By Dawn Natelle
So far: Two new characters are introduced and their backgrounds explored, along with their odyssey to the river. Now they have met River and are invited into the water.
River welcomed the new people into the river. Nick was hesitant, knowing how cold the water could be, but Carla immediately smiled at River’s soft voice, and entered the water. Nick followed, and they waded out to the deeper part of the river. Nick was astounded how warm the water was, especially around River.
The instant the two were in the water, the river fed their stories to River, and she immediately knew how to deal with each of them. First was the traditional song of the history of the people, and as she sang that, the river taught them the language. As in the past, at first the river merely translated what River was singing, but gradually that expanded into a full understanding of the language. By the end of the song all three were talking only in Ojibwe.
“That is so cool,” Carla said. “I never knew so much about our people. It makes me proud to be Ojibwe.”
“It was meant to,” River said. “Too many of our people feel the negative auras thrust on them by others. Instead we need to feel the positive auras of Manitou, the animals, and the plants -- the whole earth that we are a part of. When we do that we don’t do terrible things like suicides.”
“I … I was …” Carla choked up trying to tell River that she had been trying to do just such a thing yesterday. River stepped forward and embraced the girl, who immediately calmed in the rivertalker’s grasp.
“I know dear,” she said. “You don’t have to speak of that ever again. It is over. The bad times are over. You are now one of the people of the river, and it will sustain you and nurture you. You, in particular, will be spending a lot of time in the river over the next few years. Usually with me, but occasionally alone. You have special needs that the river will help you with.”
She turned to Nick, while still holding Carla. “You are a good man for taking in this poor girl, and treating her as she needed to be treated, and becoming a brother to her. All the people are brother and sisters, but your relationship will be more. Your parents will accept her as she is, and as she is going to be. She will join your family, and leave the hatred of her first father behind. The river knows that you are a good man, and will reward you in some way.
The three spent hours in the river, until the early light of pre-dawn started to appear. Carla was surprised that River was the same age as her, and they would be attending high school together. Nick was surprised to learn that River had begged for a lawyer for the community yesterday. He realized that it was at about the same time that he had gotten into his car to drive away from Gloria. Was there a connection there? His legal mind discounted the thought that river magic might have been involved, but River was less sure.
River mentioned some of the legal issues that were happening. The houses her father was building were going to need a lawyer to handle the sales; she wanted advice in getting Makizins trademarked; as well as the myriad of issues involved in setting up businesses both on the ground and online. She asked him to accompany her to town later, to visit some of the businesses.
Eventually they got out of the river, and Nick was amazed to find that he towered over the others. He had never stood beside River, but he was now much taller than he had been, compared to Carla. At first he thought it was just she who had changed. She was much shorter, and thinner, and the frumpy dress she had stolen from her mother had changed into a traditional First Nations costume, similar to River’s. He was amazed. She no longer looked like a 14-year-old boy in a dress, but like an 11-year-old girl. Her hair was three or so inches longer, and in a cute feminine style. Her thinner, smaller face had wide expressive eyes and a tiny nose. Her torso was no longer thick and muscular, but thin and dainty, with just nubs of breasts showing through her thin cotton blouse. Her waist was thin, and while she didn’t have much hip, there was just the start of development there. She was also several inches shorter than she had been.
“You are so tall now,” she said to Nick, and then paused as she heard her high-pitched feminine voice. It was higher than it had ever been, even as a young boy. Certainly much higher than the male voice puberty had cursed her with over the past year.
“I am taller,” Nick said. “But you, little sister, are beautiful.”
“I am?” Carla wondered.
“Yes,” River said. “Our river is known for giving gifts to the people who deserve them. In your cases, it took some of Carla’s maleness, and gave it to Nick. Your height, your build, and something special. Even your suit is mended, and resized to fit your new body.”
“Am I a girl?” Carla squealed, touching her fledgling breasts. Her hand then slipped down the waist of her skirt. “No, still a boy,” she said sadly. “But it is much smaller than it was. Like when I was a little boy.” She turned to River. “Why didn’t it make me a girl?”
