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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 35
Saturday, August 7 – Monday, August 9, 2004

Once the customers were off the bus and had been checked in, Kevin stood up on one of the rafts and said, “OK, folks, welcome to Canyon Tours and the Grand Canyon. My name is Kevin Haynes, and I might as well tell you right up front that we have something a little different going on this morning. I’m not going to be the trip leader taking you down the river on this trip, and the boatmen helping me won’t be going with you, either. Hey, this is Canyon Tours, and sometimes we have to do things a little differently.

“What’s going to happen is that we’re going to be giving you the standard river orientation of things you’ll need to know, and get you all set to go on the river while we wait for the regular crew to arrive. We’re actually part of another team, and we’ll be leaving on our own trip in a couple of days.

“Now, you may wonder why the people who will be taking you down the river aren’t here. Well, they should be soon. They’ve been at the wedding of your trip leader, which took place a few hours ago. They’re going to have a brief reception, and then the team will be driving over here from Grand Canyon Village, where the wedding took place. I’ll tell you that the rest of us would have liked to have been there, since we understand it was supposed to be a really neat wedding, but I expect you’ll hear more about that when you’re on the river. But someone had to be here to greet you folks, and that’s us.”

From there, Kevin started the normal procedure; he’d given parts of it on the White Team trips just for the sake of practice, but this was the first time he’d done the whole thing. Since it was mostly a lecture, with a few demonstrations, Nanci just leaned up against the nearest raft and only gave the slightest attention to what Kevin was saying.

The reason Duane and Michelle’s wedding had been early this morning was that it was the last time that the White and Gold Teams would be off the river at the same time until the season was over. That meant it was the only time Preach would be available to marry the couple, at least before Michelle was getting really big. In order to make everything work out, it had been decided for what was left of the White Team to give the Gold Team’s orientation so the Gold Team wouldn’t be too far behind schedule getting on the river.

Nanci understood that there had been some discussion of the White Team taking the customers down to Badger for the first day out, but in the end it hadn’t worked out that way. Aside from the issue of trying to find an extra boatman who wouldn’t be at the wedding, it had been decided that it might be a little too upsetting to the customers to have a wholesale change of crew at the first campsite. It meant an extra day’s work for the White Team on their day off, but under the circumstances nobody seemed to mind.

This summer had gone by very quickly, Nanci thought. It seemed as if it had barely started, and now it was almost finished. The trip starting Monday would be the second Christian trip of the summer, and it would be her last one before she headed back to Black Mesa for her senior year. Her future seemed fuzzy about what happened when that was over with in a few months.

The White Team had just finished a very good trip, perhaps the best of the summer. In a way, it wasn’t anything terribly special, but it had been a very good and friendly group of customers who had made the trip seem more fun than normal. In spite of the heat Preach had rigged it around so the customers could make a long hike up Havasu Canyon, and this time Nanci led the hike, clear up to Mooney Falls again.

Just to make life interesting, Al had sent along a couple of photographers he knew, to shoot some new promotional material for Canyon Tours. The two women were a lot of fun, and amazingly they both knew Jennlynn! They didn’t say why, but Nanci didn’t have much trouble figuring it out, although she kept her mouth shut about it.

Kevin was just finishing up the orientation and Nanci was wondering how much longer it would be until the Gold Team showed up, when a caravan of cars pulled into the parking lot.

Duane was something of a character, and he liked to get his trips started off with a little bit of fun, sort of like Scooter and her cigars. His technique was to wear a kilt – nothing splendid, just clearly a plaid working kilt, and Nanci knew he sometimes wore it on the river, too. She knew his father was into Scottish cultural activities, and Duane could tell just about every bad kilt joke known to man and often did.

Duane got out of the car wearing a kilt – not the workaday one he usually had on for orientations, but a full formal Scottish regalia, with kilt, sash, sporran, tam o’ shanter, and other things Nanci didn’t have words for, even a pair of dirks in his belt. She had seen the outfit before since he’d worn it to Crystal and Preach’s wedding right here at Lee’s Ferry a few years before. She realized he must have worn it at his own wedding!

