk big and throw their weight around. At least I run across all too many of them. You’re not like that, Jim. I saw that about you from almost the beginning, especially from that time you showed us around the Windmill Island house. Then when I saw the way you were trying to help out your aunt and uncle, well, that impressed me. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to help you out.”

“So you could get me down here alone so you could work your ways with me?” he teased.

“Well,” she laughed, “that was how it worked out, wasn’t it? No, I didn’t have that in mind at the beginning. I just wanted to help out, to be a part of it, to be a part of something bigger than my own troubles. And, well, like Randy said, things snowballed. I’ve been thinking about what it would like to be with you for, well, for a long time, but it’s only been the last couple weeks that I realized it could happen, and it took me until this morning to make up my mind to do it. And you know what? So far, it’s been worth every bit of the effort.”

“You mean being in bed together?”

“Well,” she grinned, “there’s that too. Especially that, and I could stand some more of it.”

Jim still had the feeling that there was more there than met the eye, but he wasn’t about to argue about it at that instant. “To tell you the truth,” he said, “it strikes me that we could do something besides talk about it.”

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To be continued . . .
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