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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 30
Tuesday, January 20 – Wednesday January 28, 2004

The weather outside looked nasty. It wasn’t terribly cold, but it was blowing hard, filling the air and the road with snow. Preach was driving, but he wasn’t hurrying; the road was familiar to Crystal, but it had been a while since she’d been there and she’d never been up it in conditions like this. “It won’t be much longer now,” she told her husband as she stared through the window at the half-whiteout of flying snow.

“Good,” he replied. “I’ve got a headache that’s about killing me. I need to just close my eyes for a minute, but it can wait until we get there.”

The show in Chicago had ended Sunday, but they’d taken an extra day to just poke around in the city, especially for Crystal to show Preach some of the area where she had grown up. The house was long sold, of course, so they only drove past the place, but it was the first time in years Crystal had been there and probably the last time ever. There was no need to go there again.

On Monday evening they’d had dined with Pete and Doris, and the evening proved to be better than Crystal had expected. There had still been some animosity left between her and her stepfather from years before, even after they’d had their re-meeting at Jon and Tanisha’s a year and a half before. But time seemed to have healed that wound; while it appeared they’d never be close again – there was no need to be – they could at least be friendly with each other.

But right now Crystal and Preach were both having second thoughts about the wisdom of staying in Chicago the extra day following the show. They hadn’t paid a lot of attention to the weather report of an approaching winter storm, and now they were paying the price. Perhaps it had come about due to the fact they’d gotten used to taking weather as it came, since in the Canyon they didn’t have weather forecasts to work with, but that was proving to not be the smartest move they could have made.

“Only a few more miles,” Crystal said. “There’ll be a stop light ahead in a couple of miles, and then we turn right.

The two of them had planned on a visit to Spearfish Lake the previous year, but the winter Canyon trip had blown up that idea and sent them racing back to Flagstaff. Now, they wanted to make the visit even more. They’d seen Randy last winter in the Canyon, of course, but it had been a long time since they’d seen Nicole, who had run the Canyon with them twice.

Perhaps even more, Crystal wanted to spend some time catching up with her old college roommate; the last time they’d seen her was at her wedding two years before, right here in Spearfish Lake. Myleigh and Trey had also run the Canyon with them twice before they’d been married. On the second of the two trips Trey had recorded Myleigh’s magical harp playing in the Canyon, and it had resulted in Myleigh’s second album of harp music.

Myleigh and Crystal had been as close as sisters during their college years, even closer than that since in those days Crystal had been at severe odds with Nanci, at once to the point where they weren’t willing to speak to each other. It seemed strange at the time – and still did, for that matter – that two women who were so obviously different could be such close friends. Myleigh was small, where Crystal was large; Crystal was a very physical person, outdoors oriented, while Myleigh was a rather studious, rather neat individual who studied hard and played the harp like an angel who had been listening to too much folk music.

Crystal had once spent a winter living in a pickup truck camper in the cold and snow out in the country nearby, helping to train sled dogs much like Duane and Michelle were now doing – in fact, it had been Crystal who made the connection for the pair. But Duane and Michelle were already in Alaska now, so they wouldn’t be seeing them until spring.

“I guess my blood must have thinned from living in Flag,” Crystal remarked, if nothing more than to cut a little of the tension in the car. “It looks an awful lot colder now than it did when I was living here. At least this minivan is warmer than a dogsled.”

“There is that,” Preach agreed. “I still think you must have had a hole straight through your head, though. At least I was fairly warm living in east Tennessee at the time. Is that the light up ahead?”

“I think so.”

Spearfish Lake is well up in the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and it’s pretty lonely and empty there, especially in the winter, so they were glad to be getting back to civilization. While both Preach and Crystal were outdoor-oriented people, there was a limit and that degree of snow and cold was a little beyond them, at least with them being outfitted for travel and outdoor shows held in warm auditoriums.

