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 57:
December 1997

It wasn't a long drive to Nicole's house from the Clark Construction offices, but Randy wished there was some way that it was longer so he could put off the bad news for a while. Maybe Nicole would have an idea or two, but he doubted it.

The two days they'd had at Akinback Mountain was the first quality time they'd had together in a long time. At one point, they'd talked about trying to get away over Labor Day weekend and go someplace, even if it was a tent in some campground, and maybe take the surfboards. That fell to pieces with everything that happened in the last half of August and the first week of September. Damn it, a year ago he'd pretty well decided he was going to have to put Crystal and Myleigh behind him, and he'd started to do it, but they kept popping back into his life, Crystal especially. Not that he cared any less for her, but the problems she'd had with her family and her car had drawn Randy's attention away at critical times, and Nicole had been the odd girl out, in his mind. The AT and OLTA and Crystal had kept coming between them, and a few hurried weekends home wasn't enough to make up the difference, because she had family to see, too. The night at Akinback Mountain had mostly revealed that the interest was still there, and he knew damn well he would have to do something to stoke it, or he might as well give up.

There was nothing to do but come out with the bad news up front, and hope she'd understand -- but he didn't know how many more such disappointments she could take. Or that he could, for that matter. He pulled the Dakota to a stop in the Szczerowski driveway, and just sat there for a minute, trying to figure out what to say. Damn it all, anyhow. Gathering his courage, he got out of the truck, and went up and knocked on the back door.

Nicole's brother, ten years younger, was at best a young teenage pest. "Is Nicole here?" he asked.

"Yeah, I think so," he said, standing there with a stupid expression on his face.

"Well, would you go see? I need to talk to her."

The little doofus couldn't even be bothered to go into the living room. He just turned around and yelled, "NIIICOOOOLE! Randy's here!"

It would be a happy day when the little punk grew up and learned some manners, Randy thought grumpily. But, then he remembered his oldest sister, Rachel, and what he was like when boyfriends came looking for her. Oh, well, he thought, what goes around . . .

Nicole came to the door, wearing black stretch pants and a bright red sweater, looking rather Christmassy. "Terry, you know Randy," she said. "You could have let him in."

Terry didn't say anything, but disappeared, not willing to be seen in the presence of his older sister. "Hi, Nicole," Randy said, stepping inside, "Got some bad news, I'm afraid. We gotta talk."

"Not here," she said, nodding toward the living room, where the little pest was obviously listening in. "I'll get my coat."

In a minute, they were out in the truck, heading north on Lakeshore Drive, just for someplace to go. A year ago, they had made a similar drive, and it had resulted in almost two great weeks at Buddha and Giselle's. What goes around . . . he thought again.

"What's the problem?" she asked.

"Our idiot state school board electrical inspector announced at the last minute this afternoon that he's taking next week off and going to Florida. That means the reinspection has been shoved back to a week from Monday, and a final occupancy conference the Friday after."

"Nice damn timing to screw things up," she said, understanding the situation perfectly.

Since clear back when she came back from hiking with Crystal on the AT, they'd cleared away some time the week after Christmas to make a return visit to Buddha and Giselle's. In fact, they'd hoped to make it nearly two weeks, like the last time, but the Warsaw school schedule had slipped by a couple weeks, mostly early in the fall, when steel deliveries were delayed. Randy and Mike Baker had worked miracles of scheduling to turn three weeks delay into one, which is where they were running right now.

"Damn it," Randy said. "We built a week of padding into the original schedule, and we were going to make the target signoff date of December 26, until today," he said. "But, if he doesn't show for an extra week, and we're going to be right up against the wall. If anything else goes wrong, we're going to be into penalties. Crap, they're already moving furniture in and decorating rooms. If we can't get the damn thing signed off on the second, they're going to have to delay starting school."

"And a week's delay blows up the week we'd planned to go," she said, nodding her head.

"Yeah, damn it," he told her. "I did everything I could think of, I busted my ass to try to make schedule, and I did. Now this guy gives us a last-minute hosing, not even twenty minutes notice before leaving, so we can't even call his boss and bitch, not that it would do any good."

