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Starting Late book cover

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

Chapter 12

Bree seemed fairly normal the next morning when Mark got up and found her reading in the living room. Perky was curled up in her lap, of course, to Mark’s continued amazement. Nothing was said about the night before, and Mark decided he didn’t want to open the topic, at least not until he’d had his first cup of coffee and probably not then if he could help it. He figured the way to handle it was to just carry on until it became the normal order of things to her; if she wanted to join the rest of them, or didn’t, it was her choice, after all.

Becca eventually stumbled down the stairs and directly to the bathroom, barely awake and evidently not clear about which way was up. She only became alive slowly; Mark was beginning to realize that was the normal thing for her. Two different girls, right.

It was Sunday morning. In years past Mark and Jackie would have dressed up and gone to church. They still did once in a while, but somehow it wasn’t as imperative as it once had been. Neither of the girls had made any comments about going to church, so he guessed they weren’t in the habit of it. That was another issue to be raised sometime, and it would have to be treated much like the hot tub: the girls would be welcome to go if they wanted, or stay home if they didn’t. But, with the hot tub issue clearly on everyone’s minds, if unspoken, this wasn’t the time for it.

The middle of the morning came before Becca said she was bored and wanted to get out and get some exercise. “It’d be nice to shoot some hoops or something,” she told Mark. “I guess you haven’t got anything like that around here, do you?”

“Never had anything like that,” Mark said. “We’ve never had the need for it.”

“Mike and Kirsten still have that hoop up over their garage door,” Jackie reminded him. “I don’t know if there’s a basketball around, but if there is, it probably hasn’t been used since Henry left for college.”

“Well, if there’s no basketball, there’s a pretty good chance there’s a volleyball around somewhere,” Mark smiled. Mike had been an active amateur-league volleyball player as long as Mark had known him, and still played in some local “over fifty” league or other. Mark wasn’t clear about that, since the few times he’d batted a volleyball around with Mike, it had proved that his friend was far out of his class.

Mark also was aware that Mike still got involved in a sand-court volleyball league out at the West Turtle Lake Club from time to time. The place had a reputation for really cutthroat sand-court volleyball, but despite the interest Becca had displayed in the club the day before, it wasn’t an issue to raise around her right now, especially with Bree around. The girl ought to have enough sports opportunities available without getting into that can of worms just yet, he thought.

“I could call down and ask,” Jackie offered.

A few minutes later Mark and Becca were walking down the gravel road to Mike and Kirsten’s. It was not far, a quarter mile or so, just enough to get the blood flowing. Now that they were away from the house, Mark asked, “So, how did it go with Bree after you went up last night?”

“Nothing much,” Becca reported. “She was in bed and asleep when I got back up there, and I haven’t talked with her alone since.”

Well, at least the girl hadn’t been up half the night obsessing about it, Mark thought. Maybe that was good news; he wasn’t sure.

When they got to Mike and Kirsten’s, they found Mike out in the garage, digging around in drawers and cabinets. “I found a basketball,” he reported. “But it’s flat, and I can’t find an inflator needle to save my butt. I know I had one kicking around here last fall, because I remember pumping up a volleyball.”

“Boy, I wouldn’t know where to start looking,” Mark smiled. “And that’s one thing I’m sure I don’t have up at the house.”

They spent several more fruitless minutes searching, until Becca happened to notice the air pump – the inflator was still locked into the air chuck. “Of course, the one logical place,” Mike snorted as he began to fill the ball.

Mark was no great shakes at basketball, either – he’d long lost whatever skill he’d had left over from high school – but Mike wasn’t all that bad, although he admitted he hadn’t thrown a basketball around since sometime when Henry was in high school. Soon he and Becca were out in the driveway doing a little one-on-one, while Mark just sat back and watched the action.

Actually, it went pretty well. Mike had several inches on Becca, but she was fast and her skills were fresher. Both of them seemed to be having fun, and from Mark’s limited perspective they seemed fairly well matched. He mostly sat on a low retaining wall, glad that Becca had something to interest her for a while.

Before long, Kirsten came out of the house, carrying two cups of coffee; she handed him one, and sat on the retaining wall next to him. “So, how’d it go last night?”

“So-so,” Mark reported, keeping his voice down so Becca wouldn’t overhear, not that she was paying any attention to him, anyway. He gave Kirsten a thumbnail account of the scene in the hot tub the night before, and Bree’s reaction to it.

