When a strong east wind carried snow off the lake, Randy and Nicole Clark's big, modern house felt cold. In spite of the big windows being triple-glazed, the mere sound of the howling through the shingles and the trees along the shoreline made the idea of getting up closer to the gas logs of the fireplace seem like a natural thing to do. Even for people as used to winter as they were, the mere thought of spring in the middle of January seemed hopeful yet almost too far away to contemplate.
"The weatherman says it's not going to be all that bad," Trey Hartwell remarked from the couch across from the chairs where Randy and Nicole sat.
"An east wind is never good around here," Randy offered, looking over at Trey and his wife, Myleigh, who was snuggled up against her husband, her legs folded up inside her long woolen dress. "Especially this time of year." There was a touch of superior experience in his voice; after all, he and Nicole had grown up around here, while Myleigh and Trey were relative newcomers – this was only their second full winter in Spearfish Lake.
Myleigh squirmed around just a little, trying to find that perfect spot to rest her head on Trey's shoulder. "I sometimes fear that spring shall never get here," she said absently. "I just hope our friends are not encountering any difficulties."
"They ought to be all right," Randy replied. "They've barely had time enough to get here, and the roads probably aren't perfect, anyway."
"I suppose it is the waiting that gives me a degree of anxiety," Myleigh commented. "After all, it has been so very long since we have seen them."
"A year ago Thanksgiving," Randy said a little unnecessarily. Everyone knew how long it had been since they'd seen Crystal and Preach. Randy, Myleigh and Crystal had been good friends – and more than that – while they'd been in college, but their lives had drifted apart as the years passed. Nicole was almost as close a friend, and Trey knew Crystal pretty well, too. Randy and Nicole's visit to Crystal and Preach in Flagstaff nearly fourteen months before had been a quick one that hardly gave justice to the quality of friendship they'd once had. Between Crystal's and Preach's jobs as boatmen running tours down the Grand Canyon, and all the other things in their lives, there just hadn't been the opportunity since. Now, they were going to have several leisurely, long-overdue days to renew their friendship.
"Anyone up for some coffee?" Nicole asked, as always playing the gracious hostess. "I have regular and decaf."
"Most certainly," Myleigh smiled. "The normal blend, if you will. It seems likely that we shall not retire early."
"Works for me," Trey agreed.
"Yeah, sure," Randy said, glancing at his wife, who didn't look six months pregnant in her loose, heavy sweater. "Whatever you're having," he added, trying to be supportive. He knew Nicole didn't care for decaffeinated coffee, and neither did he, but she was trying to be careful for the baby's sake.
"Might I be of assistance?" Myleigh asked as Nicole got to her feet. At six months she was not large, and being an athletic sort of person the pregnancy wasn't hampering her movements much.
"No, I can get it," Nicole smiled. Sometimes she thought that Myleigh was more concerned about her pregnancy than she was. Nicole had slowly come to realize that Myleigh had not spent much time around any pregnant women. She just didn't have the experience Nicole had gained with her two much-younger siblings. Close friend though Myleigh was – and Myleigh was one of Nicole's closest two friends anymore – Nicole knew that Myleigh had some holes in her life experience and world view. "You look pretty comfortable," she added as she saw how closely Myleigh was cuddled up to her husband. For a woman as independent and unique as Myleigh was, it was interesting to see just how close she'd gotten to Trey these last few years.
"Oh, I feel very comfortable indeed," Myleigh smiled as she snuggled a little closer to her husband. Nicole headed out to the kitchen and the coffeepots, where she poured a cup of decaf for herself and cups of regular for everyone else. She was aware that Randy was trying to be solicitous to her and appreciated it, but there was no reason to make him suffer either. She carried two cups of coffee in to the Hartwells, then returned for the other two, when through the kitchen window she saw lights pulling into the driveway. "I think they're here," she announced.
The announcement was all it took to break the lethargy of lying before the warmth of the fire. All four of them headed for the foyer on the backside of the house – Randy and Nicole were of the opinion that the front of the house faced the lake, not the road. Randy opened the door, and as Crystal and Preach got out of a minivan with Arizona plates, said, "Hey, welcome back to Spearfish Lake, strangers. Long time, no see."
"It's good to be back," Crystal said as she scurried around, heading for the already opened door, as Preach did the same on the far side. Both were dressed way too lightly for this January snowstorm, so that just added to their hurry. "Wonderful weather you're having," she added.
