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


Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2002, ©2008

Chapter 23

"God, I don't know about anyone else," Pete said. "But I need a drink."

The Chladek family, now all dressed in dry clothes, and Randy with them, was sitting at a table in the crowded White Water Inn, a few miles from the landing.

It had taken nearly an hour for the ambulance to get there and leave with the two injured kayakers, a cop inside and a police car following. It took another hour or more for several cops to get names and addresses, and everyone's version of the incident before they'd finally been allowed to get on the bus and ride back up to Ocoee Adventures. On the way, the preacher -- they'd since learned his name was Mark Jordan, of the Glen Hill Road First Baptist Church -- stood up in the front of the bus and asked for silence, then gave a prayer thanking God for the fact that no harm had come to the raft guide and her friend, and noting that the two attackers had to stand before the judgement of the Lord, just as they had to stand before the judgement of the people. Karin thought it was a pretty good message, under the circumstances.

Then, there had to be another wait while the manager of Ocoee Adventures had a talk with Crystal. She told him what had happened, that everything was under control, and she was sorry the schedule had been messed up so bad. He told her that he was glad she hadn't been hurt, and asked if she'd like to have tomorrow, Sunday, off. She told him no, it was going to be a busy day and she might as well run, but did he think he could find room to squeeze her friend on whatever raft she was taking? No problem. Maybe Monday off? Yeah, she'd like to show her friend around.

But, that was all behind them, now. "Yes," Karin said. "I think I could use one, too."

"Crystal, would you like one?" Pete asked.

"No, I don't think so. Maybe a Coke or something."

"You can have one if you want. I know you're over twenty-one."

"Not really interested," she replied casually. "A Coke will be fine."

"Randy, how about you?"

"I'll pass," he said nonchalantly. "I'm not over twenty-one, but I'm not really interested, either."

Karin shook her head. Even though she rarely had one, she needed a drink now, just to settle her nerves. Even hours after the incident, she was still shaking. The only thing that kept her from getting hysterics was the incredible calm these two kids showed. To them it seemed about as big a deal as if they'd swatted a couple of flies. As much as Karin respected her daughter, that worried her a little.

Besides that, what was going on between these two, anyway? All Crystal had ever said about Randy was that he was a friend. Then why had he driven all night all the way down here to east Tennessee from Spearfish Lake? Just to see her? Like in March, Karin never picked up any signs that there might be more romance going on than the kids were letting on -- no touches, no glances, no kissing -- just a friend out for dinner with them. It seemed a shame -- if ever there were two kids that seemed made for each other, despite Crystal's towering over Randy, it was these two.

What did Pete think? He seemed as shaken as Karin was -- maybe more, the karate had never been real for him, while she'd at least seen it. Had he started to realize a little just what sort of a woman they'd raised, and that she was a whole lot more than they'd expected?

For that matter, how about Jon and Nanci? Neither of them had said much since the incident. Karin could tell that Nanci was shaken, too. There'd been none of the flirting with the boys standing around that had been going on at the rest break and at the put-in. Karin could feel her wishing she'd had something to wear standing around the parking lot besides her string bikini. Maybe she'd learn something from that, although somehow she doubted it. But, just as clearly, Nanci had gotten a new impression of her sister as well, and was uncomfortable with it. They'd have to talk about it.

And, Jon. He'd said even less. He'd been rather short with Crystal on the river, and he'd paid for it. Now, he'd seen how much worse it could have been. That was something. At least, Karin was pretty sure that Jon would never badmouth Crystal to her face again. He'd been scared of her before, of her confidence on the river, of her skill, of the way she braved what he saw as deadly danger. Now, he knew what real danger was, and she'd faced it just as calmly. She was something that he could never be, never aspire to be.

"So, are you guys staying overnight again here, or what?" Crystal asked conversationally, as if aware of the heavy thoughts echoing around the table, and wanting to somehow dispel them.

"No, we really need to eat and get some miles on," Pete told her. "It'd be a long drive if we try to make it back to Glen Ellyn from here in a day."

"I've done it often enough," Crystal said. "But I guess I'm more used to just getting out and going than you are."

"We've got reservations in Lexington," Pete said. "That should take the edge off of tomorrow."

"Yeah, it ought to," Crystal said, her attempt at conversation falling flat.