“It may just be something you have to live with,” Kirsten counseled. “We’ve never had Cindy in a hot tub, even if it was just her and Henry, swimsuit or no swimsuit, not even after they’ve been living together. She just refuses to have anything to do with it. Her mind is made up, so don’t try to confuse her with the facts, just like her mother.”

“I guess Bree is just going to have to learn to put up with the rest of us on that issue,” Mark sighed. “It would be nice to have us all pulling in the same direction on it, but maybe that’s too much to expect.”

“For what it’s worth, while there are some similarities, Bree is not Cindy,” Kirsten pointed out. “I’d say not to push her on it, and let her make up her own mind.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do.”

“Maybe it’s all you’ll ever be able to do, but don’t forget the dynamic is a little different. After all, Cindy didn’t have a sister to influence her. She only had her mother, who was as loonie as a pocketful of Canadian change and is probably even worse now, if anything. I don’t know and I’m not anxious to find out.”

“I can understand,” Mark grinned. His experience with Lisa deLine was limited, but sufficient to know he wanted to keep it that way. “Anyway, I’m thinking we probably ought to not have you up for a soak for a few days, at least till we can get Becca a little more used to it.”

“It’s probably a good idea,” Kirsten replied thoughtfully. “But I don’t think it would be good to put it off too long, either. Maybe toward the end of the week. Let the girls know it’s going to happen and let them make up their minds about it.”

“I don’t see any other way to do it,” Mark admitted. “I have to say that Bree seemed really interested in flying. Maybe I’ll have to come up with an excuse to fly somewhere with her this afternoon, just to not let her feel left out.”

“That might not be a bad idea, but you’re better at coming up with excuses to go flying than I am. Just be glad you’ve got that point of contact with her.”

“Oh, I am,” Mark said. “The surprising thing is that Perky has been all over her like she was a can of tuna. He really seems to have bonded with her for some cat reason I’ll never understand.”

“Perky may prove to be your biggest ally in settling her in,” Kirsten smiled. “I’m not a cat person, you know that, and Perky has always seemed to understand it. But that really is pretty unexpected for him.”

Mark sat and talked with Kirsten for a while longer, while Becca and Mike continued to throw the basketball around. Kirsten was always pleasant to talk to, and they usually could find something to discuss. It was close to an hour before the action in Mike’s driveway began to slow down; Mike and Becca came over to join them.

“I’d say Becca is pretty good,” Mike reported. “I haven’t been able to talk with Brandy yet, but I’ll give her a call and tell her she’s got a hot prospect new to the town.”

“I’m sure Becca will be glad of that,” Mark smiled. “Looks like I’m going to have to put a basketball hoop up somewhere.”

“Hell, take this one,” Mike replied. “It’s the first time it’s been used in years, and with Becca around you’ll have more use for it than I will.”

“I’ll take you up on that,” Mark said. “Maybe later I’ll go get the pickup and some tools, then come down and get it. Maybe a good place for it would be on the south side of the shop.”

“Mr. McMahon,” Becca said. “That was a lot of fun. Can we do it again sometime?”

“Sure, I’m often up at Mark’s, and I’d love to throw a basketball around with you when there’s time. Do you play volleyball?”

“A little,” she reported. “I was on the eighth grade team last fall.”

“Good,” Mike smiled like a shark about to take a bite out of an unsuspecting swimmer. “I don’t know if your sister plays it . . . ”

“She doesn’t.”

“We can still get up a foursome if we want to,” Mike said. “Kirsten isn’t half bad, and Jackie has played around with it a little. I’ll set up a net down here, it’s getting to be about that time of year, anyway, and maybe we can get together and bat one around sometime.”

“Great, Mr. McMahon. I’d like that. I’m just hoping I can find a few kids to play with before school is out.”

“I’m sure there will be somebody out there,” he replied. “When I get down to the office Monday, I’ll hunt around a little and see who we have to talk to so you can get on a softball team. There’s a soccer league here in town, too, although I don’t know where they are in their season.”

“Getting down toward the end of it, I think,” Kirsten said. “They have a spring and fall season, but as I recall from summer sports schedules in the paper, nothing much in the summer.”

“I haven’t played that game much,” Becca admitted. “But if it gets me out and having fun with other kids, I’ll be glad to give it a try.”

