Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Karin wasn't looking forward to Christmas break. Not one bit.
She thought about it as she drove home from Heller-Aller on the day she expected the girls home, and the prospects didn't seem bright. She knew Crystal and Nanci had barely been on speaking terms for months. Thanksgiving had been pretty sullen; only Crystal working on packing her things while Nanci was gone with friends much of the time had kept the tensions to a reasonable level. But, there had been enough tensions to hold her for a while, and now it was going to be almost a month before Nanci headed back to Northern, not just four days. The chances of getting through it without a major blowout seemed to be slim to none, and only then if Pete kept his temper. He hadn't been very good about it since the first calls had started coming from Marquette in September.
It wasn't as if Crystal hadn't warned them about Nanci, but Karin hadn't expected it to be quite that bad. In the beginning, she'd been willing to overlook some of it, figuring that the girl had to grow up some time, but then there had come the business about the car in October. Karin thought Nanci had been utterly irresponsible and Crystal had done the right thing -- after all, she did need the car to get to her student teaching. But, Pete hadn't seen it that way, and seemed to think that it had been Crystal who had been unyielding and irresponsible.
Pete had been absolutely fuming when he arrived home the Thursday after the car incident. "You won't believe what Crystal accused Nanci of doing this time," he told her. As far as he was concerned, it was all Crystal's fault -- he couldn't explain why, and she couldn't pin him down, but Crystal had let Nanci run wild, or Crystal had been too hard on her, or something. Only a call from the hockey coach that evening had put things into a little perspective. The coach hadn't quite come out and said Nanci was working her way through the hockey team, but he did say that Nanci had been acting way out of line in his opinion. He'd try to keep things under control, if only to keep Crystal from maiming his starting lineup.
"You didn't tell me about that part," Karin asked after the phone call was over with.
"Apparently Crystal thinks violence can solve anything," Pete replied heatedly. "She apparently threatened this guy's life if he had anything to do with Nanci. That wasn't quite the words she used."
"That doesn't quite sound like Crystal," Karin had frowned. "What were her exact words?"
"I don't want to repeat them," he said. "They were pretty foul."
"Go ahead. I'm a big girl, you know."
"Oh, all right," he grumped. "What Crystal said she told this guy is that if she caught any hockey player fucking Nanci, he'd be wearing his balls for a necktie."
"That's quite a bit different from what you said before," Karin observed, trying to stay calm. "According to this man who just called, apparently Nanci is running a little wild up there. You wanted Crystal to try and keep her under control."
"She's not doing it too well if she has to resort to threats like that," Pete said heatedly.
"That's probably true," Karin conceded, although for different reasons than Pete, obviously, "Especially, considering Nanci's midterm grades."
"Have you heard what they are?" Pete frowned.
"Well, sort of," Karin smiled. "Nanci didn't tell me, but there was a letter from the college that arrived today. For some reason, they sent it here, rather than to her."
"Did you open it?"
"Of course not," Karin grinned. "It's addressed to her. But if you hold it up against a strong light and read backwards, it's easy to make out that her best grade is a 'C.' and, she's got two 'F's."
"Jesus H. Christ!" Pete exploded. Can't Crystal get her to study at all?"
"Apparently Nanci has been missing a lot of classes in the morning, when Crystal has her student teaching," Karin replied unapologetically. "You can't expect Crystal to stand over her with a whip all the time. I think Crystal has been trying to keep Nanci on track, and we haven't been helping her very much."
"She needs help, that's for sure," Pete said. "Damn, can't that girl take any responsibility?" Karin was sure he was talking about Crystal, not Nanci. "You got any ideas?"
"I think we'd better have a talk with Crystal," Karin said. "Both of us. She may have a better idea of the problem."
The resulting phone call later that night hadn't been pleasant, and would have been better if Pete hadn't been trying to pick a fight with Crystal every step of the way. At least the phone call had some positive results, with the idea of having Nanci check in morning and evening. Things hadn't been much better when Crystal called back at three in the morning, saying that Nanci had just come in but was too drunk to talk to them, and that set Pete going again. The solution of the regular phone calls seemed pretty extreme, and they were an enormous pain in the butt, but at least they seemed to have kept the lid on for the last two months. However, Karin knew that the subject was sure to come up again over Christmas.
If only Pete weren't so damn negative about Crystal! According to him, it was all her fault, and Karin thought some of it might have been. After all, Crystal had been pretty negative about Nanci going to Northern, and maybe that had accounted for some of the problem. Even so, she was still being proved right, and it was working out just about as bad as she'd warned them. And, like she'd warned them, she was being blamed for it, whatever she may have contributed to the problem.