“The river hesitates in giving too much of a gift,” she said. “In your case, you are still young. You now look like a girl, and can easily hide that bit that isn’t. What’s more, the river will give you more in time. A lot soon, in fact. Right now you look like an 11 or 12-year-old. Later this week we will come back to the river, and it will help you move along, once you are comfortable with your new body. It will make you a bit bigger and increase your breasts a bit. You will probably look 13. Then, just before school, you will get another treatment, and look 14 like the rest of us.”
“I want to be a girl now, though,” she whined.
“You are not ready,” River explained. “The biggest part of the gift of the river is that you will no longer be going through male puberty. Instead, you will go into the river at least once a month, and you will go through female puberty. Eventually when the river deems you ready, it will make the final changes. Or not. You might decide later that being a boy was better, and the river will take you back down that route. It will be your choice, and the river’s decision.”
“I’m not going to want to be an icky boy,” Carla protested.
“Then wait. You will grow up into a girl. We both will,” River said.
“Hah, you don’t know what it was like to be a boy,” Carla said.
“Actually I do,” River explained. “Two weeks ago I was a boy, and happy as one. But the river had need of me, and changed me. Not all at once, but a little bit each day until I looked like this. Now I am happy as a girl.”
Carla’s eyes went wide. Just then Nick came back from a short walk. He was nearly 6 foot [feet?] tall now, and considerably huskier than he had been. His build now was much like Wayne’s. His face was a bit red, and River decided that she knew why.
“You have discovered the other change,” she asked shyly. Nick just nodded.
“It is a huge difference going from one inch smaller than normal to one inch bigger than normal,” she said, getting a bit red herself talking about Nick’s new endowment. “There is one warning the river wants me to give you. You are not to go into ‘super stud’ mode with it. It is meant for one special mate, not just for your own pleasure. There are a lot of single girls on the reserve, and you can date as many as you need to in order to find what you need. You are now tall, handsome, muscular, well endowed, and a lawyer to boot. You will have no trouble finding a girl. Just don’t let any of them throw themselves at you. If you have sex with any of them, she will be your mate for life. The river will ensure it.”
Nick nodded. “I messed up once. I thank the river for what it has given me, and for this constraint that will make me make use it well.”
After this somewhat uncomfortable discussion, the three all walked towards Nick’s car. He drove it towards his parents’ home, located near the Stormcloud home. As they neared the house, a small, neat bungalow that was much nicer looking than many of the other reserve homes, River thought she saw a curtain at one of the windows move. Someone was awake, even at this early hour. A moment later the door to the house opened and a stout woman stepped out.
It took several minutes after Nick and the two girls got out of the car before recognition enveloped her face. “Nicky? Nicky! It’s my little Nicky,” she cried as she ran up to him, enveloping him in her mass.
“I’m home Momma,” he said, hugging her back just as fiercely as she was hugging him. A short, muscular man came to the door next. River thought she recognized him from the various ceremonies of the past few weeks, but the next face she saw was one she knew. It was Ria, Rod’s girlfriend.
“River,” she exclaimed, coming and hugging the girl. “How did you wind up with this miscreant?”
“Ria,” Nick said. “You are all grown up. I think you were about 10 the last time I saw you.”
“You are bigger too,” Nick’s dad said. River could see the resemblance between the two men, although Carter Summerstorm was several inches shorter than Nick, closer to the size he had been before entering the river.
Leeann, his wife, started to urge everyone inside when Nick realized that Carla had not been identified, and looked a bit like a rabbit, ready to bolt at any second. “This is Carla, my new sister,” Nick announced.
“I have a sister?” squealed Ria, and she broke free from River to embrace the younger girl.
“Welcome to our family,” Carter said. “I hope this means that we will see more of young Nick now.”
“Yes, Papa, I am planning to stay in the area. River says there will be a bit of law work in town as things go along, and as soon as I can get my house in Toronto sold, I will start looking for a place around here.”
“You will not,” Leeann said. “You will stay in your own room, at least until you find a wife up here. And sweetheart, we will build a room for you too. Such a pretty young thing.”
“She can stay in my room, Momma,” Ria said. “I will be travelling a lot with Rod over the next few months, and when I’m home we can share. It is what sisters do. Is that all right with you, Carla?”
Carla nodded shyly. She was amazed at the reaction of this family to her, and to Nick, coming home after nearly 10 years away. They had given her more love and attention in five minutes than she had felt from her original family in five years. They went in and joined the family for breakfast, with Nick, River and Carla eating sparsely, since they had been nourished by the river.
