Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Setting up the two computers didn’t take Mark and Kenny all morning; at least, it didn’t take all of their attention. They managed to get some other things done as well, and by noon they were ready to go. Kenny helped Mark load them into the pickup, and he took off for home to set them up, and to have lunch with Jackie.
Even with Jackie’s help it took several trips to get all the bits and pieces upstairs. Putting the two computers on a card table in what would be Becca’s room took the usual amount of fiddling around, although not as much as would have been needed a few years before. Mark set both of them up and got them running, letting them boot up just to make sure they were still working, then shut them off. “Well, that’s that,” he said. “Let’s go get some lunch.”
Lunch proved to be soup and sandwiches, something that didn’t take any time in the microwave. While it was buzzing, Mark said to Jackie, “I had a talk with Kenny about Marlin.com this morning.”
“So what did he think?”
“He thinks letting it go would be the wise move, too. I’m thinking I might as well call them up and tell them they’ve got a deal, although with a couple clauses I want to work in.”
“Such as, I don’t want the servers in the Marlin Computer store, at least unless I have a clear-cut agreement involving rent and responsibility for server and other hardware maintenance.”
“Might as well,” she said as the microwave dinged. “If you don’t, you’ll just agonize about it some more.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” he said. “It’s just that Marlin.com has been a part of our lives for so long, it’s going to be hard to let it go.”
“Look on the bright side,” she smiled. “No more midnight calls that the server is down.”
“Oh, that won’t stop, not for a while,” he grinned. “It just won’t be my job to fix it after that. But it does mean that I can take the call forwarding off the Marlin.com phone.”
“That’ll be worth it by itself. So, any more ideas on what the next thing will be?”
“Not a clue,” he said. “And I really don’t want to retire. Kenny seems flexible on the idea of my staying involved with Marlin Computer, at least for the short term, so at least I’ll have that to fall back on.
“Well, about the best I can say is don’t rush into anything,” she shrugged. “Sit back and let it come to you. It’ll probably be something you haven’t even thought of. Now, if you’re not going to need your truck this afternoon, I could use it to run that sign over to Hoselton. They called this morning and want it last Friday.”
“Sure, no problem. I’m probably just going to be sitting around the office, anyway. I’ve got plenty of paperwork I didn’t get to last week.”
“My going to Hoselton probably means you’re going to have to pick up the girls. If you want to drop Bree off here and go back in to wait for Becca, it ought to be all right. I should be back right about the time you get Bree here. If I’m not, it probably won’t be much longer.”
Mark got over to the elementary school just about the time the buses were leaving. Bree was waiting out in front of the building for him, and got into the car almost as soon as he came to a stop. “So, how’d it go today, Bree?”
“Not too bad,” she sighed. “There are a couple girls in the class that seem pretty cool, and a couple that are kinds of pains. The boys are, well, they’re boys.”
“How about the class stuff? How did that go?”
“It went all right,” she said. “There were some things that we hadn’t had down in Decatur, but there were some things where I was further along than the rest of the class. I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as it could have been. It just seems like kind of a waste since I’ll only be going to this building for another three weeks. Next year, I’ll be across the street with Becca. I wonder how things went for her.”
“We’re not going to find out for a while,” Mark told her. “She’s got softball practice, so we’ve got over an hour to kill before we pick her up. Close to an hour and a half. Now, I can take you home and leave you there. You might be alone for a while since Jackie had to go deliver a sign and may not be back yet. Or, you can stay with me. The city library isn’t far from the office. I can take you in and get you signed up for a library card, and you can come over to the office when you’re ready. Then, when it’s time, we can go pick up Becca.”
“The library, I think,” she said without a moment’s hesitation. “I want to see what it’s like. The one at that school is all kid’s stuff, and I didn’t see a thing there that interested me.”
“Not surprising, since you’re about done being an elementary schooler,” he said. “All right, the library it is.”
An hour later, Bree came staggering into Marlin Computer with a whole armload of books. Mark only glanced at them, but they seemed a little advanced for her age. However, she was the one who had picked them out, and he figured she had a better idea of what she wanted to read than he did. She found a good place in the back office, sat down to read one of them, and was pretty well lost to the world until it was time to go pick up Becca.
It proved the middle school girls’ softball teams were practicing on a softball field behind the school; at least Mark remembered where they were. The practice was still going on, and he could see that Becca was right in the middle of it. “Sure didn’t take her long,” he said to Bree.
“Of course not,” Bree said. “I guess that means I’m going to have to spend more time in the bleachers reading a book.”
