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

Winter Layoff
a novel by
Wes Boyd
2011, 2013

Chapter 21

For the next several minutes Jim and Randy discussed a couple of the upcoming jobs, and what Jim would have to do to get ready for them. “Well, when you put it this way, you make it seem pretty simple,” Jim said as they wrapped up. “Like I said, I’ll give it my best to make it work for both of us.”

“I have no doubt that you will,” Randy told him. “So, anyway, Rachel was saying last night that the two of you had a pretty good time down there in Pass Christian.”

No fooling, Jim thought but didn’t want to say. He was right back on the hot spot again. Randy had to have guessed that Jim had been screwing his sister pretty close to silly, and that she’d returned the favor. “Well, yeah,” he replied warily. “A pretty good time.”

“Good. She was getting to the point where she needed it,” Randy smiled in a way that told Jim that while he may not have known the exact details, he had the basic story pretty well figured out. “It’s been years since she’s been in as good of a mood since you two got back, at least that I’ve seen. That’s something else I have to thank you for. Most of what she said over dinner last night was to talk up what a great guy you are.”

“Well, I happen to think she’s pretty cool too,” Jim replied. “I really enjoy being with her, even though I can’t understand what it is she sees in me.”

“Jim,” Randy sighed, “you have a lot of good things going for you, but one thing you really need to work on is your self esteem. You’re too modest. You put yourself down too much when there’s no need to. Rachel knows it, and I know it. Considering the asshole she was married to, she’s sensitive to it, and I get some of that from a different viewpoint. I mean, why the hell did I have to spend the last half hour talking you into taking a job I know you can do perfectly well?”

“I hope I can do it well enough for you,” Jim said slowly, realizing that there was some truth to Randy’s words.

“The only one who has any doubts about it is you, just like the only one with any doubts that you and Rachel are good for each other is you. The rest of us know better, because we know you. I haven’t known you long enough to tell, but was this business of putting yourself down something that came from your ex-wife?”

“Could be,” Jim replied thoughtfully. “I didn’t do a very good job of handling that, and I guess I know it.”

“Like I said, I don’t know enough of what happened to make a judgment, but from what I’ve heard, you put up with her for longer than you really should have, and she was the one causing the problem. You were the one trying to make things work. Is that about right?”

“Pretty much,” Jim nodded. “And I fucked it up, big time. I should have been able to make it work.”

“Again, I don’t know enough about it, but I’ve seen what happens in similar situations more than I want to. I’ve got a close friend who put up with a bad wife for years. He was the only one trying to fix the situation, and she just didn’t care. They went along like that for most of twelve years before it blew up. I’d guess that you gave it more than a fair shot, but it finally blew up on you, right?”

“Something like that,” Jim admitted. “I finally drew the line and told Carolyn that if she got busted for DUI again it was over. She did, and I pretty well had to keep my word. My sister keeps trying to get us back together again, and there have been times that I’ve been tempted to try, even though I know nothing will have changed.”

“So there was nothing you could have done, and you’re still bummed out about it, right? Jim, I’m not a professional counselor or anything like that, so I probably shouldn’t say this, but a drunk is a drunk and it’s pretty rare they change unless they want to themselves. You shouldn’t see that as a loss but as a learning experience. Again, I probably shouldn’t be the one to tell you this, but the time has come for you to put that shit behind you. It’s in the past, so leave it there.”

“It sounds good when you say it. But, well, I have my doubts. Like, she’s a college graduate, and I barely made it out of high school. That adds up to a lot of difference.”

“Big deal,” Randy snorted. “Differences can be what makes life interesting. Sure, there are things Rachel knows that you don’t, but there are things you know that she doesn’t. Look, think about Russ and Heather Compton for a minute, will you? Russ is a damn good carpenter, and he’s going to make a damn good carpenter foreman. You agree with me on that?”

“Sure. He proved that down in Pass Christian, if nothing else.”