There was confusion for a few minutes as Preach and Crystal got inside with their suitcases, as there were hugs and a couple of kisses along with the general round of greetings, but soon the new arrivals had joined the others around the fire. "So, how was the show?" Randy asked.
"About the same as the others," Crystal replied. She and Preach were on their annual winter round of outdoor shows, trying to drum up business for Canyon Tours. Randy and the others knew that the two had just finished a show in Chicago, and had a few days break before the next one in St. Paul. The location and the timing made this the best opportunity to visit their friends in Spearfish Lake that they'd had in a while. "After you've been a booth bunny for a while it's all pretty much the same thing. We handed out a lot of brochures and sold a few trips, which is about all we expected to do."
"So," Nicole asked, "what are you going to be doing once you're done with the show in St. Paul?"
"Not a lot," Crystal shook her head. "Head back to Flag and watch the store for a bit while Mom and Dad take off. They're going to head out to some island way out in the Pacific that's supposed to have great diving. It'd be nice to go with them, but we got in our time in the tropics back when the season ended. So how was Chile?"
"It was a ball," Nicole smiled. "We decided that we didn't want to do anything too extreme, so we did a sea kayaking trip off a mother ship over the holidays. It was the only time we could get away together, as usual. There is some really fantastic scenery down there, and they sure fed us well. We've got a ton of pictures, we'll have to set up the projector some time."
"Probably not tonight, though," Randy added. "There's too much catching up we need to get done right now."
"Looking forward to seeing them," Crystal nodded. "I've always heard Patagonia is nice, but we haven't had the chance to get there yet. So how did the mother-ship business get along with morning sickness?"
"Not a problem" Nicole told her. "I was past that stage long before we headed down there, not that I had much trouble with it at all."
"Well, at least you two got to go somewhere," Crystal replied, knowing that she was getting near Randy's touchy spot. For years he'd held a quiet resentment at Crystal, Myleigh, and especially Nicole for their opportunity to get out and have some adventures, while he'd had to stay back in Spearfish Lake and work. It had eased somewhat in the last few years, when Nicole had literally pushed him out the door to have a few adventures of his own in the slow months of winter. The only time he and Nicole got to take long vacations together was over the Christmas holidays, which was fine but brought on stresses of their own. "Are you going to come run with us again sometime?"
"Not in the foreseeable future, unless you pull off another winter trip. That one we had last year was really something else."
"I'm afraid that's not very likely," Crystal replied. "We didn't know about that until just a few days before it happened." Due to a scheduling problem early in the summer, Canyon Tours had to cancel a trip, which left an unused trip on their Park Service allotment. After some negotiation they were allowed to use the slot on a deep-winter trip down the Canyon. The trip was made up mostly of boatmen and friends, and it had been considerably different from the normal customer trip. Randy and Trey had only about four days' notice of the trip, the third they'd made down the Canyon. "We still think it would be fun with customers sometime," Crystal elaborated, "but the customers would have to be people we knew were up for it, not just anyone."
"Let me know if you do," Randy told her. "But it's pretty clear that's going to be changing, too."
"You mean, with starting a family?"
"Yeah," Randy nodded. "We're not quite sure how it's going to change things, but it seems likely that they're going to be different."
"I'm sure they will," Preach commented. "Let's face it, a child would be a considerable change in our lives, too."
"You're thinking about it, then?" Nicole asked.
"Thought about it, discussed it, yes," Preach admitted. "Clear back to when I decided to come to the Canyon to be with Crystal. But a decision, well, that's another story."
"Let's face it," Crystal shook her head, "it's not an easy decision to make since it would be such a big change. It's not like my brother and his wife. The biggest change having a kid made for them was that they finally moved out of that tiny townhouse apartment and into a decent house. She didn't go to work for two months, but she worked from home for most of that. Preach and I couldn't be away from our kids as much as it would take to keep leading trips. On the other hand, if we're going to have kids we need to do it in the next few years or give up on the idea."
Nicole started to say something, stopped, and started again: "It wasn't an easy decision for us," she said finally. "Randy and I had always pretty well agreed we were going to have kids, but the issue was when. We finally decided that we didn't want to put it off any longer."
"How about you, Myleigh?" Crystal asked. "Have you been thinking about it?"