“We can probably rig it around so you don’t have to come, at least some of the time,” Mark told her.
“It would be nice,” Bree said, “but somebody should really be there for her, just so she knows it. I used to have to go to her games with Mrs. Engstrom, or even by myself a few times.”
“Your call,” he said. “On a nice day like today, I can think of worse things than sitting in some bleachers watching a ball game, even if I don’t care about the game that much. Now, if it’s blazing hot, or raining, or something like that, I might think about it a little differently.”
They sat on the bleachers watching for a few minutes until practice broke up. “See you tomorrow, Myleen,” they heard Becca call to the girl that had been her guide earlier in the day. “I gotta go.”
“So Becca,” Mark said as she came over to them, “How’d your day go?”
“Pretty good,” she said. “The classroom stuff was kind of dull, just like Decatur, but I met some neat kids. Myleen is really cool, we got to be kinda friends already.”
“Mr. Gravengood,” the coach broke in. “I need to have a word with you for a moment.”
“In trouble already, huh?” Bree smirked.
“Not that I know of.”
The coach came over to them. “Mr. Gravengood, thanks for letting Becca join us, even this late in the season. We’ve really been getting shorthanded, and it looks like she’s going to be a big help.”
“I wasn’t sure how it would go over,” Mark replied. “But she’s interested in sports.”
“She has a good arm and is a pretty good hitter,” the coach, Mrs. Elsasser said. “The thing of it is we have a game down in Blair tomorrow night, and we haven’t got the paperwork signed so she can go with us. I’d really like to take her.”
“Fine with me,” he said. “I’ll be glad to sign for her now if that will work.”
“Give me a couple minutes to dig it out,” Mrs. Elsasser said. “I’ll be right back.”
“Well,” Mark said as the coach headed to her car. “Looks like you managed to get on a team right away.”
“It was easier than I thought it was going to be,” Becca said. “I think I’m going to like it here. Mrs. Elsasser said she thought she could get me on a summer league, and I talked to Mrs. Wine. She said that after school is out I’ll be welcome to drop over for one of her morning sessions once or twice a week. The girls I talked to who know her all seem to think she’s pretty cool.”
“I know her from dogsledding a little,” Mark said. “And she is pretty cool. I think you’ll be able to learn a lot about basketball from her, and maybe other things, too. From what I hear, she won’t cut you any slack in her math classes just because you’re an athlete, though.”
It proved that the game in Blair started shortly after school, but because there would be two games played it wasn’t likely the second one would be over with till about 6:30. The team usually stopped at the Frostee Freeze for an after-game snack, so it would be closer to 7:30 before Mark could pick Becca up at the school. “That’s fine,” he said to Mrs. Elsasser. “If I’m not doing anything else I may drive down to watch it, anyway.”
“If you do, she can ride back with you, or she’s welcome to ride back with us. That’ll help her make some new friends when we stop for ice cream,” Mrs. Elsasser said.
“I’ll let her make up her mind about it.”
“Good enough. Becca, I know you don’t have a uniform yet, but I’ll find one for you between now and then.”
It was not yet quite dinner time when Mark got home with the girls, although it was getting close and Jackie was working on it. When she asked the girls how it went, she got a “Pretty good,” from Becca and a muted “OK, I guess,” from Bree.
“Well, kids,” Mark said. “There are computers for both of you up in what’s going to be Becca’s room. The one on the left is Becca’s, it’s a little more set up for gaming. If you want to go up and play with them, you’re welcome, but don’t get so wrapped up in anything that you won’t want to come to dinner.”
“Wow! Thanks, Uncle Mark!” Becca cried, heading toward the stairs, Bree following close behind. Soon he could hear happy sounds drifting down the stairs.
“So how do you think it went?” Jackie asked.
“Hard to say,” Mark said. “I think it’s pretty clear that Becca’s day went better than she expected, and Bree’s wasn’t quite as good as she hoped, but she didn’t really say anything about it.”
“I hate to say it,” Jackie nodded, “but that’s about what I expected. I know it’s still pretty early, but Becca seems to be coming along all right. Bree is going to have a problem getting comfortable with things, though.”
“Not like that’s a surprise,” Mark agreed. “Unless something comes out of the woodwork, I think Becca is going to do just fine, but Bree? It’s going to take a while. She’s definitely going to be the one to be glad to have school out for the summer. Not just this summer, but every one between now and 2013.”
“Yeah,” Jackie said. “The hell of it is, I’m afraid you’re right. I hope not, but still.”