In any case, Pete was still way out of line. He and Crystal had never gotten along particularly well, although better than some fathers and daughters Karin knew about, but they'd been increasingly at odds for years, since about the time Crystal had been going to the Adventure Camps at the Y. The past year or so the relationship had been going downhill much more quickly than it had in the past. Karin couldn't help but wonder if Pete somehow sensed the difference between Crystal and their other two children, perhaps perceiving the Al in her she'd never dared tell him about. On the other hand, there was a world of difference between Jon and Nanci, too, but that didn't explain why Pete usually took Nanci's side in a dispute, even if she was clearly in the wrong.
About the only hope Karin had of any semblance of peace in the family came from the fact that Crystal wasn't going back to Northern after the break. In fact, Karin had no idea of what she planned to do, but suspected Crystal had been packing her things with a purpose in mind.
Things were different when Karin drove into the driveway. The red Camry was gone, and Crystal's old gray Cutlass Ciera was parked next to the house, surfboard still lashed on top. It looks like Nanci didn't waste any time getting away, she thought as she pulled her car into the garage and closed the door.
She found Crystal in her room, or, at least, what had once been her room; there were few signs of her presence after her cleaning and packing festival over Thanksgiving. Crystal was sitting on the bed, with what she recognized as backpacking gear spread out on it. "You made it back, I see," Karin commented.
"Yeah, and in one piece, too," Crystal said in a depressed tone.
"Out someplace. Who knows?" she shrugged. "I told her she had to haul her crap inside or I'd let it sit out in the rain. She did manage to stick around for that."
Karin glanced through the open door of Nanci's room; sure enough, there were several bags, just dumped on the floor and on the bed.
"How'd it go?"
"Long trip," Crystal shook her head. "Nanci and I didn't have much to talk about besides the rain, and once you get past the fact that it's wet, there's not much more to say."
"Well, cheer up," Karin said, spitting into the wind, "It's over now. Did you get your diploma?"
"Yeah, for what it's worth," Crystal sighed. "I'm now a college graduate. With that and a buck I ought to be able to get a cup of coffee somewhere."
"Crystal, it's something to be proud of."
"Yeah, I wish I felt better about it," she sighed again. "This semester was about as bad as the other four years were good. Randy and Matt and Gary tried to help me get through it, but they're probably just as glad to see me gone, too."
"Matt is Randy's roomie. Big Yooper. Gary's the guy who's going to be taking over the paddling chair at the Outdoor Club. He was a guide with me down at Ocoee Adventures last summer. Mom, I'm sorry, I guess I feel pretty alone, right now. First Myleigh goes, then Randy's gone, and I come down here and you're about the only halfway friendly face I have."
"Crystal, I'm sorry it had to work out this way," Karin said. "I know you tried to warn us. At least it's over, now."
"Yeah, she's your problem now," Crystal said, picking up an unidentifiable item and stuffing it in her backpack. "You won't have anybody to blame but her and yourselves. Oh, I know Dad will try to blame me, just like I said. He's done enough of it already."
This subject was going nowhere fast, Karin realized. "So, what are you going to do now?" she asked, "Look for work?"
"Mostly try to put the last four months behind me," Crystal said dejectedly, continuing to pack gear in the pack. "Myleigh goes on break in a couple days. I sort of figured on staying around here to do the Christmas bit, if I can last that long, then I'm going to head over and see her. Maybe that'll help."
"How about after that? I know they're looking for teachers in the city."
"Not interested," she shook her head. "The biggest reason is that it's in a city. All the jobs they have open would be in some damn ghetto school that everybody wants to get out of as quick as they can. Besides, right now, I'm pretty sick of classrooms."
"You must have some plans."
"Yeah, I do," she said. "I plan on heading down to Florida when Myleigh's break ends. Look, Mom, I'm not going to teach in some city, here or anywhere. I'm not made like that. I'm out of phase with the hiring cycle, so I figure on taking the next few months to get over the last few. Maybe I'll sub someplace, maybe not. Mostly, I want to look for some place where I can like to live." She stopped for a moment, and looked at the floor. "Look, Mom, no promises, but that place might be Spearfish Lake."
"Maybe," she said slowly, "Maybe not. We haven't made any promises, or anything, and there's nothing that can be done about it before spring, now. Maybe I'll feel differently, then. Maybe he will. Who knows?"
"You know I wouldn't be unhappy if you were to wind up with him. He's a nice boy, from a good family."
"Yeah, he's been awful good to me, and his folks are pretty cool, too. God, when we said goodbye this morning, it seemed like I was leaving my other best friend behind forever." Only a few pieces of gear were left on the bed now, whatever Crystal was doing with them.
"What are you doing?" Karin asked, the curiosity finally overcoming her.
"Getting my stuff together," Crystal said dejectedly. "Isn't Dad supposed to be home by now?"
"It'll be a little while, yet," she replied. "He took off early to go pick up Jon at the airport."
"How's Jon getting along?" Crystal asked. "Jeez, I haven't seen him since last spring."