"Can someone else be there for the inspection?" she asked hopefully.

"Granddad offered to. He knows what you and I had planned. Well, not all the details, but going surfing. He doesn't know the history of the hassles we've had over the fire alarms. I pretty well have to be there, just for that. Closeout conference, pretty much the same thing, except that he'll have to be there for that, too. So will Dad. Sorry, Nicole. Our week together like we planned is screwed."

"Well, shit," she said. "I've even been getting tanning-bed time, just to get ready."

"Yeah, I know," he sighed. "Damn it, we've shot ourselves in the ass on time together ever since last year, and now this has to happen. Look, there are alternatives. The best one I see is to take the next week."

"Which I can't do," she said. "I've got to go back early for practice teaching."

"Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. Well, the other alternative is to throw our shit together and head out as quick as we can, maybe get a plane if we can get on one at this time."

"With all the holiday crowds, that'll be a mess," she said. "Besides, I don't really want to be gone over Christmas if I can help it, and you don't either, not with Myleigh here."

"Yeah, there is that," he said. "She was really looking forward to a family holiday. Hell, she can't even have Christmas with Jennifer. She's doing that live Christmas special from Disney World."

Having Myleigh in Spearfish Lake for Christmas had been on the schedule since shortly after she'd arrived in Athens. She'd have three weeks free, and Jennifer wanted to get in several days with her, doing some more recording. At Home With Jenny Easton hadn't been a chartbuster, but had done well, although there had been some carping from the Jenny Easton fans that it wasn't real Jenny Easton. Tough, Randy thought. He had a better idea of what Jennifer Evachevski really was like than her fans did. In any case, she wanted to get a follow-up out as soon as possible to capitalize on the first one.

At Home With Jenny Easton had solved one problem for him, though. Back in August, he'd thought there might be a chance the Donna Clark Foundation would be able to partly fund Myleigh's summer in England, but his father had soon informed him they'd shot all that part of the money from their budget. It had been a long shot, although the final "no" hadn't come down until after Thanksgiving. Randy had his grandfather's motherly secretary, Eloise, call Myleigh in case her roommate answered the phone. As it turned out, she was alone.

"Got some bad news, Myleigh," he'd told her. "You got shot down on the matching funds."

"It doesn't matter, Randy," she said brightly. "I just opened my mail, and there's a check here from Jennifer that will more than cover it."

"What?"

"Back when we did the recordings, a year ago last summer, Jennifer said that she'd pay me scale or I could take shares. If I took scale, I'd have to join the union, and that was fifty dollars, and if I took shares, I'd have to wait till the album was released. I didn't have the fifty, so I said I'd wait."

"How big is the check?" he asked, curiously.

"Three thousand, seven hundred and thirty-eight dollars and fifty-seven cents," Myleigh said.

He let out a low whistle. "That's a lot of money," he said.

"It is perhaps ten times what I expected, and that's just up through the end of September," Myleigh added. "Jennifer's note said there'll be another check out of the fourth quarter, and it should be larger. And, I'll be getting dribs and drabs of money for years after that. So, it's off to Merrie Olde England next summer for me. And, I think, also in clothes that didn't come from the Goodwill store, for once. Now, I must call Jennifer to thank her. I shall call your mother to thank her as well, for putting Jennifer and me together that time."

The check removed any doubts Myleigh may have had about spending Christmas in Spearfish Lake, although she'd known right from the beginning about Randy and Nicole's planned trip -- and had approved, of course. She'd have about three days off while Jennifer did the special, and she was almost certainly at Jennifer's with her harp as he and Nicole spoke. At least something he'd been involved in had worked out right for Myleigh, he thought; the checks from Jennifer would probably take care of any outstanding expenses she'd need to get through her doctorate.

"Yeah, that's an extra good reason not to be gone over Christmas," Nicole said, pulling him out of his reverie. "She's my friend, too. Your mom and mine have talked about moving the time for Christmas dinner around so I can join you."

"You'd be welcome," he said. "Someone warned you about the clothes, I hope?"

"Yes," Nicole grinned. "To talk like Myleigh, I think that I shall manage to be adequately clothed for the occasion."

