Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
"You sure you don't want us to stick around?" Ryan Clark asked his son.
It was a proud moment, one Randy had been waiting for, especially the last eight months. He stood on the lawn outside the arena on the Northern Michigan University campus, wearing a cap and gown while his mother snapped pictures. After four long and sometimes adventurous years, he was a college graduate. Most of the time he'd spent here had been memorable, a turning point in his life. He was sure there'd never be another four years in his life that could measure up to them.
"No," he said. "Matt and I are pretty well loaded up, but we've still both got a few errands to run. It'll take a couple hours, anyway. I'll be home around eight."
"Take it easy," Grandfather Brent smiled. "I've got a bunch for you to do Monday."
"Looking forward to it," Randy grinned. "It'll be good to be doing something useful."
"You've been doing something useful for the company for the last couple of years," Brent told him with a grin. "Now, it just gets more serious."
It was hard to let the moment go. He'd worked toward this for so long, and now it was here. He wished that Crystal and Myleigh and Nicole could have been there to share it with him, but each of them had good reasons. If it hadn't been for his parents and grandfather, Randy would have been just as happy to slide over to the ad building and pick up his diploma and get off campus.
Reluctantly, he bid them goodbye, and he and Matt went inside to turn in the caps and gowns, then slowly walked one last time together across the campus to Gant and their room, just savoring the moment. It was getting to be spring, now; while there was snow around, it had beaten a large retreat after the storms of March and even April. It was a clear spring day, and the sun was warm; it made a good day to remember.
Matt and Randy were almost ready to go. They'd loaded their stuff up the last night; their room was bare, except for a change of clothes and an ice-filled wastebasket with a couple of bottles of Belgian Blue Moon. There hadn't been much to put in the Dodge; he'd already hauled a good share of his stuff home when he'd been through Spearfish Lake on spring break.
Matt's pickup was a little more loaded, since he and Randy had agreed that the couch that had been in and out of their room would do as a start for Matt's household, when he got married a few weeks ahead. Randy had been hearing about Janelle for four years, but had only met her in the last month, when he and Matt had taken an overnight run to Sault Ste. Marie, just for something to do. She turned out to be a short girl, fairly heavy-set -- "yust like a jack pine stump," as Matt had said long before -- with long brown hair, a big chest, a nice smile, and a gift of gab in a thick Yooper accent of her own, yaah, you betcha. They'd surprised him by asking him to be their best man at their wedding a couple months off, and, of course, he'd accepted.
They changed clothes, and cracked open the beers for a final quiet celebration. They'd been thrown together by chance as freshmen, and had become the best male friends each other had ever had. Now, that too was ending, and life was taking them away, just like it had pretty much taken Crystal and Myleigh away from him, too, so it was a sad moment, as well as a happy one. Oh, their paths would cross again; there'd be the wedding, and maybe a reunion now and then, and Christmas cards, but some good years were over, too. They didn't talk about that; they were guys and didn't say things like that, but it made for an awkward conversation to avoid saying what they really felt.
"You hear from Crystal?" Matt asked at one point as the beers were getting low.
"Yaah," Randy said. "Dad brought up her latest letter, eh? She's going pretty good, up in Virginia, now. Guess I told you Scooter's knees gave out in da Smokies, and she had ta pack it in from dere."
"Yaah, ya told me from da last letter," Matt grinned.
"Enaway, Crystal said she was wid some group, four-five of 'em, up ta Hot Springs, Tennessee, but she's been solo since den, yaah. She sent da letter from Erwin."
"Nicole still gonna hike wid her a bit?"
"Yaah, gonna meet her da week after next. Wish I was goin' wid 'em, but I guess I gotta work."
"Yaah, dat's da way it is," Matt grunted philosophically. "Guess I'm gonna haveta find me a real job or I'm gonna haveta be back out cuttin' pulp."
"You'll fin' sometin," Randy grinned. "Nuttin' else, come down ta Spearfish Lake. Da guy at da paper dere is always on da make for fresh talent."
"Yaah, might haveta." Matt grinned, finished his beer, and threw the empty in the wastebasket. "You 'bout done?"
"Yaah," Randy said, finishing his. "Guess we better turn in da keys and get outa here, eh?"
"Nuttin' else ta do," Matt observed. They got up and walked out the door, and Randy, remembering Myleigh, didn't look back.
Out in the parking lot, they said a final goodbye -- "See ya in June, yaah?" -- and went their separate ways. Randy drove the Dodge over to the PEIF to pick up the Mongoose and the surfboard. Not unexpectedly, he ran into Gary at the Outdoor Club -- he seemed to spend more time hanging around there than Randy ever had. They'd had some good runs in the past month -- when the spring melt came, it came furiously, and the rivers were still raging pretty good. They'd had some good surfing, too, on a few days when Superior had brewed up.
"Guess it's up to you and Ruth to carry on the legend," Randy grinned as he finished the tiedowns.
"Yeah, that worked out pretty good," Gary grinned. "I've got to thank you for that." After the incident in Ruth and Nanci's room, Gary and Ruth had started going out with each other, and since spring break it had gotten considerably more serious. She was from Los Angeles -- Randy could not figure out what had possessed her to come to this cold place to go to college. To their amazement, Ruth came back from spring break with her own surfboard; she proved to be an accomplished California surfer girl, better than either of them. Randy had learned a lot from her, not that he ever expected to be able to do much surfing again.
"You doing the Ocoee Adventures thing again this summer?" Randy asked, all of a sudden not ready to break the last link.
"Yeah, they're putting me on as a senior guide," Gary reported. "You hear from Crystal at all?"
