Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
As the month of April neared an end, spring was grudgingly coming to the North Country. On the campus of Northern Michigan University, the ground was mainly clear of snow, but back in the shadows of the north sides of the buildings and under the evergreen trees there still remained dirty piles of snow that the sun had been unable to get to, but winter was clearly relaxing it's long grip. Here and there, things were greening up, and hopeful shoots of early flowers courageously braved the failing snows to push out of the ground. Out on the blue of Superior, the ice floes were gone from sight, and the first ore boats of the season had arrived at the upper harbor to fill with concentrated red iron ore for the blast furnaces of the steel mills of Pittsburgh and Gary. Back in the hills to the west, the streams were raging with snowmelt, and the whitewater group from the university had already made several trips on them, though the last couple had been only sparsely attended as students put the wild, cold waters aside to study for finals.
To those from southern states visiting the campus this weekend, the air seemed harsh and cold, and the sun in the sky seemed to only thinly spread its warmth in the cold north breeze that swept off the lake, but to those who had endured the winter here, it seemed a bright and balmy day.
And, this was a most special day for most of those who had made the long trek to the shores of the largest inland freshwater sea. Down on the floor of the arena, cleared of its normal ice, the graduating members of the Class of 1996 sat clustered as their friends and family watched from the stands that normally were filled with hockey fans, and waited for the ceremony to begin.
Among those watching were Randy Clark, and Crystal, Karin, and Nanci Chladek. Pete had wanted to come, for he liked Myleigh, too. But, the same weekend he had to be picking Jon up from the end of his first year at Georgia Tech. Karin had told the kids that it was the first time she could remember that the two had made long trips to different places at the same time, and this time, it couldn't be avoided.
"Don't you wish you were down there?" Karin said quietly to Crystal.
"Yeah, I do," Crystal told her mother. "But, I've known for almost a year and a half I wouldn't be, so I guess things end with a whimper, not a bang."
"Aren't they going to have a winter graduation?"
"I guess," Crystal said, "But I just plan on grabbing my diploma at the ad building and blowing out of here. This is sort of my honorary graduation, so you might as well enjoy it. I'm glad you could make it for Myleigh's sake."
"It still seems incredible to me that her parents couldn't be bothered to come," Karin said.
"It doesn't to me," Crystal shook her head. "But, you've never met them. Their only kid, the first person in her family to graduate from college, Summa Cum Laude no less, and they couldn't find the time to get off their dead asses and drive three hundred miles."
"That's sad," Karin said. "They ought to be here."
"Actually, I'm glad they're not," Crystal replied bitterly. "The only thing they've given her toward her college career is grief. Why in hell would they want to be here? The only thing they could possibly accomplish is to ruin the day for her. Of course, they'd like that."
"So I understand," Karin said. "It's still sad, but I'm glad we could be here for her."
"I'm glad, too," Crystal told her mother. "You've been far better parents to her than her own, and I really appreciate it. God, I remember walking into the dorm room and meeting her for the first time. We were total strangers, and only knew each other's names. God, that must have been hard for her, alone, scared, totally without friends, and I didn't realize any of it till later. She's come a long, long way. People talk about how brave I am for some of the stuff I do, but let me tell you, that took more damn guts than anything I've ever done. God, I'm proud of her."
"You were a big help to her," Randy commented lightly.
"Well, you've been a big help, too, the last year or so," Crystal smiled, "Just by being friends with us, and especially with her. She's come out of her shell a lot, thanks to you. You'd have to know her as well and as long as I have to realize how good that's been for her."
"I remember how painfully shy and reserved she was the first time we met her," Karin said. "She's changed a lot, and all for the good. She's come a long way in four years."
"Four years," Crystal repeated, a little sadly. "Four good, exciting and memorable years. God, I've learned so much here, and now I feel like I'm losing the best friend I ever had. Maybe I am."
"I can't imagine you and Myleigh waving goodbye and never seeing each other again," Karin said, "As closely as the two of you have lived the last four years."
