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Down By the Riverside book cover

Down By the Riverside
Book Nine of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 24
Thursday, May 15 – Saturday, May 17, 2003

At least so far it had been a good trip for Nanci’s first of the season, she thought as she dug gear out of the boatman’s box on her raft, which was pulled up onto the beach. The sun was below the Canyon wall and would be setting soon. Dinner had been a little early, and it would be a while before the evening campfire got started.

Nanci wasn’t sure it had been Jerry who had set up the gear in the boatman’s box of her raft; it could well have been someone else. Whoever had done it, they hadn’t done a good job of it, or at least in a way that Nanci liked very well. She liked to have things where she knew she could find them in a hurry, so everything seemed to be out of place. It had been irritating her right from the beginning of the trip, and she knew she needed a little time to take everything out and put it back where she wanted it. This was the first chance she’d had to do it.

As a result, there were odds and ends of gear scattered all over the partly-unloaded raft, and Nanci was concentrating on what she wanted to put where when she happened to look up and see Angie heading her way.

Nanci hadn’t been keeping a close eye on Angie while they were out on the river, but she’d had the mild impression that Angie had been struggling with her raft a little. Well, that was to be expected; even with all her experience on paddle rafts back east and a run in the gear boat on the previous trip, Angie had far less experience with an oar boat than Nanci had when she’d taken her first trip as a boatman.

Nanci had talked with the girl a little from time to time, but always with others around. She seemed friendly enough and worked well with the customers, but there was something about Angie that seemed a little standoffish, something that set her apart from the rest of the crew a little. To the extent that Nanci had thought about it, which wasn’t much, she figured that Angie still felt a little like an outsider in what was a pretty close crew. Or, perhaps she was a little intimidated knowing that the other members of the crew were pretty religious, although the subject hadn’t come up very much, at least not around the customers. Maybe it was something that would work its way out in time.

Nanci kept on with her gear organizing. Down in the bottom of the box she found a throw bag, a bag loaded with rope that could be thrown to someone in the water or something, and she was disgusted to find it there. It was a rescue device, so why would anyone want to bury it where it couldn’t be found in less than ten minutes?

“So how’s it going, Nanci?” Angie said. “Doing a little gear organizing, I see.”

“Yeah, it needed it,” she replied. “Look at where I just found this throw bag, way down in the bottom of the box. It shouldn’t be in the boatman’s box at all, but right out where I could get at it in seconds. What kind of idiot would do something like that? I can’t believe Jerry would be that stupid. He’s been on the river long enough to know better.”

“Yeah, back on the Ocoee we needed them right at hand because we had to use them now and then. Maybe you ought to not have it in the box at all, but strapped to one of the frame rails by a bungee cord.”

“That’s where I had it on my raft last year, but I don’t see a spare bungee here. You wouldn’t happen to have one, would you?”

“Yeah, I do, but it’s buried. It’ll take a couple minutes to dig it out. I’ll see if I can find it.”

“Thanks, Angie. I’d appreciate it.”

Angie’s raft was one raft away from Nanci’s, but it was close enough that they could talk. “So how are you enjoying seeing the river from oar-boat level, rather than up on an S-rig?”

“I like it just fine. I just wish I was a little bit more comfortable with handling the raft. This is so much heavier than what I’m used to on the Ocoee that it’s taking a while for me to get used to it.”

“I’ve only been on a paddle raft once, although it was on the Ocoee,” Nanci smiled. “That was years ago in what seems like a different life. Heck, it was a different life. But you’re right. From what I remember the rafts are smaller and weigh a lot less, and you’ve got more power to work with when the customers are paddling.”

“If they’re all paddling in the same direction and it happens to be the right way,” Angie snickered. “That happens a lot less often than you might think.”

“It wasn’t the happiest trip I’ve ever been on,” Nanci related. “A kayaker pulled right out in front of us in Hell Hole, and we ran over him.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve had it happen to me.”

“Yeah, but afterwards, he and a buddy attacked Crystal with knives.”

“Was she hurt?”

“No, a friend of hers was right next to her. He did martial arts too, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was all over with in an instant. The kayakers got hauled off to the hospital, and then to jail. Like I said, it wasn’t the happiest trip.” That got her going down memory lane, and to places she didn’t want to go, at least not at the moment. “Look,” she said to change the subject, “don’t worry too much about it. You’re coming along just fine, you just need more practice at a few of the tricks. It would be nice if we had an extra boatman along so you could ride with someone else to see some of the tricks done right, but we don’t. You seem to be picking them up anyway.”

