Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
After wearing heels all day, it felt good to kick them off and put on a decent, comfortable pair of loafers. Karin Chladek's feet hurt from wearing them all day. They made her back hurt too, but it was the expected thing at Heller-Aller, so she didn't complain. At least she didn't wear heels as high as she had when she'd been younger, and today she felt her age catching up with her as she found a comfortable chair in the living room. It was a nice suburban house in a better-than-average neighborhood in Glen Ellyn, a suburb of Chicago. She and Pete had lived there since shortly after Crystal had been born, and it had been large enough for the three kids, but with Crystal pretty much gone now, Jon leaving soon, and Nanci not long after, it'd soon be too big. Maybe the time would come when they'd have to find something smaller, but that was a few years off she reflected lightly, and not for the first time.
Karin hadn't been home long, but from the low tones at the far end of the house, she could tell that Nanci was home, and on the phone as usual, either talking to some boyfriend or giggling with some girlfriend about some boyfriend. She hadn't seen any sign of Jon, but his car was outside, so that meant he was probably down in the basement at the computer. The worst of the aches were just draining from her feet when she heard car doors slamming outside. They're here early, she thought; she hadn't expected Crystal and Myleigh to get here for several more hours, so she got up to see.
Sure enough, it was Crystal's battered gray Olds Cutlass, a couple of unfixed dents showing, and the fenders dotted with rust. Once again, Karin shook her head and half wished that Crystal had let them give her a decent car when she graduated from high school, rather than insisting on using the money to go to OLTA. In the end, the camp out in Idaho had cost much less than a new car would have. Crystal had said she'd learned a lot out there, but if Pete had managed to have his way she'd be driving a decent car, not a ten-year-old refugee from the junkyard.
That was beside the point. Crystal was happy with it, and Karin was going to be happy to see her again. She looked closer -- there was Myleigh, of course, and a surprise -- a boy, several inches shorter than Crystal, skin a little dark, black hair, sporting a neatly trimmed Van Dyke, and wearing an NMU sweatshirt. Myleigh's boyfriend? It seemed unlikely -- Myleigh wasn't the boyfriend type. Karin had first met Myleigh when both the girls were freshmen, and they'd been down to Glen Ellyn several times since. It still amazed her that Crystal and Myleigh got along so well -- they were two such different girls.
That didn't matter, either. Crystal was home, maybe not for long, but it would be good to see her again. Karin went to the front door and opened it, and had a big hug for her daughter when she came in. Her daughter towered over her, but it was good to hold her in her arms again. "Crystal, it's so good to see you again," she gushed. "I really missed you."
"It's only been since Christmas, Mom," Crystal smiled. "But, it's good to be home."
"I didn't expect you till closer to dinner," Karin told her daughter, still holding on to her tightly. Crystal had added a lot of life to the household, and now Karin didn't see her often enough.
"We blew out of there a little early," Crystal grinned down at her mother. "That sadist in 'Teaching Reading' just had to have an exam this morning, or we'd have cut everything else and been here last night. The traffic on the Tri-State was murder, too, or else we'd have been here sooner."
Karin broke the hug. "Myleigh, it's good to see you, too," she smiled, taking the smaller girl in her arms for a quick hug as well. Myleigh was a little shorter than she was, and had a nice smile on her face, too. Though Karin thought that Myleigh was a little strange, she was always a nice kid. "I see you've taken good care of my daughter for me."
"I try, Mrs. Chladek," Myleigh said sweetly as the hug broke. "It's often difficult, but I do try."
"And who's this young man you've brought with you?" Karin asked, looking over at Randy, who'd stood on the steps outside while all the hugging had been going on.
"Oh, sorry, Mom," Crystal said, stepping back so Karin could have a clear view of him. "This is Randy. We've been hanging with him some recently. He's riding down to Florida and back with us. You'll like him: he's good people. And, he's from Spearfish Lake."
"Spearfish Lake?" Karin smiled. Wasn't that interesting! "I suppose Crystal told you that's where I'm from."
"She did," Randy nodded noncommittally.
"Well, come inside," Karin told the three as she stepped back into the living room. "Make yourself comfortable. Your father should be home soon, Crystal. I should get started on dinner."
"Uh, do you mind if we raid the refrigerator a little?" Crystal asked. "We sorta drove straight through."
"Go ahead," Karin replied. That girl still eats like your average horse, she thought. At least she doesn't put on weight from it. "Don't overeat, dinner won't be long. Are you three going to be heading out tomorrow morning?"
Crystal shook her head. "Actually, no," she explained, digging in the refrigerator. "We just thought we'd stop for dinner, and to say 'Hi;' we figure if we drive all night, I can see the people at Ocoee Adventures tomorrow. Once that's out of the way, we don't have to worry about a schedule."
