Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
"Look at that," Pete grunted. "That's your daughter."
Dinner would keep. There wasn't much that needed monitoring, now, so Karin walked over to the corner of the living room, where Pete sat at the computer. On the screen was a close-up of Crystal in a whitewater kayak and wearing a helmet, going over some huge, frothy drop. She had a big, indescribable grin on her face. "It looks like she's having fun," Karin grinned. "Doesn't look as big as Crystal Rapids, out on the Colorado."
"That's what I mean, she's your daughter," Pete said. "Some place called Lesser Wesser, wherever that is, according to the e-mail. She ought to be studying, not be out screwing around like that."
"There's worse screwing around she could be doing," Karin said to her husband. "You know it as well as I do. Besides, it's spring break. You know what she was planning to do when she came through heading south."
"You should see the other one," Pete shook his head. He clicked the mouse, and dragged the other shot up. It was Crystal again, this time on a surfboard, wearing a tiny bikini, almost not there at all, up on a wave, another big, indescribable grin on her face. Karin thought she looked glorious.
Her husband shook his head again, but this time he was smiling. "I should have realized it was going to turn out this way when you came back from that trip to the Grand Canyon that time and raped me in the shower."
"I didn't rape you," she smiled back, glad that Jon was back in the far end of the basement, doing God knows what on the computer, and Nanci was out somewhere with some girlfriend, doubtlessly giggling about some boy. "You were on top, as I recall."
"Well, sort of, the first time," he grinned. "It got a little wild after that. Boy, that was a lifetime ago."
"Twenty-one years, this summer," she agreed, letting her mind roll back. They'd gotten it on there in the shower, migrated to the bedroom and carried on some more -- off and on most of the night, and then most of the next day. Somewhere in there, they'd eaten all of whatever had been sitting around Pete's apartment, and once had a pizza delivered. Somewhere along in there, Pete had asked her to marry him, and she'd accepted. Over the next few days, they'd moved her stuff into his apartment, and the next weekend she was back in Las Vegas, this time with him, for a quickie wedding. "Worked out pretty good, didn't it?"
"Yeah," he nodded, getting up from the computer to take her in his arms. "It really did, except for the fact that your daughter got a full dose of your wild streak. I can't imagine a daughter of mine who snowboards, and whitewater kayaks, and surfs, and God knows what else."
"It could be worse," Karin said, trying to deflect the subject. "You remember Randy and I talking about Kirsten Langenderfer? You met her at the reunion, I'm sure."
"I think I remember her," Pete said. They didn't get up to Spearfish Lake very often, maybe once every few years for a weekend with her folks, who were getting on. In fact, now they were more likely to visit her folks at their winter home in Florida. "Stacked up little blonde, talks a lot, works at the newspaper up there or something."
"That's her," Karin nodded. "Her daughter is just eighteen, and is into dogsledding. Big time. She ran this thousand-mile race across Alaska earlier this month, finished twenty-second or something like that. Just a normal little Spearfish Lake girl."
"I'm surprised Crystal hasn't caught up with her."
"She might." Karin teased.
Pete shook his head again. "Your daughter," he said.
"I better go check dinner," Karin said, heading for the kitchen. "It's almost ready." She glanced at the scrapbook on the bookshelves, the scrapbook of her Grand Canyon trip she'd put together a couple decades before. It had been a while since she'd looked at it, but maybe some night when she didn't have anything better to do, she'd have to take it down and look at it again. Turning to the kitchen, she let her mind ramble.
It wasn't the first time she'd heard Pete complain that Crystal just didn't act like he'd expect a daughter of his to act. The first time was when she was five, when most kids were still riding tricycles, she'd been out on a skateboard, jumping the curb. Even at five, she'd been a thrillseeker, but the skills took a while to develop, and she'd broken her arm. That hadn't stopped her from getting back on the skateboard the first chance she got, still in the cast, trying to jump the curb again, and getting it right, this time. When most little girls were happy to play with dolls and gently ride a little girl's bicycle down the sidewalk, Crystal had held out for a BMX bike, and she rode that everywhere but the sidewalk, it seemed, and was often airborne, at that.
When she'd been older, and had gone to camp with the Girl Scouts, she hadn't been much interested in crafts, but they had trouble keeping her away from the waterfront and out of the canoes. She was an accomplished swimmer, but didn't care for competition diving or racing -- but she'd gotten the basic lifeguard certificate as soon as she was old enough, and had qualified for it long before. When she was a little older, Girl Scout Camp had seemed too tame for her, but she talked her parents -- mostly her mother -- into letting her attend an Adventure Camp, where they did canoeing and bike tripping and activities like that. And, then, there was the karate and the black belt, still early in high school. By then, she'd shot up to be taller than both her mother and father, and was a big, muscular girl who wasn't much on watching but very big on doing.