Things were a little better heading up the main street in Spearfish Lake, especially at a lower rate of speed; after a couple of miles, they turned again. It was still several minutes before they got to Randy and Nicole’s house, out on the north edge of town on the lakeshore. The lights were on, illuminating the driveway; they were expected, although they’d called ahead to warn they were running late.

Randy had a big and modern house, almost avant-garde. Since he ran the largest local construction company, he had built it at cost during times when his crews were slack, which had saved him a lot of money. He even thought it was a little on the ostentatious side, although he admitted that it had partly been built as a model to demonstrate the work the company could do. Preach and Crystal had been to the house once before, for Myleigh’s wedding, and it seemed vastly different from the tiny rented Girls’ House where they’d been living.

“Here at last,” Preach sighed as he shut off the engine. “Just knowing I don’t have to drive any more tonight is making my headache feel better.”

The door to the house opened, and they could see Randy standing there, with Nicole, Myleigh, and Trey behind him. “Hey, welcome back to Spearfish Lake, strangers,” he said. “Long time, no see.”

“It’s good to be back,” Crystal said as she scurried around, heading for the already opened door, as Preach did the same on the far side. Both were dressed way too lightly for this January snowstorm, so that just added to their hurry. “Wonderful weather you’re having,” she added.

“Just a normal Spearfish Lake evening,” Randy snickered. “You’ve been here in the winter, so you know what it’s like. It’s strange to see you driving a minivan, though.”

“Dad bought it for the company,” Crystal explained as she and Preach gathered bags from the back and started to haul them inside. “Our show booth this year is more elaborate than the one we had last year, so we needed more space.”

There was confusion for a few minutes as Preach and Crystal got inside with their suitcases, as there were hugs and a couple of kisses along with the general round of greetings. Soon the new arrivals had joined the others around a gas-log fire in the big living room fireplace. “So how was the show?” Randy asked.

“About the same as the others,” Crystal replied “After you’ve been a booth bunny for a while it’s all pretty much the same thing. We handed out a lot of brochures and sold a few trips, which is about all we expected to do.”

“So,” Nicole asked, “what are you going to be doing once you’re done with the show in St. Paul?”

“Not a lot,” Crystal shook her head. “Head back to Flag and watch the store for a bit while Mom and Dad take off. They’re going to head out to some island way out in the Pacific that’s supposed to have great diving. So how was Chile?”

“It was a ball,” Nicole smiled. “There is some really fantastic scenery down there, and they sure fed us well. We’ve got a ton of pictures, we’ll have to set up the projector some time.”

“Probably not tonight, though,” Randy added. “There’s too much catching up we need to get done right now.”

“Looking forward to seeing them,” Crystal nodded. “I’ve always heard Patagonia is nice, but we haven’t had the chance to get there yet. So how did the mother-ship business get along with morning sickness?”

“Not a problem” Nicole told her. “I was past that stage long before we headed down there, not that I had much trouble with it at all.”

“Well, at least you two got to go somewhere,” Crystal replied. “Are you going to come run with us again sometime?”

“Not in the foreseeable future, unless you pull off another winter trip. That one we had last year was really something else.”

“I’m afraid that’s not very likely,” Crystal replied. “We didn’t know about that one until just a few days before it happened. We still think it would be fun with customers sometime, but the customers would have to be people we knew were up for it, not just anyone.”

“Let me know if you do,” Randy told her. “But it’s pretty clear that’s going to be changing, too.”

“You mean, with starting a family?”

“Yeah,” Randy nodded. “We’re not quite sure how it’s going to change things, but it seems likely that they’re going to be different.”

“I’m sure they will,” Preach commented. “Let’s face it, a child would be a considerable change in our lives, too.”

“You’re thinking about it, then?” Nicole asked.

“Thought about it, discussed it, yes,” Preach admitted. “Clear back to when I decided to come to the Canyon to be with Crystal. But a decision, well, that’s another story.”

