–Variety of eBook formats
–6 x 9 in. paperback; 400 pages
EB ISBN: 978-0985157241
PB ISBN: 978-1481889292
“If you had virtually unlimited resources and a pristinely practicable imagination, and a knack for turning air into butter, what do you suppose you’d do next?”
Drummond Group Director
Just A Curtain is the remarkable, fast-paced gateway to bothThe Elf series and the grander epic recorded in J. L. Lawson’s other works: The Donkey and The Wall trilogy and The Curious Voyages of the Anna Virginia Saga.
Just A Curtain chronicles the remarkable life and achievements of Dashiel Drummond and the capable group of people he gathers around him to make a change for the better in the world in which he finds himself. A coming of age story, orphaned at sixteen, he rises through the angst of adolescence to the challenge of fulfilling the promise of his potential—from ranch hand and welder to the pre-eminent global entrepreneur and builder of starships.
Read an excerpt below or read it at the Voyager Press page:
Excerpt from Just A Curtain —- “Too Bad About That” ©2012 J.L.Lawson
“No comment…” I heard her repeat without a pause, and probably ready to repeat it again if necessary. She did. “Again, no comment! You people really need to find another angle to your stories. Richard and Elena Drummond were our friends. End of story!” and she slammed the gate to the ranch behind her, got back into the SUV and probably sat silent until she, her kids and husband reached the safety of the house. Now it’s just my house; the only one on the Drummond Ranch.
Set in the rising lands of the Wind River Mountains along the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone in northwest Wyoming, it should be the warm and welcoming home of my folks and me. But on this occasion it is not. I heard the brakes on their car and used the distraction for the newsies to run over to the barn without being noticed. That’s how I heard Mrs. Segersson’s outbursts to them. Mom and dad aren’t here and they, the ‘news’ mongers, know it. Everybody knows it; I guess. The official story is that they met an untimely end while on assignment with an NGO in sub-saharan Africa—setting up an anti-poaching campaign hoping to remedy the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade that was threatening not only the animals but the ecological balance of those areas, not to mention wreaking havoc on the local economies and such. All I know is that they missed my sixteenth birthday—the only birthday they ever missed, and now won’t be the last.
My eyes are sore from crying, my stomach hurts ’cause even though there’s a bunch of food in the house—thanks to the neighbors and all—I just haven’t had an appetite for the last few days. Few days. Only a few days? Seems like forever already.
The late spring rains that brought back the verdant valley from the barren cold is also casting a pall over the land that is seeping into the hearts and minds of the folks around here trying to weed out the tragedy from the hope that has to carry forward in spite of the loss of dear friends. I know they mean well, and my folks were as close to many of them as their own family. But it was my family, and now I have none. Grandparents and great-grandparents, I have, but they never visit; I don’t expect that to change… long story.
I’m not advertising that I’m in the barn and really? I’d just as soon stay out of sight as hear people’s consolations any more than I have to… But I’m still curious I guess, because I hear Reggie saying, “Mommy why do those people want to know about Dashiel now? I mean, they didn’t seem too interested in him his whole life before now?” Jeremy, her little brother, adds, “I mean, they don’t even know him; do they?”
I peek out the barn door in time to see Mrs. Segersson, Marilyn, look to her husband Dave with almost a plea of help on her lips, but she answers, “The same reason that buzzards only show up after the jackrabbit’s been hit by the truck; I suppose. The newsies perform a similar function. They gorge on the meat of a tragedy and clear the path for future troubles.”
Dave chuckles at her explanation to the kids. Marilyn has always been like my mom: down-to-earth smart and nice at the same time. “Regina…” he calls as he goes inside, “Go find Dash and tell him we’re here.”
“Okay,” she answers absently, ’cause she’s already heading toward my hiding spot, “he’s probably in the barn, again.”
I hear the screen door slap in its jamb on the front porch.
“Let’s get this kitchen put to rights, shall we?” Marilyn mutters as she pushes up her sleeves and follows him in.
Jeremy gets up from the porch step, and nods woodenly, “Mama Elena would never have let it look like this…” he mutters and follows her into the havoc.
Regina pushes the creaking barn door aside and peers in; I went to the tack room and set about quietly organizing the mess I left in here the other day. The day I got the news.
“Dash? You in here?”
There’s a pause. I look up at the ceiling and for a split second I think of not answering.
“Are they gone, yet?”
Her shoulders relax and she ambles passed the stalls petting each horse’s muzzle as she makes her way through. “Yeah; Mama told ’em to go to hell.” She stands in the doorway and watches me as I put away the halter I’d finished mending. I’m just staring at it. And Reggie’s staring at me the way she always does; kinda like she’s trying to remember me or something. I was already as tall as dad by when I was twelve, and even with my back mostly to her she can probably tell I’ve been crying a lot. I turn and smile at her to show her I’m fine.
“She did not! Really? For them to go to hell?!”
“Okay, maybe not in so many words, but they are gone,” she admits. My smile is faint but at least I am smiling again. I actually am. She says, “Anyway, Mom and Dad and Jeremy are up cleaning the mess up. You can hang out in here a little longer… before…”
I chuckle because she’s so terrible at trying to get away with stuff, “No, I was going to get to it after barn chores. Come on, Reg, might as well get it over with.”
She blocks me from leaving the room. “How do you do it?” she asks softly, like she’s talking to herself. “How do you just go on about your life as if… as if…”
“…As if they were in the house waiting for the Simpson’s to come on and dinner’s waiting and everything’s just like it was just before they left for the trip?” I finish for her. “I don’t know.” I’m not telling her that my heart’s dead and my mind’s numbed beyond anything I’ve ever known. “Things just gotta get done, is all. And I’m the only one around to do them. It’s not like the world stopped or anything.”
She’s studying my face, looking for some sign that I’m really as tough as I’m pretending to be. I can stare into her eyes all day; she’s not so hard on the eyes… for a skinny girl. “Not a tear? Nothing? Is that it?” she insists.
I look away from her gaze, at last, and fess up, “I cried my eyes out already. Besides, what’s the good of it anyways? They’re gone. I’m here. The ranch still needs to be run. And thanks to everyone ’round here, I can still be the one to do it. I’m actually a pretty lucky guy, when you think about it.”
She takes a deep breath and shakes her head from side to side as she lets me pass. “Dashiel Richard Drummond, you are annoying as hell!” Her hand slips up to my shoulder and she squeezes me gently, “But that’s what I like about you.” I glance back at her as I pass to the door; she’s grinning.
I smirk, “Colorful language back there for a preacher’s daughter…” but I really appreciate her attention.
She picks up a curry brush and flings it at my back. And misses, of course. “…Not my fault!” she retorts. That has been a running joke between us: Her father, Dave Segersson, trained as a preacher alright, but not associated with any denomination around the northern counties of Wyoming. He was raised in Boston and the Unitarian upbringing he left behind when he married Marilyn to move out west is a faded memory. But my dad had always called him ‘Preacher;’ so it stuck. I still use it on Reggie when she’s annoying me.
She changes the subject as we walk back to the house. “So, do you think you’re gonna get a hardship license? That would be so cool if you could drive me and the brat to school from now on!”
I cock an eye at her, “And Robby, and Alice, and Eddy and Sylvie…” I nod, but answer, “I turned sixteen a couple days ago. Don’t need a hardship one. I suppose picking y’all up isn’t a big deal. I’ve been driving for years on the ranch, an actual license won’t make my driving any better.”
She dimples then looks suddenly embarrassed as hell. She realizes I got the news of my folks on the morning I turned sixteen.
“Okay you two,” her dad announces as we open the back door, “Dash, you go clean up; and Reggie, you help your mother rearrange what’s left of the edibles and vacuum the dining room. We gotta get over to the courthouse by three.”
“Yes sir,” Regina nods, and sticks out her tongue at her little brother, just coming out of the kitchen with a cupcake and dribbling crumbs all over the dining room tiles.
“Mom! Jeremy’s being a…” she lets out, but stops short of saying it.
“Watch your language!” her mother shoots back before she finishes. “I’m so tired of your potty mouth these days! Now go put these in the porch freezer;” she hands Regina several tupperware containers, each labeled for a day of the week. “Dash’ll at least have dinner for a few nights.”
When Reggie comes back in from the porch, I hear her ask, “Mama? Do you think Dash is gonna get to drive the crew cab truck from now on? ‘Cause he can pick me and the twerp up for school in the mornings easy…”
Her mother doesn’t honor the question with even a glance. She hangs up the apron and just stares at it as I stand in the doorway opposite them unnoticed. “Elena made this out of Dash’s baby blanket, you know…”
Regina sighs and looks at her mom’s face. I can see the pain reflected in her eyes. Her folks and all our friends’ folks are taking my parents’ deaths harder than I seem to be—but they don’t know my aching heart and I’m not telling anyone else. It is getting a little tedious to talk to any of them at all. Hopefully once Spring Break is over and everybody gets back to normal, I keep telling myself, maybe they all won’t just stare off into space when I’m around so much any more?
Two months later, the Friday before the last week of school, I’m out in front of Sylvie and Robby’s house just as dawn creeps over the foothills out east…
I smack the horn again.
“Sorry guys, it’s not my fault. Alice and Sylvie had a sleep-over and can’t get dressed without taking pictures!” Alice’s brother, Robby, announces as he pushes into the back seat next to Jeremy.
“Ooh,” Regina giggles, “Maybe I should go and get…”
I put a hand on her arm; “Whoa; they’re coming. We aren’t waiting for three girls to practice their drill-team moves.” Sure enough, Reggie looks from me to the house as Alice and Sylvie are just coming out the front door.
“Meanie!” Regina pouts at me and in the same motion grins at her friends, “Let’s see the new uniforms!”
Sylvie and Alice do modeling turns like they’re on a New York boutique runway or something, even though they’re actually on the gravel roadside, before getting in the back seat and squishing Jeremy and Robby against the far door. “Are these great! Or what!” Alice trills. It almost hurts my ears they squeal so high.
Regina is going to be going through the tryouts for next year’s squad this afternoon, so she can’t pull her eyes from staring at the flattering uniforms her friends are wearing. “Mama said I should be able to fill out the bottom of the pyramid routine easy since I’m probably the strongest girl she’s ever seen!” she intimates to her girlfriends as if nobody else is in the car.