All right, Karin thought. I think we need to bring this out in the open, and right now, while everyone is here. "It's been quite an afternoon, Crystal," she said. "We're going to have to accept what happened and put it behind us. Crystal, I've known about your karate, and I knew you were good at it, but I didn't realize that you were quite that good."

"Actually, Mom," Crystal smiled, "I'm a little rusty. Randy and I sharpened it up a little last spring. That helped."

"Did you have to half kill them?" Jon said, breaking a spell. He wasn't being argumentative, just curious, although it sounded like he was trying to pick at his sister.

"As a matter of fact, yes," Randy answered in a conversational tone, almost like he was teaching. "The knives didn't give us a lot of choice. In a situation like that, you have two choices. You either have to handle it like a cop, or handle it like a soldier. A cop has to subdue the opponent without causing a lot of harm, if possible. A soldier, on the other hand, has to neutralize the enemy so they can't be a threat to the mission. I didn't know if Crystal could handle the other guy, and she didn't know about me. So, I had to neutralize my guy as quickly as possible, so I could help her if needed. Same for her. If those jokers hadn't pulled the knives, we probably would not have to have done as much damage. But, we were both in soldier mode. Our mission was to protect each other, not subdue and capture those guys. We weren't cops, we were defending ourselves."

"How do you make that decision?" Pete asked, suspicious of Randy's glib words, but still curious.

"You don't and you can't," Randy told them, still sounding like a teacher. "All you can do is react, then depend on your training. There's no time to think. Thinking can be fatal. I had two, maybe three seconds warning, same as Crystal. As soon as I saw those knives, I wasn't thinking about modes, I was looking for openings, how I could deal with them. As it was, they made it easy. They were both heading for Crystal, and didn't recognize me as a threat. That left my guy wide open."

"I'm gonna be honest," Jon said. "You two scare me like you're a pair of loaded guns."

Randy turned to look at him. Karin thought he was only a couple years older than Jon, but he seemed mature in ways that Jon could never consider. "In essence, we are," he said, still noncommittally. "But think about what a gun is. It's a tool, nothing more, nothing less. If you know about guns, are familiar with them, respect their power and learn to control it wisely, they're useful tools. It's exactly the same thing. You don't get to the level that Crystal and I have without learning a lot of appreciation for the power we've learned. We had to use that power this afternoon. Given some choice, we would have avoided it. We were given no choice. Knives are deadly force. If I'd have had a gun I'd have been justified in using it to neutralize them both."

"Same thing on the river," Crystal said. "You have to respect the power and learn to deal with it. Once you've done that, you can have a little fun, like when I washed you down and knocked you out of the boat, bro."

"That wasn't fun," he bristled.

"No, but it was for me, the way you'd been talking to me. You needed to learn that I know what I'm doing and to respect it. You think those were accidents? Remember, I've been a raft guide here for three years. I've done that run hundreds of times. I know where I can fool around a little and have some fun, and know where it's not a good idea. I pulled a couple stunts that I'd rip the hide off a junior guide for pulling, just because they don't have the experience and the respect for the power. And the unexpected does happen, like when that joker pulled out in front of us this afternoon. Look, I've flipped rafts, had pins, and had swimmers get loose. Not often, but enough to get a darn good respect for it. Jon, you may turn into a pretty good engineer, but you're gonna have to learn about the real world sooner or later, and hopefully before it bites you in the ass too bad."

"Look," Randy chimed in. "You're not really getting this, are you? You're still thinking that your sister and I are homicidal maniacs who are gonna rip you limb from limb without warning, right?"

"Well, no, but . . ."

"All right," Randy said. "Let's take a different approach. I don't know you, but I'll bet you're a pretty careful driver. Always wear your seat belt, never drive too fast, look before changing lanes, signal for turns, and all that, right?"

"I try to be careful," he replied, wondering where this was going.

"He's a very careful driver," Karin said, giving credit where credit was due.

"Doesn't surprise me. Do you have any idea of how much power you hold in your hands when you drive down a crowded street? Hell, you could cause more death or injury in a couple seconds than Crystal or I could do with our hands all afternoon. So, why are you such a careful driver?"

"Because I don't want to have an accident, hurt someone, especially me."

"Exactly. You have the power to do a lot of damage, but you're smart enough to control it. Fun to drive, isn't it? You can get around, see friends, go places that are too far to go walking, see the sights, lots of things, right?"