"Oh, I guess we'll see each other once in a while," Crystal said sadly, as the ceremonies began to get under way. "But we're going down different roads from here, and it's never going to be the same again. It seems like it's going to go on forever, and then, all of a sudden, it's gone."
Randy looked down at the floor, where Myleigh sat in the front row, draped in her black gown. Yes, damn it, he was proud of her; he was happy to have known her, happy to have been what little help he had been to her. If there was any person down on that floor who had made it on their own, it was Myleigh. Oh, she'd had some moral support from him and from the Chladek family, but mostly she'd made it on brains, guts, drive, and hard work, and literally on a shoestring, starting from nothing. It was a much bigger accomplishment than he could have managed, and he knew it.
She'd helped him, too, literally by force of her example; in spite of a much tougher course load this year than he'd had his freshman and sophomore years, his grades were the best they'd ever been, even in high school. She hadn't said a thing to him about it; it had merely come from his desire to measure up to her example.
The last year and change had been incredible for him, just for knowing Myleigh, and Crystal, and for other things too, of course. There'd been a big change in him, and the different way he looked at things. Just knowing those two had made a big improvement in his life, had opened doors that he hadn't thought of, and the force of both their examples had driven him to heights he hadn't dreamed.
While Crystal raised her camera and zoomed it all the way out to take a picture of the moment, he looked down at Myleigh, his eyes watering a little, as the proud little girl, no, proud little woman, got up and walked up to receive her diploma. She hadn't quite made valedictorian, but if she had, he felt sure her speech would have been far different from her high school graduation. The years here had been good to her and good for her; how different it must have been!
"Good going, Myleigh," he heard Crystal whisper next to him. He glanced over, to see that she was actually crying at the sight. "Damn, I'm proud of you."
Randy reached over and put his arm around her. There was nothing that needed to be said in this bittersweet moment. He knew that she and Myleigh had lived like the closest of sisters for four years; as much as he knew that he'd miss Myleigh next year and in the years to come, he knew it had to be worse for Crystal. There were tears and joys and secrets he'd never know that had passed between them. "I'm proud of you," he said finally. "You're the one who made it possible."
"I didn't do that much," she whispered. "She did it on her own."
"You were the friend she needed," he said. "That made all the difference."
"I needed a friend, too," Crystal told him, so quietly that he could barely hear her. "Thanks, Randy."
"I didn't do much," he protested.
"Yes, you did," she said, resting her hand on his knee. "It would have been so easy for you to come between us, without even thinking about it. I know it's been hard for you, but you've never let it happen."
"There've been some awkward moments," he whispered. "But I never wanted to hurt either of the women I love."
That gave her a giggle that broke the spell a little. "Do you realize how weird that sounds?"
"Of course I do," he grinned at her. "It doesn't make it any less true, though. We all made it work, somehow."
"Damn, I feel happy for her," she whispered, "But the best the next semester can be for me is an anticlimax. Just a pain in the ass that I have to get over with."
There was much more to Crystal's statement than appeared on the surface, and Randy knew it. Crystal wasn't any less thrilled than she'd ever been about Nanci coming to Northern. Now it was all but a done deal, unless something very unlikely happened over the summer. Karin and Nanci had come up two days before, so Nanci could attend the cheerleading tryouts. She'd already missed making the teams at tryouts at two other colleges closer to home, and while the results hadn't been posted yet, it didn't seem like she had much chance of making it here, either; he'd learned that forty-seven girls had tried out for only six spots. Nanci admitted now that it was a long shot, but still held some hope, and had announced that if she didn't make the team she still wanted to come to Northern.
There hadn't been much chance for Randy to be alone with Crystal since Karin and Nanci had been in Marquette. They had managed a few minutes in the cafeteria that morning, and had quickly agreed to the obvious -- that there was no point in even thinking about getting an apartment for next year. That wasn't a surprise; when they'd seriously discussed the issue, on the way back from their trip to the Keys on spring break, they'd agreed that there was no point in doing anything about it unless Nanci announced she wasn't coming to Northern. Now, it was all but a dead issue.
"Hey," he said, tightening up on his hug a little bit, "We'll make it work somehow."
