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 46

Randy and Nicole had a hectic few hours late on Monday and Tuesday getting gear together for the trip from attics, basements, and storerooms, as well as summer clothes that had been packed away for the winter. The two of them took a couple hours late on Christmas afternoon to finish loading the Dodge so they could get away early the next morning. As they were finishing, Randy's dad came out to check things out, took one look at the Dodge, and grinned, "Looks like Surfin' Safari to me."

"That's what it's supposed to look like," Randy laughed.

Since there was no need to go through the Chicago area this trip -- in fact, Randy wanted to avoid the place a little more than usual -- he and Nicole took a little longer route than in the past. It had the advantage of also missing Indianapolis and Cincinnati, at the expense of adding on Nashville and Atlanta, but he'd have gone through Atlanta anyway since they weren't going near Ducktown on this trip.

With little discussion on their parts, he and Nicole decided to take their time and not push the driving too hard, if for no other reason than to be able to make two night stops. The first came in southern Illinois, and the second in southern Georgia. In both cases, they'd stopped and gone to bed fairly early, and gotten to sleep fairly late.

The best thing that had come out of two long days in the Dodge with Nicole was that they'd been able to talk, and surprisingly, with much more detachment and frankness than they ever had before. There was a lot less room for secrets between them than before. Randy told Nicole about Myleigh, some of what he knew of her hassles with her parents, and her high school graduation speech, of how she'd blossomed in the time that he'd known her. He also told her a lot about Crystal, all the hassles that Crystal had over the previous months with Nanci. He told her about Crystal's rafting, kayaking, surfing, and climbing that he knew about, along with some other things that he knew she'd done that they hadn't done together.

Randy also told Nicole something of Crystal's plans, including doing the Appalachian Trail in the spring. He knew quite a bit about that, having spent odd times in the last year talking with Crystal about her plans, the food drops, the places she planned to visit, helping her where he could.

"That really sounds like fun," Nicole commented. "I wouldn't want to do it all summer, but spending a week or two on the Appalachian Trail would be great."

Randy hadn't known before Monday that Nicole was into backpacking at all. She wasn't into it the way Crystal was, but she agreed it would be a heck of an adventure. "Yeah," he said. "I envy Crystal being able to spend a summer doing it. There's no way in hell I'll ever get the chance, now."

"That's one thing about being a teacher," Nicole said. "You get the summers off. Maybe I ought to think about a big adventure some summer."

"Better do it before you get to the point where you have a husband and kids and all that happy horseshit," Randy said. "That's one of the things I admire about those two. They know where their priorities are."

"I want to do it someday, too," Nicole told him. "But I'm not anxious to do it soon."

There weren't even patches of snow when they got very far south of Spearfish Lake, but the trees stayed naked and ugly, and the skies were uniformly overcast and gray. Jackets still seemed like a good idea when they made their second night stop, well down in Georgia. "Jeez, I hope it warms up some, or this is going to be a winter camping trip," Nicole commented as they got going the third morning.

They still had a few hundred miles to go, but it began to warm up considerably. They began to see more green on the trees as they crossed into Florida, and after a while, the sun got up to the point where it actually felt warm outside, at least to their winter-conditioned bodies. Randy finally peeled down to a T-shirt. Four months ago, he'd been very tanned, but he was now winter-white, and made a mental note to not spare the sunscreen. The surf wasn't running very high as they drove down A1A toward Buddha and Giselle's, but it looked inviting, and he was anxious to get out into it.

They found Crystal and Myleigh sitting out under the awning, talking with Buddha and Giselle. It was good to see them again. "Randy," Buddha grinned in his expansive way, "I see you've brought yet another of your lovely friends. Sometime, I've got to ask you how you do it."

"Easy," Randy grinned, holding out his white arms. "It's that Lake Superior surfer tan."

Buddha laughed, and stuck his hand out to Nicole. "You must be Nicole. Myleigh has told me a lot about you."

"With that head, you've got to be Buddha," she said. "Randy's told me a lot about you, too."

"You want to try surfing, I take it."

"Randy and Myleigh had me out one day last summer. I got to play with it for a while, and I think I can learn," she said modestly.

"That's the first hurdle, right there," Buddha laughed. "Myleigh also says you snowboard, right?"

"Yeah, some," she said. "Not this winter. No snow."

"That does pose a problem, doesn't it?" he said. "Randy, Crystal said you were going to see about wetsuits for Myleigh and Nicole."

