Busted Axle Road
Chapter 73

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

It was too difficult to want to talk too much in the cab of the GP-9, so after a while, the conversation died off. Josh slumped in the fireman's seat and stared out the window, thinking about the offer Bud had made to him.

The question of college had been coming up all summer, and Josh had been kicking it around. Amy had something to do with it, of course; Josh had known from the first that she'd planned to go to Athens University, and it had helped him focus his thinking, a little. But, did he really want to go to college, or was that just running with the herd?

He'd known for some time that it was not going to be easy for his parents to send him to college. Johnny, now, that was a different story. He had been an all-A student, clearly headed for big things. Josh had mostly gotten Bs and Cs, and school wasn't all that thrilling, considering that he had six more years of it to face if he went to college.

Even when he'd been little, Josh had enjoyed it when his father had taken him out in one of the engines. "I want to grow up to be a railroad engineer, like my dad," Josh had said in grade school, and Walt had never really encouraged it or opposed it. "Whatever you want to do," he'd said.

But this summer had been different. Really working on the railroad had been a lot of fun. He'd learned a lot, and had learned enough to see that there was much more that he needed to learn if he really wanted to make a life of being a railroader. It was something he'd never really held out much thought about, since he'd known that with railroads shrinking, there were not a lot of job openings. But, this would be different; the C&SL had a solid traffic base that would probably be good for many years. It was expanding, not shrinking.

Besides, Josh thought, to get right down to it, he did like living in Spearfish Lake. Even if he did go to college, there weren't a lot of job opportunities that would keep him in town. The odds were that he'd have to move to a city somewhere, and he didn't really like the idea of living in the city. Living in Camden might be all right for Amy and Marsha; they grew up there. But, he liked the woods and the fields and the clear blue skies. Ever since he'd started working with Mark and Mike and their dog teams, he'd been sort of hoping that there would be some way he could have a dog team of his own some day, and there was no way he could do that if he lived in a city.

And, if he stayed in Spearfish Lake, he could join the fire department, maybe become an EMT. That had been one of the most satisfying things of an eventful summer; it would be something else he couldn't do if he moved to a city. In his mind's eye, he could see Amy giving Mr. Sloat rescue breathing, while he gave the chest compressions that saved his life.

Would Amy like being the wife of a railroader?

Josh sat up with a start. "What the hell are you doing, thinking about that?" he said to himself, in a voice so low that Bud couldn't have heard him across the cab of the GP-9.

No, he thought, it was a legitimate question, of a sort. If Amy was going to college, then it was probably six years before they could get married, and there was plenty of time to think about whether he wanted to marry Amy or not. Six years was a long time, no matter how you cut it. Amy had been a lot of fun to be with this summer, but now that he actually confronted the question, he wasn't so sure he liked the answer. While Amy and Marsha and Danny had gone out of their way, time and time again this summer, to keep him from feeling like an outsider, he still was on the outside. He would have liked to have been able to go out to the club this weekend, to cheer them on in the tournament, but it was out of the question. There was Josh, on the outside, again. If he didn't go to college, and Amy and Marsha and Danny did -- well, the net result would be that he would still be on the outside, looking in.

Six years was a heck of a long time; things could change a lot in six years. Things hadn't been going as well with Amy as they had before the night they went parking out at West Turtle Lake; while she was still sweet and nice to him, he could feel the change. What change would this winter bring, much less six years?

Realistically, the thing to do about Amy was to have what fun he could have with her in what little was left of the summer, and call it good enough. If it got picked up again the next summer, the summer after that, then maybe it was time to reopen the question. Now was much too early to even be considering it.

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