Some kids might have wanted a shiny new car as a graduation present; not Crystal. She drove a battered old Cutlass, but begged -- and succeeded, with a fair amount of Karin's help working on Pete -- to get her parents to send her to camp instead. Not just any camp, either, but the Outdoor Leadership Training Academy in Idaho, where she spent the summer hiking, camping, rock climbing and whitewater kayaking and learning all sorts of outdoor skills and techniques. She returned from the summer even more bronzed and muscular and confident than before. She washed some clothes, did some packing, and headed off to Northern Michigan University the same afternoon. She'd pulled decent grades, in spite of spending a lot of winter weekends skiing, ski jumping, snowboarding, and spring and fall weekends hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, and yes, surfing. Not just in Florida on spring break, but according to the picture in the paper, in the ice-cold waters of a November storm on Lake Superior. The thought made even Karin feel chilly.
Their other daughter, Nanci, was a normal little teenager, hung up on boys and dances and cheerleading and tying up the telephone line chatting with her friends. She was a pretty girl, and Karin figured that Nanci would have a shot at prom queen in the spring. Crystal hadn't even gone to the prom, and hadn't worn a dress or a skirt in God knew how long. Middle school, at least.
Karin had never breathed a word of her suspicions to Pete and never planned to. Right from the first moment that she'd realized she'd been pregnant, she'd realized that there was a chance that Al could have been the one to catch her, rather than Pete, back toward the tail end of her Grand Canyon trip and the heady days that followed. Crystal and her mother had the same blood type, so that didn't give any hint. In the early years, after considering it carefully, Karin figured that the odds favored Pete, but as her oldest child matured, the odds bent the other way, to the point where she didn't even wonder about it any longer.
Pete was right -- no daughter of his would act that way.
However, as far as Karin was concerned, Crystal was their daughter, and Pete was her father in virtually every way that mattered. What Crystal didn't know, and what Pete didn't know, wouldn't hurt them.
Out in the kitchen, Karin pulled up in her mind her vision of Al once again. It was not the Al the family knew from the picture in the scrapbook, the bronzed, muscular boatman who pulled at the oars of that raft long ago, his face half hidden in the shadow of his felt hat and sunglasses. It was Al up at the Baseball Man Water Pocket, naked, scrubbing out his clothes while Karin, equally naked, wrung them out. She'd only heard from Al once, in all those years -- she'd sent him a Christmas card in care of Canyon Tours, mentioning that she'd gotten married, and she'd received a postcard back in April, saying only, "Congratulations, and a belated Merry Christmas." Al would never know, but Karin allowed herself the luxury of thinking that he'd probably approve of the way his daughter had turned out.
God knew what Al could be doing, now. Still running the river, maybe, after all these years? Somehow, she doubted it, but she also doubted that he'd be a factory rat, coming home after work, collapsing on the couch with a beer in hand, a ball game on TV. There were times that she was a little curious, but she'd never done anything to find out, not that there was any way she would ever be able to.
For the most part, things had turned out pretty much like she'd expected when she'd decided to get serious with Pete, back on that 727 long ago. Their life was pretty normal, like most of the people she knew. While she savored the memory of the days on the Colorado River long ago, she had no desire to repeat them -- it was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one to remember and cherish, but a part of her younger and wilder days.
Just as she had predicted way back then, they had made a trip to Disney World. Of course, Crystal had wanted to ride the wildest rides, the ones that scared everyone but her and her mother. Often their other trips had been to visit their families in Florida and Spearfish Lake, but back when Crystal had been in high school they'd made a long driving trip out west. They'd stopped at the south rim of the Canyon; everyone thought it was pretty awesome, in spite of the crowds. Karin looked a long ways down at the thin streak of river and found it hard to believe that she'd ever been there. Crystal, of course, had seen her mother's Colorado River scrapbook many times, and was ready to run the river herself. Karin had little doubt that she'd follow in her mother's footsteps sooner or later, maybe not in a raft, but a whitewater kayak, whooping and screaming over Crystal Rapids and Lava Falls. There was no telling how Crystal was going to turn out, but Karin wouldn't have been the least surprised to see her become a river bum like her father, too; with her summer job, she was well on the way. She remembered Louise, the leader of the trip, way back when -- what a strong, powerful, competent woman she had been! Pete would never have anyone like Louise to compare Crystal to, but Karin was not dissatisfied when she measured the woman Crystal was becoming to the woman Louise had been.
Bringing her thoughts back to the present, she glanced in the living room, to see her husband at the computer again. "Pete," she called. "Dinner's about ready. Would you call Jon?"
