Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Not surprisingly, the next morning was a little busy at the office. Along with the patients who had appointments, there were several walk-ins who needed attention for things that had happened over the weekend. It often happened on Mondays, but with the long weekend it was worse than normal on this one. As a result, Tricia, Heather, and Molly were late getting started on their brief lunch.
“So,” Heather asked, “how did the beef stroganoff work out?”
“Just fine,” Tricia smiled. “I got it right the first time, more’s the amazement.”
“I figured you would,” Heather grinned. “It’s not that complicated, is it?”
“It may not be complicated to you but it sure is for me,” Tricia told her. “Maybe I can serve it again sometime. I may give it another practice run to be sure.”
“So did you do anything interesting over the weekend?”
“Well, a little,” Tricia admitted, not wanting to give her office gossips an inch – but it would be fun to tease them a little. “I went out with Henry yesterday.”
“Oh, wow!” Molly laughed. “This sounds like it’s getting serious. Something romantic?”
“Not really,” Tricia smiled at her. “He took me out to his sister’s to give me a dogsled ride. I wound up having to suture a dog that got torn up in a fight, and got dog crap all over my jeans in the process. Riding a dogsled was pretty fun, though. Not exactly candlelight and roses and wine, if you get my meaning.”
“Those people are pretty serious about their dogsledding,” Heather observed. “I think they have to be pretty close to crazy to do it.”
“Well, they’re good people, no doubt about it, even if they are a little odd. It strikes me as a little cold for my blood, but it was fun on a nice day like yesterday. The rest of the weekend I just laid around the house and read Ferry to Kolombanara, Wendy Carter’s book, you know?”
“I’ve read it,” Molly said. “It’s pretty good, if not my kind of thing. The really amazing thing is knowing who wrote it. I knew Wendy before her accident, she was a year behind me. She was just a giddy cheerleader-type kid, nothing special, but she sure came out different from what anyone could have dreamed.”
“My guess is that her accident is what turned her into the person who could write something like that,” Heather observed. “It’s really awesome when you stop and think about it.”
“It really is,” Molly agreed, and dragged the subject back on track. “So, this thing with you and Henry, is it going anywhere?”
“There is no ‘thing,’” Tricia fibbed a little. It was only a slight bit of any kind of a “thing” in her mind and she didn’t have any idea of how Henry really felt about it. Maybe not much; he still was wrapped up in his concerns about Cindy, after all. But Molly didn’t need to know that, or much of what he had told her on Saturday night. “We just live next door to each other, and we’ve gotten to be friends a little bit. It was just nice to get out of the house for a while yesterday, and really, that’s all there was.”
But even as she said it, she realized that while it wasn’t a “thing” yet, there was at least the potential of it becoming one given enough time. For now, it was just nice to have the potential lying there; she’d just have to wait and see what happened. There were a number of problems to be solved, bridges that would have to be crossed, and plenty of opportunity for things to not work out. For now, though, all she could do would be to enjoy it, and maybe expand her own horizons a little in the process.
Over the next few weeks Tricia didn’t see a great deal of Henry. Oh, he was next door, and occasionally they’d say hello to each other in passing, but not often. He was very busy at work, and their schedules didn’t often match up; he was also spending some time out training dogs when he had time, and often in weather conditions a little less inviting than those on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Still, they managed to spend an evening or so together each week. On one occasion Tricia tried another of Heather’s recipes on him, this time roast beef; it came out all right, but Henry suggested some modifications that might help it taste a little better and more individualized the next time.
A couple of weeks after their first excursion out to Run-8 Kennels, they went there together again, on a day that wasn’t quite as nice as their first trip, but wasn’t bad, either. This time, after a little refresher training, Tricia found herself running a team of half a dozen dogs out around the training trails a bit, with Tiffany along with her, at least partly to help with the dogs but to keep an eye on her too. It all went pretty well, and later in the afternoon she was part of a group, which included Henry, that took teams of dogs about that size up a longer training trail several miles to the east and back. It was thoroughly enjoyable, and it still amazed her that she could be doing such a thing. She didn’t think she’d ever be as serious about it as Candice was, but once again it was better than sitting around the house with a book in her hand. While she managed to make it through Ferry to Kolombanara, it took her longer than she had anticipated, but she was thoroughly satisfied with finishing it; it was enjoyable, but she was discovering there were other things to do, too.
The next Saturday was an even nicer day, and she and Henry had made plans to get together and do something. Tricia figured it would be out to Run-8 again, and was looking forward to it, but Henry said if she didn’t mind he’d like to do something else. “I don’t want them to be expecting it of me,” he explained. “Dropping in once in a while to help out is one thing, but I don’t want to make a regular thing of it. I got enough of that in high school.”
