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

Winter Layoff
a novel by
Wes Boyd
2011, 2013

Chapter 19

Jim thought he was dreaming at first when he woke up the next morning with Rachel next to him, sleeping cuddled up against him, her head on his shoulder. This couldn’t be happening, he thought . . . but it was. Apparently the whole thing last night really had happened – at least some unfamiliar muscle aches, including the one from where Rachel’s head rested on his arm, told him that it must be so.

It was still early, barely getting light in the east. After all the early-to-bed, early-to-rise of the previous weeks, he knew it was time to be getting up and going, but he was reluctant to wake the sleeping beauty next to him. However, trying to shift the arm she was using as a pillow woke her anyway, so apparently her own internal clock must have been working on her as well. He watched as she yawned, smiled, and said, “Good morning.”

“And good morning to you,” he said. “Sleep well?”

“The best I have in a long time,” she yawned again. “I guess sleeping alone in a tent is all right if you like that kind of thing, but I’d really rather sleep in a bed with you.”

“It’s definitely better than sleeping in the top bunk of the camper with Bob snoring away down below,” he smiled. “I suppose we ought to get moving if we’re going to have breakfast with the Amish. They’re probably up and running already.”

“I suppose,” she sighed. She threw the top sleeping bag back and sat up, still nude in the dim light of the early morning. “Jim, thank you,” she said. “I really needed that.”

“I think I did, too,” he smiled.

I should probably leave my sleeping bag in the other room,” she said. “If we have people coming over for showers tonight there’s no point in giving them ideas, but if you’re up for it, I’d like to do it again tonight.”

“Well, I’d like it too,” he told her. “But it’s your decision.”

“It has to be both our decisions, but I already know what I want,” she smiled back at him as he sat up on the other side of the bed. “Let’s just try to keep from being too blatant around the Amish and the rest of our crew. I know that’s going to be hard, but I think we’d better do it.”

Once Rachel got to her room she apparently got dressed and put together pretty quickly. Jim was just lacing up his boots when she appeared back in his doorway, ready to go. They locked up the house, started up the dump truck and drove back over to the Amish camp near the job site. As it turned out, breakfast was just being served. The sun had just gotten over the horizon when one of the Clark Construction guys moved his pickup so Jim could get the backhoe out of its prison. Apparently the guy from the Beach Boulevard project hadn’t been around, but there was no point in not being careful.

Jim and Rachel spent the day working steadily though not frantically. There was usually enough for him to do when Rachel was driving the truck to the collection point, cutting up trees, or just scraping debris into piles for easy loading. They’d cleared the next lot by noon, and none too soon – a mixed crew of Amish and Clark Construction people were busy laying out framing on the lot they’d cleared the previous day. Jim spent some time with the tines on the front of the loader helping to unload materials off a flatbed trailer that had shown up that morning.

The Amish didn’t work the next day – it was Sunday and they believed in taking their day of rest. Both Jim and Rachel had decided that was a pretty good idea for them, too. Their internal alarm clocks woke them early, of course, but they spent some time enjoying themselves before they got up. It was a while before they got dressed. “So, a day off,” Jim said as they lay there contemplating it. “Any ideas how you want to spend it?”

“Well, we probably ought to do something besides lay in bed all day,” she said. “I hate to say it, but these sleeping bags are getting to the point where they could stand a big washing machine. Since we’re going to be here for a while, maybe we ought to find a place where I could buy some sheets and blankets. That’d be more comfortable for both of us. We could take them back north with us and I could use them at home.”

“I doubt that we could find those around here, at a reasonable price, anyway,” he said. “But I suppose there’s no reason we couldn’t take a shopping trip someplace, even if we have to use the dump truck.”

They settled on going to Mobile, mostly because neither of them had been there before, while Jim had been to Baton Rouge, and they’d both passed through Hattiesburg, the other reasonable choices. Rather than breakfast with the Amish or at the volunteer tent, they ate at the truck stop north of Gulfport, and continued on to the east. Eventually they found a big-box store and spent some time going through it, getting some other things to go along with the sheets and blankets. Jim needed a couple new work shirts, and she added a couple to the pile, as well.

Rachel surprised Jim a little when she picked up a tiny bikini and tossed it in the shopping cart. “I know it’s not really warm enough, and the beaches and water are both considered cruddy and unsafe,” she explained. “But I at least want to say I spent a little time on the beach this winter.”

“Fine with me,” Jim smiled, anticipating checking her out in the bikini. “I probably ought to pick up a pair of shorts, just on general principles.”

