Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Even after a week, the awe of the place still nearly overwhelmed her. How could a person ever get used to it?
She'd be doing something prosaic, like taking a sip of water, when a glance upward would bring into sight the immense cliffs that stretched far above, and she would stop once again to take in this unbelievable place, so different from the places she knew, in so many ways. "Three quarters of a mile in the bowels of the earth," Major Powell had written a century and more before, not far from here, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
She came to a stop, water bottle in hand, and just stared upward, almost in a trance. Down by the river, the rafts were pulled up on the shore a few steps away, but not many people were around them now.
It'd been a wild day. They'd run Crystal Rapids earlier in the day, and it had been the toughest rapids so far. One of the rafts had flipped, and theirs almost had, but Al, the boatman at the oars, had yelled "High side" just in time. She and the other three in the raft had leaped to the downstream side of the raft just in time to keep it from flipping, then scrambled back to their places to help him keep the raft under control. Crystal had gone on and on, and once they were finally flushed out the bottom, they'd helped collect the people from the flipped raft who had swum the lower part of the rapids, while another raft from the trip had corralled the loose boat and flipped it upright. They'd pulled into shore to get everything back in order and let everyone catch their breath, then got back on the river. They'd drifted downriver for an hour more, then pulled out on this quiet sandbar.
"Karin, you didn't go on the hike?" a voice beside her asked, sucking her out of her reverie.
"No," she said, looking over to see Al Buck, the boatman from her raft. "I wanted to clean up and wash my hair."
"Too bad," Al replied with a smile. "That's a pretty good climb, but the view up there is pretty good."
She smiled at the boatman. He wasn't exactly what she'd call handsome, but he was strong and rugged and lean, muscled bronze in aviator sunglasses, a tattered "Canyon Tours" T-shirt and battered shorts that once might have been part of a set of Army pants.
She'd come to know a little about Al in the week that she'd ridden in his raft and sat with him and the rest of the party around campfires on the sand bars. He was, he cheerfully admitted, a boat bum. As much as anything, the Canyon was his home. From early spring to late fall, he said, he ran raft trips, eighteen days from Lee's Ferry to Diamond Creek Wash, then a day off and he'd do it all over again. He'd done it for five years, he said, saving enough money to live over the winter in some place warm and cheap until the rafting season opened in the Canyon again. It seemed a wonderfully wild and free life, compared to her quiet life back in Glen Ellyn, outside Chicago.
"So, why didn't you go?" she smiled at him.
"My leg was hurting some," he shrugged. "I try not to push it too much. Besides, I thought I ought to make sure Harold and Edda were all right. That water is a little cold."
She looked around. Edda was flopped out on a raft in her swimsuit, her broad-brimmed hat pulled low over her eyes, letting the sun warm her as she obviously slept. Her husband Harold was sitting in the shade, writing in his journal. Both were in their sixties, and had been in the raft that had flipped, so they'd been a little cold from the chilly river before they'd finally been pulled out. Apparently everyone else had gone on the hike up through a side canyon; they wouldn't be expected back much before dark.
"It is cold," she agreed, looking again at Edda. She hoped the older woman had on some good sunscreen, or she'd be burnt to a crisp in the hot sun at the bottom of the Canyon. "I've been working up to take a swim. I figured I could lie in the sun to warm up afterward."
"You could if you want," he said noncommittally, glancing at her as she stood there, wearing her black one-piece swimsuit and sandals. It wasn't as if he hadn't seen her dressed like that before -- add a life vest and a hat, or some jeans in the evening, and she'd been pretty much dressed the same all week, in the raft with him. "But how'd you like a warm bath, instead?"
"That'd be wonderful," Karin smiled.
Now, he smiled back. "Well, I'm getting more than a little bad myself. If you want to join me, I'll let you in on a little boatman's secret. It'll involve a little hike, nothing much, and some climbing, but it's fairly easy."
"Should I get hiking boots on?" she asked.
"Your sandals should do fine," Al told her. "Let me go grab a bar of soap and a towel."
