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 38

The move off campus was a lot more complicated than it had been in years past, and there wasn't time enough to pull everything together in the afternoon after graduation, especially with the big dinner that Karin treated them all to at a nice restaurant south of town.

It was easiest for Randy. As in summers past, all the joint personal furniture including the big couch went to Spread Eagle in the pickup with Matt; he'd left the day before graduation with a simple, "See ya in da fall, eh?" Their room was barren now, with most of his stuff packed up and ready to load. He'd spent three winters here with Matt, and faced still another one -- he knew that for sure, now, although there had never been any mention of the possible alternative to his long-time roomie. With everything gone, the room seemed barren, devoid of warmth and friendship, so with everything as ready to go as he could make it, he gravitated over to Crystal and Myleigh's room for one last evening with them there.

The usually neat room was a disaster area. Myleigh was moving everything out for good, of course, and Crystal had long ago made up her mind that she was going to pretty much do the same, and only bring enough back in the fall to sort of camp out for the four months she had remaining. While she planned to stay in the room there, it wasn't as if she were going to live there again. That meant there was a lot more stuff to move than there had been before, stuff that in the last three years had just spent the summer in Myleigh's apartment in Marquette.

Myleigh really owned very little but her clothes, her harp, and her books, but she owned a lot of books, mostly picked up at secondhand stores and at sales in Marquette and Chicago, and sometimes elsewhere. Most of them were old, mostly by obscure English authors of a couple centuries before, and there had been places that a couple of well-spent dollars had resulted in a bag of books almost too large for her to carry. The problem was that there was a large accumulation of such visits crammed into the closets and under the beds in their room, with bookshelves full of them lining the walls, as well. There were even a few boxes of them in Matt and Randy's room. In her field, she had a better collection than the university library; some of them had come from used book sales there. The wonder was that she'd read most of them, some many times, and still had managed to keep her studies up.

Karin and Nanci hadn't escaped the hauling; right after the dinner following graduation, they'd returned to the dorm, loaded everything of Crystal's except for a sleeping bag and a change of underwear. Karin's Buick was loaded down to the axles, and Karin and Nanci were crammed into the front seat, their own bags sitting between them. Karin hadn't expected to get all the way to Glen Ellyn that night, but she wanted to be home by the time Pete and Jon returned the next day, if for no more reason than to have help with unloading so she could drive her car to work on Monday.

"Jeez, I don't know that we're going to get it all in," Randy said, looking at the collection. There was still a heck of a pile remaining.

"I think we can," Crystal said hopefully. The plan was to load both the Dodge and the Olds to the rafters. Crystal would go with them to Spearfish Lake, then drive to Glen Ellyn the next day to pick up the stuff she'd need in Ducktown for the summer, a lot of which was already headed for Glen Ellyn with Karin and Nanci. "We may not have much room, but we should make it."

"We are going to be able to get my chair, aren't we?" Myleigh asked with a worried look. "I've got books I'd rather throw away than leave it."

"You, throw away a book?" Crystal laughed. "That'll be the day."

"I know it's worth nothing," Myleigh said soberly. "But it's been my comfortable little nest for four years, and I can't bear to leave it." She and Crystal had rescued the big, old-fashioned overstuffed chair from a curb in Marquette not long after they'd moved into the room. It was nothing much to begin with. It had several coffee stains, including an embarrassing one on the cushion; there were several bare spots, one leg was broken and had been propped up with a brick for four years. There had been a couple different throws and slip covers on it, and the last year, a colorful woolen Indian blanket. But Myleigh had spent many happy hours over the last four years curled up in it, a book in her lap, with the noise and the hassles of the dorm tuned out. Though Crystal, and Randy, and others had sat in it on occasion, it had always been clear that it was Myleigh's chair, her own little private reserve from everything.

"We'll get it loaded somehow," Randy promised, "Even if we have to tie it to the roof racks. You're planning on taking it on to Cornell, right?"

"Yes, I wouldn't want to be without it," she said sadly. "I'd feel as if I were missing a part of me if I had to leave it."

"We'll make it work, then," he promised.

"Thank you," she said gratefully. "I must admit, the broken leg is a little embarrassing. Do you think that we could manage to repair it somehow down in Spearfish Lake this summer?"

