Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Karin glanced for the umpteen thousandth time at the picture on her computer desktop. Three grinning faces looked back at her, Crystal and Myleigh in tiny bikinis, and Randy in what looked like bicycle shorts, all holding surfboards. It had been taken the spring before last, down at that place in Florida where they'd gone surfing, and it was the most recent picture she had of Crystal. At least Pete couldn't object to it; he hadn't been in her office in Heller-Aller for years.
Where was she? Was she really all right, or were Myleigh and Randy just putting a good face on it when she called them? She tried not to bother them too much; she didn't want to be a pest, but not knowing was hard.
She glanced at Myleigh's image again. As many hours as she'd spent looking at the picture on the computer screen, it was very hard to imagine Myleigh wearing a string bikini and being on a surfboard. She'd always seemed a rather conservative little girl, but there must have been a side to her that Karin had never seen. How was she doing? The last time Karin had talked to her, she'd said that Randy would be moving her to Athens University right about now for her doctoral work. That still seemed hard to believe; Karin remembered her as a college freshman, very shy, reserved, and scared, then. That must have been long ago, and things had to have changed a lot.
Myleigh had promised to call and provide her new phone number when she got settled at Athens; maybe she'd know something about Crystal, but Karin doubted she'd tell if she did. It was clear that she and Randy talked back and forth with each other a lot, and Karin was pretty sure that one of them would let her know if anything serious was wrong. But, that wasn't the same as knowing.
Damn it, what had gotten into Pete, anyway? Crystal had never been his favorite daughter, in recent years, anyway, but the last few months, she'd become his most mortal enemy. She was to blame for everything, including a rainy day or the crabgrass in the lawn. It was almost as if he knew about Al and was taking it out on her. His little darling Nanci could do no wrong, and as far as Karin was concerned, she was to blame for everything. Well, be fair, she thought. Maybe not the rain, but Nanci could at least have had her useless boyfriend do something about the crabgrass -- he worked for a landscaper, after all -- but she couldn't be bothered to do that, either.
She shook her head and looked at the computer screen again. "I'm sorry, Crystal," she thought for what might have been the millionth time.
The phone rang, and absently she picked it up. "Accounting, Chladek," she said.
It was Betsy, the receptionist, down at the front desk. "Mrs. Chladek, Miss Chladek is here to see you."
Karin shook her head. What did Nanci want this time? She'd told her many, many times to not bother her at the office unless it was really important, although Nanci's and Karin's definitions of important were two different things. Maybe it was really important, like announcing that she was leaving that stupid boyfriend of hers. "Send her up," she said in a resigned tone, reaching for the mouse to bring up Quattro-Pro and the project she'd completed that morning -- there was no point in letting Nanci see her desktop picture and telling Pete; then there'd be more yelling.
She was staring at the screen, looking like she was in the middle of something important when she heard a welcome voice quietly say, "Hi, Mom."
"Crystal!" she exclaimed, swinging around in her chair and jumping up to hug her. "My God! I thought it was Nanci!"
"'Fraid not," Crystal grinned.
"Crystal! My God!" Karin breathed. "Where have you been? It's been months! You're looking good. What have you been doing?"
"I've been out walking," Crystal grinned. "Georgia to Maine, on the Appalachian Trail. I finished Saturday."
"My, what an adventure!" Karin said, her eyes wide. "No wonder you look so tan and fit. Myleigh and Randy said you were all right, but they never breathed a word about what you were doing."
"I know," Crystal said. "Randy picked me up at Katahdin, and we moved Myleigh from Ithaca to Athens. Look, Mom, we need to talk."
"Yes, we do," she agreed, a little more quietly. The reality was still there, even though she could at least finally see for herself that Crystal was all right. She glanced over at the conference room; it was empty. She looked at the woman at the desk across the walkway, who was looking up with a smile at her unaccustomed visitor. "Thelma, we'll be in the conference room if anyone needs me," she said.