“Russ never even made it out of high school,” Randy shook his head. “I mean, I know, I was in high school with him. It wasn’t because he was dumb, it was because he had to support his mother, and there was no other income in the house, so he quit school and went to work at a job in the woods. It wasn’t until after he started to work here that my grandfather leaned on him to get his GED. Heather is a nurse and a college graduate. From everything I ever heard they have a pretty good marriage. Oh, they crab about each other a little, but part of the reason Russ worked so hard down in Pass Christian was that he wanted to get home to her and the kids. The educational difference doesn’t mean a damn thing to them, and it shouldn’t to you and Rachel.”

“Well, yeah,” Jim sighed, but decided that he had to raise the real issue in his mind, so at least it was out on the table. “But the thing of it is, she’s your sister, and I don’t want you getting pissed off at me, especially if something should go wrong. And damn it, we both know that could happen.”

“I suppose it could,” Randy said. “But considering the two of you, I don’t think anything is going to happen between you that could piss me off. Neither one of you is that kind of person, which is more than I can say about her ex. That guy could piss me off just by walking into the room. Christ knows what she ever saw in him, but she at least learned her lesson from it. Jim, don’t get me wrong. I love my sister and I want the best for her. She’s needed a man in her life for a while and has just started to come to realize it, and that’s with Nicole and Jared and me pushing her about it. But she needs a good man who will treat her with respect, not stomp all over her like that piece of shit she was married to. Nothing is certain in this life, Jim, but Rachel and I talked it over even before we headed down to Pass Christian, and we pretty well agreed that the two of you might work out pretty well together.”

“You mean that was a setup?”

“No, not really, just a chance to get the two of you together some and see how it went without any special meaning, all her idea, though I thought it was a good one. I didn’t expect that she’d wind up staying down there with you for an extra month, for Pete’s sakes, and then have her come back with stars in her eyes because of you. That tells me it worked out pretty well.”

“I have to admit there were some times that I thought there was more going on than met the eye.”

“Well, hell. You’re dealing with a woman, what do you expect? They think differently from us guys, and you ought to know that by now.”

“All that is well and good,” Jim replied. “But there’s still Jared to consider. I may have met the kid, but if I have I don’t remember it. We sure don’t know each other.”

“There is that,” Randy nodded. “But I’ll tell you that Jared is a pretty sharp kid for being ten, and he sure didn’t get that from his father. One of the things that really impresses me is that he realizes his mother is missing a part of her life for not having a man in it. What’s more, he realizes that he’s missing a part of his life for not having a father figure. I’ve tried to fill in, and I like to think I’ve done pretty well at it, but it’s not the same thing and we all know it. You’d think a kid that age wouldn’t like very much for his mother to take off for six weeks like she did, but he knew what she was going down there for. From his viewpoint, it wasn’t to build a house, but for her to take a shot at building a family. When she called home to talk to him, he always wanted a detailed report on how things were going, and he wouldn’t settle for ‘Just fine.’ From not having met you he’s pretty high on you already. Now if you disappointed him, I might get a little pissed off.”

“Damn. Now that really puts me under the gun.”

“Not really. You get a head start since he’s already prepared to like you. Yeah, that might not happen, and if it honestly doesn’t after you’ve given it a good effort, well, it doesn’t and that’s that. Give him a fair trial and he’s more than willing to give you one. Look, why don’t we start you off easy? Come on over for dinner tonight, say about six, that’ll give the two of you a chance to get to know each other with a little padding around so it won’t seem quite so awkward for you.”

“I suppose,” Jim smiled. “You know, one of the things that never worked out with Carolyn is I wanted to have kids, but I learned pretty early on that it wouldn’t be a good idea to have them with her, at least not until she cleaned up her act. I guess that part of it worked out pretty well.”

“Yeah, that could have made things a hell of a lot worse for you,” Randy nodded. “But like I said, you’ve got to put that stuff in the past and look toward the future.”

