Alone Together

Part II of the Dawnwalker Cycle

"A Spearfish Lake Story"


a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009




Chapter 3

March, 1997

It took a while for the smoke to blow away from that memorable evening in Tanishaís room. Once the excitement of the moment passed, they both were a little abashed, and wordlessly agreed that perhaps theyíd pushed it a little too far. That didnít keep them from being friends, from studying together, spending time together Ė and yes, kissing a little.

It was another couple of weeks before they let themselves go that far again, this time in Jonís room, one floor up in the same building. It started out as another study session Ė actually another McDermott special to crack, but this one fell easily, in comparison to the one the previous month that had seemed like a miracle. The feeling of victory set off another kiss of celebration, and without any discussion Ė although with plenty of joyous memories of the last time Ė they threw caution to the wind and soon found themselves quietly laying on Jonís bed, fully clothed, kissing, hugging, enjoying the closeness. Jon had just gotten Tanishaís bra unfastened and had just begun to explore the soft and warm wonders of the naked skin of her breast, which as before was still covered with her sweat shirt, when there was a rather insistent knocking on the door. The first thought on his mind, on her mind, was approximately the same: Why the hell now, of all the damn times?

The knocking came again. It couldnít 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. God, how nice it felt to have a womanís arms around him, her hands touching bare skin, to feel her lips on his.

Both of them wanted to ignore the interruption Ė what they were doing was lots more fun than anything anyone could be bothering them with could possibly be, but both were the kind of people who had to answer the door. After all, 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 sweat shirt, where sheíd been doing some bare skin exploring of her own, while feeling sorry as he took his arms away from her.

"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 Ė of all people Ė Crystal looking back at him, bronzed to a golden tan and looking strong and confident as ever. He hadnít seen his sister or heard a word of her since sheíd stormed out of the house in a blizzard of swear words at Christmas. Heíd have been less surprised to see his dad appear at the door Ė more fearful, but less surprised.

Tanisha was still getting her bra refastened, although out of sight, when Jon opened the door. "H-hi, Crystal," she heard him say.

"Hope Iím not interrupting anything," she heard a womanís voice say casually. "I thought Iíd stop off and say ĎHi.í"

"N-no, thatís fine," he said, still shocked to see who the Starship Enterprise had just beamed down out of nowhere, after three months of total silence. "T-tanisha and I were just working on a homework problem. Why donít you come in? How have you been?" he asked, almost as an afterthought.

"Oh, OK," she said casually, walking through the foyer, Jon on her heels.

Oh, boy, this is going to be a problem for Jon, Tanisha thought. With her clothes almost back in order, she leaned out from the bed, to see a big, confident-looking white woman, deeply tanned, looking strong, muscular, and healthy. She wasnít what you could call pretty Ė she had a big nose and unkempt short brown hair. But then, Tanisha thought, Iím not exactly the prettiest black girl on campus, either.

"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, smiling widely and extending her hand.

"Hi," Tanisha said, a little uncertainly, but extending her hand in friendship. "Youíre the surfer and raft guide, right?"

"Yeah, Iíve been known to do some of that," Crystal smiled graciously.

"Hey, look, if you two want to be alone, I can run down to my room or something," Tanisha offered, feeling uncomfortable at being caught like this with Jon.

"No, donít bother," Crystal grinned. "I can only stay a few minutes. I just wanted to say hello to Jon since Iím in the area and wonít 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 donít bite," Crystal smiled and turned to her brother. "Jon, any news from home?"

"You heard Nanci got kicked out of school?" Tanisha had heard the story before; there had been a series of long phone calls earlier in the month from his dad and mom both together and separately, calling from work. The stories that the two gave were considerably different; according to his mom, Nanci and her boyfriend had decided to spend the night together, and had locked her roommate out of her room, and the roommate had gone to the administration about it. According to his father, what actually happened was Crystalís boyfriend Randy had threatened to beat her to a bloody pulp, and she left campus because she was scared. She knew Jon leaned toward his motherís version as being more correct, but that there probably was some truth to his dadís version, too.

