Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
There was a rather insistent knocking on the door.
Jon Chladek wanted to ignore it. It was about as inconvenient a time as he could imagine. Lying there on the bed in his dorm room with his arms around Tanisha, he'd managed, for only the second time, to get her brassiere unfastened. He had just begun to explore the soft and warm wonders of the naked skin of her breast, which was still covered by her sweater. He hadn't expected to get much further today, and getting on the scoreboard was out of the question, but still . . . why the hell now, of all the damn times?
The knocking came again. It couldn't be his roomie, he thought; he was supposed to be out with his girlfriend till late, which is why he and Tanisha had taken the opportunity. But, Jon was the kind of guy who answered the door, even at times like these; it might be important. He pulled his lips away from hers and whispered, "I better go see."
"OK," she whispered back, slipping her arms from beneath his sweatshirt. God, how nice it felt to have a woman's arms around him, her hands touching bare skin, to feel her lips on his. It was new to him, new to her, too; he'd never had a girlfriend in high school, never had a date, and she'd told him she never had, either. But right after Christmas break, and all the hassles at home, he and Tanisha had been working on a vector analysis problem together. There had been an innocent little kiss while they'd been alone . . . and suddenly, he'd begun to discover the joys of having a girlfriend, unexpected though she was.
"Coming," he called to whoever it was at the door, as he stood up and straightened out his sweatshirt. He went to the door, popped the latch and opened it, and looked up to see Crystal looking back at him, bronzed to a golden tan and looking strong and confident as ever. He'd have been less surprised to see his dad.
"H-hi, Crystal," he said, unsure of what to say. He hadn't seen her or heard a word of her since she'd stormed out of the house in a blizzard of swear words at Christmas.
"Hope I'm not interrupting anything," she said casually. "I'm on my way to see someone up at Ducktown, and thought I'd stop off and say 'Hi.'"
"N-no, that's fine," he said, still shocked to see this apparition who had vanished from the face of the earth over three months ago. "T-Tanisha and I were just working on homework. Why don't you come in?" This was going to be a problem, but it would be a problem anyway, he thought as he stepped back to let her walk into the room. "How have you been?" he asked, almost as an afterthought.
"Oh, OK," she said casually, walking through the foyer, Jon on her heels.
"Uh, Crystal," Jon said awkwardly, "This is Tanisha. We work on homework and stuff together sometimes. Tanisha, this is my sister, Crystal."
"Hi, pleased to meet you," Crystal said, extending her hand toward the dark-skinned girl who sat on the bed.
"Hi, Tanisha said, a little uncertainly, but extending her hand in friendship. He'd told Tanisha a lot about Crystal since Christmas -- he had to have someone to talk to about her and what had happened, and she'd been willing to listen. "You're the surfer and raft guide, right?"
"Yeah, I've been known to do some of that," Crystal smiled graciously.
"Hey, look," Tanisha said. "If you two want to be alone, I can run down to my room or something."
"No, don't bother," Crystal grinned. "I can only stay a few minutes. I just wanted to say hello to Jon since I'm in the area and won't be back for a while. We sort of got interrupted the last time."
"I, uh, heard," Tanisha admitted.
"No matter what Jon says, I really don't bite," Crystal smiled and turned to her brother. "Jon, any news from home?"
"You heard Nanci got kicked out of school?"
"I heard," Crystal replied dryly. Jon could pick up the contempt. "Didn't surprise me much. What's she doing?"
"Not much of anything, I guess. Crystal, I haven't been calling home much. It's pretty uncomfortable around there."
"Oh?" Crystal commented, with a lot being asked in that one word.
"Yeah, when I call home, it starts off pretty good, but pretty soon there's a lot of bitching about you and Nanci. I had enough of that over Christmas."
Crystal shook her head. "Sorry I had to ruin your holiday, Jon, but mine was pretty bitched up, too."
"I stayed gone a lot," he said. "We couldn't even eat dinner without a fight. Mom set a place for you every night, hoping you'd show up, and Dad got real pissed off about even that. As far as I know she still does it every night."
"I . . . see," Crystal said thoughtfully.
"Crystal, I don't know what really happened between you and Nanci and Dad, and the stories are pretty different from everybody. Nanci fucked up pretty bad, didn't she?"