Karin led the way to the conference room and closed the door. At least it would be quiet in there. "Crystal, I wanted so badly all this time to see you, just to tell you that I'm sorry about that whole incident," she said as they sat down across the corner of the table. "I know I was wrong to let Pete push you and me into letting Nanci attend Northern. I think I knew it at the time, but I just didn't believe it would turn out the way it did. I'm truly sorry, and I wish it didn't have to happen."
"I knew something like it would happen when I warned you off," Crystal told her. "I have to say that I didn't think it would turn out as bad as it did. Did Jon give you my message?"
"Yes, back in March, I think. He said you stopped off at his dorm room and you'd be seeing me some day, but that you weren't going to come back until you could expect an apology. Believe me, you have my most sincere apologies."
"How about Dad?"
Karin looked down at the floor, and felt tears come to her eyes. "I'm afraid not," she said quietly. "If anything, your leaving the way you did only proved to him that he was right."
"All right, Mom," Crystal said coldly. "I'll accept your apology, but I guess I'd better go."
"No!" Karin's hand shot out, to grab Crystal's wrist. "Please don't go! Not yet! Crystal, I don't want to lose you."
"I think you have, Mom," Crystal said sadly, as Karin felt real tears in her eyes. "Jon said things got worse after I left. I guess they haven't gotten any better."
"No, he's right," Karin told her daughter. "In fact, they've gotten quite a bit worse. So much so that I think I'm losing Jon, too."
"Jon?" she replied, relaxing, perhaps with curiosity.
"I can't blame him," Karin said. "Pete has, well, not been in a very good temper. He was starting to get over it a little when Jon got back from school this spring. I was hopeful that perhaps having them together would be a calming influence. Pete went out and got a good car for Jon, and we gave it to him when he flew home from Tech. Then after Pete said there was an interesting project waiting for him at Hadley-Monroe, Jon announced that he'd already called the supervisor and said he wouldn't be working there this summer. He said he had an internship out in Phoenix, and he had to leave the next day to stop in St. Louis and pick up a friend to take out there with him."
"I'll bet that went over like the proverbial lead balloon," Crystal smiled.
"You cannot imagine," Karin said. "Pete was, well, very disappointed. He'd been looking forward for months to spending some time with Jon and working with him. That really hurt him when Jon left."
"Wonder what brought that on?" Crystal asked, a small smile on her face.
"Jon said it was too good an opportunity to learn how things are done elsewhere, and besides, they offered more money than Hadley-Monroe," Karin said. She paused for a moment's thinking, and went on, "Actually, I think there was a girl involved, but Jon didn't say a word about that. It was just, well, the way he acted. I could tell there was something he wasn't telling us. Anyway, we haven't seen Jon since. He went straight back to Atlanta two weeks ago without coming here."
"Are he and Dad still on speaking terms?"
"Just barely," Karin said. "Pete was rather hurt about it, but really, I don't blame Jon, after the way Pete ranted at Christmas."
"How about Nanci? What's the story with her?"
"That's rather disgusting," Karin said sadly. "She laid around the house for a month or more after she got home, pining for her boyfriend, running up a huge phone bill calling him at Northern every day."
"Is that the guy Randy threw out of her room, by any chance?"
"Yes," Karin nodded, "She sees Randy as some kind of a brutal monster for ripping poor dear Kip out of her."
"Kip?" Crystal shook her head. "I've met the bastard. We had a little, uh, disagreement last fall."
"Something about wearing his balls for a necktie?" Karin laughed. "It might have made things simpler if you'd done it."
"Yeah," Crystal grinned, "That Kip. That proves she doesn't have a brain in her head."
"She doesn't," Karin shook her head. "As soon as school was out, he came home and she moved in with him. I mean, like that same day. We didn't see her for a couple months, and then without warning she moved back in with us. Crystal, she had a black eye, and was bruised up."
"He beat her up?" Crystal said. Karin could hear the anger in her voice.
"She wouldn't admit it, but it couldn't have been anyone else," she replied.
Crystal shook her head. "You know, that's part of the reason why I took up karate in the first place," she sighed. "I made up my mind a long time ago that any man who wants to use me for a punching bag is going to have to work at it. Oh, well, maybe he knocked some sense into her."