"Sure thing," he mumbled without looking up, but she saw a new window open and heard the rattle of keys on a keyboard. The living room computer was networked to the computer in the basement, and it was easier for a couple computer geeks like Pete and Jon to e-mail each other from living room to basement than it was to raise their voices; she was used to it.
She returned to the kitchen and began to set the table, and in a moment heard Jon clumping his feet up the stairs. "Hi, Mom," he said. "What's for dinner?"
"Pork chops," she said. She thought they were all right, nothing more, but both Jon and Pete really liked them.
"Hey, great," he said. "So how was work?"
He was just trying to be nice, Karin was sure; he could be polite, if distracted when things didn't involve engineering or math. "Same thing," she said. "Your dad just showed me a couple pictures of Crystal on spring break."
"Saw them," Jon replied, taking a seat at the table. "Looked like she was having fun."
"I expect she was," Karin grinned. "You know Crystal."
"Yeah, that's the sort of thing she'd like," Jon agreed. "She's gotta be out of her tree. Boy, you wouldn't catch me doing something like that."
"I suppose not," Karin said noncommittally, while smiling inwardly. Like father, like son, she thought. She raised her voice and called, "Pete! Dinner's ready!"
In a minute they were all at the table, digging into the pork chops and fried potatoes. "So, what are you working on tonight?" Pete asked Jon.
"That Wagley flange adapter for the C3 mount," Jon replied. "Pretty straightforward."
"Watch it, there's a clearance problem," Pete cautioned his son. The conversation quickly descended into a techno-babble that was totally incomprehensible to Karin, but she was used to it, as well. It had started in middle school, when Pete had set up the computer in the basement with a slightly outdated -- and slightly illegal -- version of AutoCAD from the office, and Jon had taken to it like a duck to water. While AutoCAD meant that engineers now did a lot of their own drafting, there was still plenty of drafting to be done, and the engineers at Hadley-Monroe were often ahead of the drafting department. Pete had started bringing home some of the more minor problems for Jon to work with. Before long, it had become more formal -- if there was some piece of work that really had to get out, it was sometimes quicker to get Jon to do it after school than it was to wait for the drafting department. Jon got paid pretty well for it, with most of the money going into his college fund. If he weren't heading to college, he could go to work at Hadley-Monroe right out of high school for more money than Crystal was ever likely to make as a teacher, but Jon had more potential than that.
Eventually, the tech talk began to die down. "I talked to Gene in the drafting department," Pete announced. "He says that if you want to do an internship there this summer, it's fine with him. He knows the kind of work you do."
"That'd be great, Dad," Jon replied. "There's only one thing, though."
"Don't tell me, let me guess," Karin teased. "You want to go to OLTA like your sister."
"Are you kidding?" Jon snorted, then realized she was. "That's for cave people like her." He shook his head and continued, "I got a packet of stuff from Tech today. We've got to go to some kind of a parent-student orientation sometime this summer."
"No reason we can't," Pete replied. "When is it, and how long?"
"There's several dates, we can pick and choose. The actual orientation is three days, but there's another day for engineering students. We do have to get a registration in pretty soon if we want to pick dates."
Karin thought for a moment, then spoke up. "You know, the thought occurs to me that Atlanta isn't that far away from where Crystal will be spending the summer. What would you say if we took a couple extra days and stopped off to see her? We hardly ever see her anymore."
Jon shook his head. "I just figured Dad and I could fly down and back. There's no need for you to go."
"I don't mind," she replied. "I mean, I want to see the campus too, and go through the orientation. I'll probably pick up on things your father won't."
"Yeah, that's true," Pete conceded. "But, about seeing Crystal, well, I'm not sure how happy she'd be to see us. She seems to be pretty involved down there."
And you don't want to do it since it's outside, and worse, it's with Crystal, Karin thought immediately. You really don't care, do you? But, that wasn't what she said. "It wouldn't have to be for a long time. I'm sure we can set it up with her in advance. Except for the couple of hours the first of the month, we haven't seen her since Christmas, and we probably won't see her much when her term ends. She may stop off for a day or two, but I'll bet that'll be about it."
"She'll be back in the fall," Pete replied unenthusiastically, knowing that his arm was being twisted.
"Yes," Karin said, grinning inwardly at his discomfort. "Just about at the time we have to be taking Jon down for his term to start. Maybe we can wave at Crystal across the Interstate as she heads north," she added sarcastically.
"I hadn't figured on taking Jon down," Pete said. "We'd just be in the way. He can drive himself down."
"Uh, no I can't," he said glumly. "I went through the stuff from Tech. Freshmen can't have cars unless they're commuters, and sophomores can only with special permission."
