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Starting Late book cover

Starting Late
A Tale from Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
©2011, ©2013

Chapter 6

It didn’t take long before the six of them were in the motor home and heading toward Spearfish Lake. Not that they got very far at first; before they made it to the expressway, Kirsten spotted a likely looking mall and insisted that Mark pull into the place so the girls and the women could go shopping for clothes, “and things.” Mark expected the latter could amount to almost anything under the sun, some of which he didn’t want to know about or even contemplate as he might not understand them anyway.

“I think I’ll just stay here,” Mark said once he had the motor home parked. “I know better than to go shopping with four women. You’d just have me carrying more than I could handle.”

“You probably have that right,” Jackie grinned as she climbed down the steps of the motor home. “See you in a bit.”

Mike decided that Mark might have a point, and came up to plop down in the opposite front seat of the motor home. “You realize, don’t you, that your credit card is about to take a major hit?”

“Yeah, well, it’s all in a good cause,” Mark shrugged. He knew that neither Jackie nor Kirsten were shopaholics, but it was also clear that they wanted to spoil the girls a little to get friendlier with them; it was a woman’s way of doing things, after all. “I’m just glad we’re on the way. Henry was pretty nice to us, and even Cindy was better than I figured she’d be, but under the circumstances I don’t think I’d want to hang around there much longer.”

“It went about as well as could be expected,” Mike agreed. “You realize this is going to make a major change in your life, don’t you?”

“That was clear from the beginning,” Mark shook his head, and swung the seat around to be able to look more directly at his friend. “Like, I still haven’t made up my mind about what I’m going to do about Marlin.com. I haven’t even thought about it much, but it’s clear to me that I don’t have much hope of taking an early retirement anymore. I mean, with the girls around, it’s not likely that I’m going to be able to take any long trips, like that boat trip down the Mississippi and back up the East Coast that we were talking about back in the hot tub the other night. Maybe it would be possible to do a part of it while the girls are out of school in the summer, but from what little I’ve found out about Rebecca, I kind of doubt it.”

“Why’s that?”

“Come on, as athletic as that girl seems to be she’ll probably be on three different softball teams and spending all her spare mornings in Brandy’s driveway,” Mark snorted. “I mean, I can just hear it now, ‘You want to drag me away from my softball games and my basketball practice so I can go with you on some silly boat?’”

“You’ve got a point. I hate to say it, good buddy, but you’re probably looking at getting a serious case of bleacher butt for the next few years.”

“That’s pretty clear, and what’s more important, in the next few months, I figure Jackie and I will have to demonstrate that we’re really interested in the girls. Fortunately, it seems like it’s going to be a little easier with Rebecca since she seems like she’s a sports nut. Brianna, well, it’ll have to be something else, and I don’t know what it is yet.”

“Yeah, that’s going to be a little tougher,” Mike admitted. “Fortunately, I managed to miss a lot of bleacher stuff, but then, I more than had my fill of it covering games before Henry was even born. Henry was the only jock in the bunch, and he wasn’t very serious about it. Well, unless you consider going to dogsled races with Tiffany, and at the time I wanted to be there about as much as she did.”

“And I was there with you most of the time,” Mark smiled. “Boy, things were a lot simpler then, weren’t they?”

“They were, indeed. It was nice to be young and interested in stuff like that. I guess now I’m just as glad that it’s in the past, although there are times when it seems like life has gotten a little too quiet, especially since we don’t see much of Susan anymore. Maybe it’d be just as well if you kept Marlin.com for a while. That’d give you something to give some attention to.”

“That’s basically what I’m thinking. The hell of it is that the whole industry is pretty volatile right now, and things keep changing faster than I can keep up. Right now, my main concern is that those idiots who bought out the phone company, shit, fifteen years ago, haven’t figured out yet that they need to get into the DSL business at home. When they do wake up, I’m bound to lose some market share, so that’s an argument for getting out while the getting is good. The hell of it is that now I have two good reasons to not get out of it, one being that it gives me something to do when I get up in the morning. Secondly, and maybe even more important, I’m coming to realize that it’s going to set a good example for the girls.”

“You don’t want them to see you sitting on your dead butt while they have to head off to school, doing homework, and like that, right?”

