Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
A beer after work on a hot day like this would be just wonderful, Scott Tyler thought on his way home from work. And he had just turned twenty-one, so he could now have one legally.
The only problem was that he was hot, tired, sweaty, and had to stink to high heaven after working in the heat all day. Though the place was at least theoretically air conditioned, on a day like today the truck bay doors being at least partly open meant that the air conditioning didn’t account for much. The fact that he’d been running a hot air gun wrapping pallets all day didn’t help at all, either. That it was an uncomfortable job on a hot day meant that, as one of the part-time summer helpers, he was stuck with it, and there hadn’t been anything he could say. He wanted that beer, but with the way his day had gone, he really didn’t feel like heading into Hank’s Bar for it.
He doubted there was anything in the refrigerator at home, though, and his car was broiling hot after sitting in the sun of the General Hardware Retailers Distribution Center parking lot all day. It didn’t take long to evolve as much of a plan as he needed: stop off at the Spee-D-Mart, grab a cold quart of High Life, go home, take a nice, cold shower, sit down in front of a fan, and call Sonja while he sipped at the beer for rehydration. By the time he’d finished the beer, it would be about time for dinner, and he was thinking the Cubs had a televised twi-night double header. That just about settled the rest of the day in his mind. He could think of any number of things he’d rather be doing, but being capable of doing them was also a consideration.
The work at General wasn’t anything he’d care to do for the rest of his life, but with decent money it served for a summer job, and only being there thirty hours a week to stay officially part-time meant that he had a little time to mess around. Even better, in only six weeks he’d be back at Michigan State and would be seeing Sonja every day, which was much better than just talking with her on the phone and only seeing her every two or three weeks, like he’d been doing all summer.
Maybe he could run up to Pontiac and see her on Saturday. Or Sunday. It didn’t matter, he thought as he pulled into the Spee-D-Mart and parked in one of the slots to the side of the building so he wouldn’t block the gas pumps. Inside, he headed straight for the beer cooler, hardly taking notice of the cashier, Emily Holst, talking lackadaisically with her friend, Vicky Varney. He couldn’t help but notice her though when he took the quart of High Life up to the counter. “So what’s happening in your life, Scott?” Emily asked.
“Same old same old,” he said after a shrug, and a glance at his classmate, who was heavily pregnant. “You’ve got to be due pretty soon now, right?”
“The sooner the better,” she sighed. “End of the month. It’s a bear to be this pregnant in the middle of the summer.”
Scott knew better than to comment. Emily had been one of the smarter girls in the class, but her plans hadn’t included college. Marrying Kevin within days after she graduated had been her goal through most of high school. Kevin was four years older and had done a term in the service before coming home and getting a factory job. He was an old friend of Emily’s family, and lightning had struck. She’d had her first child within days of a year after graduation, and this one, her second, was only a little over a year later.
“Goes with the territory, I guess,” Scott replied for lack of anything better to say, while he reached into his pocket for his wallet. He turned to his other classmate and asked, “So, Vicky, what’s happening with you?”
“Not a heck of a lot,” the shorter brunette snorted. “A lot of people just aren’t around this summer.”
“Boy, ain’t that the truth,” Scott nodded, taking a better look at Vicky. Back when she was in high school, a little over two years ago, she’d been a serious looker, a peppy cheerleader. She’d gone to Central Michigan the last two years, and wasn’t anything like slender anymore. Her “freshman fifteen” had been more like fifty and it looked like she’d tagged on a few more pounds on top of that as a sophomore. In spite of that, she was wearing very short shorts and a thin white tank top, the kind that didn’t need a bra, since the dark of her nipples apparent through the fabric showed that she wasn’t wearing one. “A lot of kids have taken the on-ramp, and we just don’t know what’s happened to them,” he continued.
“Yeah, lots,” she agreed. “I was surprised that we got as many together last month as we did.” Vicky’s twenty-first birthday party the previous month had turned into a class reunion of sorts, although only about fifteen kids out of a class of eighty-one had shown up. They’d had a good time, even if many had gotten incredibly drunk. “And some of them are gone now,” she added. “It’s damn dull and I can’t even buy a date.”
If ever there was a hint, that was one, and even through his exhaustion Scott couldn’t miss it. He had dated her a few times back in school, nothing serious, and she’d had a couple steadies since. But even back at her birthday party it had been clear that she was available, and if the circumstances had been a little different he could have been interested. Now, he had to brush her off without seeming like that was what he was doing. “There’s got to be someone around,” he shrugged, knowing full well that she was seeing him as a possible someone.
“I wish,” she sighed, getting the message.