"OK, we're getting somewhere. For Crystal and me, it's fun to work out, to learn new things, to sharpen our skills. Jon, I've trained in this stuff off and on for about eight years, now. I've actually had to use it twice. One of those times was this afternoon. I hated like hell to have to use it either of those times, and frankly hope I never have to use it again. But, if a situation like that comes up again, I won't hesitate to use it if I have to. And, I'll hate it just as much."

"Same here," Crystal nodded. "I can't say it any better."

"You two don't act like you hate it," Nanci said. "You just seem so, well, cool about it."

Randy let out a sigh. "Nanci, earlier this year there was a fracas at NMU. A hockey player took a swing at me. I thought he was trying to knock me out of the way so he could beat up on Myleigh, so I had to neutralize him. I was pretty cool when the cops were around, but afterward, Myleigh took me up to her room. I sat there shaking like a leaf. I literally could not hold a teacup in both hands. Crystal came in before I got over it. She knows how bad it was."

"Randy and I may look cool now," Crystal added, "But you're not looking into the nightmares we're going to be having."

"Right," Randy continued. "I'll replay it over and over in my head, and when I get back to Spearfish Lake, I'll get together with the guys I train with, and we'll go over it and over it again, analyze every move, to see what we can all learn from it. Believe me, by the time it's over with, I'll be even sicker of it than I am now."

My God, Karin thought. They really are human after all. I was beginning to wonder. Maybe we've all learned something.


Crystal and Randy stood side by side beside the Dodge as the rest of the Chladek family drove out of sight, heading back to Chicago. It was getting along into the evening, but the summer sun still hung up in the sky, low enough now that the brutal heat of the day was abating. Even though the humidity still hung heavily it was almost pleasantly cool.

"Thank God that's over with," Crystal said as she watched her family go. "Is it all right if I break down in tears now?"

"I'd rather you didn't just yet," Randy said, as serious as he could be. "That'll just set me off, and one of us has to drive back." He was getting pretty close to a serious case of the shakes himself. He'd put up a calm face, trying to hold off the adrenaline shock that was sure to come as soon as he relaxed enough to let it. It wasn't time for that, not quite yet.

"All right," she said, visibly shaking now; he could see that she was having trouble holding it in. "I'll be back in a minute." She pulled herself together a little, and headed for a liquor store across the highway. She was back a couple minutes later, carrying a brown paper bag and a twelve-pack of Coke. "I needed that drink so bad it wasn't funny," she said as they got in the car. "But I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of seeing me break down."

"Never let 'em see ya sweat, huh?"

"More like never let 'em see me cry," she said, snuggling up alongside him as he started the engine. "I'd never have heard the end of it from Dad and Jon. Thanks for handling that in there. I could have never made them listen to me."

"It had to be said," Randy replied, pulling out onto the highway. It was getting late, and the traffic was dying down, which was good, since he wasn't in real good shape himself. He thought he could hold himself together back to Ocoee Adventures but he wasn't going to last much longer than that. "They were scared to death of both of us. Nobody dared say anything for fear that there was going to be blood on the walls."

"They've never understood," she said pensively. "Not even Mom. They've just seen the power, and not the responsibility that has to go along with it. God, it was drummed into me from my first class at the Y. Where did you pick up some of that stuff? We've talked about it before, but I never heard you talk about it like that."

"A lot has happened since I last saw you, Crystal. I mentioned the guys I've been working out with in Spearfish Lake. I hadn't been doing that last spring. Really interesting bunch of guys, a couple of them in their sixties. They're all damn good, I mean, real damn good. And, I think we sit around talking philosophy as much as we beat on each other. Some of that rubbed off, I guess."

"Sounds like quite a group," she said, resting her head on his shoulder.

"It is," he said. Just thinking about them helped him settle down a little. It would be a few days before he'd be back home, but they'd be people he could talk to. "You said I picked up a couple new moves. More than a couple, Crystal. If you ever get to Spearfish Lake, I'd like to introduce you."

"Days like today . . . no, let's not talk about today till we get back to camp, OK? No martial arts, either, OK?"

"Just fine as hell with me. What do you want to talk about?"

"How about surfing?" she said, reaching for a subject. "Been surfing?"