Later Nick had to take Carter out to see the BMW, and let his father take it for a short spin around the reserve. Nick noted that he planned to sell the car and get something more sensible, and Carter agreed that this would be a good idea. It would be hard to think of Nick as a local boy if he was driving around that car, and wearing suits that cost more than the average car on the reserve.
While they were out, and re-bonding as father and son, Nick realized that everything that he had been missing from his life was here on the reserve. He could hear the birds singing, and watched as chipmunks played on the side of the road. This definitely was not Toronto. He had lived that life, the life he thought he wanted, and found that what he had left behind was far, far more important. And the missions that River had explained to him earlier were so much more important than getting young hoodlums out of jail. She had a plan for the people: to make them self-sufficient, healthy, sober, and to end the cycle of despair that caused so much suicide amongst the youth of the people. How could he not want to be a part of that?
The women inside had been busy too. Leeann had found some of Ria’s old clothes, and Carla had been thrilled as could be to perform a modelling show, trying things on. At first there had been a slight embarrassment about the slight nubbin that appeared in the girl’s panties, but River explained that situation, and both Leeann and Ria had embraced that girl, and told her it made no difference to them. Again Carla was amazed at the acceptance she felt in this new house, which was feeling more and more like her home every minute.
“We will get you more things in town today,” Leeann offered.
“Not too much,” River warned. “Carla will go into the river again later this week, and she will definitely grow. Don’t buy a lot of clothes that she will only be able to wear for a few days.”
Leeann pouted: “You give me a new daughter, and then you tell me I can’t spoil her. How unfair.”
“You can spoil her next week,” River laughed. “Although I did see some things in Ria’s old things that will probably fit her next week, they are kind of out of style, and you can buy her some new things for school. She will be starting high school with me in September.”
“High school,” Ria exclaimed. “How can that be? She is so tiny. Surely she will take the bus to the elementary school in Terrace Bay.”
“The river made her younger to start,” River said. “She was much bigger before, and not as pretty as she is now. But by September, she will look ready for high school, although I think she may still be on the small size.”
“That’s okay,” Leeann said. “All our family is small. Except Nick. Something in Toronto must have made him grow, because he was shorter and thinner the last time he was home.”
“No, actually it was the river that did that,” River said. “It took some of what Carla didn’t need, and gave it to Nick.”
It was just after 9 a.m. when the family piled into the car. Carter was not interested in shopping, so while Nick and River sat in the front seats, Ria, Carla, and Leeann climbed in the back of the classy automobile. Nick parked outside of the general store, and then he and River walked down the street.
Nelson Churchill was just opening his store, adding the float to his till, when the well-dressed couple walked in. He immediately recognized River as the young girl that was responsible for the sales in his store being down so much. Half of his First Nations customers had completely stopped coming in, and the others they were buying much less. A six pack instead of two cases of 24, or a small bottle of liquor instead of several large 40-ouncers. And she seemed to have brought a lawyer with him. The expensive suit just screamed ‘lawyer’, Nelson thought.
“What can I do for you?” he asked politely. After all, there was a chance that they were planning a party or something.
“I hope we can do something for each other,” River said sweetly. “I understand that you have quite a bit of spare space in the other half of your building. I might be interested in it for a little store we are thinking about, to sell First Nations arts and crafts.”
“Yeah, I have space,” Nelson said, quickly calculating. If they were paying enough in rent, that might make up for the loss in profits from the liquor agency. “I can’t just give it away, though. You can pay?”
“Yes, I’m quite certain we can pay,” River promised. “Can we look the space over?”
Nelson got out a key, and then went over to the door in the temporary dividing wall he had built years before after he had bought the building from Northern Stores. His plan at the time was to rent out the other 4/5 of the building to tenants, but in nearly 20 years there was not one enquiry before now.
“I’m sorry I can’t turn on the lights,” Nelson said. “I disconnected them a few years back to cut down the property tax bill, since unused space is charged a lower rate. We can get them turned back on if we can make a deal.”
