Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
It wasn’t until morning – Tricia slept in, naturally – that the implications of Henry’s words as they kissed the night before hit her. Yes, they had gone to the party as a couple – the first time they’d really done something quite like a date. Oh, they’d done things together, dogsledding, skiing, and other such things, but just as friends. Even going to his sister’s house at Christmas had been as a guest, not really a date.
Did it mean something? Did she want it to mean something? In a way she was hoping it did – but at the same time she was left with the question of “should she?” All the old issues from Peppermint Patty were still present, the same as before, and she realized they were holding her back. It was something that was going to have to be worked out before she let things get too serious. She could get along all right for now, but if things continued the way they were going there would have to be some reassessment done along the way.
Even on New Year’s Day things were back to normal. Along about midmorning Henry called and asked if she’d like to go out to the dog barn again; Tiffany and Josh were still behind schedule, and wanted to get more training in, holiday or not. “I don’t think they’d have you running any of the race dogs,” he told her. “But there are younger dogs that need to get out and run, too, and a few of their local volunteers are going to come out and help.”
Even as Tricia lay in her bed looking out the window she could see it wasn’t going to be as nice a day as the last time she’d been out there, but on the other hand it wasn’t going to be close to cryogenic temperatures like last weekend had been. The alternative was to spend the day lying on the couch with Hills of Kolombanara again. She was getting through the book, but there were more books waiting and there was no reason to hurry through them. “Sure,” she yawned finally. While she probably wouldn’t be with Henry much, it beat broadening her butt on the couch.
“Great,” he said. “If you want to give me a call about ten minutes before you’re ready to go, I’ll get going on breakfast.”
“You already talked me into it,” she said. “A good breakfast is better than Wheaties and milk, so you didn’t need to offer it as bait to say yes.”
The weather indeed proved to not be as nice as the last time she’d been out dogsledding; it was warmer than the last weekend, overcast, and spitting snow a little. As Henry had predicted, Josh and Tiffany had her out with younger dogs, and they were pretty wild, although she always had some older, experienced leaders to help keep things under control. There were other volunteer mushers out there, Randy and Nicole among them; Danny and Debbie came later, and there were others. Tricia didn’t go out by herself; it was usually in groups of two to four, depending on how far that team had to go to get their training in.
In the early afternoon, she was paired with Danny to take some teams on a longer run. Danny knew the way; he’d been doing this for years, if not all that often, so she was content to let him take the lead. They weren’t exactly at racing speed, but going along at a fast, steady pace, and she mostly followed along.
They were about two hours out, having crossed a couple of forest roads, when Danny pulled his team to a stop at a huge log building by a small lake in the middle of the woods. Tricia stopped right behind him, and they tied off the teams so they wouldn’t run away. “We need to give the dogs a little breather. I’ve got some coffee. Would you like some?”
“Sure,” she replied. “It would really taste good. What is this place, anyway? That building sure seems, well, awesome.”
“This is the West Turtle Lake Club,” Danny told her as he dug in his sled bag for a thermos. “It’s used as a turn point in some of the shorter races in the winter festival. I spent a hell of a lot of time here when I was a kid. The building is called ‘Commons.’ It was designed by Randy’s grandmother, hell, almost sixty years ago.”
“Quite a building,” she said as he twisted the top off the thermos.
“It’s all locked up now, and I don’t have the key with me so I can’t show you through it. It isn’t used in the winter at all, but Dad and Mom still spend a lot of time out here in the summer. I’ve heard it said this is the most nationally famous building in the county, but to almost everyone around here it might as well be on the far side of the moon.”
“Well, most people around here wouldn’t be caught dead around a nudist resort.”
“This is a . . . ” she opened her mouth, then shut it again as a memory from Peppermint Patty days drifted over her. It had been no secret around the Redlite that Danny and his ex-wife had been active nudists, although it wasn’t something that had been talked about much. “I can see why people might have a problem in checking it out.”
“Debbie and I don’t get out here very often ourselves, maybe once or twice a year,” he replied, handing her a plastic cup of coffee. “My ex’s parents are still active members, and for some odd reason I don’t get along very well with them, especially if I have Debbie with me.”
“Uh, yeah,” she said, getting her amazement back under control a little bit. “I guess I can understand that.”
“Has Henry ever told you about this?”