"I'm sure I can find someone," Randy said with a grin. "It shouldn't be any big problem. Are you planning on taking all the books to Cornell with you, or just a year's worth?"

"No, I shan't need all the books, but I shall need several boxes of them," she said with a frown. "Unfortunately, they are not as well sorted as they should be. I suspect that I shall have to spend some time over the summer sorting out what I shall need and what I cannot do without, and I hope to spend some time cataloging them. It's difficult to even pack them up for such a short trip."

"Come on, it's what you've waited to do for four years now," Crystal laughed. "As I see it, you have three choices. You can get packing, you can sit here and dither about it, or you can turn your back and let us do it for you."

"I couldn't do that," she laughed. "How should I know what books are where?"

"Think of it as a white elephant hunt," Randy teased. "Think of all the fun you could have going through box after box looking for, oh, Jane Eyre."

"Unfortunately, I have had hunts such as that," Myleigh smiled. "They are ever so time consuming, for I keep finding other books, start thinking about them and paging through them, and it can take hours."

"Then you'd better get packing," Crystal told her. "Randy, we're burning daylight. What do you say we start getting stuff out of your room and down to your car?"

"Might as well," he said. "Although if there are any boxes of books here ready to go, I'd just as soon get them in first so they're on the bottom."

"Oh, much is ready to go," Myleigh told them. "You might as well get started."

"I think she planned it that way," Crystal grinned. "Leave herself to pack while we do all the heavy lifting."

"To each their talents," Myleigh said with an evil grin. "After all, I am a college graduate now, and I deserve the respect, unlike undergraduate beasts of burden."

There was a steady stream of students carrying things out the doors and down to the parking lot to load up. The cars were sitting noticeably lower on the axles by the time they'd made a dent in the pile in Crystal and Myleigh's room, and started in on the much smaller pile in Randy's room. "Leave the guitar," Randy told Crystal. "We might get the chance to play one last time tonight. I've got an overnight bag and some bed stuff we can leave here, too."

By this time of year, the evenings were getting long, but they were still working under street lights by the time they were down to the last of Randy's stuff, except for the few things he'd mentioned. "Still a little room left," he said, surveying the packed car.

"I don't know," Crystal said. "It's gonna be close."

"We might make it." Randy said. "Worse comes to worst, I can call Matt and have him come back up with the truck, and pick the extra up later in the summer. That'd be a pain in the butt, though."

"Don't forget, we've still got your kayak and the three surfboards."

"How could I forget those?" he laughed, shaking his head in the process. "God, our little surfer girl."

The third surfboard had been a bit of contention, back on spring break. After Myleigh had become a surfer, and had had a lot of fun with them in the Florida waves on spring break, Buddha had offered to give her the board that she'd liked the best, as a future graduation present to a fellow English lit person, and for being who she was. Ever touchy about taking gifts or charity, Myleigh had refused him -- gratefully and politely, but still it was a refusal. That hadn't slowed Buddha or the rest of them down a bit; Buddha suggested that the board was about what Randy was looking for as a beginner board to take home with him, and Randy made a show of paying him for it. Buddha knew by then that Myleigh was planning to spend the summer with Randy, and storing her things at the Clark's, so later that evening, when Myleigh hadn't been looking, he slipped the money back to Randy. Absolutely no one was fooled, including Myleigh.

But, she'd used the surfboard, too -- the last weekend before graduation, there had been a decent north blow, nothing extreme, so they'd taken Myleigh over to the PEIF, checked out a wetsuit, went down to Au Train and surfed a little, just so she could say that she'd surfed Superior. Crystal already had some photos printed to prove it.

"Yeah," Crystal grinned, "Who'd a thunk it, four years ago, even four months ago?"

"Let's use your roof rack for them," Randy suggested, getting back to business. "It's for sure the chair is going to have to go on top of the Dodge. I think my tiedowns are a little more solid."

"Doesn't matter, I guess," Crystal shrugged. "Let's knock it off for tonight and finish in the morning, when we can see something."

"Yeah, I guess," Randy agreed. "I'll swing by the room and get the guitar."

"You hungry at all?" Crystal asked. "I could take the Olds and go get us some burgers or subs or something."

"Yeah, why don't you?" Randy said, reaching for his wallet. "I'll even buy. Get something for Myleigh, too."

"I figured that," she said. "See you in a bit."