He was back a couple minutes later, carrying a canvas bucket with a towel thrown sloppily into it. "I told Harold we're going on a little hike upriver and we ought to be back for supper," he said. "You want to throw your stuff in the bucket? There'll be a couple places where you'll need your hands."
She complied, and followed as he strolled along the riverbank up to the end of the sandbar. "The first bit is the trickiest," he said. "Follow me and step where I step. If you do fall, try to push yourself away from the wall, so you land in the river." He scrambled up some faint hand and footholds several feet from the sand. She shivered a little; she really didn't care for the rock climbing, and part of the reason that she'd skipped the hike up the side canyon was that she'd been told there would be quite a bit of it.
Fortunately, Al didn't climb far; a couple of body lengths up, he slid sideways on a little ledge that couldn't be seen from the ground. "Well, are you coming?" he asked.
She took a deep breath. Maybe it wouldn't be that bad. She stepped up on the first foothold, got a handhold, and started to work her way upward. In a minute, she was standing on the narrow ledge, the river deep and dark twenty feet below, although, facing the wall, she got only a tiny look at it. She began to inch her way sideways, following Al.
It seemed like they sidestepped along the ledge for a long ways. It was tiny at first, not as wide as her feet were long, and it took some concentration. The ledge bent away from the sandbar, and soon the campsite on the river was out of sight. After a while it got a little wider, and before long, she was able to walk behind Al, rather than just inching her way along sideways. The ledge soon came to an end, but a couple of careful steps on good footholds took them to another ledge, which continued to wind its way upward.
In a few minutes, they were in a wider spot. They passed a Navajo pictograph -- a man shooting a bow at a black-hatted horseman who was firing a pistol at the Navajo. Nearby, there was a larger-than-life Anasazi pictograph of a figure standing behind a huge reddish shield that looked like the chest protector of an umpire. She stopped for a moment to look at it. "We call this guy the 'Baseball Man,'" Al smiled.
Then, they had to climb again, though nowhere near as bad a climb as the long inching along the rock beside the river. They worked their way up a narrow little wash, to a flat expanse perhaps thirty feet higher, then had another, steeper climb to an even flatter expanse of exposed stone, with a roof of rock arching overhead. They turned another little corner, and they were there. In the towering wall, nature had formed a cavernous amphitheater, fifty feet deep, a bit wider, maybe seventy feet from floor to ceiling. A live seep high up the cliff supplied enough water to grow an assortment of ferns and moss, and to form a shallow water pocket perhaps six feet across and a foot or more deep. On a ledge a few feet above this pool an Anasazi family had built their house -- the roof gone but the walls, protected here from wind and weather, at least partly intact.
Al knelt down and put his hand in the water. "Not bad," he said. "It sits here in the sun and gets warm, and it's had most of the day."
"It's really hidden," she commented. "You'd never know it was here from the river."
"I suspect that's why their home was here," he said. "A place to hide from the enemies these people had." He shook his head, and began to peel off his ragged T-shirt, revealing his strong chest underneath. "We'll never know, I guess. Now, the deal is that this is a water source for animals here, so we don't want to get soap in the water. That's why I brought the bucket. We'll soap up and rinse off downhill from here, then we can have a warm soak. It helps to get wet first, though."
"That makes sense," she agreed. She was not surprised to see him start to unbutton his shorts, but was a little surprised at herself that it didn't bother her. Modesty seemed to be something more or less left behind at Lee's Ferry, and the hot days down here at the bottom of the Canyon seemed to have something to do with that. Several people in the party, including the boatmen -- and boatwomen, including Louise, the trip leader -- had been skinnydipping without much comment, and Edda had been among them. A little corner of her mind regretted that she'd only brought two one-piece suits, and no bikinis -- she'd been tipped before the trip that bikinis sometimes came off if you had to swim a rapids, but on the hot August days, nearer to nakedness was nearer to comfortable.
