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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 11

Mark and Jackie had been in the hot tub for some time when Becca finally came down by herself, wearing the bikini Jackie had bought for her earlier in the day. It was on the conservative side compared to some Mark had seen girls wearing on the beach downtown, but then, Harrelson’s didn’t have a big selection, either.

“I’m sorry, Uncle Mark, Aunt Jackie,” Becca said. “I tried to talk her into it, and even got her as far as getting her swimsuit on, but I couldn’t get her out of our room.”

“No big deal,” Jackie replied, a little disappointed but not in the least surprised. “If she wants to get left out of something, it’s her decision, and I’m not going to argue with her over this one. I see you wore your swimsuit.”

“I told her I would,” she shrugged, swinging around to sit on the edge of the tub. “I didn’t promise I’d keep it on, though. I suppose I’d better get it wet, but I doubt she’ll come down to see.”

“You can leave it on if you like,” Jackie reassured her. “It really doesn’t matter. Whatever you’re comfortable with.”

Becca put her legs in the water. “Wow, that’s really warm,” she said.

“You don’t want to get in all at once or it can feel a little uncomfortable,” Mark told her. “And when you get to feeling like you’re too warm, you probably are, so you need to sit up on the edge for a while to cool off.”

“You really do this in the winter?” Becca asked incredulously.

“When it gets real cold we usually do it down at Mike and Kirsten’s,” Mark replied. “Theirs is inside an enclosed porch so the cold isn’t quite so biting, but at times it’s fun to be in hot water up to your chin with the snow blowing in your face.”

“I don’t know how much I’d like that,” Becca shook her head. “It seems like it would be awful cold just to come out here.”

“We usually don’t waste any time getting between the door and the water,” Jackie grinned. “And we usually sit inside the tub until we’re so overheated it actually feels good to get out.”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense,” the girl agreed. “I guess I’d better see what it’s like to actually get in it.” She slid off the rim of the tub, and down onto the seat a ways into the water. “Wow, that’s really warm, but I’ll bet there are times it feels really good, too. Bree doesn’t know what she’s missing.”

“If she’s scared because we’re here, maybe you and she can use it by yourselves some time,” Mark suggested.

“Maybe,” Becca shook her head. “Usually when Bree makes up her mind, it’s made up and she won’t hear of anything else. She’s funny that way. It won’t be the first time she’s passed up on something that’s really fun.”

“We’ve noticed she gets a little stubborn at times,” Mark said, putting it mildly. “We were wondering if she’s like that all the time, or if it’s just that everything is new to her.”

“It’s probably a little bit of both,” Becca replied. “I know she misses Mom and wishes we didn’t have to be here, and I feel that way, too. But I know it’s going to have to be that way, and she’s hoping that it’s all a big mistake and somehow we can go back to the way things used to be.”

“I don’t blame her for that,” Mark commented. “If I were her age and had the same thing happen, I’d probably feel pretty much the same way. I know this is all pretty new to you, but you seem to be settling in pretty well so far.”

“Well, yeah, but I guess I realize that this is what’s going to have to be so I might as well learn to like it. I’m just glad you could come and get us. Like I told you, both Bree and I know kids who have been in foster homes, and usually they don’t like it very much. So far, this is better than most of the stories we’ve heard.”

“We want to make things as easy as we can for you,” Jackie told her. “But there are some things we can’t change or don’t want to change very much. You know we’ve never had kids, so we’re going to be learning to get along with you as much as you’re learning to get along with us. There are probably going to be some rough spots here and there.”

“Probably,” Becca shrugged, sliding down a little in the water and moving over in front of one of the bubblers. “Wow, that feels good!” she exclaimed after a moment.

“That’s one of the special things,” Mark said. “You’re still young, so you don’t know what it’s like to be aching and have sore muscles from working all day. But I’ll bet there will be times after a rough basketball game or practice or something that you’ll be counting the minutes until you can climb in here.”

“You’re probably right,” she said. “This is sure something we wouldn’t have had back at home. Or the airplane ride, or a lot of other things. Bree and I always wanted to have rooms of our own, but we never had them. It seems a little wild that we’re finally going to get them. I think Mom wanted us to have them, but I guess she never had the chance.”

“I never knew your mom very well,” Mark said gently. “I mean, I met her a few times when she was little, but your grandfather and I, well, we didn’t see each other very often because we lived a long way apart and were not able to get together. He was a lot older than me, so I guess we just never got to know each other very well, anyway. But from what I understand, mostly from your great-grandmother, she really loved you kids and did what she could for you.”

