Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
On an overcast and unpromising day in February 2003 at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, a mother and a daughter both fought to hold back tears as they wished each other goodbye, mutually hoping their separation wouldn’t be too long. One of the women wore a simple Army camouflage field jacket, with the black metal insignia of a staff sergeant on the collar; the other wore a multicolored jacket with “DuPont” prominently displayed, along with various NASCAR logo patches, most prominent being a big “24” and a smaller “Jeff Gordon.”
“Please be careful,” the girl in the Jeff Gordon jacket begged tearfully. “I want you to come home to me. Please! Don’t take any chances you don’t have to.”
“I promise, I won’t,” the woman in the field jacket said. “You take care of yourself. I really don’t want to have to leave you, but we knew this could happen sometime.”
It had all been said between them before, in fact, many times before. Still, it was the last chance to say it again and somehow the two wanted to press together and say it once more if somehow it would overcome the reality of their imminent separation.
Finally, there could be no more denial of the truth that the time for parting had come. “I hope they get this business in the Gulf settled so you don’t have to be away too long,” the girl in the Jeff Gordon jacket said to her sergeant mother.
“I hope so too, Hon,” the woman in the field jacket replied while forcing a smile. “You listen to your grandmother and grandfather now, and I hope I won’t be away too long.” She shook her head, let out a long sigh, and added, “Darn it, it’s not supposed to be this way.”
“What way, Mom?”
“Daughters aren’t supposed to send their mothers off to war,” the sergeant smiled, noting that the two were where the line snaked away from the public area and they were blocking progress. “Be good, and don’t grow up too fast on your dad and me.”
“I’ll try not to, Mom,” the teenager snickered. “Call when you can.”
“I sure will,” her mother replied. “Bye now.”
“Bye, Mom,” the girl said, realizing that she had to quit blocking the line and move toward the checkpoint. There’s no good way to make a final goodbye in a situation like that, so about all she could do was to walk around the corner and wave at her mother who stood watching as she approached the security guards. Then her attention was on the guards and their metal detectors; while the interference was minimal, when she was done with the security procedures her mother was out of sight, perhaps forever. All of a sudden, her life seemed just like the airport terminal, awful big, awful confusing, awful lonely, and scary.
She’d made this flight before, but somehow she seemed so much more on her own this time that it wasn’t like the other times. As she looked about in confusion, she heard a woman’s friendly voice, “Where are you heading?”
“Detroit,” the girl said.
“That’s where I have to go,” the older woman said. “My sister is having surgery in Ann Arbor and I want to be there. How about you?”
“I’m going to visit my mom’s mother and father,” the girl replied as she turned to follow the older woman. “I’m staying with them while my mom and dad are in the Persian Gulf.”
The older woman shook her head. “Both of them? Well, I suppose that’s bound to happen the way things are today. Do you have brothers or sisters?”
“No, I’m an only child,” the girl admitted. She knew better than to give a lot of personal information to strangers, but right at the moment she needed some thread of friendliness to convince herself that she wasn’t alone in the world.
There was something in the girl’s tone of voice that made the older woman think that perhaps she was pushing a little too hard, even though she was just trying to be friendly and comforting. She took another look at the girl, who she’d first noticed in the line going up to the security checkpoint. It was obvious that she was a young teenager, thirteen or fourteen at a guess, a bit over five feet but with some growing left to do. Her hair was thick and down her back, somewhere in that indeterminate range between red and brown. She wasn’t willow-thin, like girls that age often are, but neither was she obese. Without the concept reaching words, the older woman thought that the girl was going to have some serious curves when she was older. Her face wasn’t pretty, but neither was it plain; the woman thought that if the girl took care of it she had the potential to be nice looking.
The older woman tried again to be friendly. “I see you’re a Jeff Gordon fan,” she observed.
“Oh, yeah, he’s cool,” the girl smiled. “Mom and Dad and I went to Rockingham for the race right before Dad left for the gulf. Jeff ran fifth, but he really ought to have won.”
“I think so too,” the older woman smiled. “My husband works in the engine shop at Hendrick Motorsports. He takes it personally whenever a Hendrick car doesn’t win.”