"Well, that's that," he said grumpily. "No going over Christmas, then, and no going any other time unless we wanted to fly down for a couple days. That's hardly worth the effort."

"It's only another couple months to spring break," Nicole suggested. "I could take a full week and a little, and if we were to fly, we'd gain a couple days on driving."

Randy shook his head. "I hate to put it off that long," he said pessimistically. "Crap, something's bound to come up then, too."

"It's still pretty slow for you then, isn't it?" she asked. "If your grandfather knows you're getting screwed out of the vacation you'd planned, he might be more willing to let you go then."

"I can ask. I can't promise anything."

Nicole slid over next to him, and he put his arm around her as she said. "Randy, I really want to get away with you. I'd hoped this would work out, but it won't and we'd better accept it. There is an advantage to going over spring break, anyway."

"What's that?"

"It's a lot warmer then. That means I can surf in my bikini some, maybe lots. And, any way we do it, it's still going to be just the two of us."

Yeah, the fire was still there, Randy thought. "All right, you sold me," he laughed. It felt good, after the tension of the last couple of hours. "They got along without me all this time, they can get along without me for a week in the slow season after this screw job I just got. There is a downside, though," he grinned.

"What's that?" she asked.

"The nights are a lot shorter," he said.

Nicole turned to smile at him. "I think you'll find they're long enough. I'll figure out some way to drag you out surfing somehow."

"Oh, we'll do some of that, too," he said. "If we're going to fly down, maybe we shouldn't even bother with trying to take the boards, and just get some from Buddha. Just take clothes and camping gear, and rent a car down there."

"Probably," she said. "We can work out the details. Randy, we really have to do it on spring break, because I can see us getting shuffled out of another summer, at least."

"You're telling me something," he said.

"Yeah, Randy. The Girl Scout funding came through, and I'll be going to OLTA as soon as school breaks."

"Then Mosquito Valley again, right?"

"No way to avoid it, unless I want to pay back the money from that last grant," she said. "And, I don't really want to. They're sending me so I can learn enough to overhaul the program some this summer -- start moving it away from artsy-craftsy stuff and more into things that people really do. I think that's important."

"I do, too. That's one of the things that I've learned from you and Crystal. But, what happens in the fall?"

"Big question mark," Nicole said with a frown. "I'm still thinking AT the year after next, but it could change in a year. If I don't decide to do it, then I'll look for a real job, hopefully somewhere around here, and maybe you and I can start discussing promises and agreements."

"And, if you decide to do the AT?"

"Then I'll find something temporary to hold me for the fall and winter. Maybe get on the sub lists, and maybe we can start having that discussion after I get back."

"I'll tell you the truth, Nicole. I don't want to put it off that long, but I won't stand in your way."

"I know you don't, and I know you won't," she said quietly. "That's why it's so important for us to get together when we can. Look, Randy, I promise, when I get done with camp this summer, I'll keep that period free."

"Won't help me a lot," he said, feeling somewhat frustrated. "We'll be right at the height of construction season, and I'll have a hell of a time getting away."

"I know," she sighed. "We'll just have to do the best we can. Tell you what. To make up for it, let's go to Akinback Mountain again next weekend. Maybe you can leave a little early on Friday, and we can make it two nights."

"Might be difficult," he shook his head. "I imagine they're pretty booked up, but maybe you or I can call around and find an opening somewhere. As far as that goes, we could still call around tonight, and take off in the morning."

"Uhhh, not this weekend," she said. "Unless all you want to do is snowboard."

"What . . . oh, I get it. Well, next weekend, for sure, and maybe the weekend after."

"We'll have to see about that," she smiled. "I'll have to leave Sunday afternoon. And, maybe we can sneak in another weekend or two before spring break, but I'll have to be picky about my weekends and work around the teaching schedule."

"Beats the hell out of nothing," he said. "Damn it, we need that few days together all in a row. Last year was sweet, even with Crystal and Myleigh there."

"Yes, it was," she agreed. "Look, Randy, I didn't want to do this, but I have to ask you something."

"What?"

"Where are you with Crystal and Myleigh? Are we still dancing around each other, or what?"