"Yeah, three times, on both Michigan and Superior," he replied, not terribly interested in the topic for once but glad to have something else to be talking about. "Actually four, we went once and it turned flat on us. We never got on the water, so we turned around and went home." He grinned a little, surprised that it was possible to do it at all, and went on, "Let me tell you, I was one surprised surfer dude to turn up another one in Spearfish Lake. Joe hadn't surfed in a while, and he used a longboard, but he tried mine and I had a hell of a time getting him off of it. I had Buddha ship him a nice eggy shortboard, sorta like mine but not as extreme. It's a long haul to surf, though."

"I got out to the Outer Banks once," she reported in a dull, unenthusiastic tone. "The surf was kind of lousy, though. We could try it again."

"'Fraid not," he replied, shaking his head. "I need to be back Wednesday morning. I really should leave during the day Tuesday, so I don't have to drive all night and then work the next day. Like I said, a pour schedule got loused up, so I got a couple days off."

"Pour? What do you mean?"

They hadn't been in a lot of contact all summer, except for a couple of postcards with rafts on them from her, and about the same from him. He must not have told her about that news. "Crystal," Randy grinned, "I've been working on a concrete crew all summer, mostly with a shovel full of cement in my hands. You don't get a workout like that in a weight room."

She was fighting off the adrenaline shock well enough to grin. "Thought you'd picked up a little muscle tone, there."

"More than a little. I can't move without being full of ibuprofen."

"Good old Vitamin I," she smirked. "I pretty well live on the stuff myself. Been doing any kayaking? I see you got a new boat on top of the car along with your board."

"Got it from Joe," Randy reported without giving any details. "We got out in the spring some before the water level went down, and some since."

"Have you seen Myleigh?"

"Couple of times," he said with a shrug, wondering how he was going to discuss that issue. He'd thought about that a lot, how he was going to tell Crystal. If he did. "Over Memorial Day, and then over the Fourth. I'll probably go up next weekend if we're not pouring. If we are, the weekend after, for sure."

"How's she doing?"

"Pretty good." he said casually. "Bored. Lonely."

"She was glad to see you, then?"

Randy was dead sure that she was trying to find out what had happened between him and Myleigh. After all, he'd found out from Myleigh that Crystal was pretty sure that she was going to ask him to go to bed with her, but he wasn't going to tell Crystal without her working for it. She deserved it, after not warning him, after all. But after today, now wasn't the time to tease her with it. "Seemed like it," he replied obliquely.

"Well, I've been lonely, too," she said, changing the subject once she'd seen he wasn't going to rise to the bait. "I have people I work with here, and most of them are OK, but I don't have any real friends. I'm glad you could make it down."

"Well, I've missed you, too, Crystal," he said, really meaning it. "It's been a long time. I've done a lot of things this summer that you would have liked to have done."


Crystal's tent was in the woods behind the bunkhouse at Ocoee Adventures. It was bigger than Randy had expected, a cheap family-camping tent, with room to stand up. There was a tarp stretched over it, to limit the effects of the southern summer sun, and to limit the amount it had to withstand fierce rains. The tarp extended out in front of the tent enough that there was room for a small picnic table. "I thought you had a backpacking tent," Randy said as he pulled in, still trying to make meaningless small talk.

"I did, the first year," Crystal replied. "Then I got tired of having to stay bent over all the time, and I found this in a garage sale for ten bucks. It's really pretty comfortable, and beats the hell out of having to live down in the bunkhouse. There's four of us who live up here in the woods." She stopped, then asked in a small voice, "OK, can I cry now?"

"Feel free."

Still in the car, she laid her head on his shoulder, put her arm around his chest, and the tears started to roll. "Christ, Randy, why did those two have to be so fucking stupid?"

"Booze, I suppose. Booze and belligerence," he said quietly, resting his head on hers. "Like Baughman, I guess. Wanted to hurt someone and thought you were an easy target. Your basic fucking cowardly bullies."

"Thank God you were here," she sobbed, tears rolling now. "Jesus, right in the nick of time, like it was some fucking movie or something. Then I had to keep a straight face in front of my parents. God, that was hard."

