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 33

Back in the car, they drove over to Spaulding. "I hope we can get a parking spot," Crystal told them. "Usually it's not too bad at this hour, but you never know." As luck had it, she found someone pulling out of a space close to the entrance, waited until they got out, then dived into the spot. "Don't usually get that lucky," she said with amazement.

Myleigh was in their room, working on a paper on their old computer. There was a lot of noise; the girls in the other half of the suite had their CD player blasting out country music, but through the wall it wasn't as bad as the noise at the restaurant earlier. "I'll call Randy," Myleigh said. "He was going to do some reading on Codes and Inspections."

"This is a comfortable room you have," Karin said, finding a seat at the chair at the other study desk, while Pete and Crystal sat on Myleigh's bunk. "A little noisy, though."

"Oh, this isn't bad," Crystal said. "The country music isn't bad. When the rap gets going from the other side at the same time, it can get a little out of hand."

"It can be a little irritating to try to study with that going," Myleigh said. "You have to get used to it."

"I don't know," Nanci grinned. "I'm used to studying with some music on."

"It's worse than that," Crystal told her. "You just have to discipline yourself to get it done in spite of the distractions. Anyway, let's get started on the discussion at hand. Myleigh, could you call Andrea over for a moment? She may be able to help us."

"Sure," Myleigh said, picking up the phone.

"All right, Nanci," Crystal said, "You're pretty excited about the cheerleading, aren't you?"

"Wow, yeah, that's neat," she said. "A scholarship for cheerleading. I didn't expect that."

"They offered you a scholarship?" Myleigh asked.

"Yeah, they did," Nanci said. "I never thought that would happen. That'll help with the money, won't it?"

"Do you remember what I said yesterday about the scholarships being applied to your financial aid?" Myleigh told her without enthusiasm. "While it means something to the college, as far as you're concerned, they're just moving money from one of their pockets to another. Crystal said they offered you $2500 annually. I expect that will be cut to not more than $2000 in the end. If you get the cheerleading scholarship, then the financial aid gets cut to $1000, plus the $1000 for the scholarship. So, you don't gain a thing."

"So it means nothing?" Karin asked.

"As far as you're concerned, that's correct," Myleigh told them. "It does mean that Financial Aid does have that thousand dollars to give to someone else. However, if your financial aid is cut to nothing, then you would still have that thousand dollars from the cheerleading, if you get in."

"But she said I had a good chance of making the team," Nanci protested, as a short, spunky blonde girl came out of the bathroom door, from the adjoining suite.

"That's what they're going to tell you," Crystal said. "She wants the largest number of people to look at. This is Andrea, she's one of our suitemates. Andrea, my sister Nanci here got offered a shot at the cheerleading tryouts in April. That's what happened to you, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," Andrea said. "The tryouts are a zoo. There were about fifty girls there, and no more than ten spots open. That was a high number, I'm told. Actually, they did select ten, but I think only six made it through the camp."

"Did you get on the squad?" Nanci asked.

"Never stood a chance," Andrea said. "It was a waste of time. I was a cheerleader all through middle school and high school, and we went to the state finals one year."

"So, it was about one chance in ten?"

"About that," Andrea told them. "I'm just as happy I didn't make it. It eats up a lot of time, especially on trips. I know a girl who did make it, and she had to drop off the squad since she went on academic probation and couldn't keep her grades up. No time to study. She was in Teacher ed, like you guys, but she got wrapped up in the practices and the games and the trips, and the partying that goes on if you're a cheerleader, and she just couldn't hack it."

"The cheerleading coach didn't sound like the odds were that tough," Nanci said, a little deflated. "She said I had a good chance of making the team."

"That's what she told me, too," Andrea said. "She's going to say that to anyone who wants to try out, unless they're obviously going to be losers. You stand a chance, but it's a long shot."

"Thanks, Andrea," Crystal said. "You know more about it than I do."

"You need me for anything else?"

"Not really," Crystal told her, "But you can stick around if you want."

"I better not. I've got to get to work in half an hour."

"Well, glad we caught you," Crystal smiled. "Nanci is going to be staying here with Myleigh tonight, so maybe she can talk with you some more if she has any other questions."

