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Spearfish Lake Tales
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Starting Late book cover

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

Chapter 10

“So, how did the shopping go?” Mark asked as he got into the car.

“Pretty well,” Jackie replied from behind the wheel. “We missed a couple things down in Decatur yesterday, but we found what we needed. We saw some swimsuits while we were in the store, and after our talk about the beach, we got one for each of the girls.”

So that was the excuse Jackie used, Mark thought. How to get swimsuits for the girls without raising the issue of the hot tub was a problem, and apparently she’d managed it. He knew he didn’t need to make a big deal out of it, so changed the subject. “I should have computers for the two of you Monday,” he announced. “We have them, they’re both desktops, but they’re going to take a little setting up.”

“Great,” Becca beamed. “It’ll be neat to have my own computer. I’ve got a couple games I’ve been wanting to try. I keep hearing about one called World of Warcraft that sounds pretty good.”

Mark rolled his eyes. With Becca being as athletic minded as she was, he thought he was beginning to understand her a little, but he obviously hadn’t figured her out all the way yet. Somehow he had trouble visualizing a kid as active as her plunked on her butt in front of a computer playing a game as complicated as that. From what he knew about it – and admittedly it wasn’t much – it was the kind of thing that ate up a lot of time and attention. Possibly it was a competitive drive, he thought, but still he would have expected Bree to be the one to be the games freak. Oh, well, there was still plenty to learn about the two of them, he thought, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.

“We’re going to have to come up with something for computer desks for both of you,” he replied. “We have a couple card tables that ought to work for now, but we’ll have to figure out something else when we can get your beds and stuff here.”

“I don’t think we have much at home that would work,” Bree replied thoughtfully. “We used to do most of our homework and stuff at the kitchen table, and Mom would let us use her old laptop there.”

“We’ll just have to work something out,” Jackie said. “If all else fails, there are those cheap computer desk kits you have at the store, Mark.”

“Yeah, those would work,” Mark agreed. “And cheap is the only thing they have going for them. Let’s hold off till we get the rooms set up before we make up our minds, though. We’ve got enough else we need to do today, especially if we’re going to get the plane out after we get done.”

“We probably ought to have lunch first,” Jackie pointed out. “Would you girls be up for grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup?”

“Sounds good,” Becca said. “I like that.”

“Could I maybe have some kind of salad?” Bree asked.

“I’m sure we can find something in the refrigerator,” Jackie said. “It’s probably going to take us a while to find out what you girls like and what you don’t like.”

“That’s pretty simple,” Becca smirked. “If I like something, Bree doesn’t.”

“If you like something, it’s probably because it’s not good for you,” Bree charged. “You don’t like anything but junk food.”

“We’re just going to have to find a happy medium,” Jackie shook her head. “I suppose we’re all going to have to bend a bit.” She decided to try and change the subject, mostly to avoid having to listen to another mudslinging match between the girls. “So, what else do we need to do before we can get the plane out?”

“I know you think the room is going to need a good cleaning,” Mark said, “and I need to make a dumpster run since the truck has got a lot in it and I may need to use it Monday. Then, we need to start listing what we’re going to do about redecorating the room, if anything, so that opens up the question of which one of you is going to get it. Have you come to any decisions?”

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Bree said. “Either one of them is about the same.”

“I don’t care either,” Becca smiled. “But they’re both awful dull. If I could, I think it would be neat to have my room painted a bright green.”

“The whole room?” Mark asked. “I think that might be overdoing it a little.”

“Well, maybe,” Becca replied thoughtfully. “Maybe a dark blue rug to set it off.”

“We’d want to leave the ceiling white, wouldn’t we?” Jackie asked, her voice sounding a little dismayed.

“Unless we can paint it yellow.”

“Becca,” Bree said in a barbed tone, “That’s going to look so ugly you’re going to spend all your time in my room.”

“Maybe we ought to think about it,” Mark said diplomatically. “Usually it’s pretty hard to paint light over dark colors.”

“How about a red rug?” Bree suggested, probably sarcastically, although with her it was hard to tell. “With those green walls, it’d be decorated for Christmas all the time.”

“It could be worse,” Jackie grimaced. “I remember Kirsten saying that Cindy painted her room a particularly disgusting shade of chartreuse when she was about your age, and her mother made her keep it till they moved out.”