“Wow, that would be so neat,” the girl beamed, her apprehension fading. “Do you know Jeff Gordon?”
“I’ve met him a few times,” the woman explained. “Hendrick is a big organization; there are a lot of people there, but I only go to the shop on special occasions.”
“Do you get to go to races a lot?”
“Sometimes,” the woman smiled. “When I go with my husband we have to go as spectators and sit in the stands, so we don’t get to go very often. But we were both at the Rock last November when you were there. That was a great race. It would have been nice if Jeff had won, but Johnny Benson is a good driver, and he deserved to win his first one sooner or later.”
The two strolled down the concourse, talking about the race at Rockingham almost four months before, and in the short trip they got a little more comfortable with each other. Finally, they reached the departure gate. “I guess we’re here in plenty of time,” the woman said. “I’ll bet it’ll be at least an hour before they call for boarding. Why don’t we go find a table and get a Coke or something?”
“That’d be nice,” the girl smiled. “Would you mind if I had coffee instead?”
“Of course I wouldn’t mind,” the older woman replied. “It’s a little surprising that a girl your age likes coffee, though.”
“That’s what my mom says,” she snickered as the two headed in the direction of the nearby food court. “I don’t know why it is, I just do.”
A couple minutes later the two were sitting at a table with plastic chairs just off the edge of the bustle of the terminal’s foot traffic, taking the lids off their foam cups of coffee. “By the way,” the woman said, “I’m Linda, Linda Barrett. What’s your name?”
“Telzey Amberdon,” the girl replied.
“Telzey, there’s a name that I doubt that I’ve ever heard before,” Linda smiled.
“I’m the only Telzey I ever heard of, either,” the girl laughed. “It was the name of a character in some science fiction stories my mom liked when she was a kid. When Dad asked her to marry him she told him that with a name like Amberdon he’d better get used to the idea of a daughter named Telzey.”
“That’s a little different,” Linda smiled. “Have you ever read any of those stories?”
“Most of them, I think,” Telzey replied. “They’re set in the far future. I don’t think that I’m much like that Telzey. She’s supposed to be tall and blonde, extremely smart, and a psi adept. She gets into some of the wildest situations, too. They make me glad I’m not a psi adept, but they’re fun stories to read and I can get into them a little.”
“Do you read a lot of science fiction?”
“Yeah, I like reading almost anything, but I probably read more science fiction and fantasy than anything else. Do you read it?”
“I like reading too, but my taste runs more toward historical fiction and gothics,” Linda replied, then changed the subject. “I take it that was your mom I saw you saying goodbye to.”
“Yes, she’s headed to the Persian Gulf. Most of her unit is in Qatar and she’ll be going there first. Dad’s been there since the middle of November, so maybe they’ll have a chance to see each other.”
“Your folks are both in the Army, then?”
“Yes, they met and got married when they were both stationed at Ft. Huachuca. Dad was in Saudi getting set for Gulf War 1 when I was born. Dad is a Sergeant First Class and Mom is a Staff Sergeant.”
“I’ll bet you’ve lived in a lot of places.”
“We’ve only been at Bragg for about a year or so,” Telzey explained. “Before that we were in Augsburg, Germany. We were at Ft. Gordon before that, and Germany before that, although I don’t remember too much about that tour.”
Linda took a sip of her coffee, thinking about how she wanted to phrase the next question. “Is it going to be hard living with your grandparents?”
“No, it’ll be OK,” Telzey shrugged. “It’s not the first time I’ve had to stay with them while Mom and Dad were both deployed. It’s just, well, there’s most likely going to be a war and I have every right to be worried, even though the folks are in the Signal Corps, and not a combat unit.”
“Yes, you do have a right to be worried,” Linda nodded. “The odds are they’ll come out of it fine, but you never know until it’s actually over.” She could see that going very far down that line of questioning could lead to the girl becoming more morose, so she changed the topic again. “So what do you want to do when you get out of school?”
“I don’t know,” the girl sighed. “I’ll probably wind up in the Army. I’m an Army brat, so that’s what I’m used to. I kind of think that I’d like to be some kind of mechanic, though, rather than be in the Signal Corps like Mom and Dad.”