"Yeah, come on over," Andrea said as she headed for the door. "I'll be glad to help. Drop over anyway, we'll probably have a couple people over."

"She's got a job, too?" Nanci asked as soon as their visitor was gone.

"Virtually everybody on campus has a job, or two, or three," Crystal told her. "See, a job is considered part of your financial aid, too, which helps make it look better than it is. I've usually had two, just to make ends meet. Sometimes three. This year, I decided to not work in food service and just be a lifeguard over at the PEIF, but I get paid for doing climbing and kayaking instruction, too."

"I didn't know you had to work when you came to college," Nanci frowned.

"Oh, yes," Crystal said. "Sometimes it's pretty scruffy jobs, too. I learned a lot in food service, mostly about how not to do things, but it's not a bad job. It's just when I rattle on about how lousy the food is, I know what I'm talking about."

"It didn't seem that bad this noon," Nanci shook her head.

"That's because we were at the one cafeteria on campus that's largely staffed by professional cooks, since it's the only one that stays open all year long. In the rest of the cafeterias, the food will be good for the first week, the last week, and the few days around parents' weekend. Other than that, it's still the slimy school food you're used to, and some of it's a lot worse, mostly because it's not made by those professional cooks you're used to in high school, but by your fellow students. So, take all of the gunk they fed you in high school, and multiply it. There's always some things that are good, but the rest of it's going to have burn marks, taste like cardboard, and some may even make you sick. You can never tell."