“That’s a point,” Mark said, grateful for the potential way out of this mess. “If you decide to do something extreme, you’re going to be stuck with it for a while.”

“I think it would be neat,” Becca said defensively. “It wouldn’t be blah and boring that way.”

“Well, we don’t have to settle on it right away,” Mark replied. “We’ve got enough else to do the next few days, especially with the two of you starting a new school and possibly sports and other activities. Maybe we’ll have to think it over, but it would be nice if you could come up with something a little less extreme.”

“I’ll think about it,” Becca said, not to be put off. “But you know, chartreuse sounds pretty good, now that you mention it, maybe on the ceiling instead of yellow.”

EEEWWWWW,” Bree squealed with a grimace.

Mark was dead sure he agreed with her on that one. “I think Jackie and I are going to have to draw a line somewhere,” he told the girls, “and I’m sure it will be somewhere this side of a chartreuse ceiling, green walls and a red carpet. We don’t want your eyes going bad before you graduate from high school.”

*   *   *

The debate about the color to paint Becca’s room lasted all the way back to the house, with absolutely nothing being settled. Although Mark and Jackie didn’t need to talk about it, it was clear that whatever happened to the room, it was going to come out a little more conservative than Becca was pushing for. It was clear nothing was going to be settled that day, and while he was willing to let Becca have some say in the matter, he wasn’t going to let her have her head. Bree actually made it a little easier, saying that the colors of her room were fine with her, and when the time came it might give Mark a little to argue with. Might.

Whatever they were going to wind up doing with the room, it was clear it needed a thorough washing down before they did anything. Mark left Jackie and Becca to work on it, while he and Bree took the pickup truck with the bed half full of stuff from the room down to the dumpster at Marlin Computer. Bree really wasn’t a big help with the unloading, but it gave him a chance to talk with her one on one for a bit. “So, how do you like this place so far?” he asked.

“All right, I guess,” she told him. “It really seems like it’s a small town, though. It hardly seems like there’s anything here.”

“It’s going to seem that way after living in Decatur,” he assured her. “And there’s no denying it’s a small town. But there are some advantages to it, and I hope you’ll come to appreciate them.”

“I guess I’ll have to get used to it,” she sighed. “I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but I guess it does.”

“Well, given a choice we wouldn’t want it this way either,” he told her, “but it is, so I guess all of us are going to have to learn to like it. I don’t think Jackie or I can replace your mother, but with any kind of luck we can fill in for her pretty well.”

“You’re nice, and I think you’re trying,” she said, “but it’s just not going to be the same. But, Uncle Mark, thank you for coming for us. I’m pretty sure it was the best way things could have worked out for us.”

When Mark and Bree got back from the dumpster run, Jackie and Becca were still busy with cleaning the room, although the end was close to being in sight. Becca was still campaigning for some odd color scheme, although somehow it had appreciably changed in the time they’d been gone; it was clear that issue was far from over. “When we get done, that ought to about do it for the day,” Jackie said. “Why don’t you and Bree roll out Rocinante and go flying? Then Becca and I can go when you come back.”

“Great!” Bree exclaimed. “Uncle Mark, let’s go!”

“Works for me,” Mark smiled, glad to see Bree was excited about something. Not unexpectedly, she was clearly not happy about having to move in with them. She was at least accepting of it, and really, if it had been him at the same age and under the same circumstances, he doubted he would have done as well with it as she seemed to have so far. “As long as we’re going, we might as well take a nice, long flight.”

Bree was just about floating as she and Mark walked out behind the shop to the hanger. Mark rolled back the hanger doors and, using a handle on the side of the plane near the tail, rolled it out into the sunlight. “Wow,” Becca said as she stood watching. “It really seems light.”

“It is pretty light,” Mark said. “If it were built as heavy as a car, it wouldn’t fly well if it could fly at all.”

Bree was just about ready to climb inside, but Mark decided she might as well learn first things first. “Before we go flying, we have to check it out,” he told her. “If something were wrong, we’re better off if we found the problem on the ground before we go flying, so what we do every time we fly is what’s called a walk-around inspection.”

Mark took his time doing the walk-around, pointing out things that had to be checked, things like hinge pins, proper tire inflation, and the oil level. He showed Bree how they had to check for water in the gas by draining a little bit of it into a clear plastic cup, and explained that they always topped off the fuel before they put the plane away. It was only then he had her climb into the right seat and helped her fasten her seat belt, which was a little different from the kind used in cars.