“That’s sort of what Crystal tells me, but you’re smaller than I am and you make it look so easy.”

“It’s not easy, but I’ve had time to pick up some of those tricks. Look, someone I know once said that running one of these things is kind of like driving a loaded concrete truck on an icy road, and while I’ve never done that I think I agree with him. Al says the big trick to running one of these things is to figure out what the raft really wants to do and try to help it along on its path.”

“You know, there might be more truth than fiction to that.”

“I figure that when you pull out onto the water in one of these, you’re going to go downstream whether you want to or not, unless you have an eddy or something to help you, and then you’re still sort of going downstream. It’s where you’re going downstream that’s the issue, and the raft needs some help with that. You just have to plan ahead and be aware of what’s going to happen.”

“That isn’t easy, though,” Angie sighed. “Sometimes there are things you don’t expect.”

“Yeah, there are,” Nanci replied, suddenly getting the insight that Angie wasn’t talking about just running a raft. “But I guess you have to plan for them a little too. Kevin taught me an awful lot about rowing one of these things, especially in the beginning, and I think the biggest thing he taught me was how to look ahead.”

Angie shook her head. “Maybe I ought to talk with him about it a little.”

“It might not be a bad idea,” Nanci counseled. “I honestly think Crystal and maybe Preach are better at handling a raft, but I think Kevin is the best at teaching people how to do it. That’s why Mark is usually with him.”

“I guess maybe you’re right. What’s the deal with you and Kevin, anyway?”

“What do you mean?”

“Back on the last trip Crystal said you were his girlfriend, but I don’t see you two hanging around together very much.”

“We’re friends, but we’re not that kind of friends. Crystal likes to tease us about it. I don’t think she’d admit to it, but I think she’d like to see us get together permanently. I think she’s a little jealous to look at Kevin and me being single and enjoying it.”

“Could be,” Angie snickered. “The two of you seem like you would be a pretty good match, though.”

“I don’t think about Kevin like that,” Nanci sighed. “Look, I have to be honest. Kevin is probably the best friend I have who isn’t family. He taught me how to handle a raft, he played a big part in my accepting Jesus, and he sponsored me for membership in his church. I owe him a great deal. But so far neither of us feel like taking things further than that. That might change someday, but I don’t think so.”

“You’re saying that you don’t want to have him as a boyfriend?”

“Let’s just say that if things were to work out that way I wouldn’t mind, but I’m not pushing it,” Nanci shook her head. “I’m really not looking for a boyfriend right now. I’ve got other things to do in my life, and they need to get done first.”

Angie frowned, “You’re not looking for a boyfriend?” It seemed to Nanci that she was seeking confirmation of what she had just said.

“Not really,” Nanci replied. “Again, I wouldn’t mind if it happened, but I don’t feel any great need of a boyfriend or a husband at this point in my life. Look, Angie, I don’t know what was said about me on the last trip, but I had a rough time before I came to the Canyon. I won’t go into the details, but I had a lot more boyfriends and a lot more sex than I wanted, and none of it was very good. That sort of burned off a lot of the need to have a boyfriend. Way back when I first met Kevin, I said that I only plan on having sex with one more man in my life, and that will be after I marry him. That hasn’t changed in the slightest.”

“You are interested in guys, then?”

“Mildly,” Nanci smiled as she went on storing gear in her boatman’s box. “I expect the time will come when I get more interested in them again, but like I said, I have other things I need to do first. Look, I think what I’m trying to say is that if you want to try to get something going with Kevin, feel free. Don’t think that I have a claim on him, because I don’t.”

“Well, thanks for saying that. Nanci, I don’t know if I want to do it or not. I mean, he seems to be a pretty neat guy, but I’m not sure how much I want to get something going with a guy right now myself.”

“You don’t have a boyfriend, then?” Nanci replied, detecting something she couldn’t put her finger on in Angie’s words, although she wasn’t sure how bad she wanted to press it.

“No, not for a long time,” Angie said shyly. “Oh, there have been guys going by, there were several of them at GCR, but I never really got close to anyone. Of course, I pretty much lived on the river last summer, then I had a little hole of an apartment in Flag over the winter, and well, I didn’t see much of anyone, man or woman. It got kind of lonely, and there were times I really would have liked to have someone around.”

Nanci noted that Angie seemed to be picking her words carefully, as if there were something behind them. She was a little curious about them, but didn’t want to push. Angie’s last statement seemed to offer a path away. “Did you keep the apartment?”