They ate lunch in Mobile, then drove the dump truck back down the coast road, just to check out the hurricane damage along the way. There was lots of it still visible, although efforts had obviously been made to clean things up. By the time they got back to Pass Christian it was nicely warm, although not hot by any means. They spent half an hour or so on the beach until they got a little too cool, then decided to head back to the house and make good use of their time. That evening, they dug into Jim’s supply of cans and the odds and ends of cookware he’d kept back, and made something of a meal out of it – it was one of the few times in a month he hadn’t eaten at the volunteer mess tent or with the Amish. All in all, it was a very refreshing and relaxing day off.

Early the next morning they were back over at the Amish project, cleaning up more of the mess the storm had made. Once they got into the swing of things, they could clean about a lot a day, so by the end of the week they were getting well ahead of the construction crews. They kept at it, not knowing how long they were going to be there but at least feeling like they should get far enough ahead to get the Amish through the season. Day followed day, pretty much one like the previous. Most days Jim spent a while at the construction site, unloading trucks with the forklift tines on the loader, or helping lift things like heavy shingles to the roofs of the current project.

Later on in the week, one afternoon, Jim rode with Rachel over to the collection point, and had her take him to the city office where he saw the guy about the sewer. It was still going to be a few days, he was told, and if they needed him to come help with the backhoe, they knew where to find him.

Another week rolled around, with a lazy Sunday involved, this time with a trip to Baton Rouge in the dump truck just to say they’d both been there. Rain halted work for a couple days that week, and they used one of them to make a brief trip to New Orleans, just to see how bad the damage was there with their own eyes. Though the damage was considerable and progress was being made in cleaning up, it was a different kind of damage than they were used to seeing around Pass Christian, more flood damage than wind damage.

The other rain day they went to see the guy in the city office again, wanting to make the point about getting the work done but not wanting to make pests of themselves, either. “Next week for sure,” they were told. “Although probably not the first of the week, and I’m pretty sure the guys will be glad to have you there with your backhoe to help out.”

“Good enough,” Jim told him. “We’re getting closer to the point where we need to head back, but I want to see my aunt and uncle in their house before we leave.”

The following Tuesday a guy from the city public works department dropped by where Jim and Rachel were working on cleaning up hurricane debris – they were now a couple blocks ahead of the Amish crews. “We can use you tomorrow morning,” the guy said, giving them a location.

It took the rest of the week to get several sewer main breaks fixed. It was digging work, something that Jim was used to doing although he hadn’t done much of it recently. The crews worked efficiently, but there proved to be more to the project than they had anticipated. Due to the lack of concern about frost, the sewer lines proved to be much shallower than up north, and it had been damaged in several places by very heavy equipment used in the cleanup. But, by the time they knocked off work on Friday, the sewer line had been fixed and tested, and the guy from the city office told him that it would be all right to hook up the sewer line at his aunt and uncle’s house.

It was only the work of minutes to accomplish, and for the first time the toilet could be legally flushed. “That is that,” Jim told Rachel. “We need to dump the porta-potty and tear down that outhouse, but we’re done.”

“Yeah,” she sighed. “I guess that means that we’re going to have to be heading back soon. I’ve gotten used to nice weather, so it’ll be hard to go back to winter.”

“Well, I might still be able to get some ice fishing in,” Jim replied, understanding her point since he’d gotten used to the nice weather himself. The last few weeks they’d worked hard, but being with her had made them a lot of fun, too. Oh, well, he thought. All good things, and like that.

They drove the dump truck over to the phone bank – phone service might be a long time being restored, they’d been told, and his aunt and uncle had already bought a cell phone. It only took a minute to get Aunt Rita on the phone. “Jim!” she said. “Good to hear your voice. Did they get the sewer hooked up?”

“Less than an hour ago,” he told her. “You might as well come on home.”

“Good,” she said; he could hear the noise of the TV and the kids in the background. “We’ll be there late tomorrow. We’ve had the car packed for days.”

“I think we have everything pretty well ready for you,” he said, having mentioned in a previous phone call that Rachel was staying with him, although he’d tried not to hint just how intimate they’d been. “We’ll be here to help you get settled in.”

They talked for a few minutes, but the main message had already been delivered. There was, for once, no line of people waiting to use the phones, so when Jim hung up he said, “I suppose we’d better call Randy to let him know we got it wrapped up.”

“Yes,” Rachel agreed. “I probably ought to talk to Jared, too. It’s late enough that Randy ought to be at home, so let’s call him there.”

Nicole answered the phone and said that Randy was there, but let Jared talk to his mother first. That discussion went on several minutes. Jim wasn’t paying much attention to it, but got from Rachel’s end of the phone conversation that she missed him, but that it probably wouldn’t be much longer and she’d pretty well accomplished what she’d come down there to do.

Their conversation wound down after a while, and finally Rachel turned to Jim and said, “Randy wants to talk with you.”

