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Starting Late book cover

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

Chapter 17

Once again, it was late when they got back to Spearfish Lake, if not impossibly so. Since they had been dragging the trailer, it seemed to go even slower than before, and of course there were stops for fast food and rest. In spite of the earlier start than their trip Friday, it was nearing midnight when Mark drove the motor home into his yard.

“I’d have to say that’s good enough for now,” as he shut the engine down. “Let’s get some sleep and start in on this stuff in the morning.”

“Talked me into it,” Mike said. “That bed is going to feel mighty good in a few minutes. Of course, there’s something else that would feel good, too.”

“Yeah, but it’s getting too late,” Mark said. Earlier they’d talked about how good it would be to have a nice soak in the hot tub, but it didn’t take much to reject the idea. The girls had enough stress on them for one day to bring that issue up again. Mark couldn’t help but wonder how what had happened would affect their reaction to it, especially Bree’s, but he didn’t feel brave enough to want to find out after the emotional day they’d been through.

The girls had been pretty subdued on the way back to Spearfish Lake, though not exactly tearful. Not only had they more or less been forced to admit that their mother was gone, they were also losing Mrs. Engstrom, and she’d been much like a second mother to them. At least they’d be seeing her again in a few days, so that could help to soften the blow. Mark was still grateful she’d shown up when she had; things would probably have gone a lot worse without her presence.

It didn’t take long for everyone to get out of the motor home. Mike and Kirsten got into their car and headed up the road for home; Mark wouldn’t have blamed them if they put some time in sitting their own hot tub, and he sort of envied them for that. For a moment he considered the idea of getting the girls to bed, then doing a quick soak with Jackie, but on balance he decided he was too damn tired to even consider it. Bed seemed a lot more important.

They didn’t set the alarm for the next morning, having decided to just let themselves sleep off the trip. Still, their internal alarm clocks woke them about the normal time, and Mark figured he might as well get up, while Jackie denied reality for a bit longer. Mark went out into the living room to find things much like the new normal: Bree was curled up in a living room chair, with a book in her hand and Perky purring in her lap. He remembered the way the girl had been clutching the stuffed toy the day before, and realized that somehow Perky had made a connection with her that no one else had managed. Animals could sense needs like that, Mark knew, and realized that Perky had sensed a need no humans had apparently seen.

“So, how are you today, Bree?” Mark asked while on his way to the bathroom.

“Better than yesterday,” she replied. “Uncle Mark, I’m sorry I acted so bad yesterday.”

“Perfectly understandable, and you needed to get it out of your system,” he told her. “I think you’ll find that things get better from here on.”

“I hope so,” she said. “I still miss Mom, but I guess there’s not much I can do about it.”

“Very true, Bree,” he said, anxious now to get to the bathroom. “I’ll talk with you in a minute.”

As long as he had a shot at the bathroom with no one waiting, Mark took the opportunity to shave and shower; normally he would have done the latter the evening before, but the bed had been just too inviting after the long day. Bree was still reading when he came out of the bathroom, so he went in and got dressed before he went back out to talk to her.

“So Uncle Mark,” she said when he reappeared, “Are Becca and I going to get our own rooms today?”

“That’s the plan,” he said. “We may not get everything set up, but we should be able to get close.”

“Uncle Mark, if I were to stay with Becca while Mrs. Engstrom is here, could she have one of our rooms so she could stay with us?”

“I don’t see why not,” he told her. “Mike and Kirsten have a couple rooms free, but if she wants I don’t see why we couldn’t set something up here. Let’s talk about it with Becca and your Aunt Jackie when they get up.”

Mark went out to the kitchen and got the coffeepot going; that first cup was going to taste wonderful this morning. While he waited on the coffee he went outside for a look around. It was not the finest of spring days; it was overcast, if warm, but he doubted it would rain. Not the nicest day for flying, not that there would be an opportunity today; there was too much to do.

Still, he thought he might as well get his relaxation where he could, since it didn’t seem like he was going to have much time for it today. He went back inside to find the coffee was finished brewing, poured himself a cup, told Bree he’d be out on the deck, and went back outside.

Yesterday may not have solved all that much, he thought, but at least it got some things out of the way. In another few days, after the service for Shannon, it would all be in the past and they could concern themselves with the future. It was probably just as well that there was only a week of school left, since it was clear now that Bree still needed some time to get her act together, and now she’d have all summer to do it. Having the girls start classes with only three weeks left in the school year had its good points, but as far as he could tell, they’d mostly only been good for Becca. It might have been better to have left Bree out of the deal, although it wouldn’t have seemed fair either way. He remembered that it had been a big change from elementary to middle school for him, and it would probably be no less of one for her these days. Maybe next fall she could go to school with a better attitude and not so much baggage hanging on her.