"Done deal," Randy said, as much for the girl's sake as any. "Both are even cut for women. I got one for Myleigh from Joe's wife," -- her name was Nancy, and he wasn't about to use the word -- "And Joe set us up to have Nicole borrow one from Tiffany Archer. You remember her, Crystal?"

"The dogsled racer, right?" Crystal said, a little surprised. "Of course I remember her."

"They're off to Alaska in a couple weeks," Randy said. "She won't need it for a while. How's the surf been?"

"Not bad," Buddha told him. "Down a little today, but good beginner stuff. Nicole, maybe we ought to get you out this afternoon before it perks up."

"Well, I wouldn't mind tuning up in little stuff a bit," Randy said. "It's been a couple months."

"I was out this morning," Crystal reported. "It's a little cool for here, but on Superior we'd call this warm."

"Why don't you go out back and get camp set up?" Buddha suggested. "We can head out when you're ready."

"Meet you out back," Crystal said, getting up.

"I'll be along in a minute," Myleigh said. As soon as Crystal was out of earshot, she said softly to Randy and Nicole, "Don't even mention Nanci or her parents. She has been very sensitive."

"Figured that," Randy said. "I thought I'd better wait and see how the wind was blowing. I told Nicole, too."

"I rather thought you would," Myleigh told them. "It has been very difficult. I'm hoping the activity will do her good."

There was some confusion for a while getting gear distributed around and tents set up, but in an hour or so all four of them were down on the beach with Buddha. Randy, Crystal, and Myleigh went out to mess around in the waves, while Buddha worked with Nicole one on one using one of his easier boards. It didn't take them long for her to get out of the shore slop and into what offshore break there was. Perhaps it was the snowboarding or the little bit of previous experience, but Nicole started to pick up surfing faster than Randy had, and before the session had ended she was managing to get on the shoulder of waves and hold them for a while. The water was colder than on Randy's previous visits, and they couldn't stay out as long, so eventually they headed to shore and went back to the tents, where Crystal made lunch. "We usually let Crystal do the cooking," Randy told Nicole. "She's just plain better with a camp stove than either Myleigh or I."

"I'll help," Nicole offered. "I'm not bad. All those damn Girl Scouts."

"I'd appreciate it," Crystal said. "These two bozos couldn't light a gas stove to save their asses."

"I can too light a gas stove," Randy said. "I just burn everything but water with one."

As it turned out, Nicole did quite a bit of the lunch work, while the four warmed up as they sat around and talked, steering clear of sensitive topics, of course. That meant there was quite a bit of recent news that couldn't be mentioned, so it was easier for Nicole. "This is pretty much what we do when we're down here," Randy explained. "Surf, warm up in the sun, surf some more, eat, surf, and more of same; then we sit around in the evening, eat, sometimes with Buddha and Giselle, have a campfire, play some music, then get up early and do it all over again."

"Don't forget sitting around and listening to Buddha and Myleigh trying to outtalk each other," Crystal teased. "That may be the most fun of all. Nicole, you'll see what I mean."

"It sounds better than sitting at home, watching TV, and waiting for break to be over with," Nicole said. "I kind of think I'm starting to get the hang of it."

"You're coming along," Crystal grinned. "Randy, you like to bet that you'll be taking three boards back with you?"

"Wouldn't surprise me in the slightest," he said. "The big thing is to figure out how to get Nicole up to Superior for some storm surfing some time."

"I don't know about that," Nicole said. "It sounds sort of cold to me."

"Yeah," Crystal teased. "But you become sort of a legend that way. People will know you're crazy, then."

"I thought Randy was crazy when he mentioned it the first time," Nicole grinned. "I'm still not sure."

"Oh, we know Randy is a couple shovelfuls short of a load of concrete," Crystal said. "That's why we've hung around with him."

"Well, I'd have to be a little off to hang around with the three of you," he said. "But I don't mind."

After lunch, they headed out to the beach again. Buddha had a couple other new surfers show up, and he was out giving them a demonstration, so Giselle took Nicole in hand, and after another hour or two, Nicole was getting more confident and stayed out to play with the other three of them -- even after Giselle went in. The afternoon was warm by now, and they lay on the beach for a while, catching some sun, then went surfing again. Eventually, the sun got low -- the days were shorter than in March -- and they headed back up for the evening. Giselle had prepared an excellent dinner, as usual, and they sat around in the back yard. After a while, Myleigh got out the harp, and Randy his guitar. They'd had no chance to practice together for months, and it was a little ragged, especially when Myleigh showed off some of the jazzier pieces she'd picked up from Jennifer over the summer. They talked about one thing and another until time to head over to the tents and go to bed.