“Exactly. God knows what it was Shannon did for a living, but I think it’s important that the girls get exposed to the fact that they’ll have to work for what they get, and I’m not sure she did a good job of that. Now, to be honest, if I could figure out something else to do for the next ten years that looks like work and would bring in a reasonable income, I think I’d be ready to invest a big chunk of the money from Marlin.com into it. When you get right down to it, I’d like to be out of that end of the business and let someone with deeper pockets deal with an uncertain market. I won’t mind keeping a finger or two in Marlin Computer, but if I get out of Marlin.com and into something else, I might just give my employees a good opportunity to buy me out of Marlin Computer, as well.”

“But you have to figure out what it is you want to do, right?”

“Yeah, and I haven’t got a clue what it could be. Oh, and while I’m at it, it should be something I can get shed of fairly easily in ten years or so when I really am ready to retire. The hell of it is that the big six-oh is only about a year and a half away, and I’m not sure how bad I want to commit myself to something new at this stage of my life.”

“Well, there might be a retail opportunity or two kicking around downtown,” Mike said thoughtfully. “The first chance I get, I’ll bounce it off Debbie Evachevski without naming any names. She keeps a pretty good ear to the ground about who’s looking and how they’re doing.”

“It’s a possibility,” Mark shrugged. This was putting a different angle on the way he’d been looking at things. “The hell of it is that I’m not necessarily clued into what it takes to run a retail business other than computers and the like. Hell, I’d be pretty close to lost if I had to run, oh, a hardware store, just as a for-example.”

“I see what you mean,” Mike said, “and I can see how it could be a problem. Now, if you were, say, thirty, you could take ten years to learn how to do it right. But pushing sixty, after that ten years you’d be ready to hang it up.”

“Right. So that narrows the field a lot.”

“Just as a thought, how about just selling Marlin.com for now, sticking the money back, and waiting for the right opportunity to come along?”

“That’s an option,” Mark nodded, seeing a different side to things than had been evident till now, “and frankly, it’s a pretty good one. It probably would be the smart thing to do, because I can see Marlin.com turning into an uphill struggle, especially if the economy goes bad, and I can’t believe we’re not riding for a fall. If that happens, I might have a hell of a time getting rid of it anyway.”

“Sounds like a pretty good argument for getting out while the getting is good.”

“Well,” Mark shrugged, “I guess I’m leaning that way, but I still need to think about it some more.” He decided to change the subject; although talking with Mike had crystallized some things in the last few minutes, they still needed some pondering. “So, about this idea with the boat you were floating around. Anything to it?”

“I don’t know at this point. It’s an idea, and I think it’s a pretty good one. It sounds like a lot of fun, but when you get right down to it, it’s probably ten years before I could do it. That’s plenty of time for other ideas to come out.”

“Just on initial reaction, I kind of like it, too, but I think I want to know a little more about it. But then, what with the girls and all, it’s years before I could do it, too. And to top it off, I don’t really know anything much about boats. I’ve been in a rowboat a few times, and on a couple canoe trips. That’s about all.”

“I’m not a lot farther along on that than you are,” Mike replied. “But I guess that means we’ve got plenty of time to learn. Maybe we ought to think about getting a reasonable-sized boat and learning how to run it. Let’s face it, that big trip is going to be expensive. It’s not like when you and Jackie got in your airplane with a few bucks in your pocket and could live cheaply for months.”

“Yeah, things have changed since then, but they sure were a lot simpler in those days.”

*   *   *

The two of them wound up spending more than an hour sitting in the front of the motor home, just shooting the breeze about whatever happened to come up. They were long-time friends, after all, and they could usually find something to talk about. They spent a little time exploring the idea of looking around to see if they could find a small cabin cruiser to buy cheaply, but Mark thought that it probably shouldn’t be done this year. With the girls in his life, he had a gut feeling that he had enough on his plate to hold him for a while, but after things settled down, it might be something to consider.

At that, they were a little surprised that the women reappeared as soon as they did, all four of them carrying huge loads of shopping bags from various stores. At one glance, Mark realized that Mike’s prediction about his credit card taking a major hit had been right on the money, but the girls seemed bright and animated; it would appear the shopping therapy had been good for them.

Everyone was a while getting settled in, especially the girls, who headed toward the back room to do a little clothes changing – the allure of new clothes seemed to be just about overwhelming. Rebecca soon appeared, wearing new jeans and a T-shirt advertising a rock group Mark had never heard of before, and he suspected he would be just as happy if he didn’t know what they sounded like. The odd thing was that the clean jeans and T-shirt looked out of place on her, and he suspected she’d look more natural with them rumpled and dirty. Somehow, he figured it wouldn’t take her long to take care of that.