"I heard," Crystal replied dryly without telling how she knew. Jon could pick up the contempt in her voice. "Didnít surprise me much. Whatís she doing?"

"Not much of anything, from what I can tell," Jon said awkwardly. "Crystal, uh, I havenít been calling home much. Itís pretty uncomfortable around there."

"Oh?" Crystal said, with a lot being asked in that one word.

"Yeah, when I call home, it starts off pretty good, but pretty soon thereís 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 couldnít even eat dinner without a fight. Mom set a place for you every night, hoping youíd 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 donít know what really happened between you and Nanci and Dad, and the stories are pretty different from everybody. Nanci fucked up pretty bad, didnít she?"

"Big time," Crystal said. "I wonít tell you stories. That way you donít 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 donít know how she ever kept from getting caught for some of the stuff she did. I guess it doesnít surprise me if it was worse in college."

"But you werenít going to rat on her, right?"

"Yeah," he said glumly. "Maybe I should have."

"I didnít want to rat on her, either," Crystal said. "I mean, it was always us against them, right?"

"Yeah, pretty much," he grinned.

"Well, maybe I should have, too. But, whatís done is done."

"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 Danny Rostenkowski, and we drove down to Florida for a few days, just for something to do."

"Oh?" Crystal asked, sounding interested. "Anyplace special?"

"Dannyís 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. "Howíd it go?"

"I fell in a lot," he said sheepishly.

"Hey," she grinned broadly, "Iíll let you in on a secret. You ever want to try it again and really learn how to do it, B&Gís Surf Shop, on A1A down toward Sebastian Inlet. Tell Buddha I sent you. Heíll teach you right."

"Probably wonít," he said. "I got a pretty bad sunburn."

"Hey, Bro, thatís what they make sunscreen for, right?"

"Well, I wouldnít have done it if I wasnít pretty bored," he said. "But it was better than home. Honestly, Crystal," he summed up, "I donít know what Iím going to do this summer."

It was something that Tanisha had talked about a lot with Jon ever since the first of the year Ė she definitely wasnít going home next summer, but she really didnít have any plans, either. "I told him he should check in the department for a summer job somewhere," she interjected.

"Sounds like a good idea," Crystal agreed.

"Yeah, but Dad expects me back at Hadley-Monroe," he said glumly.

"Jon, I donít know a damn thing about engineering," Crystal shook her head, "But I can tell you that no one does it perfectly, even Hadley-Monroe," Crystal advised. "Seeing how they do things elsewhere will be valuable to you. Or, maybe you can find a seminar or a special session or something. Use your imagination."

"Yeah, maybe," he said. "Tanisha said that, too. Maybe I can work out something."

"Donít think you have to wind up at Hadley-Monroe," she added. "You remember Randy, donít you?"

"Sure. Jeez, heís something else, isnít he? How are you two getting along, anyway?"

"Heís OK," Crystal said obliquely. "Heís still in his last semester at NMU. The thing is, heís pretty well locked into having to go into the family business starting in a couple months, and itís going to keep him from doing other things he wants to do. Itís pretty sad, really, and itís something we havenít been able to work out. Hadley-Monroe may be OK, but youíre not locked into it the way Randy is."

"Itíd be hard to say no," Jon said quietly, remembering all the times his father had talked of looking forward to the day that theyíd be working there together.

"Jon, it may be harder if you say yes," Crystal told him bluntly. "Remember that 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. Heíd tried to stay out of the troubles, and didnít want to get dragged into them.

"I need you to call Mom, probably at work. Mom, not Dad. Tell her Iím OK and I got her message. Iíll check in with you or her once in a while, not often, and probably not soon. Tell her . . . tell her Iíll probably see her again someday, but Iím not coming home until I can expect a damn sincere apology."

"Crystal, I donít think thatís going to happen. At least not from Dad."

"Wouldnít surprise me," she admitted sadly, "But who knows? Nanci may still change Dadís mind. Tell Mom to hang in there, too, huh? Just see that she gets the message. And, Jon?"

"Yeah?"

"Keep your head down and donít get caught in the middle. I can tell you itís not a nice place to be."