"Ocoee Adventures? Are you planning on working there again this summer?"
Crystal smiled, pulling out a Coke, some lunch meat, and a slab of cheese. "They said last fall they wanted me back, so I thought I'd better drop by and see if the offer is still open."
Karin got a big grin on her face as Crystal reached for a loaf of bread. "You'll come back in the fall all as brown as an Indian, and even more muscled than ever, and I know just what your father will say about that."
"I know," Crystal replied, cracking a grin just as wide as she started making a quick sandwich. "I've heard it before."
"So have I," Karin said with a shake of her head. "It's just that I hear it more than you do." A rumbling from the garage door opener came from outside the kitchen. "There's your father now."
Pete came in the kitchen a moment later. "Well, look who's here," he said, giving his daughter a hug as she turned from her sandwich making. "With two kayaks and a surfboard on top of the Olds, I take it you're not planning on staying long."
"'Fraid not, Dad," she grinned, putting her arms around him and pulling him tight.
"It's good to see you anyway. Car running OK?"
"The old gray mare keeps chugging along about like ever," Crystal said, looking down at his thin, graying hair.
"You getting the oil changed?"
"Just before we left Marquette."
"Good," he smiled, and turned his head while he held onto his daughter, who towered over him as much as she did her mother. "Myleigh, good to see you again," he said. "I know you're keeping Crystal's nose to the grindstone, which is more than I've ever been able to do."
"She does demand some encouragement at times," Myleigh told him, sitting down at the table with her Coke. "And, I'm afraid it requires some persistence on my part."
"This is Randy," Karin said by way of introduction. "Crystal said he's from Spearfish Lake, but I haven't had a chance to talk to him about it yet."
"He's just riding down to Florida and back with us," Crystal explained as she and Pete broke their clinch.
"My maiden name was Johansen," Karin told Randy as she started to busy herself with dinner. "Are you any relation?"
Randy shrugged and leaned back against the doorway. "I know a bunch of Johansens and Langenderfers, but I don't think I'm related to any of them."
"I'm only related to the clan through my father," Karin explained. "My mother was a Freckleton. I'm trying to think of who's still up there that you might know. Do you know Kirsten Langenderfer?"
"I know who she is," Randy nodded, showing some interest in the discussion of her old home. "Works at the Record-Herald."
"You might know her daughter, Tiffany," Karin said. "She'd be about your age."
Randy grinned at the memory. "Sure, I know her. She was a couple years behind me. She's doing the race in Alaska this year."
"How's Kirsten doing? She was one of my best friends in high school, but I haven't heard from her in ages."
"Pretty good, as far as I know," Randy replied. "Did you hear that she finally got married? It's Kirsten McMahon now."
"Did she really?" Karin said, surprised at the news. It had been too long since she'd been in Spearfish Lake, and she hadn't really kept up with the gossip, especially now that her parents wintered in Florida. That meant that the annual visits were usually in the winter, down south. "You mean she finally quit waiting for Henry Toivo to come home?"
"Not exactly," Randy told her. "Some of the Vietnam vets from Spearfish Lake went back to Vietnam, found his body and brought it home. Dad was one of them. It was a big deal around town."
"I'm happy for her that got settled," Karin said. She looked up, to see that she and Randy had thoroughly lost everyone in the room. No one else had any idea what the two were talking about, but it was good to talk with someone from Spearfish Lake. "Henry and Kirsten were madly in love. I was a couple years older, but in a small town like that age doesn't matter much, so I knew both of them. Henry disappeared in Vietnam, and Kirsten could never quite get over it. She finally moved in with this McMahon, and they had three kids, but she'd never marry him so she'd be available if Henry ever came home."
"That's pretty much it," Randy agreed.
"That brings back the memories," Karin said, enjoying the moment. "I was there the night Kirsten and Henry started going together. Pete, have I told you this story?"
"I'm not sure," Pete grunted, obviously not caring much for Spearfish Lake stories. He was a city boy, and he'd always hated going up there.
Karin smiled. "Even if you have, the kids haven't. I was over visiting Betsy, and Kirsten and Linda Caserowski were there, when the boys came in from rabbit hunting. It was Henry and Jody, and I'm not sure who all, I think maybe Mark Gravengood and Steve Augsberg. They were pretty cold, and Betsy's dad suggested they sauna. I'm not sure how it happened, but we girls decided to go out and join them. There we were, in this little room, hotter than blazes, not much light, and all of us naked as jaybirds."
"I've done that," Randy nodded, with a huge grin that puzzled Karin a little. "It sort of goes with the territory."
"And the part about jumping into the river?" Karin asked, glancing at Crystal and Myleigh. The story had their attention, now.