Even so, she was still a little surprised to find herself peeling off the shoulder straps of her one-piece, and sliding it down her body, like it was the most natural thing in the world. She glanced at him as he stepped into the pool -- in spite of a tan that seemed nearly all-over, he was still pretty white around the flanks. She smiled; she probably looked a little funny, too, with a white torso and breasts and strap marks from her swimsuit, where the hot desert sun had tanned everything else. But then, it didn't matter; she didn't think of herself as having that sexy of a body. She didn't consider herself shapely; she was a touch on the flat-chested side, and narrow in the hips, so that her waist seemed larger than it really was. And, not pretty, just plain, short, with short, mousy hair, and a nose that always had seemed too big to her, but now it didn't seem to matter much.
Naked now, she bent over to unfasten her sandals, followed Al into the pool, and lay down beside him. It was comfortably cool -- at least, cooler than the air temperature, which had to be over a hundred out here in the sun. "This is just right," she said, the water soaking into the dirt she'd accumulated.
"It's pretty decent," he said. "Glad you came with me?"
"Yes, I am," she replied, relaxing as a vision of the near future rolled languidly over her -- she wasn't going to be leaving this spot without making love with Al. The thought didn't surprise her, but comforted her. The men in her past had been few enough, but she'd been around that block before, and found herself looking forward to it. She smiled and teased him, "Did you bring me up here to get me naked?"
"It was your choice," he replied casually. "I was coming up here whether you came or not."
She rolled on her side and reached out to touch him. "I'm glad you brought me," she smiled. She was not surprised to feel his arm around her back, pulling her tight. Their lips met in the heat of fusion, and tongues entwined. An immeasurable, wonderful time passed, hands exploring each other's bodies. She felt a hand cupping her breast, playing with her dark little nipple, and felt a finger on that special spot down between her thighs. She arched her back and let out a little moan, then, somewhere in her dim consciousness, she found her hand on his manhood as she guided it into herself. Oh, God, it felt so intense, so wonderful! She wrapped her arms around his naked back, held on tight and moaned until finally a flood of pure ecstasy washed over her, then gasped for air, half screaming, half moaning. She felt herself floating, falling, holding on, until finally, they just floated entwined, spent, in the little water pocket.
Reality slowly began to intrude on her. It was easily the best she'd ever experienced, she knew without having to think about it. There'd been other times, but nothing to compare with making love with this strong, exotic, powerful man in this majestic, entrancing, even mystical place. Could it get better than that? She doubted it.
She pulled herself close to Al, and kissed him gently on the lips. "Thank you," she whispered. "That was wonderful."
"That was fine," he said, putting his hand on her wet butt, half in and half out of the water. "Still glad you came with me?"
"Oh, God, yes," she whispered. "You've brought girls up here before, I take it."
"It happens," he shrugged. "Not every trip. Not even every other trip. But, now and then. It's not part of the trip package. Is it what you came on the trip for?"
"Sort of," she smiled. "I wanted adventure, memorable experiences, romance. Making love with a dark, handsome man in an exotic, hidden desert pool falls in that category."
"I wondered," Al said quietly. "Right from the beginning, you didn't seem like the outdoor-type girl that wanted to go on this trip to live rough and bounce around on the rapids."
"It wasn't my idea," she explained, more conversationally now, even though she was still holding tight to the big boatman's body. "A friend of mine talked me into it, last year. She said it might be the only time in our lives we'd ever get to do something memorable. She said it'd be all too soon and we'd be married and have kids, and the only adventure we could have might be a trip to Disney World."
"But, you're alone," he said. "I didn't think anyone came with you."
She smiled. "We booked this trip, and then she got married and got pregnant, and she had to cancel. I was going to cancel too, and then I realized, she was right, and I'd better do it while I still could. It might be my only chance."
"Any chance of your getting married soon?" he smiled.
"Not really," she shrugged. "But then, a year ago, Michelle didn't think so either. How about you?"
"I'm not in any hurry to get married," he said. "Unless I married some girl boat bum, I'd probably have to give up rafting, and I'm not ready to do that yet. That doesn't always work. Louise married a boatman. Now, he doesn't run at all -- he's got a job that he can't get off of long enough to run a trip. She's a schoolteacher, so she can get in maybe three trips in the summer if she leaves him home. I don't think I could stand to just work in a factory and live on memories."