"Pretty good," Karin smiled. "He made the honors list again at midterms, but we haven't heard about finals yet."
"Doesn't surprise me," Crystal smiled as the last items went into the pack and she lashed it closed. "I honestly think that Georgia Tech was a pretty good move for him. I know I was on the Dean's List this semester, and I might even be on the bubble for Cum Laude, not that it counts for anything."
"That's wonderful," Karin said. Crystal hadn't exactly been a top-of-the-line student in high school, but her grades had been better in college, especially the last couple years.
"I suppose," Crystal said listlessly. "Like I said, it doesn't really matter a whole lot, now."
"Do you have any idea what Nanci's grades were like? She hasn't told us."
"I don't know; she hasn't told me, either," Crystal replied. "Not good, that's for sure. Expect the words 'academic probation' to come up. It helps if you go to class once in a while."
"Didn't my calling every morning help?"
"I have no idea," Crystal said sullenly. "Remember, I was over in Munising every morning, but you gotta figure there were times she rolled right back over and went back to sleep. There were a couple mornings she hadn't gotten up when I got back from Munising."
"Didn't you say something?"
"Of course I said something," Crystal said angrily. "I yelled and I bitched and I screamed at her, for what good it did. I didn't bother to tell you about it, since I figured you guys wouldn't believe me, anyway, what with Dad thinking that his little fair-haired Nanci could do no wrong and I can't do anything right."
"He doesn't feel that way," Karin said, trying to make peace.
"Horseshit. I've heard him on the phone with Nanci enough. Mom, look, I'd like to have a nice family Christmas, but I'm not hanging around here if he's only going to be on my ass all the time. I've had enough grief this semester to last me for a bitch of a long time, and I don't have to sit here and take it. I kept up my end of the deal."
"Crystal, I think you're being very pessimistic."
"I hope I am, Mom," she said, getting to her feet and hoisting the pack with both straps over one shoulder. "I'm going to run this out to the car."
"I'm going to go get out of these heels and start supper," Karin said. "Come out and join me."
"I will in a minute," Crystal replied, heading for the door. "I want to take a quick pass through the basement, first."
It was good to get out of the skirt and heels, out of the office blouse, and get on a comfortable pair of slacks and a sweater, but that was about all the good that Karin felt. Crystal was certainly being negative and morose, and the feeling was catching. By the time she made it out to the kitchen, she heard Crystal rummaging around in the basement, to what purpose, she wasn't sure, but after a while, Crystal came back up the stairs with one more box in hand, and wordlessly carried it out to the Olds.
A minute or two later, she came back in, got a can of Coke from the refrigerator, and found a place at the kitchen table. "You haven't found any more of Myleigh's stuff around here, have you?" she asked.
"No, Myleigh and Randy came down last summer and cleaned it all out. I was surprised that much had accumulated here."
"That's what she said, but I thought I better ask to be sure," Crystal said listlessly. "Damn, it's going to be good to see her again. I miss her a lot."
"Is she getting along any better with her parents?"
"Not that I'm aware of. As far as I know, she hasn't seen them for a long time."
"Was there any reaction to that graduation photo Randy took?"
Crystal snickered, "Not that I'm aware of. Mom, look, thanks to you for being good to her. She needed it bad."
"Yes, that's sad," Karin nodded. "It's too bad they can't settle their differences."
"They don't seem to want to, and Myleigh reached the point long ago where she doesn't care. I can't say that I blame her."
"You'd think that they'd be proud of her, especially graduating Summa Cum Laude. I really don't understand that."
"I guess she didn't turn out to be the person they wanted her to be," Crystal said thoughtfully. "But, she's managing to do what she wants to do on her own, no matter what they think of her. I think that's why she's been such an inspiration to me. I don't think I'd have gotten the kind of grades I made the last few years without her example." She was silent for a moment, and then added, "Damn it, I tried to set a good example for Nanci, for what good it did me. I really did, Mom. She just wasn't going to listen to me. At least I was smart enough to listen to what Myleigh was trying to teach me."
"I'm sorry, Crystal," Karin shook her head. "I wish we had known it was going to turn out like this. I know you tried to tell us, but like we told you last winter, there were reasons to do it the way we did. They didn't prove to be very good ones, and I'll admit that. Now, let's change the subject."
"OK," Crystal said. "I wish I didn't have to brood over it, anyway. What's for dinner?"
"Pork chops," Karin said. "Your father suggested them, since they're Jon's favorite and it's his first night home."
Crystal shook her head in resignation. "Boy, doesn't that just say it all?" she said quietly. "I'd be happy if I never saw another pork chop in my life," she continued, getting angrier as she spoke. "I mean, I just graduated today, Cum Laude, maybe even, and a steak would have been nice to celebrate. But no, we have to have Jon's favorite. I guess that shows where I stand around here."