"The worst part of it is that if you're living in the dorms, you pay for it whether you eat it or not," Myleigh told them. "The way they handle the charges is such that you could eat off campus cheaper if you weren't forced to pay for the food on campus in the first place as part of the whole package. Fortunately, most of the things I eat are ones the cooks can't easily destroy."

~~~~~

"Crystal, I can't believe it," Karin said as they left the theatre after The Twelfth Night. "That's the second time in a month I've seen you in a skirt."

"Well, it is sort of dress-up," Crystal said. "I don't wear a skirt often, but a long wool skirt is fairly warm if you have to be out in the weather. I learned that from Myleigh."

"God, it's a long walk back," Pete said. "It's cold out here."

"It is a bit coolish," Crystal said as they walked two by two down the sidewalk. "But, we'd never have gotten a place to park up here. It's not very far, only half a mile or so."

"You'd think they'd close classes when it gets this cold," Nanci complained. She wasn't dressed as warmly as the rest.

"Oh they do, but only when it gets real cold, say in the thirties, and there's a wind," Crystal said.

"You mean thirty below, right?" Pete asked, shivering a little.

"Yeah," Crystal smiled. "This isn't that bad. You do get used to it being a little cold. If it was cold, Myleigh would be wearing her long skirt and long handles. But some people are sissies."

"And some people are crazy," Randy teased. "Crystal just ignores the cold. You have to be crazy to go snowboarding in a bikini."

"Crystal, you did what?" Karin asked with wide eyes.

"I don't ignore the cold, I just accept it and get on with things," Crystal said placidly. "Actually, it was a little warm, out in the sun like that, and above freezing, too."

"I think Randy's right," Karin said, shaking her head.

It was wonderful to finally reach the warmth of the dorm. Karin was shivering by the time they got inside and headed for the lounge to warm up. "I don't know how you can do it," she told the college students. "I hated cold like this when I was growing up."

"Oh, you get used to it," Randy said with a grin. "I might as well head on up to my room. I've got some studying I want to get done. Crystal, are we still on for snowboarding tomorrow?"

"Yeah," she said. "But I want to have breakfast here with the folks before we get going. Why don't you meet us then? I'll give you a call."

"I don't know that I really want to have breakfast here," Pete said. "If it's anything like that dinner. God, the heartburn is killing me."

"Oh, you mean the Swiss steak?" Randy said. "I took one look at that and knew better."

"How can they serve food that bad?" Karin asked.

"They have no reason to do it better," Randy told them. "In fact, the worse the food, the more people eat off campus. That means there's less food they have to buy, and that's more money for the college, since the students have to buy food by the semester, not the meal. Basic econ 101. Cut costs where you can."

A few minutes later, Pete, Karin, and Crystal went out to the car. "That was nice of you to put yourself out," Pete told her once they were out on the street. "A night in the dorm will be a good experience for Nanci."

"Well, actually," Crystal said, "That wasn't why I set it up that way. I wanted the chance to talk to the two of you alone, and this seemed like the best way."

"Is there some problem?" Karin asked.

"Yeah, there is," she said. "This isn't the place to get into it. Would you like a drink? We don't have to go to Hunter's. There's a nice quiet bar a couple miles south that has a fireplace. It'd be a good place to sit and talk and warm up."

"It sounds like a good idea," Karin said, sensing something wrong, something that hadn't come up before. This hadn't been a very pleasant weekend, and it was clear that Crystal had something on her mind even worse than all the discomfort and bad news that had already gone on.

Pete sensed it too. "You and Myleigh and Randy have really been emphasizing the negative side of things this weekend," he said, sounding a little critical.

"I hope it didn't seem that way," Crystal said. "What we've tried to do is be honest about things. What we didn't realize four years ago when we came up here was that the college was going to paint a rosy picture of everything, and not mention the thorns. Myleigh, Randy, and I decided that at least this time you could get an honest look at the whole thing, not just the college's viewpoint. There are some negative things we've pointed out, but in the summer I work with kids who go to school all over the country, and the things that are negative here are pretty much the same elsewhere, except for the weather, of course. I think you know that from Jon a little now, right?"

"He has some of the same complaints you have," Pete told her, slowing for a light then speeding up when it turned green. "And many things are much the same. The financial dealings at Georgia Tech are pretty much the same, except that Jon's in a much better position because of his grades, so his scholarships actually mean something."

"Look, I have to be honest, still," Crystal said seriously, as they went through another light and under the ore loading dock, heading through downtown. "Northern is no better and no worse than a lot of other schools. Beth was right, way back there in the Boundary Waters, when she suggested this might be a good place for me. I've learned more than I expected to learn. All in all, going to college has been a good experience for me. It makes you learn your priorities, figure out where you want to go, and actually put your head down and work for your goals."

"You've done well here," Pete admitted, a touch of pride showing. "Better than I expected."

"I like to think so," Crystal told them. "There are things I wish I'd known when I started here, things that I've had to learn the hard way, which is why we decided we needed to show you the bad as well as the good."

"We appreciate it," Karin said. "It ought to make things easier all around."