“Yeah, I guess she did,” Becca nodded. “I’m going to miss her, and so is Bree. In fact, I may miss her more than Bree does. We’re a lot different, but we always sort of wanted to have both a mom and a dad like some of the kids we know, and now we sort of can.”

“The two of you really are pretty different,” Jackie smiled. “And I think it’s going to be harder to get to know both of you than it would be if it were just one of you. Some things will probably be better for you, and other things may not be.”

“We know you like your sports and stuff,” Mark added. “And we’ll do what we can to make sure you get as much of them as reasonable. But life isn’t all sports. Do you have other things you like to do?”

“I do like my sports,” she replied. “I really like basketball, and I’m real interested in what Mr. McMahon said about that basketball coach, Mrs. Wine, and her training clinics. I really want to get into them. I don’t know if I can get on a softball team this late, but I kind of like playing that, and volleyball, too.”

“I don’t know about summer volleyball leagues,” Mark said. “But there’s plenty of summer girls’ softball and getting you onto one of the teams shouldn’t be much of a problem. But do you like things besides sports?”

“Oh, lots of things,” Becca smiled. “I like learning new things and trying different things out. I’m not much on just reading about things, like Bree is. I like to do them. I’ll read something if I need to learn about it, but I don’t just read for fun like she does. I’d rather watch TV, or mess around on the computer.”

“From what I know, most kids are like you,” Jackie smiled. “I was never much of an athlete when I was a kid. We didn’t have inter-school basketball teams for girls back when I was in school. They tried to get me on one of the intramural girls’ teams, but I was still kind of clumsy and uncoordinated, so I never really tried very hard. Besides, that age was a tough time in my life, and I really wasn’t interested. I had enough trouble just getting through school, and when the school day was over with I didn’t want to hang around there any more than I had to. The other kids were pretty bad to me, and I never really had many friends. I knew Kirsten back in those days, but we weren’t real close, and we never really became good friends until years after we both were out of school. I still can’t stand some of those kids who were mean to me, and that was almost forty years ago.”

“What happened? I mean, why were things so hard?”

“My mother,” Jackie told her. Even after all these years, it was hard; Mark knew most of the generalities, but still was vague on some of the details – Jackie just didn’t talk about them very much. He’d been ahead of her enough in school that he hadn’t been very aware of her at the time.

Jackie took a deep breath, bucked up her courage, and tried to explain a little. “She was, well, not right in the head. I didn’t really notice it when I was little because I had nothing to compare to the way she acted, but she kept getting worse and worse until even I realized she wasn’t very close to being in touch with reality. Then, when I was thirteen, she got so bad that she had to go away to a mental hospital. She was in there for years and years, and finally died there, back when Mark and I were on our honeymoon.”

“Wow,” Becca said. “I didn’t know that. I’ll bet the other kids made it hard on you because of your mother.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Jackie replied bitterly. “It was hard enough to have Mom have to leave like that, but the other kids, well, they never let me forget it. Well, a lot of them. Some of the kids just stayed away from me, but others thought that it made me a good target. On top of that, I was taller than the other girls, and not very athletic. The other kids didn’t think I was very pretty, and I guess they made me believe it, too. It would have been nice to have had friends, but if anyone even started to get friendly with me they’d catch hell from the other kids. Kirsten was as much of a friend as I had and we weren’t real close. Going to school was hell because of all that crap, and finally getting out of the place was the happiest day of my life until Mark flew me out of here on our honeymoon.”

“I guess you know,” Mark said to try and lighten the mood, “Our honeymoon was a little different, since it lasted eight months and ended with us getting married, rather than starting with it.”

“I heard that and thought it was a little strange,” Becca smiled. “I’ve seen how mean kids can be to other kids when they’re a little different. I got a little of it from some of the white kids in school for being too black, and sometimes from the black kids for being too white, but usually it wasn’t too bad. But I’ve seen kids really mess with other kids because they’re different. Maybe that’s one thing that has me worried about going to school here.”

“Well, to be honest, it is pretty white,” Mark said. “But there are enough minorities around the school to take the edge off it, from what I heard. Most of the minorities are Indian, though. I should say Native American, but like most people I usually don’t. Just be yourself, and try to remember that usually that stuff doesn’t last after you’re out of high school.”

