Busted Axle Road
CopyrightÂ© 1993, 2001, 2010
The redeye out of Vegas wasn't crowded at all; Jennifer had a three-seat window block all to herself. Predictably, she took a window seat; she liked to look out at the lights spread out below. Crossing most of the country on the flight to O'Hare, they tended to be scattered, and sometimes there was a nearly total blankness below them. She was on the plane's manifest as Jennifer Evachevski, and she only had to use the "Oh, Wow! Do you REALLY think I look like Jenny Easton?" gag once, in a shrill Brooklyn accent so obnoxious that she wasn't bothered. Somewhere over Utah, or maybe it was Colorado, she fell asleep, and didn't wake up until the jet began its letdown for Chicago.
From there on, it wasn't a problem at all; no one even asked, and apparently no one even thought that she might really be what she looked like. After all, what would a glamorous Hollywood star, a recording star, be doing on the North Central 737 flying between Chicago and Camden?
Which is not to say that she didn't get some attention, but it was the same attention that any pretty woman traveling alone would get; all of it was easy to brush off.
What really made the trip worthwhile was being asked for three pieces of identification at the rental car counter in Camden. Jennifer produced them readily, and they were accepted without question. That made it even better; it proved to her that Jenny Easton was still in California.
It was a familiar drive up to Spearfish Lake. Once outside Camden, the traffic wasn't bad at all, but Jennifer was just a little uneasy, mostly because she was a little out of practice at driving. She made a mental note that she was going to have to drive in California more, rather than just letting Blake do all the driving. Maybe Blake made it too easy to be Jenny Easton.
But it was so nice to drive out of the Camden suburbs on the four-lane, and watch it turn to two-lane near Moffatt, just about the time that the fields and clusters of houses turned to the forests and swamps and lakes of the north woods she'd longed for over the past few months.
The reality of coming home didn't reach her until she made the left turn onto the state road near Coldwater, and hit the barren home stretch going up to Spearfish Lake. It was right along in here that she had first become Jenny Easton, or at least first realized that she would have to become Jenny Easton. It had been on her first trip to Nashville, in the old Hornet, the one she'd taken to test the waters, see what sort of reaction she would get, when the realization struck her that "Evachevski" wasn't the sort of name that would go over very well in country music. She hadn't stayed in country music long; while her first big hit, "Smoke Filled Room," had gone gold on the country charts, it was really too torchy to be country, but fortuantely she had a contract with a label that had broader interests than just country. It was eight summers before, almost to the day, that she'd started that trip; a long eight years, indeed.
Jennifer had promised herself years before that she was going to retire when she was thirty. That was three and a half years off, and sometimes she wondered if she could hold out. But those were Jenny Easton thoughts, and she had to remind herself that Jenny was back out on the coast, somewhere.
She flipped on the radio in the car; it came on with some local station, playing a polka. She found herself singing along with Frankie Yankovich, "Roll out the barrel, we'll have a barrel of fun..."
If Linda Ronstadt can do a miriachi record, she thought, I ought to be able to do a polka record. Boy, wouldn't Knox strip a gear when he heard about that! Now, that was a Jennifer thought, the Jennifer she liked to remember -- mischevious, needling people's pretensions, the Jennifer that was in control of herself, of her own destiny, capable of handling anything.
The miles flew by as she headed up the state road to Spearfish Lake. The radio station playing on the car radio was rather eclectic; it followed Frankie Yankovich with Fats Domino, and then Hank Williams, Junior, but when it segued into the familiar lead for "Fever", followed by her own voice, she hit the "search" button on the radio. " ... and now, Nathan Chamberlain with the farm markets," the announcer said.
It was good to be home. "Sows up a quarter, barrows and gilts down an eighth" was music to her ears.
Though she was anxious to see everybody, Jennifer knew it was not a good day to stop by the Record-Herald to see her mother. It was a Tuesday, and Tuesdays were always bad, and would be worse, following a Monday holiday. She had a lot of friends at the Record-Herald, and she knew that if she walked in there this morning, that everything would come to a screeching halt for an hour or more, and what the people there lost during the day, they'd make up during the evening. She thought she'd go in tomorrow, instead, mail day, maybe pitch in to get the paper out -- help with the inserts, like she'd done in high school, or maybe run the Saxmayer. It would feel good to do something productive. She could shoot the bull with everybody, and not feel like she was dragging things to a dead stop.
Though Jennifer's parents knew she was arriving, it hadn't been clear until the last minute when she would arrive, and she'd told them not to do anything special. She made her first stop at the Appliance Center; her dad was in the middle of trying to sell a dishwasher, but everything came to a screeching halt for a hug and a kiss, and a quick, noncomittal report on the trip. She helped her dad out by saying, "I've got one of these, and you can hardly hear it. It does a darn good job for the price," and was rewarded by hearing the customer say they'd take it. Once her dad had the order written up, the store was empty for a while, so they just sat and talked for a while, mostly catching up on what had happened around Spearfish Lake.
"You can go on out to the club, if you like," Gil told her, "But we're staying in town for a couple of days. Brandy and Phil are home, so we decided we'd better stay in town."
"Brandy's home? Great! Do you know how long it's been since I've seen her?"
"Why don't you slide on home and see them?" Gil suggested. "They're only going to be in town for a couple of days. In fact, they've been hanging around in hopes of seeing you. Brandy's got a couple of days she's got to get in on Rod's new dig, then they're driving out to Colorado for some research project."
"Great!" Jennifer replied. "I'm glad I caught them home. It really bothered me that I couldn't make it to her graduation."
"It was a pretty good program," Gil replied. "This time next year, plus a couple of months, and all you kids'll be gone. The house is really going to seem quiet."
"Maybe I'll have to move back in with you," Jennifer suggested. "I'll go home and see them. I wouldn't mind taking a nap, anyway. I was up late last night, and didn't get much sleep in the air."
In the driveway at home, the familiar Evachevski home of her memories, there was a three-on-three basketball game going on. Jennifer parked the rental across the street, and just watched for a second. It was apparently guys against girls, Phil Wine and Josh Archer and Danny against Brandy and the Ashtenfelter girls.