As they got out of the car, Kevin said, “And here’s the people we’ve been waiting for, your trip leader for this little excursion, Duane MacRae, accompanied by his lovely wife of . . .” he glanced at his watch “. . . about six hours now.”

“Aye,” Duane replied in a fake Scottish accent. “An’ Kevin, ye’d better be glad we had no flat tire or somethin’, or ye’d be leadin’ this group instead a’ me.”

“Like I told you,” Kevin told the customers, “he’s probably not going to be in the best of moods, and with a wife as lovely as he’s going to be leaving behind, I can’t say as I blame him. In fact, I think maybe I’m just going to beat it on out of here before he uses one of those knives on me.”

“Ye’ll get yours, me boy, sooner or later,” Duane grinned as Kevin climbed down from the raft he’d been standing on, then dropped the fake accent and went on. “Did you get through the orientation?”

“Just finishing up,” Kevin nodded, “I don’t think I missed anything you would have said.”

“OK, good,” Duane replied, then said in a little louder voice, “OK, folks, I’m your trip leader Duane MacRae, and knowing Kevin, almost everything he said about me is more or less true, depending. I did get married about six hours ago, and that’s my lovely wife Michelle, who unfortunately is not going to be going on this trip. We all wish things were a little different, but that’s the life a boatman leads. In spite of everything we ought to have a good trip, although I can see right now that it’s going to be one of those kinds of trips.”

Duane did the introductions as the rest of them stood back out of the way, then changed into river clothes before they left – there was no point in risking the splendid outfit on the river. As it turned out they were only a little late leaving Lee’s Ferry, nothing to be concerned about, although there was a poignant moment right at the beginning when Duane and Michelle had a long kiss as the other rafts started their float down the river. If Michelle hadn’t said something about it the rest of the rafts might have reached Badger by the time they broke apart. Still, it was hard for Duane to break off the kiss, clamber onto the raft and leave her behind. It affected her, too; there were tears in her eyes as she pushed them off into the river. He gave the oars a few desultory strokes, still watching her as they drifted away. She was still watching when they rounded a bend and went out of sight.

“Well,” she said sadly after the rafts were long gone, “I guess we’d better get down to Flag so I can get you guys on the river.”

“Michelle,” Nanci said gently, “I rode up here with Kevin, but if you like I can ride back with you.”

“Yeah, why don’t you?” she replied. “I really didn’t want to drive back alone. In fact, if you’d drive, I’d appreciate it.” She didn’t say it, but Nanci thought Michelle was saying it would be a little easier to cry that way.

The two of them got in Michelle’s car, which had been left right in front of where the rafts had been sitting, and Nanci soon had them on the road out of Lee’s Ferry. She reflected that she’d been down that road considerably more times than she had been up it. Things were silent in the car for a few moments, and Nanci decided that it might be better if they had something to talk about. “So how was the wedding?” she asked since she lacked any better ideas.

“Pretty nice,” Michelle said a little less than enthusiastically. “It was at sunrise at Yavapai Point, and a little group of amateur musicians played the ‘Sunrise’ theme from Grand Canyon Suite. It was something my dad came up with, and I didn’t know it was going to happen.”

“That must have been cool,” Nanci said supportively.

“Yeah, it was. There was a couple looking on, tourists I guess, watching the sunrise. They looked like honeymooners, and the gal was just about green with envy. My guess is that our wedding went off a lot neater than hers. Preach did a great job, pulled out all the stops. I guess he and Crystal went straight back to Flag.”

“I guess that was the plan,” Nanci replied, biting off a comment that she knew they wanted to have a little time alone before they got on the river. She figured Michelle might not have appreciated it right at the moment. “So have you two figured out where you’re going to be living?”