"I won't tell you stories," Crystal said. "That way you don't have to judge them."
"I believe it," Jon frowned, thinking back and wondering how to say what he had on his mind. "I saw her a lot in high school. I don't know how she ever kept from getting caught with some of the stuff she did. I guess it doesn't surprise me that it was worse in college."
"But you weren't going to rat on her, right?"
"Yeah," he said glumly. "Maybe I should have."
"I didn't want to rat on her, either," Crystal said. "I mean, it was always us against them, right?"
"Yeah, I guess," he said uncertainly. "Damn, it was hard at home. It was hard as hell to keep from taking sides, to just stay the hell out of it. Finally, I left early and got together with a friend of mine from down here, and we drove down to Florida for a few days, just for something to do."
"Oh?" Crystal asked, sounding interested. "Anyplace special?"
"Danny's grandparents have a place south of Melbourne. We mostly pissed around on some old computer games and screwed around on the beach. I even tried surfing."
"Hey, good for you!" she smiled. "How'd it go?"
"I fell in a lot," he said sheepishly.
"Hey," she grinned broadly. "I'll let you in on a secret. You ever want to try it again and really learn how to do it, B&G's Surf Shop, on A1A down toward Sebastian Inlet. Tell Buddha I sent you. He'll teach you right."
"Probably won't," he said. "I got a pretty bad sunburn."
"Hey, bro, that's what they make sunscreen for, right?"
"Well, I wouldn't have done it if I wasn't pretty bored," he said. "But it was better than home. Honestly, Crystal, I don't know what I'm going to do this summer."
"I told him he should check in the department for a summer job somewhere," Tanisha piped up.
"Yeah, but Dad expects me back at Hadley-Monroe," he said glumly.
"Jon, I don't know a damn thing about engineering," Crystal smiled. "But I can tell you that no one does it perfectly, even Hadley-Monroe. Seeing how they do things elsewhere will be valuable to you. Or, maybe you can find a seminar or something. Use your imagination."
"Yeah, maybe," he said. "Tanisha said that, too. Maybe I can work out something."
"Don't think you have to wind up at Hadley-Monroe," she added. "You remember Randy, don't you? The thing is, he's locked into having to go into the family business, and it's keeping him from doing other things he wants to do. It's pretty sad, really. Hadley-Monroe may be OK, but you're not locked into it the way Randy is."
"It'll be hard to say no."
"Jon, it may be harder if you say yes," she said. "Remember, you are your own person, and you have to cut your own trail in this life. Now, I need you to do a favor for me, OK?"
"What, Crystal?" he asked, a little suspiciously. He'd tried to stay out of the troubles, and didn't want to get dragged into them.
"I need you to call Mom at work. Tell her I'm OK and I got her message. I'll check in with you or her once in a while, not often, and probably not again soon. Tell her . . . tell her I'll probably see her again some day, but I'm not coming home until I can expect a damn sincere apology."
"Crystal, I don't think that's going to happen. At least not from Dad."
"Wouldn't surprise me," she admitted sadly. "But who knows? Nanci may still change Dad's mind. Tell Mom to hang in there, too, huh?
"I won't be able to call her at work till Monday," he said. It really wasn't much to ask, so long as he didn't have to tell his dad.
"No rush," Crystal told him. "Just see that she gets the message. And, Jon?"
"Keep your head down and don't get caught in the middle. I can tell you it's not a nice place to be."
"That's pretty obvious. That's why I didn't hang around at Christmas."
"Me either," Crystal snickered. "Look, I gotta run. You take care. Do what you have to do. I'll catch you again sooner or later."
"Where are you going, Crystal?" he asked curiously.
"I'm heading north," she said cryptically, turning again to Tanisha. "Good meeting you, Tanisha. I really hope I didn't interrupt anything. Jon really is a pretty decent guy in spite of everything. He may even make something of himself some day."
"Nice meeting you," she said shyly. "Maybe I really should have left."
"No problem on my account," Crystal smiled. "You take care, too." She turned back to her brother. "See ya around, Bro," she smiled. "Oh yeah, Jon?"
"Don't worry. I won't rat on you and Tanisha. Do what you want to do."