"In that same sauna," Randy said, his grin even bigger. Karin figured it must have something to do with boys and girls naked together, however innocent it may have been -- and really, it had been pretty innocent, although she knew there were a lot of people, even around Spearfish Lake, who might not think so. She pressed on with the story, noting a huge grin on Crystal's face, and a sparkle in Myleigh's eye.
"After we were thoroughly broiled, we decided it was time to go jump in the river," Karin explained. "So we went madly running down to the river through the snow in our bare feet in the dark, and jumped in. It is quite a shock to the system. Kirsten wasn't sure she wanted to do it, so Henry picked her up and carried her into the river, screaming like a banshee. When he carried her back out, they were madly in love." She stopped and shook her head. "They couldn't have been more than in eighth grade or so, and they were just like glue after that. I'm so happy that it finally came to an end for her." She let out a big sigh. "I shouldn't be telling stories like that, but it's nice to talk with someone who knows these people. For example, do you know Linda Caserowski? It'd be Clark, now."
Randy broke out laughing. "Yeah, I know her pretty well," he said, his grin even bigger. "She's my mother."
"Your mother?" Karin exclaimed, then calmed down and admonished, "Don't you ever tell her I told you that story."
"Don't worry," Randy said, still giggling. "I've heard that story over and over all my life. It's just nice to hear it from someone else to find out how true it was. I didn't connect you with it, from what Crystal had to say."
"I'm just glad that Jon and Nanci weren't here to hear it," Pete grumped. "I know Crystal is beyond hope, but it might give them the wrong idea about their mother."
Karin let Pete's remark slide off as if she hadn't heard it. "So, if you're a Clark," she asked Randy, "Are you headed for Clark Plywood, then?"
"Maybe," Randy said, obviously trying to stay positive. "It's not settled yet, but I wouldn't be surprised."
"Small world, isn't it?" Karin smiled. "So, how's your dad, anyway? I haven't seen him in years."
"Oh, still pretty much the same," Randy told her. "Getting older, I guess. They sold the house in town, oh, four or five years ago, and moved out on the point. Rachel had just left for college, and Ruth was leaving in another year or two, so they decided they didn't need the big house in town anymore. Besides, Dad said that moving out of town was the only way he was ever going to get off Council."
"Is your mother still teaching?" Karin asked, then stopped. "Oh, I shouldn't be tying you up with all my old stories," she said. "Pete, why don't you go get Jon and tell him his sister is home? Crystal, go tell Nanci that she's been on the phone long enough, and to come out and join us."
The kitchen cleared out a little as Randy replied, "She's got a few years before she can retire yet."
"I'm going to have to talk Pete into going up to Spearfish Lake sometime, just to renew old-home ties," Karin thought aloud. "It's been much too long since I've seen anyone."
"It's not far out of your way if you're coming up to Northern," Myleigh offered.
Karin nodded, then continued, "It's a little out of the way, but school will be out pretty soon, won't it? It's always a little hard to tell since Crystal is home so little."
"Seven weeks, once we get back," Myleigh agreed. "It goes very quickly, once we're into the final period. Can I help you with that?"
"No, that's fine," Karin replied. "A couple more things, then about half an hour in the oven, then we can eat. Since I knew you were coming, I made a lot ahead of time. Why don't you go sit in the living room? I'll be out in a minute."
It took more than a minute. By the time Karin made it out to join the others, Pete had dragged Jon away from the computer, and the two were already there, Pete in his usual chair, Jon on the sofa. Randy was on the floor in the corner, propped up against the wall as Crystal and Nanci entered, coming from the other way. "I thought you might like to know that Jon has a little news," Pete said.
"Let me guess," Crystal laughed. "You ignored everything I told you and decided to go to Michigan Tech after all."
"Right school, wrong state," Jon said with pride. "Georgia Tech."
"He's going to turn into a Ramblin' Wreck on us," Pete said with just as much pride.
"I thought you were holding out for MIT, or maybe Caltech," Crystal grinned, happy for him. Jon took after his dad in a lot of ways, Karin thought as she watched. He even looked a lot like him, given the age difference and all -- same height, same stocky build, the same talent and love of engineering.
"I would have liked to," Jon said, a little wistfully. "But, I knew it was going to be a long shot. It came down to Georgia and Rensselaer. Georgia is in Atlanta, and Rensselaer is out in the boondocks someplace, like Marquette. I figured I'd do better in a city."
"Aw, you're just a city mouse, bro," Crystal grinned. "But, it was a good choice. I don't have a lot of use for the hockey team at NMU, but they kicked Rensselaer's butts last month. I'll bet they don't even know what a hockey game is down in Georgia."
"I've been thinking about going to Northern," Nanci announced. "I'm not sure yet, but it seems like it's worked out pretty well for you."
