Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Even though the utilities weren’t on yet, Frenchy, Monica and the kids spent much of Sunday at the new place, cleaning it up in preparation for moving in. They weren’t by themselves; Mrs. Schneider assembled a work-bee of some Red Cross volunteers and people she knew to help out. By the time the four of them headed back to the Spearfish Lake Inn in the evening, the house was a lot closer to being ready to move in. There was still a lot to do – Frenchy and Monica had taken the time to make up a list of the things they needed, and of things they needed to do to the house. Some of the latter might take a while to get accomplished, but they could see it was going to be worth the effort.
Monday and Tuesday were just as busy in getting the utilities turned on and shopping to fit out the house using the funds from the Donna Clark Foundation. Since the house already came with some furniture, although some of it was rather worn, they only had to spend a limited amount on it. Even that was cut down when the lady at the Thrift Store told them not to waste their money on the rather marginal pieces that were there. “I had a call about you this morning,” she told them. “Go over to Spearfish Lake Furniture and Appliance. Mr. Evachevski said he’ll fix you up with what you need with better stuff cheaper than we can here.”
Needless to say, they made a fast trip across downtown to the furniture store, where Mr. Evachevski was waiting for them. “Here’s the deal,” he explained when they told him who they were. “I’ve got a few things here I’m willing to get rid of for less than wholesale. It’s scratch-and-dent stuff and closeouts, mostly, so I can cut you a deal on them.”
“Everybody has been so generous,” Monica shook her head. “I don’t see how we can take advantage of you like that.”
“Sure you can,” he smiled. “First, I went through a bad patch ten years ago, and people were generous in helping me get back on my feet – not so much financially as emotionally, so that’s something I can pass on. Second, I can get a tax break on it. Finally, I know you’re shopping on funds from the Donna Clark Foundation, so I’m sort of passing on the favor from her. She had a thing about helping out fire victims, and I’ve tried to keep up with it.”
“Donna Clark seems to be the magic word,” Monica shook her head. “I’m embarrassed to say that I never heard of her before Saturday.”
“Well, I wasn’t very old when she died, and that was quite a while ago, but I remember her well. She was quite the character, and I’m sure she’d be glad that I can help you out.”
“It just seems strange,” Monica sighed. “I’ve struggled with so little for so long with very little help from anyone, but as soon as my house is burned down people come out of the woodwork to try and help.”
“People are funny that way,” Mr. Evachevski sighed. “It’s easy for people to pick out a family of fire victims and help out from the goodness of their hearts. They don’t see the day-to-day struggles that people go through, and I learned that the hard way. Just be glad that they notice it sometimes. Now, let’s go see some of the pieces I’ve got for you.”
Not all of the other shopping was at the Thrift Store. After they’d gotten car seats for the kids at the Community Improvement Agency on Tuesday, the four of them took a ride down to Camden in the new truck, and invaded a big-box store to work on the shopping list. When they headed back to Spearfish Lake the pickup truck was pretty well full. It took a while to get everything hauled into the new house and it was clearly going to take longer to get everything unpacked and put away, but they were far enough along that they decided to not spend another night at the Spearfish Lake Inn.
On Wednesday, it was time for Frenchy to get back to work. There were firewood deliveries that he’d planned to make over the weekend that he hadn’t been able to do, so he went out to Sven’s place before the crew left for the woods and started bundling and loading firewood. It took him a while to get on the road, and he was soon glad that he was – several dealers had gotten low, and needed to be stocked up.
He was out at the Southside Mini-Mart on the state road when he finished up the first load of wood. He went in to drop the invoice off with the cashier and noticed a fresh pile of Record-Heralds by the cash register – and took a double take when he realized that the picture on the front page was one with him standing next to Monica, with them both looking on as Cindy held Peter. There was another picture, a smaller one, of the burned-out house that seemed very far in his past for some reason. There was a headline reading, “Kitten saves family in house fire.”
Unable to help himself, Frenchy picked up a copy of the paper and read the story. It was a fairly straightforward retelling of the events of Friday night, but with Peter’s role played up a little. It also told how Frenchy had taken the kitten’s warning and managed to get the family out of the house in the nick of time. It even mentioned that everything the family owned had been lost except for Cindy’s copy of Peter Rabbit that she’d somehow managed to rescue. It went on to say that the arsonist, Lonnie Iffland, had been arraigned on a variety of charges, a longer list than Piwowar had told them about on Saturday, and was being held without bond in the county jail pending an early trial date. There was a box below the story that noted that donations were being taken for the family at the Red Cross, the Record-Herald, and at several locations around town.