"Thatís pretty obvious," he nodded." Thatís why I didnít hang around at Christmas."

"Me neither," Crystal snickered. "Look, I gotta run. You take care. Do what you have to do. Iíll catch you again sooner or later."

"Where are you going, Crystal?" he asked curiously.

"Iím heading north," she said cryptically, turning again to Tanisha. "Good meeting you, Tanisha. I really hope I didnít 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, and headed for the doorway. "You take care, too." At the door, she turned back to her brother. "See ya around, Bro," she smiled. "Donít worry. I wonít rat on you and Tanisha. Do what you want to do."

"I didnít think you would. Take care, Crystal."

As quickly as she had come, she was gone, the door closing behind her. Jon stood there stunned for a second, then raced to open the door to say something else, but when he looked down the hall, she was gone, like the Starship Enterprise had just beamed her back up.

"That was Crystal, huh?" Tanisha said as Jon walked back into the room, all thoughts of an enjoyable afternoon of light petting as far from his mind as it was hers.

"Yeah, it was," Jon said. "Wonder when Iíll see her again?"

"Hard to say," Tanisha said distantly, obviously thinking about other things. "You notice she didnít give any hint of where she is now, what sheís been doing, where sheís going, really anything personal."

"I noticed," Jon nodded. "She doesnít know whether to trust me or not, so she didnít say anything that would give her away. Itís pretty clear that sheís been talking to Randy, or else she wouldnít know that Nanci got kicked out of school, or whatever it was."

"This Randy, heís her boyfriend, right?"

"More or less," Jon said. "Interesting guy, about my size, but thinner, more muscular. Heís another martial arts freak like her, does whitewater, surfing, outdoor things like that, pretty quiet but pretty serious. Iíve only met him three different times, never real long, but then I havenít seen Crystal all that much the last few years, either. I guess I sort of figured sheíd wind up with him, but from the tone of what she said, maybe not." He shook his head. "I hope whatever it is works out for her. Itís got to be scary, to be out on your own like that."

"Yeah, I know," she said quietly. "I mean, itís not quite the same thing, but I donít dare go home again, any more than she does."

Jon nodded. "Iím coming to understand it, too," he said. "I mean, in theory, yeah, I could go back to Glen Ellyn when the term breaks, work at Hadley-Monroe again, but Iíll be damned if I want to." He shook his head again, and sat down on the bed. "For a while there, I guess things were cooling off at home, but now Nanci will be there, her presence just stirring them up again. I could go back but thereís no way I can. Itíd just drive me up the wall."

"I could go home," she shook her head, "But it would mean surrendering. I barely got out of there after Christmas." She sat down beside him, and let out a big sigh. "I guess Iíve been denying the truth. I canít go home again, Jon, at least not to stay."

"Yeah, I guess Iíve been denying it, too," he agreed. "Crap, sheís right. Really, it isnít a lot different than your situation. A couple years ago Christmas, back when I was still in high school, she and I were alone together, and she got on my ass big time. She said Dad has just tried to mold me into an image of his own dull self. She said I might turn into a decent engineer, but no imagination, no soul. She said I ought to get off my dead ass, down there in the basement playing with my AutoCAD, because if I didnít get an idea of what the world is really like, the best Iíd ever do is contribute to someone elseís idea, not have any of my own. She said Iíd be lucky if the world didnít bite me in the ass in the process."

"Thatís pretty brutal," Tanisha said. "Iím surprised you put up with her talking to you like that."

"I didnít have a lot of choice," Jon shrugged. "She is a black belt, after all. I was pretty pissed at the time, and we had a pretty good yelling match. But, you know what? After I thought about it, and it took a while, I realized she was right. Thatís why when the choice came up between Purdue and here, I chose here. Purdue is just too damn close to Chicago. If I had gone there, I knew Iíd have had Dad looking over my shoulder all the time."

"Same thing," Tanisha nodded. "Purdue is too close to St. Louis, too. I guess Iím just as glad that it was too white for my father. Atlanta is farther away, so itís better. Iím sure glad I donít have to worry about my father or my brother walking in here and finding me necking with you."