“And thank God for that,” Jackie said. “After all the crap I took in high school, I didn’t want to come back to Spearfish Lake, and we almost didn’t. When we did come back, we tended to stay by ourselves a lot for years, except for a few activities like going to church, which we don’t do much anymore. It wasn’t until we started hanging out with Mike and Kirsten that we got out in the community a little more.”

“I didn’t know any of that,” Becca shook her head. “I hope it’s not that bad for me.”

“There’s a good chance it won’t be,” Mark said. “You have a couple big things going for you. One of them is that you’re new here. You’ll be an outsider, sure, and that means you’re not going to fit into some of the groups real well right away. But since you’re an athlete, that gets you into one important group right off the bat, and it will give you some friends right off. And you won’t be carrying the baggage that Jackie carried about her mother. None of Mike and Kirsten’s kids had any real trouble like that going through school. The girls weren’t school athletes at all, and both of them were considered pretty strange.”

“Strange? How?”

“Well, Tiffany because she was a dogsledding fanatic. When snow was on the ground, she’d drive a dog team to school, sometimes taking Henry along for extra weight in the sled. I suppose some kids may have given her hell about that, but she was so interested in her dogs she just ignored it. She didn’t pay any attention to kids who didn’t like dogs. That was a little strange. Then she did the Iditarod, the big dogsled race in Alaska, the first time while she was still a senior in high school, and the school gave her a varsity letter for dogsledding, the only time they’ve ever done something like that. Susan, well, Susan was a little different, mostly because she was a good student, but partly because she was focused so much on getting ready to be an exchange student. She actually only went to school there through tenth grade.”

“She dropped out?”

“Well, sort of,” Jackie smiled, taking over the story, obviously glad the focus of the discussion had changed away from her own sad and bitter experiences in school. “She went to school in Germany for her junior year, and while she was there she took a test that made her a German high school graduate, and their schools are tougher than here. So, when she came back, she took that German graduation certificate and went off to college. That’s the simple way to tell it, it actually was a little more complicated than that.”

Mark smiled at that; Jackie didn’t mention that Susan essentially left for college with the school superintendent’s scalp figuratively hanging from her belt; he’d learned too late that he’d pissed off the wrong girl. Becca could learn that story in good time, if and when she needed to.

“Anyway,” Jackie continued. “There had to have been kids who got on her case because she was smarter than they were, but the bottom line is that she was smarter than they were and figured out how to use the system to her advantage. But, I have to admit, I don’t remember her hanging around the school when she didn’t have to be there, either.”

“When you get down to it, I don’t really anticipate any major problems for you in getting along with the kids there,” Mark said. “Although I’ll admit I’m not an expert on it, either. You may be carrying some baggage, but it won’t be anything like what Jackie had to deal with, and you’ll have some advantages. Now Bree isn’t going to have some of those advantages, and it could be a little harder for her. Did she have trouble in school down where you lived?”

“She didn’t like some of the kids and didn’t get along with some of the others very well,” Bree admitted, “but as far as I know, it wasn’t anything real bad. You know she keeps to herself a lot, and she doesn’t make friends easily. She’s going to be missing a couple she had, and well, that’s bothering her a lot.”

“She hasn’t said anything about them,” Mark said.

“Probably not,” Becca admitted. “She really hasn’t said a lot about it to me either, but I know she’s missing them. She never even had the chance to say good-bye to them.”

“We’ll probably be back down there again in a week or two,” Mark said. “We’ll have to make a point of giving her time to do it.”

“That might help,” Becca agreed. “I think it’s going to take Bree a while to get comfortable here, and I don’t think it’s just because of the hot tub. She doesn’t like it when things change that she can’t control.”

That sounded like a pretty wise statement to Mark, and it was one that he agreed with. “It looks to me that she tries to control you a lot,” he observed.

“Yeah, and it’s sometimes a pain, too.” Becca sighed. “Most of the time I ignore it, but that doesn’t keep her from trying. Mostly I’m used to it. It’s like coming down here to be with you in this hot tub. She really didn’t want me to come down here since she knew she wouldn’t be getting her way. Since she can’t complain to you that she can’t get me to do what she wants, she’s probably sitting up in the room pretty mad at me.”

“You’re probably right,” Mark nodded. It sounded a lot like Cindy to him. Bree may have had some good qualities, but some were less appealing, and that was one of them. It was something they were going to have to work on, because while they wanted Bree to be comfortable he was sure he didn’t want her running things through being sulky. She was just going to have to learn to allow other people to do things they wanted to, whether she liked those things or not.