"I didn't think you would. Take care, Crystal."
Randy had passed the time waiting for Crystal by leafing through one of her Appalachian Trail guides. It was interesting. It would have been nice to have been heading up the trail with her. He knew she'd be seeing a lot of places that he'd never get to see, doing a lot of things that he'd never get to do. Just leafing through the book -- it was a two-year-old Thru-Hiker's Handbook, but Crystal had a new one in her pack -- it was interesting to get a hint of the places she would see, the places Nicole would see, too.
Crystal had been planning the trip for a long time and wasn't about to give it up, in spite of the hassles with her family. Randy wasn't too clear about her plans after it was over with, but then, as far as he could tell, she wasn't either. Probably she'd have something worked out by the time she got off the trail, he thought, and he'd be seeing her when she picked up her car, anyway.
Back down at Buddha and Giselle's after Christmas, they'd worked out a few things about the trail, and how he'd help. For instance, she would need some fairly heavy clothes to start out, and winter camping gear; it was cold in the mountains, even in Georgia. But, when spring came that gear would be very heavy to carry, and she'd need lighter items. They'd worked out several places where he could send packages to her, and she could mail some back to him. Nicole would bring some stuff when she met Crystal. Randy would act as a mail drop for her regular mail, as well; the first planned gear exchange would take place while he was still at Northern, but that would be no problem, and after that he'd handle it from Spearfish Lake.
He glanced up from the book to see Crystal walking quickly toward the Olds. He knew that she'd done a lot of walking down in the Keys, most of it carrying a load of sandbags. Crystal had always been pretty fit, but now she was as tan and fit as he'd ever seen her, ready for the adventure that lay ahead. He started the engine as she walked up to the door, and asked when she got in, "So how did it go?"
"Better than I expected. That was a good idea, Randy. I half expected Jon to be following Dad's party line, he takes after him so much. But he's just standing back and doesn't know what to think. He'd have been polite, in any case."
"So, what's happening?" Randy asked as he glanced over his shoulder to pull out of the parking space. Parking was as bad as the last time they'd been there; the closest spot he'd been able to find was a quarter mile from Jon's dorm. Of course, a quarter mile without a load meant nothing to Crystal, right now.
"Pretty much the same," Crystal said. "He did say a couple things that make me think I can talk to Mom, though."
"Well, that's something," Randy said.
"Yeah, I don't mind if I don't see Dad again, but I'd hate being cut off from Mom forever."
Randy nodded. That was about what he'd expected, from the tone of his two conversations with Karin, but it wasn't a judgment he could make for Crystal, and he'd told her so, back when he'd told her about the whole incident with Nanci down at Buddha and Giselle's. Crystal had told him that he probably should have kept his nose out of it, but under the circumstances she was glad it had come down the way it had. It probably killed any chances of Randy's being any possible conduit for reestablishing relations, but that was pretty much a dead issue anyway. It had also led to the idea of Crystal's making a quick visit to Jon; if he was even civil, it would give her a contact. Apparently it had worked. "You going to call her?" he asked gently, stopping at a traffic light.
"Not now," Crystal said. "I want to see if he delivers the message, and how she digests it. That'll take a few days. I'll try at maybe Suches or Wesser."
"Yeah, if he does get the message through, you can use him again."
"Yeah, probably," Crystal laughed. "God, that was funny. I never expected it of Jon. It looks like the boy is human, after all."
"What's this?" he asked as the light turned green, "Sounds interesting."
"Yeah," she giggled. "I sorta caught him feeling up his girlfriend. I mean, nothing was said, but she was still trying to fasten her brassiere when I walked in. That's something that's a little hard for a girl to do discreetly, you know."
Randy laughed along with her. "You ever get caught like that?"
"No," Crystal said. "Other than that time Myleigh caught you and me. I really hated to interrupt them. I don't think they were getting it on, just feeling each other up pretty good. That's kind of fun."
"Yeah," Randy agreed. "From a guy's viewpoint, the first time you unfasten a girl's bra can be a bigger moment than the first time you get laid."
"It is for a girl, too, maybe," Crystal agreed. "It didn't happen quite that way with me, since one followed the other so quick. Was it quick with you and Nicole?"