I have to just roll my eyes. “If y’all put half as much time into your barrel-riding as you do spinning in front of mirrors…” I catch myself and give up that tack as they stare back at me like deer caught in the headlights. I shrug and just go back to staring at the road, thinking. I spend a lot of time just thinking nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as busy as ever with the ranch and school and all, but my mind is always working out some next project that I am sure I can arrange to make happen… if…
“…Well it is High School after all!” Alice emphasizes about some item of arcane female importance. She and Sylvie are my age and in my class. We’ll be juniors and they aren’t letting Regina, as a soon-to-be incoming sophomore, forget that they know the ropes but will still stick by their best-est friend. Meanwhile Robby and Jeremy only stare at the ‘older’ girls and just imagine what the rarified life of the lofty high schoolers must really be like—even if they are: girls!
“You guys better buckle up; we’re hitting the main road,” I remark as always when we reach the end of the county roads and make the last leg into town on the two-lane blacktop. There’s a murmuring of hrmphs and the sounds of buckles clicking into place. Then the high-pitched chittering conference commences all over again.
It’s the same scene with few variations every weekday morning. In the afternoons though, I only have to get Jeremy and Robby home. The girls hitch a ride with Sylvie’s dad when he leaves the courthouse at five or so—most of the time, anyway. Then on the weekends it’s like a holiday. Just me and the horses, the five hundred head of cattle I still hold on to—not counting the calves born this spring, another seventy—and the fences that seem to always need mending; the moose population sees to that.
“Seeya later Best-boy!” Reggie yells over her shoulder as she dashes for the school doors.
“Oh yeah! You are the Sophomore Class Best Boy this year!” Alice yelps, and Sylvie chimes in, “Congrats!”
“Aw, some awards don’t matter so much anymore,” I reply. I sound bored or something. I can hear it in my voice. Actually I’m a little embarrassed at the attention. “Already got my license, got the ranch, the calves are getting fatter, I have a possible buyer for the mare from down in Cody.”
The girls huff out of the back seat once we’re parked in the student lot. “Even my cousin Gerald celebrated his medal of valor and he’s a Marine, Mr. I-Don’t-Care-About-Awards Drummond!” Sylvie protests. She’s right; I should apologize.
“Whatever…” is all that comes out though without giving it another thought.
After school as I pull up outside the barn, back home again for the weekend, my two dogs: Ralph and Lady—a pair of red Healers—leap at the side of the truck. “Okay! First your dinners, then we got some stuff to do to get ready for all the pipe Mr. Gerson’s sending over…” They hop around me like jackrabbits as I toss my bag on the sofa and go to the kitchen.
Half an hour later I’m already dragging the rack pieces, I assembled during the week, to the outside wall of the work shop. Another fifteen minutes and a truck crunches up the drive. “Early! Excellent!” I delight to Ralph and Lady who are supervising my efforts from under the truck. I step out from around the corner of the shop; it isn’t an early delivery of the pipe.
“Hey! You guys didn’t say you were going to actually help!” I grin in surprise to see my buddies, Mark and Humpy, roll out of Humpy’s folks’ truck.
“Gotta learn how to weld sometime!” Mark waves. “Besides, it was this or studying for finals…”
“Where’s the pipe?” Humpy asks, scratching both dogs at once.
“…Be along shortly I guess. Mr. Gerson said this evening.” I look up toward the road as if I can see beyond the tree stands and to any flatbed trucks on their way to the ranch. “In the meantime, we can get the gear loaded on the trailer. Camping and fencing with the guys! What a great weekend this is turning out to be!”
Mark reaches into the bed of Humpy’s truck, “I got our stuff Humpy, if you wanna break the news to him…” and he carries the bags toward the barn and the trailer. I know I look bewildered when I turn to Humpy.
Humpy cocks an eye at me and glances with disapproval to Mark who is safely out of sight all of a sudden. “You really hadn’t heard a peep about it? Really?” he equivocates.
“Peep about what!” I insist, expecting a bad turn of events. Another truck rolls down the road from the direction of Clark, our closest ‘town,’ if you can call two or three hundred scattered neighbors a town. Humpy just grins and nods to the others just arriving.
I follow his gaze. “Well, I’ll be a…” I mutter. The rest of my friends from the big spreads around Mantua are climbing out of their truck: Gene and Hayley, John and Danny, and of course Neva—his cousin.
“We know you don’t go for celebration stuff anymore,” says Hayley. When she’s around, she is always their spokeswoman, “since your folks…” she hesitates, even though I can handle the reference to my folks being dead. Hell, of all the folks around northern Wyoming I guess I’m alone in that as well. “Anyway,” she continues with a blip of remorse, “we needed an excuse to get away for a couple days—any time we say we’re going up here to help out at the Drummond’s, we sorta get a free pass from our folks. Besides we missed your birthday, and now with ‘Best-boy’ on your resumé…”
I must have an incredulous expression on my face because that’s how I feel on the inside; but I laugh out loud, “…I thought it wasn’t just to get my fences up!”
Gene corrects me, “Of course it is! We just also brought along our fishing gear and two cases of beer.”
Neva looks around for Mark, “Where’s Summers? He’s supposed to have my tackle!” Mark and Neva are a ‘thing.’ Have been since they both got accepted to MSU up in Bozeman to start Engineering courses next fall.
“Coming!” Mark calls from the barn. “Your stuff’s already in the trailer.”
I call out to all of them as they pile onto the trailer and truck bed, meaning that I’ll catch up shortly, after the pipe’s delivered. They should head on back there; any more dancing around the obvious vacancies at the ranch and I’ll probably blow a gasket. “Never mind the buffalo back there. Unless they wander around to the side of the lake we’ll be on—which they don’t usually do—just treat ’em like they’re just part of the scenery. Only don’t try and get their attention!”
The flatbed with all the piping shows up a while later and only me and the dogs are there to greet it; I’m pretty relieved, actually. The others are probably already almost up to the work/camping area with the gear at the far western end of the ranch. Our lake’s near the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone and has always offered up great fishing, that it also anchors the bison’s migration range is a plus—and of course that’s another reason why all my friends have gathered for the weekend ‘to help out.’ Oh, and the fences might get done too…
I enjoyed myself for the first time in a long time over that ‘fencing’ weekend. Now, it’s set to be a regular sorta week day in August and not long after sun-up. I’ve been counting on selling five of the steers and a hundred of the cows from our… my ‘little’ herd—the one’s that didn’t calve this year—I’m expecting the last of a string of potential buyers who have already showed some interest.
In the meantime I’ll just get on with my other little project: building a dinghy for getting to those remote fishing spots out on our… I mean my… well the big lake. I suppose I should offer a little background here. Just before mom and dad left for their last trip… really last… mom and I started plans for this little boat. Like anything one wishes to accomplish, the purpose behind the endeavor has to be clearly understood, all the denying forces that could prevent completion have to be foreseen and naturally the materials and skills required have to be thoroughly evaluated. That being said, on this occasion mom had walked me through all the little bits of preparation and we were going to begin lofting the plywood in earnest upon their return.
That didn’t happen. I was just going to shelve the whole thing—it was mom’s idea after all—but after that last weekend with the gang; with them all here and fishing and stuff… well the notion of going ahead with mom’s boat sorta has been growing on me. I would like to get to those fish. So, I’m standing in the workshop and staring at the lofting plans. Mom explained every facet of the project to me while we were drafting these up so, really, all I’ve got to do is make the first measurement and get the ball rolling. But I’m just twiddling the pencil in my hand and staring at the plywood, the framing square and the walls of the shop like an idiot. Like I don’t have a clue or something.
“Okay Dash!” I say aloud, and my voice echoes off the tools and workbenches and reminds me an awful lot of dad when he would clap his hands together and we’d get another project underway. I grin in spite of myself and mark centerlines on the four by eight quarter inch birch in front of me. It actually feels like they are here with me… weird. But before I realize it I’m setting the first lofted sheet aside and beginning to mark the second one.
Mom’s plans call for a hard chined little catamaran dinghy: seven and a half feet long and four feet at the beam. I kept asking about the oarlocks the whole time she was explaining the design to me—- “oarlocks” was the only nautical term I knew and really understood. It turns out that she envisioned a sculling oar and cutting a built-in ‘oarlock’ of sorts right into the transom—that’s the part I’m lofting right now. Anyway, the dogs are yelping to me that a truck is rolling down the road. I slap the sawdust off my arms and pant legs. I start to go outside then I shrug and tell myself, ‘It’ll only take a few minutes to get these pieces onto the frames and make sure I’ve made the proper cuts.
A little duct tape here and there and… “Hey! Anybody home out here?!” Someone calls from the driveway. The cattleman has shown up with his whole family in tow.
“Just heading over to the Gros Ventre for some fishing…” the wife intimates as her husband heads out to the pen to look over the cattle.
I nod and don’t even have to try to smile; it’s a relief I guess to have people around who don’t know about my folks and all, for a change. Then I get a little distracted by their two youngest kids, girls, playing around with Lady and Ralph. “Y’all be careful, those dogs can get ornery if you get ’em too excited,” I say; I hope not too fiercely; I’m just trying to keep the dogs safe, really.
“Oh, they’ll be alright,” a voice over my shoulder assures me easily. I turn and look at a tallish guy I hadn’t noticed until he spoke; the mother beams and strolls over to where her husband is sizing up the stock.
“Howdy,” the fellow grins at me, “I’m their eldest, Jacob, Jacob Tranier—friends call me Jake. Where’s your folks? Shouldn’t one of ’em be here to handle the sale?”
Figures. Just when I think it’s safe to drop my guard… “Can’t be,” I shake my head and hold his eyes trying to gauge his depths. “They’re dead.”
“Oops!” Jake winces, “My bad, sorry.” Then he looks around the ranch with a different expression; “So you run all this? Yourself?”
“Yeah,” I say with what I’m certain sounds like a bit of attitude. Like it matters at all what this guy thinks.
“What I mean to say is,” Jake continues, “I’m in my second year up at MSU in Land Management, minor in business of course, and this is exactly the kind of set-up I did a paper on just before finals.”