"It was hard for me, too," he replied, trying to comfort her while there were some tears of his own rolling. "Maybe that's why I yapped so much in front of your parents. It gave me a chance to get it out." He was a little surprised at how rational he was being. Maybe it was the training that he'd gotten from Gil and the others, all the philosophizing about what they were doing. Crystal probably hadn't had the benefit of that kind of analysis for a while, maybe not ever. Maybe it would help this time. He hoped so, anyway.

"I've gotta run tomorrow, even though you're here," she said between sobs, her body shaking now, almost convulsing. "If I don't, I'll never do it again."

"That's tomorrow. You can do it," he said hopefully. "I'll be with you. Hang in there, Crystal."

"Thank you," she said, a little more calmly. "Just for being here. God, you and Myleigh are the only people I can let myself go with, and she wouldn't understand this like you do."

"I'm just glad I could be here," he said quietly. He would have done anything in the world to have avoided the situation at the takeout ramp, but if it had to happen, it was better that he had been here. He didn't like to think about the alternative. Finally, she just lay with her head on his chest, his arm around her. The sobs were over, but there were still a few tears. It would probably take her a long time to be thoroughly over this, but for the moment, she was a little better.

As concerned with Crystal as he was, he wasn't paying any attention to what else was going on around him, so he was startled to hear a tapping on the roof of the car. He looked up to see a tall, thin, bearded young man standing beside the car, and in a second recognized the other senior guide, who had pulled things together down at the landing earlier, along with that preacher and the rangers. "Crystal, are ya'll OK?" he said quietly in a southern accent.

"Yeah, I'll be all right, Noah," she said, pulling herself together quickly. "Just the adrenaline shock catching up with me."

"Look, ya'll done good down there today," the other guide said. "I'm afraid we got a bunch of guides who would like to congratulate you."

"Uh, Noah, I'd really like to beg off," she said, visibly uncomfortable. "Look, Randy here . . . well, he's sorta my fiancé, and we want to be alone. We're . . . uh . . . trying to keep it covered up. We don't want people to know about it."

"I understand," he smiled, and gave a wink. "I'll tell the others, and try to keep them from bothering you."

"Thanks, Noah," she smiled wanly.

"Look, Crystal," he said in a gentle voice with meaning in it. "I know that today has been a mite upsetting to you. If ya'll want to talk about it, you know where I live."

"Thanks, Noah," she said again, a little more confidently. "If I need to after Randy leaves, maybe I'll do it."

"Feel free." He gave a little wave and walked off.

"Who was that?" Randy asked. There was something about him that he couldn't put his finger on . . .

"He's one of the other senior guides, tents up the hill," she said, showing a little bit of interest in discussing him, as opposed to worse topics. "Same reason I do, doesn't like all the partying in the bunkhouse. He's a ministerial student at some big Christian college down south of here, and he's about the only straight arrow on the whole river. He's still pretty cool, though." She paused for a moment, and looked at Randy. "I didn't want to have to lie to him, but it was better than the alternative of having to go to some drunken party with a bunch of people celebrating because we kicked a couple of kayakers’ asses."

"Yeah, I really don't want that scene myself," he agreed. "It's not something to celebrate."

"Jesus, no," she said, visibly depressed at the thought. "I didn't want to tell him that you were my fiancé, but that'll give everybody a reason to not bother us. They'll think we're up here getting laid."

"How about him?"

"He'll think we're up here getting laid," she repeated. "And he'll understand, even though he may not approve. Look, this place is like college. I don't screw around with the other guides, otherwise shit could get out of hand. Noah knows I've done a little sport-fucking down here in the past, never with a customer or a guide, but I haven't this year. It'll give him a reason to think I'm cleaning up my act."

"Sounds like he's a friend, too."

"Not like you are, Randy. Noah is sort of the father confessor around this place. He's the guy we can go to and talk about our troubles with. Goes with his future job, I guess. He listens. Sometimes he asks you if you want to pray about it. Sometimes it helps." She hung her head. "I dumped a raft this spring. I got rammed by another raft and ended up some place you don't want to go, and it was a little hairy there for a while. He talked me and a couple other people involved through it afterwards. But he's a very non-violent person, and I'm not sure he's going to understand this one."

Randy shook his head. "Crystal, I'm a pretty non-violent person. So are you. But if someone was coming after him with a knife, I wonder if he'd ask them to pray about it."

"He probably would," she grinned. It was good to see her grin again, but it didn't last long. "Damn it, was there anything we could have said?"