It didn’t look like Becca was going to have much trouble finding things to keep her busy over the summer, but Bree was a different story. There had to be some way to get her involved with other kids over the summer, at least a little, but at the moment he had no idea what it would be. Maybe he could think of something, and there might be people he could ask.

He was busy flipping options over in his mind, not getting anywhere, when he saw Mike and Kirsten drive into the yard. When they got out, he called to them, “I didn’t expect to see you two so soon.”

“Figured we might as well get it over with,” Mike said. “Coffee hot?”

“Yeah, I just made it,” he replied, starting to get up to get them some. “Jackie and Becca were still in bed the last I looked, and I haven’t even thought about starting breakfast.”

“That’s fine, we haven’t eaten either,” Kirsten said. “I guess Susan lost track of the time change.”


“Yeah, she called us a good hour ago and got us up out of a sound sleep,” Mike reported.

“I think she did it on purpose,” Kirsten sniffed. “She knew she’d catch us before we were awake. After a year in Europe already, she ought to know about the time differential.”

“Sounds like there’s news,” Mark smiled. Susan was capable of things like that, after all.

“Yeah, she’s going to go to Japan like she was talking about, teaching English in that high school. I guess Mizuki was the one who got it all set up. Mizuki is going to work with her mother to get the girls a small apartment, since I guess the place her mother is living in is really tiny.”

“So you’re not going to be seeing much of her this summer?”

“It sounds like she’s going to be home for a week or so in early August,” Mike told him, “just long enough to unpack her summer stuff from Europe and pack her winter stuff for Japan. Right at the moment it looks like she’s going to be back for a month or so about this time next year, but then she has plans to go hang out with her friends in Europe again. With any kind of luck, she ought to be back a year from next fall in time to finish college.”

“So, what are you going to do about her apartment down in Hawthorne?” It was an interesting situation; the college Susan attended was very limited in dorm space, and off-campus rentals were expensive because of demand in the small city. While Susan had been investigating the situation, though, she and Mizuki found a small apartment building for sale at an extremely reasonable price. Through some twisting of her parents’ arms, she wound up buying it; the rentals of the other units more than paid for the one for Mizuki and her.

“She already had an answer for that,” Mike shrugged. “The guy who’s been doing the maintenance for them is going to run it while they’re in Japan, so she’ll be able to rent out her own apartment while she’s gone. Mizuki is going to go down and put a lot of their stuff in storage, and Susan sort of volunteered us to help out. It’ll be a couple weeks up the pike, though.”

“I could probably go help if needed,” Mark said. “But with the girls here now, things are going to be a little complicated for both Jackie and me to go.”

“Yeah, that’s one of the perils about being a parent,” Mike grinned. “I guess you’re learning.”

*   *   *

Eventually everyone was up and running, although in Becca’s case, barely running, as was normal for her at this hour of the morning. They had a fairly substantial breakfast, then started hauling things in from the motor home and the trailer; some of it went to the girls’ rooms, but much of it, including most of the furniture, went to a storeroom out in the barn. There was a little juggling around and swapping of furniture to get the two bedrooms set up, but the worst of the chore was done by early in the afternoon.

“It’s going to be nice to have my own room,” Bree exulted. “That way I won’t have to be living in the mess Becca makes.”

“Bree,” Becca responded, “Have you ever seen the sign that says, ‘A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind?’ It goes for rooms, too. I don’t make a mess. I just like to have things handy.”

“I’m not going to be a real stickler for keeping your rooms neat,” Jackie told them. “But I don’t want to see a disaster area up there, either. I’ll admit when I was younger than you are now my room got a little messy at times, but I grew out of it by the time I’d reached your age. Of course, I was having to help out around the house a lot by then, too, so that may have had something to do with it.”

“At least, don’t make too much of a mess of it before Mrs. Engstrom comes next weekend,” Bree warned. “You know what she’d say if she saw it as bad as you can make it.”

“I just want to be comfortable,” Becca replied, a little petulantly. “You make it sound like I turn everything into a dump.”

“Which is why I’m glad we have our own rooms now,” Bree replied, realizing she’d won that round. “I can keep my room neat, but I’ll bet yours will be a mess by the time we go to bed tonight.”