I shrug; he goes on, “I estimated it would take at a minimum: three full-time hands and up to a dozen seasonally to run a ranch of this size—And the Drummond Ranch is,” and he rattles off by rote: “…92,045 deeded acres, 3,440 acres of state lease, 55,711 of adjacent National Forest grazing allotment and 7,587 of Bureau of Land Management allotment, for a total of 158,783 acres. Essentially seven townships of the finest corner of Wyoming…” he grins at me like he wants a prize.
I narrow my eyes at the guy, “And how do you know the particulars of all that?”
Jake just smiles; I’m kinda beginning to like him in spite of the surprises.
“Because…” he begins, but we are interrupted.
“Mr. Drummond,” Mr. Tranier is holding out his hand, “you’ve got yourself a buyer,” he grins as wide as Jake does. I see the family resemblance and wonder if I favor my folks as much. I stare at photographs of them often enough, but I can’t for the life of me see myself and them together in my head. Then he pulls a bank draft from his vest pocket, “You said thirty-two-fifty a head for the cows and fifty and a quarter for the steers?”
“Each;” I reply, but not too quickly. I remember my mom bargaining with buyers in the past and am careful to just be matter-of-fact about the deal. The man smiles.
“Each…” he repeats gladly. “Fair price for good stock, well-tended…” and he passes the bank note to me. “Thirty-three hundred plus one dollar and twenty-five cents. I can have the haulers here by sundown; will that be amenable? No need for my cattle to cut into your feed stores any more than they have to.”
“By sundown then,” I repeat waving the note toward the cattle pens. That is really good news and more than I’d hoped; but I try not to let it show. Then I point to the chutes, “They’re all in good shape; just have your guys run ’em up and in. No worries.”
Jake chuckles beside me, “I’m ‘those guys’ this time around…” he hesitates, “If you don’t mind me hanging around until the trucks get here.”
I nod absently, “Suit yourself. I’ve got some other chores to see to in the meantime; like getting the rest of the herd out of the deep back pastures now that these doggies here are about to free up the near pasture.”
Mrs. Tranier interjects, “Jacob will be more than pleased to lend a hand,” and her expression toward her son leaves no room for doubt about his participation. I glance at him to see if that’s his thing or if he’s just the whipping boy at his house.
“I was going to offer anyway, Mom;” he’s careful not to roll his eyes.
Later, we are mounted and nearing the fenced-off rest of the herd’s grazing lands, “You never said how you know the extent of my holdings here.” I finally break a silence that I’d been happy to let go on and that’s lasted since this morning, except for the quick rundown of my own schedule for the day after his folks left for their fishing trip. Lady and Ralph are trotting out ahead of us and sense what’s about to take place. They run toward the gate as I dismount to open it up.
“Wondered if you were really curious or not.” Jake answers. “Had to memorize both the Montana and Wyoming allotment schedules for a class last semester. The Drummond lands just stuck in my head is all. Nothing creepy about it, or anything.”
I slough it off as data and ask a different question. “I’ve got two years left of High School and I heard that a bunch of the colleges and even some of the universities are doing courses for credit; I mean for high school kids before they graduate and all…”
It’s Jake’s turn to shrug. “If you say so. But haven’t you got enough on your hands already?”
“What I mean is,” I clarify, “Is the coursework you have to handle at MSU, is it really that much tougher than what you had in high school? It’s all still just writing, studying and testing isn’t it?”
Jake chuckles and there’s that grin again, “I guess. When you put it that way, yeah, it’s all just studying and testing.” I suppose he thinks that assessment is as good as any. “Depending on the difficulty level of your classes now…”
“They’re not so hard,” I remark off-handedly, then I catch myself. “I mean Powell High is one of the best in the state—the auditors said so last year. It’s just that I’m near the top of the class and I don’t even have to spend but a couple hours a day on homework.”
“And how many hours would you rather spend on studies?” Jake queries me and I can tell it’s sarcastically; he pulls his pony up short.
I pull the reins of my horse toward the fence to tie her off and get the gate; I reply matter-of-factly, “I don’t sleep much, so… maybe six or seven wouldn’t kill me.”
Jake whistles; I’ve somehow impressed him I guess. “And in what major are you interested?” he asks on the heels of that.
“Engineering,” I explain, “like my dad did. And business law like my mom.” I answer as naturally as if I were asked about the weather. This is a subject I’ve gone over and over with myself. If I’m gonna get anywhere in this world, I know what my folks told me has to be true: ‘Dashiel, get all the education you can cram in your brains; you’ll need every bit of it before you know it.’
Jake’s head just rocks back and forth. He’s staring out at the scattered cattle on the other side of the gate as I open it up.
I tell him, since it’s just us two and the dogs out here anyways, “I don’t tell anyone, but since I probably won’t ever see you again anyway…” I take a deep breath, “I’m going to start a company that designs the best of everything.”
“Like what ‘everything’,” Jake doesn’t sound convinced.
I pull the gates wide and yell to the healers “Bring ’em out!” They spring from my side, obviously it’s been a struggle for them to hold back until now, they’re anxious to ‘push’ the herd back through into the new pastures. It’s what healers are bred for. As the herd begins pressing toward the gates, I finally answer him, “Everything! Like planes and airports, drilling rigs and pipelines, roads and long-haulers… you name it; it’s going to have Drummond written all over it!”
Jake is quiet. I’ve probably taken it over the top. That’s why I don’t tell anyone about my plans. ‘Just a naïve young guy’s dreams for his future,’ he probably thinks. But I’m wrong.
He explains, “Sure, I can see that;” he begins, “Most folks probably say: Here is just a kid. But I know you’re running a ranch that I also absolutely know takes loads of work—yet you’re handling it all alone and really well. Not only that but you seem to be advancing your education in a most methodical fashion.” He hesitates, “Uh, Dashiel? I’ve got two years, basically, left to graduate…”
“Uh huh,” I answer; it feels good to be recognized for what I’ve already done, but I’m also counting the head as they are passing by me and I don’t want to lose count.
“If you actually do get such an enterprise off the ground,” he takes a deep breath and I glance over to him. “I’ll sign on. Dad always says to get in on the ground floor of something you can get excited about and hold on tight.” He looks at the horizon for a moment or two as if peering into the future. He looks back at me still counting the head of cattle—my own cattle—as they stream by us. “Did you hear me?” Jake insists.
“Uh huh,” I hold up a hand and finish the first round of the count, waiting for Lady and Ralph to bring along the rest of them. “Darn lucky!” I grin, and he can’t help but smile too. “Wolves got two calves last time I used this pasture for just a few days. Not today; so far it looks like they’re gonna be all accounted for! All that electric fencing I put in along the back range is finally paying off!” I nod back the direction we’d ridden up here, “We can get back in time to have a bite before your trucks are supposed to get here.”
Jake is quieter now. I finish the last of the count to verify my expectation that the electric fence really worked. I climb back up on my horse and turn in my saddle to look back at Jake. “Consider yourself the first employee and acting manager of the Drummond Group!—after your graduation, I mean. Thanks for the vote of confidence!”
A smile spreads across Jake’s face again and he lets out a laugh, “Second year student and I already have a job waiting for me! Beat that in these troubled times!”
“Not troubled for long,” I say almost to myself, “Not for long;” I say a little louder, “I’ve got plans.”
The loading truck comes along not long after we get back to the house. Jake handles the transfer and I slip back to the shop. I stand looking at the mock up and have to laugh at how the duct tape has popped up from the stresses of the tortured panels. “I’m going to need that extra strong packing tape they brought back from Germany… the stuff mom said we’d use instead of ‘stitching’ the panels together with copper wire… I should have listened the first time. I am at least remembering to document the project; mom always insisted on that, absolutely.
Then I think that if that tape is as good as she says… said… then maybe I’ll be doing myself a favor to go ahead and epoxy the panels before I assemble them in earnest. That way when I really put these bits together for real, I won’t have to worry about pulling of the entire top layer of laminate from the birch. That’s the plan. I have a couple weeks before school takes over my attention again so, except for having to wait for curing times and such, I think I can get this girl ready for a last fishing trip before then.
I get up in the morning and don’t even finish my coffee. I carry the mug with me to the shop and set it on a saw horse, intending to just lay out the panels where I had them taped up before. I reach for the mug to have a sip and it’s cold. I have to laugh. I haven’t paid too close attention to the time; it’s already late morning. I suppose I’m ready to flip her over, fillet and glass the inside of her chines. Hmm, turn her over…
“Okay, Dash. Any thoughts?” Talking out loud to myself is just a way to organize my thoughts. If my folks were here, I’d just holler for one of them to lend a hand, but now? I absently reach for my coffee mug and am a little annoyed that my hand tangles in one of the straps hanging from the shop ceiling. I thought I had taken all of them down so I wouldn’t strangle myself as I moved around the boat… Hey.
I fetch them out. Measure the mounting spots on the ceiling and sigh. I have to reset two of the eye hooks, but this will work. In a few minutes I have the ratchet straps tightened under the hull and I start taking out the screws that anchor the boat to the building frame. It didn’t fall on my head as the last one came out, so far so good. I ratchet them tighter and the frame is still on the floor with the boat floating in front of me. I’m a little giddy with elation over the turn of progress. It occurs to me as I’m attaching cross-bars to the frame for lowering her back down onto it, that I can put some casters on the frame and make my floor space go twice as far.
Now I can get on with this next phase and have the rest of the day free to start the rudder, mast and stuff while the epoxy is curing out. Okay, fillets and fiberglass tape time. I carve rounded ends into a couple of my shims and mix up the first batch of thickened epoxy. I’m a little embarrassed that I can’t find the wood flour mom ordered. So, what’s wood flour anyway but really fine sawdust. I drag out the compressor and the orbital sander—I’ll need them both soon enough anyway. I pull open the drawstring of the ‘catcher’ bag on the end of the sander. Sure enough, there’s plenty of sanding dust from our last project to mix into the epoxy. Unfortunately all that took just long enough for the epoxy to thicken all by itself. “Can’t spread this goop!”