“Not yet,” Michelle admitted. “We’re going to be staying with my folks at least until the season is over with, maybe until after the baby comes, but we don’t want to put them out too far. I’ve been working with Mom and Dad in the gift shop when I’m not in Flag working on the turnaround stuff. It keeps my mind off what I’d like to be doing, at least a little bit of the time. After the season ends, after the baby, well, we just don’t know. Duane has been making sounds about quitting the river, at least partly because he wants to be around for me and the baby.”

“That sounds like him. He really cares about you, Michelle.”

“Yeah, we had a great run while it lasted, but I guess now I get to turn straight. I never thought it would happen, but here it is. It’s kind of like Crystal has to turn straight. You know, we had dinner with Preach and her last night, and it’s starting to sound like they’re going to dump that big trip they’ve been talking about for months, and think about buying a house.”

“I’ve been hearing them say that,” Nanci admitted. “It seems to be more and more a priority with them.”

“Yeah, I guess they’re starting to realize that the Canyon, neat as it is, it isn’t the real world. It’s something Duane and I are learning, too. You’re not planning on staying on the river, are you?”

“Not really,” Nanci replied. “Oh, if it works out that way I may be on it for a few more years, but I realize it’s just something for now, and my future probably is going to be elsewhere.”

“You still haven’t made up your mind about becoming a minister?”

“No, I haven’t, and it’s something I’m still working on. All I can say is that if I don’t go to seminary, I’m probably going to have to do something else sooner or later. Living with Jon and Tanisha has been all right, but I’ll be glad to have it over with so I can go on to the next thing, whatever it is.”

They were coming up on the Navajo Bridge now. It would still be a while before the rafts passed by, since they had their lunch stop and further orientation at Cathedral Wash. Nanci didn’t want Michelle to get even more morose by watching them, so she drove over the bridge without even slowing.

“Damn it,” Michelle said as they sped up the hill on the far side of the bridge. “I would have at least liked to have been with Duane tonight, but I guess it didn’t work that way. I mean, it’s not like we haven’t spent hundreds of nights in bed together, but this one would have been different. Have you ever thought about getting married, Nanci?”

“In general, yes,” she replied, “but to a specific guy, no, at least not seriously. I suppose I’ll consider it someday, but Michelle, I think you know enough about my history to understand why I’m not real anxious about it. All the relationships I’ve had with guys, every single one of them, have either been so superficial that they didn’t deserve the name, or they’ve been destructive to me every inch of the way. I haven’t gotten over it yet, and maybe I never will. I do have to say I respect and envy the way you and Duane care for each other. I wish I had something like the two of you have, even with the problems you’re facing.”

“You don’t even have a desire for a guy once in a while?”

“Michelle, for years I had a sex drive that couldn’t have been much less strong than Jennlynn Swift’s. The guys I’d been living with mostly beat it out of me, and I mean literally beat it out. When I recovered from that and accepted Jesus, I discovered that God had taken away most of it, and I didn’t miss it. In fact, considering everything I was glad to have it gone. Now, if the day comes when I do get married, I trust God will turn it back on for me enough to serve me, but not enough for me to overdo it the way I did when I was a kid. Right now I’m glad I don’t have it because it would make my life more complicated, and it’s complicated enough as it is right now.”

“You really believe in that stuff, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do, Michelle. I know it’s hard for some people to believe, but I do. But honestly, I’m alive because of it, so I have to believe it.”

It was silent in the car for a while as Michelle tried to get her head around Nanci’s words. Nanci didn’t worry about it much; it was clear that Michelle wasn’t ready to listen and hear the message yet. She proved it a couple of minutes later when she finally said, “Yeah, Jennlynn. I met her a few times, but I don’t know her very well. I don’t think I’ve heard anything about her since she got married.”

“I see her once in a while, since she’s good friends with Jon and Tanisha. I haven’t seen her since last spring, but my understanding is that she hasn’t been back to the Redlite to work since she got married, even when Will was in the Gulf. She owns a piece of the place now or so I’m told, but she says she’s hung up her spike heels and intends to keep them there.”

