Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online



Dawnwalker

Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle


a novel by
Wes Boyd
2002, 2008




Chapter 7

"Aaaaaaaaarrrrrgghhh!" Crystal laid out a primal scream as soon as she dropped the Olds into Drive. "That really pissed me off! I mean, really, really pissed me off!" She dropped the pitch of her voice down to imitate her father. "'Oh, I think we can somehow scrounge up a few dollars to pay for your final semester, out of the thousands and thousands we're spending to send Jon to Georgia Tech. Oh, and if we're lucky, there might be enough left over to send Nanci some place, so long as it's real cheap.'"

"It did strike me as rather sexist," Myleigh's voice drifted from the darkness of the back seat. "In fact, more than rather. But under the circumstances, I did not feel it was my place to comment."

"Did I handle it OK?" Crystal said, obviously calming.

"You were the soul of discretion," Myleigh said soothingly. "I did not detect a hint of rancor."

"I tried," Crystal sighed, her anger still showing through. She signaled for a turn. "I mean, I really tried. God, I hope I don't have to hit him up again. I didn't want to this time, but now he's going to burp up every fucking cent for my last semester whether he likes it or not. Damn it, I don't want to be buried in college loans. It's different for you, Myleigh. You're planning on working for serious money someday. I don't want the damn things hanging over my head, and I most especially don't want to have to go begging on my knees to him to pay for them."

"I can understand that," Randy said quietly. "It bothered me, too, but I figured I'd just better keep my mouth shut." He hoped he could calm Crystal down, or at least that her rant would die down while they were still on the suburban side streets. The traffic out on 38 would be bad enough, but the Tri-State scared the shit out of him.

It didn't work. "He's always been a sexist butthead," Crystal stormed, angrier than ever. "The best of everything for Jon, nothing but criticism and the short end of the stick for Nanci and me. Like, Jon's got a Pentium down there in the basement to piss around on with his AutoCAD, and Myleigh and I have to make do with an old 386 that they threw out from his job."

"Jon does sort of take after him," Randy said soothingly. "Probably his interest in engineering has something to do with that."

"Oh, I'm sure it does," Crystal continued, just as heatedly. "It just compounds the problem. What would it be like if I was the engineering genius, and Jon was the outdoor bum? Rossignol skis and Kokatat Gore-Tex drysuits for him, but Michigan Tech, or some dumbass trade school around here, or even worse, for me, if I was real lucky."

"It could be worse," Myleigh said sharply from the back seat. "It could be considerably worse, and you know that I know it."

Crystal let out a big sigh. "Yeah, you're right, Myleigh. I'm sorry," she said, considerably deflated. "You've got two butthead parents to deal with, and I've only got the one, and he's only a partial butthead by comparison."

The car was silent for a moment, and Randy thought about the last exchange. From hints he'd picked up over the last couple of weeks, Randy had come to understand that there wasn't much sweetness and light between Myleigh and her parents, but now was not the time to ask about it. He wondered about it, though, and realized the subject was going to have to come up sooner or later.

"But that's not the only thing," Crystal said mildly, after a small break, then started working her rant back up again. "Did you hear that butthead sister of mine? Oh, shit, if she comes up to Marquette, that's going to be just lovely."

"It would only be a semester at worst," Myleigh said.

"Did you hear that little brat?" Crystal said heatedly, warming to the topic as she pulled out onto 38. "She doesn't care where she goes to school or what she wants to do, but being a cheerleader is the biggest thing in her life. Dad ought to send her to some damn hairdressing school instead. That's what she's suited for. Damn it, you both know how I feel about team sports! How the hell do you think I feel about cheerleaders, waving their cute little asses at the crowd and cheering on blockheads like Baughman? If she's going to go to college, she should at least be making something of herself. Hell, some people might think that my accomplishments are pretty useless and self-centered, but at least they're mine, and I take pride in having done them, even if no one else does. I don't have to live in the reflected glory of some halfass football player. She's a worse butthead than he is. Don't get me wrong, I love my sister, but I just wish she'd make something of herself."

"I doubt she knows what 'women's liberation' means." Randy said thoughtfully. "It might be worth it for her to get a semester of lectures on it from both of you. Might do some good."