A couple miles south of town, they turned into the parking lot of a low restaurant and lounge. It was dark and quiet; over in the corner, a fire was going in a fireplace. It was a warm and comfortable place to relax after what had been a hectic and trying day. They ordered drinks, and they were delivered quickly. Pete sipped at his whiskey sour, then turned to look at Crystal. "All right," he said. "I can tell you've got something on your mind. What is it?"

"It's pretty simple, Dad," she said, taking a drink of her draft beer. "Like I said in the car, Northern has been a good place for me, but I don't think Nanci should come here."

"What makes you say that?" Karin asked with a frown. All of a sudden, the negative impressions that she'd been getting from Crystal all weekend started to fall into place.

"The biggest reason is that she's not ready for it," Crystal said seriously, as she set her beer on the table. "If she comes up here, she's not going to do college. It's going to do her. She just doesn't have the maturity, the drive, or the responsibility it'll take to be a success here. Maybe somewhere else, maybe not, but not here, for sure."

"You don't think she's ready for college?" Pete frowned.

"Not really," Crystal said. "She might do all right at a smaller school closer to home, where you can keep an eye on her. This far from home, she's not going to have anyone to get on her ass to keep her on track. You were telling me about how she was with that guy in the motel. She's going to find herself being diverted from what she has to do. All she's going to see are the chances to have a good time, and not the things she has to do to stay in school, much less do well at it."

"We thought the same thing about you," Pete told her seriously. "We thought awful long and hard before we agreed to let you come here, but it worked out. The same happened with Jon. I'd really just as soon he'd gone to Purdue. The school is just as good as Georgia Tech, and even more highly thought of in the Chicago area, and it's close enough to home where we could support him, but at the same time, far enough away to be on his own. But like you, he wanted to get away from home, so following your example, we let him. It's taken him a while to get his feet under him, but it seems to be getting worked out."

"There's a difference," Crystal said. "Jon and I had a good idea of what we wanted to do, and we knew we needed to be away from home to learn it. All Nanci wants to do is have a good time, and doesn't have any idea that she's supposed to be learning something."

Karin nodded, agreeing with her daughter's opinion more than she wanted to admit. "But, you and Jon have us in something of a trap. We would have been much happier to have had you closer to home, but we let you go a good distance away. Now, if Nanci wants to go a long way away to school, we don't have that argument. You and Jon have taken it away from us."

"I'm just as happy Jon went to Georgia Tech," Crystal agreed. "He needed to learn to be a little independent of you, and he was wiser than I thought when he realized it, too. He'll benefit from it. But Nanci isn't ready for that, yet."

"You're probably right," Pete said glumly. "And, I'm concerned that Nanci isn't ready for college. She has no idea of what she wants to do, or how she's going to accomplish it, but you didn't either."

"But I did," Crystal protested. "You just didn't recognize it. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do all through high school, but I didn't really realize how I could do it until I went to OLTA. Believe me, that was the best thing you could have ever done for me, and I thank you for it. But, the bottom line is that I at least have some idea of what I want to do. Nanci doesn't have that. She thinks being a teacher is a neat idea because all the work she's ever seen people do is teaching, and she knows that teachers get a lot of time off. A lot of kids go into education for that reason. Most of them don't make it. Nanci probably won't either. She's just not going to be willing to do the work she has to do."

"I do wish that Nanci were a little more focused on a career," Karin said. "And, I suspect that's part of the reason why she tends to be a little unfocused, anyway. But, the fact still remains that we pretty much have to let her go where she wants to go to college, assuming it fits in the budget."

"It's a bad move, Mom," Crystal said. "I think you guys heard what we were saying, but ninety percent of what we said to Nanci last night and today went in one ear and out the other without slowing down any in between. I had Andrea come over and give her the straight skinny on cheerleading, because she's been through it. But, I don't think Nanci heard a word of what Andrea said. All we heard all evening was about how she's going to come up here and get on the cheerleading team, like it's a lock. She's got maybe a chance in ten, maybe a little better if a lot of kids don't turn up for the tryouts, maybe worse. What's going to happen when she gets shot down?"

"Maybe she'll get a dose of reality," Pete told her. "I agree, she was only hearing what she wanted to hear. In fact, I'm not sure I'd mind a bit if she came up here and had to discover that she really has to do something, and that it isn't all fun and games. It might take falling on her butt to find that out, and it might be worth it for her."

"If she comes up here the way she is now," Crystal replied, "I can guarantee you that's just exactly what's going to happen. She's going to need someone to keep her on the right track."

"I agree," Pete nodded. "In fact, that's one of the appealing things about her coming here. You'll be here for a semester, and maybe you can get her off on the right foot."

Crystal shook her head. "Please don't ask that of me, Dad," she pleaded. "I can't do it, for a number of reasons. I'll only be here a semester. If she doesn't get the message, then what happens when I leave? Besides, I won't be able to ride herd on her much. I won't even be on campus much next year. I've only got a couple classes, and most of my time will be spent practice teaching, probably some place out of town. We might not even see each other that often."