"I don't think so," he replied sadly, shaking his head. "It happened too quick. If we'd had another five seconds, maybe, but as it was, neutralizing them was just reflex."

"Where did you pick up that term 'neutralizing?' Your friends?"

"Sounds better than 'breaking their heads,' doesn't it?"

"It makes it sound so, well, professional," she said tentatively. "So . . . clinical."

"That's the point, I guess," he replied, finding himself talking a little philosophically. "It takes the drama out. The guys I'm working with are professionals, or at least real advanced amateurs. It's a big event when I can sneak a move past one of them, and then usually it's a wrestling move. It's like I told your family, Crystal: we were neutralizing them. Believe me, it helps to think of it that way."

"Oh, fuck," she said, letting out a sigh. "I think I'm ready for that drink, now."

"Me, too," he said, lifting up his arm so she could sit up. "I think I need it as bad as you do. I needed it bad when we were with your folks, but I didn't dare let my guard down."

In a minute, they were sitting at the picnic table. She pulled a quart of Smirnoff out of the paper bag. "Do you want a strong one or what?" she asked.

"Just a minute," he smiled. "Maybe it'd go better with Noah if he doesn't wander by and see us getting shitfaced," he said, reaching for a Coke. "Besides, I'm not twenty-one yet." He popped open the Coke, threw back his head and drank a lot of it, immediately followed by a huge eyeball-popping belch -- the Coke was pretty warm -- and handed her the can. "Just top that sucker up, and hide the bottle somewhere."

She filled the can to the slot with vodka, then took another can to fix herself one. "By the way, I'm sorry I sorta volunteered you to be my fiancé, but it was the best I could think of at the time."

"I don't mind," he said, taking a big drink. He wasn't much of a drinker, and it burned all the way down. It felt good. "I'd be a liar if I said I hadn't thought about it."

"Us getting married?" She smiled, took a big slug of her own drink, and continued conversationally, "You know, not a word was said, but I could see my mother eyeballing the two of us and thinking that. I guess we do look like a pretty likely pair, especially after today. I guess now I know what Myleigh goes through."

"I get some from my mother, too," he laughed. "I got it real hard, back when I got home. I wound up going out with my old girlfriend a couple of times, just to put a stop to it."

"Is she nice?"

"She's OK, nothing special. We were pretty hot when I was in high school, but it burned out a long time ago. It made a good excuse, and it got my mother off my back. There's no way Nicole compares to you or Myleigh."

"So, what do you think about getting married?"

Randy took a long sip at his vodka and Coke, then let out a sigh. "Maybe someday," he said. "Maybe not. Not soon, anyway. I could get more interested in it if I didn't think that you'd see a wedding ring as a ring in your nose."

She didn't catch the allusion for a moment. She'd seen a lot of people with piercings. Then, she got it: "Oh, you mean, like a cow, right?"

"Exactly. Even leaving Myleigh out of it, I don't think you're ready to be tied down like that. I don't think I'm strong enough to tie you down. We'd both hate it. But, don't think I wouldn't like to, maybe someday. Things could change."

"Well, yeah," she said. "I mean, I could see what Mom was thinking, and we do have a fair amount going for us. But, I'm still like Myleigh. I'm not ready to be a slave to a penis."

"I know that," he said. "That's why I've tried to keep things casual with you. Same thing with Myleigh. That's what scares me about Nicole. It wouldn't be any big trick, with her. Thank God she's been gone all summer so I haven't had to deal with it."

"You're not ready, either, huh?"

He shook his head, and took another sip of his drink. "Not yet, but I'm probably a lot closer to it than you and Myleigh are."

She looked directly into her eyes. "So, how is she?"

"Myleigh?" he said neutrally, knowing what was coming. "Like I said. OK. Lonely. Bored."

"That's not what I mean," she grinned; he hadn't fooled her for an instant. "The last month before we got out, half the time she was so damn hot to get laid that it was almost tiring to hear her talk about it. One day ready to rip your pants off in the caf, the next day, nothing. I figured she'd corner you as soon as I headed south, just so I couldn't tease her. Did she?"

Randy had already made up his mind to be honest. After all, Crystal would be seeing Myleigh in a little over a month, and he'd long since learned there were no secrets between them, as if Crystal's statement wasn't enough to show that. "She did," he affirmed, not wanting to discuss the details.

