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 34

"What can be keeping that girl?" Pete wondered as they sat in the lounge in Spaulding Hall the next morning. Although it was cold, the sun was up and looking good. It promised to be a clear day with good driving conditions. Karin was glad of that; the trip up had been a hell that she hoped she never had to go through again.

"She was pretty sleepy when I got her up," Myleigh told them. "I don't know what time she got back from Sarah and Andrea's room last night."

"You didn't stay with them?" Karin asked.

"Oh, my no," Myleigh grinned. "I did stay and talked for a while, and they were getting on very well. However, I grew quite sleepy and went to bed. At that, it was getting late."

"They can go pretty late," Crystal snorted. "I better go see." She started for the stairs, still wearing the long skirt she'd worn the night before. It still seemed strange to Karin to see her in a skirt.

"Of course, staying with you," Randy grinned at her, "She might not have gotten much sleep anyway."

"Randy, are you accusing me of snoring again?" Myleigh asked demurely.

"No accusations needed," he laughed. "I think I heard you clear over in my dorm."

"It's a conspiracy, I tell you, an evil conspiracy to belittle me," Myleigh grinned. "There is no way that I could snore as badly as everyone claims. People must be mistaking me for someone else."

"It's not going to fly," Karin laughed. "We all know the truth, and you're not going to get away with pulling that innocent act on us."

"At any rate, I got to bed early enough to awaken quite refreshed," she said cheerfully.

Karin furrowed her brow and changed the subject. "When you were with the other girls last night, did Nanci say anything about how she liked this place? She might have said something that she might not have mentioned to us."

Myleigh nodded. "All in all, she seems quite taken with Northern, at least to hear her tell it to Andrea and Sarah. She seems to think that she has a good chance of getting on the cheerleading team, and seems to already be making plans, no matter what Andrea told her. Andrea detailed her experience much more completely than she did with you last night."

Crystal came back into the lounge, seeming more normal, now that she'd taken the time to change into a pair of blue jeans. "Sound asleep," she reported. "I had to drag her out of bed. I told her if she wasn't dressed and down here in ten minutes, I'd drag her down in her underwear. She better not do that too much if she has an eight o'clock class."

"Damn it, she knew we wanted to get going early," Pete said. "Maybe we should have had her spend the night with us after all."

Karin wished now that had happened; it would have avoided what had turned into an unpleasant situation. There were plenty of hard words and hard feelings in the conversation with Crystal the night before, and the tempers got pretty short although they stayed under control for the most part. Goodness knew that Nanci wasn't the most responsible girl in the world and that Crystal may have had a point about her not being ready for college. But the girl had to accept some responsibility some time, and perhaps college was the place to learn it. Certainly it had helped Crystal, but the way she'd acted last night was very irritating. Was it really that much to ask Crystal to give her sister a little guidance in getting started in college? It wasn't even going to be for a year, for goodness' sakes!

Pete had wound up rather steamed by the time the discussion came to an end from the way that Crystal had talked to him. There hadn't been much civil talk on the way back to the motel. Karin had hoped that the tiff would blow over by morning, but Crystal hadn't had much to say to them this morning, either, at least until they got to the lounge, to find Randy and Myleigh waiting for them.

"We could get coffee here, maybe have breakfast here," Randy suggested. "That could save you some time. The coffee is pretty cheap, and they usually don't screw it up too bad."

"Well, maybe," Pete conceded grudgingly. "I would like to get on the road in time to get home before dark. That's a long drive."

"Let's wait a couple minutes," Karin suggested. "If Crystal got Nanci moving, she might be down fairly quickly."

"If she didn't go back to bed," Crystal snorted again. "I think I'll head back up there and make sure she stays moving."

"Thank you for looking after her, Crystal," Karin said.

"Just because I have to hold her hand now doesn't mean I can do it all the time," Crystal said sullenly, the anger underneath showing through. "She's going to have to grow up some if she thinks she's going to make it here."

Karin shook her head. Crystal was still angry, she could tell, and so was Pete. Crystal may have been honest in sharing her concerns with them the night before, but it had solved nothing and created more problems than had been fixed. Hopefully, they would blow over.

