Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
“Oh, shit,” Tricia breathed. She could see what could have happened without Henry continuing the story. It would not have been pretty.
“No shit,” Henry smiled. “I landed on that gun that fucking quick, and she had pretty well knocked herself silly falling down those stairs anyway. It was an automatic, I don’t know the make or anything because I had no time to look at it. I found out later it had been her father’s. He’d left it behind when he left her mother, and I have to say in retrospect that he must have had a damn good reason for leaving her. Anyway, I had a hell of a time keeping her from trying to take it away from me, even as shaken up as she was from her fall down the stairs.”
He took another deep breath. She could see he was still pretty emotional about it, and she was willing to wait. “She was hurt, and mad as hell and crying in frustration all at the same time. And, again in retrospect, I don’t blame her a damn bit. If it had been me in her shoes, I don’t think I’d have been any more rational.”
“I probably wouldn’t have been, either,” Tricia replied softly. She’d had a bad experience or two in high school, just kid stuff really, but at worst it couldn’t have been more than one percent of what Cindy must have gone through, at least from what Henry said.
“Tricia, I have never in my life ever been through an hour as scary as the next hour or so,” he continued, “and I already had the gun. I had it in my jacket pocket by then, and I kept feeling around for the button to eject the clip. I’ve never been much on guns, but Dad had Gil Evachevski give me a few lessons on gun safety when I’d been a bit younger, and I finally managed to get the clip out of it. I wound up palming the clip, slipping it up my sleeve, so if she’d gotten hold of the gun it couldn’t have hurt anyone. We came that close to having a school shooting. This was before Columbine, but there had been some others along about that time.”
“I remember hearing about them,” she nodded. “But that always seemed like one of those things that couldn’t happen where I was.”
“To tell the truth, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often,” he replied, obviously in an effort to lower his own emotional level a bit. “Even with all the safeguards that have been put in place since then, kids will be kids, and no matter what they do to stop it, bullying goes on, and she’d been bullied a lot more than most. But, Tricia, I grew up in the newspaper business, and I knew in my gut that if it had happened, or even if what did happen came out, it would have looked very bad for the community at best. A lot of people would have been hurt, and Cindy worst of all.” Again he took a short breather, organizing his words, and perhaps the emotions that lay behind them. “Tricia, in that hour, she told me there were ten shots in that automatic, and she planned on saving the last two for herself.”
“She wanted to make sure she didn’t miscount,” he said flatly. “It wasn’t any spur-of-the-moment thing. She knew it was an option if things got bad enough, so she’d planned it. She just hadn’t planned on my being there to stop her. It was that close, Tricia. If I hadn’t been right behind those idiots who splashed her, if I hadn’t stopped to help, if I hadn’t taken her home and been there . . . it could have happened. Probably would have happened. At least it didn’t, and until now, Cindy and I were the only ones who knew how close it really was. Yeah, the basketball and cheerleader thing was a pain in the ass and it didn’t look very good, but a school shooting would have been so much worse it’s not pretty to think about.”
“I almost hate to say this, but what happened?”
“It’s a little hard to say,” he said. “Not because I don’t want to tell you, but my adrenaline was pumping pretty hard right about then too, and there are things I just don’t have clear memories of. Let’s just say that Cindy didn’t get over being mad, but she at least got control of it a little bit, mostly by crying.”
He took another deep breath and continued, “I mean, it was just as clear as hell that neither of us was going to school that day. Hell, I didn’t dare leave her alone. Guns aren’t all that hard to get in this town. For all I knew there might have been another one in the house, maybe a rifle or something like that, and a few sniper shots into the area where the buses were loading up after school would have been just as bad. I didn’t know, and didn’t dare take the chance. Worse, we didn’t know where her mother was, probably out making trouble someplace, and she could have come home at any time. That would almost automatically have made things even worse because Cindy was about as ready to shoot her mother as she was any of the kids at school. So, as soon as I could, I got her out in my car and we just went riding around. Mostly I let her talk and cry herself out. To make a long story short, and it took most of the day, I promised that I’d be her friend and try to help her survive school. Not get through, survive, there’s a difference. In return, she’d let me get rid of the gun, and she promised to come to me before she tried anything like it again. We wound up stopping the car on the Albany River bridge south of town, and I tossed the gun and the clip as far downstream as I could.”