"Afraid not," Karin said sadly. "After a while she went back to him. I suppose it's just a matter of time before it happens again."
"What'd Dad say about it?"
"He was rather unhappy about the black eye, but was happy when the two of them got back together, the damn fools. All of them."
"There's no accounting for sheer stupidity," Crystal shook her head. "You just have to accept it, I guess."
"I'm afraid so," Karin agreed. "I hope she'll learn her lesson before she gets badly hurt or pregnant. I can't hope for much else. Look, Crystal, I'm really less concerned about her than I am about you. Whatever happens to her, she's done it to herself. How are you, really?"
"I'm fine, Mom. I've been doing all right. I worked down in Florida last winter, and then did the hike this summer. It was pretty cool. I saw a lot of neat places, had a great time."
"Where are you going from here?"
"I'm not real sure," she said. "I'm still getting over not being on the trail. It changes your viewpoint on things, a lot. I need to spend a while putting things into perspective. I came down here to see about getting the rest of the gear I left here. I'm going to leave it with Randy and stay there for a few days to spend some time with a girl I walked part of the trail with. Then, I don't know. There's several possibilities."
"Like what? Teaching, perhaps?"
"Subbing, maybe. I'm out of the hiring cycle again. I'm thinking of heading back to Florida and working for the winter, again. I did some subbing down there last winter, but I worked on a scuba diving boat, too. I think I can go back. If not, there's other possibilities, but I do need to work for a while."
"How are you doing for money?"
"I'm doing OK, Mom. There's not a lot of places to spend money out on the trail, and I didn't have to pay any rent."
"Look, if you ever get in a bind, let me know," Karin said. "I can probably help."
"I don't want to have to ask you, and then have Dad find out," she said.
"That won't be a problem," Karin said. "Don't tell anyone, but after last Christmas, I decided I'd better set up a rainy-day fund, just in case something were to happen. I stopped putting money in my 401k and diverted it to a separate account, along with money from my raise this year. There's a couple other things, too, that Pete doesn't know about." Pete had let her handle the family finances from the start -- after all, she was an accountant, and knew about those things, and it presented a lot of opportunities.
"In case something happens?" Crystal cocked her head.
"Yes," Karin told her, reluctantly, not really wanting to admit it to herself. After all, she'd been with Pete over twenty years, and there had been some good times. But, if the bad times became too bad, there had to be an alternative, and that day could come sooner than she liked. But, she didn't really want to admit it to herself, much less to Crystal. "Not long ago I was looking forward to retirement. Now, I'm not. At least work gives me someplace to go that's not around the house. I'm not saying anything will happen, but I decided things had gotten uncomfortable enough at home and I'd better think about being prepared for it."
"I . . . see," Crystal said slowly, probably understanding her perfectly. "Mom, whatever happens with that is going to have to be your decision to make, but I won't ask you to tap your rainy-day fund unless it's a real, dire emergency."
"I didn't think you would," Karin said quietly. Yes, she understood, all right. Now perhaps it would be best to get off that subject. "I take it you and Randy are still getting along fine," she continued hopefully.
"Oh, yeah," Crystal said. "He's been a big help."
"I thought you might be thinking about staying in Spearfish Lake, but Randy never said anything about it. I thought he might be covering up your hiding there with him."
Crystal looked down for a second, perhaps considering her words. "It's still an option, Mom," she said finally. "Randy is one of the good people of this earth. After Christmas he sort of made a standing offer to marry me."
"You didn't take him up on it, I take it."
"No," she said. "Don't get me wrong. I like Randy, and I may take him up on it some time, but I don't want him to marry me out of pity. That's sort of what he offered, although I'm sure he doesn't see it that way."
"Yes, that could be awkward. But, he would be good for you, I think."
"I think he would, too," Crystal nodded. "But I'm not sure how good a wife I'd be for him. One of the things I've been able to figure out on the trail is that I've still got some wanderlust. He knows it. It's an awful lot to ask of him. But, the option is still open if I need it. He sort of asked me again last weekend, too."
"What did you say?"
