Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
The snow had quit by Saturday morning, but it was still blowing very hard. The drifts in the driveway and along the street continued to build, like Binky had warned months before. Tricia was just as glad she didn’t have to go outside; she wasn’t sure she could have made it out of her driveway in the Neon, until later in the day when a guy came around with a blade-equipped pickup and cleaned out her driveway.
Maybe, Tricia mused a little, it was time to think about getting a more robust car, something newer and with four-wheel drive. Although it would be tight, she could afford it now; the practice had been going well enough that the foundations hadn’t had to dip into the guarantee once. There could well be times like these that she had to get out to go to the office, or conceivably to deal with some kind of medical emergency. Besides, driving the beat-up old Neon around probably didn’t look good around the community.
But that was an issue to be left for another day; with snow all over the place, it was nothing she could deal with today.
Quite quickly the day turned boring. She spent a couple hours at the ongoing project of trying to decipher Dr. Luce’s old notes, but that was already starting to become less and less of an issue. Before the morning was over with, she’d pretty well run out of things to do.
This is something you’re going to have to break yourself of, she told herself, and not for the first time. She wasn’t in residency anymore; she had some free time, but no real interests other than medicine. Hell, even Gene, as busy as he was, had his Harley and his musical interests with Jennifer Walworth and the Boreal String Band! She just had her battered old Neon and no ability to play a note on any musical instrument ever invented. There has to be something else, she thought, but had no idea of what it could be.
The only thing that offered the slightest bit of a possibility for getting through the day was to take another swing at Ferry to Kolombanara. She’d tried to start the Wendy Carter book several other times, but just hadn’t had the time to really get into the story. Now, except for trying out her beef stroganoff recipe on Henry in the evening, she had all weekend. She thought she might as well give it a try; she couldn’t think of anything else to do.
This time it went a little better, enough so that it was well after noon before she noticed the time. She took time to throw together a lunch meat sandwich and grab some chips and a Pepsi, then curled back up on the couch with the thick tome.
By late in the afternoon she was well into the book. She could see that reading epic fantasy was not going to be a prime diversion for her, but the book was enough to distract her from the time passing. Really, it was all she asked of it. One thing was clear – she was going to have to stay with it when she could until she finished it or she was going to lose the thread of the story and the myriad of oddly named characters again.
She mostly had her attention on the book, dimly aware that it was nice to be able to lose herself in it, and hadn’t particularly noticed the light dying outside when her telephone rang. Hopefully this wasn’t some sort of emergency, she thought, although she knew that in a real emergency there wasn’t much she could do that the ambulance crews couldn’t handle.
It wasn’t an emergency – it was Henry. “Are we still on to try out your stroganoff?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure,” she replied, glancing up at the clock: it was after six! Where had the day gone? Well, into the tangled elven fastnesses and intrigues of Kolombanara, she realized. Not a bad place for it to go at that. “I sort of got wrapped up in a book and lost track of the time. Come on over whenever you’re ready.”
“I’ll be right over,” he told her.
She barely had enough time to pick up the bag of chips and a couple of empty Pepsi cans before he was knocking at her front door. “So how was your day?” she asked when she let him in.
“Long,” he shook his head. “It got started late because of the snow, and then I still had to sit around and watch basketball half the day. It doesn’t take long for that to get dull. At least I don’t have to write the story. “
“I have absolutely no interest in high school sports whatever, and didn’t have any when I was in high school,” she shook her head. “But I take it you think you could have found something else to do.”
“Well, yeah,” he said. “I did break off for a while and got some snow shots, did a couple things at the office, then came back here and took a nap.”
“I’m sorry it got late. Like I told you, I sort of got wrapped up in a book.”
He glanced at the end table where Ferry to Kolombanara was sitting open and face down. “I understand how you could do it with that one,” he nodded. “She writes a hell of a yarn, doesn’t she?”
“Epic fantasy is not exactly my favorite reading material,” she said. “But when you think about the woman who wrote it, it makes the book a whole lot more awesome.”
“Yeah, Wendy Carter is something else,” he said. “And it’s so easy to write a person in her situation off. A lot of people did just that, and a lot of people still do.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t get going on the stroganoff earlier,” she said. “But it’ll give me something to do while we’re talking.”
“Fine with me,” he smiled. “You’re fun to talk to.”
The stroganoff making went pretty well, all considered. Partway through the process Tricia realized that it was in many ways similar to the spaghetti recipe, so that gave her a running start and a little bit of confidence. It clearly was going to contain some calories, but on a cold and snowy day like this, the idea didn’t seem all bad.
