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Starting Late book cover

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

Chapter 13

Monday morning went a little differently than the previous mornings, partly because Mark didn’t find Bree sitting in a living room chair with Perky in her lap when he got up and headed for the bathroom. Instead, Bree was in the bathroom, and he could hear the shower running, so it sounded like she planned on being in there for a while.

They still had plenty of time; after all, it wasn’t as if they had to have the girls over at the school the first thing. But that wasn’t the problem; Mark had to use the bathroom, and he knew Jackie wasn’t very far behind him on that.

About all he could do was grit his teeth and wait her out, but it sounded to him like she wasn’t making much progress. The longer he waited the worse the pressure got, and finally he couldn’t take it anymore. He went back into their bedroom, pulled on his outside clothes and shoes, and headed out to the shop. There was another toilet out there, mostly for Jackie’s convenience so she didn’t have to come back to the house when she had to go and her mind was on a sign. The relief was worth the trouble, but this was clearly something that couldn’t be allowed to happen every morning.

As he came out of the toilet in the shop, he wasn’t surprised to see Jackie waiting to get in. “We’re going to have to have a word with Bree about tying up the bathroom,” she said.

“Yeah, no fooling,” he replied to his wife’s back as she headed for the room he’d just vacated. “If she’s an early riser, she can get up early enough to not tie things up for the rest of us.”

Breakfast was nearly ready and even Becca was up by the time Bree finally got out of the bathroom, dressed in skirt and blouse, with knee-high socks, and patent leather shoes, looking very preppy, to Mark’s eye. “OK, I’m done in the bathroom if anyone else wants it,” she announced innocently.

“You sure were in there a long time,” Mark said, trying to keep his irritation under control.

“Not real long,” she protested. “I tried to hurry, since I knew the rest of you were waiting.”

“More than waiting,” Mark said, trying to be diplomatic. “The rest of us have to get ready, too, and four of us in one bathroom isn’t going to work if you take forty-five minutes in there every morning. Since you like to get up early, how about setting your clock an hour earlier? That way you can spend all the time you want, and get in a little lap time with Perky while the rest of us use it.”

“I could do that, I suppose,” she replied, still just as innocently. “But I don’t think I want to get cat hair all over my clothes just before I go to school.”

“Face it, in this house, cat hair is a fact of life,” Jackie snorted. “That’s something you’re just going to have to get used to. Bree, the rest of us have to use that bathroom too, and now we’re going to be running late. I think Mark has a good idea. Either you get up earlier, or take your shower and stuff in the evening so you don’t tie it up for the rest of us.”

“I didn’t think it was that bad,” she shook her head.

“No worse than it was at home,” Becca replied, clearly irritated herself. “At least Uncle Mark and Aunt Jackie were polite about it, and didn’t go pounding on the door like Mom used to do.”

“We’re all going to have to work to be considerate of each other,” Jackie said. “And this is one of those things where you’re going to have to be considerate of other people. Now come and eat your cereal while the rest of us race around and get ready so we can get you to school.”

“I suppose,” she huffed, and glanced at her sister, who was wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt advertising a different rock band. “Becca, are you going to wear that to school? Your first day? Don’t you want to make a good impression on the other kids?”

“I don’t know what this school is like, but if it’s like our school I’ll make a better first impression dressed like this than you will dressed like that,” Becca said. “You’re just going to make people think you’re a stuck-up little brat.”

“I like to look nice,” Bree protested. “Just because other people like to look like they just crawled out of a mud puddle doesn’t mean I have to.”

“Actually,” Mark said, “From what I’ve seen of kids around the school, not that I’m any expert, Becca is right on that. You might be a little overdressed, but on the first day you can probably get away with it. Now, I’ve got to get in there, shave, comb my hair, and do a few other things so we can be ready to go on time.”

*   *   *

It had been a long time since Mark had been in Spearfish Lake Elementary School. He wasn’t sure, but he might have been there at some point or another for some pageant or program involving one of Mike and Kirsten’s kids, but if so he had no idea when it could have been. It was a good many years, whenever it was, and he didn’t know much about the place. The kids all seemed little, which wasn’t surprising when he stopped to think about it; as a sixth grader, Bree would have been one of the oldest ones there.

He did recognize the principal, Mrs. Dusseau, but only because she’d just bought a new computer at Marlin Computer back at Christmas, and had had some trouble getting it set up; it had involved a couple bench sessions and a new mother board under warranty to get it running right. “It’s a little strange to have someone join us this late in the year,” she said when Mark explained they had brought Bree in to be registered.