“That’s hard to believe,” Michelle shook her head. “All those years, all those men.”

“Michelle, I have to believe that when Jennlynn got married, God took away enough of her sex drive so she could stay faithful to Will. I also have to think that she confused sex with intimacy all those years, when it was intimacy she really wanted. Will gives it to her, so she doesn’t need sex like she used to. When she got married, she did it all the way.”

“I guess that’s supposed to be what it’s like when you get married, isn’t it?”

“That’s how I understand it. Maybe someday I’ll get to find out.”

*   *   *

Nanci was especially sleepy when Monday morning rolled around. It had long been planned that she would do both of the services at Hillside Sunday morning, so Reverend Miller could attend a family event; she’d done services there a couple more times since her first time back in the spring. Preach had done the service at the Fellowship, as he did some Sundays when they were off the river, but Nanci had taken over for him there a couple of times, too. What with everything else on a short weekend, getting back out on the river seemed like it would be pretty relaxing.

The only down side to the new method of going up to Lee’s and rigging on Monday mornings was that Nanci and the others had to get up very early in the morning, even before they would get up when they were on the river. The only way to deal with it was to go to bed early and try to get enough sleep so they could make it onto the bus, where they usually all tried to sleep some more.

The first time they’d done it, Al had indeed had coffee and doughnuts waiting for them, and they’d helped get the day going even though they didn’t carry the crew through to Cathedral Wash very well. That only lasted for a while; the second time they gathered at the office in the predawn hours, they found Michelle in the barn busy with a couple of camp stoves, making sausages and eggs for sandwiches, with English muffins warming in a couple of toasters. It was no different this time, even though it was two days after her sunrise wedding. She seemed in a lot better spirits to Nanci, who wasn’t very awake at the time. “You seem pretty chipper this morning,” she commented as she tried to keep from spilling a foam cup of coffee.

“Yeah, I guess I pulled it together a little,” Michelle said. “But thanks for riding back with me and keeping my mind occupied Saturday. That could have been a lonely drive, but I finally realized that Duane couldn’t have been feeling any better than I was. Maybe we can make up for it in another ten days or so, and I can stay busy until then. As soon as I get you guys on the road I’m going up to the Village, and I’ll be working in the gift shop until I have to come back down here to get ready for the next team.”

“That may be the best way to do it,” Nanci yawned. “The time will go pretty quickly.”

The sandwiches tasted good, and it was a better sendoff for the teams than doughnuts; Nanci could see that it made everybody feel that the people topside were taking care of them. Pretty soon, they were finished and the last little bits of loading had been done; they climbed on the bus, and Dan started driving them toward Lee’s Ferry again – he’d been making more of the drop-off and pickup runs recently, to ease the load on Jeff. Besides, Nanci knew it gave him a few more minutes with Angie; that had started to look pretty serious.

But rather than trying to get comfortable and taking a nap, which was difficult considering they were school bus seats, Nanci found herself huddled in the back with Crystal and Preach; she hadn’t seen much of them all weekend, but had a pretty good idea of what they’d been doing.

“Nanci,” Preach said, “I don’t know if anyone else has said it, but thank you for what you did for Michelle Saturday. I guess no one else thought of it. She was pretty happy when they left the reception, but I figured a reaction was going to set in sooner or later.”

“Yeah, it did,” Nanci said. “I guess the reality of the situation hit her pretty hard. Her life is changing a lot, and she isn’t quite ready for it yet.”

“I know just how she feels about that,” Crystal said. “It means that we’re growing older, not that we like it very much. Back when Michelle and Scooter and I were running around all winter, we’d take off for months without anything in the way of plans other than a direction to head and have a lot of fun. Now, it seems like it’s getting almost impossible.”