"It would be easier if you were roommates," Karin suggested. "After all, Myleigh will be leaving this spring. It wouldn't be that hard to arrange, would it?"

"It might not be easy," Crystal said, shaking her head. "They usually don't like freshmen living with upperclassmen. I think they're afraid we might pollute their little minds. Besides, it's so damn expensive to live on campus, I've been thinking about getting an apartment off campus, just to save you some bucks."

"It might save a few hundred," Pete smiled, "But the benefits could be worth it if it could be arranged. I agree, Nanci would benefit from some guidance."

"I don't know that I can make her listen to me, not in the long run," Crystal said dejectedly. "Not without threatening to pound her head in, anyway, and then she might not believe me. I'm not you two, it's not like I have any real power over her. After all, I'm her sister, what do I know?"

"She's your sister, she looks up to you," Pete said. "You do have that influence over her."

"Does she really?" Crystal said, starting to get a little angry. "Mostly what I've heard you say about me around her and Jon is what a goof-off I am, how I'm out for a good time, how I can't be serious about anything since I'm studying to be a PE teacher, right? You two have never realized that I worked my ass off up here. Sure, I've had a good time, but the classes and the jobs and stuff have always come first. I'm not a party girl; I'm not here to play. In fact, I've been to exactly one party since I've been here. One. That was the time that hockey player decided he wanted to rape me."

"When was this?" Karin asked, surprised at the news. "We never heard about that."

"I never told you," Crystal said, her rant cut off. "It was when I was a freshman. Myleigh and I were invited to this party, and we really didn't want to go, but we decided it might be the sociable thing to do. Well, this hockey player, Baughman -- the same guy Randy had to flatten last February, in fact -- he'd been drinking and decided I'd be fun to play with, and I had to kick his ass. That gave me a reputation around campus. God, did it give me a reputation! You know what the hockey players say about me? 'Don't hit on her, she might hurt you even if she said yes!'"

"That's not a bad reputation to have if you want to stay out of trouble," Karin laughed.

"That's true," Crystal grinned. "I knew that clear back in eighth grade. Why do you think I stayed with karate? Anyway, Myleigh and I got the hell out of there and have never been to a drinking party since. Hell, we didn't even want to go to that one. The point is, I could handle it. Nanci couldn't, and couldn't have handled that situation for sure. You know as well as I do that if she comes up here there's going to be no keeping her away from all the parties and the fun stuff and the trouble. Hell, I hated leaving her with Myleigh, that's why I had Andrea invite her over to their room after we got back. She'll have a couple people over, but they should be able to keep things under control. That'll work once, but I can't arrange that every night for a whole semester. And then, what happens when I'm gone?"

"You set that up?" Karin asked.

"Of course I set that up," Crystal snorted. "I know what Nanci can do, and Myleigh wouldn't be able to handle her by herself, although I told Myleigh to call the motel room if there's any real problem. I really needed to have this discussion with the two of you."

"We appreciate your concern," Pete told her. "And we recognize the danger. But, as your mother said earlier, the decision of whether to come up here or not is really Nanci's to make, just as the decision of whether to succeed or to fail is also hers to make. We wish it were different, but with the precedent we've set with you and Jon, we really don't have a lot of choice."

"So you're dumping it on me," Crystal said angrily. "You know what really bothers me about that?"

"What?" Karin said, getting a little upset with Crystal's vehemence.

"If she comes up here, and turns into a party girl and goes wild, and doesn't bother to study and falls on her ass, you're going to blame me for it. If she comes up here, I want it understood that I will not take the blame."

"We wouldn't blame you," Karin said.

"The hell you wouldn't," Crystal replied, fully angry, now. "I can hear you now, 'We let Nanci go up to Northern, and Crystal let her fuck up.' I don't want to hear that the rest of my life."

"We know there's a risk that Nanci is going to come up here and screw up," Pete said, getting angry now himself. "But there's no reason for you to talk like that. Why do you think we'd blame you?"

"Look, I don't have any real authority over her, so I can't take the responsibility to keep her under control. You'll blame me because you won't take the responsibility yourself, and you do have the authority over her," Crystal told him quite heatedly. "So, you pass it off on me. If you won't take the blame yourselves, who else is going to take it? Jon? I don't think so!"

"If she messes up, then she's the one to blame," Karin told her flatly, but trying to head off a real argument. Crystal had a point, she knew.

"Look, please," Crystal said with a lot of exasperation. "Try to get her to go somewhere else, so I don't have that hanging over my head."

"As we said," Pete told her with a degree of finality. "If she decides this is where she wants to come, this is where she comes. We'll expect you to try to keep her on track."

"If that's the way it is, then that's the way it is," Crystal replied, resigned now to losing the argument. "But when she falls on her butt, probably from too much partying and not enough studying, don't say that I didn't warn you ahead of time. If she comes up here, I'll try to keep her under control, but I promise nothing, only that I probably won't be able to. I won't cover up for her, and if you try to blame me for what I know is going to happen, I'm just going to remind you I warned you ahead of time that it was a bad idea. I will not allow you to blame me for her failure. Is that understood?"



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