“You must like cars,” Linda smiled.
“I do,” Telzey giggled. “What I’d really like to do is either be a race car driver or work as a team mechanic or something. I don’t think I’d ever be big enough or strong enough to work on a pit crew, but it would be neat to be able to work on race cars.”
“You sound like my husband,” Linda shook her head. “Just like him. He still races short track, just for fun. He’s never going to be as good as Jeff Gordon, though.”
The terminal in Detroit was quite a bit bigger than the one in Charlotte, and Telzey was worried that she was going to get lost. It had been arranged for her grandparents to meet her at the baggage pickup, and since Linda had been there before she was able to guide Telzey right to it. Linda looked on as Telzey greeted her grandparents, who had been standing by waiting for her to show up.
Once the initial greetings were out of the way, Telzey turned to Linda and said, “Thanks for all your help. I needed a friend today.”
“I figured you did,” Linda smiled. “Telzey, you have a good life. Maybe we’ll meet again someday.”
The two shared a brief hug, then Linda stepped away to wait for her luggage to come down the conveyor. “Who was that?” her grandfather, Cal Griffin, asked.
“Oh, just a woman I met in the terminal in Charlotte,” Telzey explained. “She was a big help.”
Telzey’s grandmother Laurie asked, “Is your mom OK?”
“I think so,” Telzey admitted. “I think she’d really rather not be going and leaving me behind, but I know there’s no way I could go with her.”
The road from the airport to her grandparents’ home in Bradford was familiar – Telzey had been over it the previous summer, when she and her folks had come to visit for a few days, and then at Christmas the last two years. It involved getting on the Interstate that ran right in front of the airport and heading west for more than an hour, and then turning south on I-67. Bradford was the last exit before the Indiana state line. What with everything, Telzey didn’t really have a lot to say to her grandparents; she just looked out the car window at the brown landscape that had a lot more snow than she’d seen in North Carolina, although she’d seen even more snow than this in Germany the winter before.
Bradford was located in that vague zone between Detroit and Chicago where on a summer afternoon the American League baseball fans are about equally likely to be following either the Tigers or the White Sox. It is, however, close enough to South Bend that the Notre Dame fans tend to outnumber the Michigan fans. It’s not a large town, only about 3,000 people, mostly lying sleepily to one side of the overpass at the edge of town. The town would be a lot smaller if it weren’t for the giant General Hardware Retailers regional distribution center located on the other side of the overpass. The building covered over twenty acres and there were many more acres outside that were parked wall to wall with semi-trailers. Telzey’s grandfather Cal was a shipping dock superintendent at General, and her grandmother worked in the office there, doing something that Telzey didn’t understand clearly.
At least her grandparents were waiting for her. After little more than a year at Ft. Bragg Telzey had been making some good friends, including Jamie Sword, who had started to become her boyfriend, not that they did much more than just pal around together and occasionally study together. Though she was an Army kid and used to moving fairly often, she still didn’t make friends easily – but at least most of the kids she’d gone to school with were in more or less the same boat. Other than her grandparents she knew virtually no one in Bradford. Worse, she was just about sure that she’d be the only military kid there – military kids, she knew, didn’t form cliques and in-groups as much as happened in regular schools, mostly because the kids knew that they’d soon be gone. Telzey knew she was going to be an outsider in Bradford, and it promised to be a lonely year, in spite of her grandparents doing their best to make her as welcome as they could.
“We shifted things around a little for you,” her grandmother said. “We decided to put you in what was your mother’s room. You’ll have a little more space there and it’s a little warmer.”
“That’s right across the hall from Aunt Susan’s room, right?”
“Well, yes,” her grandmother said. “That is, when she’s home, and we don’t really expect her to be home much.”
“Oh, yes, that’s right,” Telzey sighed. She’d gotten friendly with her Aunt Susan, her mother’s youngest sister, back when they visited the previous summer, then over Christmas. She’d been looking forward to hanging out with Aunt Susan – but then realized that she was at college, hundreds of miles away. She probably wouldn’t be seeing her much after all.