“No, it was costing me too much. I moved into the bunkhouse when Al took me on to help with the rigging a couple months ago.”

Nanci knew about the bunkhouse, although she’d never stayed there. It was a small, unheated room in the back of the shop at the Canyon Tours office where crewmen who had no other place to stay on their days off the river could crash for short periods of time. The shower involved a cold water hose, but at least it had a flush toilet available. She knew that Duane and Michelle, the Gold Team leaders, sometimes spent the night there when they were tired and didn’t feel like making the long drive out to her parents’ place in Grand Canyon Village. It wasn’t used very much, and Al kept it uncomfortable for good reason – he really didn’t want rafters living there more or less semi-permanently or he’d have zoning problems with the city. An occasional night of someone crashing there was one thing, but doing it on a regular basis might draw attention. “I wouldn’t want to make any promises, but you might try talking to Preach and Crystal,” she suggested. “They might be able to make space for you in the Girls’ House when they’re off the river.”

“Yeah, she said something about that, but I wouldn’t want to crash in on their private time. They don’t seem to get much of it.”

“Just a suggestion,” Nanci shrugged. “Everyone else on the team has a place to stay when they’re in Flag. I stay with Mom and Al, of course, although I live down in Phoenix in the winter.”

“I can’t believe you and Crystal are sisters. You’re not much alike.”

“Well, we’re actually half-sisters, so I suppose that accounts for some of it,” Nanci smiled. She was getting close to being done with re-packing the boatman’s box. “But no, we’re not much alike, and sometimes it seems real strange that we both wound up as boatmen. I’m glad I did, though.”

“I hope this works out for me,” Angie shrugged. “It would be nice to not be quite as lonely.”

“Well, feel free to talk to me anytime you want to,” Nanci smiled, still realizing that there was an unspoken message in what Angie had been saying.

*   *   *

A couple of days later they were getting set for their run of Upper Granite Gorge and Adrenaline Alley, which would start the next day. They were just below a medium-sized rapids, but that meant they would have some time to get organized and warmed up before they hit Hance. The just-past full moon wasn’t up yet, but would be soon.

Nanci was heading down to her raft for her sleeping bag and pad when Angie showed up, apparently intent on the same mission; there was no one else around, and the whisper of the rapids kept conversations from being heard very far away. “Bagging it early, huh?” Angie asked.

“Yeah,” Nanci replied. “Tomorrow is going to be a long day, maybe the hardest of the trip, so I figure I need my sleep.”

“Me, too. Boy, I was sure surprised when you told that story about Jennlynn Swift’s wedding at the campfire tonight.”

Nanci had suspected that sooner or later Crystal would maneuver her into telling that story to customers. She had already worked out in her mind what she was going to say about it, and that was mostly describing some of the odd collection of people who had been there, and the uniqueness of the location. While Jennlynn’s name hadn’t exactly been a household name among the customers, most of them had heard of her, and they seemed amazed that there was a connection. “Yeah, it was really pretty cool,” she replied. “That’s one of those things I never thought I’d find myself doing.”

“I didn’t want to bring it up at the campfire, but I’m surprised that someone who is as religious as you’re supposed to be would be friends with her.”

“I am a little, too,” Nanci admitted. “Actually she’s more of a friend with my brother and sister-in-law. They all work at the same place – I mean, Jennlynn’s real job, not her hobby one, if you know what I mean. I sort of went along for the ride.”

“Yeah, but still, it’s not something I would have expected. Hey, I’m sorry we haven’t had much chance to talk, but I’ve been thinking about what you said the other night.”

“About what?”

“About Kevin. He really is a nice guy, but I don’t think I’m going to try to date him or anything. The more I think about it, I, well, I guess he’s not really my type.”

“To each his own,” Nanci shrugged in the darkness. “Actually, we may both be missing a bet.”

“You could be right,” Angie sighed. “Nanci, can we talk for a bit? I’ve got something I really want to talk to someone about, and you’re about the only one I feel I can talk to. Your telling that story about Jennlynn makes me think that you’re not going to be judgmental or anything.”

“Yeah, sure, we can talk,” Nanci replied, realizing that this was going to cost her some sleep. It had been clear that Angie was troubled about something, and hadn’t wanted to say anything. “Why don’t we sit down on the raft tube? It has to be more comfortable than any of the rocks around here.”

“Yeah, sure,” Angie sighed as she took a seat on the raft, and Nanci sat down on the next one across from her. “Look, Nanci, I don’t know how to say this.”

“Sometimes you just have to say it,” Nanci prompted.