“I try to not let her stop me,” Becca said. “Maybe sometimes it means I do stuff I really shouldn’t do, but we’re pretty different, and I don’t want her walking all over me. I mean, I was a little nervous about coming down here, too, but I didn’t want her to make up my mind for me.”

While Mark was thinking that Becca was hardly less stubborn than her younger sister, Jackie spoke up, “I noticed that you haven’t taken off your swimsuit.”

“Well, yeah,” Becca agreed. “I figured on doing it but I wanted to get comfortable with it, first.”

“You don’t have to take it off if you don’t want to.”

“Oh, I think I want to,” the girl smiled. “In fact, maybe I’d better do it so I’ll know I’ve done it. That way I’ll have done something else that Bree doesn’t want me to do.” Before either Mark or Jackie could say anything, Becca reached behind her, untied the strings to her top, and tossed it up on the deck beside the hot tub. She reached under water, and in a few moments her bottom followed. “There,” she said. “You know, I really think it does feel better without it on.”

“I’ve always felt that way,” Jackie said. “Obviously, we don’t think it’s any big deal to be casually nude with friends. Do you know what a sauna is?”

“It’s kind of a like a real hot steam bath, right?”

“Sort of,” Jackie smiled. “I never did it while I was in high school, and you can guess why, but when I was in high school there were kids who would sauna together in the nude, boys and girls together. I wouldn’t be surprised if it still goes on. Nobody makes a big deal about it, partly because fooling around and a hundred and eighty degrees don’t go together well, but also partly because it’s something people are used to. Let’s face it, things are a little different here than they were in Decatur, and people do things a little differently. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means that people are different, in this case because a lot of them come from different cultures.”

They sat in the hot tub and talked for a while longer. Finally, Becca said, “Thanks for inviting me down here. I really enjoyed it, and I really enjoyed talking with you about some of this stuff. I think I learned a lot. But I think maybe I’d better get my swimsuit back on and get back upstairs before Bree gets any more upset than she already is.”

“In this case, I think it’d be better if you talked to her than if we did,” Jackie said. “You can say things to her as a sister that we probably couldn’t.”

“I think so, too,” Becca agreed, reaching up onto the deck where she’d tossed the parts of her swimsuit. She grabbed the bottom, and squirmed around to get it back on under water, then started tying on the top. “I wouldn’t want to bet we’ll have Bree with us the next time we do this, but I enjoyed it and will be glad to do it again. I think I learned a lot.”

“Hot tubs are always a good place to sit and talk,” Mark smiled. “There’s something about not having your clothes on that makes for good conversation. We do this two or three times a week. Sometimes we have Mike and Kirsten here, and sometimes not. You’re welcome to join us if they’re here, since there’s plenty of room for all. Their kids often did when they were younger. But if you don’t want to join us, it’s your decision. Not ours, not Bree’s, but yours.”

“I’ll have to think about it,” Becca said, adjusting her top a little bit before standing up and climbing out. “I probably won’t want to do it with them right away, but maybe I will, especially if Bree gets too mad about me doing it.”

“Just so long as it’s your decision,” Mark said. “And that includes doing it because you want to get Bree mad at you, or show her that she can’t control you. You have to be the one to decide, no matter what.”

“We’ll just have to see,” Becca smiled, reaching to pick up a towel off a pile sitting near the hot tub, and starting to dry herself off. “No promises, either way. But thanks again, Uncle Mark, Aunt Jackie. This was really a good time, and I’m glad you asked me. I guess maybe I’ll go to bed if Bree already has. Maybe that way I won’t sleep quite so late in the morning.”

“You know,” Mark said after Becca had left the deck and gone into the house. “We never actually did see her in the nude, and she never saw us that way. We were all always under the water with the bubbler going.”

“I realize that,” Jackie smirked. “But I think she won’t have problems with being in the hot tub with us anymore. Now Bree, I don’t think things are any better.”

“I’m sure they’re not,” Mark shook his head. “I’ll tell you what, though. I don’t think we’re going to have any real troubles with Becca adapting to us. She’s still not happy about what happened, and I don’t blame her. But she’ll work it out. Bree, though . . . ”

“Yeah,” Jackie sighed. “Cindy all over again.”

“Not quite,” Mark said hopefully. “She does have some good qualities Cindy doesn’t have. But we’ve only got six years or so to work on her, and it may not be enough.”

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