It was nearly three weeks after Tom and Linda's memorable Pacific City visit when, after days of trying, someone finally answered Sandy Harden’s phone call. The voice she heard on the line was loud and gruff.
“Speak up,” the man said. “Can’t hardly hear you.”
“Are you Mr. Rich?” Sandy yelled. “I’m looking for Rick Levant. I was told he might be with you.”
“Not many folks call me Mister. But I expect that’s me all right. Anyway, young Slowhorse is out in the back shed. I’ll go fetch him. Who should I say is calling?”
“Tell him it’s Sandy. He’ll know who that is.”
A minute later she finally heard Rick’s familiar voice. “Sandy? Is that you? Is something wrong? Is dad okay?”
“Your dad’s fine.”
Slow down, she reminded herself. Let him see that you are not the air-head he thinks you are. “But there is something wrong," she continued. "At least there was. Things have been happening a mile-a-minute around here and no one could find you to tell you about it.”
“What are you talking about?
“No one answered the phone.”
“I was out in the mountains with Slowhorse. We were gone almost two weeks. He’s been teaching me stuff, helping me learn some things. We just got back this afternoon.”
By then Sandy was sensing a new confusion. “Wait a minute," she said. "The man who answered the phone, Mr. Rich, called you ‘Slowhorse.’ Now it sounds like you’re saying that’s him. Who the heck is 'Slowhorse' anyway?”
“I guess we both are,” Rick laughed. “It’s kind of a family name. They say it goes back a long way. Uncle Harry thinks I should carry it on.” He paused, then returned to her earlier comments. “Anyway, when you said lots of things have been happening, what were you talking about?”
At last he had taken the bait. “First of all," she answered. "You have to promise me that you won't get mad and hang up on me. Okay?”
“Hang up? What's that about?”
Ignoring his question, Sandy carried on. “You did that once before, remember? And you’d better not do it again. Because if you do I’ll have to take matters into my own hands.
"They tell me that Browning is only three hours from here. If you hang up on me this time I’ll just drive up there and chew you out myself.”
“Three hours?” Rick’s confusion was registering, loud and clear. “Where the heck are you?”
“In Highland City, of course. We’ve come to visit for a few days. It’s too bad you weren’t home to see us.”
“Who came to visit?”
“All of us. Grandma, your dad, his daughters, Gail and I. It’s been fun. Seems like a nice place. In fact I really like it. So do his daughters....both of them.”
It took her second not-so-subtle prompt for him to realize what she was saying. “Both of them?” he repeated. “You mean there’s more than one? Now I am lost.”
Sandy was stifling her giggle, hoping to produce a matter of fact answer. “I forgot. You missed that part too, didn’t you? If you’d been there, you’d know that Bonnie is Grandpa’s daughter. Just like my mom.”
“Bonnie? But she’s....” Suddenly it felt as though he had fallen a couple of steps behind. “Sue Ann and Bonnie are sisters?”
“That’s right. Actually, half sisters. They’re both Grandpa’s daughters.”
“And you’re in Highland City? What’s that about? What the heck is going on?”
“Grandpa wanted us to see it.”
It was becoming harder to contain her laughter. “He thought we might want to live here, instead of Tanner. I’m glad he asked us to come, because we like it a lot.”
What was Sandy talking about. She was making absolutely no sense. Though Rick understood her words, they were obviously on very different pages.
“You’re moving to Highland City?” he asked.
“Yeah. I think so.”
“Well, why not? It’s a free country, you know. When Grandpa and Grandma got married they asked us to help them decide where we should live ....in Tanner or Highland City. And....”
“Hold on,” Rick interrupted. “Dad and Linda? They got married? I thought she hated him.”
“Oh, I forgot. You hadn’t heard about that either, had you?”
By then there was no need to pretend. For the next few seconds all Rick could hear was Sandy’s happy laughter spilling out. Finally she cleared her throat to explain. “I think she got over hating him.
"Anyway, they got married a couple weeks ago. It happened pretty fast, just a week after they decided. It wasn’t fancy or anything. We had the wedding at the house in Tanner. If you’d been around you would have been invited.”
By now Rick’s laughter was mirroring Sandy's. “That’s okay. I knew that he liked her. But he was so sure she wanted nothing to do with him. And now they're married? Man, that is a surprise.”
He turned serious for a moment. “And Bonnie. What’s that about? Did she have any idea?”
“No one did. Except Grandma, of course. It seems that Grandpa and Aunt Terrie had....., you know. Anyway, that’s why he left town in the first place.”
“Wow. That’s hard to believe.”
“It was a shock for sure. But once we knew, everyone was able to deal with it. Bonnie really likes having a dad and Gail finally has a Grandpa.”
“And you’re really moving to Highland City?”
“I think so. Grandpa’s talking about buying a place just down the street from his house. On the corner, by the big trees. Do you know that one? Mom and I would live there. Bonnie and Gail would be with Grandma and Grandpa. They’d fix up his place for Bonnie, with a really good lift and stuff. And he wants Mom and Bonnie to help at the hardware store.”
“And you’d be right there, in Highland City?” Rick was struggling to understand that unexpected turn of events.
New questions were coming faster than he could process them. What did her surprising revelation mean? Having tried so hard to exorcize Sandy Harden from his life, it was a bit disorienting to discover how completely he had failed. With that realization came other questions.
“What about Burt Dunn? What would he think of that?”
“Oh, he’d get over it,” Sandy answered, wanting to choose her words carefully. “He’s not a bad guy you know. Actually he’s changed a lot this year. He had kind of a rough time at the start of school. You may have heard about that.