“I suppose you’re right on that, too,” Jim said. “It’s just that so much has changed when I wasn’t expecting it to, I’ve got to get my head around it.”

“Change comes, and you can either deal with it or let it deal with you.”

Randy and Jim talked about a few more things, but they were work related. Their discussion was dying out anyway when Randy had to break it off to deal with a phone call. Jim just said, “See you tonight,” and headed out into the front office.

“You were in there for a while,” Rachel said. “You two get everything worked out?”

“Pretty much,” Jim said. “Now is probably not the time to talk about it, but Randy invited me over to have dinner with you and Jared tonight.”

“Good,” she smiled. “Jared has been looking forward to meeting you.”

“So I hear,” Jim grinned. “I’m looking forward to meeting him, too. I guess I’d better not keep you from that pile of stuff on your desk, so I’ll see you tonight.”

“I’m looking forward to it, too,” she replied with a smile. “Love you, Jim.”

Even in the office in front of Regina there was no denying it. “Love you, Rachel,” he smiled. “I guess I better get something useful done today.”

Jim was busy in the equipment barn for a while, unloading the backhoe, giving it an oil change and a serious inspection before parking it in its regular spot. He then did the same thing with the dump truck, thinking all the while. Maybe Randy was right; maybe he’d let Carolyn undermine his self-confidence more than he should have. It just proved, he thought, that trying to do what seemed like the right thing at the time wasn’t always the right thing to do.

He was still working on the dump truck when Rachel appeared in the equipment barn. “Hey,” she said. “It’s lunch time. You want to go over to the Spearfish Lake Café or something?”

“Sure,” he said. “Give me a few minutes to get cleaned up.”

In a few minutes they were in her old Chevy, riding over to the restaurant. “So what was it that you and Randy spent so much time talking about?” she asked.

“Mostly about my taking over the steel building crew,” Jim said. “Boy, that one came out of nowhere.”

“It doesn’t surprise me,” she said. “Randy has been saying clear back since the Windmill Island job that he thought you could do more for the company. Did you talk about anything else?”

“Well, we talked about us,” he admitted. “What it comes down to is that he doesn’t have the problem with it that I thought he might have. That surprised me more than a little.”

“It shouldn’t,” she said. “If he’d had a problem with it he wouldn’t have been anywhere near as supportive. Or Jared, for that matter. He’s really looking forward to meeting you.”

“Because of what everyone has said, I’m looking forward to meeting him.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing it,” she smiled. “I think you two are going to grow on each other real fast.”

“Well, I hope so,” he replied.

They had a long talk over lunch as things had changed since yesterday. This time the day before it hadn’t seemed serious, or even possible to Jim. Now it seemed, well, not inevitable, but likely. He wasn’t disappointed about it, either. What came out of the discussion was that they decided to take their time, but not too much time, either.

After lunch, Jim finished up the work on the dump truck. He wasn’t on the company clock, but figured since he’d used the equipment for what amounted to a personal project, he ought to at least help take care of it. He stopped by the office to tell Rachel he was heading home to go over some of the paperwork Randy had given him earlier.

He settled into his living room chair and started in on a file. The first building already had the footers in, and the customer wanted it up as soon as the weather cleared off enough to do it, so it was clear that they had to hit the ground running, possibly in as little as two or three weeks. However, nothing seemed very complicated. Yes, he thought. I can do this.

Somewhere along in there the thought crossed his mind that he hadn’t called his mother yet, to tell her he was home. Easily solved; he picked up the phone and dialed her office. “Hi,” he said. “I just thought I’d tell you that we got Rita and John into their new house, and I’m back home.”

“I knew that,” his mother said. “Rita called last Monday. They’re both still just all thrilled and pleased that you managed to do it for them, and do it so quickly.”

“Well, I was a little surprised about it myself, but I had help, good help, and lots of it. But I could never have done it if you hadn’t pushed me into it.”

“Somebody had to do it, and I figured you could do it if anyone could. That was a very nice thing for you to do, Jim.”