Mark told Mrs. Dusseau a bit about the situation, with them having to take the girls in after their mother died. He said they thought it would be a good idea for Bree to get at least a little used to the kids and the new school so she wouldn’t have all summer to fret about it, and Mrs. Dusseau agreed it probably was a wise idea. There was some inevitable paperwork, and after a while, Mrs. Kimbrell, Bree’s new teacher, was called to the office and introduced all around. Mark thought he recognized her face, but couldn’t have placed her as a teacher. She seemed reasonably competent in the few words they exchanged with her, and thought that with only three weeks and change to go, it probably didn’t matter very much.

“Someone will pick you up out front after school,” Jackie told her. “It probably won’t be till after the buses leave, so there won’t be any need to hurry. I don’t know if we’ll have you two riding the buses this year, or what.”

“Thank you, Aunt Jackie,” Bree said politely. “I’ll see you later.”

Becca had waited outside in the car while they went through getting Bree registered. “This is going to be a little different,” Mark said. “The high school principal is Mr. Hekkinan, and we go back a long, long way. There’s a story about he and I and a few other guys that I’ll have to tell you sometime, but it’s kind of long and we don’t have time for it now.”

Spearfish Lake High School was actually a combined middle school and high school, so as an eighth grader Becca would be one of the younger ones there. Mark had actually been in the building in years recent enough to remember, and for that reason it seemed a little more familiar to him. It took a few minutes to get in to see his old friend, Harold Hekkinan, but when they did finally get together there was a little catching up to be done.

“I’m actually a little surprised you’re still here,” Mark said. “I figured you’d have hung it up by now.”

“Not yet,” Harold said. “I’m still a little young for it. I’m not sure what I’d do if I retired, anyway. I figure on hanging on for at least another year. Maybe by then I can figure out something to do with myself.”

Mark knew Harold was older than he was, and while Mark wasn’t certain of his age, he figured Harold had to be getting to the point of being able to draw Social Security. He enjoyed his job, which had to be part of the reason he stayed with it, in spite of all the hassles teenagers put him through. If Harold with his education couldn’t figure out what he wanted to do when he retired, Mark thought, why should I be able to? “I’m still trying to figure it out myself,” Mark admitted. “But I’ve got a few years before I have to make up my mind, maybe. Anyway, we’ve got another head to add to your student count.”

“What’s this?” Harold said. “You and a kid? Will wonders ever cease?”

“My niece, actually a grand-niece,” Mark explained. “Larry’s granddaughter, if you remember him. She’s one of two; we just dropped the other one off across the street. Becca here is an eighth grader, and they’re going to be living with us, now.”

“Boy, that’s something I never figured on seeing,” Harold said. “And at your age, that ought to make life interesting.”

“It’s gotten interesting already,” Mark replied, explaining a little about what had happened.

“Well, welcome to Spearfish Lake High School,” Harold told her. “It’s a pretty good school and I hope you’ll like it. I guess we’d better get Mrs. Foxbender going on the paperwork.”

There was considerably more paperwork here than there had been at the elementary school, and it looked like there were going to be more hoops to jump through in the days to come. It was close to the end of first hour before they’d managed all the forms and signatures that had to be done. “Before you’re out of school we’ll have to figure out what classes you’re going to be taking next year,” Hekkinan told Becca. “But we won’t worry about that today. Since you’re in eighth grade you’re going to be doing pretty much what other kids are, but we’ll see if we can’t find a buddy for you for today, just to show you around.”

“Myleen Kluske would be good,” Mrs. Foxbender said. “They’re going to be on the same class schedule all day.”

“Jack,” Hekkinan said to a student aide who happened to be hanging around. “Go down to Mr. Smith’s room, that’s room 128, and bring Myleen Kluske back with you.”

“Sure, Mr. Hekkinan,” the boy said, and headed for the door.

“Mr. Hekkinan,” Becca said. “Is it too late in the year for me to get on a softball team or something?”

“Shouldn’t be,” he said. “Although the season is almost over, I know the eighth grade girls’ softball team is a little short on kids, so Mrs. Elsasser will probably be glad to see you show up. Just stick with Myleen after school. I’ll let Mrs. Elsasser know you’re coming.”