"Yeah, but it's not going to be the same. It'll never be the same."
"Things change, Crystal. You know that."
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean that I want them to."
It was mass confusion down on the floor of the arena after the ceremony. It took a few minutes for Randy and the Chladeks to find Myleigh down there, a huge smile on her face, diploma clutched in her hand like a trophy of all she'd been through. "Randy, Crystal, I did it!" she beamed as she showed it to them. It was just a simple certificate in a black folder, but it meant so much, especially to her. Randy grinned at her, giving her a big hug while Crystal took their picture, then took a picture of Myleigh standing alone with her diploma in the confusion, then one of Myleigh and Karin. She took the camera from around her neck and handed it to Randy, who took some shots of the two standing together in the happy moment.
"One more," Myleigh said, an evil gleam coming into her eye. "Randy, take one of me for my parents."
"You sure?" he asked.
"Of course," she said. With one hand, she held her diploma high, and with the other, held up her middle finger in front of her. "That's how I want them to remember this."
Laughing to himself, Randy took the picture, realizing how much of the anger and hatred was still in her, and probably always would be. But this was a moment of victory, proving to her if nothing else that she was a better person than her parents ever had given her credit for being, and this was the way she showed it. He hoped they'd understand, but doubted that they would. She'd accomplished the near impossible and done it with style, in spite of all the heartaches and roadblocks that they'd caused, and he couldn't help but be proud of her, and proud of her contempt for them.
In a few more minutes, the happy moment on the floor of the arena was dying out, and people were beginning to leave. "I'd better turn in the cap and gown," Myleigh said. "That'll be a madhouse. Why don't I meet you outside?"
It was still cool outside, although it was warm and nice out of the wind off the lake in the sun beating off the south side of the building. "Hey, Mom," Nanci said excitedly. "They're supposed to have the results of the cheerleading tryouts posted by now. Do you think I could run over and check them out while we wait?"
"I suppose," Karin told her. "You'll have to get right back, though. We don't want to keep Myleigh waiting. This is her day, after all."
"OK," Nanci said, then stopped, a little flustered. "Crystal, would you come with me?" she asked sheepishly. "I'm a little scared."
Karin shook her head as she watched them go. "Well, I suppose now we're going to have a sad moment to follow the happy moment," she told Randy with a shake of her head. "At least Crystal went with her, or we might be waiting all afternoon."
"Yeah, it's a long shot," Randy said. "I hope she doesn't have too much hope pinned on it."
"I think maybe she got the message at the other tryouts she went to," Karin said, shaking her head. "I hope this will give her something to think about besides cheerleading."
"You never know," Randy said noncommittally, knowing all too much of the background. "Things don't always come out where you expect them to."
"I know that Crystal is pretty negative about Nanci coming up here," Karin nodded. "What do you think?"
"I've got to be honest," Randy replied, unsure of how far he wanted to go. This was the first time he'd ever had the chance to talk to Crystal's mother one on one. "I don't know Nanci very well, so my opinion is filtered through Crystal and Myleigh. Let's face it, though -- Nanci is a teenager who doesn't know what she wants. It's possible she can figure it out here. I mean, I didn't know what I wanted to do when I came here, but I think I pretty well managed to figure it out. But some people bloom in college, and others wilt. Crystal and Myleigh did a pretty good job of blooming, but they sort of sparked each other. Nanci, I can't say. It could go either way."
"So, you're not giving an opinion," Karin smiled, cutting through to the bottom line.
"No, I'm not," Randy grinned, knowing that he'd been caught. "But I will tell you this much. Whether Nanci makes it or not will depend on the stuff that's in her, not the influence that Crystal will have on her for one semester. If she makes it, fine. If she doesn't, don't blame Crystal. Maybe it'd be best if you don't depend on Crystal too much to get her off on the right foot. I think that Nanci may well be better off rooming with some other freshman, so they can go through all the freshman hassles together and learn to support each other. That was a big reason why Crystal and Myleigh did so well, and that's something Crystal can't really help Nanci with much." He paused for a second to think, then went on, "I mean, that's how it worked out with Matt and me, too. We're friends, not like Crystal and Myleigh, but we can still support each other when we have to. That way, Nanci would still have Crystal available for help if she needs it."