It was still half-dark when Randy awoke. He was the first one up, and didn't feel much like going back to bed, so he fired up some coffee and sat in the half-light, waiting for the sun to come up. So far, this was working out better than he'd hoped. Nicole seemed to be having a good time and was fitting in well with the two other girls. It wouldn't have worked if he hadn't been completely honest with Nicole, and that was for the good, too. In spite of how much he liked Crystal and Myleigh, they had started to represent his past, while Nicole perhaps represented his future; and more and more he was comfortable with the idea. Maybe this is what he needed to help make the transition.

Crystal seemed to be in good spirits, all things considered, bright and laughing like he remembered before the last semester, but he hadn't needed Myleigh to tell him that there were areas there he didn't want to get into. Somehow, while they were here in Florida, he needed to get Crystal off to the side and tell her he'd do what he could to help, but the chance to do that hadn't come yet, and it wouldn't matter if it waited for a few days.

Presently, Nicole got up and joined him. "You sleep all right?" he asked as he poured her a cup of coffee.

"Finally, I think," she said. "God, what a racket!"

"Uhhhh, yeah," Randy grinned. "I guess I did forget to mention one of the downsides to this trip."

"Crystal spent four years living with that?" she asked incredulously.

"Got used to it, I guess," he said. "You notice I pitched my tent away from you girls a bit. Shovelhead says it can be fixed when she can afford the surgery. That probably won't be for a few years. Myleigh has to squeeze the dimes pretty tight."

"That's a shame. She's such a sweet person. Crystal is pretty cool, too. I'm glad you talked me into this."

"Seems to be working out," he told her. "You seem to be catching on to the surfing pretty easily."

"Yeah, it seems to be," she replied. "I'm looking forward to trying it on bigger waves."

"We'll have them," he said. "I was out across the road, and it's perked up some, like Buddha said it would. Hey, look, like I mentioned yesterday, we mostly surf and hang out. If it starts getting dull, let me know, and we'll take a day off and go do something else."

"We'll see," she snickered. "You know what's funny?"

"What?" he grinned.

"I'm looking forward to going back to school, you know? I'll ask the kids I know what they did over Christmas, and it'll be watch a lot of TV, maybe go out a couple times, nothing much. I've heard it before. I can't wait to see the expressions I'm going to get when I say I spent two weeks in Florida, getting a tan and surfing with my boyfriend and his two other girlfriends."

Randy shook his head in quiet laughter. "You know, when you say it that way, it sounds pretty ridiculous."

"Yeah," she said. "That's the point. We've got to get some pictures, or they'll never believe me."

"We'll get some," he said. "Crystal probably has her camera, and it has a pretty good telephoto. I brought mine, too, but it's nothing much." He glanced up, to see movement in Crystal's tent. In a moment, he saw her crawl out of the tent wearing a bikini, and head for the outhouse. "Coffee's hot, when you're ready," he told her.

"Thanks, Randy," she said. "I'll be along in a minute."

She soon joined them, having pulled on a sweatshirt over her bikini. "You sleep all right, Nicole?" she asked. "Myleigh can be a little hard to get used to."

"It wasn't too bad," Nicole said diplomatically.

"It's been good to see her again," Crystal said. "She's been a good friend, but we probably won't be crossing trails very much in the future."

"Yeah, none of us," Randy said. "We're in extra innings on this trip."

"You two figuring on coming down here for spring break?" Crystal asked.

"No," Nicole told her. "We don't break the same week."

"How about you, Randy?"

"No point in it if it's just going to be me," he said. "Aren't you going to want to be on the trail by then?"

"Pretty close to then," she said. "Look, in spite of what happened, and I know Myleigh asked you not to say anything, my plans really haven't changed from last fall. After you take Myleigh back, I'm going to go down to that place in the Keys we checked out last spring, and spend a couple months doing scuba and walking, to try to get ready for the trail. Nicole, I don't know if Randy told you, but I'm going to be doing the Appalachian Trail this summer."

"He told me," Nicole said. "I think it sounds neat. It's nice to think about doing it myself, but I don't think I'd be up for all summer yet."

"I think I am," Crystal said. "I've waited for years to do it. Randy, you remember Scooter?"

"Up at NOC the day we ran Lesser Wesser? Sure."

"Myleigh and I stopped off to see her on the way down. We talked about it last summer, and hiked together a bit. She's going to at least start with me. She still has knee troubles, and if they give her any problem, she's going to drop out at NOC."