She pulled back and looked at the bronzed, muscled boatman. "No," she shook her head. "I don't think you'd be happy working five days a week and going home to sit on the couch, watch TV, and drink Pabst."
"My worst fear," he smiled.
"I can see that," she said, and inside her, a tiny flame of hope flickered out. After that wonderful bout of lovemaking in this exotic place, there had been a little part of her that had wondered if she could draw Al into her life for longer than just this trip -- but she'd known it was hopeless to even consider it. He belonged to the Canyon and would be out of place outside of it. He had a life that suited him, but it was one that she couldn't share. While it was fun, with adventure, even romance that generated memories that she was sure could last a lifetime, she was sure that the two and a half weeks of this trip were going to be enough for her. As she had told him, she wasn't an outdoor person, just a city girl who'd been a small-town girl, a girl who worked in an office and didn't dream big dreams, much beyond getting married and having kids and growing old. There was no way she could envision living a life like Al, floating down the river, sleeping with the rafts, and nothing much off in the future. Except maybe for the next few days, there was no way she could be a part of his life -- and really, there was no way he could be part of hers, either. While he could perhaps come out of the Canyon and live a normal life, he wouldn't be the big, tanned, muscled boatman that made him seem so exotic and wonderful. He'd be just another guy, sitting on the couch, drinking Pabst, and often being morose over the life he'd given up, resentful of her for dragging him away from it.
However, she still had a few days to make memories. They might as well be good ones, ones she could savor in the dim future, ones that slowly disappear in a cloud of dullness and routine existence. She pulled him tighter, and placed her mouth on his.
They spent several hours at the water pocket that long, warm afternoon. After a while, they dragged their wet bodies from the pool, soaped each other down a ways downhill of the ledge, and then rinsed each other off with buckets of water brought from the pool. Al filled the bucket with water, put some soap in it along with his shorts and T-shirt and her swimsuit, and washed them out as best he could, leaving them lying on the warm rocks to dry while they retreated to the water pocket once again.
In the breaks between their bouts of lovemaking, they talked -- nothing serious. Al told her a little more about how he'd wound up as a boatman -- he'd been wandering after he got out of the Army, and one day had wandered into the Canyon Tours office, curious about what it would cost him to do a trip down the river. It had been just at the right moment; they'd needed a swamper, a helper to go on a run, helping with the cooking and the rafts -- and they needed one that minute. He'd been ready to go that minute, and made trip after trip that summer, learning how to handle the customers and the boats. By the time the summer was over, he was a boatman, with a raft of his own, and a little surprised to be paid for something he'd have been willing to pay to do if he'd had the money. Now, after five years, he led trips about half the time, depending on how the schedule worked out. Louise, who had seniority, would be heading back to the schoolroom before the next trip, so he'd probably be leading that one.
And, Karin had told him more about herself, not that there was much to tell. She'd gotten out of her small, isolated hometown, finished from college, gotten a job in her field, and had been there three years now -- nothing exciting, nothing adventurous. She told him about Pete, the guy she'd been going out with off and on for a year or more. They were good friends, and occasionally she'd thought that some time, sooner or later, it might turn serious. But here, in the wilds of the Grand Canyon, Pete seemed like another life, far away, a different world from this bizarre dreamland, where she lay in a desert water pocket, holding onto this muscled boatman and having sex with him time after time. Pete seemed like some sort of dream -- or was this the dream, and she was scared to wake up from its wonder?
By now, the rock amphitheater was well into the shade, and it seemed cooler. She felt enormously relaxed, enormously satisfied, after the hours of intense lovemaking, and wished it could go on forever, but all too soon, Al said they'd better be getting back since he had to get started making dinner. "Steaks and spuds tonight," he told her. "And the beer is holding out pretty good."