There was a little discussion about where and when to pick Becca up after practice; by the time it was complete, a solid-looking girl with long brown hair had shown up in the office. Hekkinan introduced Becca and Myleen, and the latter led Becca off to wherever it was she was going next.

Once the two were gone, Harold got a little more serious. “Man,” he said, “I’ve got more experience with kids that age than I want to think about and I’m not sure I’d want to be in your shoes.”

“There wasn’t any ‘want to’ involved,” Mark said. “As far as anyone knows, we’re the only living relatives, with the exception of Becca’s great-grandmother, so we about had to do it. It’s only been a few days, but Becca is starting to fit in pretty well. The younger one, Bree, well, it’s not going as easily. She’s a good enough kid, but she’s having some problems adapting to it. Becca is adapting very well. I’m just afraid that when she gets her feet under her she’s going to be as full of shit as any other teenager. As far as I know, neither one of them has had any kind of discipline problems or anything, but I haven’t seen their records, either.”

“Well, when we get Becca’s records I’ll let you know if there’s anything you ought to watch out for,” Harold told him, “and be sure to call me if you have any problems. It might be something I could help you with.”

“Sure will,” Mark said. “Oh, and you might want to let Brandy know this kid is pretty good with a basketball. Becca might appreciate an invitation over to Brandy’s driveway sometime.”

“That’s kind of low-key right now with spring sports season going on,” Hekkinan replied. “But as soon as school is out it’ll probably get going full force. It’s not quite by invitation only, but if the kid has any talent at all Brandy will probably make her welcome. I’ll talk with her about it when I get a minute.”

After a couple minutes more talking, the bell rang for the change of classes. Mark and Jackie decided it was a good time to get out of there. They each had other things to be done today, and one of them they had to do together.

That took them a while; it was a stop at their attorney’s office. Back in Decatur, Mrs. Bloch had told them that while her paperwork had regularized Mark and Jackie as the girl’s guardians by their home state, since it was an interstate deal there probably would have to be papers filed in Spearfish Lake. She’d also told them to get their attorney to do it, to be sure that something didn’t get lost in the cracks. At the same time, Mark and Jackie wanted to know what was going to be involved in doing a formal adoption, and they figured that was another thing they wanted to talk to their attorney, Matt Schindenwulfe, about.

As it turned out, Schindenwulfe wasn’t available, but they set up an appointment for the next morning. With that, they’d done what they could do for that moment. Since they’d taken Jackie’s car to haul the girls to school they had to go back out to the house so Mark could get his pickup.

“Well,” Mark said as they drove down Lakeshore toward the house, “that went easier than I expected. A week ago, did you ever think we’d have two kids in school today?”

“A week ago, I’d have never thought we’d have two kids in school, ever,” Jackie shrugged. “It’s certainly going to involve things I never thought about.”

“When you get down to it, they’re pretty good kids,” Mark said. “They’ve got a few kid issues, but maybe they’ll grow out of them. I have a feeling Becca is going to fit in pretty good. Bree, I’m not so sure. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

*   *   *

It was another half hour before Mark made it back to the Marlin Computer office. There were a number of things on his mind, things that had been shoved to the back of the shelf while he concentrated on the girls this weekend. Getting the computers set up for the girls was one thing, but it was mostly a case of loading programs and waiting them out; he could do that while he was doing other things, as well.

The question of what to do about Marlin.com was still lying there, too. While he was now leaning strongly toward accepting the buyout offer, he still hadn’t made up his mind all the way, and it was something he really needed to talk to Kenny about. Kenny was very smart about computers and had a good business sense, and whatever Mark did, he knew he’d value Kenny’s advice.

“I was wondering if I was going to see you at all today,” Kenny said when Mark walked in. “I figured you’d still be up to your wazoo with those kids.”

“Got ’em in school, and I’m glad of the breather,” Mark told him. “I suppose I’ll get used to it in time, but right at the moment it’s pretty overwhelming.”

“Kids will do that to you,” Kenny said. “I pulled out those two boxes we were talking about Saturday morning. I’ve got XP installed but I haven’t done anything else to them. You were saying you wanted to set up some stuff on them.”

“Yeah, a good antivirus, SurfNanny, and Word on both of them, and some games on one of them, whichever the hotter one is. Becca said something about one called World of Warcraft. I don’t know much about it except it’s a memory and video hog.”

“No shit,” Kenny agreed. “I better throw some more RAM in that one, just on general principles.”