Randy drove the Dodge back out into the parking lot, bumping alarmingly as he drove over the curb. The lot was getting empty now, something it hadn't seen since Christmas break, and it was easy to find a place to park. He locked everything up, headed up to his room, and headed over to what was still Crystal and Myleigh's room, although it wouldn't be for much longer.

"How's it going?" he asked Myleigh as he walked in the door.

"It's coming," she said listlessly. "I do believe the end may be in sight."

"Yeah, it does look a little emptier in here," he told her. "Crystal went to get us something to eat."

"Good," she replied with a smile. "After that dinner I doubted I could eat a thing ever again, but I believe I'm actually getting hungry, now."

"Work will do that to you," he told her, finding a place to sit down on the lower bunk, which was still stacked up.

She looked silently at a half-filled box for a moment, then said a little vacantly, "Randy, you know this is very difficult for me."

"I figured that," he said gently.

She was silent again for a moment. "You know, I sat there on the arena floor today, all decked out in cap and gown and cape, and I could not help but remember the last time I graduated."

"I thought about that, too. It has to be a lot different this time."

"Worlds different," she told him. "Randy, the four happiest years of my life have been spent in this room, on this campus. They are years so much better than all the ones before that there can be no comparison. Now, I must leave this place, and despite everything, I cannot help but feel sad."

"I can understand, I think."

"I'm not sure you can," she said. "You would have had to have known me when I walked in that door four years ago next fall. Randy, I have never been so scared in my life. I got through the last few years of high school only on determination and anger, but the moment I fled the gymnasium I was filled with fear for what was to come."

She stopped for a moment, and Randy could see that a tear was rolling down her cheek. Finally, she gathered herself up a little, and continued, "I spent the summer filled with that fear. It was mostly fear that this place would be nothing more than a repeat of high school, with all the petty harassment, all the teasing, all the snickers, all the disrespect, all the hatred. I confess I do not know how I ever managed to walk in that door. I knew nothing of Crystal, nothing but her name and address, and I'd been unable to even contact her."

"You told me about that," he said gently. "Her mail was piling up in Glen Ellyn while she was at OLTA."

"Yes, and I didn't know that," she shook her head. "I was so fearful that she'd turn out to be another one of those arrogant jocks who had tormented me so. I walked in that door trembling with fear, and here stood this big, strong, tanned, self-confident girl . . . Randy, I was certain my worst fears had come true." She was seriously crying, now. "Randy, I've never even told Crystal this, but I had some sleeping pills I'd stolen from my cousin in my harp case. I almost walked back out the door to take them."

Randy got up, went over and sat down carefully on the arm of the big old overstuffed chair, and put his hand on her shoulder. She leaned against his side, and just let the tears roll. Finally, she managed to sob, "And she said . . . And she said . . . 'You got any ideas . . . how to make this place comfortable?'" She sobbed for a bit more. "The words were nothing," she finally managed to go on, "But there was something about the way she said them . . . I can't say I wasn't afraid anymore, because I was, but somehow I knew the situation was not beyond hope, and that we were in this together. It was later that afternoon, while we were driving around exploring the town, that we found this chair. By the time I went to bed that night, I knew I'd found the first real friend I'd ever had."

"She's been a good friend to you," he commented gently.

"Yes," Myleigh sobbed. "Randy, she saved my life that day, and I've always been ashamed to tell her."

"I don't think you need to tell her," he said. "I think she knows. Maybe not about the pills, but she knows. Why else have you two been such good friends?"

"Yes, God yes, I couldn't have imagined how badly I needed a friend, especially at that point," Myleigh said, pulling herself together a little. Randy, I'd been hurt so much that I'm surprised I could ever have trusted her enough to let her become my friend. Oh, I learned from her how to be friendly with people, but I never became close to anyone else until you came along." She sighed, and turned to look up at him. He put his arm around her as she continued, "That happened at the right time. I think any sooner would have been too soon, for I don't think I was ready yet to let someone else into my life. When we first got to know each other, you seemed, well, not very threatening, just kind and considerate and joyful, and it was nice to be casual with you. And then came that incident in the cafeteria, and I learned what a lion you could really be, and how sensitive a lion could be. You sat in this chair, not in triumphant victory, but in agony for having to do something that you did not want to do. I so wanted to tell you something that would soothe your pain, but I could think of nothing."