“Well, I guess I’d better take the motor home back to Gil,” Mark said, looking for a way to get out of the crossfire. “Since I have to take the trailer back to Camden, I guess I’ll haul it down with the truck tomorrow when you’re in school. I don’t know if the place would be open today. Anybody want to ride with me to go get the pickup?”

“I’ll go with you, Uncle Mark,” Bree piped up.

“I will too,” Becca agreed.

“Well, there’s room for both of you,” Mark told them. “But no nitpicking each other over how clean you’re going to keep your rooms. Just try to keep them presentable for Mrs. Engstrom, all right?”

“I guess,” Becca replied, a little reluctantly.

It didn’t take long for Mark to get the motor home over to Gil’s house. As expected, he wasn’t home, so Mark left the keys above the visor like he had agreed, and got the girls into the pickup for the trip back home.

“Uncle Mark,” Becca said as they were headed back to the house. “You said a while ago you were going to get us bicycles. With all the team practices I’m going to be doing, won’t it be hard for you and Aunt Jackie to be taking us into town and back all the time?”

“That’s why I wanted to get you bicycles,” Mark told them. “Bree, I don’t know if you’ll do much running back and forth to town as Becca, but you’ll probably want to go to the library or something every now and then. Because of everything else, we haven’t had time to get bikes for you yet, but with school being out soon it’s probably something I should look into.”

“I don’t know how much I’d be using a bicycle,” Bree said. “It’s kind of a long trip into town, especially to go both ways.”

“Well, you’d be able to do it if you wanted to,” he told her. “After all, if you wanted to come into the library some afternoon, you could hang around Marlin Computer until it’s time for me to go home. Becca, it makes a lot of sense for you to have a bike, though. We’re going to have to work out some rules about letting Jackie or me know where you’re going and how long you plan on being, and if you’re going into town, I don’t want you on the state road any more than you have to be. I showed you the route down by the lakeshore you can take, and that’s how you’d better go.”

“It’s still a long trip,” Bree protested.

“So, it wouldn’t hurt you to get a little exercise,” Mark pointed out. “I realize you like to read a lot, but there’s such a thing as overdoing it, especially at your age. I’m really hoping we can come up with some kind of a program you can be involved in over the summer, something where you can get to know a few kids your own age.”

“I guess,” she replied unenthusiastically. “It’s just going to be a little strange, living this far out in the country with no other kids around.”

“Kids can grow up perfectly fine this way,” Mark told her. “Mike and Kirsten and their kids moved out where they are now when Tiffany, their oldest, was younger than you are. They never seemed to have any trouble finding friends. She was driving a dogsled to school when she was younger than you are.”

“Yeah, Uncle Mark, you told us about that,” Becca said. “Do you think maybe I can go on a dogsled ride sometime?”

“I don’t doubt it can be arranged. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you like it and show a little talent, Tiffany might be willing to teach you how to run a dogsled.”

“That sounds kind of neat!”

“It is,” Mark told her. “Mike and I used to have dog teams, and we used to occasionally take them out camping in the woods in the winter. That was a lot of fun, although we haven’t done it in a few years. Maybe we’ll have to try a camping trip sometime this summer, just to get you used to the idea. It won’t be as bad as having to go camping in a snow bank, at least not the first time.”

“It sounds like fun,” Becca replied brightly.

“I don’t know,” Bree replied unenthusiastically but expectedly. “It doesn’t sound like much fun to me.”

“You won’t know until you try,” Mark told them. “We’ll keep it a simple overnight the first time, but it won’t be for a while yet.”

*   *   *

Most of the time Mark liked driving places by himself because it gave him the opportunity to think a little without being interrupted. The long trips in the motor home hadn’t been very productive in that regard, mostly because there were other people along with him, and he’d felt the need to keep up his end of the conversation that seemed to swirl around. However, he was alone the next day when he took the trailer down to the rental place in Camden, so he put the opportunity to use.

It had been quite a weekend, and it seemed as if he and Jackie had been able to cross a few bridges with the girls. It had been somewhat painful for the girls, and things wouldn’t have gone anywhere near as well if Florence Engstrom hadn’t shown up at the height of the crisis. It seemed to him as if the girls were a little more accepting of the fact that this was going to be their new home, and there was no going back to the way things were.

As far as he could tell, Becca was pretty much a normal fourteen year old, and it seemed like she was going to fit in well. She appeared to be making friends and was getting involved in things; even with the summer coming on, she was still going to be involved in sports and teams and activities. And, next fall, she would be in high school, which, while it would be something a little different for her, it seemed to him like she was ready for it and could handle it. While she was still going to have some problems adapting to life with them, it looked like they were relatively minor.