“No, not a word.”
“Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, and let him tell you,” he shrugged. “I know he used to come out here some when he was a kid, but I don’t think he’s done it since he started hanging out with that old girl friend of his years ago. But I might as well warn you, there’s not a lot of body modesty in his family. His folks used to have a cottage here but they sold it when they bought their house about the time Susan was born. They’re still associate members, as far as I know. You know Henry’s dad is a big nut about volleyball, don’t you?”
“I remember the subject coming up but nothing of the details.”
“Even at his age, he’s still into it. He’s damn good, and so is his wife. It was an extremely big deal around here when Marsha and I edged Kirsten and him out for the sand court mixed pairs championship back when Marsha and I were still in high school. That may be part of the reason Marsha and I got together in the first place. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is to not be too surprised if you’re out at their house some day and everyone starts stripping off all their clothes and heading to the hot tub.”
“There’s a part of me that isn’t very body shy, and you know why,” she shook her head. “But, well, these days I’d just as soon keep it to close friends and family. I’m not sure I’d want to get even this public about it.”
“Probably that’s the way it should be,” he said. “But if you want to go through the place off season some time, I can arrange it. Look, I’m a little sorry we haven’t had the chance to talk one on one for a while, and I got this run set up so we’d have a chance to do it. As far as I can see, you’re doing a great job of fitting in, and you’re turning into everything I hoped for and more.”
“It’s good to know that, especially from you. As far as I know, you’re still the only one who knows, and I’d just as soon keep it that way.”
“As far as I know, I’m the only one who knows, too. But like I told you back last fall, anytime something comes up about it that you need to talk about, I’m available.”
“I appreciate that, Danny. And yes, there’s something that’s been on my mind, and it’s only gotten sharper since Henry and I have been getting a little closer. You know a big part of my past needs to be kept secret. I’m just concerned about what would happen if somehow it gets out. I probably would have to leave town, and that’s bothered me, and maybe has kept me from being quite as committed as I should be. I mean, a lot of people seem to have put a lot of faith in my staying here, and I’d hate like hell to have to not live up to their hopes for me.”
“Yeah,” he said, and took a sip of his coffee. “In time, maybe it wouldn’t be quite as big a deal, but you’re still new enough here that I’m sure it would definitely piss people off if it came out. The only thing I can say is to hang in there with what you’re doing. In time, once people get to know you better, they may be able to look at what you mean to the community and if it did come out, they could see it was something you had to do to get where you are in the first place, which we both know is dead true. Even so, if it came out it couldn’t be any better than pretty embarrassing.”
“That’s about what I think.”
“On the other hand, there’s a point where you can live with embarrassing, and having spent all the time I have here at the resort, I know it. People know my folks are big in the club, it’s no secret, just like it’s no secret I used to spend a lot of time here. It’s become something that’s accepted.”
“Danny, being a prostitute is a little different from being a nudist.”
“You know that and I know that. Most people don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference, at least morally speaking. Ask me, I know. I’ve taken almost all the shit possible over the time I spent here, but mostly back before Marsha. Since I’ve been back I haven’t been a high-profile active member and most people in town have forgotten about it.”
“Well, maybe,” she replied, extremely tentatively. “I’m not anxious to find out, though. But Danny, what I’m really worried about is Henry. I haven’t told him a thing about it, I haven’t even hinted anything about it. We’re just getting started in getting together, but I can already see that if it goes the way it could, well, it’s going to be tougher to be with him and keep the secret.”
“Yeah, that’s a tough one, and it’s something you’re going to have to make your mind up about for yourself. I don’t even want to try to give you any advice on it, but I’ll listen to you talk it out if I need to. I don’t know Henry very well, there’s that much age difference, but from what I know about his family he may be more tolerant about it than you might expect. I could be wrong on that, I don’t know. You probably know him as well as I do by now. Maybe better.”
Probably much better, she thought. From what she’d heard most people were hardly aware of his time with Cindy and thought it was something that ended back in high school. At least that was the impression she had from Heather and Molly, and they gossiped a lot. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” she said, taking another sip of coffee. “I do know that I have to make some decision about what I’m going to tell him about my past before things get too far along.”
“Like I said, I can’t help you with that one, but I’ll help you talk it out if you need to. However, I’d have to make the observation that there’s going to be a point where you have to make up your mind to tell him or plan on keeping the secret forever.”