“Looks like it might be a decent day tomorrow,” he commented while sitting at the kitchen table partway through the process. “If I read the weather report correctly, it’s supposed to clear off and warm up a little, and the wind should die down. If you’re interested, it might be a good day to run you out to my sister’s and give you a dogsled ride.”
“You know, that might be fun,” she told him. “I mean, I could get wrapped back up in that book very easily, but that would mean I’d spent two days back to back doing nothing but lying on the couch with it. I really ought to do something else, just to say I did.”
“Let’s wait and see what happens with the weather before we make a definite decision,” he said. “The weather I saw was for Camden, and it’s often a little different up here.”
“Fine with me. I don’t think I’d be interested in riding a dogsled through a howling blizzard, but a short trip on a nice day might be worth the effort.”
Amazingly enough, the stroganoff came out pretty well, especially considering the small glass of wine she served with it in order give the meal a touch of class. There was even enough left to put in the refrigerator so she could finish it up for a meal or two later in the week.
All the while she was working on the stroganoff, and in the time they spent eating it, the story that Heather and Molly had told her about Henry and Cindy deLine was in the back of her mind. She’d thought about it more than once since their evening together the night before; the more she thought about it, the more curious she was. She knew better than to come right out and ask him about it up front, but kept looking for an opening where she could take the conversation in that direction.
But, as dinner was winding down, no real opportunity had presented itself. Finally, there didn’t seem to be anything to do but hit him with it from right out of midair. Now, all she had to do was wait for an appropriate flat spot in the conversation that seemed to lead itself to a change in topic, not necessarily a lead-in.
She got it as she was picking up the dinner dishes. “You know,” she said, “it just struck me that I’ve never heard you mention a girlfriend or anything. I can’t believe a nice guy like you wouldn’t have one. My experience has been that the good ones have already been taken.”
There was silence for a moment. “I guess I could say I used to have a girlfriend, or at least sort of one,” he finally replied uncertainly. “Maybe I still do. Maybe I don’t. I don’t know and I’m not sure I want to find out.”
Trying to keep it casual and avoid eye contact, she replied, “That’s a very tentative statement for a guy who usually has things as under control as you always seem to.”
“Well, it’s a long story,” he sighed.
“Henry,” she grinned, “you know how I am about people dangling those words in front of me.”
“Well, it is a long story, and I don’t know how it’s going to come out, or even if I want it to,” he shook his head.
“Henry,” she said, seriously this time, “if I just stuck my foot in someplace where I shouldn’t have, it’s all right. I’m sorry and I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“No, it’s something I can tell you about,” he shrugged. “It’s just that, well, it’s not simple. I may have done the right thing. I hope I did. But I have my doubts.”
“Why don’t I break my personal rule about drinking, pour us each another glass of wine, and we can go sit in the living room and talk about it.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” he sighed. “The hell of it is that although she and I more or less lived together for several years, or at least occupied space together, I don’t honestly know if I can call her my girlfriend or not. What’s more, I’m not sure she ever was.”
“That sounds odd.”
“It more than just sounds odd, it really was, and I’m not sure how I feel about it, even now. Look, I have to go back to talking about high school. There was this girl in my class, Cindy deLine. She was a nice enough kid in her way, but her mother was a real bitch. Well, no, that’s not right; it doesn’t go far enough. She always had her own opinion and didn’t mind telling you what it was every chance she got. If you didn’t agree with her chapter and verse, you were obviously wrong. There was no room for opinions that didn’t go along with hers to the letter and even then it could get touchy. Worse than that, Cindy’s mother was very overprotective of her. Cindy was, well, she was trying to spread her wings a little, trying to get a little independence to become her own person, and there was no way in hell her mother was going to let that happen.”
“I know the type,” Tricia said as she put the wine back in the refrigerator and carried the two glasses into the living room. “I’ve heard it described as being a ‘helicopter parent.’”
“Worse than that. Helicopter assault parent, maybe, with plenty of gunships.”
They settled down in the easy chairs before Henry continued with his story. In most ways it was similar to the story Heather and Molly had told Tricia weeks before, at least the first part of it. Henry and Cindy had been friends, not even particularly good friends; it had been pretty clear that Cindy’s mother wouldn’t have allowed much more than that if Cindy had wanted it, anyway.
But then the story diverged from the version Molly and Heather had told her over lunch. “Tricia, have you ever heard of the cheerleader hassle we had back in those days? It’s getting to be ancient history by now, but it’s something that I’ve still heard mentioned.”
“Never heard a word about it.”