“Something else” proved to be a trip to the local ski hill, a few miles out of town. It was not a big hill, and seemed a little run-down. “But Henry!” she protested, “I don’t ski! I’m a Los Angeles girl, and I’ve never been on skis in my life.”
“Had you ever run a dog team a month ago?”
“First time for everything, don’t you know? I’m not much of a skier myself but I made it out here a few times when I was a kid, and I thought this would make something fun and different to do. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and that’s fine. If it does work, there’s a much nicer ski hill over at Three Pines I wouldn’t mind going to sometime.”
Given his own lack of experience, Henry didn’t even think about trying to teach her how to ski; that was what instructors were paid for after all. Although she was an absolute beginner, Tricia picked up the basics pretty quickly. They took a couple of breaks in the rather ratty little warming shelter and snack bar, but by the end of the day she was going down the hill with at least a little bit of confidence. Clearly there was much more to learn, but she found herself looking forward to learning it.
By then, Christmas was getting close. Like other holidays, Christmas had come to mean relatively little to her; especially in recent years it had become mostly a lonely time to get through until she could get back to her studies. In her internship and residency, it had mostly just been another work day, with a little festivity around to remind her that others were getting some warm times with family and friends out of it.
Realistically, this one looked to be little different. While she was starting to make some friends in Spearfish Lake, they all had families of their own. Both Molly’s and Heather’s families were going to be heading to out-of-town relatives for this holiday. While Henry was getting to be a better friend, she didn’t think she was that close to him yet, especially since he had plenty of family of his own in the area.
Therefore, she was very surprised when he asked her to come to Christmas dinner with him at Josh and Tiffany’s house. “It’ll be a big mob scene, it always is,” he explained. “Lots of Archers and relatives, and my folks right in the thick of things, of course.”
“But Henry,” she protested a little mildly, “I think I’d feel a little out of place.”
“No way,” he smiled. “You’re already a little bit of a Run-8 musher anyway, and almost everybody there is going to be part of that crowd in one way or another. Besides, it’d be fun to bring a date to Christmas, just so the folks and a few other people would get the message that Cindy is history.”
The word “date” resonated in her mind, at least when Henry used it for her. While they’d been a little casual about their friendship, she hadn’t been terribly clear that he had been thinking of her in that way. Maybe, she thought, he’s beginning to look past Cindy a little bit, and maybe she’d been part of his getting that way. She still didn’t want to say anything about it to Molly, but maybe things were progressing with Henry a little. If so, that was just fine with her; she was in no hurry, and there were some issues ahead in her own mind she had to think over before they got too far anyway.
But still, the prospect of not being alone on Christmas brought a real warmness to her heart, something like how her heart had been warmed when Heather invited her out to her house for Thanksgiving. That made her think she ought to give Henry a Christmas present, but she wasn’t too sure what to get for him, and she certainly didn’t want to bring the idea up around Heather and Molly, as she didn’t want them reading anything into it that might not be there.
In the end, a decent idea came to her. One day she skipped lunch with Heather and Molly and went downtown, saying she had some running to do, and drove right down to Spearfish Lake Outfitters on Lakeshore. Candice was in the store doing something, and Tricia laid the problem out in front of her.
“Oh, yeah, no problem,” she grinned. “That ski jacket he has is a little beat up. I think he’s had it since he was in high school, anyway. Besides, it’s a little small for him now.”
The bill for the jacket was nearly a hundred dollars, but Tricia figured it was worth it. Candice was even nice enough to not only wrap it, but agreed to sneak it over to Josh and Tiffany’s for her, so it would really be a surprise for Henry.
Tricia and Henry had a light breakfast on his side of the wall on Christmas morning; there was no point in eating too heavily since there would be plenty of opportunity for it later, he explained. In the late part of the morning they got into his car and drove out to Josh and Tiffany’s house, where the family was gathering.
It was quite a crowd, ranging from Josh and Tiffany’s kids, who were in elementary school, up to Walt Archer, the patriarch of the clan. Walt was pushing eighty, but he still ran a railroad engine every once in a while to fill in for his younger son Josh, who was the manager and chief engineer of the local short-line railroad as well as being involved with the kennel. Tricia had known that, and Josh had offered a ride on a railroad engine sometime when the chance arose. Since some of the people present had talked her into running a dogsled occasionally, she wasn’t too sure if she wanted to get pulled into that, too.
Tricia had also met Henry’s parents, Mike and Kirsten, although she hadn’t seen a lot of them. They were respectively the editor and publisher of the Record-Herald, and had seemed like pretty nice people for the little she had gotten to know them.