“Let’s face it,” Crystal shook her head, “it’s not an easy decision to make since it would be such a big change. It’s not like my brother and his wife. The biggest change having a kid made for them was that they finally moved out of that tiny townhouse apartment and into a decent house. She didn’t go to work for two months, but she worked from home for most of that. Preach and I couldn’t be away from our kids as much as it would take to keep leading trips. On the other hand, if we’re going to have kids we need to do it in the next few years.”

Nicole started to say something, stopped, and started again: “It wasn’t an easy decision for us,” she said finally. “Randy and I had always pretty well agreed we were going to have kids, but the issue was when. We finally decided that we didn’t want to put it off any longer.”

They spent the next couple of hours catching up on everybody; things had changed considerably even since they’d last seen Randy on the winter trip the previous February. They didn’t stay up late; tomorrow would be a working day for everyone despite the snow.

“I’ll try to be around sometime in the morning,” Randy promised. “Things are slow out at the company right now so I can get away to socialize for a bit, but the way it’s snowing I’ll probably have to be out with the Bobcat cleaning things up in the morning.”

Crystal and Preach were glad to get curled up together in the big, comfortable bed in one of Randy’s spare rooms. After the tension of driving through the snowstorm, it didn’t take them long to be dead to the world.

The house was quiet when they finally rose; apparently they’d needed the sleep more than they thought. As Preach was getting dressed, he looked out the window of their bedroom and saw a wonderland of white; apparently the storm had been worse than they thought. However, when he looked at the driveway, he found that the snow had been plowed out; since Randy had all sorts of heavy equipment at Clark Construction, it didn’t take long to figure out that he’d already been up and busy.

After Preach was dressed, investigating downstairs revealed that the house was indeed empty, so he figured he’d better get started on breakfast. He’d no more than gotten the coffee going and was prowling through the refrigerator when Randy came in and hung his heavy winter jacket in the entryway closet.

“Didn’t know how long you’d be,” Preach said, “so I figured I’d get started. I can throw something on for you. It looks like Nicole left eggs, spuds, and sausage for us.”

“Good deal, I can stand it,” Randy said. “You like me to do that?”

“No, I’m started,” Preach smiled. “It’s not going to be like it’s much work, anyway.”

“If you want to do it I’m not going to fight with you over it,” Randy said, getting a cup from the cupboard and heading for the coffeepot. “Crystal up yet?”

“Oh, yeah, she’s in the shower,” Preach replied. “After the week we had and the drive up here last night, we decided to sleep in a bit. So how did the snow plowing go?”

“About like normal. It’s something I have to do every few days, so I’m used to it. I cleaned out around your minivan with the Bobcat, but I didn’t clean it off.”

“I’ll get to it later. It’s going to seem strange to not have much to do this week.”

“You know, I always thought you boatmen just took the winter to screw off,” Randy said. “I mean, you’re busy enough in season. But you two sure don’t manage to screw off in the winter.”

“There are those who get to do it,” Preach said, cracking another couple eggs into a bowl that already had some in it, obviously to make more scrambled eggs. “But Al and Karin, well, they manage to find stuff to keep us on a short leash.”

“Goes with the territory,” Randy smiled. “I’m in pretty much the same boat.”

“Yeah, but you’ve gotten used to it,” Preach replied. “Crystal is still coming to the realization that when there’s a show on the schedule she can’t take off and go surfing instead.”

“Yeah, but she got her chance to do some of it, a lot of it, even,” Randy replied in resignation. Preach knew that it was a sensitive subject with him, although less so than it once had been, especially after some things that had been said around campfires in the Canyon the previous winter. “Me, one day I was away at college, and the next day I was busting my butt out on a big construction project for a school here. I’d liked to have been able to get out and screw around a bit, do some of the things that Crystal did, but I never got the chance.”

“Reality came early and hard for you. For Crystal, it involves breaking habits, and that can be harder. Ask me, I know.”