“I can do it,” Mark said. “But I’d be glad to have some help, mostly because I need to talk to you about something.”

The two of them worked side by side on the computers, not that it was a lot of work, mostly just setting things up and letting the programs load. It gave them plenty of opportunity to talk. Mark told Kenny about the offer to purchase Marlin.com, and his reasoning about what he should do, at least trying to appear that he didn’t have his mind pretty well made up already.

“When you get right down to it,” Kenny said after Mark had pretty well worked his way through all that had been on his mind about the business the last few days, “It’s probably a better price than it’s worth, at least in the short run. Once upon a time you pretty well had a corner on any Internet service at all around here, but those days are in the past. I can’t see anything else but more erosion going on, from satellite service, from cable, and maybe from the phone company if they ever get their act together.”

“That’s about how I read it,” Mark said. “The only way to offset that is to upgrade service to the point where we can beat out some of that other stuff, and to tell the truth, I don’t have the financial resources to do it. I’m afraid that the day of the local Internet service provider is drawing to a close, just like it pretty well ended for local phone companies. Sure, there are still a few independent phone companies around, but they have franchise protection and still don’t have the resources to match what the big guys can do.”

“Right, and cell phones are eating into everybody in that business, too,” Kenny agreed. “You pretty well have to move ahead in this world or you’re going to get left behind.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Mark admitted.

“So what are you going to do about Marlin Computer if you sell Marlin.com?” Kenny asked.

“Assuming I sell Marlin.com, Marlin Computer doesn’t go with it. We still have sales and service and networking, and while we’re losing market share to the discount online providers we still provide some technical expertise that you can’t get out of those outfits,” Mark explained. “So I think we have some future left here, although we’re not going to have the corner on the market we once had. We haven’t had it for years, in fact. I suspect we’ll get along for the foreseeable future. The thing of it is that I’m not as up to date on the technical end as I once was. These things keep changing, and while you guys were learning it, I was messing with servers and dealing with billing. It wouldn’t be fair for you and Roger to keep running it while I just sit back and not pull my share of the load, but I haven’t figured out what to do about it yet.”

“You’re saying you want to go and do something else while you mostly let Roger and me run it, right?”

“Yeah, and you get an appropriate share of the profits, too. The problem is that I don’t yet know what that something else is for me, and I don’t have any really good ideas. But if I’m going to sell Marlin.com it’s going to have to happen pretty soon. That’ll at least give me some time to think about something new, since it’s not like I’ll have to have something to do right away.”

“Something else in the tech field?” Kenny frowned. “I hate to say it, Mark, but there’s not a long list of those kinds of things available around here.”

“Might not have to be in the tech field,” he replied. “One of the girls was whining about not having a fast food joint here in town, and at least for a minute I had the idea of looking into a burger franchise. The problem with that is that it’s more work than I really want to think about. While I don’t want to give up working just yet, whatever I do has to be something that’s going to be fairly easy to turn loose of when I retire.”

“We could stand a Mickey-D’s or a BK or Wendy’s in this town, that’s for sure,” Kenny nodded. “I’m actually a little surprised we don’t have one here now.”

“I am, too,” Mark said. “My gut feeling is that those franchise operations have a better idea of what it takes to support one of their restaurants than I do. Since we don’t have one yet, I suspect they think it won’t fly around here, or at best be a pretty marginal operation. They could be right, and most likely are. Besides, I don’t know a damn thing about fast food, and I’m not sure I want to learn at my age.”

“Well, if you’re looking for my opinion on Marlin.com, if you have an offer that good, my advice is to get out while you can. As far as the store goes, I know you’re not operating with a lot of capital except for the building, so I suppose we can hang on while there’s business.”

“That’s pretty much my thinking,” Mark agreed. “At the moment, my plan is to hang onto the operation but pretty much let you and Roger keep running it, like we’ve been doing the past few years, while I go look for something else to do.”

“How’s losing the Marlin.com income going to hurt you?”

“Not as much as it would have a few years ago,” Mark shrugged. “We’ve got everything pretty well paid off now, although having the girls around means that there are going to be expenses we haven’t had in the past. So if I do sell Marlin.com, it doesn’t mean I have to have a paycheck coming in next week.”

“You’ll go nuts without something to do. I know you too well.”

“Don’t I know it,” Mark sighed as the computer in front of him demanded more attention. “Don’t I know it.”

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