“No problem,” River said. “There is enough light coming in from the plate glass windows, although it would be more if the windows were cleaner.” She looked around, and saw there was a space of about 250 feet by 100 feet, with Nelson’s agency taking about 50 x 50 off of the one end. He had the other 50 feet behind his store for storage. There was a 25x100 foot storage area at the back of the store, with a loading ramp and a bit of parking. There was a large commercial door in the middle of the windows, and you could almost see where the old store shelving units had been. Sadly those were gone.
“Is the parking lot next door yours?” Nick asked.
“Yeah, not that it gets much use, being at the other end from my place,” Nelson said. “Most everybody just parks on the street. I park behind my storeroom.”
“It looks perfect,” River said. “How much do you need for it?”
Nelson hesitated. Best to start high and work down. “$5000 a month, plus you pay utilities.”
“I only saw one meter in the back,” Nick said. “You will pay your own utilities?”
“No can do,” Nick said. “Unless you want to bring in another utility account. Most of the power will be from this side, and even more for the heat and air.”
Nick had thrown utilities into the discussion as an old lawyer trick, to give himself time to think about the price. He had been expecting that Nelson might ask for $10000 a month. In Toronto a space this size would be five times that much. But this wasn’t Toronto.
While the men dickered over the price, River wandered throughout the building, mentally placing various crafts and artwork in various sections. She was pleased with the space. It was perhaps double what she needed, but that left lots of room for expansion and growth. She finally headed back to the men, who had worked out a price.
Nelson was a bit flummoxed. This man had the gift of gab, and had somehow worked out the lowest price that Nelson could live with, $1000 a month, and then wheedled him down to that amount, with Nelson paying the cost of separate utilities.
River listened as Nick explained the deal. She shook her head no. “$1400 a month, and we pay for all the utilities,” she said, to Nick’s surprise. “It is just a waste of money to have separate utilities put in, and that will cost Mr. Churchill his first month’s rent, or maybe two.”
“Deal,” Nelson said quickly, and rushed forward to pump River’s hand. With the savings in the utilities, he would gain $1600 a month, $400 a week. Just enough to offset the loss of sales from the liquor, if it doesn’t bounce back when the natives decide they can’t live without their drink.
“We will pay the first two months as a deposit,” River added. “Then there will be no further payments until we open the doors, two or three months down the road, max.”
Nelson hesitated, and then agreed. But River had one more condition.
“I also want to talk to the former tenant. I understand your ex-wife was manager of the store here. Do you have contact information for her? She can give me invaluable tips about the things that sold well in her store, when sales worked best, that kind of thing.”
Nelson paused again. At least he was on good terms with his ex, although things had been quite rough in the first five years after they separated. But they never had actually divorced. Connie felt that leaving a divorce for later would prevent either of them from ever making a hasty mistake. Seven years ago Connie had started the process, but aborted it when she fell out with her new boyfriend. Nelson hadn’t really dated since Connie left. He was sure that she would only tell River good things about him and the store, especially since the store would not be competing directly with the Northern Store in Terrace Bay. And that was largely moot, since her company, Hudson’s Bay, no longer owned Northern Stores.
“Yes, I can give you her phone or email,” Nelson said.
“Both please,” River asked. The three all shook hands, and Nick and River left.
On the way back Nick was rather testy: “Why did you overpay? I had him down to $1000, with utilities out.”
“I’m so glad you were able to do that,” River said. “But he would have felt he had been fleeced if we got the rent for that. By offering a little more, we now have a partner, and not a competitor. He will be easier to get along with if we want to do special promotions and such. Did you see how he looked at me when we first got there?”
“Pure hatred,” Nick said with a laugh. “He didn’t look at me too friendly either.”
“I don’t like people not liking me,” River said.
“He did look a lot friendlier when we left,” Nick said.
“Just wait,” River warned. “After I am finished with him, he will think I am the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
The girls were done with their shopping, and even though she had only a few small bags, Carla was over the moon after her first time ‘shopping with the girls.’ Ria said they had her try on quite a few items that they didn’t buy, and tried to make a start on developing the new girl’s sense of style. Plans were made for a trip to the Sault one weekend in September for a more intensive girlification process.
Nick took the family back to the Summerstorm house. Ria promised to take Carla over to introduce her to Liesl at the nearby Stormcloud house. She would let Liesl know that River would not be needing her company today, and would let the girls play together. While Carla was actually 14, she looked 12 now, only slightly older than Liesl, and was much younger in terms of time she had spent as a girl. River felt confident that the two would bond.