They turned off Main Street, then made a couple more still familiar turns, then pulled up in front of her grandparents’ house. It was located near the edge of town. Like it or not, Telzey knew it was going to be where she would live for a while, and although it would be all right, it wasn’t home, where her parents were, where they could all be together.
There was no messing around; Telzey had to start school the following Monday, only two days after she’d arrived in Bradford. Knowing that the transfer was going to happen, her mom and grandparents had worked out the details ahead of time, so about all Telzey had to do was show up, and have someone show her around the school.
The school was a lot smaller than the one she had attended in Ft. Bragg, more like the one she’d attended in Augsburg. Eighth grade in Bradford proved to be about like eighth grade anywhere else. There were a couple of subjects where she was a little behind and a couple where she was a little ahead. A couple of classes were in the middle of projects that she had to ignore or catch up on, at the teacher’s choice, but it wasn’t the first time she’d changed schools in the middle of the year. This one went easier than the last one, in spite of being a year younger than most of the kids in her class since she’d skipped a grade in Germany.
Everything went pretty well until the time came for physical education, the next to the last class of the day. The teacher, Mrs. Halloran emphasized high aerobic fitness, so she had the kids running hard then doing group aerobics. That, along with the stress of a new school and worry about her parents sent Telzey into one of the worst exercise-induced asthma attacks she’d ever had, one that had her lying on the floor, red in the face and gasping for breath.
Mrs. Halloran immediately raced over to where Telzey was trying to breathe. “Are you all right?” she asked, a worried look on her face.
“Can’t breathe . . . asthma . . .” Telzey managed to gasp out.
“Is your inhaler in the office?” Mrs. Halloran asked.
“Don’t . . . have one . . . didn’t . . . need it . . . at Bragg.”
“Oh, cripe,” Mrs. Halloran sighed and looked around, seeing one of the girls standing nearby with a concerned look. “Kayla, help me get Telzey into the locker room.” Together the two got Telzey to her feet and helped her out of the gym.
Once in the locker room, Mrs. Halloran got a stool from the office and said, “Kayla, turn on the hot water in all the showers.” She turned to Telzey and said, “This usually works about as well as an inhaler, anyway. You’ll be all right in a minute.”
The teacher seated Telzey on the stool just inside the shower room as Kayla stripped out of her clothes at record speed, then headed to the shower room nude to turn on the showers. The blast of the warm, moist air from the showers almost immediately made Telzey breathe more easily. Seeing that the crisis was past, Mrs. Halloran told Kayla, “Stay here and keep an eye on her. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Sure thing, Mrs. Halloran,” the lean, muscular girl said.
Telzey was still breathing hard, although noticeably more easily, as she sat on the stool. “Are you gonna be OK?” Kayla asked as Mrs. Halloran headed back to the gym.
“I think so,” Telzey nodded, realizing she hadn’t seen Kayla in any of her other classes. “I wasn’t expecting that.” She shook her head, then continued with the admission, “I haven’t had any problems with it recently, so I just decided that I’d try to act like I didn’t have the asthma. I didn’t want to stand out from the other kids on my first day here.”
“It’s got to be tough to be new,” Kayla agreed. “Did your folks just move here?”
“No, my folks are in the Persian Gulf. They’re both in the Army. Well, my mom isn’t there yet but will be in a couple days. I’m staying with my grandparents, Cal and Laurie Griffin.”
The nude teenager looked blank for a moment. “Is your mother Sheila, by any chance?”
“Yes, how did you know?”
“My mom is sort of the permanent class president of the Bradford Class of ’88. She tries to keep up with all the class members. I remember her saying something about the Griffin’s oldest daughter Sheila being in the Army.”
“You have a good memory,” Telzey smiled.
“Not really, it’s just that my mom is kind of freaky about keeping up with her classmates and it’s hard to avoid. She’ll probably be calling you to find out more about your mom, her address and that stuff.”
Telzey’s breathing was slowly returning to normal. “So what do kids do around here anyway?” she asked, changing the subject.
“Oh, the usual, I guess. Watch TV, mess around with their computers, go out for sports. Me, I like to run, even in the winter.”
“I guess that’s out for me,” Telzey shrugged. “I guess I’m not much of a sports person.”