“Well, it worked out,” he replied. “In fact, it worked out better than I could have expected.”

“Does that statement take in anything to do with the woman there with you? Rita said the two of you were acting awful close.”

“Yes, it does,” Jim said. “And in her way, she was more responsible for getting Aunt Rita and Uncle John back into their house than I was. I still don’t know everything she did, but it couldn’t have been done without her.”

“I probably ought to tell you that your sister isn’t very happy that you’re spending time with a woman besides Carolyn.”

“Well, Shirley had better get used to it,” Jim said. “I don’t want to say anything is happening but it could head that way. In any case, Carolyn is a dead issue and has been for a long time, whether Shirley believes it or not. I’m just putting her further in the past, that’s all.”

*   *   *

Spring came, and a little early.

There were several steel buildings to be built that summer, and Jim and the crew got started on them early. Things went pretty well. There were problems, but nothing that couldn’t be solved. Since the first part of March Jim had been at a number of youth wrestling tournaments to watch Jared, who it turned out was pretty good. When things warmed up, there was Little League baseball. Jim and Rachel went to the games. Jared didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but had fun and was a solid player.

One warm Saturday afternoon, with Randy’s permission, Jim took the backhoe out in back of the office and gave Jared a couple lessons on how to run it. That excited him to no end, even the using the loader bucket to fill in the holes they’d made. “That was fun!” Jared said. “Do you think I could really learn to do that?”

“No reason why not,” Jim told him. “You seem to have the eye for it.”

“Jim,” Jared replied. “You’ve been awful nice to me, a lot better than my real father ever was. I really wish you were my dad.”

“Jared, do you really mean that?”

“Yes, I do. Mom is a lot happier when you’re around, and I am, too.”

“OK,” Jim said. “I’ll work on it.”

Since both of them had been married before, Jim and Rachel decided that a big wedding would be inappropriate. They just settled for a brief ceremony in Judge Dieball’s chambers at the courthouse. The wedding was attended by various Clarks, along with Jim’s father and mother. Shirley didn’t come, still ticked at his “betrayal” of Carolyn. He didn’t mind in the slightest. They moved in together in Rachel’s house, just up the street from Randy and Nicole, and settled in to really making themselves a family.

There is a copy of the picture that Aaron took hanging on the wall of Randy’s office at Clark Construction, the big group around the sign that was, in its way, a little out of place. There were a lot of smiles on the faces of those in the photo, clustered around the sign that said, “Another Quality Home built by Clark Construction, Spearfish Lake, Michigan” – mostly because it was taken over a thousand miles away from Spearfish Lake, in Pass Christian, Mississippi. It was a real point of pride around the company, and rightfully so.

Randy often looked at the picture, noting that Jim and Rachel had their arms around each other’s waists when it was taken. He often thought they might not have been aware of it at the time, but that things were already heading in the direction they had wound up taking. A similar photo hangs on the wall in Jim and Rachel Wooten’s house not far up the street from Randy’s house.

The “Quality Home” sign still stands on the front lawn of John and Rita Fleming’s house in Pass Christian. As far as they’re concerned it’s there permanently. Even five years after the house was built the neighborhood hadn’t come all the way back. Only about half the lots were occupied, and there were a number of “For Sale” signs on empty lots. But once again, it was a place where people could live and make their lives. The Fleming house was just a spark plug that helped people to see that the neighborhood could be rebuilt, and Clark Construction played at least a little part in that, as well.

Jim and Rachel Wooten always stay with John and Rita when they go to Pass Christian in the depths of a Spearfish Lake winter, even though they leave their children – one hers, two theirs – with Randy and Nicole while they’re gone. There still is rebuilding to do in Pass Christian and in other places Katrina tore up, and they still feel they should lend a hand where they can, with Amish crews or Habitat for Humanity. After all, cleaning up after the storm turned both their lives around, and they feel they should do what they can to continue the process.

-- 30 --

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