"Good grief, no," he said. "It must have been six months. They were a pretty fun six months, if a little agonizing."
Crystal shook her head. "That's not the funny part, really," she said. "Poor Jon. He'd better watch his step. I didn't talk to her much, but she's a nice kid, sort of pretty, some kind of engineering student also, I guess. But Randy, she's as black as the tires on this car."
"Ooooohh, boy," Randy snickered, "I don't even want to think about what your father would say."
"Jon's always been the fair-haired boy, but if he got latched up with this black chick, he'd be right out the door along with me. He knows it too, but boy, wouldn't that be a kick in the ass for Dad? Look, don't say anything, even to Myleigh or Nicole. Jon may get over being Dad's son, but there's no reason to risk making it difficult."
"Oh, I wouldn't," he grinned.
"You wanna know something else funny? It seems that the shit was so deep at home that he took off to Florida with a friend for the rest of break. He even tried surfing."
"No," she grinned. "What's worse, he was some place south of Melbourne. We must have driven right past him half a dozen times, at least."
"Boy, there's a near miss for you," he laughed, and changed the subject. "Look, you want to stop and get dinner now, or what? We're still OK on time, but maybe we'd better get up pretty close to Wesser before we look for a motel, if we're picking up Scooter at nine tomorrow."
"I could eat," she said. "Let's get out to the edge of town, though. You sure you don't want to hike up to Springer with us, though?"
"Yeah," Randy told her, "It's eight miles up there, then eight miles back, and I'm not really up for that, even light, especially if I have to drive tomorrow, too. I'm going to be cutting it a little tight as it is."
"Yeah, I guess," she said. "I guess we'll just have to say goodbye at Amicola Falls. I sure wish it could be at the trail head, though."
"Well, if we'd thought ahead and allowed an extra day," Randy said. "But it's too late, now. You getting the butterflies a little?"
"Yeah," Crystal admitted. "I've looked forward to this for so long, I can't believe it's finally here. Randy, I think I can make it, at least if I don't get hurt like Scooter did. But, a lot of people start it, and so few actually finish I can't help but be nervous."
"I suppose," Randy said. "Hey, while I was waiting for you, I was leafing through that old AT book. I'm going to hang on to it and sort of follow you. But, they were talking about trail names people take. You got one yet?"
"No," she said, "I figured something would suggest itself in the first few days. You got any suggestions?"
"Yeah," Randy said, "'Diamond.'"
"Diamond? Are you suggesting something?"
"I am," Randy said. "A diamond is a damn hard crystal."
"Yeah, that's a good one," she said thoughtfully. "I've gotta be hard, especially now. That'll remind me."
"That's what I figured," he smiled.
"Diamond it is, Randy. I thought you were talking like diamond in engagement ring."
Randy was silent for a moment, thinking about what she'd said. This was something he'd wanted to talk about clear back at Buddha and Giselle's after Christmas, but the time had never quite been right. This might be the last chance. "Well, if you want it to," he said slowly. "Look, Crys . . . er, Diamond . . ."
"Crystal till Amicola Falls," she grinned.
"OK, Crystal. Look, we talked about getting married a long time ago. I told you that I'd ask you to marry me if I thought you'd say yes. I still think that. The situation is a little different now, though, what with this deal with your parents. I'll just leave it lying open as an option, if you need it."
"I seem to recall you saying that I had to be ready to settle down, first. I don't think I'm ready yet."
"Who knows? Maybe by this fall, you will be. Maybe some other time. Just remember, you can fall back on me."
"If you don't say yes in the next few years, I'll probably wind up marrying her. I told her I wouldn't ask her until things were settled between us, one way or the other."
"Randy, that's not very fair to her."
"It won't be if we let it drag out for years," he said. "In any case, Nicole isn't available for another year, anyway, and maybe not then. Hell, she could find someone else. Crystal, as far as I'm concerned, you and Myleigh have dibs, but I don't think Myleigh would ever say yes, not to me, unless I leave Spearfish Lake. We've talked about it, too."
"I knew that," she said. "And, I think you're right. Randy, I'm not going to say yes right now."