“So did things get any better?”
“Not really a whole hell of a lot, but enough better that she made it through school. It wasn’t easy. We got a little lucky on that, both of us. Her mother came home not long after we left, and found Cindy’s wet clothes scattered all over her room. She asked her about it after I took her back, and Cindy wound up telling her part of the truth, about getting splashed intentionally, but that I had been nice enough to rescue her. She didn’t come right out and lie but more or less intimated I’d taken her to school and brought her home. That made me a little bit of a good guy in her mother’s book, and what with everything, she didn’t pitch too much of a bitch about Cindy hanging out with me a little, me taking her to school, and helping her with her studies. And that was as far as it got in all that time we were in high school. A friend, nothing more, but a friend who shared a secret with her.
“My parents knew about the deal a little too. I mean, the getting intentionally splashed and my taking a little pity on her. They still don’t know about the gun thing and I don’t plan on telling them. Anyway, what with everything we made it through school. I caught more than a little bit of shit about my hanging out with her, but nothing like as bad as she got. I think a lot of kids thought Cindy and I were screwing on the sly, but we weren’t. We never even kissed. But it made for enough of a cover story that I didn’t get it as bad as I might have. But we made it through to graduation, and I don’t think I was counting the days much less than Cindy was, and mostly for her sake.”
“I’ll bet that was a relief.”
“It should have been,” he sighed. “So we get into the gym, caps and gowns and the whole thing, with Hekkinan calling our names and the superintendent handing out the diplomas. Well, when Hekkinan got to Cindy, and she walked up to get her diploma, a bunch of assholes in the audience, and some in the class, started booing her. I mean, yelling some really nasty shit, too.”
“Oh, god! What a horrible memory to have to take out of your graduation.”
“I will by god give Cindy credit,” Henry smiled, the first smile Tricia had seen out of him for a while. It was good to see as he continued, “She held her head high and flipped a finger out at the audience. I don’t know if Hekkinan or the super saw her, but if they did, I give them credit for not stopping her or saying anything to her about it. But afterward . . . well, it wasn’t pretty. It took me hours to get her settled down enough to go to her graduation open house, which only about five people came to, and left before we got there. Of course, her mother lit into her over that and it turned into a hell of a fight, with Cindy telling her it was all her mother’s goddamn fault. She was right about that, of course. If her mother hadn’t stirred up everybody for whatever the hell reason it was, Cindy would have made it through school just fine. For her part, Cindy wanted to get as far away from her mother and Spearfish Lake as she could and keep things that way. It didn’t start just then, either; she said it in the car the day she got splashed, and said it any number of times afterward. But her mother didn’t want to let her go, for obvious reasons.”
Tricia decided it was time to get honest. “Look, Henry,” she said. “I’ve heard a little bit about this part of the story. Heather and Molly told me about it one day. Cindy was planning on going to Central, but ran off to Alaska instead, is that right?”
“Well, yes and no,” he grinned. “She never planned on going to Central, although she made it look like it. Don’t forget, I was on her side in this and I ran a little cover for her. More than a little. That whole deal was planned out as much as a year before. There used to be a big poster for the University of Alaska – Fairbanks hanging on a bulletin board at school. Gorgeous poster, a photo of Wonder Lake with Denali in the background. I always looked at it and thought it was beautiful as hell in the summer but school up there was in the winter, and that had to be a whole different story. It had these little prepaid mail-in cards attached to it, and well, it got us to thinking, and the whole deal fell out of that. I was the one who sent in the card, and was sort of her mail drop while she planned the whole thing, just to get a good one over on her mother. She sure as hell managed that!”
