River 20 - Love Stories

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Sorry for taking such a long time to get this chapter out. I hope to get back to a weekly (or quicker) schedule now that I have gotten my real life straightened out.

River

By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric

Chapter 20

So far: Mark and Alison no longer have any ties to Toronto, and plan to head north following their respective adventures, riding in convoy with Nick. As well, let’s update what River and the others were doing on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

While Alison might have wanted to get back to St. Mary’s as soon as possible, the three did not get away as early as they might have wanted. For one thing, none of Mark’s clothes fit him, so he wore some of Nick’s, which were too large, and spent an hour at a nearby Walmart to get a few things that did fit. Then there was a meeting with Nick’s realtor to start the process of selling the Waters’ house. Dale would have to sign the papers as well before the house could actually be sold, but Alison was able to give the agent a key to get the process started.

Thus it was nearly noon when they left Toronto, with Nick following the Waters’ van. Any idea of getting all the way north by night was gone, especially since Alison intended to spend several hours on back-to-school shopping at the mall in Sault Ste. Marie. Mark only had what he was wearing, and a change of clothes from the Walmart. They would get to Sault, shop for a few hours, and then head off to a cheap motel where they would spend the night. Mark and Alison would stay in one room, and Nick in another. Mark, even though he looked to be a teen, was still only 10, and had to get to bed early, but the adults spent the night chatting, and as they talked a plan on how to get banking services for St. Mary’s started to form.

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While interesting things had been happening in Toronto, River had not been idle. After seeing off the many departures of Sunday, she was a bit surprised to see a return to town on the Monday. It was Connie Churchill, ex-wife of Nelson Churchill, who ran the liquor agency. River had been talking with Connie via e-mail and phone for the past several days, and the older woman had given her invaluable advice about setting up the store. Just before noon a well-dressed woman of about 40 or 45 walked up to River as she was directing her helpers in the store.

“Can I help?” the woman asked.

“Certainly,” River said, thinking that this was someone she hadn’t met from the town. “We need help scrubbing the shelving units, but you really aren’t dressed for that. Maybe some sweeping up?”

“Certainly,” the woman said. “Those old shelves are cleaning up nicely after all these years, aren’t they. I’m Connie, but the way.”

“Connie?” It clicked into place for River. “Oh my. I am River. I am so glad to meet you. I thought you were a volunteer from town. And I nearly had you scrubbing shelves.”

“There would be nothing wrong with that,” Connie said. “I’ve been in retail long enough to know that a good manager is not above doing anything that needs to be done. I’ve probably spent more time cleaning those shelves than any of the people you have working on them so far. How can you afford so many helpers?”

“They are all volunteers,” River said. “The store will help all the people on the reservation by selling their arts and crafts, so there is a lot of excitement about the store. And people from town keep coming in out of curiosity. The funny thing is, they keep coming back. I guess we are more fun here than sitting at home watching TV.”

“All volunteers, eh?” Connie asked a little glumly. “I was wondering if there might be a job available up here. I loved this place, and hated to have to leave when they closed the store.”

“Really?” River said with excitement in her voice. “I never dreamed you would be interested in working here. We can’t afford to pay much, at least at first. Nothing what you would be getting at the Bay.”

“Well, things at the Bay aren’t doing that well,” Connie admitted. “They recently went through another round of layoffs. Retail in general is in trouble. The only success stories are those with strong online options, or a specific niche. Exactly what you are doing here. After chatting with you on the phone yesterday evening, and on email before that, I got really excited about what you are doing. I couldn’t sleep much last night, so I got in the car early and drove up here.”

“What? You would quit the Bay to come here?”

“In a heartbeat. I need to give two weeks notice, but if you say so, then I’m here. For whatever you can pay. Within reason. I do need to live, although if I remember, it is a lot cheaper living up here.”

“Let’s go across the road to the café and talk about this,” River said. “Now I’m getting excited.”

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Nelson Churchill was stocking shelves in his store. It was a task that was much easier these days, due to the slump in sales. He would be worried about his future, had he not made a deal with that River girl last week to rent out the rest of his building. The rent he would get almost made his store more of a hobby, to keep himself busy, than a job. He glanced across the street and saw River walking back from the café. Then he froze as he saw who was with the girl. It was Connie, his ex-wife.

Nelson had never gone through the ‘hate’ stage with Connie as their marriage had collapsed nearly 20 years ago. In the years since he had dated a few times, but when he compared his new girlfriends with what he had lost, they always came up short. And Nelson was not one to settle for second best, after having had it all.