"I'm not asking right now. You've got six or seven months and 2,000 miles to think about it, and we can talk about it then. A lot can happen in that time. Look, whatever happens, Crystal, even if next fall you say no way, ever, I'd still be pleased if you'd consider Spearfish Lake to be your home base. You'll always be welcome."
She slid over beside him -- not easy with loose stuff stacked on the seat -- and said, "Thanks, Randy. I'd be glad to. And I will think about it."
"That's all I'm asking," he said. "As always, Crystal, it's your call."
"Randy, why are you always so good to me?"
"Because you deserve it, Crystal. Now more than ever. And because I love you."
They stopped and ate before long, then drove on up to a motel not far from Wesser. They lay together on the bed, fully clothed, just cuddling and kissing. After a while, feeling very daring, Randy reached behind Crystal and unhooked her brassiere, and fondled her lightly, like they were a couple of kids doing it for the first time, not the many times that they'd made love before. Finally, they did once again, and fell asleep in each other's arms.
A little before nine the next morning, they drove into the parking lot at NOC, where Scooter had promised to meet them. It had been two years since Randy had been there, but he heard the roar of Lesser Wesser behind the center. Scooter wasn't there yet, so they walked down to the drop and looked at it for a minute. Two years ago, Lesser Wesser had seemed pretty intimidating to Randy, but a lot of whitewater had passed under him in that time, and it didn't seem intimidating anymore; it was just a routine Class III.
But then, in those two years, a lot of other things had happened. Two years before, he hadn't had any real plans, no goals. The idea had seemed a fantasy, a dream world. Yes, a lot had changed. He'd gotten a lot older and wiser in two years.
They walked back up to the parking lot, to find Scooter waiting for them. "Hi, Scoot, how ya doin'?" Crystal greeted her happily -- they'd gotten to know each other fairly well in those two years. "You remember Randy?"
"I don't think so," Scooter frowned.
"I only met you the one time, back two years ago," Randy said. "No reason to remember me."
"Well, pleased to meet you again," Scooter said. "Thanks for dropping us off."
"No problem," he replied.
"Look, Crystal," Scooter said. "I better be up front about this. I'm not real sure about my knees. I don't think they're much better than when you stopped by at Christmas. I think I can make it back here from Springer, but I'm gonna to have to be going real good to want to go on."
"We knew that could happen," Crystal said. "You got knee braces and hiking poles with you?"
"For sure," Scooter told them. "Like I said, I'm pretty sure I can make it back this far. If I'm not going real good, I'll stop, and I can go to work here again. The rush will be picking up a little by then."
"Well, we'll just have to see what happens," Crystal said. "Look, if you want to bail now, that's OK."
"Christ, no. I want to climb Katahdin with you. It's just whether my knees will let me."
"Good enough," Crystal said. "We're burnin' daylight."
Since the Olds was pretty well packed with gear for Randy to take back to Spearfish Lake -- virtually all that Crystal owned and cared about, except for the things in her pack -- they had to sit three across the front, with Scooter's pack stuffed in on top of the load in the back seat. It wasn't quite a two-hour drive from Wesser down to Amicola Falls State Park, where a trail led up to the start of the Appalachian Trail proper, eight miles away. Randy knew that the two were allowing two weeks to make the walk back to Wesser, considering the rough trail, the shortness of the days, a lot of ups and downs, and Scooter's knees. They hoped to do it a bit more quickly, and Crystal had promised to try to call him from Wesser, but would send a card if she couldn't get through to him.
All too soon they reached the trailhead. They signed in at the ranger station, and Randy went with the girls over to the start of the approach trail. He took their pictures together, and then it was time to go. Crystal already had her pack on when Randy put his arms around her for the last time. "Be careful," he said. "Have fun. See you in the fall."
"If I make it, maybe you could come and climb Katahdin with me," she said, a little catch in her voice. She was feeling it, too.
"We'll have to see how work goes," he said. "I'd like to if I can get away. Keep in touch."
"I will," she promised. "Tell Nicole I'm looking forward to hiking with her."
"Sure will. Good luck, Diamond."
Randy stood at the trailhead until the two walked out of sight. He waited another couple minutes, then got in the Olds to start the long, lonely drive back to Spearfish Lake.