"That's not an easy question to answer," he shook his head again. "I thought about it a lot over the fall. Bluntly, Nicole, I don't know. In a sense, nothing has changed. After the problem with her parents, I thought Crystal might want to come to me. Apparently not. So, it won't be settled soon, and I'll probably have to be the one to settle it, not her. But, I think it's still long odds of anytime soon, if ever."

"How about Myleigh?" she said.

"Essentially, no change there, either. As far as that goes, Nicole, Myleigh and I have become much more distant in the last year. Don't get me wrong -- we're still friends, but I don't think we're lovers anymore. I want to talk to her about it if I can get her alone. I haven't managed that since I took her to Ithaca."

"That's probably a good idea," she said. "I've felt for a while that it's really just Crystal and me."

"I think so, too. But, that begs the question: where are you in this?"

"Mostly waiting for a time that I can make promises," she said. "Randy, would you think less of me if I said I hadn't been faithfully waiting?"

"No," he said. "I can't make the same statement, either. What happened?"

"OLTA," she sighed. "It's very intense, something like an encounter group experience, and it can get very emotional. I think Crystal has told you that."

"She did," Randy said. "She said it was her first time."

"She told me that, too, one day while we were out walking on the AT," she admitted. "I don't care if she thinks the WFR course is wussy, it's still intense and emotional, and, well, one night my emotions ran wild. Just like hers."