“Hey, Scott,” Emily interjected, “We were talking about maybe a few of us getting together in the back yard and having a weenie roast or something this weekend. You think you might be interested?”
“Might be,” Scott conceded. Emily and Vicky were classmates and good friends, in spite of the fact that Vicky was obviously trolling – and that a little get-together like that could have at least been partially a way for Emily to set Vicky up a little. “I may be out of town this weekend, I’m not sure yet.”
“That girl of yours from Pontiac?” Vicky smirked.
“Probably,” Scott conceded. “Nothing’s final yet. Give me a call tomorrow night, I should know by then.”
“That girl has got to be something else,” Emily said. “At least that’s what Shelly says.”
Shelly Waltz was the only other Bradford Class of ’88 graduate going to Michigan State. She and Scott were in entirely different programs, and he’d only run across her on campus a handful of times in a couple of years. Sonja had been with him most of those times, though. “Pretty much your typical kid,” he shrugged. “We just seem to hit it off pretty good. We’re just good friends, though, nothing real serious.” He realized he was leaving himself open for more probing, and right now he wasn’t in the mood for it, so changed the subject. “I’ve got to get a shower before I kill myself from the smell. Let me know about the weenie roast, OK?”
“Sure thing,” Emily smiled. “See you around.”
“Yeah, later, Scott,” Vicky smiled.
Scott went back out and got back in his car. He’d left it running with the air conditioner going full bore, even though it wasn’t much farther home. At least it made the car feel a little more comfortable. He fastened the seat belt while his mind worked.
If Vicky had hit on him that hard a year ago, he would have landed on it in an instant. While not exactly the class easy lay, she had a reputation of able to being coaxed into bed. She’d been hooked up with John Engler last summer though, who didn’t bother going out with girls unless there was a good chance he could get into their pants, so it was pretty clear how hot and heavy it had been all that time. Although it had been a while, Scott wasn’t immune to the appeal for some of that action, either, and it wasn’t as if he was all that serious about Sonja yet, although he’d let it appear a little more that way than it really was.
One of the things that was generally agreed, if unspoken, among the Bradford Class of ’88 graduates at Vicky’s party the previous month was that Vicky wasn’t in pursuit of a BA but a Mrs. Degree. Her goal was quite clearly to get married in the relatively near future – holding it off until graduation if necessary but she wouldn’t complain about sooner. Any dating her was going to automatically involve a hard push toward a serious relationship. A casual roll in the hay was one thing, and if approached correctly he might be open to such a thing, but with Vicky it carried the potential for going places he didn’t want it to.
That was something Scott had tried to avoid all through high school. He’d enjoyed dating, and done more than his share, but always made it clear that it wasn’t going to be anything serious, nothing steady, or like that, in spite of several girls, Vicky among them, who had obviously hoped for more. He’d wanted to keep his options open for a while, enjoy the single life for a while – and that had held true, even at college. Good friends with Sonja though he was, there was no real commitment there, other than just being good friends – although it wouldn’t take much of a push from either of them to get more serious. Maybe that would come this coming fall, and maybe it wouldn’t. Scott wouldn’t be surprised to see things considerably more serious this time next year, but they’d had a mutual if unspoken agreement to let things take their time.
That didn’t mean Scott didn’t enjoy being with Sonja, and he had been missing seeing her every day for the last two and a half months, since classes broke for the summer. She was a special, even unique girl, in more ways than one, and he enjoyed his time with her.
As he drove home, Scott realized that he could turn around, go back to the Spee-D-Mart, hit on Vicky just a little and the odds were in his favor that he could be in bed with her before the day was out. But that carried prices he didn’t feel like paying. Still, it kept his mind occupied as he drove out of the downtown section of Bradford, made a couple of turns, and pulled up in the driveway of his folks’ house in an older but well-kept section of the small southern Michigan town.
Home at last. Scott knew people that could make a life out of working at General, could enjoy that life, but he wasn’t one of them and he knew it, if for no more reason than it would mean that he would have to stay in Bradford. There was a bigger and more interesting world out there; he’d known it for years, had gotten a taste of it at State, and Sonja was nothing if not proof that things weren’t exactly like Bradford everywhere else.
He gathered up his lunch box and the brown paper bag with the quart of High Life in it and headed into the house. His mother was in the kitchen as he walked inside. “So how was your day?” she asked.
“Hot and tiring,” he sighed, walking out to the kitchen to leave his lunch box on the counter. “Glad to have it over with.”
“Sonja called a couple of times for you,” she reported. “She sounds a little upset. There’s a number for you to call her back, she’s not at home.”