"I doubt it," Crystal said glumly, seeming to have blown the rant out of her system. "I think I'd be getting to her too late. I doubt if she'd listen to me, anyway. I'm only her sister, what the hell do I know? But, you might have a point. I think you've figured out by now that although Myleigh and I are pretty different, you're probably dealing with the two most liberated women at NMU."

Randy snorted out a half laugh. "Well, I don't know about most liberated," he replied with a grin that went unseen in the darkness of the car. "But near the top, for sure. I knew it about you right from the beginning, but it took me a while to figure it out about Myleigh."

"Unlike Crystal, I can cover it up if I wish to," Myleigh said sweetly. "But we both take considerable pride in our own accomplishments. I think Crystal agrees with me, but I do not wish to have my identity reflected in some man's glory. Nanci obviously does not feel that way."

"I know that," Randy said. "It's a big thing I like about both you girls. You are your own people, and proud of it."

"Jesus, I wish Jon were half as liberated," Crystal continued, ranting again, but in a leveler voice, more controlled, now. "Dad has shaped him and molded him into the image of his own dull self. Jon may turn into a decent engineer, but no imagination, no soul. He'll do just what someone else tells him to do. No creativity, no drive. I mean, I don't want to trash him because he didn't do sports, because I didn't do high school sports either. But, at least I did karate and lifesaving and things while I was in school. I went to camp with the intention of learning something because I wanted to learn it, not because someone else wanted me to. Hell, I had to fight to get to learn most of it. Jon just sits on his dead ass down there in the basement and plays with AutoCAD. He really is pretty good at it, but the best he'll ever do is contribute to someone else's idea, not have any ideas of his own. That's what I mean by not being liberated, and being a man or a woman doesn't have anything to do with it."

"You two have managed to avoid that pretty well," Randy said dryly. "Look, now that you've trashed the rest of your family," he said, trying to get on a positive note, "I do have to say that your mom is pretty cool."

"Thank God for Mom," Crystal said, more quietly now, relief showing in her voice. "Randy, don't get me wrong, I really do love my family, but most of them can be such fucking idiots about some things that it makes me gag. Except for Mom. She has fronted for me so many times, got me out of trouble with Dad so many times, twisted his arm for me so many times, that it's not funny." She stopped for a moment as if to collect her thoughts, let out a big sigh, and carried on. "You're right, she is pretty cool; she's my kind of people. It's just that she's locked into a family that's got a few lamebrains in it. Mom has been my inspiration; she's kept me going. Yeah, she's cool. I hadn't heard that story about the sauna and your mother before, but that's the kind of free spirit she is, deep down inside."

"Like I said, I've heard it before," Randy said conversationally in the dark on the other side of the car. At least Crystal seemed to be finally calming down and not taking her anger out with the accelerator. "After the Henry Toivo thing, that trip to Heikki Toivo's sauna is almost a legend in Spearfish Lake. I did want to hear her version of the sauna story, but what I really noticed was the steam almost blowing out your dad's ears."

"Dad doesn't like to admit that there's a little wild side tucked away in Mom somewhere." Crystal said thoughtfully. "Sometimes it tries to get out. I was so proud of her for telling that story, especially when she knew that Dad was pissed about her telling it." She laughed, and continued in an increasingly good mood. "Did I ever tell you why I'm named Crystal, and why I think it's such a good name?"

"Not that I recall," Randy said.

"Do tell," Myleigh added. "I don't believe I've heard this one myself."

"You've heard part of it, Myleigh," Crystal said brightly. "Back before Mom married Dad, she decided that she wanted to have one big adventure in her life before she settled down, so she signed up for a raft trip down the Colorado, an oar boat run down through the Grand Canyon. From everything I've ever heard about it, it was the trip of a lifetime for her. I think I've always envied her that, even from when I was a little girl. It probably had something to do with why I'm an outdoor nut. Even when I was a little kid, I used to sit and look through that scrapbook and dream about being there. A few years ago, I must have been about fifteen, Mom twisted Dad's arm real hard, and we got to do a big trip out west. We stood up on the south rim of the Canyon with all the crowds, and looked way, way down to the river. I thought, 'Wow, Mom was way down there. That's so neat.' Dad just snorted at her, and said, 'That proves you're crazy.'"

"Yeah, to a person like you, that'd be pretty inspirational, I guess," Randy said. "Where does the 'Crystal' come in?"