Their marriage failed for one major reason. They both dearly wanted children, and were unable to have them. The doctors had determined that there were reasons on both sides. Connie had feminine issues that made her unable to conceive, while Nelson had an abnormally low sperm count, to the point where it would be a miracle for him to succeed in impregnating anyone, no matter how fertile. The failure to have children had caused a rift in the pair. Nelson would have been happy to adopt, but Connie felt that adoption would have been an admission to all that she was unable to conceive.

That small wound festered, and over the seven years of their marriage it grew to the point where, when Connie was offered a transfer, the two split up. They never divorced, or even had a formal separation agreement. They never had gone through the normal ‘hatred stage’ that most break-ups have. In fact, as Nelson watched his ex-wife – no, he realized, she was still his wife – walk across the road with River, he realized he still loved her.

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River opened the door to the store, and let Connie enter first. Then she nearly bumped into her new friend and future employee as the older woman froze in the middle of the door.

“Nelson,” Connie said.

“Connie,” Nelson replied. River edged around the frozen pair, and immediately saw the connection between them that still existed. For a long moment nothing was said, then Nelson continued. “I didn’t expect to see you up here. Again. Ever.”

“River here gets the blame,” Connie said lightly. She hadn’t seen Nelson in over 10 years, but he had aged well. A slight paunch, but nothing like most men getting close to 50. The grey in his hair was distinguished looking, and he still had a bit of summer tan. In short, he was just as hot in his forties as he had been in his twenties. “She has just offered me a job in her store here, and I have accepted. So you will see more of me in the future.”

“That is a good thing,” Nelson said. “I … I’ve missed you. A lot. Perhaps … do you think … well, would you go out with me again? For old times sake?”

“A date?” Connie barely blinked. “Yes, I’d love to.”

“Okay you two, tone it down in here. We have enough heat in the place right now. Connie, let Nelson take you over to his place and show you what he has done with it. I need to get a few more things done around here this morning, and then I want to take you both somewhere special. Be ready at noon.”

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It was shortly after noon when Nelson pulled up his seven-year-old Lincoln at the banks of the river. He had not been on the reserve much, in spite of living and working within eyesight of it. It was not often that town people visited the reserve. Nelson helped River and Connie out of the car and River led them to the bank, and then to the amazement of the others, she waded into the river.

“Come on,” she said. “It will feel really, really cold for a few seconds, but then it will be okay.”

Connie shrieked a bit as Nelson helped her step into the water, and he shivered as he entered as well. “Oooh, that isn’t so bad,” Connie said as she warmed up a bit. They waded out after River, who was now in the center of the stream.

In the first few seconds that River had spent in the water she learned all about the Churchills, and how and why their marriage had failed. She also was told that she had done right by bringing them here, and that the river could help them. So it was with a smile that she told them to relax and enjoy the cleansing feeling that the river was providing.

After a few minutes of silence, Nelson took Connie’s hand, and she firmly grasped his. A few moments later, their heads neared, and Nelson kissed Connie. She eagerly embraced him, and reciprocated, kissing him deeply. Within seconds they were completely entwined with each other, and River looked the other way, rather than embarrass the pair, who were acting like young teenagers in love.

Many minutes later the river gave River a sign, and she turned. The pair were still at it, and completely missed the loud ‘ahem’ that River said. Finally she grabbed Nelson’s shoulder and physically pulled them apart.

“Sorry River,” Connie said when she regained her composure, “I don’t know what came over me … us.”

“The river will break down false barriers,” River said. “It has also been known to give out gifts. It has given you a great gift.”

“It has given me back my love,” Nelson acclaimed. “No gift could be greater than that.”

“Don’t be so sure,” River said as they waded over to the bank. “My parents were in the river for a half hour or so once, and they came out with each one looking 10 years younger. A similar gift has come to you.”

“We don’t look younger,” Connie said. “Not that Nelson doesn’t look just fine to me.”

“No, your bodies are no younger,” River said, “but certain parts of them are. You both have teenaged sex organs now. Perfectly healthy 19-year-old naughty bits. And by healthy, I mean that you will be able to conceive, Connie.”

The older woman gasped, and then a huge smile spread across her face.

“And Nelson, you are now completely fertile,” River said. “But there is only one stipulation. You will only be able to gain an erection with Connie, not other women.”

“What other women?” Nelson said. “Connie is the only woman for me.”

“Let’s go back to the stores,” River said. “I have helpers to organize, and I think you two might have other interests. Perhaps Nelson will want to close his store and take you back to his home, to show you around.

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Tuesday morning, as usual, found River standing in the river long before the sun rose. She basked in the warmth and the knowledge that the river provided her. She learned that Connie and Nelson had resumed their marriage, and that Connie would live with Nelson when she relocated to St. Mary’s. What the couple did not know was that over the course of the intense evening they had spent together, Connie had been impregnated, and in nine months would give birth. To a healthy baby boy, the river claimed.