River then imposed on Nick to be her taxi driver, and they headed back into town, parking in the hospital parking lot. Hospital Administrator, Desmond Kraud, happened to see the strange car pull into the lot, and like Nelson Churchill before him, he immediately decided Nick was a lawyer, or alternatively a civil servant from Toronto. And he had the Waters girl with him. Either way was trouble. The hospital could not afford a lawsuit. He tried to wrack his brain about the events the week before, to see if there was anything that they, or he, could be held liable for. Perhaps the doctor had gotten a bit wild, but he wasn’t even here today. And if the man was from the Ministry of Health, it would be even worse. This could be the start of the end for the hospital.
“River Waters and Nick Summerstorm to see you,” the receptionist buzzed him. After trying to consider whether hiding, fleeing, or jumping out of his second floor window would be useful, Desmond decided to man up and told the receptionist to send them up. He went to the door of his office. The hospital upper level was a warren of offices and storage rooms, and he wanted to see the two as they got off the elevator. He was a bit surprised when instead they entered from the stairs on the opposite side, but welcomed River and her guest into his office.
“Hello again, Desmond,” River started. “I want to introduce you to Nick Summerstorm. He is a lawyer, but he is not with me on any legal matter. Think of him as an advisor.”
Desmond visibly relaxed as he shook the hand of the larger man, clearly a native. “Nice to meet you, sir,” Desmond said, turning to River. “How can I help you, Miss Waters?”
“To start with, you can call me River,” she said with her disarming smile. “Is the doctor busy?”
“No. I’m sorry. Dr. Mitchell is in Sudbury today and tomorrow for some tests. Even doctors have to go to the doctor. We have a nurse practitioner looking after things today.”
“I hope it is nothing serious,” River said. “I wanted to apologize for the incident last week. Things got a bit out of hand, and some harsh words were spoken. I just wanted to let you two know that there are no hard feelings from our end, and that the people on the reserve are most supportive of the hospital. We will still want to explore our traditional healing methods, which of course do not always connect with your medical practices. All seven of your former patients are apparently doing quite well with their families, reconnecting and becoming useful elders in their household, if not the community in general.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Desmond said. “We miss having them here. Not only because they were nice people, overall, but because they kept our numbers up. Coupled with the unexplained shortage of calls at the emergency last week, compared to other weekends after a welfare check comes out, we are down heavily for this month.”
He then explained that the usage of the hospital was key to its remaining open. With another hospital just 30 miles down the road in Terrace Bay, the Ministry of Health was eager to consolidate services in only one location. Losing seven geriatric patients, and now a drop in emergency calls meant that the St. Mary’s hospital was in danger.
“Hmmm,” River pondered. “First, some bad news. I don’t think that the drop in emergency calls will be temporary. The people of the reserve have decided to curtail their liquor consumption. That might explain a lot fewer drinking brawls or domestic incidents bringing our people to emergency.”
“The good news is that I have some ideas that might help you out. As I said, the people really want to see the hospital survive. What if you were to hold special clinics every week or so. I’m thinking of a pre-natal program for expectant mothers; a diabetes and nutrition clinic, many of the people are overweight and could use a program to help them control their diet; maybe an open house here at the hospital to let people know what you offer. If you build programs like that, then I will let the people of the reserve know about them, and I’m sure you will get people to attend.”
“Those are great ideas,” Desmond said. “A bit of work to get everything ready but definitely a way to get our numbers up. There are several hundred families on the reserve, aren’t there. If we could get a couple hundred visits each month, that could make up for most of the lost numbers from the geriatric department.”
As Nick and River headed back to the car, Nick noted: “You have quite the way with you, River. That man was terrified of you when you came in, and when we left he was so pleased. Do you have the same effect on all the men in your life?”
“Uhh, no,” River said. She saw Wayne driving by in the JR truck, and he was staring at Nick and River getting into the BMW. “In fact I just saw someone who might be upset to see me getting into a car with a man.”
“Boyfriend?” Nick asked.
“No. This one fits into the ‘it’s complicated’ status,” River said. “I’ll have to talk to him. Anyway, I need to see one more person, if you still have the time.”
“Sure. I don’t know why, but I’m not the least bit tired and I’ve been up for over 30 hours straight.”