Crystal laughed. "That's the name of one of the two biggest rapids in the Canyon. I'm dead sure she snuck it by Dad. She'd have had one hell of a time getting away with 'Lava.' That's the other one. I think she named me that so she'd be reminded of her one big adventure, the one time she did something out of the ordinary."

"Knowing that, it sounds like she gave you a tough name to live up to," Randy laughed. "Although you're working pretty hard at it."

"I don't think that was what she intended, but that was the way it worked out." Crystal said thoughtfully, then laughed, "I didn't tell you all of it. My middle name is 'Louise.' Now, that happens to be Dad's mom's middle name, so I don't think that he had any problem about that. But the trip leader on that raft trip was also a gal named Louise. She snuck that by him, too."

Both Myleigh and Randy had to laugh at that one. "Yeah, your mom must have been pretty impressed with that trip," Randy said, realizing that he'd learned quite a bit about Crystal and her mother from the exchange.

"Yeah," Crystal continued, changing lanes as the sign for the on-ramp to the Tri-State came up. "Well, anyway, the sad part of the story is that she came back from that trip. She must have figured that had been her adventure and she'd better turn back to normal. So, she married dull old Dad, and there she is, with a free spirit locked inside that occasionally gets to stick its head out a little."

"I've heard you tell of most of that," Myleigh said. "While I admit that while my tastes do not run in the same direction, it does seem a shame about your mother."

They buzzed up the on-ramp under the lights mounted high on the poles, and with a glance, Crystal dove the Olds into an almost-invisible hole in the rushing traffic. She glanced over her shoulder, stomped the gas, charged across two lanes and found a hole in the third that was to her liking, in traffic so thick and fast that it seemed to Randy like they were in the middle of a stock-car race. He could hardly stand to watch. "I don't know how people can live like this," he said, the disgust evident in his voice. "Crystal, since you grew up around here, how did you manage to become such a big outdoor freak? I mean, I think I understand the motivation, but how did you come to work it out?"

"The simple answer is that I worked at it," she said, dodging around a slow-moving semi. As they drove along, Crystal told the story of how she joined Girl Scouts when she'd been little, and that gave her a little taste of the fact that there was an outdoors out there, something that wasn't city streets and traffic, and she'd wanted to learn more about it. She had gone to the camp for several summers, and it proved that she really loved the outdoor activities. By the time she'd learned all she could at Girl Scout Camp, she'd realized that there were a lot of skills that she'd need to pick up if she wanted to do some of the things she had now learned to dream of. She could see that she'd have to pick them up where she could. As it turned out, a nearby YMCA had proved to be the door to many of them. She was good in the pool in school, but she really learned swimming from a series of coaches at the Y.

"Don't tell anyone around school, and I mean nobody," she warned them, "But I was a certified lifeguard as young as they'd let me, and I'd already passed all the qualifications except my birthday. Now, I've got advanced lifesaving and instructor certification. You know what would happen if that came out around the PEIF?"

"Yeah, I've gotten the picture," Randy replied ruefully, thinking about him and the wrestling coach.

The Y had proved useful for a lot of other things, things that she wouldn't have been able to learn in school. For instance, there was a beginner-level martial arts program, and Crystal had decided that she wanted a taste of it. She caught on rapidly, and soon outdistanced the other students, some of whom had been in the program for years. Finally, the sensei had come to her and said that if she wanted to progress further, it was going to have to be in a program outside the Y, since she'd learned about all that could be taught there. "Mom had to really fight with Dad over that one," she told Randy and Myleigh, "But when I got in the program, it proved that I was pretty good at it, so he let me stay with it. When I got my black belt, I don't think he was all that proud of me, but I think by then I could say that he was getting scared of me, and not just from the karate. By then, he pretty well knew that I wasn't fitting into what he was expecting out of a daughter."

"He probably was expecting someone more like Nanci," Randy observed.

"Oh, I'm sure he was," Crystal laughed. "It scares me, to think that I might have turned out like her."

"I knew you were a black belt," Randy said. "But I haven't noticed you working out with it. I know that when we wrestle, sometimes you react with karate or judo moves, rather than wrestling moves. Habit, I guess, right?"