"Just as well we didn't make that promise," he said, feeling a lot better about the exchange. "I'll talk with Myleigh. Maybe we can at least get that much cleared away."

~~~~~

The Marlin Bijou is the only movie theater in Spearfish Lake. It was never intended to be a movie theater when the building was built back in the early 1900s and first housed a dry goods store, but after the original theater burned in the 1950s, the theater occupied it. It had been a struggling thing ever since, spending many years closed and boarded up, and now it was run more as a hobby by Mel Corvin, a guy who liked movies, rather than as an attempt to make money, and was only open on weekends.

Mel was an active and committed Christian, and while he didn't run "Christian" films, per se, at the theater (except for an annual series of special showings on Sunday nights), he was committed to clean family entertainment. That meant that the Marlin Bijou ran only "G" rated films, or "PG" rated, if they'd gotten halfway favorable reviews from a Christian rating service that he subscribed to. That service had considerably stricter ideas of what was acceptable than anything Hollywood had ever dreamed. "ET" for example, had been rated "unacceptable" for a list of reasons that ran three pages, and Mel had to review that film personally before he ran it. The Bijou was therefore considered a clean and acceptable place to take or send the kids, but adults (or kids) who wanted to check out the current blockbuster movie had to hop in the car and drive down to the Multiplex in Camden -- over an hour if the roads were dry and traffic was light.

But, that wasn't any big deal; people around Spearfish Lake had long been used to making "The Camden Run," and not only to check out movies, but to hit the malls, go to decent restaurants, or just get out of town for a bit.

So, it wasn't any big deal when Steve Augsberg called Ryan and Linda Clark late on Christmas afternoon and said that he and Binky were making the Camden run to see whatever was on at the Multiplex, and maybe eat a light Vietnamese dinner, and would they like to ride along?

Since Steve and Binky were about the closest friends as Ryan and Linda had, and they'd gained something of an appreciation of Vietnamese cooking from Binky (whose real name was Nguyen Binh Ky, and who had barely survived a horrific boat ride out of Vietnam twenty years earlier) it was a no-brainer. "Might as well catch two while we're down there," Ryan suggested.

It had been an excellent dinner, if a little early. Myleigh had done quite a bit of work in the preparation, and about the time Nicole arrived, she'd slipped upstairs and put on an elegant evening gown with a high neckline and bare shoulders, a hem that brushed the floor, but a slit that went far up her thigh. She looked more than beautiful; elegant, radiant, even, and Nicole was running neck and neck with her in a spectacular evening gown of her own.

It had been an excellent dinner, and a friendly couple of hours. Nicole had eaten very lightly, since she had to go home and do it all over again -- this time dressed in jeans and a sweater, since there was no way she was going to wear an evening gown to Christmas dinner at home, without at least some other female support. That gave Randy and Myleigh a rare and unexpected chance to spend the late afternoon and evening alone, something they hadn't managed in more than a year.

"Would you care for some wine, my dear?" Randy asked, feeling a little elegant himself in a suit and tie.

"Certainly, my lion," Myleigh smiled from her seat on the couch, still dressed in her stunning gown. "I should enjoy something light."

It was hard for Randy to get to his feet from his seat beside Myleigh. A fire crackled in the fireplace, the room was warm, he had a dream of a woman with him -- it was hard to get much better than that. Well, yes, it could, but it involved getting up to get the wine, so he did.

As romantic as the scene was -- and it was, albeit unintentionally, about as romantic a scene as could be imagined -- he was having a hard time getting himself up for the discussion he wanted to have with Myleigh. This scene was almost like a dream, and she was at the center.

He went to the kitchen, his thoughts running hard. He'd wanted to talk to Myleigh about, well, not breaking it off, but instead continuing their relationship while giving up hopes of anything permanent developing -- but at this moment, it was hard to want to give up that hope.

He still liked Myleigh, liked her a lot. She had several qualities in abundance that neither Crystal nor Nicole had, at least not in great amounts. Myleigh was very soft and feminine; indeed, right now, she reeked femininity. She was good looking -- sometimes cute, but right now, downright gorgeous. Crystal could make herself look pretty good if she worked at it, but the times that happened had to be noted down as "Big Events." Nicole was better looking than Crystal naturally, and could be feminine if she wanted to be, but on an objective scale, Myleigh outclassed her. Myleigh was highly intelligent, well-read, intellectual, and talented. Nicole was worlds ahead of Crystal in most of those areas, except for musical talent; she had difficulty playing the radio, while Crystal at least could strum a guitar, preferably around a campfire with a few beers.

While Nicole occupied a comfortable middle ground between his two NMU friends in most regards, in his mind she was a little more like Crystal than she was like Myleigh. Myleigh represented an almost unattainable ideal to him, an ideal of what a woman could be and perhaps should be. He liked, even loved all three girls, but somehow Myleigh seemed far the most romantic to him, if for no more reason than she also seemed the most unattainable.