Frenchy read through the story and refolded the paper, deciding to get a couple extra copies for Monica and the kids. “I guess I’d better take these,” he said as he handed the firewood invoice to the cashier.
The cashier glanced up at him and said, “That’s you they wrote about in that story, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Frenchy replied a little shyly. “I’ve still got some of Peter’s scratches on my face.”
“I thought you must have been in a fight or something,” she replied. “But you did good with that. I’m glad you were able to save everyone.”
“We got lucky,” he replied. “All of us.”
“Well, I guess I won’t ask you for a donation, then,” she smiled, pointing at a coffee can sitting on the counter. There was a piece of paper that had been wrapped around it, with the words, “Please help the Laughton – LeDroit family, who lost everything they owned in a house fire last Friday.” It was hard to see through the slot cut in the plastic top, but Frenchy could see some bills inside the can.
Frenchy shook his head. “Everybody has been so amazingly good to Monica and the kids,” he said. “I just don’t know how we’ll ever be able to thank everybody.”
Frenchy paid for the papers and headed back out to the truck. Since it was getting close to noon, he decided it would be a good idea to go over to the new house, see if there was anything for lunch, and give the papers to Monica.
“That explains a lot,” Monica said when she saw the papers, and after Frenchy had told her about the donation can. “Mrs. Schneider came by a while ago and said that there were some donations coming in for us, and that she expected more. She dropped off some cash and some checks, and there’s a note for you. I didn’t open it, though.” She went to the kitchen table and brought an envelope over to Frenchy.
“Jeez,” he said as he ripped open the envelope. “Not that I’m not grateful for everything everyone has done for us, but I’m still surprised.” Inside was a note that read, “Frenchy, we’d sort of hoped that there was a good person inside you somewhere, and we guess there was. You did good. Buy something for Monica and the kids, and especially Peter.” The note was signed, “Alan, Summer, Jack, Vixen, Lyle, and Ashley.” Attached to the note was a check for a hundred dollars.
“Good God,” Frenchy said, shaking his head and passing the note and check to Monica. “Those are about the last people I’d have expected to give us a donation.”
“They didn’t like you?” she smiled.
“Alan and Jack were right near the head of the list of people whose asses I wanted to kick when I got out of jail,” he said. “I spent several months looking forward to pounding the shit out of them. Then, the six of them ganged up on me right after I got out and made it pretty clear to me that doing something to any of them was a ticket right back to jail.” He shook his head, and let out a sigh. “I guess I’m glad I listened to them.”
“I’m glad you did too,” she grinned. “Glad in more ways than one.”
“That’s all kid stuff that I’m glad to have behind me,” he said. “Anyway, have we got anything around for lunch?”
“I can find something,” she said. “But when you get back tonight I’d like to take the truck and go over to the Super Market for some serious shopping.”
Frenchy was still thinking about the note and the check when he headed back out to Sven’s a little later and began to make up more bundles of firewood. He remembered the day all too well, the humiliation of having to run away from Jahnke and his friends. It had been the capstone of his learning that things weren’t the way they had been before he’d gone to jail. It had been a low point of his life, and everything had gone up from there – not that things were perfect now, but he was a lot better off than he’d have been if they hadn’t done some explaining of reality to him.
The thoughts about that day and how far he had come kept coming back to him over the course of the day. The next day he had some more firewood deliveries, and figured on going out in the woods to work with the crew in the afternoon. He was cutting down side streets to get to his first delivery when he realized he wasn’t far away from Jahnke’s house, and on a whim he decided to stop by and see if he was home.
It turned out that he was – there was a Jeep Cherokee sitting outside with a rental trailer attached, and Alan, Summer, Jack and Vixen were busy loading it. Frenchy pulled to a stop by the curb, and wondering a little if he should really be doing this, he shut off the truck and got out. “Looks like the bunch of you are getting set to leave town,” he called in a friendly voice.