“Yes, but what happens if I make up my mind to keep the secret, and it comes out anyway? Not only would I be running the risk of breaking the faith people have in me, but also the faith he’d have in me! Look, you know that I mostly enjoyed my time at the Redlite, and that it did a hell of a lot for me. I could never have been a physician if I hadn’t done it, so it’s a big part of why I’m here. But hell, I hate the thought of having to be publicly shamed for doing what I had to do to get here.”
“You’re in a tough spot on that, no doubt,” he nodded. “About all I can say is that I hope it will never come out, and if it does, it won’t come through me. If it does come out, I’ll do my best to defend you, not that my word may count for much.”
“It’s good to know that,” she said. “And it’s good to know that I have at least one friend who knows the truth and will keep it a secret. We may not have to talk about this much, Danny. In a way I hope we never have to talk about it again. But it’s good to know that I can if I have to.”
“I’m glad you feel that way, Tricia. We may have to be secret friends in a way, but I’m glad you consider me a friend for all of that. Like I said earlier, I think you’re doing fine. You just have to find the courage to keep on keeping on despite your concerns.”
“It’s not easy,” she shook her head. “I think about it a lot, and more since Henry has started to come into the picture. It’s funny. Specific memories of those days rarely come up, except maybe when you were involved, but impressions, generalities, life lessons, and especially ironies come up all the time. But this is different and it’s something I have to work out in my own mind before things go too far. Look, there’s something Henry told me I can’t tell you about, but he seems to be pretty good at keeping a secret. Maybe, if I do it right, I could tell him and depend on him to keep my secret too.”
“It’d be a risk,” he shrugged, and held out the thermos so he could warm her coffee. “You know my dad was in the Special Forces a hell of a long time ago, and he always says the only way to keep a secret is to not tell anyone about it. You’re going to have to be the one to make that decision, Tricia. I can’t make it for you.”
“God damn it, Danny,” she shook her head. “There’s been more than once since I’ve been here that I’ve wished that you and I had both had our heads screwed on a little better back at the Redlite, but I’ve thought about it and it would never have worked. At least not with me becoming a doctor, too.”
“Back in the days when I was recovering from Marsha, after I left the Redlite and before I got going with Debbie, I’ll admit the same thought crossed my mind on occasion, too,” he grinned. “But you’re right, it wouldn’t have worked out anything like the way things have, and the way they’re working out now is better than what we would have if we’d done it. I realize it’s still coming together, but on sober reflection I’ve come to believe it’s going to work out for the best all the way around.”
“I hope so, Danny. I really hope so.”
He upended his coffee cup, then said, “I suppose we ought to be getting these mutts back on the trail. Let’s go back on the railroad grade, just to go somewhere different.”
“You’re the one who’s going to have to show me the way,” she said. “And in more ways than one.”
Once the holidays are over with, in cold winter country like Spearfish Lake, there’s often not a lot to do but to hold on and wait for spring, which often seems to be a long time coming. To the degree Tricia had noticed winter in the recent past, when she had been busy with residency and other things, that had pretty much been the way it had been for her.
A little to her surprise, things went a bit more quickly this year since there were things to do. She and Henry spent a day or so each week out at the dog barn, helping train dogs and get trail time on them, and slowly she got to the point where she didn’t feel like she was a complete and utter novice. It was fun, something she wouldn’t have dreamed of doing, and while she still wasn’t a big fan of winter it made the days go more quickly. It clearly wasn’t going to be a life passion for her, and she had no intention of doing the Iditarod or anything else as extreme as that, but it added something interesting to her life.
Henry had said he didn’t want to let Josh, Tiffany, and the others get too dependent on their help, so occasionally they did something else. They made some more trips to the ski hill, and when they both got a little more confident in their skiing, one weekend they made a day trip over to the ski lodge at Three Pines. This was a much more elaborate place, and Tricia was not too uncomfortable to move from the bunny hill over to the intermediate hill. She didn’t think she was going to become a rabid skier, either, but it was fun and different and made the winter go by a little more quickly.