The three of them sat around the kitchen table for an hour or more afterwards, talking about this and that, often with awkward silences. A little to Crystal’s surprise, she found that they had trouble finding things to talk about – their lives had drawn apart that much from when they’d been running around together.

“Look, you two,” Randy said finally. “There’s some work I really need to get done at the office today. If I get my act together and head over there now I ought to be able to have it wrapped up by noon or so.”

“You gotta do what you gotta do,” Crystal smiled. “So what’s on the schedule for tonight?”

“Your call. I guess the plan is to have Myleigh and Trey here again, and this time I think Danny and Debbie are coming too. But we could call it off if you want.”

“Cool,” Crystal replied. “Danny was a lot of fun on the trip last winter, and I liked Debbie for the little I’ve talked to her.

“I did, too,” Preach agreed. “I’ve really been looking forward to talking to her again.”

Debbie, a full-blooded Shakahatche from the Three Pines band was a very warm and outgoing person, the kind who becomes an instant friend. She sold advertising for the local paper as a day job, but in her spare time she was also a tribal katara, a word that didn’t translate easily. Danny and Debbie could easily come up with a dozen words that touched on what a katara was, shaman leading the list, but none of them was an exact match. She was very spiritual in her own way, with a talent for making people stop and take a fresh look at things.

Though Danny and Debbie were a few years older than the rest of the group gathered in the Clark living room that evening, the age difference didn’t matter much, at least partly because they had been married the shortest length of time of any of the four couples. However, they were the only ones with a child, their boy Sky, who was a couple of months short of a year old. Debbie was pregnant again, and was due in June, a couple of months after Nicole.

The air in Randy and Nicole’s great room was filled with the smell of pot roast as Danny and Debbie came in, with Sky in a baby carrier. Sky had just recently started walking without holding onto things, but still fell down a lot, so to keep him out of things Nicole had set up a playpen that had spent several years in her father and mother’s attic. Sky was the center of attention for a while, especially among the women, but soon fell asleep in the playpen.

“That,” Trey observed, “appears to be a look into the future around this place.”

“I’d say you have it about right,” Randy agreed. “In fact, I’d say about a year into the future.”

“I take it you guys are still waiting to be surprised in the boy or girl department,” Crystal observed.

“We could find out,” Nicole agreed, “and it would make life a little bit simpler. But at the same time we decided it would be more fun to be surprised.”

“Have you made any decisions about a name?”

“Not really,” Nicole replied. “We’ve thrown around a couple dozen names, but nothing seems to stick.”

“Names are very important,” Debbie said. “One of the most important questions I have ever had to ask myself is, ‘What is my name?’ I mean, what does it mean? Why does it affect me? How does it affect what others think about me? What does it mean for my future? Too many people are much too casual about names, Randy, so it’s good to see that you are putting some careful thinking into this question. But I should point out that in this case the name carries special power, and it’ll be up to you to give the child bearing it the wisdom to use that power wisely.”

“I’m not sure I have wisdom enough to pass that kind of wisdom along to a son,” Randy said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that making a baby is easy and fun, it’s what comes after that’s hard.”

“If you’ve thought it through that far you’re ahead of ninety percent of the rest of the world,” Preach snorted. “The odds are that it’s going to work out for you and Nicole, Randy. You are both showing a refreshing sense of responsibility about it.”

“Glad you think so,” Randy shook his head. “I mean, I look at Nicole and sometimes wonder just what we were thinking about, beyond the fact that we’re both getting to an age where it needed to be done before too long. No turning back now, though. I guess we’ll just have to do the best we can and hope it works out.”

“That’s about all anyone can ever do,” Debbie smiled. “I happen to think the two of you are off to a good start.”

“You guys are pretty serious about this, aren’t you?” Crystal asked.

“Very serious,” Debbie said. “It’s a big responsibility. Most people don’t understand how big a responsibility it is, and that’s where they screw up. We’re hoping to avoid that, and I think we may have a chance of managing it. On the other hand, you never know. When you look at the kind of drunken, lousy parents my folks were, I have to think that somehow I got lucky and turned out pretty good. So you never know.”