"I think I'm going to want a beer, tonight," she said expansively, sorrowful at the thought of leaving this wonderful place they had shared. "I don't normally drink beer, but tonight, it'll taste good." She rolled to get her feet under her and stood up, letting the water drain off her body. It was wrinkled in spots from being wet for so long, but she felt as clean as she had been on the trip, and wonderfully sated as well, perhaps a little weak. It was a marvelous feeling, even though she was going to hate leaving this wonderful, secret place.
He joined her on the rock beside the pool. She glanced at him occasionally as he gathered their few things, and pulled his shorts and shirt back on. Mostly she looked around at the amphitheater, the water pocket and the stunning view she had from the ledge, trying to impress it on her mind, so that she'd never forget how wonderful she'd felt in the few hours they'd spent in this place. She wanted every minute, every detail, to stay with her forever. She stood there, just taking it in, until Al's gentle voice brought her back to reality. "Uh, Karin?" he asked. "You want to wear your swimsuit back to camp?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess I better," she replied, a little disappointed. The thought of pulling it back on seemed a little repugnant, now. Somehow, she knew how Cinderella must have felt when her wonderful ball gown had turned back into scullery clothes. He handed it to her, and slowly, reluctantly, she stepped into it -- it was now totally dry and warm from baking in the sun -- and pulled it up to cover her body. The ball was over, now.
She didn't remember much of the trip back down to the camp -- it seemed to flow by so quickly. Even the narrow ledge and descending the first pitch above the sandbar seemed automatic, a common thing. Back at camp, she and Al gathered some driftwood along the shore and got a big fire going in the fire pan. Harold was down by the riverbank with his fly rod, throwing a fly fruitlessly out onto the waters of the river, and Edda had found a comfortable spot and was reading a book about the Canyon. She helped where she could. Al turned to getting dinner ready as the fire burned down to a bed of coals. He wasn't real busy, and they had some time to sit and watch the fire as the shadows grew long in the depth of the canyon, making strange and weird patterns on rock walls that stretched far above them. Violet-green swallows were out patrolling for insects, and a beaver, looking old and tired, swam wearily up river, keeping out of the current and paying no more attention to them than he would have any of the rocks alongside the river.
All the while, a question turned over in her mind, and she struggled with finding some way to phrase it. Finally, she decided there was nothing to do but say it right out: "Al, can we do that again some time?" she asked shyly, a little surprised at herself that she could be so brazen. Already, the last few hours seemed like a dream.
It was as if he had been reading her mind. "Not up there, at least not this trip," he smiled at her. "There's too much to do here, and it'll be too dark to climb back up there after we eat. But we can make other chances, on down the river."
Ten days later, it still seemed like a dream, even after they were off the river. They had made other chances to be alone and make love as they proceeded down the river. It wasn't every day -- sometimes there just wasn't the chance to get away from the rest of the party. However, there were times they stole away into the shadows while the rest of the party sat around the evening campfire, and in the quiet sand alongside the river, they could make intense, quiet love. Several times they were able to get away for a few hours in an afternoon, and hike and climb to some secret place where they could have sex, fondle each other, talk a bit, and make love again -- a bit desperately for her and perhaps for him, since day by day the trip was coming to an end. All too soon they would have to go their separate ways, most likely forever.
All too soon the rafts were being loaded on the huge trailer at Diamond Creek Wash. Rather than riding the truck back to Flagstaff with the rafts, Al offered to drive one of the vans with the party to the airport in Las Vegas, where he'd pick up the next party in a couple days. "I can sleep, shower, and eat at a table as well in Vegas as I can in Flagstaff," he told Louise, who was happy to get the extra day free for herself. However, Karin had already told him that her plane didn't leave till the next morning, so it was a chance to spend a last night together in a hotel there.
"Not that it was a surprise to Louise, or anyone else," Al said, his head on the pillow next to her, early the next morning after a long, intense, and not very sleep-filled night. "I don't think we were that blatant about it, but, let's face it, everybody knew."