“Yeah, we are,” Alan called back, setting down what he was carrying in the trailer and starting toward him. Jack and the others soon joined him. “We’re getting set to head off to college in the morning. We want to get into our new apartment a few days early to get set up.”
“Believe me, I know how that goes,” Frenchy said. “I just wanted to stop off and thank you for the check you sent for Monica and the kids and me. That and the note were really unexpected.”
“Unexpected or not, it was deserved,” Jack said. “Like we said in the note, we kind of thought there was a good person inside you, and we’re glad you managed to find him.”
“It wasn’t easy,” Frenchy said, not wanting to get into that subject very far. He decided to change the subject. “So where are the bunch of you going to college?”
“Southern Michigan University, almost at the far end of the state,” Alan told him. “We’re going to be renting an apartment from Cody and Jan Archer. It’s going to be a little cramped with the four of us living there, but we think we’re going to be able to manage.”
“Are Lyle and Ashley going there too?”
“No, they’re going to another place, Meriwether College. Lyle is going to be the kicker on their football team. It’s not too far from where we’re going, so we’re going to try to make it to a game or two.”
“That’s really a surprise,” Frenchy smiled. “He never went out for football or anything, he said his asthma wouldn’t let him.”
“He still has it pretty bad,” Jack said. “But he managed to work around it last fall. It turned out to be a good deal for him.”
“Well, the best of luck to you guys,” Frenchy said sincerely. “Monica and I got to be pretty good friends with Cody and Jan last month. They’re great people, and they’ll probably keep you on the right track.”
“We think pretty well of them too,” Alan told him.
“You keep it together,” Vixen added. “And be nice to that kitty. He must really be something special.”
“He really is,” Frenchy told her. “I never had a pet till now, even though he’s really Cindy’s, but I’ve realized how much I missed. I have to be getting to work. Let me know how it goes for you.”
Frenchy got back in the truck and headed for the new house, still amazed at the friendliness of the brief meeting. He was right – all the anger he’d held for those kids really had been high school stuff, and he was glad to have it behind him.
The work in the woods with the crew that afternoon was hard, but routine; he’d become used to it months before. The heat of the previous week had backed off, and the bugs had backed off a lot, so it was actually pleasurable to be busy with the crew, getting some exercise and feeling like he was earning his keep. The next few months promised to be good ones; he knew that keeping the dealers supplied with firewood was going to be easing off once Labor Day was past. He looked forward to being out there with the crew more during what he knew was the best time of the year to be in the woods.
He was tired when he got back to the house, but pleasantly tired after a satisfying day’s work. After dinner, he was sitting on the couch reading one of Cindy’s new books to Chad and her. Cindy could read it perfectly well by herself, but she still enjoyed the closeness of being read to, and he enjoyed reading to her even more. He was a little surprised to hear a knocking on the door, and more surprised when Monica announced, “Frenchy, your mother wants to see you.”
He was tempted to say “What if I don’t want to see her,” but decided he’d better talk to her. He left the kids on the couch and went to the front door, figuring that his mother was there to beg for money to dump in the slot machines or something – she must have seen the donation cans around town and figured there was an angle. He managed to greet her with a “What do you want?” in not the friendliest tone of voice possible.
“I just came to talk to you,” she said quietly. “I know we weren’t on the best of terms when you left and I can’t blame you. Your father was really being an asshole back then, and I guess I was too. But that’s all in the past, and I thought I might as well let you know that I’m leaving town.”
“Leaving?” he said in surprise. “What happened?”
“I’m losing the house,” she told him. “I can’t keep up the payments by myself. I owe more on it than it’s worth anyway, and I figure I might just as well let the bank have it. Besides, I want to be long gone and far away when your father gets out. I know it was hard for you to live with him and it hasn’t been any picnic for me, either. I’ve thought about it since he went to prison, and I realize that this is the best chance to get away that I’ll ever have.”
“You might be right,” he nodded, surprised at the revelation. “I know that getting out of there and away from him was one of the smarter things I’ve ever done. But what about your job?”
“I’m leaving that too,” she said. “I really hate to give it up since it’s been the one thing that’s been keeping me going, but since your father went away I’ve been able to save up a few dollars to make my escape. I sold one of the cars too, so that’ll help. When your father gets out there won’t be much here for him to come back to, so there’s at least a chance that he won’t be coming back at all. I don’t know what more I can say. I don’t know where he’s going to go, but maybe it won’t be here, so you and Monica may be able to get along without him bothering you.”