"But you did," he said soothingly as he remembered the pain of that day. "You said just the right thing. You said that I had to show people that I was above the pettiness. And you said, 'Believe me, I know.' By then I knew you well enough to have an idea of the hell you'd been through in high school, and that you knew what you were talking about. And, you were right. You gave me the courage to do something I wouldn't have done by myself."

"Randy, I knew you were troubled that day, but somehow it was as big a turning point in my life as the day I met Crystal. I know our tri-cornered relationship has been unconventional and uncomfortable for you, but you have daily proven just how sensitive and gentle and generous a lion you are. Randy, unlike with Crystal, I cannot say I could not have made it through here without you, but you have made the experience much happier and more complete."

"Thanks, Myleigh," he said. "You've done the same for me, and helped me in a lot of ways you'll never know. I can't tell you how much of an inspiration you've been to me, and there's no way I can ever thank you. I try to thank you every now and then, but sometimes it's hard, since you confuse friendship and charity. Believe me, I know you've had it hard, harder than I have, harder than I can imagine. But don't let that ever make you think that you're without friends, because you have some good ones, and more than you will admit to."

"Yes," she said, "And now, I shall be leaving my lions, and facing the unknown again, and I cannot help but remember the last time that happened, and be a little fearful."

"No need for that," he said. "You're not a scared little girl anymore, but a courageous, confident woman who still has friends she can turn to if she needs to. Understand?"

"Yes, my lion," she said. "But you'll be so far away."

"You'll still have something to comfort you, and remind you of your friends," he said. "I was going to wait for later and surprise you, but Crystal will be back any time now, and maybe we shouldn't let her see that you've been crying, so I'm going to tell you now."

"What?" she said, turning to look at him.

"I've known for a long time how much you love this chair, how it's a safe and comfortable retreat for you. But when we get down to Spearfish Lake, you're going to have to do without it for a few days."

"What?" she said again. "I don't understand."

"It's a special little graduation present to you," he smiled. "We've got to drop it off tomorrow afternoon after we get there. I'm going to have that leg fixed, and while it's in the shop, I'm going to have it reupholstered. You think you can manage to be without it for that long?"

"Randy, my lion, you don't have to do that."

"Oh, yes, I do," he said. "And don't you argue. It's a graduation present, after all."

"Well, under severe protest, I shall accept," she grinned.

"No protests allowed," he said. "The idea is to remind you that no matter how far away you are, you still have your lions, your friends who love you. Now, little Surfer Girl, you'd better go in the bathroom and dry those eyes and pull yourself together before Crystal gets back."

"Yes, my lion," she grinned. "I know there are some times I must obey you, lest I get my head bitten off."

~~~~~

Crystal returned a little while later, to find Randy busy with a screwdriver, tearing down collapsible bookshelves; Myleigh was still packing up books, while together they sang Horse With No Name. They ate a quick dinner from the bags of subs and chips and pop, sitting and talking and teasing as they'd done so many nights together, remembering good times they'd had and places they'd been.

Another hour of work after the empty wrappers went into the wastebasket found the work close to finished, about as much as could be done that night. Myleigh unpacked the harp, and Randy his guitar, and they sat one last evening and played favorites such as Golden Apples of the Sun, and Dawnwalker, and North Shore, and the others. Randy and Crystal even did one song that they'd practiced since spring break when Myleigh wasn't around, just in case Myleigh ever dared do The Ballad of Crystal and Randy in the lounge. She never had -- but if she had, Crystal and Randy had been ready to reply with Surfer Girl, at least a version with a few not-so-subtle modifications to make it clear who it was pointed at.

The hour grew late, and it was hard to quit playing, but finally, after midnight, knowing they had a long day coming, they put the instruments away, and Randy went back to his empty room to spend the night.

They were up early the next morning, had one last, lousy breakfast in the cafeteria, then went back up and finished the packing and loading of cars. Randy had already been through all the closets and drawers in his room, just to make sure nothing had been left behind except the few bits of college furniture, and he and Crystal stood in the hall while Myleigh made the final check in theirs. Carefully, she went through all the drawers in the desks and dressers, looked in the closets and the bathroom and under the bed.

Finding nothing, she turned out the light, walked out the door to her waiting friends, and didn't look back.



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