“That’s the way life works,” Preach replied thoughtfully. “We can be wild and free when we’re young, but as we grow older we all accept responsibilities that limit our freedom. Those include things like careers, families, and financial commitments. For most people they come almost automatically, but all of us Canyon Tours trip leader couples have managed to stay free a lot longer than most. That means that it’s harder to accept those limitations.”

“Preach, you accepted a lot of those responsibilities early on,” Nanci replied.

“Well, I thought I did, but really, I didn’t,” Preach replied. “In some ways, I may not have used that time of freedom as wisely as Crystal and Michelle when I accepted the youth pastor position at Glen Hill Road. They used it for fun and adventure, which is not a bad thing. I still had a lot of that freedom, with no family commitments and very few financial commitments. But I thought I had a commitment to a career, and I let it overwhelm the chance to do some other things I would like to have done. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed what I was doing very much and thought it was what the Lord wanted me to be doing, so I was very satisfied with it. But when I realized it was not what I was supposed to be doing, at least I had the freedom to go ahead and do something else. It was nice to have that freedom, but I know it won’t last, especially if Crystal and I skip the trip to buy a house and get started with a family.”

“You’re still thinking about that, huh?”

“More and more,” Preach replied. “It would be a trip to remember, but it is very expensive, and while we have enough to afford the trip, we keep thinking that there are better places we could put the money, like a house here in Flagstaff, for example. What we’d be spending on that for a vacation would make a sizeable down payment.”

“It’s a tough one,” Crystal conceded. “I mean, living in the Girls’ House is all right when we’re only there for two or three days every three weeks, but even if we lead as many Canyon trips next year as are going out this year, it’s going to get a little cramped. And there’s almost no chance that I’m going to be able to get in on as many next year as I am this year.”

“To top it off,” Preach added, “if we wind up not taking the big trip, it’s going to be very cramped to live there. I mean, we’ll still be going out to do shows and things, but we’d still be here a lot. And worse, it’s not really our house; it’s just a place to camp out for a short period. So a house for us is starting to look pretty appealing.”

“Yeah,” Crystal agreed. “I’m even beginning to think myself that a house of our own looks pretty darn good. But maybe this is the last chance, or maybe we’ve already lost the chance. That’s what we’ve been trying to work out for months.”

“It’s getting to the point where we have to make a decision pretty soon,” Preach added. “Even if we decided that we were going to do the trip, it’s not something we have the time to make any arrangements for right now. But we pretty well are going to have to have our minds made up by the time we get off the river this next trip or it’s going to become a moot point anyway. There just won’t be time to set anything up.”

“Boy, I wish I knew what to tell you,” Nanci shook her head, “but I’ll tell you this much: Michelle and Duane have had a lot of fun over the years. But like Paul said in First Corinthians, ‘When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.’”

“Yeah,” Preach said thoughtfully. “That does kind of say it all, doesn’t it?” He shook his head, grinned, and went on, “Nanci, trust you to hit me in the face with that one.”

“Yeah,” Crystal nodded, also deep in thought. “Yeah.”

*   *   *

Several hours later the rafts were set up and ready to go. As usual, there had been no problems with the early morning rigging, at least partly because the whole crew tried hard to make it work since they didn’t want to go back to losing half their Sundays or more.

It was the second Christian trip of the season. Preach gave the orientation; it had been decided on the first Christian trip that he would remain the trip leader instead of Crystal, who was happy to just sit back and be a boatman.

When Preach made the introductions, he said he was Reverend Noah Whittaker, rather than the nickname he usually went by, although he mentioned the nickname and his background as a Baptist minister. He explained that he was the trip leader, and introduced Kevin as the assistant trip leader, but then he did something he hadn’t done before.

“Our next boatman is also our assistant spiritual leader,” he said. “She’ll be giving some of the teachings on this trip, and she gave me a very important one just this morning. This young lady has been an inspiration to us all and you’ll probably find out why before the trip is over. She’s the associate pastor of the Hillside Methodist Church in Flagstaff, Reverend Nanci Chladek.”

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To be continued . . .

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