I pull out another paper bowl and mix a fresh three ounce batch. Dad told me a long time ago that even if I think I can get the mix right on a larger batch, just stick with small batches. I’ve done enough of them to know what he meant. Before my stomach growls late afternoon, I have put in what I think are quite nicely done fillets and well saturated fiberglass tape reinforcements on all of the interior chines… and between the hull and thwarts… and perhaps too much on my hands and forearms. I head up to the house to have a bite and clean up—not in that order. As I’m eating a quick sandwich, I can’t help but wonder about how I’m going to get the little boat out to the lake; I can just put her in the back of the truck I suppose. And what about… My mind ranges over all the other streams and lakes I’d love to explore. “I’m going to have to come up with a serviceable roof rack—and some way to get the boat onto it by myself. Getting things done by myself. That’s a mode of operation I’m going to have get used to planning on from here on out. That finally sinks in.
When I get back to the shop, I look around for the cedar strips I know have to be stored around here somewhere. I walk out of the shop and look through the scrap wood shed. There’s the box of long and odd bits in a box sitting in the middle of the floor as if just left there yesterday for this project. I muse over that for a moment and realize that, after a fashion, they were. One of the last little things dad did before he and mom left.
I cut a couple sections of three quarter birch for the cheeks of the rudder case and measure out the top port for the tiller. I select some of the prettier strips of the cedar for laminating and setup the Shopsmith for its bandsaw incarnation. I love dad’s bandsaw… my bandsaw, now.
The retractable rudder itself will be a chunk of the three-quarter birch. I draw up how the control cords will snake through the cheek pockets and get out the titebond. After an hour or so, I guess it must’ve been longer, the shadows are making it hard to see easily in here. I clamp the tiller pieces together and make sure the cheeks and rudder pieces fit properly. Once I’m satisfied, I pull it apart, glue it up and leave everything clamped for the night. I can’t help but look over the interior chines once more, even in the fading light they still look good to my eye.
As I’m setting at the dining table, I’m not really even noticing what I’m eating. Sad. I take a deep breath, put the boat out of my mind for a while and remember to breath and pay attention to what I’m doing at this minute. At once the house seems to come into focus again and the smells and colors of the kitchen warm my heart. They are gone. But for the first time since then, I am beginning to feel whole again. I’ve been taking care of the ranch, getting my schoolwork accomplished well, and now, finishing a project mom and I were going to do together. Perhaps that last should fill me with a bit of longing to have them back again, but that’s not how I feel.
They are here with me, I realize. They could never really leave me. I am Richard and Elena’s son—through and through. It’s not the ranch, not the projects, not the academic expectations. It’s the perspective and attitude, the approach I daily take toward my waking moments that stamp me as their true son. I understand the world around me; I know my place in it. Their gift to me was the path of Reason and I am making good their efforts on my behalf. I sleep well, but not very long.
When I get out to the shop, I have decided to go ahead put a coat of epoxy over the entire interior just as the outside got before getting taped up. Several batches of mix later, I am strapping her up to flip her—if the epoxy runs onto the frame… I slip some waxed paper between the frame and the hull. “Now let’s see if she blows up in my face if I take this tape off…” I glance to the dogs and bump my chin for the door. They back up out of obedience not really sure why they are complying with such a curious command.
I peel off the bow tape first. “If it’s going to fly apart, this section gets my vote…” I involuntarily squint as the tape makes the screechy, ripping noise tape makes as it gives up its grip on its charge. Nothing moves. “Success!”
The dogs wag their tails and I’m sure they only know it’s a ‘good thing,’ not really why. But I do. I attack the exterior hull with the orbital sander and hundred grit paper. “I’m not trying to strip her, just scuff her up…” I laugh to myself, delighted that there isn’t a recorder in the shop. That last bit could be taken the wrong way I suppose. I remember to put on my mask.
I vacuum the shop and the hull and take a deep breath. It’s epoxy and tape time again. Before I get on with that, I go up to the house for a late brunch, I catch sight of myself in the entryway mirror. I look like I fell into big sack of flour. Yay face masks and goggles! I add a shower to my brunch break.
It’s going to be a short day unless I go ahead and start the mast and spars. Mom and I harvested some bamboo poles last year and they’ve been drying in the back of the shop—all wrapped to minimize mold growth, she hoped. I amble back to the shop and instead of going directly to mixing batches of epoxy I fetch and unwrap one of the two inch bamboo poles. “Not too bad,” I mutter. It’s true, hardly any black spots in the exposed end of this one.
The mast is designed to come apart for transport. I measure out nine feet of the cane: a foot for the part that will become the core of the mast step and two sections for the mast itself—careful to make sure to cut through the nodes themselves. “I’ll lathe out the mating inserts tomorrow morning, no sense putting sawdust in the air before epoxying.” I rig up some hanging hooks for the bamboo sections and dangle them from the ceiling. I unroll the fiberglass sleeving for the mast, roll out and cut the rest of the pieces I’ll be putting on the hull itself and then I finally mix the first batch of epoxy.
The evening is slipping up on me pretty quickly as I pull off my last pair of latex gloves for the day. I look over the day’s progress as I back out of the shop and shut the doors. She looks good. As I’m walking up to the house I stop and turn around to look up at the mountains. It occurs to me all of a sudden. Today would have been dad’s fiftieth birthday. In my mind I’m six years old and I can hear mom rattling pots and pans in the kitchen getting his birthday cake and favorite meal ready before he gets back from moving the herd up into the far pastures for the fall to get the last of the grasses before they dry up completely and the herd has to make do with the fodder we’ve stockpiled for the winter. I go in the house and head straight for the kitchen.
In the morning I have a slice of cake with my coffee for breakfast. “Now that’s the way to start a day!”
The reinforcements and mast have cured out nicely. I scuff the seams and then stretch out the glass fabric over the hull to let it settle itself over the contours of the exterior while I turn my hand to laminating the spars and cleaning up the tiller, rudder and cheek case. Mom always liked the look of a gunter rig, so for this size little boat I’ll need five spars—one head, one boom and three intermediates.
With glue still coating my fingers I pull out some scrap and sketch up the cores for the gaff jaws. Satisfied, I crank up the bandsaw again and cut the cores and outer laminates. More gluing and clamping, I realize as I tighten up the last clamp, I have to get all this glue off my hands or I’m going to snag and pull that fiberglass cloth like a pair of nylon stockings.
I glance out the shop doors across the yard to the house and up the road. The shadows are already getting long. “Where does the time go?!” I mutter aloud, and turn to start mixing up batches of epoxy. Another day, another night of curing goop.
“The little girl looks ready for the lake already!” I grin as I close the shop for the evening. I glance over at the pile of clamps and scattered tools on the workbench where the spars are curing out. “I’m going to have to clean this brick-a-brack up in the morning if I’m going to have a glimmer of a chance to get the sail laid out and assembled.”
Thank goodness dad accumulated loads of clamps over the years! I am a lucky man to have had folks who paid so much attention to detail and were so thorough. That probably doesn’t include the particular hardware for a boat though. “Hmm. I wonder…”
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I almost trot up to the house after closing up the shop. I don’t even slow down through the house as I head for mom and dad’s study. I have only been in here once since… Since even when they were around, I didn’t come in here unless invited. When they were in here they were working and couldn’t abide distraction. I look first at mom’s drafting table. I realize for the first time that mom was a lawyer, but she spent most of her time at home—if she wasn’t taking care of something having to do with the ranch directly—she was drafting and such. But dad was the engineer yet it was himself who took care of the business of the ranch and never touched the layout or drafting tables. Weird! Like in their private lives they were the opposite of their public personas. Or something.
I shelve those thoughts and start looking for boxes or sacks or bags that might hold boat hardware. “It’d be in an unopened parcel, or…” I mutter and rummage through several promising boxes near at hand. Nothing. I put my hands on my hips and have to look at myself objectively: standing in my folks’ retreat and scavenging for stuff I want. I feel like an intruder. Then I realize all this stuff is mine, now. Small relief.
A gift-wrapped oblong box catches my eye from beneath a pile of rope next to the closet door nearest my feet. I pick up the coils of rope to move them out of the way and note the feel of their quality. The box had a card on top that falls to the floor when the rope’s moved and I hold my breath as I reach out a hand to unfold it. My palms are sweating. In my dad’s handwriting, the card reads:
“For Elena and Dashiel’s Kitten, Don’t forget to order the champagne…”
I’m standing holding the card in one hand the rope in the other, tears are streaming down my face and I collapse to my knees. The little boat’s name is Kitten. I am overwhelmed with… I don’t know what. I thought it was my idea to go ahead with mom’s little project… But now… How did they?…
I wake up huddled on the floor of the study with an aching back and neck. The morning sun is already bright on the far wall. I gather up the box and rope in my arms and stumble toward the kitchen. I realize, after a few moments that I’m trying to make coffee and slice cake with my treasures still in my arms—As if letting go of them for a moment they might disappear or something.
“Silly!” I set them down gently on the breakfast table and reach for a paring knife to open the box. I peel off the wrapping paper carefully and fold it neatly up after it’s removed from the box. I’m holding my breath as I open and look inside. The packing list is on top and I unfold it and read through the inventory. With a grin on my face I realize I don’t even know what some of the items are. I reach in and start pulling out piece after piece and laying each out on the table.
Sipping my coffee, I look over the assembly of items and through a process of elimination I figure out what all of them are: Shackles and cleats, turnbuckles and blocks, jam cleats, pintles and gudgeons… “Wait a minute!” I chuckle and hold up the pintles and gudgeons. “These are gate hardware! I helped dad replace the front gate hardware just two years ago—this is the same stuff!” So, fancy names for gate hardware… ‘All things nautical…’ and I can’t help but chuckle as I head out to the shop again.
Before I get to the spars and sail, the floor braces and rudder mounting stuff, I sand and fair the newly fiberglassed hull and get another coat of epoxy on her. I pull down the straps from the ceiling and carefully flip her over again. It’s a messy business; I lay down some waxed paper beneath where she sits on her building frame. The outside looks grand. As long as I’m epoxying, I go ahead and coat the spars and gaff jaws. Then I layup the rub-rails A couple lengths of aspen for the inside of the gunwales and for the inside of the rub-rails, with shaped cedar inserts that will get mounted directly to the gunwales on the outside affixing the rub-rails to the hull proper. I cut, glue and clamp up the inside bits, I set up the Shopsmith for her drill press incarnation then use a forstner bit to shape the cedar parts of the rub-rails With that accomplished, I clamp it all together and cut the copper tubing for the mating pieces of the spars—it may be overkill on a little boat like this, but my folks proved to me a long time ago that if a hole in wood can go wrong, it will… so copper grommets. I flatten some brass brackets, slot the spars and epoxy them in, so that my upper spars will mate at the proper angles.