Crystal was back downstairs in a few minutes, dragging Nanci by the hand. Nanci's clothes were disheveled, and it didn't look like she'd taken much care in putting them on. She was just barely awake, and looked like she was going to fall back asleep any instant. No, she didn't get a lot of sleep last night, Karin thought with a smile. Myleigh must have been going at full power.

"Maybe we'd just better go," Karin said. "It doesn't look like she's going to manage to stay awake through breakfast." Besides, with both Crystal and Pete spoiling for a renewal of the fight from the night before, at least it would separate them.

"Yeah," Pete agreed, "We could stop at a drive through or something."

They headed out to the car, with Crystal, Myleigh, and Randy accompanying them, without benefit of coats. There were perfunctory hugs and waves, without the feeling that usually went on at such times, and they were off.

Predictably, Nanci was asleep in the back seat before they got out to the street, in fact, snoring a bit. "It looks like she learned something from Myleigh," Karin grinned.

"Myleigh should have gotten her to bed at a halfway reasonable hour," Pete grunted. "Not let her stay up and yap all night."

"And what happens when Crystal or Myleigh aren't around?" Karin said pointedly. "It wasn't Myleigh's responsibility."

"Yeah, but still," Pete said. "She knew we wanted to get an early start."

"I suspect that Crystal told Myleigh to let Nanci have her head," Karin commented thoughtfully. "She was careful enough to set up a late activity where she couldn't get into any real trouble unless she worked on it, but I suspect Crystal knew this would happen."

"Are you saying she planned it?"

Karin shook her head. "Come on, Pete. What do you think? Crystal made it very clear last night that she doesn't think Nanci should come up here, and the three of them went out of their way to point out the reasons why. That was just as programmed as the college's tour."

"Well, I thought Crystal was crazy to want to come up here, and I think Nanci is just as crazy if she wants to. I don't think the kids programmed the weather, and I don't think they programmed the food."

"I have to admit that I wish Nanci were interested in some place that's closer to home," Karin agreed uncomfortably. "And, I do think part of the appeal of this place for her is that it's far enough away from home that we won't be keeping a very close eye on her."

"And, she's right, if that's what she thinks," Pete replied. "It is a hell of a long way up here, and we didn't get up here as much as we should have when Crystal first came up. But it was hard to do with Jon and Nanci still at home. With all three gone, we're not going to be quite as locked into staying at home, so we could get up here more often."

But we won't, Karin thought. Pete wasn't a traveler, and didn't like to go places for the sake of going. He was a homebody, and it took a real need for him to go some place to get him away from the house. It was one of the real downsides to being married to him; she would have liked to have gotten out and traveled more, but it only happened rarely, and then with the application of considerable force. They could have stayed an extra day on this trip, but he wanted to get back home, and that was that. "Yes," she agreed. "But don't forget, we're probably going to have to make several trips to Atlanta each year, too."

"Yeah," Pete grumped, considering the implications. "Until he gets a car, that means two trips a year, right there. Even if we hold it to an extra trip each semester, like we're planning this year, then that still means four trips down there next year. If we have to come up here at least as much, that means eight trips a year. That's a weekend each month."

And, you sure wouldn't like to be dragged out of the house that much, Karin thought. I'm going to be hearing complaints about the drive up here for the next decade, anyway. "Crystal does have a point that there's a limit she can do to keep Nanci toeing the line," she said. "It would be easier for her if we were to get up here even more often."

Pete obviously didn't hear her. "Even if the parking is lousy, at least Nanci can have a car. That's better than Jon. She could at least drive herself up here, and drive herself home. Maybe she could drive home once in a while."

"That's true," Karin conceded, knowing that if Nanci came home it would mean a weekend that he wouldn't have to leave home. Now, just who was self-centered, or what? That was something that Nanci had learned from him, after all. "But she's an inexperienced driver, and perhaps we shouldn't ask it of her too often," she said. "We probably won't see her before Thanksgiving, unless she gets really homesick. Unlike Jon, though, I don't think she will."

"Yeah," Pete said thoughtfully. "You know, I've been thinking about Nanci and her driving. Maybe we shouldn't buy her a new car. She hasn't driven enough, and she'll just tear up a new car. Besides, if she comes up here, it'll just get all eaten up with salt, like Randy said."