Bree didn’t say any more about how her day had gone – or if she said anything to Becca, it wasn’t reported to Mark and Jackie. However, when Mark and Jackie got up the next morning to find Bree wearing the jeans she’d worn on the weekend, along with a nondescript T-shirt, that told them a great deal. Dressed nicely, Bree had stuck out from her fellow sixth graders more than she wanted to, and now she was looking for anonymity.
He was smart enough to not say anything about it, and so was Jackie, but he couldn’t help but be afraid Bree had gotten off on the wrong foot. Maybe there would be something to mitigate it, he thought, but kids around that age can be very cruel and he hoped that Bree wouldn’t get anything like the dose of it Jackie had gotten not much later than that. Though he loved his wife more than anything, Mark was well aware that the treatment she had received at that age had warped her badly, and it had never been repaired in all the years that followed. The two of them had been able to live their lives around that fact, but it was always there.
When he picked Bree up from school, he didn’t get any real indication from her whether things had gone better or worse, which might have been good news. Although he and Jackie had talked about it, nearly all they could agree on was that they were going to have to go out of their way to make Bree feel welcome at home. If school wasn’t going to be happy, at least she needed to know that home was a sanctuary. If things went that bad, Bree was going to have a lonely time in school like Jackie had endured.
Although Mark and Jackie had pretty well agreed that at least one of them would go to Becca’s game, they gave Bree the option of going or not going. She seemed to not have any problem with going, although she took a book, which was no big surprise. She didn’t seem to pay very much attention to the game, although she rarely missed a play when Becca was involved.
Even though she joined the team with absolutely no warning, Becca did just fine. Mrs. Elsasser’s saying that they were short-handed proved to be absolutely true; it took Becca to make it nine girls on the team, and Mark and Jackie found out that a couple times in recent games a seventh grader had to be promoted to fill the team out. Becca managed three hits, one of them a double RBI, and made a couple critical catches in the outfield. The young Marlin girls won the game in a squeaker, which was more than the seventh grade managed, so it turned out to be a pretty good deal all around.
Becca wanted to ride back on the bus with her new friends, and Mark and Jackie let her. To make it up to Bree a little, and since it was getting late, they stopped in Albany River for dinner, at a place that made a lot better hamburgers than any they’d ever heard of at a fast food place. Still, it wasn’t the same as a kid-friendly fast food place; Bree knew it, and they knew it.
Mark finally decided to inform the purchasers of Marlin.com that they had a deal, after going over everything one last time to make sure he wasn’t going to be left on the hook for anything. The purchasers didn’t exactly roll over and play dead on him, but finally conceded on the points he considered important. After some discussion, the deal would be final on July first when the ownership would be transferred, and the new owners would have sixty days to set up their servers and support equipment elsewhere. Mark even offered to help them find a spot if they wanted to keep them local.
That didn’t help with the question of what he was going to do when Marlin.com was gone from his life. He still didn’t have any idea about what to do, although he figured there had to be something. For the moment, he was still more focused on building a relationship with the girls, especially with Bree, if possible.
The rest of the week went pretty much the same, with Mark picking Bree up after school; she usually stayed with him at Marlin Computer until it was time to go pick up Becca on practice nights, but on Thursday they had a home game. Jackie was busy, but Mark and Bree went to watch her play. Bree watched her sister intently, but didn’t say much of anything to anyone else except Mark; mostly she had her nose in a book. At least the Marlins managed to win again, although Becca’s play wasn’t quite as spectacular as it had been in the other game that week.
A couple times that week Mark, Jackie, and Becca used the hot tub; while Bree was invited, she never came. When Mike and Kirsten came by Thursday evening for a soak, Becca joined them, but kept her bikini on. Of course, nobody faulted her for it, and nobody said anything; if it happened, it would happen, and if it didn’t, it didn’t.
With Bree clearly disappointed over how the week had gone, Mark made up his mind to do something special for her on the weekend, and fortunately they had the plane to do it with. The weather wasn’t as nice as it had been the previous weekend, but he and Bree flew down to an airport an hour or so to the south, landed to get a drink of pop out of a machine, then flew home, with Bree doing most of the flying. It was the happiest he saw her all week. She spent much of the rest of the weekend out in the shop with Jackie, working on signs and seeming to be pretty happy about it.
Sometimes, every now and then, Mark or Jackie could get Bree to talk with them a little. She didn’t want to talk much about school, but from what little they could get from her, it seemed pretty clear that she hadn’t done well at accepting what had happened to her mother and to her, and that this change in her life was going to be permanent. It wasn’t just a dream that would go away when she woke up.