Crystal grinned. "Good for her. How'd it go? Did she like it?"

"Seemed to," he grinned.

"Did you do it the next time you went up there?" There was something in her words that was more than curiosity, concern maybe.

"No," he said, "But with reason."

"What kind of reason?"

"Crystal, when she hit on me, I made up my mind that I was never going to hit on her. It had to be her call right from the get-go, same as you. I got up there, and she didn't ask." It couldn't have been the vodka talking yet -- it hadn't had that much time to work on him. Just the emotions going around this afternoon made him less guarded than he might have been otherwise, but he grinned and added, "There was a box of sanitary napkins sitting prominently on the bathroom shelf, so I didn't wonder about it too much."

"Uh, yeah," Crystal said, thinking for a moment. "How about when you saw her a couple weeks ago?"

"Yeah." It had been a pretty good weekend, in fact, but Crystal was going to have to dig the details out of him with a shovel. Really, how much damn business of hers was it, anyway?

Crystal got a big smile on her face. "That's wonderful! I'm so glad to hear that. How did she like it?"

"Seemed to," Randy replied, a little embarrassed at the conversation. Well, more than a little embarrassed. This had to be one of the stranger conversations he'd ever had with anyone, especially a woman. "You want all the details, I'll bet," he said, letting a touch of anger show.

"Not really," she said, getting his point or deciding it didn't matter. "Look, you said you were planning on seeing her next weekend, aren't you?"

"Yeah, if we don't have to pour."

"Put it off a week," Crystal grinned even wider, "Or you're going to find the box on the bathroom shelf again."

"How do you know that?"

"Like I said," she laughed. "Myleigh and I are pretty close in a lot of ways."

"I'm learning that," he said dryly. Yes, this was definitely a finalist for the strangest conversation he'd ever had with a woman. Crystal had just encouraged him to go to bed with Myleigh again. Oh, well, might as well go all the way. "Look, Crystal," he said, getting down to brass tacks. "Now that I've hopped both of you, well, this could get awkward. I told you, and I told Myleigh, that I didn't want to do anything that would screw up our friendship, and now I'm afraid I've fucked it up big time."

"I don't think so," she said with a headshake. "It's not like it really means anything. Like we were just saying, I'm nowhere ready to get married, and I think I'm closer to it than Myleigh is. I think she and I can share you occasionally if you're willing. Believe me, she and I talked about it a lot last spring. Remember, you and Myleigh were closer after we got back from Florida than you were before."

No, this definitely took the strange prize. "What comes next, threesomes?" he asked in a tone of voice that indicated that he wasn't very happy about the idea. "That could get a little awkward."

"I'm glad you figured that out," she smirked, getting his meaning exactly. "You're right, it could get awkward. I've always made it a policy to keep it off campus, and I think it'd be a good idea for her, too. And, maybe we shouldn't do it around each other, either."

"We did in Florida."

"That was different," she said seriously. "You and she weren't boffing then. It got a little tense there for a bit. You remember what she was like the morning after. I guess I sort of rubbed her nose in it, which is probably why she got all hot to try it, anyway."

"Like I said, I'm just scared that this is going to cause problems."

"It shouldn't," Crystal reassured him. "The best that can happen is still the worst that could happen. In eight months or so, it's over, and I probably won't see Myleigh much any more after that. Oh, maybe I'll drop in once in a while, and I'll miss her. She's been more of a sister to me than Nanci ever was. Another few months, and I'll be gone too. Who knows what'll happen then?"

"Yeah, there is that," he said, not quite believing Crystal, but accepting the finality. "Damn, in this case, it looks like tomorrow is gonna come, doesn't it?"

"Sure enough, and in more ways than one," Crystal said, draining her can. She popped another Coke, dumped half of it into the first can, and filled it with vodka. "It's gonna be here all too damn soon, and I'm gonna have to go out on that damn river with a raft and pray that no dumb son of a bitch in a kayak pulls out in front of me."

"I hope it doesn't happen," he said. "We've had enough of that for now."

"Yeah," Crystal replied. "And, that's why you and I are gonna sit here and get shitfaced. Then, as soon as it gets dark enough that the mosquitoes drive us into the tent, we're going to screw each other silly. And when I wake up scared and crying in the middle of the night, you'll be with me."

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