He got in the other side, closed the door, made sure the prop was clear, and flipped the switch to start the engine. A few prop blades went by, and it caught, not terribly loud. “We need to take our time and let it warm up a little,” he told Bree as he opened the throttle to taxi out to the airstrip behind the barn, not far away. Once there, he set the brakes, opened up the engine a bit, and checked the magnetos, briefly explaining to Bree what he was doing. Finally, he idled the engine back down and said, “Are you ready?”

“Sure, let’s go,” she said bright-eyed.

Mark opened the throttle a little, rolled out onto the airstrip and turned to point it down the runway before opening the throttle all the way. The engine in the nose of the pristine white plane got noisier, and they rolled down the smooth grass field until they had enough speed for Mark to lift it off. Soon the ground receded from them, and Bree’s eyes were out the window on her side, watching in wonder. “Wow!” he heard her say over the noise of the engine. “Uncle Mark, this is neat!”

“I’ve always liked it,” he said. “My dad had a different plane for years, and I was flying with him as early as I could remember. Your Aunt Jackie and I don’t really do much with this plane anymore, just go flying around somewhere for an hour or two. But, I think we told you how we spent eight months flying all over the country in this plane, camping out under the wing, and seeing a lot of the USA.”

“Wow, that had to have been fun,” Bree replied, not tearing her eyes away from the scene unfolding below. “It seems like a long way down! How fast are we going?”

“About eighty miles an hour, right now. When we level out, it’ll be closer to a hundred, but up that high we’ll hardly seem like we’re moving.”

Mark was in no hurry; he got the plane high enough for Bree to get a good look at the house, Mike and Kirsten’s house, and Josh and Tiffany’s house, with the big dog barn and the training trails surrounding it. With that, he turned toward Spearfish Lake, giving her a good look at the big lake, then flying her over the town to give her a good perspective of that, pointing out things like the school and the downtown, where Marlin Computer was located.

“Part of the reason we don’t fly the glider much around here is that there aren’t many good places to land if we run out of sky,” he explained. “So we have to be pretty careful about staying within gliding distance of one of the landing strips. When we take it out, we usually just float around locally with it, but we’ve been known to load it on the trailer and go elsewhere once in a while where we don’t have to worry about landing places quite as much. But it’s fun, and we’ve had a good time with it.”

“Uncle Mark?” Bree asked. “Do you think I could learn how to fly?”

“No reason you couldn’t,” he said. “You’re a little young to be a formal student, or anything like that, but I was flying Dad’s plane in the air when I was younger than you are. Do you want to try to handle it for a minute?”

“Can I really?” she beamed.

“Sure, why not?” he replied, and demonstrated how the plane was handled, and what each of the controls did. It was basic stuff he’d known all his life, and Bree was not the first person he’d given this first lesson to – and he’d done the same thing with Jackie, getting close to forty years before, in this same airplane. After a few minutes of instruction, he let her try it out.

Of course, like any beginner she over-controlled it, but in remarkably little time he had her flying along straight and level without much input from him. Once she was comfortable with that, he let her try some shallow turns, and she was quick to pick up the concept of coordinating the rudder and the ailerons. He wouldn’t want to call her a natural, not yet anyway, but she seemed to have a knack for it. As he had said, it would be a few years before she would be able to take formal lessons or solo an airplane, but there was no reason she couldn’t pick up the basics now, especially since she seemed to enjoy it so much.

Their wanderings around had taken them well to the south of Spearfish Lake, so he decided to try another lesson. “We really need to be getting back,” he told her. “Now, which way is home?”

“Over that way,” she pointed to their left and slightly behind him.

“Why don’t you point us in that direction and fly us that way?” he smiled. She’d gotten the direction right, whether by guess, good observation, good situational awareness or good natural navigation was hard to tell – but he figured there would be time to find that out. Basic navigation was not complex, but it was another one of those skills she’d have to learn if she wanted to fly.

“Sure, I can do that,” she said, making a gentle turn to the left without much guidance from him, pointing Rocinante’s nose back toward the airstrip at home. They talked about flying for a few more minutes as they headed to the north, and it was easy to see she was very interested in it, if not downright enthusiastic. While Bree might not have been happy to be in Spearfish Lake, and that was understandable, she sure seemed happy in the air. Mark could see a lot of flying with her in his future, and didn’t mind the idea in the least.