“Anyway, he’s calmed down a lot. He’s not as loud and pushy as he used to be. But the thing is, he’s beginning to lose patience with me, getting more persistent all the time. It’s probably time for us to get away from each other. Besides, I finally figured out he wasn’t my type. I think maybe he’s a little too predictable.”
Rick passed on the urge to have her to explain. Instead, he moved on to another obvious question.“But why would you move during your senior year? That doesn’t sound like such a great idea to me.”
“We had a big family conference,” Sandy replied. “We talked about the chance to make a change....to get away from all the low expectations people in the North End have for us. We talked about being in a place where we could start over and make new first impressions. Like a new beginning.”
“And you think you could do that in Highland City?”
“I think so. Grandpa has shown us around a bit and introduced us to people. Everyone’s been real nice. I’m sure that’s because they know Grandpa and like him.”
“And school?” he asked. “Are you sure that will be okay?”
“We’ve talked about that, Gail and I. The thing is, my senior year didn’t start out so great in Tanner. I sort of got off on the wrong foot. It seemed like a change would be good for me. Then, when we got here, Grandpa introduced us to Michelle Ryan and Loni, I forget her last name.”
“Loni Cramer. She’s good people.”
“They both are. They live close by and we hit it off pretty good. I think they’ll help us get acquainted.”
By then Rick was comfortable enough for a little teasing of his own. Moving the phone to his other ear, he was ready with his own advice.
“You know, of course, there are some nice guys there at Highland High. And you can bet they'll be checking out the new girls in town. I suppose you’ll be checking them out too. Eh?”
“Gail has been talking about that.” Though she was laughing, Sandy was not about to let her response get lost in their joking word-games. “I’ve decided to take her word for it. I’m really not into all that right now.”
“You mean you’ve outgrown boys?”
“That’s not exactly what I meant. It’s just that I’m getting more selective. Anyway, if you come back here for school later on, like Grandpa said you might, I’ll probably see you sometimes.”
“And if you come back for Christmas, we’ll see you then.”
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be ready to come back by then,” Rick agreed. “Maybe before that. In fact, Thanksgiving is supposed to be a big family time. Maybe I could come down for that.”
“That would be nice,” Sandy agreed. “Everyone wants to see you again. Besides, we’ve never had our whole family together before. That’s because we’ve never had a ‘whole’ family before. Now we do. It’ll be so cool.”
Rick’s response was a few seconds coming, delayed by new and interesting thoughts. “I’ll tell you what,” he finally said. “They make a really big thing out of Halloween in Highland City. Maybe I should try to get home for that. At least for a day or two.” There was a quiet, more comfortable edge to his words. “I could make sure no goblins bothered you.”
Oh my, the reunion possibilities were becoming more interesting by the second. Sandy had called in hopes of reaching him, with no assurance he would even talk to her. She had taken a chance, and there they were, each of them feeling an indefinable something they both feared might have been lost.
“Sounds to me like you’re trying to hurry things along,” she joked. “I’m looking at the calendar. We’ve missed Columbus Day. That was last week. That might have been fun.”
Laughing to himself, Rick too was amazed at how easily they had slipped back into the comfortable familiarity of earlier conversations.
“I don’t think so,” he answered. “As far as I know Indians don’t celebrate Columbus Day. It wasn’t a high point in our history, you know. Besides, I still have things to do up here. I can’t be leaving too soon.”
“What kind of things?”
“Slowhorse is helping me understand what it means to be a Blackfeet, one of the People.” He was struggling to condense weeks of intense seeking into a few sentences. “There’s so much to learn. And he’s promised to do a sweat lodge with me before I leave.”
Sandy could feel her spirits sagging. It was time to be realistic. After all, he had moved on to a new and different life. There was no sense expecting too much. “It sounds like you’ll probably want to stay on the reservation when you’re done. Is that it?”
“Not necessarily,” Rick said. “I’m still planning to go to college. I’m going to keep my promise to Dad. No matter where I am, or what I decide to do, I want to have a degree.”
“You could do that in Highland City, couldn’t you?”
“Yeah. There or Great Falls, at least for the first two years.” Perhaps he could capsulize his situation for her. “Slowhorse is helping me understand that I can be one of the People wherever I am. The main thing is to see the world through the right eyes, and stay in touch with the tribe.”
Was he turning her off with his "reservation" talk, he wondered. Was that the price he must pay for being honest?
“It’s been a good thing," he added. "My time up here. I've made some good friends....guys my age. And I feel a lot better about myself and who I am. Anyway, I’ve come this far. I want to see it through.”
“I think you should,” Sandy agreed. “And while you’re learning things up there, we’ll be down here, learning about Highland City. You do what you have to do. And whenever you can....whether it’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas....come see us. We have lots to talk about.”
Interesting isn’t it……where Going Home can take you? I know for sure there were moments along the way when I was surprised by the unexpected reality my Tanner friends were living out.
Still, as I noted three book ago, at the beginning of these serialized posts, telling these stories in this slightly unorthodox format has been a selfish endeavor, something I am doing for myself.
Specifically, the process of posting a new chapter every other day has involved the most thorough editing I have ever done. I believe the stories are better for that.
After serializing each of the other books (Second Chances and Long Way Home) I created an updated computer file that was sent to Kindle Direct Publishing.
They in turn revised the Kindle and paperback editions available on Amazon. So when I ordered a paperback copy of each book it was the latest version of each story. I will be doing the same with Going Home. I consider that result a win……no matter how many or how few of you have followed the story online.
So thank you for joining us on this latest journey. I hope you enjoyed it. And I invite you to be on board next week when Going Home gives way to Going Poor, yet another of our Tanner Chronicles.