As long as I still have a bit of daylight, I might as well measure, cut and glue up what are to be the seats. I rifle through our cedar planks for some long enough and pretty enough to complement the birch heartwood already glowing on her hull. I pick out three pieces, one of which will need to be both halves and the other two were probably part of the same plank originally. In fact, these were probably all one plank when they left the lumber yard.
More glue covered fingers and I’m done for the day. Tomorrow will be a big day; I’m going to have to loft the sole of the boat from how the hull ended up. What I’ll do, I think, is to measure and cut the cross supports and lay them out then take those dimensions and transfer them to my only remaining sheet of quarter inch birch—oh, I’ll have to set up a centerline again to get it symmetrical… provided the boat itself is actually symmetrical. She’s square. I have already checked and rechecked that, but how each side actually curves is another matter.
I walk out to the shop this morning and notice that the air is almost crisp. Some quick mental arithmetic and I realize I only have a few more days before early registration! Then the days would be getting shorter and the mornings chillier. Ah me. So as long as the drill press is still set up I drill all the spars for receiving the copper I cut yesterday. I set up the vise and get busy pounding copper between the peens of our smallest hammers. It turns out pretty slick if I do say so myself.
The gaff jaws have turned out quite nicely as well… except that during curing it appears a moth decided to rest on one of them. Oh well, a little sanding and his ‘resting spot’ won’t even be noticeable. Now to lofting the sole. Mom’s plans call for supports spaced every eight to ten inches or so. I don’t think the floor needs that much support, but I do need that many points for lofting so every eight to ten inches it is. I make quick work of that little chore and have all the supports laid out. Now for transferring those measurements to the plywood. I’m just setting up the saw for cutting the thing out when I remember that the central thwarts are going to have reinforcements and why. I go over to the scrap pile to find some oak planks.
“Hey, I remember these…” I hold up a couple beveled one by three lengths of finished oak. “These were the left over bits from our last book shelves.” More memories of my parents failed return and the minor accomplishments I had waiting for them—which they will never see. Another story and one I bury for the moment and turn back to the task at hand. I measure out how the oak sleeves will have to fit over the thwarts and make the cuts. Then knowing their actual purpose, I mark and drill them after clamping them in place— more copper swaging is in my near future.
With those new additions to the flooring measurements I cut out the sole and see if it fits. Success! Oh! The deck plates! I pull out the packages from the treasure box I found in my folks’ study and trim off the back of one package that has a template for the cutouts. In no time at all I have four properly spaced and nicely cut holes for access to the buoyancy chambers. I’m energized to get the rub-rails on. I glue and clamp on the inner bits, making sure to space the clamps just so. I’m going to have to drill, countersink and screw through the inner bands, through the hull into the rub-rails—and remove clamps as I go. This is the operation I’ve kinda been anxious about. I’d love to have just glued the inner parts on then come back another day and do the outer bits, but the more I thought about it, the more the challenge of doing them at the same time just captured my imagination; but I still have only a smidgeon of confidence over the process. It works swimmingly in my head, but that’s not always the way things work out in reality… if you know what I mean.
I clamp up the inner pieces; the titebond only needs a half hour to set and I can begin taking off the clamps. Of course it also needs to be left alone with the joints undisturbed for twenty-four hours. I’m going to be very careful. I have thirty minutes to make some last finishing sanding inspections to the rub-rails and then I’ll be in unknown territory. I’m almost giddy with anticipation as I vacuum and wipe off the sanding dust, and lay out three drills: one for the pilot holes, one for the countersinks and one for driving the brass screws—all with a minimum of lag time so that I can get an entire side installed before the epoxy gets too thick to work.
I look over to the dogs and announce, “If I mix up the thickened epoxy, there’s no turning back.” They just look up at me with utter confidence in whatever they imagine I’ve just said. For all they know I just recited the alphabet or told them there would be steak for their supper. But still, their wagging tails are enough encouragement and all I needed. I mix a batch of epoxy.
I take a few deep breaths, I realize my pulse is up a little and I have to be methodical throughout this little operation—no wild movements. I take off the two clamps in the middle, smear a bit of epoxy on the inner side of the cedar spacer—double checking that it’s the one that’s supposed to be mated in this particular spot; it is— and press it into place. I reset one of the clamps and reach for the first drill. I make two pilots, counter sink them and reach for a couple brass screws to seal the deal. “There! That wasn’t so bad. Let’s get this road on the show!” I’m nodding and humming a little tune to myself as I repeat the process over another nine times on this side of the boat.
Before I know it, I’ve run out of rub-rail to smear, drill, and screw. Whew! And I still have a epoxy left. I’m tempted to begin the other side immediately, but my better judgement kicks in. “No way is this not going to get unworkable before you finish the other side. Toss the remainder and make a new batch.” I scold myself, “Just do it! A little waste is better than a giant mess.” I reluctantly toss the paper bowl and its remainder of epoxy into the waste bin and heave a sigh as if I’ve just averted a major catastrophe. While my resolve is still strong I mix up another batch to repeat the success of the first side. I’m so tickled with myself after both sides have been done, that I give myself the rest of the day off!
I walk out of the shop and realize to my chagrin that the sun is setting and it’s time to knock off for the day anyway. I wonder as I walk to the house, “Why did mom insist that dad not install overhead lights in the shop?”
I mull that little conundrum over as I shower and change for making dinner. At some point it occurs to me that if there were lights in the shop, I’d still be out there and not in here. I laugh out loud. “Poor dad! Mom knew you all too well!” I am my father and mother’s son; no doubt about that, I’m thinking.
“Okay, Dashiel; what have you left to do?” I ask myself as I stand in the doorway to the shop this morning. My eyes are drawn to the mast still hanging in the corner where I fiberglassed it. “Mast step, lathing inserts, finish panels on bow and transom, bow deck, prow pieces, skegs and…” I falter. I look over at the seats, thinking I have only to sand them and coat them with epoxy and once they are installed this is a done deal! “Oh and make the polytarp mainsail and jib…” I remind myself so as not to get the big head.
I reach over to the workbench and pick up one of the thwart sleeves. “Might as well get these attached.” Then I realize the floor has to be fully installed before the thwart sleeves or it’ll never go in. “Alrighty then. More thickened epoxy it is!”
I put on yet another pair of latex gloves and get to the task of bedding the supports and putting a coat of epoxy on the underside of the flooring as well as more to the inside hull—no chance to get at those areas after the floor is installed. “This is just going to be a gooey morning.” I console myself.
None of this is taking very long; before I know it I’m fitting in the thwart sleeves and that’s when the day takes a turn. For whatever reason, the starboard sleeve—the first one I try to install—doesn’t want to fit as well as it did before I glued it up. That’s when it hits me: I didn’t insert a spacer where the actual thwart would be. Both sleeves are squinched in just enough to not go into place.
“Okay.” I sigh and do the one thing I really despise having to do. I wedge it apart far enough to get it on and hear the sound I dread. SNAP. So, I reach for the sandpaper and clean out the glue. “This is just a day for thickened epoxy.” I resign myself to the chore and actually it doesn’t take long. In fact they look as good as if there’d never been any hitch at all. However my light is gone and I only have two more days before I have to go up to the university to register for my after school classes.
Oddly enough, as I walk to the shop this morning I realize that the mast step, and other little bits I have to complete might just get mostly done today if I focus. I chuckle; as if I haven’t undertaken this little project with blinders on from the outset.
The mast step is just a bit of assembling a little jigsaw puzzle with glue, and my coffee is still warm.
Next are the mast inserts. It takes no time at all to configure the Shopsmith for lathing. Actually it takes longer to mark the centers of the oversized dowels. Once they fit their respective mating parts, I epoxy them in place—just one end of each—they have to come apart when I wish, after all. The epoxy has a decent working time so I set up the drill press and drill out the anchor pin hole through both the step and the base of mast insert at one throw.
Then it’s just bedding and screwing in the step and letting the mast parts cure out on their own. That accomplished, I turn to the finishing panels for the bow and transom, and deck piece for the prow. As long as I’m measuring and cutting plywood again, I drag out some cardboard and shape the prow pieces. Once I’m happy with the fit of the templates, I cut out the actual pieces, bore the holes for the extra large copper grommets and voila! I’ve run out of light again. And it seemed as though I was on such a roll! I spread glue on the finish panels and bow deck and clamp them off in the waning light. “At least something will cure out over night besides a couple mast inserts.” I console myself.
Last day, I remind myself that even though I have to go into town tomorrow I will not rush through anything today.
I take the clamps off the bow and transom and cut some copper to swage into the prow pieces. That done I mix up epoxy and get out the wonder tape to install them. They look pretty good. I’m still admiring them from all angles when the phone rings and I nearly leap from my skin. I haven’t had any contact with the outside world for… well a long time and I’m a little unnerved. “Hello?”
“Dash! You’re still alive!” Reggie’s voice is tinged with what I know is concern, but no one else would probably detect it in her tone. I’m careful to not sound abrupt.
“Sure. Whatcha expect? And to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?” I make a nice flourish at the end, she loves histrionics.
“Unexpected?! Dash you promised to take me with you to early registration and it’s almost noon!” She sounds more agitated than her words.
I chuckle, “But that’s on the twenty-fifth—tomorrow. I remember.” My mirth is not contagious.
“Dashiel Drummond! Do you own a calendar? Today’s the twenty-fifth!” she chastens.
No one’s around to see but I know for a fact that I turn pale. I hear my own voice, “I’m on my way to your place as I speak!, Seeya in ten!” and I hang up the phone and head for the door at the same time. Jeez! I do need to look at a calendar from time to time.
The dust cloud my truck wheels kick up as I skid to a stop in front of the Segersson’s house hasn’t settled as Reggie climbs in. She’s grinning with anticipation of going to University—even though as an observer—it’s a ‘grown-up’ activity and she is looking more like a ‘grown-up’ every day. I can’t help but notice that she’s wearing make-up, and that’s not all…
“Aren’t you going to complement my choice of clothes?” she wheedles.