“That was kind of the story Heather told,” Tricia grinned.
“We figured her mother might try and follow her, so we investigated several places around the country to jump to next. The story that got around town was that Cindy left her mother a note saying she was transferring to the University of Miami. She actually went to Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, but as far as I know no one around town knows it, not that it matters now. I know her mother spent months hunting around Florida for her, and never found a trace of her. I have to say that by then her mother didn’t want to be in Spearfish Lake any more than Cindy did, and as far as I know she’s never been back since. Good place for her, at least somewhere other than this place.”
“I take it that’s not the end of the story,” she said.
“No, really, just the beginning, although the rest is a little simpler. Tricia, I kept up my end of the deal. I promised to be her friend through high school to get her through it. Don’t get me wrong; I was just about as happy to put her on the plane to Alaska as she was to get on it. I thought I had her out of my life, and frankly, I was glad. Being her friend was a promise I’d made, and I kept my promise, although the truth is that I never really liked her all that much. I mean, she was all right, but there were limits. We sort of let it get out that we had a mild romance, but we really didn’t. And, after the shit I took from hanging out with her, I wasn’t a whole lot less sorry to be getting out of this town myself. Without saying it in so many words, we’d pretty well agreed we were out of each other’s lives.
“It was neat to be able to go to college, to see new people who weren’t aware of all the shit that had taken place here. I mean, I could have a life where I didn’t have to watch my step that much. I could find a girlfriend and have some romance, and some of those things I’d liked to have done in high school but never had the chance to do. For two and a half years, I did quite a bit of it. I had a good time in college. It’s a good school with a great journalism program, far enough away that I was away from home, but close enough I could come home if I wanted to. It was just exactly what I needed at that point in my life. Cindy and I exchanged e-mails every now and then, maybe every two or three months, not often, and then we didn’t have a lot to say to each other. It seemed like she was doing pretty well, but I never heard any details.
“It’s pretty expensive to live in dorms, so I tried to save my pennies where I could. I had a girlfriend I really liked, and we decided to, well, share an apartment, which for practical purposes meant sharing a bed. We had an off-campus apartment, and it went pretty well until she found another guy she decided she liked better, and one day she just left and took her stuff with her.”
“Shit,” Tricia said. “She must have been a fool to leave a nice guy like you.”
“I never said she wasn’t a fool, and it wound up turning sour on her pretty quick, but I wasn’t going to kiss and make up after the deal she pulled on me. I mean, she proved what she was, if you know what I mean, and I hadn’t been making long term plans with her in mind anyway. That meant I was stuck with the apartment by myself for the rest of the year. I’d just gotten back to school to start the spring term and was putting some groceries away, when I heard a knocking on my door. I opened it, and it was Cindy.”
She snickered a little. “Your past caught up with you, huh?”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “It turns out her mother had tracked her down in Corpus Christi, no idea how, and settled in to get Cindy’s life back where she thought it ought to be. Fortunately the term was almost over with, so when it ended, Cindy blew town again. Somewhere in there her mother got the message from Cindy that she and I weren’t seeing each other, hadn’t seen each other since she left for Alaska, and so Cindy decided I would be the last place her mother would look. Well, to make a long story short, she wanted to move in with me, and by that she meant moving into my bed, as well, I guess to make up for the trouble. And, soft-hearted or soft-headed fool I was, I let her.”
“Big mistake, huh?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “I once heard my dad say that for kids that age, a push in the bush is worth two in the hand, if you know what I mean. Since Jeri was out of my life, I guess that got involved. So we spent the rest of the time at Central living together.”
“I almost hate to take you away from the story, but how was she paying for all this?”