"Probably," she agreed. "I haven't done much with martial arts since I left high school. Maybe I ought to get back into it a little -- I've been learning that since we've been working out. I'm rusty, and I probably wouldn't qualify for a black belt if I had to test for it today. But, the martial arts have been useful to me at times directly, and more importantly, they taught me balance and coordination that I've been able to apply to a lot of different things. I think that's why I took to skis and snowboarding so quickly. I've only been skiing and snowboarding since I've been at Northern, Randy."

"I figured longer than that," he said.

"Well, we do get a lot of snow up there, and that helps," she said. "That's part of why I wanted to go to Northern in the first place. But, it took me a while to get that far."

In the summers, the Y had also gotten her into the outdoors, and gave her a real taste of it. There were a series of summer adventure camps, often with overnight trips. Crystal went on as many as she could get her mother to sign her up for, and that was a lot of them. They were big adventures for her, although pretty tame by more recent standards. There were bike trips and hiking trips; each one widened her horizons and made her even more aware that her spirit belonged outside a city. There was a whitewater kayaking trip once, on the Wolf River in northern Wisconsin. The whitewater was pretty tame, but Crystal had learned that she loved it, and she first worked on a kayak roll in a chilly pool on the Wolf in front of camp one evening. There were canoe trips, too, most pretty tame, but they did include one big one to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota the summer before she was a senior in high school. They'd spent two weeks up in the forests and lakes, really getting a love of wilderness, as opposed to a love of merely being outdoors.

"Randy, a lot of this is stuff you picked up through your skin, just from living in a place like Spearfish Lake," Crystal explained. "But the Boundary Waters trip opened my eyes. You know I like to be pretty active, but it was a real eye-opener to just sit by a campfire and hear the loons call, to look at the aurora. To sit in a canoe in the middle of a lake and not hear anything that isn't natural, to see how black the sky is at night, how bright the stars are. I never wanted to go back to a city after that."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," he said. "Even Marquette is pretty big for that."

"Beats the living shit out of Chicago," she smiled.

The Boundary Waters trip led to some other big turning points in her life. One of the counselors on the trip was an outdoor girl named Beth, and Crystal had learned a lot from her. Beth suggested that NMU might be a good place for a girl with Crystal's aspirations to attend, and as soon as Crystal got home, she ordered an information packet from the university. But, there was another information packet that she ordered at the same time, again at Beth's suggestion -- from the Outdoor Leadership Training Academy.

"It was the smartest thing I ever did in my life," she explained, as Randy listened raptly. "We're heading to Florida in this old wreck because Dad wanted to give me a new car when I graduated from high school. Mom and I did a lot of talking to get him to buy this old beater and pay the tuition for OLTA. At that he saved money on the deal, which is about the only reason we ever got away with it. But God, was it worth it! I left to drive out there less than two hours after I finished high school, and I only got back home in time to grab a few clothes and head for Northern, but it was easily the most intense summer of my life. They worked my ass off, but I learned so much, and learned that it really was what I wanted to do in my life. The whitewater and the rafting came out of that, the climbing, lots of other stuff, like I have a Wilderness First Responder card for first aid. Dad hated every cent he spent on that, and it was worth every damn cent and more to me. When I get out of Northern, Randy, it may or may not prove to be a big thing, but I'm a by-God OLTA graduate, and that's something to be proud of."

"I agree," Myleigh said, proving that she'd been paying attention despite her silence in the back seat. "When I first met her, she was so big and bronzed and muscular and proud that I thought I was going to be rooming with a wild Amazon. As it turned out, I was correct."

"I think that's pushing it a little," Crystal said. "But I appreciate the thought. It's more of a goal than a presence. Randy, do you know what I really want to do?"

"I'm afraid that I told him you wished to be an outdoor bum," Myleigh admitted before Randy could say anything.

"Well, that's right, short term," Crystal laughed. "Don't ever tell my folks, but when I left OLTA, I realized that the most totally cool thing I could do in my life would be to go back there as an instructor," she said. "Maybe some other poor damn kid is trying to break out of the shackles of the city, and I can help. Maybe I can teach some poor damn girl that she can be her own person, that she doesn't have to let the fact that she's a girl dictate what she has to be. But, I knew that I wasn't ready to be an instructor there and I wouldn't be ready for a while. The people there have a lot of experience, many in a lot of different fields, so what I want to spend the next few years doing is to get that experience, so I can feel qualified to be an instructor."