Myleigh had matured a lot in the years he'd known her. She'd seemed shy and reserved when he'd met her. While she still at times seemed exotic and mysterious, capable of things that he could never dream of, she was no longer shy; she'd become a confident, outgoing, mature woman. Perhaps the thing that had caught his attention the most over the last few days he'd been around her was that she'd ratcheted her language down a notch or two. While she was still capable of being virtually incomprehensible, like while discussing English literature with Buddha, she talked much less like a walking dictionary. Since she'd admitted to Randy long ago that her use of the language was a defense mechanism, he reasoned that she no longer felt the need to use it as much. It told him as much as anything.

The bottle of wine they'd had with dinner was still out on the kitchen counter; it would do. He found a couple long-stemmed wine glasses, poured the wine, and carried it back into the living room. "Here you go, lass," he said, still playing at being elegant.

"Thank you, my lion," she smiled. "This is certainly a long way from the cafeteria at NMU, isn't it?"

"It is indeed," he said. "Those days are long ago and far away, aren't they?"

"Yes, they are. You know, in the years I spent the Christmas holidays with the Chladeks, it seemed a warm and close family time, a dream like I'd never known. I could not have dreamed of a Christmas in an evening gown, seated by a crackling fire, sipping wine with a handsome man I care for deeply. It seems like a bit of heaven."

Well, that settled it if anything did, Randy thought. He was going to have to find another time to bring the subject up. It was going to be hard as it was; in the sort of mood she was in, it was going to be impossible. "It's been very nice to be with you again," he smiled.

"It's been very nice to be here," she said. "It balances off last Christmas. That was a horror, with Crystal swearing at times, crying at others, and very sad and bitter at the best of times. When we finally met you after Christmas, she was through the worst of it. While I admit that Pete Chladek is not the most personable man I've ever met, he could at least be friendly. I cannot tell you how sad I was that the family I had shared so many holidays with for so many years had started to crumble so badly."

"I watched a lot of it, through Crystal," he said. "I think she knew all fall what was going to happen. I sometimes wonder how much she helped it along."

"Yes, that's true, I suppose," she nodded. "While I was not as privy as you to what was happening, I imagine there were things she must have been able to do to temper the situation before it reached a head."

"If there were, I don't know what they would have been. She bent over backward to do what her folks wanted her to do, and look what happened. I hope she's doing all right today."

"I do, too," Myleigh said with a touch of compassion in her voice. "She seemed all right when she called last night, and since she's working today, at least she'll be busy. But, I do wish she were here to enjoy this with us."

"Perhaps another year," he said, holding doubts. Right now, Crystal seemed far away, not only in miles, but also in spirit. Despite what he'd told Nicole the night before, Crystal seemed to be slipping away from him, much as Myleigh had done in the past year. Now, in spite of the time that had passed, here Myleigh was, tugging at his heartstrings again.

"In any case, there's a part of me that's just as glad she's not here, right now," she smirked. "You know, my lion, you could not have come up with a more romantic scene if you had planned it. You know, the fire, the wine, you sitting next to me."

She was feeling it too. Well, damn it, it was romantic. "It wasn't planned," he said. "It just worked out that way."

"Yes, my lion, I know. Nevertheless, it makes a very good backdrop for something that I must discuss with you."

Now what? She'd called him "my lion" several times in the past few minutes, and that was something she usually only used intimately with him. Oh, once in a while, she'd use it casually, but only with Crystal around and when things were a little emotional. Much though he liked to hear those words from her, they could be a warning, too. "Certainly, my dear," he smiled.

"I'm afraid I must discuss a subject you will probably find distasteful," she said. "It concerns Olivia."

"Yes, I find her distasteful," he said. "She apparently feels that way about me." He could think of other words to describe Myleigh's roommate, and "asshole" was right at the top of the list. On the rare occasions that he'd tried to call Myleigh, she'd hung up the phone at the sound of his voice, and he'd had to resort to having his mother or Eloise call for him to get through the barrier.

"She has been reasonable around me," Myleigh explained. "I cannot say that we are the friends that Crystal and I were, or even the companions that Paula and I were, but she is as committed to her studies as I am, and we at least respect each other for that."

"You don't have to put up with her," Randy suggested. "Especially now. I'm sure Jennifer would give you an advance if you asked for one."

"She has made the offer, but not in that regard," Myleigh said with a little smirk. "However, that's not the issue. I discovered early on that Olivia does not merely dislike you. She is rather severely a misandrist."

"Myleigh, I don't have a dictionary with me, and I'm not getting up to get one right now."

"Sorry," she teased, "I thought your vocabulary was better than that. You know what a misogynist is, don't you?"

"Sure, a man who hates women."

"Olivia, I'm afraid, is on the other side of that coin," she smiled. "She, of course, contends that such a thing cannot exist, and that women all represent pure love, while all men are misogynists. I find that attitude rather hypocritical, of course. She was, in fact, only tolerant of you on the day that you met her because she only considers men useful as beasts of burden."

"That was tolerant?" he frowned. "I thought I was going to have to neutralize her, just on general principles."