"We did get some awfully knowing smiles when we announced we were going off on a hike somewhere," Karin whispered in his ear, her arm thrown across his chest. "I guess it's not like it matters. In a couple hours, I'll be on the plane, and this will be history, just a pleasant memory of some adventure and romance I once had."
"It happens that way, in this business," he said quietly. "I guess it makes you the strong one. You can walk away from it. I'm addicted, I have to keep going back for more."
"Adventure and romance," she smiled. "It's what I came for, and now I've had it, and now my life turns back into a pumpkin. But while it was a carriage, well, it made some pleasant memories to hold onto all my life."
"That's how it's supposed to be," Al smiled. "Look, I hate to bring mundane things into this, but you have a choice."
"What?" she asked.
"We can get up now, and each of us take a shower, and get dressed, grab some breakfast, and get you to the airport. Or . . ." he stopped to take a breath ". . . we can skip the shower and the breakfast, and get it on one last time."
She pulled herself close to him. "Not much of a choice, is it?" she smiled.
"Thought you'd say that," he smiled back as he rolled up to bring his lips to hers, and one last, wonderful time, she was his and he was hers. It went on for a long time and couldn't have been long enough, and afterwards, they caught their breaths, her arms around him and his around her, both of them just laying there exhausted, nuzzling each other a little, wishing it would never have to end. Finally, he smiled and managed to whisper, "You know, if we were to practice that a bit, we could get pretty good at it."
"Yeah," she said sadly. "But, I guess we don't get the chance. It was great while it lasted, Al." She rolled on her side and kissed him again. "I wish I didn't have to go get on that plane, but I guess it has to end sometime."
"It's been great," he murmured, holding her close. They lay there silently for a moment.
"Look, Al," she said slowly, as if from far away, "This has been wonderful, and I'll never forget the last few days. But, tomorrow, I'll be back in Glen Ellyn. This will all be a pleasant memory, and you'll be picking up customers for your next trip. I know, sooner or later, there's going to be another girl you'll be taking up to the Baseball Man Water Pocket."
"I suppose," Al replied quietly, wondering where she was heading. "Karin, does that make you jealous? It shouldn't. You know it's happened before, and will again. It doesn't always work out like it has with us. You may not realize it, but you're going to be a pleasant memory for me, too."
"No, it doesn't make me jealous," she smiled. "Envious, perhaps. She's going to be a lucky girl, and I wish I were her. Just do me one favor."
"What's that?" he smiled.
Karin pulled away and looked at him. There was a tear in her eye, and she didn't mind it one bit. "Just make her as happy as you've made me."
"I'll try," he promised. "But that means that you owe me a favor."
"What's that?" she said, cocking her head to one side.
"Karin, sooner or later, there's going to be another man come into your life. Maybe Pete, like you've told me about, maybe someone else, someone you can spend your life with. He'll come; don't worry about it. And, when he does, Karin . . ."
"Make him as happy as you've made me. Be as good with him, be even better. He deserves it."
After three weeks of wearing only a swimsuit, or nothing at all, it seemed strange indeed to be putting on a bra and panties, to wear a skirt, to pull on a brand new "Canyon Tours" T-shirt. She and Al kissed just before she turned down the boarding ramp to the 727 that would take her back to O'Hare, but it was just a chaste and friendly kiss. She picked up her bag, turned, and all of a sudden he was in her past, and she knew it was likely that she'd never see him again. Oh, she'd think of him often enough, remember those wonderful days on the river, the rapids, the incredible ride through Crystal, the bucking thrills of Hance, the sheer terror of the power of Lava Falls. She'd remember the campfires, too, deep in the darkness of the Canyon as the river flowed by, sometimes silently, sometimes whispering, occasionally roaring. She'd remember the wonderful meals that Al and the other boatmen had conjured out of the coolers with a minimum of tools. And, yes, she'd remember that wonderful afternoon at the Baseball Man Water Pocket, and the other places down the river where they'd made love. It had been a fling, she realized, a wonderful fling -- perhaps the one real adventure she'd have in her life, and yes, she'd remember all of it, even though she'd most likely never do it again.