"I don't think we should buy her a new car, either," Karin said. "I'd say we shouldn't spend much more than we spent on Crystal, the combination of her car and OLTA. Maybe a little more; prices have gone up in four years. It wouldn't be fair to Crystal to spend a great deal more money on Nanci than we did on her."

Pete frowned. "You're saying that we shouldn't spend more than that on Jon, either, when he can have a car down there, right?"

Karin knew what Pete was getting at. Jon was the fair-haired boy, after all, and boy at that. She didn't need a fight over this issue. "It's not the same thing," she said. "We could spend a good deal more on Jon, if after he's a junior he's still getting the kind of grades he's gotten so far. It could be a reward for good work. Besides, he's a careful driver, and the car isn't going to get eaten alive by road salt in Atlanta. Maybe not a new car, but one that's more expensive."

"Yeah," Pete said thoughtfully. "You might have a point on that. That would be several thousand dollars we could be spending on college expenses. The financial aid package wasn't what I hoped it would be, and I believe Myleigh when she says it'll be worse in the end."

They were getting out of Marquette now, heading up the four-lane toward Negaunee and Ishpeming. It was a bright, clear day, and the sun was starting to warm things. Now, they could actually see the things they were going past. It wasn't the prettiest road, and there was evidence of the iron mines that were the basic economy of the area. "I don't see what Crystal thought she saw when she wanted to come up here," Pete commented after several silent miles. "And, I don't see what Nanci wants here, either."

"I think Nanci is just following in Crystal's footsteps because she can't think of anything better to do," Karin said. "But she doesn't have Crystal's interests, and she doesn't have Crystal's drive. Without them, I think she's just going to be looking for a good time."

Pete shook his head. "I'm afraid you're right. I don't know if Crystal can pass some of that on to her if she comes up here. Maybe she'll be able to keep her out of too much trouble, though."

"I don't know, Pete. Maybe it's too much to ask of Crystal."

"I don't think so," he replied heatedly, showing that the anger was still not very far under the surface. "After all we've given her, I think she owes us a little bit. We're not exactly asking a whole lot of her in return, just to set a good example for Nanci, and to try to keep her out of serious trouble, just for one lousy semester. I don't think that's really a whole hell of a lot to be asking. We're not asking for four years, after all. I agree, Nanci is not really ready for college, but was Crystal either? It worked out fairly well for her. At least she's getting decent grades, even if it's not in something that's particularly useful."

What came in one of your ears went out the other without stopping, Karin thought. You missed the whole point of the discussion last night, Pete, but there's not going to be any getting through to you now. Maybe after we get home I can work on you a little. I sure wish you cared for Crystal or Nanci at least half as much as you care for Jon.

"She has done much better than we expected," she said. "But Crystal and Nanci aren't made of the same stuff." And, is that ever true, she added mentally, even if there's no way I can ever tell you.

The roads stayed good as they headed southbound. There was some awfully empty country for a long way, with only occasional tiny, shabby towns that had to have been in better shape in the days the lumber or the iron mining industries were going strong. As they headed south, things became a little more civilized, and while snow still covered everything, it didn't quite dominate the landscape as much as it had around Marquette.

They'd left Marquette with close to a full tank of gas, and they were well down in Wisconsin before it grew low and they stopped at a gas station with a restaurant attached. The weather was warmer here, not the biting cold of Marquette, and Nanci was stirring, now, after sleeping soundly all the way. The noise and changes of stopping the car and filling the gas tank brought her awake.

"Where are we?" she asked curiously as she sat up and looked around.

"About halfway home," Karin explained. "We're going to stop for some lunch after your dad gets the tank filled. Are you ready to eat?"

"Yeah, I guess," she yawned, then dug around in her carryon for her hairbrush.

"Ah, Sleeping Beauty is awake," Pete said as he got in the car to drive it over to a parking spot at the restaurant. "You stayed up late, I take it?"

"Actually, not real late," Nanci admitted. "Sarah and Andrea wanted to go to bed. I thought about going down to the lounge to see if anyone was hanging around, but I knew Myleigh had locked the door and I didn't have a key, so I just went over and went to bed. But, I couldn't sleep."

"Well, that's understandable," Pete snorted. "We've heard Myleigh snore."

"Oh, that wasn't it," Nanci said, putting the hairbrush back in the carryon. "She does snore pretty loud, but you do, too, so I was used to it, a little. But mostly, I just laid awake thinking about how neat the place is, and all the neat guys I saw there, and how it'll be a great place to go."