As it turned out, she found their little private airstrip like she had the guidance of a homing pigeon. It was close in front of them when Mark told her to make a turn to the right to get set up for the pattern for the landing. He and Jackie rarely bothered themselves with patterns at home, just coming in from where they were comfortable, but patterns were important at busier places. More importantly, they were crucial in setting up the cues for a beginner to figure out their approach, so it was a good idea to get in the habit of it from the beginning. Once he’d talked her into the pattern, he went ahead and made the landing, having her follow him along on the controls.

“See, it’s not that complicated,” he said as they taxied down the airstrip to the hanger. He could see Jackie and Becca come walking out from the house. “Would you like to do that again some time?”

“Sure, Uncle Mark! That was fun!” It may have been the happiest he’d seen her since he’d met her several days ago.

He pulled up in front of the hanger, spun Rocinante around, idled the throttle and cut the switches. “That’s it for this time,” he said. “We have to give Jackie and Becca their turn.”

“Thanks, Uncle Mark,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like that before.” It still stumped him how a girl who could be so neutral or negative about a lot of new things could be enthusiastic about a strange thing like flying around in an antique airplane, but he wasn’t complaining. It seemed like he had at least one way to get through to her, and was glad of it.

*   *   *

Jackie and Becca were up in Rocinante for most of an hour, but Mark wasn’t worried; he had a few little chores to do around the house. While he piddled with them, Bree was wrapped up in her book, curled up in the living room chair with Perky once again on her lap. That still amazed Mark; Perky didn’t want much to do with most humans, but for whatever reason, he had decided Bree was an exception to the rule. What’s more, Bree seemed to like him there.

By the time the plane was put away for the night, the day was showing signs of winding down. They’d gotten a lot done on the room, although the paint color question was far from over; it seemed like even painting the room wouldn’t settle the issue. After some discussion, it was decided to have grilled hamburgers and chips for supper, with the grilling done out on the deck in the coolish evening of what was still a pretty nice day for this early in May.

Jackie and Bree were cleaning up the few supper dishes when Becca pointed to the covered hot tub and asked, “Uncle Mark, what’s that big box thing?”

“It’s a hot tub,” Mark explained. He’d known this issue was going to come up sometime this evening, and he figured he might as well let it be as natural is it could be. “Your Aunt Jackie and I often come out here for a soak in the warm water in the evenings, even when it’s real cold outside. Mike and Kirsten often join us so we can talk, or we go down to their place. They have one, too. They’re not planning on being here tonight, though.”

“Can we use it?” Becca asked. As always, she seemed eager to try something new.

“If you want to,” Jackie said. “But there’s one thing you have to be aware of. Mark and I never wear clothes or swimsuits when we get in it, and neither do Mike and Kirsten or their kids, and now even their grandkids. You girls can wear your swimsuits if you want to, or not wear them if you don’t want to, but we’ve done it that way for over twenty years and don’t plan on changing now. After all, you don’t wear swimsuits in a bathtub, do you?”

“You . . . you mean, with no clothes on?” Bree stammered. “How can you do something like that?”

“It’s what we’re used to,” Mark told her. “Bree, different people do things in different ways. Just because it may be different doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. Like we said, you’re perfectly welcome to join us, and we’d like to have you. It’s very nice and warm and relaxing, but we won’t be expecting you to be bare, just like you shouldn’t be expecting us to wear a swimsuit or something.”

“Sounds like fun,” Becca said. “I want to do it.”

“Becca!” Bree whined. “How could you do something like that?”

“Uncle Mark and Aunt Jackie do it,” Becca said. “I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s just the way they do things.”

“But Becca . . . you shouldn’t . . . I couldn’t . . . ” Bree stammered.

“Look,” Mark said. “You shouldn’t let someone else make your mind up for you on this. Jackie and I are going to have a soak in the next little while. You’re welcome to join us if you want to, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t have to?” Bree said in a small voice, clearly frightened at the prospect.

“Not if you don’t want to,” Jackie told her. “Whether you do or not has to be your decision, and we won’t hold it against you if you don’t want to join us.”

“I want to do it,” Becca said flatly. “I don’t care if Bree wants to or not.”

“Why don’t you go up and get your swimsuits on,” Jackie suggested. “You can decide later if you want to take them off or not. Mark and I will get the cover off, and we’ll probably be in it when you come back down.”

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