"I didn't say yes, and I didn't say no. Mom, I'm trying to stay away from Randy for a while. It's sort of complicated. There's another girl involved -- she's the girl I hiked with on the trail for a while. We're friends. To the best of my knowledge, nothing has been said between them, but I think they both expect they'll wind up with each other in the end. She's a nice kid, they've known each other for years, and I think they'd be good for each other. But, she's still in school, and I told her that I'd try to stay out of the way till after she's been out of school a while. Anyway, she and I agreed that we'd have to let Randy be the one to make up his mind. We're not going to tell him that."
Karin shook her head. It was a shame; marrying Randy could be a good thing for Crystal; it would make her feel a lot more comfortable about what happened with her daughter. But, not in a situation like that; there was too much that could happen. "Perhaps that's the wisest way to handle it," she said. "Anything else could get sticky."
"Yeah, I don't mind," Crystal told her, glancing at her watch. "Like I said, I'm not real sure I want to get married for a while, anyway. But, that's neither here nor there. Look, is my stuff still in my room?"
"Right where you left it," Karin said.
"Maybe I'd better run home and get it before Dad gets home," she said. "Nanci won't be around, will she?"
"I doubt it," Karin replied. "I haven't seen her for a couple weeks. I'll tell you what. I'll clock out of here, and we can go home and get it, then go some place and have a nice cup of coffee or something until I go home at my regular time. I would like to hear more about what you've been up to."
"Sounds good to me," Crystal said. "Look, Mom, thanks. I'm sorry it couldn't have worked out better."
"I am too, darling," Karin said. "I've always hoped you could come home again. I've set a place at the table for you every night, hoping you might show up at the door."
"Jon told me," she said sadly. "That's what told me you still cared. It pisses Dad off, I'll bet."
"Extremely!" Karin smiled. "I do it just to remind him of the trouble he's caused. I've missed you, Crystal. I'm sorry you can't really come home to stay, but let's try to keep in better touch, shall we?"
"I'd like that," Crystal told her. "I don't know where I'm going to be or what I'll be doing, but Randy and I talked it over. I'm going to set up a post office box in Spearfish Lake and keep him current on where to get in touch with me. He'll send me my mail when I know where I'm going to be. I'll tell Myleigh and him it's OK to let you know where I am, but I may call you here occasionally too, and have you pass messages on to them."
No one was home when they pulled into the driveway. Karin pulled her Buick up in front of the garage, and Crystal parked the Olds behind her. They were just carrying the last of her things out to the Olds, when Nanci pulled in, driving her red Camry. It wasn't quite so pretty, anymore; it had acquired some dents and a crushed fender. Nanci got out of the car, crying; one look at her revealed a black eye, and a torn blouse revealed bruises. Karin rushed over to her. "Nanci, are you all right?" she asked with concern. Had that bastard beaten her up again?
"I - I'll be all right, Mom," she sobbed. "K-Kip thought I was seeing another guy. I-I j-just said hello t-t-to him."
"Kip did this to you?" Crystal asked with a hard edge to her voice.
"I . . . I don't . . . I don't think he meant to," she said, the tears rolling.
"You ought to leave that son of a bitch while you still can," Crystal observed harshly.
"Come on, Nanci," Karin said. "I'll help you get cleaned up." Oh, this was going to be lovely. Pete would know she had been here with Crystal, and wasn't that going to be fun, with this little episode on top of it. Nanci collapsed on Karin's shoulder and the tears began to roll for real.
Crystal headed back into the house, made one more trip out, carrying the last of the things she wanted from her room, and loaded them in the car. "Maybe I'd better go," she said.
"Perhaps it's best," Karin said sadly. There would be no chance now for a quiet little talk to maybe heal some of the wounds of the last nine months. "Please call me some time."
"I will, Mom. I promise." She turned toward the car, and Karin watched her wanting to cry about as much as Nanci was doing, when all of a sudden a battered old Toyota screeched into the driveway, blocking the Camry in, and Kip jumped out.
"Don't think you can run away from me, you little whore," he shouted, starting to run between the cars. "I'll teach you to run around on me."