She settled quietly into her seat. There hadn't been a lot of sleep the night before, and she figured on sleeping most of the way back to Chicago. As the plane climbed out, she could look out the window and see the Canyon spread out below her, seemingly tiny but the landscape incredibly tortured and chaotic. Deep at the bottom was a little shiny thread of river. She'd been there, and knew what it was like, now.
As the sight of the Canyon slipped behind her, Karin's thoughts turned to the future. For over a year she'd been looking forward to the trip, focused on it. It was a shame Michelle couldn't have come, but she'd let other things get in her way, and, well, too bad for her. Karin smiled to herself; if Michelle had been along, she might never have had her adventures with Al. It may have turned out for the best.
Al's words, back at the hotel, kept ringing at her. Pete was a nice guy; she liked him. It wouldn't be fair to say that she had come to love him, for she'd deliberately kept herself from that while the prospect of the trip was there. They hadn't even been particularly close; they'd kissed a few times, and once or twice she'd even let him cop a feel of her clothed breast, but that was about all there had ever been. He was convenient; they lived in the same apartment building; he was down a couple floors. They'd met as she was carrying groceries in one day, and having problems with a torn sack, and they'd wound up having dinner, and going out occasionally since. He worked at Hadley-Monroe, a few miles south, an engineer, designing machinery. A couple of times he'd mentioned that he was working on a project to design a laser-controlled die cutter, but she wasn't sure what a die was and wasn't terribly clear about what a laser had to do with it. The whole thing seemed like Greek to her.
The problem with Pete was that while he was a nice guy, he wasn't exciting; he basically was a tech head who was wrapped up in his work. Once in a while they'd taken in a Cubs game, but it was clear he wasn't a baseball nut, either. He thought she was crazy for wanting to take a trip like the Grand Canyon, and perhaps that had been part of what had made her keep a little distance from him. Well, now she'd done it, and Pete did seem a little more interesting. She was sure she could make a perfectly acceptable, perfectly comfortable, perfectly placid life with him. There might be a trip to Disney World sometime, she realized, but there could never be something as exciting and exotic as making love beside a desert water pocket. But now, maybe she'd gotten that kind of thing out of her system.
The intermixed thoughts of Pete and Al and the Canyon and her job, doing books at Heller-Aller, and her apartment in Glen Ellyn kept rolling through her mind. Maybe the thing to do, she considered, was to pick up the pace with Pete a little, and see if he responded in kind, now that the trip didn't lie in front of her anymore. One thing was clear -- as appealing as it might have seemed at times in the last few days, any thought of calling up Canyon Tours and seeing if they needed an unpaid swamper just wasn't in her future. Oh, she could live for two and a half weeks like that. It was an adventure, but it wasn't a life she could live like Al did, for seeming years on end. Things like showers, air conditioning, eating at a table, and sleeping in a real bed did have their appeal, at least in the long run. So, that meant Pete, or someone else. She didn't want to have to put off that decision much longer, though. "Face it, I'm twenty-five now," she thought. "Time to be getting on with it." If not Pete then someone else, but increasingly Pete began to seem like a bird in the hand to her. Maybe it would be better to push ahead with him, rather than hope for someone more exotic, more exciting. Someone like Al . . .
As it turned out, she did sleep for a couple hours; in fact, she slept through the landing and the taxiing up to the boarding ramp at O'Hare, dreams of the Canyon and the sights she'd seen and the experiences she'd had going through her mind. An hour later, she was in her apartment, familiar, although strange after three weeks away. It was a small apartment, suitable for a single girl who didn't have very much. She dumped her baggage, what there was of it, in the middle of the floor and called her parents back in Spearfish Lake to let them know that she was back and had experienced a wonderful time. She called Michelle to let her know she was back, too, and that she'd missed a really great trip, without, of course, mentioning Al; she knew, right there, that he'd always have to be just the boatman when she told anyone about her trip. She knew she could never mention the few days of ecstasy she'd spent with him.