Jim took the phone to find that Randy was already on the other end. “Jim, how’s it going down there?” he asked.

“Pretty well,” Jim said. “We finally got the sewer hooked up, and my aunt and uncle are going to be coming in tomorrow.”

“Good enough,” Randy told him. “Have you been having fun?”

“It’s been pretty enjoyable,” Jim told him. “It’s been giving me a good feeling to know that I’ve been helping people out.”

“It is a good feeling, isn’t it? Well, no big rush, but you probably ought to be thinking about pointing it back in this direction. I’ve got a couple things for you to do before we get serious about construction, and if the weatherman isn’t lying as bad as usual we may get an early breakup. Besides, Nicole’s due date is only about three weeks off, and we probably ought to have Rachel back and Jared back home before that happens.”

Well, here it was, Jim thought. The enjoyable interlude in his life was ending, and he’d have to get back to reality. That meant that his nights with Rachel were ending too. There was no way that she’d want to continue something like this back in Spearfish Lake, under the eyes of her family. Oh, well, it had been good while it lasted. “I promised we’d help my aunt and uncle get settled in,” he said. “And I wouldn’t mind getting another day or two in on the Amish project, just to clear lots for them to the end of the block we’re working on. That ought to hold them until they head home in another month or so. So, with all that in mind, we ought to be heading back around the first of the week, something like that.”

“Good,” Randy told him. “Like I said, no big rush. That ought to get you home around the end of next week, and that should be plenty of time. Come by and see me when you get the chance. Like I said, I’ve got some things I need to go over with you.”

Jim and Rachel’s lovemaking was especially sweet that night, at least because Jim thought it could well be the beginning of the end of this wonderful interlude. They wouldn’t be able to do it the next night, not with Aunt Rita and Uncle John in the house. It looked to him like he was going to be spending the night on the couch.

The work at the Amish site went well the next day. By pushing it a little they got down to the end of the block, where Jim had hoped to be finishing up. After the last load was in the dump truck, Jim drove the backhoe up the street to where Aaron was overseeing the latest house to be built, and told him that they would be heading back north.

“Yah,” Aaron said. “It’ll be sad to see you go. You’ve been a huge help, and we’d not have been able to do what we’ve done had you not helped us out. Please extend my thank you to Mr. Clark for letting you and us use his equipment.”

“No big deal,” Jim told him. “Rachel and I were here, and if the equipment had gone back north it would have just been sitting.”

“Your friends from Clark Construction have been a big help, too,” Aaron told them. “I suspect they’ll all be heading back north shortly, too. But if next year you find yourselves with little to do on your winter layoff, there’ll be things here you can do.”

“Might have to think about that,” Jim admitted. “I’m pretty much an equipment operator, not a carpenter, but if Randy will let me borrow the equipment again and there’s work for it, well, I’ll sure give it some consideration.”

Pretty soon there was nothing much left to say but their goodbyes. Rachel drove the dump truck back to the house, while Jim trailed along behind on the backhoe. They not much more than got parked in the yard when Aunt Rita and Uncle John pulled in – driving a newer and undamaged car.

It took until close to dark to get everything unloaded from the car and into the house. “Everything” included a computer and desk so John could restart his business again, working out of the front room. “My God,” Uncle John said. “It is so wonderful to be back home, even if it isn’t quite the home I’m used to.”

“We’ll fix that,” Aunt Rita grinned. “And Jim, it’s mostly thanks to you.”

“I really only had a little to do with it,” Jim protested. “People like Rachel were the ones who pulled everything together, and it was my friends who did most of the work.”

“That may be so,” Rachel smiled, “but you lit the fuse. If that hadn’t happened, none of this would have happened.”

As he had predicted, Jim slept on the couch that night, missing the recent evenings’ activities badly. He’d gotten used to having Rachel next to him, and it really seemed lonely to not have her there.

The next day, they tried to help out with settling Aunt Rita and Uncle John in. While Rita and Rachel went to Hattiesburg to stock up on groceries and Uncle John sat at his desk getting his new computer set up, Jim tore down the makeshift outhouse and hauled the portable toilet to a dump station, glad to have that done with. When he got back to the house, he backed the dump truck up to the trailer that had sat across the street for over a month, moved it out into the street, and loaded the backhoe and extra tools they’d used. Some of the tools had to go in the box of the dump truck, and it took the backhoe to get them there before it too was finally loaded.

That evening, Rita cooked a large dinner for all of them. “I know you’re planning on leaving in the morning, but it would be nice if you could stay for another few days,” Rita said over dinner. “I don’t know how we can thank either of you enough.”

“Well, we are getting to the point where we have to be heading back,” Rachel told her. “But we’ve been talking a little that we might come back next winter.”