As the end of the second week the girls had been with Mark and Jackie approached, everyone was getting a little more used to each other. It would be hard to say they’d established a routine yet, since there were little problems here and there, but at least a touch of normality was starting to overtake them. By then, there wasn’t much of the school year left; there was only a week to go. Becca wasn’t real happy with the idea of school being out since the school’s girls’ softball season would be ending with it, but she’d made arrangements to be on not one, but two different teams that didn’t play on the same nights or at the same time. Myleen Kluske was on both of the teams, and there seemed to be something of a friendship developing there.
On the other hand, while she didn’t say much of anything about it, it was clear that Bree was going to be very happy to have school out for the summer. Oh, she liked school all right, as far as that went; she appeared to be a good student, but from what Mark and Jackie could figure out she wasn’t making many friends, if any at all. What’s more, she didn’t seem to be getting along very well with a lot of the kids. About all Mark and Jackie could hope for was that over the summer Bree might come to accept the reality of what had happened to her a little better than she had already; that might mean she would have an attitude that didn’t discouraged friendship quite so much.
But it was a faint hope. Becca implied without really coming right out and saying it that Bree hadn’t had many friends down in Decatur, and none of them were close. When it came down to the bottom line, Becca was about Bree’s best friend, as well as being her sister, but there were times they didn’t get along very well. That didn’t have happy prospects for the future.
On Thursday of that week, while Mark was home for lunch, he got a call from Lieutenant Seymour, the detective they’d dealt with down in Decatur. “We’re finished with the apartment,” he reported. “You can go ahead and clean it out. What’s more, the coroner is done with Shannon Gravengood’s body, so you can make arrangements for it.”
“So have you found out anything about what happened?” Mark asked.
“Not really,” the detective said. “I was wrong when I told you she wasn’t breathing when her car hit the water, but she wasn’t breathing much. She certainly was unconscious, but there doesn’t seem to be any clear reason why. I mean, there were apparently no drugs in her system, and nothing physically wrong the coroner could see.”
“I hate to say it, but that sounds a little strange to me.”
“It sounds a little strange to me, too. It doesn’t make sense, and that’s what has me a little suspicious. I still think there was something else going on, but about all I have is faint leads, and no real evidence.”
“Well, if you find out something, be sure and let me know,” Mark told him. “I guess we’ll come down this weekend to clean out the apartment, and I’ll make arrangements with the local funeral home here to deal with the body.”
“Sorry to take so long on this,” Seymour apologized. “But things have been busy. I’ve tried to pay some attention to this when I can, since I keep hearing some little bird saying there’s more here than meets the eye. I just don’t know what it is.”
“I’ve had little birds saying things like that to me from time to time, too,” Mark replied. “I’ve learned that usually it’s a good idea to pay attention to them.”
“I’ve always figured it was smart to do so,” the detective replied. “I don’t know if I’ll be seeing you when you’re down here, but if you happen to come across something you think I should know about, you know how to get in touch with me.”
After talking it over briefly with Jackie, Mark called Mike at the Record-Herald and confirmed that Mike and Kirsten would be going with them again. With that settled, Mark called Gil Evachevski and arranged to borrow the motor home again. It was, of course, easily settled.
“I really don’t want to go,” Jackie told him after all the arrangements were as complete as they needed to be. “That’s a long ride, it’s not going to be fun, and it’s especially not going to be fun for the girls.”
“Certainly not for Bree,” Mark nodded somberly. “But I think she needs to be there to help her accept the reality of this happening. And I think she needs to be there to say goodbye to this Mrs. Engstrom the girls keep talking about. She may have been about the best friend Bree had down there.”
“Yeah, and that really sucks, doesn’t it?” Jackie shook her head.
“Yeah, it does,” Mark said, “and you know better than I do what it’s like to not have any friends at school. I can’t put my finger on why she’s so uncomfortable with the other kids, and if Becca knows, she’s not saying much. Knowing Becca, I’d say she doesn’t really understand it, either.”
“Like I said, I don’t really want to do this, and I doubt Bree will be very happy about it,” Jackie replied, “but I agree it has to be done, and at least partly for her sake. But I’ll tell you what, if this doesn’t get through to her, I’m thinking maybe we ought to be looking for some professional help.”
“Couldn’t agree more,” Mark sighed, “but I’ve been holding off on suggesting it until we get through this weekend. And after we get through it, we may need it bad.”