“Yeah, I guess, but this is hard. Nanci, about Kevin. Like I said, he seems to be a nice guy and all, but I have to be honest and say that I’m not real interested in guys at all.”

Uh-huhhhh, Nanci thought. She probably wouldn’t want to say anything like that to just anyone. No wonder this is awkward for her! “You’re saying you’re more interested in girls?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess,” Angie replied so softly that Nanci had trouble hearing her. “I, uh, I’ve never, uh, done anything about it, but I always, well . . . my family, they would really blow their lids if they knew. It’s part of the reason I came out here rather than staying back east. The church we went to, well, the preacher is really death on that sort of thing.”

“There’s a lot of that going around,” Nanci conceded. “Frankly, I think a lot of it is a load of bull. A lot of it comes out of the Old Testament, and some of that stuff, well, some people take some of it out of context, or choose to ignore what they don’t like while they make a big deal out of what they do like.”

“You don’t think it’s bad?” Angie asked with surprise.

“To be honest, I haven’t thought about it or prayed about it, since it hasn’t concerned me. But let me guess, a lot of what they were trying to teach you revolved around the idea that God made man and women so they could be fruitful and multiply, right?”

“Yeah, pretty much, although you’re being nice about it.”

“That’s a pretty powerful argument, because it’s how nature works with most everything,” Nanci went on. She knew this was touchy ground, and it would be very easy to say something hurtful if she didn’t watch her words. She paused for a moment and went on, “Look, last winter I went to a lot of different churches around Phoenix when I didn’t drive up to Flagstaff to go to my home church. So I got to hear a lot of different pastors. Some of them I thought were full of it, and some seemed to have a pretty good idea of the Word of God. That was my own opinion and my own faith telling me that, OK?”

“I guess, but I don’t see where you’re going with it.”

“I haven’t actually gotten there yet. This one Sunday I was at a church, and the pastor preached a real pro-life sermon. I mean, he was real obnoxious about it, about how God is pro-life, and that kind of thing. Well, I didn’t want to say anything, but, like in many churches, they had a deal where everyone got to shake the pastor’s hand in greeting and have a few words as we were leaving.”

“They used to do that back home, too.”

“Right. Well, like I said, the sermon didn’t sit well with me, and when I got up to him, I said, ‘I think you got that wrong. I think God is pro-choice.’”

“I’ll bet he just about exploded.”

“You’d guess right. When I was finally able to get a word in edgewise, I told him that God had to be pro-choice or he wouldn’t have given us a choice in the matter in the first place. Then I turned and got out of there before a riot broke out.”

“Good thinking, Nanci,” Angie grinned. “I sure wouldn’t have had the guts to say something like that at home. Sometimes I wonder if you’re as religious as you say you are.”

“I am, or at least I think I am, but I come by my convictions by study and prayer, not by believing what someone else tells me to believe without giving me any rationale for it. I refuse to let someone dictate what I should think about an issue just because it pleases them, while I get no say in the matter. God allows us that choice, or else there wouldn’t be so many separate and contradictory opinions out there. I will say that on that issue, that if I happened to wind up pregnant I wouldn’t have an abortion, but that’s by my choice, not someone else’s. That’s part of the reason I don’t plan on getting pregnant anytime soon.”

Angie was silent for a couple minutes before she slowly spoke, “So what you’re really telling me is that you think that it’s OK if I like women more than men?”

“I’m telling you I don’t know what I think about it,” Nanci smiled. “God allows us to make the choice about things like that. We have to be the ones to decide whether it’s right or wrong for us, and we shouldn’t be too critical if others believe things differently than we do. It’s very easy for people to lay down rules, but since people make them, those rules may not apply to everyone. I’m certainly in no position to judge, since I’m as much a sinner as someone like Jennlynn or anyone else, and more than a lot of people. Now, if you want to sit and talk about it or pray about it, I’m willing. If you want to sit around and throw around Bible verses, I’m willing to do that too, but we probably shouldn’t do it on the river.”

“Maybe that would be a good idea. I lost a lot of my religion over this and sometimes I’m not very happy about it.”

“All right,” Nanci smiled. “I’ll think about it and pray about it, and you should too. Maybe we can have that discussion while we’re on break, and maybe we should have Preach sit in on it. He’s more of an expert on that kind of thing than I am.”

“Preach? I’d be embarrassed to talk with him about it.”

“You really shouldn’t be,” Nanci smiled. “I learned a lot of what I know from him. He’s not very judgmental about most things, and God literally knows I have a lot of things I will be judged on.”

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To be continued . . .

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