“It’s really strange to see Henry at one of these things,” Kirsten admitted as they got to talking. “He’s been here so little in the last ten years or so, and never for Christmas. Now that he’s here we still don’t have everyone home, since Susan is in China. Henry could never get Cindy to come up for the holidays, and I know it bothered him some too. But to see him show up with you, well, it just tells me the bad days are getting over with for him.”
Tricia didn’t know how much of the real Cindy story Henry had told his parents, so she decided she’d better not say much about it, although she at least had to acknowledge that she knew about her. “I’m just glad he invited me,” she replied. “The alternative would have been to sit at home alone. My turkey dinner would most likely have come out of a tray.”
“Well, I’m glad there was no need for that. You may be a stranger here, but there’s several ways in which you’re more than welcome to be with us.”
One of the highlights of the day was meeting Candice’s younger son, Cody, and his girlfriend or whatever she was, Janice. Cody was a good-looking, quiet, intense young man who was planning on being both a police officer and a lawyer; in fact, he already was the former, having completed police academy over the summer, and working occasionally as a part-time officer near his college. Janice was no less intense; she was already an EMT, and was working on becoming a nurse. She anticipated that she would have her LPN certificate by summer, and didn’t plan on stopping there. That gave Janice and Tricia a certain commonality of interests. Tricia floated the nurse practitioner possibility in front of her, although not anywhere near as publicly as she had done with Heather at Thanksgiving. Janice had several penetrating and well-stated questions on the subject, which revealed that she’d already been giving the idea a little consideration.
The thing Tricia noticed most about the young couple was what several people had commented: for not being married, they were the most married-looking young couple she could imagine. They weren’t kissy and huggy like most kids at that age would be; they just had an easy familiarity with each other that showed they were very close and very much in tune with each other. They were quiet and reserved, and rather mature-acting despite their age. It was hard to think of them as Tricia knew they were, or at least had been: a rape victim and a young man who happened to be a deadly shot and who had used his skill to kill two men to rescue her; there was no sign of it. Whatever had happened, they’d managed to put those bad days behind them, and that showed a lot of courage and strength of character. Those two kids, she was sure, were going to go far and make some waves on the way there.
The dinner, of course, was expansive. The group filled the large living room of the fairly new house, and the table was groaning with food, easily twice what the people present could have possibly eaten. Realistically, this was a little livelier group than the people at Heather’s; that one had been two families that didn’t know each other very well. This was just one big, happy group that happened to share a lot of common interests and family ties. But it was very nice that they included Tricia as part of the group, just as if she’d been with them for years.
After everyone was stuffed to the gills and the table was cleared and parts of it put away, the group gathered around a large Christmas tree in the living room. Even that was a little special, Tricia had been told; it had come from a pine planting out in the woods somewhere, and it was a family tradition to go out with a dogsled to find it and cut it.
While the core families had exchanged gifts among themselves earlier, there were still gifts to hand out between the families, and Michelle --Josh and Tiffany’s oldest child – was pressed into service to dig out the gifts from under the tree and deliver them to people around the room. Tricia was surprised to get more than one gift – in fact several! One of the gifts proved to be the next two books in the Kolombanara series, from Mike and Kirsten; they had to have gotten the idea from Henry.
Another gift that amused Tricia more than a little was a nice pair of high-tech insulated gloves; the package was marked, “To Dr. York, From Snyder, with loads of thanks.” She grinned at the group, and said, “Josh, Tiffany, Candice, or whoever, give him a nice dog treat and tell him it’s from me. How’s he doing, anyway?”
“Just fine,” Tiffany told her. “Being laid up like that knocked him out of the training cycle for this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go to Alaska next year. I don’t know if anyone’s told you, but when the vet took out his stitches and looked him over, he said you’d done a neater job on Snyder than he would have.”
“Thank him for the compliment when you see him,” she smiled. “But even though he was a dog, I couldn’t do less than my best for him.” A little to her surprise, that set off a brief round of applause.
“Dr. York,” Mike said as it died down – it was a little surprising since he’d been calling her by her first name all day – “with that attitude, you’re going to be a major asset to the community. All of us are very glad you’re in town and here with us today, not just Snyder.”
Henry was very pleased with the ski jacket she’d given him. “You shouldn’t have done it,” he said. “It had to be expensive, but I really needed it.”
“It’s not a big deal,” she said. “You deserve it for introducing me to this group, if nothing else.”
Still, Tricia was surprised a few minutes later when Michelle brought her a large package, marked “from Henry.” She opened it and found a heavy winter parka, much heavier than anything she owned up till now. There had been some cold days when the jacket she’d used in Madison and Milwaukee just hadn’t been up to the job, and a warmer one was on her “to-get” list, even if she hadn’t gotten around to it. “Henry, you shouldn’t have!” she cried. “It had to have been very expensive.”