She thought about calling Pete, too, just to let him know she was back. Perhaps they could go to dinner together, or something; maybe she could figure some way to start the process of getting a little more serious with him. She reached for the phone, then stopped. No, if he was at home, he'd probably just be reading or watching TV. She could go down, give him a big hug and kiss, tell him how much she'd missed him while she was gone. That would do the job nicely, much better than a phone call.
It didn't take much thinking about. There was some unpacking to be done, things to wash and put away, and frankly, she needed a shower. In spite of the time being tight, she'd done a real quick rinse off after her last bout with Al, now long ago and far away, but if she went right to Pete, without bothering to clean up and change clothes, well, it might say better than words how much she missed him. There was no point in thinking about it further. She set down the phone, locked her apartment door on the way out, and headed for the elevator. In but a few moments, she was knocking on his door.
He was surprised to see her, and if she'd thought she wasn't ready, he was worse -- he was only wearing a bathrobe, and his hair was disheveled, like he'd just gotten out of bed, here in the middle of the afternoon. "Hi, Karin," he said, genuinely surprised to see her at his door. "Sorry I'm such a mess. I was just heading for the shower. We worked straight through till four this morning cutting code. How was the trip? You look like you got a hell of a tan."
"Real good," she smiled. "I had a lot of fun, and took tons of photos. They've still got to go in for developing, of course. But, I wanted to come right by and let you know I was back." She grinned, and took him in her arms, and planted a kiss on his lips. He was only a little taller than she was, and it wasn't a big reach upward. "See, while I was gone, I realized I was looking forward to seeing you again."
This, obviously, was news he hadn't expected. "Hey, well, it's good to see you," he said. "It's been a little lonely around here without you. I spent some time wondering how it was going with you."
"It'll take a long time to tell you," she replied. "It was a real good trip, one I'll always remember."
He shook his head. "I'm glad you enjoyed it," he said. "Look, how about letting me grab a shower and get some clothes on, and maybe you can tell me about it."
"Do it," she smiled. "Take your time, I don't mind. I guess I shouldn't have surprised you like this."
"Oh, no problem," he said. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Grab yourself something to drink from the refrigerator."
"Like I said, take your time," she grinned. She let him out of her arms; he turned and headed toward the bathroom, while she headed for the refrigerator. There wasn't a lot in the refrigerator -- beer and pop and hot dogs. She grabbed a Coke, and briefly considered inviting him up to her apartment for dinner, until she realized that wouldn't work; she didn't have much in the way of fresh food up there; she'd eaten it down, knowing it wouldn't last the three weeks she'd be gone. Well, maybe they could go out for dinner, although she realized she'd have to change clothes, unless they went to some real casual place.
She sat down on the couch, and glanced over at the bathroom door, wondering how long he might be. She noticed a little crack of light around the edge; it wasn't quite closed. A broad grin spread over her face. Should she do it? There'd never, ever, be a better chance to grab his attention like this. He surely wouldn't be expecting it . . . which was all the more reason. She'd gotten awful brazen over the last ten days, she realized -- maybe too brazen. If it worked . . . well, it'd bypass an awful lot of messing around. She got up, realizing that there was no chance that she wasn't going to do it.
Her T-shirt and bra came off over her head in one quick motion, and skirt and panties followed even more quickly, landing in a pile on the floor. The sandals took a few seconds longer to unbuckle, but in seconds, she was as totally naked as she'd been up at the Baseball Man Water Pocket.
She walked over to the bathroom door, and quietly opened it. Through the nearly translucent glass of the shower door, she could see that Pete's back was to her. This was going to be easy . . .
"Karin, what the hell!" Pete said, swinging around when he sensed the shower door open behind him. He saw her step into the shower with him, totally nude.
"Oh, I decided I needed a shower, too," she replied, smiling at his shocked expression, noting, to her pleasant surprise, that he seemed at least as well equipped as Al had been. Inwardly, she smiled -- it was a final unique experience from the trip; it might be the only time in her life that she made love to two men on the same day. "I'll scrub your back if you’ll scrub mine," she smiled at his confusion as she took him in her arms.