As always, though, Bree was more of an enigma. She was now brighter and more personable than she had been before the trip to Decatur, although she was still negative about a lot of things and proving to be not quite as independent as she had been maintaining. Mark realized that there was still some uncertainty on Bree’s part, at least partly because when he went up to check on the girls after they’d gone to sleep, he’d found Bree curled up next to Becca in Becca’s bed. Maybe the girls said they wanted to have their own rooms, but Bree didn’t appear to be quite ready for it. That was one the girls were going to have to work out for themselves, he thought, although it seemed likely that it would come in time.

About all he could say was that it was clear Bree still had a way to go in accepting the new shape her life had taken. He wished there was some way he could make things go a little more easily for her, some way he could get her involved with other kids her age. Sending her to school for the last three weeks of the school year clearly hadn’t worked, and it was going to be harder over the summer. About all he could hope for was that the next three months might give her a chance to become a little less insular and a little more tolerant of others – after all, this trauma in her life would be three months further behind her when school started in the fall. Bree was, face it, quite a bit different from her sister, and he suspected it was going to be harder to work things out. Only time would tell.

That afternoon, after he got back to Spearfish Lake, he picked up Bree after school and took her down to Marlin Computer as he had done before, until Becca got done with softball practice. However, this time he didn’t take them straight home. Instead, they drove back downtown and stopped at Spearfish Lake Outfitters, which was, among other things, the largest bicycle shop in Spearfish Lake. Mike’s daughter Tiffany owned the place with her husband Josh, Jackie’s youngest half-brother. For all practical purposes, though, the manager was Candice Archer, married to Jackie’s other half-brother. Mark and Jackie were friendly with Candice and her husband John, although nothing like as close as they were to Mike and Kirsten.

“Hi, Mark,” Candice said as he brought the two girls into the store. “Are these the two girls I’ve been hearing about?”

“Yes, Becca and Bree,” he said to introduce them. “Things have been sort of busy, and we just haven’t had time to introduce them around.”

“Bring them by the open house on Sunday at four,” Candice told him. “It’ll be for Shay’s graduation.”

“Wow, is that here already?” Mark shook his head. “I guess I still think of him as a little kid.”

“It’s hard for me not to think that way, too,” she sighed. “They grow up too quickly, even though they don’t think it’s fast enough. He’ll be going to Lake State in the fall, and it won’t be long before Cody is gone, too. I’m having trouble thinking of myself as an empty nester, but I’ll tell you, it won’t be long before these girls are all grown up and gone, and you’ll be wondering where the time went.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Mark said, realizing that, while it seemed like a long time, it could go very quickly. “Anyway, I came in to get some bikes for the girls. I don’t think anything too expensive, just something for them to ride into town.”

“You girls know how to ride bikes, right?” Candice asked.

“We’ve never had them,” Becca said. “I’ve ridden friends’ bikes now and then, so I know how to do it.”

Bree looked a little embarrassed before she said in a soft voice, “I’ve never ridden a bike. I don’t know how.”

Well, that would explain a little of that reluctance, Mark thought. I sure would be embarrassed to be twelve and have to admit I’d never ridden a bike. I wonder how much of her reluctance to do things is wrapped up in the lack of opportunity to try them, or being too shy to ask?

“You know, I almost hate to admit it, but I was pretty close to your age before I got to learn how to ride a bike,” Candice admitted. Mark wondered how much of that was the truth, and how much was playing to Bree’s insecurity. He knew Candice had been riding horses and showing them long before she’d been Bree’s age. This, he thought, is a good time to keep my mouth shut.

“Really?” Bree said, eyes wide.

“Yes,” Candice smiled. “I grew up on a farm way out in the country and there was never a good place to ride one, and no one ever showed me how until I got about that old, and then it was a friend of my parents. I mean, I’d ridden tricycles when I was a little kid, but I’d just never got to ride a real bike.”

“Can you teach me how to ride one?” Bree asked quietly.

“Of course I can,” Candice smiled. “It’s not like there’s a lot to it, and once you learn, it’s something you’ll always know how to do.”

“Good enough,” Mark said. “Candice, I’d be pleased if you’d do it.” Maybe it would work better with Bree if someone else were to take on that chore. She’d reached out to someone she didn’t know for assistance, and somehow that seemed like a good sign.

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