None of the frustration I heard on the phone is in her voice anymore. She’s all… she’s… I sputter still staring at her, “You’re beautiful;” I say without reservation in abject sincerity. I am totally caught off-guard.
She smoothes her tight-fitting broad-low-necked sweater-blouse with a practiced motion and crosses her legs towards me to make sure I notice she’s wearing heels with her black knit capris. The engine is idling and I can’t tell if it’s the truck, herself or me that’s purring so loud.
She throws her head back in a genuine laugh and punches me in the arm. Her cheeks redden a little, “C’mon Dash let’s get going! I can’t wait to see the campus as a future student.” She looks away and I realize she’d reddened not out of frustration but embarrassment. I’m still staring at her up and down. I never did that before… and especially not at Reggie of all people.
I shake it off and gun the engine, forgetting to put it back in gear. That was embarrassing. Reggie cackles. Evidently I’m responding to her transformation better than she’d hoped. I’m mortified. “Oops…” is all I can get out and take a deep breath.
“Dashiel Richard Drummond!” she soothes, “you’re adorable! Now take us to campus please.”
I nod absently like a bobble-head toy and mechanically get the truck rolling in the right direction. I find myself glancing over at her like I have a nervous tic or something. This is ridiculous! I give myself a mental shake-down and have another go at civil conversation.
“I’ve really lost track of time the last couple weeks,” she’s smiling at me and looking at my hands on the wheel, “I’ve gone ahead and built the little dinghy mom designed before they…”
I don’t get to finish; Reggie’s face lights up even brighter, if that’s possible, “Oh! When can we go out on the lake Dash?! Can we just swing back by the house when we’re done at campus?”
I chuckle and it’s a relief to momentarily not be under the Regina-Spell. “She’ll float right now, but that’s about it I’m afraid. I still have a few more little bits to finish up on her before her maiden voyage. But I’ll…” Again I don’t get to finish.
“Won’t you please swing by the house anyway, after, I really want to see it!” she practically sings.
I’m grinning; I nod, “You betcha.”
She settles back in her seat and without my saying to, buckles up as we hit the state road and turn up toward Billings and the MSU campus up there. It’s almost a couple hours, if you drive like a blue-hair or old man in a hat. “Dash?” she starts, “Dad noticed some cattle haulers heading up to the ranch a couple weeks ago.”
“Yeah, I finally got a good buyer for the cows that didn’t calve last spring.” I start to tell her about meeting Jake Tranier.
“That’s what I told him.”
I realize she’s proud that she seems to always know what’s happening at the ranch and with me. That’s likely why she sounded so peeved at my not showing up ‘on-time’ for the university trip; Of course! Pay attention Dash; she’s still talking.
“…told mom and Mrs. Hinsley—Sylvie wasn’t home yet—that ‘Dashiel Drummond was the most capable rancher-entrepreneur in all of Park County, maybe all of northwestern Wyoming’!”
Her matter-of-fact tone and that she wasn’t looking at me gave me to think that she considered that statement to be a foregone conclusion everybody just ought to know already.
“…You started to say something about the Traniers?” she looks at me now. I don’t think I got that far. Reggie’s spooky sometimes.
I clear my throat, “The eldest, Jake. He’s up at MSU, Bozeman. A junior this year. Sharp guy. I like him.”
“And just what qualities has the inestimable Mr. Jake Tranier that have so whelmed Mr. Drummond?” Reggie’s tone might have been taken as sarcastic by anyone else, but I can hear the undertone of sincerity and respect she really does hold for me. It’s kinda mutual. Reggie’s been pretty much my closest friend for as long as the Segerssons have lived out here—nearly since we were toddlers.
I chuckle. “Well, for one: he doesn’t think I’m crazy.”
“Always a good sign,” she holds up a finger as if ticking off the list with me. I join the fun.
“And… he rides really well, and knows his stuff where managing a ranch is concerned…” I enumerate; she holds up two more fingers.
“And… uh, he handled the cattle truck drivers and the loading like a pro.” One more finger goes up; I give her a sideways look like she’s being stingy. She rolls her eyes and adds a fifth finger.
“Then of course there’s the fact that he’s agreed to come and work for Drummond Enterprises after he graduates.” I try and keep a straight face.
Her jaw drops. I think I’ve finally really impressed Regina for once. Or maybe she’s astounded that there is someone else on God’s green earth that recognizes my particular qualities.
“You’re sh…ing me.”
Now my mouth drops open but with a grin at the corners. The contrast between her ‘grown-up lady-like appearance and demeanor with what just came out of her mouth was… well, priceless!
She hears her own exclamation echo in the cab and blushes to her toes—I’m pretty sure; I can see her ankles after all.
“Uh, I mean,” she sputters, “I think I’m liking this Mr. Tranier already too.”
We sit quietly for a long while. The booming town of Bridger winks by outside and we continue up the Clark River valley, just about the halfway point up to Billings from the Ranch. I try and assess my feelings, which have been more than a little shaken and stirred from the instant the phone rang and jolted me into the world outside again. There’s my losing track of time. Okay, that can happen. There’s Reggie’s outstanding appearance—I’ve got this image of my buddy, the skinny girl, overlaid on what my eyes are plainly seeing beside me and it’s like having really blurred vision. I mean there are actually curves where a girl’s supposed to have curves and everything… I shake my head suddenly, involuntarily like a shiver. There’s her absolute devotion—I knew she looked up to me like a big brother or something, but I’m starting to get the niggling impression, or feeling, or something, that maybe there’s something else…
I catch myself staring at her and the road ahead in equal glances. She’s smiling like she does when she finishes a barrel-ride and knows she nailed it. Or when she… Myriad images splatter across my memory of Reggie’s happiest times. I sigh aloud.
“Am I boring you, Dash?” she puts out her lower lip as she asks, but her tone isn’t pouty; at all.
I have to laugh. “Never in a million years! I was just overwhelmed all of sudden.” I admit, “I think I know you better than anyone else is all, and it sorta got me all at once.” I shrug and I’m sure my expression is comical, “I dunno how to say it.”
She sighs now too, and puts her hand over mine on the steering wheel. “That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me Dash. Thank you.” That was it. A simple thank you and I swear her eyes were tearing up, but she looked out the other window so quickly I couldn’t tell for sure. Her hand was still on mine on the wheel and her grip wasn’t letting up. “Dash?” She’s still not turning back to face me. “Do you think I’m pretty?” Her voice was the faintest, quietest imitation of Regina Segersson I’d ever heard from her.
“Reggie,” I blurted, “I told you when you got in the truck. I meant it.” I hesitate realizing I do mean it. “You are beautiful.” I add quickly, “And I don’t just mean because I’ve never seen you dressed up this way or that you look like a runway model, or that…” I don’t get to finish, again.
“Huh?!” She spins to face me now. “Say that part again… A runway model!?”
I’m thinking I’ve made a blunder. She touches the edge of a handkerchief, I didn’t notice her get out, to the edge of her eye. I take a deep breath. “I mean… well,” this is embarrassing. A guy’s thoughts should get to stay a guy’s thoughts; I suddenly realize. “…You’re not a skinny little girl. You’re this curvaceous, I mean elegantly, I mean alluring… Oh! I don’t know what I mean. You’re just beautiful. Okay!” I’m speechless and I know I sound to myself like an idiot.
Reggie takes her hand away from mine on the wheel and uses both hands to blow her nose. Really loud. That’s the Reggie I know! I grin again.
“Thank you! That’s better all of a sudden.”
She bursts out laughing and pulls down the visor mirror and surprises me again. She meticulously adjusts her eye make-up with the immaculately painted nail of her little finger, and dabs at her lipstick daintily. This is so not the Reggie I have ever known. And I have to question myself. Maybe she is exactly the same Reggie and I have been seeing only what I wanted to see? I gasp.
“No what? Dash, seriously; you don’t speak for almost an hour and now all I get is grunts and sighs and gasps and really nice, but odd, complements. If I knew you’d be such a oaf if I got dressed up for going to university I would’ve just thrown on my jeans and a T-shirt.” This time I don’t let her finish.
I mutter, “…Like you wouldn’t look like a million bucks in a potato sack.”
Reggie positively beamed. “Mister, that just won you a hamburger and fries at the first place we get hungry! I have money too, ya know.”
I changed the subject a little more forcefully than I intended, “I-90 turn off; ’bout fifteen minutes to go!”
Reggie swings with the shift like she expected it or something. She sees the approaching billboards near the junction and points. “There! That’s where we’re having an early dinner after we get you registered.” She turns to me and grins; “Dad and mom insisted that I pay for your gas for hauling me along with you. But what about that instead?”
I follow her arm still pointing at the sign with the huge, basket-weave windmill, not surprisingly advertising the Windmill Club— Fine DiningRoom and Patio. “Whatever you say gorgeous.”
I remember registering for my classes, sure. But what is freshest in my memories of that afternoon are the hundreds of turned heads Regina got on campus from the sons of farmers and ranchers and bankers who were up there for orientation and early registration like I was. Then the early evening at the Windmill Club. She let me ask for patio seating, then she insisted I order for both of us, then when a few of her favorite tunes came over the restaurant speaker system she took my hand and insisted we dance around our table—which became contagious; other couples out that early joined in. Then when the check came she slipped her entire stash of cash into my hand under the table. Really? I started to feel as though I was being seduced or something; and honestly? It was working! We were both on cloud nine and just chatted and giggled all the way back to the ranch.
Yes, the ranch. She reminded me that I’d promised her we’d swing by the place so she could see Kitten. A promise is a promise. Besides all she had to do was call her folks and tell ’em where she was. She’d stayed out at the ranch almost as much as the weather anyways.
I fetch a couple lanterns from the barn and open up the shop for her. “Here she is!”
“Ooh, she’s adorable!” Reggie caresses the hulls and walks around and around the little dinghy. She looks up at me, I know what’s coming and hold up my hand.
“I’ve still got to install her keels and seats, make her sails and fit out all her rigging yet. Not to mention giving her a few good coats of varnish.”
“Are you supposed to stand in her or sit?” Reggie is quietly trying to work out the travel arrangements already.