"It was the right place for me," Crystal said. "What brought this on?"
Nanci looked thoughtful. "I figured in a small school like that, I'd have a pretty good chance to get on the cheerleading team."
Crystal shook her head. "I'm afraid I don't know anything about that," she said. "I can ask around about how tough the competition is when I get back up there, though."
"Would you do that for me?" Nanci bubbled. "Wherever I go, I want to be pretty sure I can do cheerleading."
"What do you want to study?"
"You seem to be doing pretty well in the teaching program," the little brunette said. "I figured you might be able to give me a little help with that, even though you'd be gone by the time I get there."
"Sure, I can help," Crystal offered. "But, I'm afraid I may not be gone when you get there."
"Crystal, are you failing something?" her father asked sharply.
"No," she said, shaking her head. "But I'm going to be missing some required credits for graduation. I just won't have the chance to get them in, and I'll still have student teaching to do, too."
"There are a couple of classes that are very hard to get into," Myleigh explained, taking the heat off Crystal. "The only reason I got into them was that I managed some of the prerequisites in summer courses. Most of the teacher education people seem to wind up running into similar problems. They often have to stay on an extra semester, and sometimes more."
Pete frowned. "Crystal, is this going to turn into a financial problem?"
"I don't know yet, Dad. I can't get a straight answer out of the financial aid office. I may get some assistance, and I may not. I can probably cover some of it with a student loan, but I don't want to. You know how hard I've tried to avoid getting in that trap. I should be able to cover some of it from working, but probably not all of it."
"Worst case?" he said grumpily.
"Three thousand, maybe a little more," Crystal said, getting down to the basics. "But, that's just a guess. I just don't know, yet. In a way, it's actually a little worse than that. Most teacher hiring takes place in the summer. If I get my certificate in January, well, I'll miss the cut, and I probably won't be able to do much but sub until the next fall."
"We probably can handle it," Pete said, showing a lot of reluctance. "It's going to be tight, though, and don't let it drag out any further. Jon may be getting into one of the best schools in the country, but it's not going to be cheap, even with his scholarships. It's going to cost us twice what it's costing to send you to Northern, at least. Then, Nanci will be coming along shortly. If she does go to Northern, well, that'll help some. Northern's cheaper than some places."
"It is indeed," Myleigh offered. "That's why I wound up going there, but all in all, I've been able to accomplish everything I needed to so far."
"Crystal has done better there than I expected," he replied. "I suspect you're part of the reason why. Nanci should be able to do all right."
"Take care, kids," Pete said standing by the car a couple hours later. "Drive safely, and don't drive too tired. Randy, as old as this car is, make sure that the oil gets checked at least at every other gas stop."
"Are you sure you don't want to stay the night?" Karin added. "We could make room, if you're willing to sleep on the couch in the basement, Randy."
"I really need to get to Tennessee tomorrow," Crystal protested. "Maybe we can stop and spend the night on the way back through."
"Try and do that," Karin told them. "You kids have a good trip."
"Randy, you want to drive?" Crystal asked.
"I'm willing to," he said. "But can we wait till we get out of town? I'm not used to the Chicago traffic."
"Nor I," Myleigh said. "Why don't you drive for a while, Crystal? I shall get in back and try to sleep a little, that I might be fresh to drive later."
"Sounds like a plan," Crystal agreed, opening the car door; the other two piled in the other side. "Bye, Mom, Dad," she said as she got in. "See you in a few days."
Pete and Karin stood there in the driveway, watching Crystal back the Olds out into the cul-de-sac. Brake lights flashed, the car turned around, and they were gone. "I sure worry about her driving that old beater," he said.
"They'll be all right," Karin replied, sending her best wishes with them as the car disappeared down the street. "They're good kids. They're not headed for Florida to drink and have sex."
"Yeah, I suppose," Pete replied grumpily. "You just liked him because he's from Spearfish Lake, but there's a hell of a lot worse guys she could have brought home."
"That's true," Karin agreed. "At least the last part. He seems to be a good kid, but I don't think there's anything serious there. I didn't see any innocent touches, any stolen glances, with either Crystal or Myleigh. They're just friends."
"I didn't pick up on that," Pete admitted. "It's cold out here. Let's go inside."
"Actually, I'm a little sorry," Karin told him as she followed him toward the house. "He's a good kid, from a good family. The Clarks have money. They're pretty close to the top of the heap in Spearfish Lake, if not totally there. Clark Plywood is family owned, and it's always been pretty solid. If he winds up in the family business, he'll be comfortable."
"So?" Pete asked, holding the door for her.
"So, it's like she said. At heart, she's a country mouse, not a city mouse. She'd do well in Spearfish Lake. We can hope, anyway."