Brianna went the other direction, and Mark realized that he wasn’t really surprised to see it. She had put on a simple white blouse and a pleated, plaid lightweight skirt, full and slightly above knee length, certainly nothing he would categorize as “too short.” She looked nice, not hot; it almost looked like she was going to church, rather than getting set to take an eight-hour ride in the motor home.

Right at the moment, Mark felt like he understood Rebecca, at least a little, but Brianna seemed to be more of a mystery to him. Maybe, he thought, this might be a good time to find out a little more about her. “Brianna,” he said. “How’d you like to ride up front with me for a ways? Mr. McMahon wants to ride in back for a bit.”

“Sure,” the girl replied primly, “I think you ought to be able to see a lot up here.”

“The view is pretty good,” Mark agreed as the girl sat almost daintily in the right front seat and began to hook up the seat belt. “It’s almost like the view you’d get if you were driving a semi.”

“Have you driven one of them?”

“Not very much,” Mark admitted. “Enough to say I’ve done it. I’ve never had to do it for a living, or anything.”

“I guess I never asked,” she replied, “I know Aunt Jackie runs a sign shop, but I guess I don’t know what you do.”

“Mostly I run two businesses. One of them is Marlin.com, which is an Internet service provider. That means people who want to get on the Internet in Spearfish Lake pretty much have to go through my company. The other business is Marlin Computer, which is a computer sales and service store. Do you spend a lot of time on the Internet?”

“Some,” she said as he got the motor home started; it wasn’t so noisy that he couldn’t have a good conversation with her. “Not as much as I would like to. Mom let Becca and I use her old computer since she wouldn’t let us use her new one, and Becca always seemed to have it tied up playing some game or other.”

Mark checked over his shoulder; everyone was sitting down now, ready to get under way. He dropped the motor home into gear as he replied to Brianna, “Well, we shouldn’t have any problem with that. One thing I have is more computers than I know what to do with. I’m always getting trade-ins that need a little work, so there’s no reason I can’t set each of you up with one.”

“Becca will still probably spend more time than she should messing around with games and talking about sports and such, instead of doing things she ought to do, like her homework.”

“Well, if it gets out of hand we’ll probably have to do something about it,” Mark replied, “but we’ll just see how it goes. I’ll admit, if we’d had computers when I was a kid I probably would have spent more time on them than I should have, too. What do you like to do on a computer?”

“Oh, I like to read a lot, and there are some good books on them,” she replied, showing a little more interest than she had earlier. “I don’t use it for homework a lot, but I know from what Becca says that I’ll have to do some more next year, not that she likes to use it for that.”

It took a moment for Mark to reply, since he was busy herding the motor home out onto the busy street. Once he got it established in traffic, he asked, “Do you use it for chat rooms, and that kind of thing?”

“I don’t, but Becca does,” she reported. “But hers are mostly about sports things or games.”

“I guess I’ve figured out that you’re not much on sports.”

“Oh, I go to Becca’s games, but I always take a book with me,” she replied as Mark slowed for a stop light. It changed to green before he got to a full stop, and he pressed onward. It was still a long way to the expressway, but he was looking forward to being out on it. “I don’t understand a lot of it. It’s a little better than being stuck in the apartment a lot of the time. Mom didn’t usually let us go out unless she or Mrs. Engstrom was with us.”

“I think you’ll find that Spearfish Lake is a little different,” Mark replied. “I don’t want to make any promises until you’ve learned your way around, but you’ll probably be on your own a bit more, especially as you get older. We’re going to have to take it step by step, like I don’t think we’ll want you wandering around in the woods by yourself just yet, at least until we know you’ve learned how to find your way around.”

“Isn’t it dangerous being in the woods? I mean, aren’t there bears and wolves and things like that?”

“There are bears, but there aren’t many of them and they usually stay away from people, anyway. It’s been a couple years since I’ve seen one. We’re starting to get a few wolves back in the woods, but they’re even more rare, and you can consider yourself lucky if you ever see one. It’s not like the city, that’s for sure, but it’s probably not anywhere near as dangerous as you might think if you’ve never spent any time in the woods.”

“I don’t know,” she replied dubiously, “I think I’d be scared to be out in the woods by myself.”

“There’s probably no reason for you to be out in the woods alone, unless you like it,” Mark told her, “but it’s pretty open right around the house, so being outside is no problem. Any howling you hear, and you’ll hear it, will be coming from Mr. and Mrs. McMahon’s daughter’s dogs, and there’s not as much of that as there used to be.”

“Are they big dogs?” she asked, a little nervously.