"The subject has come up on occasion," Myleigh replied offhandedly, feeling her husband's hand pull her a little more closely as she said it. "We have not entirely ruled it out, but we have not yet reached a decision, either. The issue hasn't seemed imperative as yet. Like you, a child would bring considerable changes to our lives, much more so than to Randy's and Nicole's."
"I suppose so," Crystal nodded. "That would settle you down, wouldn't it?"
During their college years Crystal and Myleigh had been the closest of friends, despite their many differences. Crystal was large and athletic, not exactly the world's greatest student; Myleigh was small, artistic, and studious. Though they had endured much separation in the years since college, they stayed in touch. Myleigh now taught literature classes at Weatherford College, a hundred miles to the south. She spent the first three days of the week at the college, staying in the tiniest possible apartment on Monday and Tuesday nights to limit driving in the winter. The rest of the week she spent in Spearfish Lake when she and Trey weren't traveling to a concert date to showcase her unique and exuberant harp playing. As a result, she and Trey were far and away the most traveled of the six sitting around Randy and Nicole's fireplace. "It would institute limitations that I am not altogether enthusiastic about having established," she replied thoughtfully.
It was several hours before Trey and Myleigh headed for home, which was only a couple blocks up the street from Randy and Nicole's house. Theirs was a much smaller house on the far side of the road from the lake, on what was called a "lake access" lot. Though an older house, it was still comfortable for them, and they were happy with it.
The snow was now worse, if anything. Typically, storms that came out of the east blew snow across the lake, then dumped it in the tree line along the edge of the lake, which is where their house was located. Though both of them enjoyed a good, brisk walk, neither enjoyed walking in these conditions, and it was a struggle for even the four-wheel-drive minivan to get back to their garage. The garage was unheated and drafty, but was a good deal better than having to get out of the van in knee-deep snow. Inside, the house felt warm and cozy after the short ride in the cold van.
"Good to see them again," Trey remarked as he pulled off his parka. "We don't see them enough."
"No, I fear we do not," Myleigh smiled. "I'm ever so glad that they managed to show up on my last week before break ends, else I might have missed the joy of welcoming them." She let out a sigh and continued, "I must confess my continued amazement at how far Crystal and I have come from those days as undergraduates. I know our lives are much different from what we could have dreamed in those bygone days."
Ever since he'd known her, Trey had been impressed with the less-than-casual way Myleigh used the language. These days, she tended to keep it toned down a little when around town, but with friends, in concert, in class, and especially with him she used much more formal speech than most people. Though there were many things about his wife that he loved, the unique way she used the language was one of the exotic things about Myleigh that made her stand out in his mind. Hardly a day passed that he didn't reflect on his luck that they'd hit it off. She was one of a kind and he was grateful to have her in his life. "I suppose we might as well think about hitting the hay," he commented. "Tomorrow looks like it's going to be a long day."
"It would appear to have all the qualifications," she agreed, then gave a knowing smile. "My love, I must admit that while I do not feel in the least bit ready for slumber, I am more than ready for bed."
On reflection, Trey decided that since she'd been exceptionally cuddly all evening it wasn't much of a surprise. She had not been a particularly demonstrative person when they'd first spent time together – it could hardly be called even "going together" until after their engagement. As soon as they'd first made love on their honeymoon she'd begun to enjoy the casual sensual contact, something of a surprise to Trey from a woman as independent as she had been and still was. Not that he was complaining about it, now or ever. Randy, who knew Myleigh better than just about anyone but Trey himself, had once remarked that it was "Myleigh marking her territory." Trey figured Randy might have a point.
Myleigh was intensely romantic, and some of that romanticism had rubbed off on Trey. In three years of being married they'd evolved a style that they both liked for making love. Though they might change once in a while for the sake of variety, for the most part they enjoyed long, slow, languid lovemaking that might drag on for several very sensual and intimate hours. "Quickie" was not a word in their vocabularies – not in Myleigh's under any circumstances – and especially not for either of them when it came to making love. They'd come to an unspoken agreement that if it was worth doing at all it was worth doing well. While the time it took to do it right may have meant that they didn't do it as often as some, the quality when it happened more than made up for the lesser quantity.