“Trust fund from her dad, mostly. He was no fool, and actually well enough off, and I guess it was part of the divorce settlement, I don’t know for sure. I mean, we never got into it. It doesn’t matter anyway. The thing you have to remember, Tricia, is like I said earlier, I never really liked Cindy all that much. While we were friends, I never felt I loved her and never told her I did. And, as far as that goes, she never said it to me, either. She was not exactly the sharpest pencil in the box to begin with. In college, she took classes she could pass, not classes that challenged her. I mean, ‘rocks for jocks’ kinds of things, and she sometimes had trouble with them. She was at least smart enough to take classes where she could transfer credits easily with as much moving around as she did. To tell you the truth, Tricia, in the short time we’ve known each other we’ve had more intellectual discussion with each other than over all the years Cindy and I spent together.”
He took a moment to gather his thoughts again, then went on. “But what was worse, I slowly began to realize that she was her mother’s daughter.”
“Opinionated, hovering, has to have everything her way?”
“That says it all,” he said. “And it got worse as time went on, although it still wasn’t real bad when we were in college, not that I would have really noticed, back then anyway. On top of that, she mostly moved into my life on the promise of sex, but I knew from having lived with Jeri that she wasn’t all that enthused about it. I mean, she’d do it, but she wasn’t necessarily enjoying it for its own sake, and was never experimental about it. Anyway, we got through college, and I got a job down in Springfield that I thought might take me someplace. She basically decided she was going with me, and I didn’t have the heart to turn her down.”
“A push in the bush was still worth two in the hand, right?”
“Yeah, pretty much. Besides, I was comfortable with the way things were. When you have something acceptable it’s hard to let go of it for the prospect of something better, especially if there’s no immediate promise of any, just the vague possibility. I spent years caught in that trap of it not being very good but good enough to not let it go.”
Tricia couldn’t help think that she’d heard a discussion something like this before – from Danny, to be exact, back when she’d been listening to him talk about his ex-wife during slow times in the Redlite. Much was the same, although it had clearly been bitterer between Danny and his ex. But then, Danny had been through a very tough break-up and had every right to be bitter. She would like to have commented about that knowledge, but once again it was something she knew she shouldn’t do. “I’ve heard stories like that,” was all she could say. “I guess there’s something like inertia that gets involved.”
“Yeah, social inertia is a good word for it,” he replied. “Anyway, the job in Springfield wasn’t all it was worked up to be, they mostly had me doing penny-ante horse shit like taking a swing by the health department for health reports on restaurants, and then presenting it like it was big-deal investigative reporting. And, on top of that, while they were a little better about reporting of actual local news, they were also pretty heavy into ‘if it bleeds, it leads.’ Well, it was an entry-level job, and you’re supposed to get stuck with stuff like that; once you get a line on your résumé you move on.”
“Sort of like a junior reporter at the Record-Herald?”
“Exactly like it, I knew it before I went in there and I had the same intention as all the kids who have come through here. Get a line on the résumé and move on. We were there about a year and a half, moved on to Columbus for a year, and then to Decatur. By the time I got to Decatur I wasn’t a newbie, I was lower mid-level, although I hated the job and the way the management wanted us to play things. By then, things weren’t going all that well between Cindy and me. She’d gotten even snappier, she wanted to run everything, and could get nasty about it. I even told her to get out of my life and she did for a while. But she came back to me and promised she’d be good, but that didn’t last long. I finally realized she was stuck to me like a leech. I wanted to just be rid of her, but while people say it’s easier to break up if you’re living together as opposed to being married, it isn’t always true. I still wanted to be her friend, and realistically, I knew she needed one, but it was just eating me up and I didn’t like myself very much for doing it.”
“You’re not the first couple to find yourselves drifting apart.”
“True, but the hell of it is we never drifted together in the first place. We were friends, we were live-ins, and off and on we were friends with benefits, but we never really were a couple, and never in love with each other. For the last couple years I knew I had to do something but I could never quite bring myself to do it.”