“It’s a crapshoot,” Nicole shrugged. “In fact, it’s about the biggest one you can make. I can think of plenty of examples of good people who did everything the best they could and came up with some absolutely loser kids. On the other hand, I can think of people who did everything wrong and came up with a winner, like Debbie or Myleigh.”

“The odds are that good is going to produce good, and bad will produce bad,” Debbie smiled. “But it doesn’t always work that way; in fact, it often doesn’t work that way. To be honest, I’m a little surprised that Danny and I decided to take the risk to not only do it once, but do it again.”

“The biological imperative is toward reproduction, and it’s also toward hedging our reproductive bets,” Danny said. “I know I wanted to be a good father for many years before I met Debbie. My ex-wife was totally against having kids, and in looking back at it I’m just glad that we never did. It would have been a disaster. I think Debbie and I can make it work, though.”

“You know,” Crystal mused, “I’ve been thinking that Sky is sort of an unusual name for a kid. Is that really Skyler?”

“No, it’s Sky, as in Sky Blue,” Debbie smiled. “We wanted to come up with a name that reflected both his Indian and White heritage. We went a long time before we settled on that, and it was actually suggested by one of my katara friends over at Three Pines, we had quite a conclave with them before we settled on it.”

“So how about this one?” Preach asked.

“We haven’t settled it yet, but we’ve still got some time,” Danny said. “Right now, the short list would have to be Hunter, Sage, Talon, or Raven if it’s a boy, or Raven again, April, Autumn, or Aurora for a girl. But that could change.”

“Hunter, even Raven has a good feel to it,” Randy said. “Hmmm, Hunter Clark, Raven Clark, except for the ‘R’ problem. Not bad, except you guys beat us to it, I think.”

“‘Quoth the raven, Nevermore,’” at least for a boy,” Nicole shook her head. “A girl, well, maybe, but we’re not coming from the same place you are, Debbie.”

“Actually, I sort of favor ‘Coyote,’ except that’s a little too Indian,” she smiled. “And Coyote Evachevski sounds a little funny to me, there’s something wrong with the rhythm. I’m not sure I’d want to be responsible for hanging a name like that on a kid.”

“Yeah, especially with the kid growing up with you using Coyote tales for bedtime stories,” Danny snickered. “That could get a little too cross-ethnic.”

“It’s not easy,” Debbie sighed. “Like I said a few minutes ago, a name has a lot of power and should be carefully selected. Fortunately, we have some time to work on it, and we’ll probably have to go to my katara friends again, who most likely will come up with something ideal that we haven’t even thought of.”

They sat around discussing kid’s names for a while, then somehow the subject became how they were going to deal with child care in the next few years. Fortunately there were several grandmothers available who would be able to take care of some of the load.

“Randy,” Crystal finally said, shaking her head, “back when we were having all that fun messing around in college, did you ever think that the bunch of us would be sitting around your gorgeous living room with a nice fire in the fireplace discussing this topic?”

“Never crossed my mind,” he shook his head. “It wouldn’t have seemed real, not that it doesn’t seem a little surreal now. Now, I have to temper that a little by saying that Nicole and I had discussed it a little when we were going together in high school, but to look back on it, both of us knew that we were just talking things around, not being serious about them.”

“I agree,” Nicole said. “Back when we were seniors in high school I think we felt we were all grown up. I know a lot of kids in school think that today. But you know, every time I walk into the high school I keep thinking about how wrong we were and they are – those kids are just kids and seem younger every year. We were just kids then, too. Boy, have we come a long way.”

“I suspect those kids in high school will have their own long roads to travel to realize it, too,” Preach smiled. “I think that it’s part of the cycle of life that we all go through. I suspect that if the group of us gets together in this living room thirty years from now, we’ll be the cycle of discussing grandchildren and retirement plans.”

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To be continued . . .

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