“That’s a good question,” I rejoin. “I think mom was planning on standing to row her and sit in the sole when sailing.”
“Well,” Reggie responds quick as a cat, “I realize she’s not that big or anything but won’t it be a little slippery. Standing in her I mean?”
I’m just staring back. I hadn’t actually gotten that far yet. “I haven’t thought of that.” I look at her sole. “Some sort of skid protection is in order. That just makes sense.”
Regina dimples, “It’d be really pretty to have one of those woven wood thingies like on those big yachts where the pilot steers.”
“The cockpit;” I add. I had had to add to my knowledge of all things nautical over the last couple weeks.
“Yeah. Like a woven wooden welcome mat!” She almost shivers with enthusiasm and the effect is mesmerizing on me. “Can we do that, Dash?”
The ‘we’ she used isn’t lost on me for a second. And the mixed emotions rise in me like a knee jerk reaction. “We?” I mutter aloud, but she’s undaunted, or immune, or something.
“Sure, here let me show you…” and she reaches for one of the pencils I try to keep in reach at all times and starts sketching on the butcher paper covering the layout table. “We did diaper patterns in Art class last semester. Ms. Naomi said I was a natural…” and she’s drawing out what looks exactly like a basket weave of one by three inch rectangles. “See, you just cut out… I don’t know… probably a hundred and fifty of these shapes and then just glue them in place and voila! Skid protection—and really pretty, too!” She looks up from the sketch. I know I’m grinning like a kid in a candy store. Mom would love that touch. I tell her as much.
“Good!” and Reggie reaches for my dad’s shop apron and pulls it over her head. “Let’s do it!”
For the second time, at least, today, my jaw drops. “Now?” I wince. “But I’ve never worked out here at night.” Even to my ears that sounds really lame. Reggie just giggles and starts pawing through the big box of aromatic cedar.
“Do you have a mitre saw or something like that?” she asks.
I am surrendering to the inevitable; “Better than that; I’ve got a band saw. But I think for this purpose we’ll need the table saw first. I mean a couple hundred of the same shape is pretty much what that tool was designed to handle.” I glance over at the Shopsmith and decide. “I’m gonna get a few more lanterns. Mom insisted there be no lights in here—that was to keep dad from disappearing in here for days on end.”
She laughs out loud. “I know. Mom told me and made sure the same rules applied at our house with daddy’s workshop. He blamed your dad…” and she keeps pulling out suitable pieces. “Do you have any more of this beautiful wood?”
I am caught mid-step suddenly remembering; “Actually, there may be a whole unopened box behind those full sheets of laminate over there…” I point and head back to the barn for the other lanterns. This is turning into the best day, rather night, or day and night I’ve had in a long long time.
When I get back into the shop and set up the rest of the light, it is as bright as mid-day and Reggie’s standing over Kitten, pencil and framing square in hand. “I’m using really light lines, but we have to have a template to lay out the pieces you cut otherwise the pattern will drift and we’ll never get a decent border.” I shrug and turn to set up the table saw. “By the way Mr. Kitten’s Daddy, what kind of border would you prefer and to what extent would you like this mat to reach across her sole? Did I get that right? The floor is called her sole?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure. Uh…” I was beginning to feel a little over my head and I built the thing for crying out loud. “Whatever looks best to your eye. I have the utmost confidence in your judgement.”
She stops and looks directly in my eyes. “Dashiel! That’s like the third time you’ve praised me really nicely today. Is there something, anything else I should know about this change of heart you seem to be pouring out on me?” She’s waiting.
I take a deep breath. “Actually, Regina…” and I notice she’s holding her breath all of a sudden. “…I should say that this is the best day of my life since my folks passed away. And I owe it all to you. I’m very thankful for knowing you. Privileged even. I feel like I’m seeing you, yourself for the first time and I’m in awe.”
She doesn’t hesitate a second. She crosses to me, still with the pencil and square in her hands, and puts her arms around my neck and hugs me tighter than I would’ve guessed she could. Her mother is right she is really strong! She whispers, “Me too, Dash, me too. Really, really best day ever!” With that she giggles in joy, spins on her heel and goes right back to drawing out the template.
I have the saw ready and check once more with her, “One inch by three inches? And like a couple hundred of them?”
“Yep” she answers absently and points at the unopened box she found where I thought it might be.
I rip it open and start setting up the jig for cutting multiple ‘one by three’ bits at once. First I figure I’ll cut the one inch strips from the planks, then bundle them into say a dozen at a time with a couple clamps. Then it’ll just be a simple matter of whacking three inch groups at a throw. After I have the first dozen strips ready, I clamp them up and announce, “Okay Madam Designer, here comes your first batch.”
“Ready and waiting Buana…” she looks up and states, “I made nice rounded edges on the ‘mat’ and centered it in her sole. It’ll mean a lot of little bits will have to be cut but it’ll be beautiful! Promise.”
I run the first bundle through and as the blade stops, take them off them off the table and hand them to her. “Whatever you say…” and turn back to churning out the little pieces of the puzzle.
It takes maybe a half hour to go through the first bundled dozen which yield right at a hundred and seventy pieces. I step over to see her progress and catch my breath. “Now that’s really nice skid protection!” She giggles at the reference to our utilitarian work of art. And it is: a work of art. Then as she lays out the remaining bit that’s still within the border she’s drawn, she sucks in her breath.
“Ooh! Am I going to have to pick these up and do this all over again to glue these down?!” Her voice is sincere chagrin and disappointment mingled. I shake my head; I had just come to the same conclusion but…
“Not at all. I have have to give this floor a few coats of epoxy. We’ll just stretch this here ‘Wonder Tape’ carefully over your entire masterpiece and lift it ‘in toto’ from the floor then put it back after the first coat is on. It’ll stick—I promise! Then the couple coats after that will seal the deal. You’re doing great. Now what else do you need from me?”
Her relief is tangible. “All these that stick out passed the border have to be trimmed off, and you have to make a thin, maybe three-eighths wide border strip to go all the way around.”
“Can do!” I step over to the table saw and slice a few of the remaining one inch strips in halves. Then start taking the table saw apart so I can use the band saw.
She’s staring at what I’m doing now. “Wow, that is a really cool tool! What else does it do?” I enumerate all it’s incarnations as I set the band saw tensioner and reach a hand for the first to be trimmed. She hands me the pieces, two at a time and and tells me as she points “…keep the large side on this one, the small side on this one. Have you used all those tools?”
I nod as I dial the motor down to jig saw speed from table saw speed—which I should have done before turning her off before… oh well. “Yep, all her wonder avatars have gone into Kitten.”
I hand back those first two and take the next ones; same instructions. And on we go around the perimeter of the ‘mat’ until I reach for the next ones and instead of pieces of wood she takes my outstretched palm and kisses it. Smiling she adds, “It’s done. Look for yourself.”
Which I can’t wait to do anyway. “Wow… You’re a magician!”
Her laughter and pride even make my heart swell. We hug. It is impromptu. I mean at least for me I hadn’t… I mean it didn’t even cross my mind before that… We just… And we are standing there under the bright lanterns next to the beautiful Kitten and it’s like three in the morning and we’re both just as wide awake as can be. And then she breaks from me suddenly and takes a couple quick steps for the shop door. Turning back to my bewildered face she says, “I know just what this moment calls for! Be back in a sec…” and she’s dashing to the house.
Now I realize Reggie knows my house as well or better than I do—Especially the kitchen and pantry. Her mom and her spent way more time with my mom in there than I ever did. She comes back in a moment, only slightly winded. “Here we go! Your mom was saving this for my mom, for my sixteenth birthday party. I was supposed to have this really big ‘coming out’ sort of party. They were going to invite all my friends and their closest friends and well…” Her voice trails off and it dawns on me all of a sudden what a completely self-absorbed, arrogantly self-centered jerk I have been since that day. As if it was always just about me.
Reggie lost the promise of something very special to her, her mom lost a really really close friend and all the plans they had for seeing their kids grow up together were dashed. And I am only now seeing passed my own myopia into the pain of others! I reach for Reggie and hold her tight. “You’ll still have that party Reggie; I promise you that. I may not have the same friends my mom had, but I bet they’ll all love to celebrate your finest hour right here at the ranch the way our moms intended!”
The tears that are trickling down her cheeks are a real contrast to the beatific face staring up into mine. “This must be what angels look like.” I almost whisper.
Her moist giggle is refreshing. She pushes what she went to fetch into my chest. “Here. Open it up. We’re toasting Kitten and us.”
I look at the bottle in my hands. I recognize it; I could have found it in the house as easily as she had. It’s one from the case of the ‘brandy’ that mom and dad brought back from Sweden the last time they were there. “The label is in Swedish, but your dad promised us that it was basically brandy.” Reggie assures me. I nod. I was there when he showed it to Marilyn and Dave after they got back and said it would be perfect for a party. Now I realize to just which party they they were referring—Reggie’s Sweet Sixteenth.
“That’s this October!” I blurt out suddenly. She nods at me shyly. Now it comes crashing around my head. Man, have I really had blinders on! No wonder Reggie looks like a woman! She is! A year behind in school but only seven or eight months younger. I never put two and two together… all this time I… Jeez…
As if reading my thoughts; which I’m not entirely certain anymore she doesn’t do; “It’s okay Dash. I love you anyway. Now open that bottle!”
I glance at the workbench to spot the swiss army knife that haunts the bench. It’s usually just a matter of catching a glimpse of the handle—it moves around a lot… “Ah!” And I unfold the corkscrew. With practice I could probably get good at this little chore too. I don’t have any practice though. It takes me a moment to get the thing to work properly. Meantime, Reg is producing snifters she’d also fetched from the house. I can’t imagine where she carried… then I notice from where she pulled out the second one. She readjusted her loose top and it was no surprise that the glasses were so warm.
I wake up in my room and hear the shower in the master bedroom around the corner down the hall. The sun is masked by some storm clouds that when I glance out the kitchen window, appear to be about to burst. First sign of the approaching fall season on the Clark River.
“That smells good. I told mom you could cook for yourself!” Reggie’s chipper voice brings back all of yesterday and the night before that, when I glance at the wall clock, was only retired five hours ago. “Poached eggs on toast and bangers. You really know how to keep a girl healthy,” she observes with a grin. That’s when I realize she’s not in her outfit from yesterday.