“I guess that proves time passes,” he shook his head. “It was still being argued about long after I left town and there are still people pissed off about it, but I guess you’ve just never heard the subject come up. Back in ’97 they still played girls’ basketball in the fall, rather than in the winter. That was before some bleeding heart assholes downstate decided it was less discriminatory to the girls to have it in the winter, no matter that gym time gets tighter and there are fewer quality officials available to spread around to more games, although that’s neither here nor there. Both Cindy and I were juniors, and Cindy was on the girls’ basketball team. They had a pretty good basketball team, nothing like Spearfish Lake has had in recent years, but pretty good for the time. They were looking at playing in the districts; I don’t remember where. It doesn’t really matter.” He paused for a moment, seeking words.
“I suppose not,” she replied, wondering if she was in for a really chilling story. Could something like a rape have been involved?
“If it’s like you said, you have no interest in high school sports, and when you get down to it I can’t blame you, but then I suppose I ought to explain. You go to a boy’s game and they have cheerleaders there. In those days you never saw cheerleaders at a girls’ basketball game, I mean, ever. Well, the football team was playing somewhere else the same night. Now, this town may be football crazy, but it’s been a hell of a long time since we’ve had a winning season. The best season they’ve had in maybe ten years is four wins and five losses and people thought that was pretty good. Two wins is a lot more like normal and they have been zipped. Anyway, the girls had their district game, and the boys had their last game of the season on the same night. So Cindy’s mom, meddler that she was, got the brilliant idea that girls ought to support girls and that the cheerleaders ought be at the basketball game. After all, the girls’ team had a shot at the district trophy and the football team was going to be playing Moffatt Eastern, which meant they were going to get their asses kicked again.”
“Uh-oh, I’ll bet I see what’s coming.”
“You probably bet right,” he smiled. “So Cindy’s mother went to the Principal, Harold Hekkinan and pitched a bitch at him about it. According to him, and he told Dad about it when I was present, he thought she might have a point. So he ordered the cheerleading coach to take the cheerleaders to the girls’ basketball game. Well, the coach got pissed off at that and led the girls in a little rebellion. They said screw the basketball game, and the girls wanted to be there with their boyfriends anyway, so they went down to Moffatt Eastern wearing Marlin sweat shirts instead of their uniforms, but beyond that, nothing changed.”
“And the shit hit the fan, as they say.”
“Not right away,” he smiled. “Now I wasn’t anything like close to Cindy at the time, so didn’t know what was coming down, and neither did anyone else until the day of the season opener, when the school got an injunction barring the boys’ basketball season from being held. It turns out Cindy’s mother got together with an attorney who practiced in Camden but who lived up here. His daughter was on the girls’ team too, and I guess Cindy’s mother browbeat him into asking the court for the injunction keeping the boys’ basketball team from playing until the cheerleader inequality could be rectified.”
“I know very little about the law, except as it pertains to medicine, and I still feel weak there,” Tricia sighed. “But that one seems like it should have been laughed out of court.”
“It should have been,” Henry shook his head. “I’ve heard Cindy’s mother rant about it, and I’m convinced she didn’t intend any more than just a passing harassment, not a virtual war. The reason it wasn’t laughed out of court was that everyone at the school thought it was a practical joke, nothing more, so the attorney never showed up. Judge Dieball didn’t want to approve the injunction but under the circumstances he had no choice. So we didn’t play basketball that night. That kind of pissed me off, I was going to be on the varsity for the first time. So we didn’t have a basketball game that night, but everybody figured it would get straightened out real quick.”
“It didn’t get straightened out, I take it?”
“It did for a little while. The school filed a counter-suit, and Judge Dieball approved lifting the injunction. We got to play two games, and then we got hit with another injunction, this time from an appeals court. There’s no reason to get into the ins and outs of it, I’ve probably bored you already, but before it was settled the whole damn boys’ basketball season was wiped out. I got a varsity letter for playing maybe ten minutes total in those two games, and I got a varsity letter the next year because I would have been on the basketball team if we’d been allowed to have one. I mean, big fucking deal. It still steams me because I got those letters when I didn’t earn them, but that’s neither here nor there either.”
“That does seem kind of meaningless and petty,” she nodded.
“It went downhill from there. The school board got involved, and decided that if the boys couldn’t have a basketball season, the girls couldn’t have one the next year, and since cheerleaders were at the heart of it all, the cheerleading team was cut too. Like I said, I don’t really want to get into the details, except that it was close to people getting out their deer rifles and starting a war for a hell of a long time. It wasn’t settled until after I graduated. There wasn’t a basketball team in this town for, hell, it must have been three years before the lawyers quit throwing rocks at each other. What happened after that is a pretty good story that involves one damn good coach building teams from literally nothing, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Cindy and me.”