"So, you think you want to go there?" Pete said, stopping the car and opening the door.

"Yeah, I do," Nanci told him as they headed into the restaurant. "The weather was a little bad compared to Glen Ellyn, but I guess if Crystal and Myleigh can get along with it, I can too. But it's a cool place, and they want me. I think it'll be neat to be a cheerleader there."

There was a sign saying, "Please Wait For Hostess," so they waited. "Andrea told us last night that she thought it was a pretty slim chance that you'd make the team," Karin commented while they stood there.

"Well, yeah," Nanci rationalized, "But when we were talking last night, she said she was from a small school, and I think that probably hurt her chances quite a bit. I'd be a fool to not go to the tryouts, anyway."

"If you really want to do cheerleading, maybe you'd be wise to look around at some other schools," Karin suggested, trying the carrot approach, rather than the stick. "You'd probably have to do tryouts at several places, and if you got selected, then you could go there."

"That might be a thought. But the thing is that I've been accepted at Northern, and I might not be elsewhere."

"You could get accepted elsewhere," Karin pointed out. "There's no need to grab the first thing, just because it's the first thing."

"It can't hurt to look," Nanci said. "But since I've already been accepted there, I think if I don't get on cheerleading anywhere, Northern would still be a pretty good place to go. You remember Heikki, the guy back at the motel that talks so cute?"

"Yes," Karin said, rolling her eyes. He wasn't the worst-looking kid she'd ever seen, but he was hardheaded, and Lord, he was dumb. It wasn't just the accent that made her think that, either.

"He says the kids there have a lot of fun," she said. "He said to look him up if I come up there, and he could take me out to a party."

"There's more to school than parties," Karin admonished.

"Yeah, studying and that," Nanci agreed casually. "Wasn't that Heikki cute?"


"Well, piss," Crystal said as they stood outside, watching Pete, Karin and Nanci drive out of the parking lot. "I guess that got shot in the ass."

"You did seem a little pissed this morning," Randy commented lightly.

"More than a little," Crystal said with resignation. "And I know I didn't cover it up very well. There's no point in standing out here any longer. Let's get back inside."

"I don't think we got through to them at all," Myleigh commented as she turned and walked with the others back to the front door of the dorm. "Nanci missed the point nearly every time."

"Yeah," Crystal said glumly. "And I'm the one gonna get bitten in the ass over it. Randy, do you still want to take off this weekend?"

"It's up to you," he shrugged. "But it's a pretty good drive down there, and we'd only have the one night."

"Yeah, they managed to piss that up for me, too," Crystal said unhappily. "Maybe we'd better not. I wouldn't be very much fun, the mood I'm in."

"Perhaps you should go," Myleigh suggested as they walked into the warmth of the building. "It might improve your attitude."

"Let's go get another cup of coffee and talk about it," Randy said. It was strange to be discussing this among the three of them, and he was uncomfortable with it. Back before Karin had called to announce they were coming up on the campus visit, he and Crystal had planned to spend Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights over at Sheltered Valley in Wisconsin. While snowboarding was the ostensible reason for the trip, and they were planning on getting some in, it wasn't the main reason for it -- it was to be alone together off campus, something they hadn't managed to do since the surfing trip in early November. Between one thing and another, there weren't many opportunities, and all three of them had been looking forward to the trip for the midwinter lift in spirits it would give.

Usually, they didn't discuss such things as a group, although there were no secrets. They kept it one on one, if only to fool themselves that it was between Randy and one or the other of the girls. To have this discussion in the open was something new, something he wasn't sure he liked.

"Myleigh's got a point," he admitted over coffee. "And we don't have to go all the way to Sheltered Valley."

"I hate to put you off," Crystal replied. "Damn it, if we cancel now, it'll be three weeks before we can do it again. You and Myleigh have that concert down in Stevens Point next weekend. But damn it, I'm just so pissed right now I don't even want to think about it."

"We could just head over to Sugar Mountain or Al Quaal and mess around some," he suggested as an alternative while grabbing a tray, putting three cups on it, and waiting in line for the coffee and the hot water. "We wouldn't have to spend the night."