“Wonder what that’s all about?” he shrugged as he turned to put the quart of High Life in the refrigerator.
“She didn’t say,” his mother said, handing him a note with a phone number written on it. “When are we going to meet this girl, anyway?”
“Hard to say,” he said noncommittally, taking the scrap of paper and heading toward the phone. As he punched the numbers on the phone, he realized that he was dialing the number of the office where Sonja worked part-time during the school year at State, rather than one in the Detroit area. That was ominous in itself; he found himself hoping that Sonja wasn’t upset about the issue he suspected could be the problem. It was a concern she’d had laying there as long as he’d known her, from the hour after their second freshman English class when he’d offered to buy her a Coke – they’d been friends ever since.
“Institutional development,” a strange woman’s voice answered the phone. “How may I help you?”
“Is Sonja Lambert around?”
“Just a second,” he heard, as the phone went on hold.
In a few seconds, he heard Sonja’s husky, melodious voice, and he could tell from her tone that she was upset. “Scott, is that you?”
“You got trouble, Sonja?”
“Yeah,” she sighed. “I’m glad you called, they’re getting set to close here. My mother showed up out of nowhere. I was over babysitting for a neighbor, so Gina was able to get word to me. Scott, I hate to have to ask you, but do you think your folks could take me in for a few days? It’s either that, or a motel and a long drive.”
“I think so,” he said. “I’ll ask Mom, she’s right here.”
He could see the curiosity in his mother’s eyes as he put the phone on his shoulder. “Would you like to get your wish?” he asked, without a hint of a smile. “Sonja’s got mother trouble, she needs to lie low for a few days. I told her last spring if something like this happened to feel free to give me a call, and that we could probably put her up.”
“What kind of mother trouble?” his mother asked with the concern that she was perhaps getting into more than she bargained for.
“It isn’t easy to explain,” Scott replied. “Her mother showed up to try and bully her into doing something she really doesn’t want to do, so she’s trying to avoid her. At least that was the plan last spring. We’re talking her real mother, not her stepmother, who’s on her side in this. Look, Mom, we’re talking a favor to a friend, this isn’t anything under the table or any kind of sex thing or like that.”
“I suppose,” she smiled. “I’ve sure been looking forward to meeting this girl, anyway.”
“Thanks, Mom,” he said, then picked up the phone. “Fine with her,” she reported. “You’ve got your car, right?”
“Yes, thank goodness. I’d taken it with me babysitting, so I didn’t have to go back home to get it and risk having Mom catch me, but I don’t have a thing with me. How do I get out to your place?”
“Not real complicated. You’re on campus, right?”
“At the development office.”
“OK, go back out and get back on I-96, heading on west, like you didn’t get off at US-127. In about twelve miles, take the exit onto I-69 south, then go west on I-94 until you get to I-67, and head south on that. Bradford is Exit One on I-67 just before you get to the Indiana line.”
“I figured that much out from the map,” she said. “How do I find you?”
“Let’s make it simple,” he said. “Take a left when you get off I-67, go under the overpass, and on the far side on the left you’ll see the Chicago Inn. It’s a restaurant. I’ll meet you there in about an hour and a half.”
“Thanks, Scott,” she breathed. “You’re a lifesaver. See you in an hour and a half.”
“Drive safely and take it easy,” he said. “You’re OK, now.”
“I will, Scott,” he heard her smile.
Scott hung up the phone, mentally rescheduling himself. This was going to put a different spin on the next few days, and that High Life in the refrigerator was just going to have to sit there for a while. “Thanks, Mom,” he said as he hung up the phone. “This is a real pain in the butt for her. Apparently Sonja’s mother showed up without warning, so she had to just sneak off in her car, she didn’t get a chance to pack anything or like that. I figure maybe we can put her in the spare room, and there might be something of Abby’s she could borrow for clothes.”
“I suppose,” his mother sighed. “What kind of trouble is this, anyway?”
“You’re not going to believe me,” Scott shook his head. “I never believed it when I first heard about it, either. Sonja’s a draft dodger.”
“A draft dodger?” his mother exclaimed.
“They don’t draft people any more, and they never drafted women.”
“They do if you’re an Israeli,” Scott smiled. “Sonja has dual citizenship. Now her mother is browbeating her to do her duty, and Sonja doesn’t want to talk to her for fear she’ll talk her into it.”
“You’re right,” his mother shook her head. “That’s a different type of mother trouble, for sure. I’ll admit, your father and I got married and I got pregnant with Abby a little sooner than we intended because a draft board was involved.”