“Have you figured out what you’re going to do?”
“More or less,” she said. “Your Aunt Ellen just got divorced and is living by herself, and she’s going to take me in while I get a divorce. I hope to have it completed by the time he gets out. I don’t want him to know where I’m at, though, so I’d ask that you don’t tell him.”
“I haven’t got anything else to say to him besides ‘Stay out of my life,’ so there’s no reason for me to tell him that.” He let out a big sigh and said, “Mom, I don’t know what I can do, but if there’s anything I can do to help you, all you have to do is ask.”
“No, I don’t want to have to ask you that,” she said. “I think that you’ve already been asked more than you should have been. I thought the way your father was treating you when you got out of jail was all wrong, but he was going to do what he was going to do and that was that. You know how he was.”
“Yeah,” Frenchy sighed. “All too well. How soon are you going to be leaving?”
“As soon as I get my paycheck tomorrow and get it cashed. It’s a long drive to get out to Ellen’s but I hope to be there by Monday. She says she has a job lined up for me. It’s not the greatest job in the world, but it’ll be outside of Spearfish Lake. I’m not going to be sorry to see this place behind me.”
“I know about that,” he nodded. “I’ve felt that way a lot the last few months, but now I’m in no hurry to leave. I seem to be building something for myself here.”
“I see,” she smiled. “You and Monica seem to have a pretty nice place here, and I hope things will work out for you.”
They exchanged a few more sentences, but soon there wasn’t much else to say. A little to his surprise, they shared a hug before she went out, got in the car, and drove away. “Well, son of a gun,” he said to Monica, who had been standing by silently during the exchange. “I never expected that to happen, either. But I have to say it’s probably the best thing for her. I hadn’t really thought about it but I’d guess my dad will be worse than ever when he gets out.”
“Could be,” she said. “Probably not as bad as Lonnie, but maybe she’s right and he won’t come back.”
“I hope not,” he said. “I’m thinking that he probably was the one who had the gambling bug and she just went along with it because she couldn’t think of anything else to do. Getting away while she can strikes me as a good move.”
“You were getting set to leave when your probation ran out, weren’t you?” she asked. “You never said much about it but I figured that was what you had in mind.”
“Pretty much, at least when I first met you,” he grinned. “But then things changed little by little. Now, I’m not particularly anxious to leave unless I have to.”
“I used to dream about getting out of this town too,” she sighed. “But I could never get together enough to make the leap, and I had no idea where to go if I did, and at least I had a few things going for me here, including my special friends. Getting out of town really crossed my mind when we were watching the house burn Friday night, that maybe this was the time to make a break for it, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if you’d gone with me. But then, well, Saturday happened, and Monday and all the rest. Maybe this isn’t such a bad place to live after all. There might be a future here in spite of everything.”
“Seems like it to me,” he said when a stray thought crossed his mind. “You know,” he said, “first thing in the morning, what you ought to do is go down to the Super Market and apply for her job. I don’t know that you’d start at what she was making, but if they put you on full time it wouldn’t be any less than I’m making. That would make things a lot easier all around.”
“That thought crossed my mind too,” she said. “But there’d have to be hundreds of applicants for a job like that. I wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“Maybe, but maybe not,” he grinned. “You still have the ‘burned out of your house’ card to play, and my guess is that you can’t play it much longer. Maybe you should try to play it while you still can, while your face is still on the front page of the Record-Herald.”
“You might be right,” she said. “We’ve gotten enough sympathy out of it that I’d almost feel a little guilty doing it, but the sympathy will run out all too soon and we’re going to be back to struggling. On the other hand, I don’t know what I’d do about the kids if I got it.”
“Day care,” he said. “The nice thing is that if you get the job you could afford to pay for it and still have money left over. Besides, Cindy will be back in school in a couple weeks, so that cuts the problem in half. The hours Mom worked tended to be a little odd, but we can probably juggle things around to get the kids where they need to be. If we can make that work, it’s not so far over to the Super Market that you couldn’t walk it if you had to.”
“Well, I don’t know,” she shook her head. “I suppose it can’t hurt to look into it.”