“But you did.”
“I got lucky. I know I told you about leaving the station in Decatur and moving over to the newspaper. That was a good move; it had potential and might have worked if the management hadn’t changed on us. So I was out on the street. It wasn’t a good point in my life, but at least the way they did it, I could draw unemployment.
“Now, the thing of it is, I knew I had a job up here any time I wanted it. My folks had been bugging me to come back up here for years. I think I told you they have plans to retire and want me to take over the paper. To be honest, I never was all that thrilled with the idea since it’s not really the vision I had of where I wanted my life to go. I guess like most kids I wanted to make a name for myself out in the world, not just spend my life where I grew up. But anyway, I got to thinking about it and all of a sudden it struck me that the one goddamn place Cindy wouldn’t follow me was here.”
“She still hates it, huh? I guess she’d have reason to.”
“Pathologically,” he grinned. “In all the time Cindy and I were together we were up here together a grand total of maybe a half dozen times and never for more than a few days. None of those times did she get any closer to town than my folks’ house, unless you count driving up the state road past the town. One of those times was when my sister Susan came back from being an exchange student in Germany, and the folks held an open house. While that was going on, Cindy went to our room, barricaded the door and didn’t come out till it was over with.”
“So I’ll bet she didn’t think much of the idea of you moving back up here.”
“You bet right,” he grinned. “In fact, she set new records for bitching and screeching. If I couldn’t stay in media in Decatur, there ought to be something else I could be doing, at least according to her. To be fair, she’d finally managed to come up with a good job, she was making as much as I was, maybe a little more, and for the last couple years she’d been paying her fair share of the expenses, which is more than she did when we left college. For years we were mostly living on my paycheck and it got a little slim at times. That didn’t exactly help my resentment, if you get what I mean.
“So, anyway, one day I called my folks up, told them what was happening, and that I’d be up here on my own schedule but that I didn’t want to live with them, and I didn’t want to be a junior reporter all over again. Cindy and I had been buying a house together, but we bought high and when the housing market went to hell we were under water or close to it, so I just signed off a quitclaim deed and left it on the kitchen table. I rented a van with a car-towing dolly, loaded up the van, and left. That was about six weeks ago, and about all I can say is, so far, so good. I really hated to pull that shit on her, because in spite of everything Cindy is still something of a friend, and I still feel a degree of responsibility to her over what happened here back in high school. But I can’t let it ruin my life any longer.”
“I have to ask if you’ve heard from her.”
“There have been phone calls,” he admitted. “Some of them haven’t been very nice, which is why my number next door is unlisted. I can’t avoid her at the paper, but they’ve been dying back the last couple weeks, so maybe there’s hope.”
“Could be, unless maybe her mother gets involved again.”
“It’s a possibility,” he shrugged. “The last time Cindy saw her mother was in Corpus Christi years ago, so maybe she finally got the message. Or maybe she’s dead or something. We didn’t know and weren’t anxious to find out. But the one saving grace in that is I don’t think her mother is any more anxious to come back here than Cindy is.”
“You still sort of love her, don’t you?”
“No,” he sighed. “Like I said, I never could honestly say I loved her, and I never told her that I did. I don’t care for her, but I have to admit I still care about her. There’s a difference. But now that I hope I’ve shaken her off, I’d like to get on with my life.”
Tricia got to her feet. “That’s quite a story,” she said. “It has to be one of the more unusual ones I’ve heard about a relationship and it breaking up. But it looks to me like you’ve at least taken the first steps toward building a new life, and one you may be happier with. I’ve started to understand the same thing has happened to me since I’ve been here, too. I’ve been working toward becoming a doctor longer than you were with her, and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve had some difficulties accepting it, but it’s starting to become a little clearer to me. You can work this out, Henry. It’s just going to take getting used to. Now, would you like it if I’d refill our wine glasses, and maybe we can find something fun to talk about?”