"But, to do that, you have to be an outdoor bum, right?" Randy asked slyly. In his own mind, he was awed. He'd seen the narrow focus that Myleigh had on her goals of getting a doctorate, and Crystal had seemed like a flighty thrillseeker by comparison. Now, he realized that impression was totally wrong -- Crystal's focus on her own goals was just as sharp and just as dedicated as Myleigh's. Maybe more so.

"That's how it works," Crystal agreed with a laugh. "It all comes from trying to pick up a new skill or a new experience whenever I can. Like I told you, I appreciate good instruction, and I'm willing to pay for it if I have to. I didn't think that the wrestling was going to amount to jack squat. You proved me wrong on that, and I'm not talking about Baughman, either. There's a whole new set of skills there to learn, and I enjoy learning them."

"So, where did the surfing come from?" he asked.

"We're heading there," she said. "It was something I always wanted to try, so Myleigh and I headed down to Florida two years ago. I spent a week picking up what I could from a guy we met down there. I picked it up pretty fast, and we went back last year so I could get some more pointers. After that, it's mostly a case of getting out when I can and try to improve on the skills. It's hard to keep sharp in Marquette; there are occasionally some good waves out by Au Train, but we usually don't get a lot of good surf right in town. Last fall, we had a big storm on Lake Superior, and I was out surfing in that. It was great!"

"That was the picture in the Mining Journal, right?"

"Yeah, that was it. I took a copy of it home at Christmas. Dad went suborbital, Nanci and Jon thought, 'Big deal!' and Mom was thrilled. So, anyway, we're going to go down there, and I'll work on technique a bit, just to make sure I haven't picked up too many bad habits. Then, I'm going to go out and do some surfing. We'll be there for a few days, so you could take a quickie intro if you want to. I think you'd be good at it."