“If you do, you’re welcome to stay here,” John said. “In a way, this is your house as much as it is ours.”

“We might just do that,” Jim said. “I feel like I’ve been able to do something more useful than deplete the walleye population in Spearfish Lake over the winter. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

Rita cooked a nice breakfast for them in the morning. Soon after it was over with, and after some hugs and kisses, Jim and Rachel loaded the relatively small amount of stuff they had to go with them behind the seat of the dump truck, and they started up the street.

They’d gotten used to the rough ride of the dump truck over the course of the past month or more, but it rode worse with the trailer and backhoe on behind, and, as on the trip down, it wasn’t very fast. They weren’t much more than out on the highway when Jim said, “There’s no point in killing ourselves getting back. I think we’d just better plan on taking it easy. I figure three days, easy.”

“Maybe we could take a little more, and make it three night stops,” Rachel suggested. “Maybe we could consider stopping and seeing a couple of the sights.”

“Sounds good, but I can just see us pulling into the parking lot at, say, Graceland, with a dump truck and a backhoe.”

“Well, yeah, you’re probably right on that,” she agreed. “Maybe some other time. But let’s make it three night stops. That means we’d have three nights to enjoy ourselves.”

“Talked me into it,” Jim replied. “It’s been tough sleeping on the couch the last couple nights when I wanted to be with you. I suppose we’d better do what we can while we can.”

“There is that,” she said. “But Jim, it doesn’t have to end when we get back to Spearfish Lake.”

“Are you sure about that?” he said. “I mean, it’s one thing to sneak off to Mississippi where no one knows us, but I’m not so sure how much either of us would want to be doing something like that in Spearfish Lake, especially with your family in town.”

“Jim, it’s not like my family doesn’t know what we were doing down here. Randy, especially. We had a long talk about it the night before he headed back north with the rest of the gang.” She stopped for a moment, gathering her words, and then continued. “If anything, he was more for the idea than I was, at least then. I mean, I thought it was a good idea, but I had my doubts. He told me that I had to get that part of my life back together sometime, and that he didn’t know of anyone better than you to do it with.”

“He said what?”

“He said you were a nice guy who had been through a lot of the same shit I’d had thrown at me, although in a different way, and that you’d probably understand even better than he would. And I think he was right. Jim, you’re kind and gentle and caring, or you wouldn’t have done all this for your aunt and uncle. You’re very modest, and I really like that, especially after the blowhard I was married to. Jim, not only have you been just what I needed, more and more I’m coming to believe you’re just what I need.”

“But . . . but what would Jared think about it?”

“That kid amazes me,” she shook her head. “He says he misses me, but he also can tell I need someone. I told him I had, well, a candidate, and he said, ‘Go for it, Mom! I can put up with you being gone if it’s worth it to you.’ I don’t know where he picked up being that perceptive. It sure wasn’t from his father.”

Well, son of a bitch! Jim thought. He’d just thought this whole thing had been a fling – but Rachel was sounding like it had been some sort of a tryout!

“Rachel,” he said, “I want to start off and say that I’m not opposed to the idea. I like you a lot, and we’ve had a lot of fun together. In fact, I think we could do well. But I have two concerns. The first is Jared, and how well he and I might get along. I don’t think I’ve ever met the kid.”

“You’ve seen him,” she replied. “I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to him, though. I agree, we have to work on that one a bit. What’s your second thing?”

“Shit, this is hard to say,” he said. “It comes down to the fact that I’m an equipment operator who barely made it out of high school, and you’re a college graduate. I’m just an employee, and not a rich or high-ranked one, while you, well, there’s money in the family, and your brother owns the company. Your father owns a bigger one. You live in a nice house, and I live in a mobile home.”

“Those are issues,” she agreed. “But they’re not huge, not even as big as you think they are. I may be a college graduate, but I went to school mostly to look for a husband and did a lousy job of that part of it. While Randy may own the company, I’m just an employee, too. As far as rich goes, when Grandfather Brent died, he left Randy the company and me some timberland that can’t be sold for a few years, mostly because he didn’t trust my husband as far as he could throw a fit, and with good cause. I’ve come to be very grateful he did it that way, too. That timberland will be enough to send Jared through college, and I rolled off some of it to buy my house, but that was a family deal. Now, granted, when my father dies I’ll probably come into some Clark Plywood stock, but with any kind of luck that’ll be a long time in the future. I’m living on my paycheck, just like you are.”

“Well,” he sighed, “you may be right, but it still seems like a reach to me.”

“It’s something that really doesn’t matter at all to me and shouldn’t matter to you,” she said. “Jim, the bottom line is that I respect you and I’m falling in love with you. So far we seem to fit well together. The rest of it is stuff that we can work out, and we’ve got three more days and three more nights to work on some of it.”

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