“Oh, that is the river. It nurtures you, and you don’t need to eat or sleep after you spend a few hours in the water. I’ve only been sleeping about three hours a night since all this started,” River said. “It gives me lots of time to spend with the river, to plan, and still have all the days open for other things.”
“Sounds like it would be a perfect tool for lawyers,” Nick said as he drove back out of town. “We never have enough hours in a day. So where do you want to go.”
“I need to see Colin Redhawk. Do you know where his house is?”
“Redhawk? Yes, I know the house, although I don’t know Colin. If he was young when I left …”
“Yeah, he is my age,” River said. “But he is building our website and stuff, and I want you to be aware of what he is doing so that you can check out the legalities of stuff.”
“No problem. We lawyers are really good with ‘stuff’.”
At the Redhawks’, River found Colin was pretty hyper when his mom let them into his room.
“River! Oh my god. You have to see this.” He typed on the keyboard and did some mouse things, and soon a picture of George and Kyle’s totem pole created out of car parts appeared, with George in the picture adjusting something.
“That’s a really good picture,” River said.
“April brought it to me yesterday,” Colin said. “I put it on Facebook, Pinterest, and e-Bay and a video clip of it on YouTube. It’s gone viral.” He pointed to a small number at the bottom of the screen that said 13,450,832 likes. “See?”
“Is that good?” River said.
“For less than a full day? It’s phenomenal. Look.” More keystrokes and a different page appeared, again with the same picture. As it came up, River heard Nick gasp.
“Is that what I think it is?” he asked.
“Yep,” Colin smiled smugly. “When I posted to eBay last night there were dozens of bidders when the price was at a few hundred dollars. But now there are just five guys bidding. Look at where it is at.” He pointed.
“$103,500,” River read aloud. “Is that what they want to pay for it?”
“So far,” Colin said. “The bids keep going up. I set it to expire at midnight tomorrow. And I’m pretty sure these are legit bids. At least the four that have been in contact with me asking about the statue. There is a body shop in Sacramento, auto parts stores in Kansas and Vancouver, and a car dealership in Detroit. They all want it badly.”
“You have information on these places?” Nick asked. “We could accept the highest bidder, and then contact the others and offer to make more of the things. That could get us close to a half million dollars.”
“Wait a second,” River warned. “First, Lyle and George are artists, not a factory. It wouldn’t be fair for us to sell copies of their work, even if they did the work and got the money. For one thing, the buyer is bidding so much because it is unique as well as beautiful. It wouldn’t be fair to him, or her, if there were three or four more made.”
“Secondly, it took George and Lyle 600 hours to build that. Another one might take more time. If you wanted three more it would take more than a year, and that is without making all the other things they make. The best I can see is if they commit to making one a year. And not a totem again. I’ll bet they can make an awesome moose or deer out of parts, maybe a wolf, or a statue of Tecumseh. Different things in the same style.”
Nick looked at the girl for a second, and then nodded. “All right, I agree. But River, I have never met anyone who is so dead-set against getting rich.”
“It is not me that will be getting rich. It is the people. George and Lyle will get the money.”
“Most of it,” Nick said. “eBay will be charging a commission on the sale, I’m sure. And I think your operation should charge a commission as well. Perhaps 20 or 25%. We’ll have to talk with George and Lyle about what they feel is fair.”
“Well, last time I spoke with them they wanted $200 for welding supplies,” River laughed. “When we tell them they will get nearly $100,000, or whatever, I suspect they will faint.”
“I think I can talk with them,” Nick said. “The may even be interested in hiring a few helpers at their shop with the money. Their production will go up, and they will be able to sell more.”
“And more of the people get jobs,” River said. “I like it.”
Colin and Nick continued to talk, and River again felt out of her depth as they discussed the web page, viral marketing and e-commerce. She wandered out to the kitchen to talk with Mrs. Redhawk, who poured her a cup of tea. The two chatted for over an hour until the men were finished. River discovered that Colin’s new complexion, no longer scarred by acne since the river cleared it up, had changed the boy’s entire demeanor. He was more confident, and was now looking forward to going to high school, where before he had been terrified of going back to classes. River realized that she hadn’t considered going to school again in September that much herself, and committed herself to thinking about it.
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