That day some of the craftspeople on the reserve started to bring in goods to the store, answering a call that River had made the prior day. River, and Connie who showed up at about 10:30 with a huge smile on her face, spent the day arranging the goods on the cleaned and freshly painted displays.

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On Monday, Shelly was surprised that her arms didn’t ache from paddling the canoe upriver all day. The work was much less than expected, due to the river current reversing to propel the canoe as if it were going downriver. Still, the river did not expect its people to be lazy, and the girls and the Prophet all worked as hard as if they were going against the current, as they had expected. But Shelly was much less sore than she expected to be as she set up a tent with Marilyn.

The party had gained more than a day’s travel thanks to the river. They had passed the place that they planned to camp at on Tuesday in the early evening of Monday, and still went several hours past. They finally camped at dusk, and only had a few hours before they expected to reach the first reservation. Their four-day northbound was now looking to be a day and a half.

They ate a quiet dinner, and then split up into their respective tents. Shelly laid her sleeping bag out next to her older sister. “Do you feel tired?” she asked.

“A little,” Marilyn said. “But not nearly as much as I should. I’ve never paddled a canoe that hard for that long. It was what? Fourteen hours? My arms should feel like they are falling off, but they are fine.”

“Yeah, me too. Before we left River said that the river would nourish us. I wonder if that is what she meant. I mean, we did more work than competitive canoeists would in training, and still no aches. I like this river.”

“So do I,” Marilyn agreed. “Uh, do your breasts feel funny?”

“Funny? In what way?”

“Mine hurt, and are swollen. I don’t know why.”

“Your period?”

“Two weeks ago,” Marilyn said. “And it is like that, but ten times worse. My bra feels like it is a size too small now. It fit fine this morning.”

“Not fair,” Shelly protested. “You already have bigger boobs than me, and now they are getting bigger? Who do I complain to?”

“I don’t know, maybe the river. Do you think it might be doing this to me?”

“Well, it does give presents to people sometimes. Remember River’s parents, and the older people it made younger. Maybe your present is bigger boobs. Something to help you snare your lawyer, Nick.”

“Nick doesn’t mind,” Marilyn said. “He told me that his old girlfriend was quite small until she got him to pay for a boob job. He says he didn’t mind the smaller ones, but she felt insecure until she got the implants. He said he could feel them in there, and it kinda bothered him. He says he prefers natural, even if they are small.”

“Well, small isn’t your problem,” Shelly said. “Mine either. If the river wants to give me a present a twenty inch waist would be nice, and smaller hips.”

“Yeah, but Nick doesn’t seem to mind me being a little big,” Marilyn said. “He says he wants kids someday, and we both have ‘child-bearing’ hips, don’t we?”

“Oh yeah, big time. So you and Nick have talked about getting married? I didn’t think it had gone that far.”

“It hasn’t. It was more ‘I want kids’ and not ‘I want us to have kids’. You know, just talking,” Marilyn said, but then she choked up and added: “But Shel, I want him so much. He is just perfect. Kind, gentle … and when we kiss it is like an explosion going off in my head. In a good way.”

“Wow, you really are into the guy,” Shelly said. “And your description left out handsome and rich. He is probably the best catch any girl from the reserve could get. Do you think he feels the same way about you?”

“That’s the problem. I don’t know. I know he likes me. We went out for drives every night for the past few nights. Just kissing and stuff, although I guess he knows that I don’t have implants.” She giggled. “We talked a lot, and he kept asking me back. But I don’t know if he loves me, or just likes me. It’s driving me crazy.”

“I think he really is into you,” Shelly offered.

“Oh I hope so,” her sister replied. “I’m worried that this trip might just mess things up for us. I mean, if I come back and find someone else on his arm I will just about die. Except maybe River. I’d still want to die for losing him, but she is so special I could see her landing him.”

“River?” Shelly snorted. “She is way too young for him. I mean, it would probably be against the law for him to come on to her. She is only 14, I think. Plus, I think that Wayne and her have something going.”

“You are right. I keep forgetting how young she is. She is so mature, and shows so much leadership. I keep thinking she is in her 20s. Remember how she overruled both of her parents when we met at the Sault? She just told them that they were bringing us back, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

“Oh, thank God she did,” Shelly said. “I mean, what if we hadn’t met her back there? Our lives were so shitty, and now they are so much better. It was so lucky.”

“Not luck, Shelly. I’m pretty sure that the river had something to do with it. It wanted us back, and made sure that it happened.”



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