"I'm sorry, Crystal," Karin said again. She seemed to be saying it an awful lot in the last few minutes. "I wasn't thinking. They're already thawed. We can have steak tomorrow night."
Crystal shook her head. "Don't bother, Mom," she said sullenly. "The point has been made."
"Crystal, you shouldn't feel that way."
"And why not?" she said angrily. "Hell, unless I've miscounted, you two have been down to Atlanta to see Jon more in a year and a half than you ever came up to Marquette to see me, and it's only maybe a quarter as far. You wouldn't have even come the last time if it hadn't been for Nanci. Like I said, I learned a long time ago where I stand around here."
"All right, Crystal, I'll throw out the pork chops and thaw some steaks in the microwave."
"Don't bother," Crystal said. "It's not the damn pork chops, anyway, it's the principle of the thing."
There could have been no worse time to hear the garage door opener, with Crystal in a mood like that. Karin knew she should dash out to the garage and warn Pete and Jon that Crystal was in a very bad mood and they should be careful about what they said, but then she needed to find some way to calm her daughter down in the next couple minutes, too. But, she couldn't think of much to say. All she could come up with was, "Crystal, please try to keep your temper. I don't want a fight the first minute."
"If there is, it won't be because I started it," she promised. It wasn't much, but it would have to do.
As it turned out, Jon was the first one in the door, carrying a couple of bags. "Hi, Bro! Mom tells me you've been doing real well down there." Crystal smiled brightly, showing no evidence of her tantrum of a few seconds before. Karin inwardly let out a sigh of relief.
"It's been OK," he said. "I take it you graduated all right?"
"Cum Laude, maybe," Crystal grinned. "It depends on the difference between an 'A-' and an 'A,' and I hadn't heard when I left."
"Hey, that's great," Jon said.
"Yeah, you must have been doing something useful up there this fall," Pete grumped. He might have been able to get away with that line if he'd smiled when he'd said it, but in an instant the hopeful feeling that had been building inside Karin collapsed. She cringed, anticipating Crystal's response.
"I thought I did pretty good, considering all the distractions," Crystal said sharply, but not quite sharply enough that Pete picked up on it. Maybe there was still hope.
"Where's Nanci anyway?" Pete asked no one in particular. "I see her car's gone."
Before her daughter could say anything, Karin replied quickly, "Crystal said she'd gone somewhere before I got home."
"She should have been here," Pete frowned. "Crystal, you should have told her to stick around."
"Why should I?" Crystal said angrily. Karin got a sinking feeling. "According to you, she's a big girl."
"Did she say where she was going?" Pete asked, still not picking up the message. Karin wished there were some way she could warn him that major trouble was only a few wrong words away. "You should have told her she should have been here for us to get home," he said sharply. "Crystal, don't you have any sense of responsibility at all? It's that kind of attitude that caused all the trouble this last year."
With the mood that Crystal was in, Karin wouldn't have been surprised to see her deck Pete, but she was amazed that her daughter remained calm. But, she could see it was the calm of restrained rage. "You know, I told you last year that if you sent Nanci to Northern she was going to screw up," Crystal said in a level voice. "I told you I wasn't going to take the blame for it. And, I'm not. Jon, good seeing you again, sorry it couldn't have been longer. You hang in there. Mom, see you sometime. Dad, enjoy your fucking pork chops. Oh, and tell Nanci to fuck off for me, will you?"
"Crystal, I won't let you talk to me that way," Pete said angrily.
"You and what army are going to stop me?" Crystal said, visibly tensing. They stared each other down for an instant. Karin could see that Pete was ready to hit her, but she could also see him hesitate, perhaps realizing what would happen if he tried. The hesitation was all Crystal needed. All of a sudden the kitchen door slammed behind her as she headed out. In seconds, they could hear her car starting.
"What was that all about?" Jon asked.
"She was in a very, very bad mood," Karin said, stunned by how quickly it had happened. "Couldn't you have even said one nice word before getting critical?"
"She'll get over it," Pete said in a huff. "I'll talk with her when she gets back."
In an instant, all of the pieces fell together for Karin: Crystal's sorting and packing her things all through Thanksgiving weekend, the stuff being loaded in the car this afternoon, even the surfboard still being lashed to the top. Now that she thought about it, she remembered that there had been two piles of boxes and bags and things sitting in Crystal's room after Thanksgiving, but when she'd been in there this afternoon, there had been only one pile. And, dishearteningly, she realized what the conversation at the kitchen table had been all about a few minutes before, especially the part about Myleigh's parents. Crystal had been expecting exactly what happened, and had been prepared for it.
Karin glanced out the window, and saw the taillights of the Olds disappear down the street. "No," she said sadly with the realization, but mentally wishing her daughter luck, and wondered when, or even if, she'd be seeing her again. "She won't be back soon."