“I wouldn’t be in too big a rush,” Kirsten told her. “You’re going to school tomorrow, and that may open some doors for you. But there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to stay busy this summer.”

*   *   *

There was no one in the house but the cats when Becca and Mark got back. Mark knew from years of experience if Jackie wasn’t in the house and her car was there, to look out in her shop in the barn. He and Becca found Jackie busy putting a sign together, with Bree helping out where she could. The girl seemed amazed and interested at the process, and she and Jackie were carrying on an animated discussion about how things were done. That was a little strange, since Jackie usually preferred to be alone when she worked to not have her concentration disturbed. Still, it was good to see Bree actually interested in something that happened around the place.

Mark thought about suggesting that Bree and he go for a ride in Rocinante, but since she seemed so involved with the sign making, he decided to give it a pass. He briefly told Jackie that Mike was giving them the old basketball hoop, and that he and Becca were going to go over and get it. “Fine,” Jackie said curtly, her attention more on her work, with Bree watching intently. “Get yourself something to eat, Bree and I had a snack already.”

Knowing enough to not bother either one of them any further, Mark motioned to Becca to come with him. He went into his own shop, in a nearby part of the building, and gathered up a handful of tools that would probably be useful, and a stepladder. After loading everything into the back of the pickup, it was only the work of minutes to get down to Mike’s, and working out of the pickup bed made it easy to take the hoop down. It was a little more effort to get the hoop and backboard mounted on the side of the barn where there was a small concrete pad intended for an addition to the building that had never been completed, but the whole project only took them an hour or so.

“I’m afraid I’m not much good with a basketball,” he told Becca, “but if you want to do it yourself, fine with me. I have a few other little chores I really ought to work on today, though.”

“If there’s anything I can do to help you out, I guess I’d rather be with you,” she replied. “I’m not really in the mood to be by myself, like Bree usually is.”

“Fine by me,” Mark told her. “Let’s go put the tools and stuff away, have some lunch, and then find something useful to do.”

Mark and Becca stayed busy for the next several hours, while Jackie and Bree appeared to stay busy in the shop. His shop needed sweeping out, and a few other things needed to be put away. There were papers in the house that needed to be burned, and other things of that nature. After a while Mark began to run low on little piddly chores the two of them could work on, so they wound up back upstairs, sorting through one of the other store rooms for things that could go to a garage sale in a few weeks. There were a couple major projects he wanted to work on, but it was too late in the day to get started on either of them.

He found he enjoyed working with Becca. She was helpful, and they usually managed to find something to talk about when they were close enough for conversation. Since Jackie and Bree were still busy with whatever it was they were doing in her shop, Mark decided to get started on dinner. While Becca peeled potatoes and carrots, he got a roast going in the crock pot, and even started in on making a cake. “I’m surprised you know how to cook,” she commented at one point.

“Oh, I’ve always done a lot of the cooking,” he told Becca. “Sometimes Jackie gets wrapped up in a sign and forgets about it.”

“Mom never cooked much,” she said. “We ate an awful lot of pizza, or just frozen stuff that had to be popped in the oven or microwave. Mrs. Engstrom cooked a lot, though, and she taught me a little about it.”

“Well, I guess your mom must have been busy,” Mark replied, wondering once again what it was Shannon had done for a living; there had been other indications that the girls didn’t have a clue about what it must have been.

“Yeah, I guess,” Becca said. “Sometimes she was able to spend a lot of time with us, but there were other times we hardly saw her.”

“There’ll probably be a few times Jackie and I will be busy and you won’t see much of us,” he said. “But that won’t be often. Jackie’s usually around here, even if she’s holed up in her shop. Back when I started Marlin Computer we tried setting her up in a place in the same building downtown, but she always seemed to be running back here to find something or do something. After a while we realized it just wasn’t going to work, so she just works out of the shop here.”

“I guess she’s like Bree, and likes to be alone.”

“Well, yeah,” Mark said. “That crap she went through in school she was talking about last night really did affect her, and I guess I can’t blame her. She’s OK with most people now, just so long as she doesn’t have to do too much with too many people at the same time. I help her with the sign business a little, but it’s mostly moving stuff, digging post holes, and things like that. I’m surprised she seems to be getting along so well with Bree out there, but then I’m a little surprised that Bree is interested in it, too.”