After the story she'd been telling -- or was it a rant? -- it was going to be hard to turn her down. And, he didn't really want to. It could be fun. "Sounds like a plan," he said. "It's not the sort of thing a Spearfish Lake guy gets into."

~~~~~

The traffic stayed just as furious as they headed east into Indiana on I-80/94, but it slackened noticeably after Crystal made the turn onto southbound I-65 in Gary. At the first rest stop they came to, Crystal stopped the Olds, unstrapped her seat belt, and got out, saying, "All right, Randy, I'll let you drive for a while."

"Maybe we ought to shut up for a bit so Myleigh can get to sleep," he suggested, opening the door. "I don't mind."

"I shan't have much trouble falling asleep," Myleigh said. "But it would be a help."

"Yeah, maybe I can catch a few, too," Crystal agreed as she walked around the car, meeting Randy half way. "I'm pretty tired. I drove all the way from Marquette, after all. Wake me up if you need someone to talk to, though."

"Shouldn't be a problem, with the hours we've been keeping lately," he said, getting into the driver's seat, pulling it up a couple of notches, since his legs were shorter then Crystal's.

The traffic was lighter on I-65, and Randy found he didn't mind it nearly as much as the ongoing free-for-all on the roads that had taken them through the south side of Chicago. How could people live like that, the Spearfish Lake boy wondered. It wasn't as if he hadn't been in big cities before; he'd even been over the same road before with his parents, and last fall with Matt and the gang from the college. That had been in daylight, and the ugliness and the crowding of the city appalled him.

The last few hours had given him much to think about, and he welcomed the chance to drive along silently and churn things over in his mind. He had a much clearer picture of Crystal than he'd ever had before, but the result was that now she awed him even more. He'd known from the beginning how strong she was, how talented, how much of a natural athlete, but now he understood at least a little of what it had taken to make her the kind of person she was.

Perhaps the thing that bothered him was that he could identify a lot with Nanci -- not the cheerleading and the giggling over boys, and he'd got a fair share of it over the dinner table, but the lack of ambition, the aimlessness, the lack of goals. That bothered him a lot, because he could share that attitude and understand it.

Myleigh, he knew, had a fierce ambition to accomplish what she wanted to do, and she wasn't going to let much stand in her way of getting it. Now he knew that Crystal had the same sort of lofty goals, and the same fierce ambition, no matter how different the goals might be from Myleigh's. He could realize it, but had trouble understanding it because he had no particular lofty goals of his own, and no need to drive hard to get there. As he thought about it, he realized that he was really more like Crystal's brother, heading off toward a future predetermined by his family, although the circumstances were different, and Randy's dad hadn't pushed him about it. But given the situation and the money involved, the motivation was just as strong.

When he got out of college, there would be a place for him at Clark Plywood if he was interested. Even if he wasn't, he'd still probably wind up involved with the company, since his dad owned a big piece of it, and eventually, part of it would be coming to him, assuming the company stayed in family hands. He remembered his dad laughing at a threat of a hostile takeover from a company that didn't realize how much of the stock he owned.

When Randy's great-grandfather Wayne Clark died long before he was born, his grandfather Brent hadn't had much interest in the business, having started a successful construction company after World War II. A hired manager for the plant had been brought on board and had stayed on the job until Randy's father had taken over as president while Randy was in grade school. His grandfather's company, Clark Construction, was the biggest builder in the area, and was the only supplier of concrete for fifty miles around. His grandfather still ran the company, but since he was in his seventies, it seemed like sooner or later, if it stayed in the family, it would wind up in his father's hands, too. So, there was potentially a future for him in that side of the family business, as well. The hell of it was that even though it was there, it didn't have the luster of the challenge of new worlds to conquer, new fields to plow.

Randy had always dreamed of heading out in a different direction, but the pull of the family businesses was probably going to be much too strong. The biggest problem with it was going to be the fact that it was in Spearfish Lake, which no one could deny was an isolated small town out in the woods. Even Marquette had seemed big and cosmopolitan by comparison. School there had been interesting, with people there from different backgrounds, like he never would have been able to meet in Spearfish Lake.

But, he liked Spearfish Lake. Liked it especially, comparing it to the madhouse of Chicago.

Although Pete Chladek's attitude had irritated Randy, there was an object lesson there which he couldn't fail to miss. What could Randy ever dream of accomplishing outside of Spearfish Lake that wouldn't lead him to a suburban living room much like the Chladek's -- going to work every day, coming home every day to the same thing, dreaming of open spaces, if you dared to dream of them at all? He knew he might fall into the same kind of trap in Spearfish Lake. In the long run he would be doing office work, not running a chipper out in the plant or driving a concrete truck -- but at least in Spearfish Lake, there would be the option to get away from it once in a while. If you got right down to it, Spearfish Lake was a pretty good place to live, a pretty good place to raise a family.

As he drove the beat-up gray Oldsmobile south through darkened Indiana farmland, Randy slowly admitted to himself that though he might buck a bit, unless something really drastic happened, he probably wasn't going to cast off the yoke that being his father's son had put on him. And, to his surprise, found himself accepting it. There were plenty of decisions lying there to be made, but he could accept the overall pattern.