“I’d imagine that if deer rifles were involved that Cindy’s mother should have been wearing body armor.”
“You’d guess right. She hadn’t been a popular person before, but she was a pariah after that. Now, again, I’ve heard Harold Hekkinan say that she had a point, and at least through the early stages he was at least a little on her side, but she and this attorney of hers let it go way too far. Now, you can imagine what happened with Cindy. She was an outcast right along with her mother. Worse, because she had to put up with an incredible amount of shit from kids every day. I mean, it was really fucking cruel.”
“You know Heather, my office nurse? She has stories to tell of how cruel kids can be, from after she had her baby.”
“Yeah, I know Heather. She was a good kid, kind of cute, but she had a bunch of shit handed to her that she didn’t deserve either. At least she was able to pull her way out of it. But Heather got off lightly compared to Cindy. Even the attorney yanked his kid out of school for her senior year so she didn’t have to put up with it, but Cindy didn’t have anything she could do but take it.”
“That had to have been hard.”
“No shit it was hard, her mother on one side and all the kids and most of the community on the other, and she was caught right smack in the middle. And there was almost nothing she could do about it.” He let out a sigh and added, “I don’t have words to say how bad it was. It was only luck that prevented a real tragedy.”
He was silent for a moment. “Shit, I don’t even know if I should say this,” he said. “Look, nobody but Cindy and me knows the next part, and I’m not sure I should tell you anyway.”
“Henry, I’m used to keeping secrets,” she said, not really sure she wanted to hear the rest of the story but somehow sensing he needed to tell it. “There’s such a thing as doctor-patient confidentiality, and I respect that very strongly. If you feel the need, give me a dollar and that’ll make you my patient, and that’ll make it legally binding.”
Henry sat and took another deep breath. He was silent for a while; she could tell he was very troubled about his thoughts.
“I’ll try,” he said finally. “But again, it’s just between us, all right? No one else knows. Nobody, ever.”
“I promise, Henry. I have secrets I have to keep, too. What happened?”
“It came so goddamn close,” he said. “Tricia, I don’t know how religious you are, but I’m not. But if ever there was a miracle, I was a part of it. If I hadn’t been there when I was . . . well, the whole cheerleader/basketball mess would have seemed like the tempest in a teapot it really was. I mean, I have no doubt I did the right thing and I’d do it all over again even if I knew how much trouble it was going to make for me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish the whole goddamn thing never happened.”
He was telling the story now, or Tricia could tell that he was at least trying to. Other than gently saying, “What?” she kept her silence.
“Like I said, I was a junior,” he said softly. “I had only been able to drive to school for a few months, and my folks had given me an old beater to drive to school and around town. Well, I was driving to school one morning. It was March, and we’d just had a warm spell, so there were these huge puddles of ice and slushy snow and muddy water all over the place. I was following another carload of kids into town, right up Lakeshore not far from Cindy’s house. All of a sudden the car in front of me swerved across the road into this huge puddle. There was all that ice water and slush flying all over. Cindy was walking to school on the sidewalk on that side, and she just got fucking soaked. I mean, there was no way it was an accident, it was deliberate. She was the school pariah, after all, and it was just another swipe at her. Just kids being their normal cruel selves to her.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Now understand, I wasn’t exactly a fan of hers at the time, and even less so of her mother. I mean, it was her mother who had fucked up my basketball season, after all. But nobody deserves that kind of treatment, no matter how much they’re disliked for things they have no control over. So I stopped to try to help Cindy. She was absolutely soaked to the skin with that cold water and mud and shit, and she was just fucking mad as hell, not that I blamed her in the slightest. I don’t want to say I calmed her down, because I didn’t. Hell, I was pretty goddamn mad myself, and I’m not the kind of person who gets mad easily. It took me a while to get her settled down enough to get her into my car so I could take her home. I, well, I had to help her into her house. Her mother wasn’t there, God knows where she was. I even had to help her up the stairs to her room, which was painted the most horrible goddamn shade of purple you ever saw in your life.”
Tricia smiled, but kept it inward. From Henry’s description, that pretty well described the wall hangings Lianna used to have in her room at the Redlite. She just sat back and listened to Henry work the story out.
“Well, I couldn’t very well strip her down to get those wet clothes off her, but I helped her get started and went back downstairs to wait for her,” he said. “She came back down a few minutes later, and she was still mad as hell. She wasn’t watching where she was walking and tripped over some shit halfway down the stairs and came tumbling down the rest of the way. Her purse went flying across the room, and when it hit, a gun slipped out of it.”