“This isn’t that serious,” Scott smiled. “So long as she’s in this country, the Israelis have no legal hold on her. She’s not going to Israel for love nor money, though, at least until her mother gets off her high horse.”
“Something tells me this girl is something pretty special.”
“That she is,” Scott grinned. “She’s one of a kind if there ever was one. Look, I’d better crawl in the shower and change my clothes. I probably ought to be out to the Chicago a little early, just in case.”
“I could hold supper for a little, if you like.”
“That’d be nice,” he replied. “Sonja’s got enough trouble that I’d like her to feel welcome, if I can.”
A little over an hour later, Scott was sitting at a table near the front door of the not very busy restaurant, keeping an eye on the parking lot. He was sipping at an ice tea, not the beer that he’d planned, and he was hoping that this would come off all right.
A meeting between Sonja and his folks was probably overdue, he knew, but he’d been just a little bit leery about setting it up. He was dead sure that Shelly’s story about meeting Sonja had been through the Bradford rumor mills, since he’d heard it from several people now – so his folks had to have heard it, too. Shelly had passed the word that Sonja was black – and, as far as that went, it was an easy enough mistake to make; Scott had first taken her for being a light-skinned black when he’d first met her, before he’d learned the truth. But even though the folks must have heard the story, they hadn’t pressed him on it, which was nice of them – and was part of the reason that he’d said they were “just friends” rather than being something more serious.
Bradford, like most small towns in southern Michigan, was pretty white. More than pretty --monolithically would be a better word. There had been a couple kids in his high school class with Hispanic names and slightly darker-than-normal skin, but they might as well have been white, for they were in virtually every other way. As was Sonja, more or less, except that she was darker than his classmates had been. One of the things that had been high on his priority list at State was to get to know some people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, just to fill in that blank spot in his experience. Sonja had been one of the first opportunities, seated next to him in that deadly dull freshman English class. From the instant he’d met her, he’d been struck with her dark, exotic beauty, and it had taken a while to beat through his Bradford narrow mindedness that she was really just a typical American girl. At least mostly, but her background was pretty exotic.
He was pretty sure that his folks would take to her all right, but he didn’t want to take bets on what some other people in town might think, so he’d probably been putting the issue off longer than he should have. It hadn’t been an issue yet, but if things got to be any more serious between the two of them it proposed to be an issue sooner than later. Maybe it was actually a good thing that it could be confronted now, even though it would be a troublesome time for her.
He happened to be glancing out the window when he saw Sonja pull in her familiar Cutlass Ceira. It had been a couple weeks since he’d seen her – he’d driven up to her home in Pontiac for an afternoon or an evening several times after the end of the term, and he’d missed her. Before she could even get the car parked, he headed for the door, since he’d already paid his bill. She was just getting out of the car as he walked outside. “Hi, Sonja,” he said warmly. “Good to see you, even though I’d rather it wasn’t like this.”
“I know,” she sighed. “Scott, it’s good to see you again, too, but damn it, this isn’t the way I wanted to do it. Thank goodness you and your folks are willing to help me out.”
“No big deal,” he said, taking her in his arms, looking into her dark, exotic face. Her skin tone was subtly different from a light-skinned black, although it was only a matter of degree, and when he’d first met her he hadn’t been aware of the difference. Rather than a milk-chocolate brown, she was more of a tan brown; indeed, it almost looked as if she had the world championship tan, except that he’d learned that she really didn’t tan much in the sun. It took a closer look at her face to reveal her multi-racial background – she had thin lips and a rather thin, large nose, but her dark brown eyes had the epicanthic folds of an Oriental. Her hair looked black at first glance, but on closer inspection it was a dark mahogany that had bright glints of brown when the sunlight hit it. “They’ve been wanting to meet you, anyway. Mom is holding supper for you.”
“I just wish I looked better,” she sighed. “This is all I had on when Gina called.” She was dressed in cutoff jeans and a loose T-shirt – not the prettiest he’d ever seen her, and she liked to dress nicely.
“I explained what was happening,” he smiled. “They seemed pretty understanding. As far as clothes, you’re a little smaller than my older sister, so there ought to be something of hers around that you could wear.”
“Scott, I hope I’m not going to be in the way.”
“Not a problem,” he grinned. “You’re going to have to sit back and watch TV or something while I’m off at work, or curl up with a book or something, but we can work something out. I’m only working half a day tomorrow, so that’ll help a little. Bradford is a small town, there’s really not a lot to do.”
“I have to admit that I’ve been looking forward to seeing what it’s like,” she grinned. “You make it sound like Hicksville from the word go.”
“It is, really,” he sighed, “but there are some good people here. Let’s head on over to my place.”