“It really wasn’t my idea,” he shrugged. “Candice suggested it. She said she thought the one you’d been wearing out to the dog barn looked a little on the light side for Spearfish Lake.”
“Candice, I should have known,” Tricia grinned. “You worked both sides of the street on that one, didn’t you?”
“Hey, what with running Spearfish Lake Outfitters for all practical purposes and being related to this crowd, I learned a long time ago to keep my mouth shut about what people got for Christmas gifts.”
“Well, that’s smart of you,” she grinned, “and Henry, it was very sweet of you, and I’m sure I’ll be using it.”
The gift giving went on for a long time, and after that there was still a lot of standing around, sitting around, and socializing. Eventually there was a buffet to deal with some of the leftovers, and there were still canisters and pans of this and that for both Henry and Tricia to take back home when they finally left.
“Henry,” she said as they were driving down the road well after dark, “that was the nicest Christmas I ever had. I mean, ever. I haven’t had much of anything to celebrate the holidays for, or anyone to celebrate it with, since my mother died. Even back then it was a little low-key, since there was never much money to do it up like some people did it, and it was only my mother and me anyway, ever since I was very little. To walk into such a picture-perfect holiday like this was way beyond the realm of imagination. I mean, this was like it was lifted directly from a Christmas card.”
“I sort of knew that,” he said. “And I’m glad you enjoyed it. But don’t think it was any less heartwarming for me. It’s been years since I’ve had that kind of a big and wonderful family atmosphere at Christmas.”
“Your mother said that you and Cindy never made it up here for the holidays.”
“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to come, but Cindy never wanted to,” he sighed. “And realistically, I understood why. She’d never been able to experience a big deal like this was today, much like you, I guess. And she also had that rabid determination she wasn’t going to come up here. I mostly went along with her to keep peace in the household. Letting her control me like that was a dumb-ass thing for me to do, and there were plenty of times I should just have left her behind and come up by myself, but I never wanted to admit to my family that things were that bleak between us. Believe me, Tricia, having you with me today was like being in a different world, in more ways than one. I guess I hadn’t realized quite what I’d been missing until today.”
“I hadn’t either. I guess I always was a little jealous of people who could enjoy warm family holidays while I had to be by myself. I sure don’t feel that way this year, so thank you again.”
They talked a little about things that had happened during the day until they got back to the duplex. Once again, Henry parked in his garage, and they had to go inside through his kitchen, this time carrying gifts like Henry’s ski jacket and her parka and gloves, along with some of the leftover food; in fact, it took two trips to just get it all inside. Once they got things organized a little, they carried full armloads of the take to her side of the wall. He helped put it away.
“Guess I’d better be going,” he said. “It’s been a long day, but a great one. Thanks for being with me, Tricia.”
“No, thank you for taking me,” she said, taking him in her arms. The kiss went on a long time, longer and deeper than they ever had shared before, and it was considerably more powerful – and it carried a power with it that Tricia had scarcely been aware of until now.
The truth was that while Peppermint Patty had had sex with a number of men Tricia didn’t even want to think about, the number of lip-to-lip kisses she’d had at the Redlite Ranch could have been counted on one hand with fingers left over. One of those times had been to kiss Danny goodbye when she thought she’d never see him again. Patty hadn’t been the only girl to feel that way; it was common, and she’d understood it implicitly. The sex was only sex, after all. Kissing was an intimacy that went to that deeper need even a hardened prostitute did not easily share.
Now, standing in her living room with Henry’s arms around her, Tricia thought she began to understand the power in a kiss. It was more, much more, than she’d ever imagined.
Eventually they pulled their lips apart, and Tricia’s world was whirling at a speed she hadn’t imagined. In a soft voice, she said, “Henry, if you’d like, we could . . . ”
“Maybe we better not right now,” he said, as if he were reading her thoughts. “But maybe some other time. Will that be all right?”
“Yeah, maybe we better not right now,” she agreed sadly, although parts of her were screaming with frustration at the thought. “Some other time, maybe.”
“That might be fine when the time comes,” he told her. “Would you like to do something tomorrow? The weather should be decent. We could go out and run some dogs, or do some skiing.”
“Maybe later,” she said. “I’ve got to run in to the office and do a couple things first.”
“I thought you were closed tomorrow.”
“Yes, but I still have things to do.”
She did. The first thing in the morning, even before the office would normally be open, she was out there. She was just glad the office was closed, because she didn’t want Molly or Heather to see her setting up a birth control injection. She hadn’t bothered with it for a long time since the prospects of the need for it had been so slim. Though it might not happen for a while, or might not happen at all, the possible need for it seemed greater than it had been in years.