"I think you're right," Karin said, nodding her head. "Unfortunately, Pete doesn't agree with me, and that's something that has to get settled. Randy, honestly, I'm worried about Nanci. I was worried about Crystal, too, but she was always a pretty self-sufficient kid who didn't get into trouble much. Nanci, well . . . she's different."
"Like I said, if Nanci screws up, you and she will have no one to blame but herself."
"I think I know that," Karin said. "I learned that back in college myself. You don't have to tell Crystal or Nanci, but I got off on the wrong foot and did some partying myself. That was back in the sixties with all the drugs, so it was serious partying, if you know what I mean. I did some things I shouldn't have done. I almost got kicked out, but I pulled my act together once I realized what I was doing to myself."
"Does Nanci know that?"
"No, I've never told her, or Crystal," Karin admitted. "Or, even Pete, for that matter."
"It might be wise if you had a little mother to daughter on that," he suggested. "It might help."
"I'll have to think about it," Karin replied thoughtfully. Something else was on her mind, and she fumbled for the words to say it. "Look, Randy," she started. "I don't know how deep things are between you and Crystal, or you and Myleigh, but I have to thank you for being friends to both of them. I don't think I can ever thank you adequately for last summer, what you did down there in Tennessee."
"Oh, those two guys?" he said, shaking his head. He'd pretty well managed to put the incident in the back of his mind; he hadn't thought about it in several months, even when he and Crystal had taken their kayaks out at the same landing back on spring break. "It wasn't just Crystal," he said. "I'd have done that anyway."
"Yes, but you were there, and you did it. Even more important was what you told the rest of us down in the restaurant. I think we all learned something from that, and I have to thank you for it."
"It needed to be said," Randy shrugged. "You were on the way to getting the wrong impression about Crystal and me."
"I understand that, now," Karin smiled. "You know, I think Crystal and Myleigh are remarkable girls, but I think they've had the good luck to have a remarkable young man for a friend." She sighed. "And, that's the reason that I'd like to take your advice about Nanci. I'll try to have a talk with her, and I'll try to talk Pete into letting her have a different roommate." She shook her head. "I'm not saying I'll succeed, but I'll try."
"I can't make any promises that it'll work," he told her. "In the end, what happens is what happens."
"I appreciate your thoughts," Karin told him, then looked at him and smiled broadly. "Look, I don't know what's happening with you and Crystal or Myleigh. I'm probably stepping way out of line to say this, but I'd be proud and happy if you were to wind up as a son-in-law, and I'd be just as proud and happy if you wound up marrying Myleigh."
"I'm not going to make any promises there, either," he grinned. "It's probably a long way off, if it happens at all. Either one."
"Either way, I'll be happy," she reaffirmed. "I don't know what happens from here on in, either, but always remember you've got friends down in Glen Ellyn if you should ever happen to be down that way."
Randy smiled. He'd never gotten terribly warm feelings about Pete, but he liked Crystal's mother, as little as he'd gotten to know her. "You never know."
"There you are," Myleigh said, coming out the door. "I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long."
"No, not bad," Randy said, realizing that with Myleigh's presence, any more sensitive discussions with Karin weren't going to happen. "Crystal and Nanci ran over to the PEIF to see if she made the team."
"I guess I timed it about right," Myleigh grinned. "Here they come now."
Randy and Karin looked over at the two, not really knowing what to expect. Nanci didn't appear overjoyed, but she didn't appear dejected, either. "Well, what happened?" Karin asked as soon as the two got close enough to talk.
"I didn't make the team," Nanci said. "But I'm second alternate, so there's a chance I'll get on if someone else drops out."
"I'm sorry you didn't make it," Karin said. "We knew there was a good chance that was going to happen."
"I know," Nanci said, "But that's better than I did elsewhere. Maybe I'll still make it after all. We won't know for a couple months though, and maybe not till school starts, but I guess that means I'm coming to Northern, anyway."