"Sounds like a good idea," he said. "Get you through the opening hassles."

"That's what I thought," she agreed. "She's been working on rehabbing her knees, and she hopes maybe she can go all the way without having to stop for a month in the middle. Anyway, Randy, this deal with my folks has screwed things up a little. My original plan was to pick Jon up in Atlanta, have him drop us off at Amicola Falls, and then drive my car home when he went back in the spring. I can't do that now for obvious reasons, mostly because I don't want my car and my stuff sitting around Glen Ellyn all summer."

"So you want me to do it."

"Yeah," Crystal said. "There's other ways to do it, like I could have Tom or someone from Ocoee Adventures do it, but that means the car sits around Ducktown all summer, and there's too good a chance for it to get loused up. At least in Spearfish Lake, you could keep an eye on it. I figure you could leave your board here, then fly down when you go on break, and I'll meet you at maybe Orlando. We can get a few days in here, and then drive up and pick up Scooter."

"That'd work," he said. "But . . ."

"I get it," Crystal said. "Nicole, I don't know what the deal is with you and Randy, but you get a say in this too, as far as I'm concerned. If you've got any problems, I'll work out something else."

"Fine with me," Nicole said without hesitation. "Look, Crystal. I don't know if Randy has told you or what, but we have an agreement to not make any promises we can't keep, until we're ready to keep them. That won't be before a year from next spring, at the earliest, and maybe not then."

"Funny, you should say that." Crystal laughed. "That sounds about like the agreement Myleigh and I have with him, although not quite in those words. Gotta be that Lake Superior surfer tan."

"Must be," Nicole grinned. "Seriously, Crystal, I'd rather know about it up front than have to have you and him sneak around. In fact, my only problem is envying you getting to do the AT. I wish I could do it, but I'd have to cut a semester, and I'm running a year over now, thanks to changing majors twice. And, I've got to work this summer again, and that'll chew up two months right in the middle."

"Well, come join us for a while," Crystal offered. "Scooter and I plan to move along pretty good, but if her knees go bad, we may not be going very fast."

"I move along pretty good," Nicole told her. "I usually go pretty light."

"How light?" Crystal asked. Randy could see the OLTA look in her eye.

"I did a week on Isle Royale two years ago last May on thirty-two pounds, loaded," she replied.

"I didn't know that," Randy said. This really did come as a surprise. Nicole had mentioned doing some backpacking once or twice, and had the gear, but he'd never heard about Isle Royale.

"I guess I never mentioned it," Nicole told him. "Come to think of it, I guess I never saw you that summer at all. One of the kids I know from school and I took off right after school broke. We did the Greenstone in five days, and we weren't really pushing very hard. Kinda neat up there in the spring. All the animals have babies."

"Well," Crystal said, visibly impressed. "I guess you could hack a week or two on the AT."

"It'd have to be along in the second half of May," Nicole said. "How does that fit in with your plans?"

"We'll be up in Virginia somewhere, if things go right," Crystal said. "That's a little easier going than down south. Mid-May, I'd hope to be hitting Shenandoah National Park. We're planning on going pretty light through there ourselves. You can get food there pretty often, so we won't have to carry a big pack load."

"I'm sold," Nicole said. "We'll have to work out some sort of a shuttle for me, and some place to meet."

"Can't do that till we're pretty close to when we're gonna meet," Crystal told her. "I'll just have to call you and tell you where to meet us. The shuttle, we'll have to figure something out. Maybe Randy can help."

"Count me out of this one," Randy smiled. "I figure on being up to my ass in new elementary school addition around then."

"Bummer when you have to work, isn't it?" Crystal smiled. "Look, Nicole, later today, when it warms up a little, let's get out my trail maps and see if we can figure something out."

"Great," Nicole said. "Randy, you look like you're about to blow up trying to keep from laughing. What's so funny?"

"This takes the prize," Randy said. "Nicole, back in high school you never struck me as much of an outdoors girl, but then I wasn't that much of an outdoors guy. Now, all I've got to say is don't let Crystal start chewing on your ear about OLTA."

"OLTA?" Nicole said, eyes wide. "You went through OLTA, Crystal?"

"Yeah," Crystal said. "Right out of high school. It was pretty cool."

Randy broke out laughing, out loud this time. "You know, most people would think this whole deal we all have together is pretty strange, I guess, but I never expected my girlfriend to steal my girlfriend so they could go hiking together."



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