Randy repeated the news he'd given to Matt earlier, what there was of it. Crystal's letter had been longer and more detailed than that, but Randy hadn't had a chance to go through it carefully; he'd just skimmed it for the main points. "Long way to go, yet, but it looks like she may make it," he concluded.
"That's quite a hike," Gary said. "She still on the outs with her folks?"
"Far as I know," Randy told him. He knew more than that, but didn't want Gary spreading it around campus, either. Then, the thought struck him that it didn't matter. There weren't many people around campus left who remembered Crystal, and there'd be a lot fewer in the fall. In a year, maybe two at the most, there wouldn't even be a legend of Crystal and Randy anymore, just a few memories in even fewer people's minds of a couple of crazy surfers they'd been in college with. Next fall, there'd be a new crop of freshies eager to carve their own experiences, and people like them would represent old days that they'd never known. Time moved fast around a place like Northern.
"That's a shame. She was damn good people."
"Still is. Hey, Gary, I guess I'd better get moving. I can get pretty well home while there's still some light."
"Yeah, I guess. Take care, man. It's been real."
"Yaah, you betcha," Randy said. "See you around someday, maybe."
There was no putting it off any longer. He got in the Dodge, drove out onto the street, turned onto Superior Avenue, and without him noticing, Northern Michigan University disappeared in the rear view mirror.
The campus and the streets of Marquette were all filled with memories, of adventures with Matt, with Crystal and Myleigh. As he drove through downtown, he looked out on the lake and saw it rippled in the afternoon breeze, glints of light flashing from it, and a few white specks of foam. He noted that there wouldn't be much surf around today, not that it mattered anymore. He got out on 41 and drove past familiar sights on his way out of town, sights he'd come to know well, sights he might be a long time seeing again, sights out of a past that was now nothing but a memory.
Randy tended to get philosophical when he drove alone, and this was one of those times. Today represented an end and a beginning. It was the end of schooling, seventeen years of it if you didn't count the preschool, back in Spearfish Lake, about as far back as he could remember. For all those years, there had always been the classrooms, the teachers, the homework, the tests, all working toward this day. Now, it was over with. Here, the real world began.
One last time, the familiar miles rolled under the Dodge on the way home to Spearfish Lake. The old car was getting worn, now. It hadn't been new when he got it, and it was long since showing its age. It had dents and bruises, the paint was chipped, and it needed a quart of oil about every third fill. He'd almost replaced it last summer, but had decided there were other things more important. Besides, there was no point in tearing up a decent car on the streets of Marquette and in the haphazard parking lots, so he'd decided to get another year out of it; it had made it, with a little to spare. He didn't figure he'd get anything much out of it, and thought he might hang onto it, just to have something to drive on sloppy days when the street crews were throwing around a lot of salt.
As he drove along, mostly looking out the windshield at the familiar sights, he couldn't help but wonder what sights Crystal was seeing at the moment. The letter from Erwin had been a while arriving, and apparently had laid around the house waiting for the folks to bring it. From the dates he figured that Crystal had to be past Damascus, and up around Bland, Virginia, if she was still going at the rate she'd planned, or maybe not quite that far. The tentative plan had been for Nicole to leave her car at Harper's Ferry, take a train to Washington and a bus to Roanoke, then meet her somewhere around there, but it hadn't been tacked down definitely and probably wouldn't be for a few days yet. Nicole was really looking forward to the hike, and Randy looked forward to hearing a detailed report.
He'd actually been hearing quite a bit about the trip. Unless it involved administrative things, like gear exchanges and mail drops, Crystal was writing alternatively to him and Myleigh, but they were sending copies of her letters back and forth, and any important news they'd be sharing by phone. Myleigh seemed to be getting along well, but it was clear now that he wouldn't be seeing her until fall.
The last of the light faded as he drove through Warsaw, the last leg of the trip home. In the fading light, he'd seen that the snow was much reduced around here from what it had been in Marquette, but Quaker Rapids was probably still running high. There was no way of telling how much he'd be able to be out on it this year, since things usually got pretty busy in the construction business in the spring.
The final miles slid by automatically, and finally, he was coming home, and he knew that unless something extraordinary happened, it would be home for a long time, maybe the rest of his life. Amazingly enough, he was content.
He drove through town, and out Point Drive to his parents' house. He knew he'd feel a little pang when he saw Crystal's Olds sitting beside the garage, where it had been since his return from spring break. He'd taken the time to unload all the stuff from inside it and haul it up to the attic, where it'd be better protected, and nothing would freeze. It had been a big job, but his mom and dad and Nicole had helped. For now, anyway, that car and his parents' house were all the home she had, and the thought still made him sad.
Then he was home, just a few minutes before eight. Sure enough, Crystal's car was where he had left it, but there were several other cars in the driveway and parked out on the lawn. He rolled his eyes; he had told his folks he hadn't wanted any special welcome home, but he hadn't figured that they'd listen to him, and they hadn't. There was a path clear to the garage, and he drove up it, shut off the car and got out.
Yes, there were several people waiting there for him: his folks, of course, and Grandfather Brent; but Nicole was there too, and Joe and Nancy, Harold, Rod and his wife, Gil and Carrie, Jennifer and Blake, even Josh and Tiffany, all people he knew pretty well, people who represented home to him. There was a "Welcome Home" banner, and there were drinks and snacks, and he found he wasn't sorry they'd come to greet him on this one important day. There might be only one other in his life as important, the day he got married, and that still seemed in the dim and distant future, though measurably closer, now.
"I see you made it in one piece," his dad said as he walked in the door. "With that old clunker of yours, I was beginning to wonder."
"It got me there, and brought me back for four years," Randy told him. "I really can't ask much more than that."
"You don't have to ask any more out of it," his dad smiled, and handed him a key. "Go look out in the garage."