"You shut up and keep your fucking hands off of her, you piece of shit." Crystal shouted back, stepping in front of him.
"You can't talk to me like that, you bitch," he said. "You don't have your fucking boyfriends with you this time. I should have kicked your ass then. Now get the fuck out of my way."
"Make me," Crystal said coldly.
Karin watched, holding Nanci in her arms, and even Nanci turned around to watch as Kip took a swing at Crystal. It came nowhere near connecting; in a flurry of motion almost too fast to see, Crystal parried the punch out of the way, ducked down, and all of a sudden Kip went rolling across the hood of the Olds, landing hard on the pavement of the driveway, with Crystal moving to stand over him.
"Such a big fucking man," she said coldly. "Can't even beat up a guy smaller than you, like Randy, so now you have to try to beat up on girls. Big balls you got there, Kip."
"I can still beat the fuck out of you," he said, getting up slowly. He eyed her for a second, then rushed her.
Crystal stood her ground. There was a karate chop, a quick move, and Kip let out a scream as a hiking boot with thousands of Appalachian Trail miles on it landed in his crotch on the way to his landing flat on the lawn.
"Jesus, you fucking hockey players are all mouth and no balls," Crystal sneered. "You don't fight any better than Baughman. Not even enough balls to try me again."
"Crystal, please, don't kill him," Nanci pleaded. "He loves me."
"Funny way he has of showing it," Crystal sneered as Kip rolled over and slowly got to his feet. She turned and glanced at Nanci, and said. "You're a fucking fool to let this shit come near you."
Karin let out a scream as Kip rushed Crystal while she wasn't looking, but Karin cut it short when she realized that Crystal knew exactly what he was doing and was setting him up. She stepped to the side like a bullfighter, threw another punch, grabbed his arm and gave a kick to the knee all in the same move. Somehow, as he was falling, Crystal landed another vicious kick, this time to the jaw. Kip collapsed on the concrete of the driveway, unconscious this time, with blood flowing from two or three different places. Both his knee and shoulder were bent at unnatural angles. From that time down on the Ocoee, Karin figured that it was a shoulder separation, at minimum.
"Oh, Kip," Nanci cried, breaking away from Karin and rushing over to his prostrate form. "Kip . . . Kip . . ."
"Damn fool," Crystal sneered again, and walked over to get the hose on the side of the house. She turned on the valve, and went over to wet him down. Nanci got wet, too, but apparently didn't notice. Crystal shoved her roughly out of the way, and knelt down, hose still in her hand. She hosed him in the face again, until he came around, crying in pain.
"Now, listen to me, you son of a bitch," Crystal said roughly.
He groaned something unintelligible through the pain.
"Do I have to hit you again to get your attention?" Crystal said. "Now listen, motherfucker. I'm only going to tell you this once. My sister may be scum, but she's still my sister, and she's still a woman. If I ever hear of you trying to use her for a punching bag, or any other woman, I'm going to be forced to hunt you down. And, next time, I'll hurt you. Do you understand me?"
"Uhhhhh . . ." Karin wondered if that counted for a yes or a no.
Crystal stood up. "Nanci, get his useless ass out of here," she said. "You'd be better off if you dumped him in some alley somewhere, but that's your choice. If he ever hits you again, you let Mom know, and she'll know how to find me. Don't you ever let this piece of shit hit you again."
"Maybe we'd better call an ambulance," Karin said.
"Then I guess I better go," Crystal told her. "Make damn sure that when the cops come you have Nanci show them her black eye and bruises. Tell them that when he tried to attack her again, her sister had to neutralize him. And, tell them what I told him, too. Guess I'll have to take a rain check on that cup of coffee."
"Another time, Crystal," Karin said, shaking her head in sorrow. After all this time gone, she'd only spent a few minutes with Crystal, and now this. "Sorry this had to happen."
"I am, too," she replied calmly. "But, you're right, another time."
"Keep in touch," Karin pleaded.
"Don't worry, Mom. I will, this time. Maybe not often. But pass the word if something happens."