While dinner was cooking, Mark suggested that he and Becca go into the living room and see if there was a ball game on TV. Mark usually wasn’t interested in pro sports on television, but he and Becca got immersed in a basketball game and that handled their attention for a while. Mark wasn’t even aware that Jackie and Bree were in the house until he heard Jackie speak up, “Oh, you started dinner. Good! I just happened to think about it.”

“It probably ought to cook for a while longer, maybe another hour,” Mark told her. “How’s it going with you and Bree and the signs?”

“I’m just about done with that one for the logging company,” she said. “Darn good thing, too, since I know I’ll be getting a call about it tomorrow morning. Bree has been a lot of help, she’s learning how to use the plastic cutter.”

“It’s really neat how it’s done,” Bree announced. “It looks really good. Aunt Jackie showed me how an airbrush works, and I can’t believe some of the things she can do with it.”

“It takes time and practice, that’s for sure,” Mark told her. “I can do a little with it, but I’m nowhere near as good at it as she is.”

“Well, since you’ve got dinner under way I guess I’d better get back out and finish up that sign,” Jackie said. “Bree, do you want to come with me?”

“Sure thing, Aunt Jackie,” the girl smiled. “They can enjoy watching TV.”

Dinner turned out to be pretty good; Bree ate lightly, although Becca more than made up for her. “This has been kind of goofy for a Sunday,” Jackie told the girls. “We usually don’t work on Sunday, but I lost several days’ work last week, so I had to catch up. Usually, we more or less take Sunday off and do fun things, and more often than not we’ll have dinner in the afternoon, rather than this late. Maybe next weekend we’ll have to figure out something we can all do together.”

“Maybe we could go down to the Multiplex in Camden and catch a movie,” Mark suggested. “We could go to a restaurant down there, maybe even a fast food place if the girls really can’t get along without it.”

“That’s an idea,” Jackie said. “But only if the weather is lousy. I hate to louse up a nice day by doing something inside like that. I really feel a little guilty about messing around in the shop as much as Bree and I did today.”

“Maybe we could do a hike if it’s nice,” Mark said. “We could hike up onto the top of Turtle Hill and carry our lunch. That would get the girls a little used to being out in the woods.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Jackie replied. “And if it was just you and me I’d say to do it. But I think maybe we ought to wait until the black flies die down a little before we expose the girls to them.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Mark agreed, and turned to the girls. “We don’t have a lot of bug problems right around the house since we’re more or less out in the middle of a field,” he told them. “But back in the woods this time of year, it can get kind of thick.”

“We’ll think of something,” Jackie promised. “Even with that, the mosquitoes can get a little bad around here right around dark. That’s why we used the hot tub early last night, so we could be back in the house when they got bad.”

“Can we do it again tonight?” Becca asked. “I really enjoyed it last night.”

“We can if you want,” Jackie said. “It usually feels pretty good after a long day. It’s just that it’ll have to be early again tonight, since the two of you have school tomorrow, and we’re going to have a long day of catching up on what we missed last week.”

There was a long silence. “I’m sorry I didn’t last night,” Bree finally spoke up. “But I just . . . well, I just couldn’t.”

“That’s not a problem,” Mark told her. “We told you it was your own decision and nobody was going to pressure you about it. If you want to join us, you can. Or, if you don’t want to join us, you don’t have to.”

“I don’t know,” she replied shyly. “We’ll have to see.” Mark understood what she was saying; it was pretty doubtful she’d be joining them tonight, either.

It was a couple hours later before Mark, Jackie, and Becca were again in the hot tub; as Mark had expected, Bree was nowhere to be seen. This time, Becca hadn’t bothered with her bikini, but wore her bathrobe down to the deck. They got a quick flash of her nude body, but they didn’t really see anything. Mark figured he wouldn’t be surprised if she did away with the bathrobe after the next few outings. Once again, she seemed to be fitting in as well as could be expected, and after Bree spent much of the day in the sign shop with Jackie, there seemed to be some hope there, as well.

“She’s up in the room, reading a book, with Perky on her lap,” Becca reported. “She didn’t even pretend to think about putting her swimsuit on.”

“Like we said, her choice,” Jackie replied. “Do you think she’s reluctant about it because Mark is with us?”

“It might be,” Becca shrugged. “I really haven’t talked with her about it.”

“Maybe I’ll have to find an excuse to be gone some evening,” Mark suggested. “If it was just the three of you, it might make things a little different.”

“It might,” Becca said. “And it might not. With her, you never know.”

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