But, to measure that resignation up against the drive that both Crystal and Myleigh had toward their goals, he felt like he was coming up short, no matter how he looked at it, and that raised something else to think about. He liked both of the girls, envied them their goals and their drive, and was in awe of them, but realistically, were they going to be part of a future that included him going back to Spearfish Lake?

It didn't seem likely. Myleigh, no way, not with her interests and goals, unless they seriously came apart, which would ruin a lot of what he liked about her, anyway. Spearfish Lake would be like a desert to her; it was clear that she belonged on some college campus somewhere, bathing in her beloved old novels, lecturing about them, living that academic life. He could not imagine her in any other place. Besides, while he enjoyed the way she talked a lot, he could see how it could get very annoying after a while -- he was going to be with her ten days or so on this trip, and he expected it would get tiresome even then, seldom being able to get away from it. While she could usually get away with that quirk on a college campus, in Spearfish Lake she'd be talking way over people's heads, seemingly lofty, condescending, and putting on airs. He got that feeling from time to time himself, although he didn't let it bother him since he now had a better idea of the girl behind it than he'd had when he'd met her. There might be a future with her, but only if he didn't stay in Spearfish Lake and was with her in some place close to whatever campus she ended up at. That increasingly seemed like a long shot.

Crystal, on the other hand, maybe someday, and then only when she burned out of her outdoor life and goals, and was willing to settle down. That didn't seem likely to happen soon, and maybe when it happened it'd steal away a lot of what appealed to him about her in the first place. But, if she were willing to settle down some, Spearfish Lake could be a good place for her, up in the woods with trails and skiing around, whitewater at least some of the time, and some of the other activities she liked. But, it could take years for her to settle down to where she could accept the limitations of a place like Spearfish Lake into the indefinite future. There would still be wild geese calling her all the while, like they still appeared to call faintly for her mother.

If he got right down to it, these girls were probably just going to stay friends. Good friends, good buddies, but most likely, nothing more than that. They could have some good times, like the coming days, but when they scattered after college it seemed most likely that they'd scatter for good.

If he was going to wind up in Spearfish Lake, it seemed likely that he'd wind up with someone like Nicole Szczerowski. Nicole had been his more-or-less steady date through his junior and senior years in high school. She was a nice enough girl, about his size, and they'd been friends; he'd taken her to the prom twice, and had shared a few intense, exciting evenings out on Turtle Hill, the place that the local kids went to make out. They'd drifted apart after graduation; he hadn't seen her at all last summer, although it might be worth his while to try to look her up this coming one. She was going to Weatherford College, a small private school south of Camden. He wasn't sure what she was studying down there; at one point, she'd been thinking about education, but that hadn't been settled the last time he'd seen her, and could have changed since then. She didn't have the goals or the drive that defined Crystal and Myleigh, but maybe there wasn't anything wrong with that. On the other hand, she didn't seem as exciting or exotic as either of the girls in the car with him.

A noise erupted from the back seat, sounding something like an unmuffled chainsaw trying to start. He'd been around some snoring from time to time -- Matt could get wound up pretty good -- but Myleigh put anything he'd ever heard before in the shade. He sat there wondering at the racket for a couple minutes when he heard some movement over on the far side of the front seat, and felt Crystal move her body over close to his. Although he hadn't done it for some time, it was automatic: he raised his arm and she nestled herself under it, and laid her head on his shoulder. It felt good, reminding him of Nicole. "God," she whispered, obviously not wishing to disturb the girl in the back seat, as if that were a possibility, "I didn't think she was ever going to go to sleep."

"How the hell do you manage to put up with that racket every night?" he asked quietly, cringing a little at the noise and having to strain to make out her words.

"It took some getting used to," Crystal said in a low tone, her words slow. "What'cha thinking about?"

"Oh, stuff," he replied noncommittally, keeping his voice as low as hers had been. "You. Myleigh. Me. What's going to happen with all of us."

"Deep thoughts, huh?"

"Oh, not really," he lied a little, flicking on the turn signal to pass a slow-moving semi. "Just obvious things, like I don't think I'd like living in Chicago any more than you would. I'm not quite the outdoor enthusiast that you are, but I think that it comes from growing up with it more than you did."

"Don't call me an enthusiast," she giggled. "I'm worse than that. Fanatic, maybe. Do you think I overdo it?"

"No, not really," he replied softly as he pulled back into the right lane. "You wouldn't be who you are if you were any other way. I can't visualize you acting like your sister."

"Yeah, that really disgusts me, but I guess it's because of who I am." There was none of the rancor in her voice that there'd been up on the Tri-State. "She probably thinks the same way about me. We're just different, that's all."

"You know," he said, enjoying the feel of the warmth of her beside him, the feel and the smell of her hair on the side of his face, "You are pretty different in a lot of ways. I mean, everyone in your family is about my size, more or less. I don't think your dad or Jon are any taller than I am, and they don't have a muscular build, just solid. Yet, here you are, a big muscular, uh, lug who towers over everyone."