Since the howl of the wind was even more noticeable in their older house, it seemed even colder outside, despite what the thermometer inside said. That just gave them more reason to cuddle together to share each other's heat. While Myleigh wasn't very body shy, especially as far as Trey was concerned, most nights she wore nightwear of one sort or another, usually something feminine and frilly, often not very substantial. It was something they both enjoyed in many ways. However, the howl of the wind outside meant she went to bed tonight in a floor length flannel robe, but unbuttoned and untied, which combined warmth and sexiness to both of them. Trey wore a similar but shorter robe, and somehow the contact of their bare skin under each other's robes seemed especially intimate.
Thus it was that it was well over an hour later when the two of them lay entwined skin to skin and lip to lip in their bed, sated at least temporarily after an especially tender and intimate bout of lovemaking. "Oh, I do so love how you make me feel," she whispered in his ear. "Trey, I'm everlastingly glad that I found you. Do you ever regret it?"
"No, not for an instant," he replied in a voice as soft as hers, glorying in the taste and the smell and the feel of her in the semidarkness of the room. "I could never regret having you in my life."
"I sometimes wonder," she sighed pensively. "I especially have come to wonder about it since Nicole has been with child. Then, I must admit to more uncertainty about it after the trend of the discussion tonight."
"You mean, about Nicole and Crystal talking about deciding whether to have children?" he asked, pulling her a little closer to him.
"Yes," she whispered. "I fear I intimated that we had discussed the issue, but both you and I know we have not. Trey, you are telling me through your touch that the idea of fatherhood interests you."
This was very tricky ground and Trey knew it. She was dead right that they had never discussed having children, partly because there had been a lot going on in their lives since their marriage, but partly due to the fact that Trey had had his doubts about her desire on the subject. Though she was all the woman he had ever dreamed of having and then some, he knew that she came from an extremely troubled background. Only an iron will that she'd found somewhere – certainly not inherited from her drunken parents – had driven her to rise above that life to be the wonderful and quixotic person he knew and loved. The words "Myleigh" and "Mommy" did not fit together easily in his mind. A child could easily change that person into someone he might not like as well, so he'd been reluctant to even raise the issue.
"Myleigh," he replied slowly and thoughtfully. "If the time were right, there's nothing I would enjoy doing more than rolling you over and making you a mommy right now. But I don't know if the time is right, and I'm pretty sure you don't know either. What's more, I don't know if the time will ever be right."
"Oh, Trey," she sighed, "what did I ever do to deserve a man like you in my life?"
There was very little conversation for the next several minutes, but plenty of communication carried on by touch, taste and feel, along with little moans and other sounds of delight.
Eventually they had to come up for air, lying skin to skin as before, with her head in its favorite place, resting on his shoulder. "Trey," she whispered as she lay there, "I realize that without our discussing it you are aware of the reluctance to have children that I have often felt. It has been something I have great concern about."
"You didn't have to say it," he smiled, "I knew. I guess I've always known it about you. But that has never in the slightest kept me from loving you."
"I knew that," she replied softly. "And it is all the more reason for me to love you, that you can accept me despite my myriad faults. But Trey, I somehow can sense that you will eventually feel incomplete should we forego parenthood." She was silent for a moment, as if working up the courage to say the next thing, or figure out how to word it – something highly unusual for her. "What I wish to say, my love," she said with uncharacteristic uncertainty, "is that I am now willing to take the topic under negotiation."
"Myleigh, no," he replied firmly and immediately, a little louder than they had been talking.
"No, my love? Why not?"
"I'm willing to consider it and talk about it," he said, relaxing a little. "There are obviously several angles that we should carefully explore. But to use the word 'negotiation' implies a trade-off between one position and another, and we can't have it that way. We need to have a clear-cut decision on both our parts, without misgivings or reservations. I think it's more important for us to reach an agreement on it than it is for most people. But without that agreement I don't think it's a good idea."
She pulled him even tighter, if that were possible, pressing the side of her head up against his bare chest. "You understand my misgivings, do you not? Trey, you are easily the most sensitive man on the face of the planet."
"Let's just say that I think I understand you well enough to share your misgivings," he murmured. "But yes, if we decide we can overcome those misgivings, nothing would make me happier than to have you be the mother of my children."
"Well said, my love," she said, sliding up to where she could reach his lips with hers. "In any case, I think we need to talk about it openly, no matter what the decision. Do you agree?"
"Of course," he smiled. "I think we've reached the point where we should consider it."
"I do, too," she snickered. "My love, thanks to the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals, we could not implement a decision on the matter tonight were we both wildly in favor of it. But why don't we attempt to overcome science tonight and do our best to initiate me into motherhood anyway?"