“Oh, just medium sized,” Mark told her, detecting more than a little city girl in Brianna, one who wasn’t used to the facts of life as they were practiced in Spearfish Lake, at least in their rural neighborhood. “I don’t know if anyone told you, but Tiffany – she’s their daughter – and her husband raise dogs for racing dogsleds. Some of those dogs will race across Alaska when it’s real cold. One time, years ago, we went to Alaska to watch them race. It was quite an adventure.”

“I heard that someone had dogs, but I guess I didn’t understand who.”

“For a while there we all had dog teams, but we slowly got out of it,” Mark explained, relaxing a little as he hit a patch of lighter traffic. He was sure he still had a lot to learn about this kid, but he thought that perhaps he was on his way to understanding her a little better, now. “Now, if any of us wants to go out on a dogsled in the winter, there are always some of Josh and Tiffany’s dogs that need to go for a run. If you want, when winter comes we can take you for a dogsled ride. If you decide you want to learn how to drive a dogsled, there won’t be any problem arranging it.”

“I don’t know,” she replied unenthusiastically. “I don’t think I’d like it.”

“Everybody’s different,” Mark replied, not surprised by her statement. “Now, not only was Tiffany driving a dogsled when she was your age, she was taking it on a hundred-mile race through the woods. Most people thought she was crazy and that her folks were crazy to let her do it. It worked for her, but it might not for someone else.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Becca would like to do it,” she replied. “She likes to do crazy stuff like that. She’ll probably like running around in the woods, and you’ll have to go looking for her.”

“Well, I guess we’ll just have to have a word with her,” Mark replied. “I don’t think I have a problem with it after she knows what she’s doing, but we’ll have to make sure she knows before we let her go out alone.” He decided to change the subject a little, just for the sake of exploring different areas with her. “So, did you have bikes back when you were living where you were in Decatur?”

“No, there wasn’t room for them. Becca is real good at it, even if she’s only ridden some of her friends’ bikes, but Mom always said she’d be all over the place if she had one of her own.”

Somehow that didn’t surprise Mark. Shannon probably had a reason for keeping a close eye on these girls; it had to be tough to be living in an apartment building with them, since that limited what they could do. “Well, that’s something else that’s going to change,” he told the little blonde. “We’re not real close to town, and I don’t think I want you riding on the main road much until you get a little more practiced with it, but there’s a way you can get into town where you don’t have to be on the main road much. We’ll have to see about getting you two some bikes so you can get out and get around a little. I don’t know how much you’ll want to do it, but I’ll bet Rebecca will like it.”

“Oh, she will,” she shook her head. “And she’ll just get into things you don’t want her to.”

“You’re probably right,” Mark smiled. “At least I was that way when I was a kid. It’s part of growing up, after all. You and Rebecca are pretty different kids, and I suppose we’re just going to have to learn that.”

“Uncle Mark?”


“You don’t have to call us Rebecca and Brianna. We always call each other Becca and Bree, and Mom did, too. Everybody’s been calling me Brianna, and I have to remember it’s my name.”

“OK, Bree it is,” he smiled, at least because the on-ramp for the expressway wasn’t far ahead. The traffic there would probably be heavy, but at least it would be heading out of town, and would be easier than driving the big rig on a surface street. “It may take me a while to get used to it, but I suspect it’s going to take me a while to get used to everything about having kids around, just like you’re going to have to get used to some of the different things we have at home. But we’ll both learn from it.”

As he drove the motor home up the entrance ramp, Mark was beginning to think he was getting a little handle on this kid, although he was sure he was far from having her figured out all the way. She seemed pretty shy, at least around him, although she was a lot less shy with her sister, but that might not last as they got to know her a little better. She was definitely a city girl and seemed nervous about some of the changes that she would be seeing in the next few weeks. There was going to be a lot for her to have to get used to about living in the country, and it seemed likely it was going to be harder for her to adapt than it was going to be for her sister.

From what he knew, he rather liked Rebecca – no, darn it, Becca – already. She was going to fit into the life style at home fairly easily. It wouldn’t surprise him in the slightest to see her out on the back of a dogsled when winter rolled around, at least if she could find some time from her other sports and activities. Bree was a different story. She seemed much more internal, without the usual interests of a kid her age. There were probably some there, and maybe they could draw them out of her, but it was going to be harder. In a way, Bree seemed a little more mature than her older sister, but that might be the shyness showing through.

As Henry had said, they were two very different girls, and it was going to be a handful to learn how to handle each of them separately.

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