"Damn," Pete said. "I wish we'd seen that when we were looking at colleges. I'd figured on getting you a new car when you graduated."
"A new car would be nice," Jon said. "But, when you get down to it, what would I do with it? Put it on blocks next fall, and let it sit all winter? Maybe we could put it off till I'm a junior and can have a car down there. Maybe not then. I was talking to Marty Reed. His brother goes there, and he says the parking really sucks."
"Jon is making some sense, dear," Karin noted. She remembered the issue with Crystal, three years ago. Pete had lost that battle, and he still thought it was a bad decision, although the Olds had proven reliable for all the miles that Crystal had put on it, out to Idaho, back and forth to Northern, down to Florida on spring break and Tennessee in the summer.
"Yeah," Jon added. "I can make do. Look, I know it's costing you a ton to send me to Tech. Maybe the money would be better spent there."
"That's nice of you," Pete conceded, if hardly gracefully. "Yeah, there's going to be some places in the next few years when things are going to be a little tight. We're even going to have a period there when we have all three of you kids in college at the same time. That was a little surprise Crystal laid on us that I wasn't expecting."
"According to Myleigh, there was nothing much she could have done about it," Karin interjected. No matter how they cut it, they were going to be spending more money to send Jon to college than they were on both the girls, assuming Nanci followed through on her threat to follow her sister to NMU. It wasn't right, and she knew it, but there weren't a lot of alternatives, either.
"Yeah, but she should have seen it coming," Pete grunted. "Myleigh's managing to get around it."
"At the expense of taking summer courses while working in Marquette," Karin countered. "If Crystal had done that, she wouldn't have her summer job. Apparently, they think she's doing a good job down there, enough that she's getting a big raise to come back this summer. We've never even seen what she does down there."
"From what I can see, it mostly involves messing around on the river in a bikini," Pete snorted. "Having fun and getting a tan."
Karin sighed inwardly as thoughts rolled through her mind. You really don't know your daughter, do you? Well, not your daughter, even though you think she is, but you should at least treat her like she was yours. "I can tell you from what I learned before we were married that there's more to it than that," she said, pointedly raising the sometimes-sensitive issue of her Grand Canyon trip long ago without actually bringing it up. "It's a skilled position that requires dependable people with special talents, and apparently they have a tough time finding qualified people to do the job. I think it'd be a good idea to not only visit her, but let her take us on a raft trip, just so you can see what it is she actually does." Karin's inward grin widened; this was pushing Pete too far, and she knew it, which is why she did it. Now, he'd have to negotiate a more moderate position. "Jon, too," she added, twisting the knife a little.
"Well, I suppose we could stop off and visit her, since we're going to be pretty close, anyway," Pete conceded, clearly recognizing defeat when he saw it. "I don't know about a raft trip. That just strikes me as a way to get wet, sunburned, and mosquito bitten."
"Yeah," Jon added. "With the possibility of getting killed thrown in."
"We wouldn't have to do a raft trip," Karin said, accepting the compromise -- at least for the moment. There could be further discussion of that when the time came. "But if we did, it'd only be for three hours, not three weeks," she added, leaving the door open for future leverage, and reminding him at the same time that she had more balls about such things than he did, or Jon, for that matter. Like mother, like daughter, after all.
"We'll see," Pete grunted, realizing he was going to be facing another confrontation up the road, and hoping he'd face it with better odds. "I guess we'd better check tomorrow and see if we can work out the same week to take off. Why don't you give me a call along in the morning? Then I can call and see about tickets."
"Why bother flying?" Karin asked, mentally making notes. "It's not that far, only a little farther than Crystal drives to college. The airports at both ends are busy, and we'd have to rent a car to get around down there. It's just as fast, and certainly cheaper to load up the car and drive."
"I don't know," Pete said. "That's a long drive."
"We could take Nanci, stretch it out to a full week and make a vacation out of it," Karin said conversationally. "We really haven't taken a vacation since we went west a few years ago."
"We went down and saw your parents last winter, and we saw mine last summer," Pete grunted, correctly recognizing another arm twist coming from his wife.
"It's not the same thing, and you know it," she said. "I know it's something of a reach, considering the time we'll be spending at Tech, and that Crystal will be working, but this could well be the last chance we ever have to get together as a family on vacation." She threw him a crumb. "It'll give us a chance to find out more about Atlanta and the area where Jon will be living."
"There is that," Pete conceded, glancing at her, and she could read his mind, after over twenty years. She had a reasonable argument; after all, if you left out the part about the raft trip, and with luck, he might be able to shuffle that off. But, she'd usually managed to get what she wanted out of him, starting with that time in the shower.