"It is a little strange, I guess," she said. "But my grandfather was a big muscular, yes, lug, who spent forty years offing cows with a sledgehammer down in the stockyards. Mom and Dad figure that something from him must have skipped a generation."

"That would explain a lot," Randy replied. Something automatic took over in him, maybe something left over from Nicole; without him even thinking about it, his hand had slowly slipped downward, until it rested gently on Crystal's breast. All of a sudden, realizing where his hand was, he jerked it away. "Sorry, Crystal," he apologized. "I didn't mean to do that."

"Don't be sorry," she said, with a calming note in her voice. She reached up, took his hand, and put it back on her breast. "It feels good. Just because I may be what Myleigh calls a 'wild Amazon' doesn't mean that I don't enjoy snuggling and getting felt up a little." She put her other hand on his crotch, and he felt himself getting hard at the touch. "You do too, don't you?"

"Of course," he said, enjoying the sensation. "It's been a while."

"It has for me, too," she said wistfully. "Too long, in fact. It's been last summer since I made out with a man, and longer since I've had the chance to just cuddle with one. I think that's one of the things I enjoyed about our wrestling. I get to put my hands on you, and I get to feel yours on me."

"I'd be a liar if I said I didn't enjoy it," he murmured. "That's not how it's supposed to be. I tried to cover it up."

She took her hand away, and reached out to put it around his front as she asked, "I scare you, don't I, Randy?"

"Badly, and in a lot of ways," he admitted truthfully. "Oh, I'm still a better wrestler than you are, but let's face it, with your karate and stuff, if you ever got pissed at me you'd break me in half. But, that's not what scares me most."

She lifted her head to look at him; he could see her face weirdly lit by the lights of a passing car. "What is it, then?"

"The fact that you set such high standards, there's no way I could ever come close to measuring up. Myleigh too, the same thing in her own way. Sometimes I feel like I'm a moth being attracted to a flame."

Crystal laid her head back down and moved it around a little, apparently trying to find a little more comfortable place on his shoulder, and quietly asked, "Did you ever have a girlfriend, like in high school?"

"Yeah," he admitted, remembering his thoughts about Nicole. "Not real serious, but we spent some time together."

"You're ahead of me on that," she said, in words that sounded both sad and bitter. "I never had a boyfriend, at least a real one. Oh, there were some guys I'd pal around with, almost always with a gang of other kids, and really not very often. And, especially after I got older, everyone knew I had that black belt, and no one ever wanted to try out his moves on me."

"Well, I can understand that," he said gently, nodding his head in the darkness. "You can be pretty intimidating anyway, black belt or not."

"I hated it," she replied with a sadness he could feel. "I was an outsider; I knew it. You get right down to it, I wanted it that way. Sometimes, it got awful damn lonely. Right here, like this, is the furthest I ever got in high school, and it was only once. When you put your hand on a girl's boob for the first time, didn't you feel excited? Let me tell you, it was just as exciting for me. There were times I wished the hell I didn't scare everyone so much, just so I could enjoy more of . . . well, this."

"It must have been hard," he said, trying to sound understanding. This was a side of Crystal he'd never seen before, had never dreamed existed -- a side, he realized, that she preferred to keep covered up, hidden by that active, exuberant image of the wild Amazon that he'd always seen before.

"Well, yeah, in a way it was," she went on as Randy pondered, listening to her every word. "But most of the time I didn't much give a shit about the people in high school. Some of the time I envy the hell out of Nanci, being popular, giggling over boyfriends, being one of the gang." She let out a sigh, and went on. "I'd be damn surprised if Nanci isn't way ahead of me in the sex department, even considering the age difference, and I'm not going to deny that I've laid a few guys since high school."

"I never picked up a hint of that," he said, surprised, but somehow, not surprised, either. "But then, I haven't known you that long."

"Myleigh knows," she admitted. "No one else around NMU does, except you, and I don't think you'll spread it around. I try to keep it off campus, and most of it has been a thousand miles or more away." She shifted her position a little and went on. "The first time was at OLTA, high up on a mountain, a hell of a view. There's no way there could have been a better place for me to get on the scoreboard the first time. How about your first time? Your girlfriend?"

"Yes," he replied. "It went on for a while, but tailed off before we headed to college."

"Don't get me wrong, on the occasions it comes up, and it's not that often, I really enjoy a little sex, especially if I don't have to think I have to have a hold on a man as part of the process. I never really had a boyfriend, until now. I don't mind sharing you with Myleigh, and I know she's never really had one either. We talked it over before we came on this trip, and she doesn't mind sharing, either."

"That could get a little awkward," Randy said.

"That's the idea," Crystal said. "Look, I'm not opposed to us getting laid sometime. Maybe it'll happen, maybe not. I talked it over with Myleigh too, and she doesn't mind either, since she knows how I am. The best part about it is that she and I can keep each other honest. Neither of us is in a position where we want to fall in love or get serious, since we've both got other things we want to do."

They drove along in silence for a ways, while Randy's mind churned over the last few minutes, and, more importantly, the things that he'd been thinking about before Crystal snuggled up next to him. "I guess it's just as well," he said finally. "I wouldn't be surprised that I'm going to wind up having other things to do, too." He gave her breast a friendly little squeeze, and went on, "But it's nice to have a girlfriend for a while, and even nicer to have two of them"



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