"She seems to raise that attitude in a lot of men," Myleigh smiled. "Actually, she has personal grounds for her belief, but I need not get into them. Let us just say that Crystal's and my histories with our families are mild by comparison, and let it go at that. In any case, she considers me a misbegotten sheep who has strayed from the fold for my willingness to even consider having a friend of the male persuasion. I dare say that she would be livid to see the two of us sitting here in a romantic situation like this."

"That's why you had Nicole pick you up at Athens, rather than me driving down?" he asked.

"Why ask for trouble?" Myleigh grinned. "Nicole is a woman, and therefore tolerable in her eyes. Randy, do you remember one time up at NMU, when Crystal referred to us as the two most liberated women on campus?"

"Sure. You two are cutting your own paths in life, not following along behind some man."

"Olivia believes she is so liberated that she considers people like Crystal and myself to be hopelessly enslaved," she smiled.

"Let me add a word to your vocabulary," he grinned. "Feminazi."

"My lion, it is a fair description of her, if not a new word to me," she laughed. "While I have no more desire to be a slave to a penis than I ever had, I will gladly admit to enjoying yours from time to time. For obvious reasons, I have not admitted that to Olivia. As you may have surmised, she is an active lesbian, and is rather proud of it."

"Doesn't surprise me in the slightest," Randy said. "Just out of curiosity, how does she react to gay guys?"

"Not very differently," Myleigh said. "Perhaps a little kinder -- but not much. Gay or not, they still are mounted with the wrong equipment."

"Still beasts of burden, right?"

"Exactly. Olivia has a lover down in Chicago, a girl named Cynthia, whom I met once. Randy, do you remember watching people walk across campus, holding hands, kissing, and otherwise being publicly affectionate to the point of being cloying?"

"Of course," he said.

"I must admit it's a rather different matter to watch Olivia and Cynthia act like that. I do not want to call it disgusting, but they are well past mere cloying. But, I digress. Suffice it to say, that not only is Olivia actively a lesbian, she is rather proselytizing about it. She is of the opinion that it is the only true way, and she is a true believer. Randy," she said shyly, "I have a confession to make."

He shook his head, expecting what was coming. "Let me guess. You tried it out with her, right?"

She hung her head. "My lion, I must admit it, I did. Perhaps it was weak of me, but it did at least have the positive effect of proving to me that I am, thankfully, not a lesbian. I found it, well, interesting, but nowhere near as rewarding as the conventional method."

"So how did she react to that?"

"She was rather disappointed in me," she smiled. "As I said, a poor misbegotten sheep strayed from the fold. However, I do believe we have put the issue to bed, so to speak."

"Is it going to cause you problems you can't handle?"

"You mean, 'Do I think she's going to want to do it again,' don't you? No, I don't think so."

"Look, if it looks like trouble, tell me and I'll come down there and reason with her."

"It shouldn't have to come to that, since your idea of reasoning might involve hospital time for her. That would be counterproductive, and what she expects of men, anyway. It would do nothing but prove her point."

"Then I'll send Crystal an airline ticket and have her come reason with her," he said.

"No, Randy, violence should not be necessary," Myleigh grinned. "Olivia understands that if there are further problems, I shall tell Cynthia of our dalliance."

Randy threw back his head and laughed. There was nothing else to do. "OK, you're sneaky and manipulative, but we always knew that. You're telling me the situation between you and Olivia is something you can handle, right?"

"Yes, my lion," she smiled, "With the exception that I really do not wish to provoke her into yet another of her screaming rants about how all men are pigs. You and I have learned to be very careful about our contacts, and I suppose we should keep them limited. Your having your mother or Eloise call if you need to speak to me has worked well, and you can alert me to call via e-mail, as well."

"Yeah," he nodded. "But, darn it, it's hard to have you so close and not see you very often."

"I know," she said. "In any case, we can't see each other very often, anyway. You, Crystal, and I had a lot of free time at Northern. Even Paula and I had some time free at Ithaca. However, I'm doing what normally would be a four-year program in a little over two years, and my free time is very limited. I really should be spending more time over this break at my studies, but I do feel a duty to Jennifer, as well. Then, with England now in the picture for this summer, it could well be next Thanksgiving or Christmas before we have a chance to see each other again."

"Yeah," he said sadly, "I pretty much figured that was going to be the case."

"I'm sorry, Randy. I shall miss you, too. But you are as aware as I the importance I place on my studies."

"I know. And I don't fault you for it. We've gone a year before, so I suppose we can do it again if we have to."

"And that, Randy, leads me to the point I wished to make. We are alone tonight only by chance, which may not come again soon. I rather have hopes that Crystal will be able to join us another Christmas, which would further reduce our chances of being alone then. Randy, my lion, I do not wish to go for what may well be years with the memory of my most recent sexual experience a tainted one. I know it's against the policy we have held for so long, but your parents will not be back for some time. My lion, would you take me upstairs and give me a pleasant memory to carry with me?"

It was a long way from the discussion he'd planned to have with her, and the time for it might not come soon, now. But, between the wine, the fire and the beautiful woman he really did love, at least as much as Crystal and Nicole, and maybe even a little more, there could be no other answer: "Of course, my dear."



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