Several weeks after New Year’s the local winter festival rolled around. This was a little bigger than normal deal for her, because one of the central features was sled dog races, ranging from short sprints up through the hundred-mile Warsaw Run. Candice, Phil, and Josh had left for Alaska by then to do their final preparations for the Iditarod; Josh was going along for support, although he’d run the race several times in the past. Tiffany stayed behind to take care of the kennels and other business; she and Josh had switched off the duty in recent years.
Run-8 Kennels had been a big part of the local sled dog racing scene since the beginning. They usually didn’t make a huge effort at the local races, partly to encourage others, but mostly because the best dogs were in Alaska by this time of year. Still, there were sprints of up to several miles in various classes, a couple of shorter races out to the West Turtle Lake Club and back, all on top of the big one hundred mile race itself. After some politics Tricia didn’t try to understand, Henry got volunteered to run the Warsaw Run itself, and somehow in the swirl of preparations Tricia found herself signed up to run a couple of the sprint races, and then one of the short enduros out to the Club and back. She surprised herself and didn’t put up much of a fuss about it; after all, it was all over training trails she’d run before, some of them several times.
In addition, it had been worked out that she’d stay available as much as she could. Some of the other events at the festival were snowmobile races, and they could be dangerous. Gene Metarie told her that between the snowmobile and dog races, along with the general cold, almost every year there were people who needed a little more physician assistance than the emergency medical service could provide, but usually not anything that required an ambulance trip to Camden. He’d borne the brunt of that duty in recent years, but now they agreed to trade off on it a little, if for no more reason than to get out of the cold once in a while.
As luck would have it, there were only a couple of minor incidents at the snowmobile races, involving at the worst a half dozen sutures that were not a direct result of a race. The snowmobile racers were so heavily dressed they were nearly armored anyway. There were a handful of other things, none very serious, and no cold injuries, which was a little surprising until Tricia reasoned that people who came out to enjoy things such as these knew what they were doing in cold weather. Several other minor injuries were handled by the emergency medical service aid station, and Tricia wasn’t even called in to help on them.
On Saturday afternoon the time came for the combined Pound Puppies race and Turtle Lake Run. The former was a Spearfish Lake dogsled racing tradition; the teams had to be made up of dogs rescued from facing death in dog pounds, and it was popular with beginners. The Turtle Lake Run was over the same course at the same time, and was just a little more ambitious. Tiffany had made up a good, competent, and well-behaved eight-dog team for her, with a couple good, but elderly leaders that had been to Nome in their histories; the rest of the group were young dogs, except, touchingly, for Snyder.
Tricia didn’t hurry the team; she just let the leaders find a pace they were comfortable with and let it go at that. She started in the middle of the field and ended there, and was extremely surprised to discover that her team – she had little to do with it, she felt – had won the race by over a minute on elapsed time! That, she thought, was a trophy that was going to go in the waiting room! Maybe she was becoming a musher after all, and thoughts of Nome kept creeping into her mind and having to be pushed aside.
Henry had been out on the trail while the Turtle Lake Run was being held, so she beat him back. He finished in no great time, seventeenth, but Tiffany said it had been a good learning experience for young dogs. Tricia, however, was going to have a little fun with that trophy of hers.
She didn’t do quite as well in the sprint races on Sunday – Run-8 dogs were bred and trained for endurance, not short distance speed, but she finished respectably. Still, the thought from her first time on the runners kept going through her mind – former prostitute, family physician, dog musher. It was coming true . . .
After the races, dog training went on with a little less pressure through the rest of the month and into March. In early March the Iditarod got under way in Alaska, and the laptop on the desk of her private office at work was usually kept on the race standings and news stories. She followed the race fairly closely, and was pleased to see Phil wound up in sixth, and Candice in eighteenth, getting her into the top twenty, which had been her goal!
After that, winter was officially over with, and in actual fact spring was clearly coming. Though there was still a lot of snow around, it was getting soft and mushy in spots, there were puddles of melt water around, the streams were full, and it was clear spring couldn’t be very far behind.
Finally, one day Tiffany announced that the trails were getting too crappy to run, and that except for a few special things the training season was over with. Tricia was a little sorry to see it done, since it had proved more interesting and rewarding than she could have imagined. She felt she was starting to really be a part of Spearfish Lake now, and developing interests beyond strictly medicine, which she thought was good for her.
When she got right down to it, she wasn’t that sorry to see winter behind her; spring lay ahead, with probably more new things to do along with it.