"I'm so damn mad I shouldn't even get on a snowboard," she said fiercely. "It's just like I suspected. They're going to shove the little brat down my throat, no matter what I say. I hoped to hell that they'd get the message, and we could have had some quiet one on one, Mom-and-Dad time last night. I haven't had much of that in years. But no, Nanci gets what Nanci wants, no matter what I say. And, oh yeah, since they don't want to try to keep the self-centered, irresponsible little bitch under control, I get to try it."

"She did appear to be lusting after every boy she met," Myleigh said cattily, as Randy drew a cup of hot water for her tea.

"She's coming here," Randy said flatly. "I'd bet good money on it. Unless, someone offers her a guaranteed spot on a cheerleading team, and a better financial aid deal."

"That's just how I read it," Crystal said. "I'd say there are about nine chances in ten. Anybody want to take odds that she's on academic probation by the end of her first semester?"

Randy shrugged. "She's going to have to haul her ass out of bed if she wants to go to class. She's got a chance to get through without academic probation with all the dumbass classes they make you take as a freshman, but she does actually have to go to class."

"Damn, I wish there were some way out of the middle on this one," Crystal shook her head. "Hell, I'd be half tempted to just dump next fall and go do something else. Stay late at the Ocoee, then head down to Florida, do some surfing, work on a scuba certificate, then do the AT next spring, like I planned. By then, she ought to have flunked out or screwed herself up so bad that she won't be back."

"You can't do that, either," Randy said. "And it'd be dumb for you to quit at this point."

"I know," Crystal sighed. "They'd blame me for it anyway. I guess that's the end of our getting an apartment next semester, Randy. Even if we did it, we'd be setting a bad example for her, at least in Mom's and Dad's eyes."

He shrugged. That was something else that had been discussed individually among the three of them, and all of them knew it, but they'd never talked about it as a group. "Somehow, I never figured it'd really come off, anyway," he said philosophically. "If it turns out she doesn't come up here, maybe we can reconsider."

"Damn it," Crystal shook her head as her coffee sat on the table untouched. "I told them as clearly as I could that she was going to get in trouble if she comes up here. Hell, she's going to get in trouble anywhere unless she gets her head screwed on straight. But, I can't win for losing. If I stay here and she screws up, they'll blame me. If I leave campus, either to live off campus or to go somewhere else, they'll still blame me for what happens. I can't win, either way."

"Well, there's a chance she might not screw up," Randy said hopefully. "At least not bad enough she'll fall on her ass the first semester."

"Don't hold your breath," Crystal said angrily. "Even if I can get out of here without the shit hitting the fan, and things go sour when I'm not around, they'll still blame me for getting her off on the wrong foot."

"Yeah," Randy said, sipping his coffee dejectedly. He didn't know Nanci well, but she'd seemed on the shallow and aimless side to him, a giddy teenager still pretty sheltered from reality. Maybe he was reflecting Crystal's attitude, and, to a lesser extent, Myleigh's. But, he valued their opinions, and they were no better than his. "I guess about all you can do is meet it head on. Crystal, I'll help you where I can."

"I know," Crystal said. "And, I appreciate it. I know you wouldn't do any less. But most of it is going to have to fall on me. Damn it, I'd hoped to have such a good time up here next semester. But, shit, that's not going to happen, not now, not unless a miracle happens and she goes somewhere else."

"I wish there were something I could do to help," Myleigh said. "I wonder what would happen if I called your parents up and reinforced your opinion?"

"Probably nothing," Crystal said, shaking her head. She was cooling off and getting a little more perspective now. "I got a little carried away last night, and now their minds are made up. Let's face it, I lost. Now I'll just have to take it on the chin next fall and the rest of my life. I might as well enjoy what I can while I can. Look, Randy, why don't we just go ahead and go down to Pine Mountain or something? It might be good just to get out of here. We can go snowboarding if I feel like it and get shitfaced if I don't. Maybe both. I know it's not very fair to you, but I think I need to get out of here."

"I'm willing, if you are," he said. "You need to get your mind off it. It might be a good idea."

"You could have our concert tickets for next weekend if it would help you make things up," Myleigh said. "I know you looked forward to this weekend for so long, and you were most distressed when you had to lose two nights. I can survive."

"No, there's no need to do that," Crystal smiled. "You two won't have many more chances either, and I don't want to take one away from you."

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