“You could play softball and it wouldn’t give you a lot of problem with your breathing,” Kayla suggested.
“I suppose, but I’ve done it a little and I’m not very good at it.”
“What kind of sports do you like?”
“I like NASCAR, I’m a big Jeff Gordon fan. We got to a couple races last summer, it’s really fun.”
“I don’t know much about it,” Kayla shook her head. “But you might want to talk to your neighbors, the Austins about it. They’re real big on car racing.”
Telzey thought for a moment. She was sure she’d met the people who lived next to her grandmother and grandfather, but it must not have been enough to really make them stick in her mind. “I’ll have to see,” she replied noncommittally.
Just then, Mrs. Halloran returned. “Are you doing better, Telzey?” she asked.
“I think so,” Telzey replied. “I think I’m pretty close to back to normal.”
“You should have told me you have a problem with exercise-induced asthma,” the teacher said gently.
“I haven’t had an attack in a long time,” Telzey replied apologetically. “They did things differently at our school in Ft. Bragg. That may have had something to do with it.”
“You probably should have your folks take you to the doctor,” Mrs. Halloran suggested. “Until then, if you’re in class and feel an attack coming on, don’t hesitate to stop and sit down. If you feel like you have to, come in here and turn on the shower. I’ll try not to push you too hard. Why don’t you go ahead and sit out the rest of the period? You might as well get your shower now.”
Kayla piped up. “Would you like me to stay with her, Mrs. Halloran?”
“If you’d like to, Kayla,” Mrs. Halloran smiled. “I suppose that since you’ve already got your clothes off you’d just as soon stay that way.”
“You know me,” Kayla laughed, going to shut off some of the extra shower heads. “Thank you, Mrs. Halloran.”
As the door closed behind the teacher, Telzey felt like she had to ask, “What was that about your clothes?”
“Oh, no big deal,” Kayla shrugged. “I’m comfortable not wearing clothes in the locker room. A lot of girls are pretty shy about it, but it doesn’t bother me any.”
“I’m one of those girls that’s pretty shy about it,” Telzey shook her head, as she stood up and peeled off her T-shirt. “I mean, I do it, but that doesn’t mean I like it.”
“I don’t see where it’s a big deal. We’re all girls in here, after all,” Kayla replied with a smile. “I mean, in the summer, my friend Rachel and I go skinny dipping almost every day, either in our pool or in the swimming hole in the woods behind her house.”
“I suppose getting used to it helps,” Telzey said, unfastening her bra and taking it off. For the most part she needed it, unlike Kayla, who she remembered hadn’t been wearing one – but then, the girl was lean and muscular and slender, with hardly any chest at all, so didn’t really need a bra in the first place. This was getting a little uncomfortable so she decided to change the direction of their discussion without really acting like she was doing it. “This Rachel, do you go running with her a lot?”
“Quite a bit,” Kayla admitted. “We train together a lot. Besides the stuff we do for school, we’ve run some 10k’s, a half marathon, and a mini-triathlon. We’re probably going to get to run a full marathon this summer.”
“If that’s what you like I guess it’s OK,” Telzey said, pulling off her shorts and panties in one pass, then pulling off her shoes and socks, so she was as naked as Kayla. “I guess it’s not going to be my thing, though.”
“Everybody’s different,” Kayla admitted as she turned to a shower head. “I think the noise of all those race car engines would give me a headache.”
A few minutes later the two girls had dried off. Telzey was getting dressed, but Kayla persisted in being nude. “What are you doing after school?” Kayla asked.
“Nothing special,” Telzey admitted. “I’m supposed to ride the cross-town bus over to the Memorial Park drop off point, but I’m not sure how to find the bus or to find my grandparents’ house from the park.”
“No big deal,” Kayla smiled. “I ride the same bus when I ride a bus, which is almost never. I can go with you and then run home after I show you the way to your grandparents’ house. Maybe we could hang out for a while, and then I can run home. It’ll make a pretty good workout if I go the long way around.”
“Sure, sounds like fun,” Telzey said. It was already pretty clear that she and Kayla were different, in a number of ways. But it was beginning to look like she’d found a friend. Maybe Bradford would turn out all right after all.