“That looks familiar. And where did you pack extra clothes? That clutch you brandished yesterday couldn’t have had those in it.”
She curtsies and looks me evenly in the eye; “Dash of course it’s familiar, it’s from your mom’s closet.” She holds my gaze. Probably ready for some angst to spew out of me over having my mom’s stuff toted out in front of me.
I turn back to turn the last of the sausages; “Looks great on you. Although truth be told, I’m starting to realize you’d look great in nothing at all.” I hear my voice and shudder at the echo. “I mean anything you might wear or didn’t…” I can feel my foot sinking deeper into my goofy mouth.
Reggie cackles. “Thanks, I think. But we’ll just not repeat that little tidbit. A girl’s got a reputation to uphold! Flattering as your imagination may be. Now, about that heavenly smelling breakfast and what else are we doing to Kitten this fine day?”
It’s dawning on me with conviction that Reg has adopted Kitten. I hand a plate to her with a fork, spoon and knife between my fingers. She accepts the lot with ease and settles at the table.
“Like I said last evening,” I begin eating at the same time, “Keels, seats, sails and hardware… Oh, and a couple coats of varnish.”
She’s nodding; she remembers just fine already. She just likes to see if I’m consistent most of the time, I know. “And what may I begin with?”
My mind races. I am so unused to having ‘assistance’ in my projects. Being an assistant to mom or dad, sure; but having an assistant? “Uh…”
“Oh c’mon. You know I’m capable. I won’t mess anything up,” she cajoles. That is an understatement. She’s already made Kitten seven times prettier in one evening. Before we turned in, in the wee hours of the morning, we did cover her masterpiece in the wonder-tape and lifted it out long enough for me to smear out a coat of epoxy on the sole. Then we carefully replaced it precisely where she said to. Truth be told if it weren’t for making her breakfast I’d already be in the shop peeling off the tape. I’m dying to see the artwork again.
“It’s not that, Your Goofiness, it’s just that I haven’t laid out the mast and spars to get the measurements for the mainsail yet. Let alone tried to figure out the dimensions the jib will require.”
“So I can make sails?” She sounds almost ecstatic. “Really? I was sure you were going to nix any more Reggie-ness in Kitten.”
I shudder. “Not have your help? Are you for real? You’re yanking my chain, right? Seriously? After the minor miracle you pulled off with a bunch of cedar bits… and just off the top of your head to boot. I insist you pretty up Kitten as much as you’re willing!” I explain, “I only hesitated because I’m not used to delegating anything. You know: up by my own bootstraps and all that?”
Her eye brows rise into her forehead. “Oh yeah. I most certainly do know. In fact I’m the resident authority on Mr. Dashiel Bootstraps.” She’s emphasizing the point with her fork and bit of toast flips off the end and settles plop on the end of my nose. She shrieks with laughter and hops across the table. Before she can say oops, she’s licked the toast and egg off my nose and stops suddenly staring at me, like someone’s run a mega current of electricity through her all of a sudden. “Uh…” she offers.
It’s my turn to laugh out loud. “Yeah we might oughta have a talk about this ginormous elephant in the room…”
She settles back into her chair without taking her eyes off mine. I get the feeling I’m supposed to continue since I brought it up, sorta.
“Well, to my way of thinking, and to be honest with my feelings,” she’s tensing, I can tell but I plow ahead. “One: We’ve known each other longer than we’ve known anybody else on earth—pretty much raised like siblings.” She nods but without commitment yet. “Okay, Two: I’m such an oaf I only notice yesterday after however many years that the picture of the skinny little girl I’ve had lodged in my mind of you, is—rather probably has been for quite a while—as obsolete as last year’s new computers.”
I finally get a nod of agreement from her with conviction behind it, but she’s still not offering verbal feedback. “Yeah well, I did say I’m an idiot. Anyway, Three: I have always been your biggest fan and hopefully closest confidant so nothing changes there…” I add quickly, “Just as you have proven over and over again how you are for me.”
Again resolute nodding but no words. “Uh, Reggie, care to chime in here? Anytime…”
She looks down at her plate and almost whispers, “You left out that you think I’m pretty and beautiful and brilliant. That’s what you said yesterday…”
“And you are absolutely beautiful, pretty inside and out and more brilliant than any other young woman in Clark County probably all of northwest Wyoming.” I insist. She brightens a little.
“Well, then what’s the ‘elephant’ again?” she corners me with that one. I really opened this conversation?! Dashiel?
I blurt out, “Sex.” I can’t just leave it at a monosyllable, “I am a guy and I see you, a gorgeous girl, I have… uh… stirrings inside me…”
The coffee she is sipping just then gets snorted out her nose and she grasps for a napkin just as quickly. She recovers, “Well that’s getting right to the nub of it!”
I roll my eyes and feel my face warm up in an instant. I grab my mug and slam down the rest of my coffee. “Well, how would you put it?!”
She does something now I’ve only seen in her once before and that was just yesterday: she straightens her shoulders and looks me straight in the eye with a really soft expression on her face. “Dash, I told you yesterday, or this morning, or whatever. I know it was sorta offhanded, but it was truth for me.”
My mind is like a computer running every single phrase she uttered in my presence from the time I picked her up at her folks house. Before she has to repeat it, I interrupt. “I still love you too, Regina Astrid Segersson. Always have, I imagine I always will.”
She is visibly relieved and opens up a little more. “As for ‘sex,’ as you started to say…” and she looks positively wistful. “Not that I haven’t given it more than a passing thought, but honestly Dash? Haven’t you got enough on your plate just now? I know I’m about to. I just can’t see adding that to the list of stuff that is constantly demanding my every attention. I don’t mean to sound overly detached or anything, I do have sexual feelings, but I don’t have to act on them.”
Again, my newest normal expression adorns my face. My mouth is hanging slack. “I…” I summon some reserve of decorum, “I feel exactly the same way Reggie. I just didn’t imagine that you… well that any girl… that you could just…”
“…Put Reason over Emotions and be confident about my decisions?” she asks coyly. I know it’s a trap but I stick my head in anyway.
“Actually: yes. Sorry but yes.” There I admitted it. Regina will probably never cease to amaze me.
She winks, “That’s what I thought. Your mom always said: it’s good to amaze the fellas every so often; keeps ’em on their toes— just where they should be around a woman. Besides Dash, love isn’t sex and you know it.”
I nod absently, but remark, “Let’s go get started on Kitten before the bottom drops out of those clouds.”
“Probably ought to take a picnic out there so we won’t have to run back to the house to eat…” she adds and starts tossing stuff from the fridge onto the counter. “Oh! And I never noticed, there is a toilet in the shop, isn’t there?” her voice wasn’t exactly pitiable.
“You betcha! Mom insisted on it. Though dad said he could just…”
She waves a hand for me to stop, “Yeah I get it, dad says the same thing to mom.”
We pick up where we left off in the wee hours. I peel off the tape and all the bits stay stuck to the sole. Thankfully. It looks wonderful. I start putting away tools and stuff that’s cluttering the layout table so that Reg has a clear area for getting the dimensions off the spars and mast for the main. I’m sure I’m not going to have to give her but the least instruction or guidance, so I get a chunk of cardboard, lay it on the bench and start pulling down the straps to flip Kitten over, again.
“Whatcha doin?” Reg asks offhandedly.
“Turning the boat over so I can fit her skegs.” I answer absently.
“Oh. You know I am pretty strong; I could help you do that without those straps.”
I smack my forehead. “Honestly, it just didn’t occur to me! Sure, give a fellow a hand if you will. I’ll take the bow if you’ll get the stern.”
She skips to the back of the boat and tests Kitten’s weight. “She’s as light as a feather! No diet for this girl…” and she lifts the stern with ease. I nod to her left and we turn Kitten clockwise Reg’s way ’round and set her back on her cradle.
“Thanks pard.” I give a two fingered salute. She returns it in kind and goes back to laying out the mast and spars.
“I’m going to make this look proportional, and I bet I get it just the way it was intended…” she’s muttering but I catch enough of it to know she’s well into design mode.
I lay up the cardboard and sketch out the curves and outlines necessary. I glance over my shoulder every so often just to see how she goes about what she does. Surprisingly, pretty much exactly the way I do. Methodical, measured, proportional and pretty… pretty is as important as any other consideration; save reasonable and practicable I mean.
“These jaw thingies are really nice…” I hear her whisper as she fits them over the mast laying just at the edge of the table so she can get the alignments set just so.
By the time I’ve cut the skegs on the band saw and sanded them to fit snug, she has the polytarp laid out and is cutting the outside of what will be the hem. I mix up some epoxy and tape the keel pieces in place to bed them without their moving. While the thickened epoxy’s still wet I cut and apply the fiberglass reinforcement so it’ll all cure out together and be done. Speaking of done; when next I glance over at the layout table, Reg is just folding up the bolt rope in the two-sided tape seam that is the sails hem. She senses my stare.
“Be ready for grommets in no time. I found a sharpie to mark the spots they go… figured pencil marks would just disappear under this and the sealing tape I still have to put on.”
Just like I would’ve done it…
And Then Do It Again
“Whatever we plant in our…mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality.”
It’s summer again nearly a year since I rode with Jake Tranier up to the high pastures, built Kitten, dined at the Windmill Club and witnessed the first blossoming of Regina Segersson. Kitten went together far more quickly with Reggie’s assistance. We spent every Sunday we could spare, when other commitments weren’t intruding, out on the lake sailing and fishing. When October and her Sweet Sixteen event came around, she and her mother sent out the invitations—all women and girls by the way. Reggie insisted, and I was delighted, that she have the celebration at the lake. All I did to assist was to set up the pavilions and have the ‘road’ up to the lake made ready for regular cars to make it back there. Oh, and I went ahead and installed a generator shack with rest room facilities, a nice little stone building that looked like a miniature alpine cottage, so that the party would have lights and such for so many women at one time for an entire day of female revelry.
Regina confided to me later that not only was it a screaming success but that the waiting list to sail Kitten never slackened all that day, and besides a bit of an autumn shower that afternoon, it was the second best day of her life. She said it with a wink and in a whisper reminded me that the best day included a certain Windmill… I remembered precisely.