Jon nodded. "Same here. I wouldnít have dared even think about it if this was Purdue, itíd be too easy for Dad to drop in without warning. He doesnít like to travel much. Mom could hardly get him out of the house with dynamite. The last time he was here was last fall, and he said over Christmas he was damn glad he didnít have to come down here again until next spring." He let out a sigh, and said, "Oh, shit."

"What now?" she asked.

"Heíll be down here in, what, six weeks, all set to haul my ass back to Hadley-Monroe for the summer," Jon sighed again. "Now, how the hell do I get out of that?"

Tanisha nodded her head. "You get right down to it, Iíve got the same problem. I mean, I donít have any intention of going home for the summer, but I guess Iíve been denying the reality of it. If Iím going to get away with it at all, Iíve got to have a solid-gold alternative, and I havenít really been looking, either."

"Then I guess weíd better get in gear," Jon said. "Iíd say we have four weeks to nail something down. Letís face it, neither of us can talk about goofball summer jobs, like Crystal spent her summers as a raft guide up on the Ocoee. Itís just about got to be a useful job or internship in engineering, something valuable to our careers, something solid enough that we have an excuse to be gone."

"If I had to guess, Iíd say weíve missed the boat on those kinds of things," Tanisha sighed. "Maybe we can get in on a summer session someplace. If not here, well, somewhere. But, weíre going to have to get hopping on that if weíre going to do it, or the slots are going to be gone there, too."

"Weíre probably best if we can do it right here," Jon agreed. "I mean, suppose we could get in a session at, say, MIT. Then your father is going to be all upset that itís too white."

"There is that," she agreed. "But Jon, it isnít something we have to do together."

"I suppose," he said. "But it sure would be more interesting if it was."

"Oh, I agree," she smiled, and shook her head. "You have to wonder what kind of impression your sister got of us."

"I told her we were working on homework," Jon protested.

"Oh, you did," Tanisha smiled. "But you let her in too quick. I was still getting my bra refastened. Iíll bet she thinks weíve got a hot romance going on."

"Oh, damn," Jon said. "Iím sorry, Tanisha. I wasnít thinking. I guess I was so surprised to see her that I didnít think very much. But, you know what? If thatís the impression she got, Iíll bet it was fine with her."

"She didnít seem very shocked," Tanisha smiled.

"Oh, she had to have been shocked," Jon laughed. "Not at us, but at me. She used to say that thereís no way I could ever get a girl friend since I could never be dragged away from the computer long enough."

"Funny," Tanisha giggled, "My brother used to say the same thing. Guess they never figured weíd bring our computers along with us, even if we really donít have a hot romance scene going."

"Yeah," Jon said thoughtfully, "But you know, Crystal walked in here throwing truth right and left. If I read her right, and I think she was pretty clear, she said if we wanted to have one, it was all right with her."

"Thatís something," she replied. "Of course, if we did, weíd have a heck of a price to pay with the rest of our families."

"True," he said thoughtfully, and was silent for a second. "But really, isnít it pretty much the price weíre going to have to pay anyway?"

"I guess," she replied after thinking about it for a moment. "Letís see what we can do about finding jobs or sessions where we can be together. Jon, if itís all right with you, if weíre going to have to be alone, Iíd just as soon we were alone together."

* * *

They spent much of the rest of the afternoon online, searching first the Tech website for open summer session classes, and then searching around for job opportunities. As both of them had suspected, the latter were limited. There really werenít a lot of jobs in the engineering field that seemed to be open to the both of them in their specialty, at least at this late a date, but there were a few possibilities, enough to write up some résumés and send them off. It was hard to know where to look, what to look for, and Jon privately figured it was a lost cause before they started.

A summer session at Tech, though, had possibilities. There werenít a lot of summer classes that would be useful to them in engineering, but there were some, and they could also go a long way toward filling out their non-engineering electives in the process. "We really ought to ask around the department," Tanisha suggested. "There might be some sort of special summer project, research or something, that might have some potential."

"Darn right," Jon agreed. "Iíd say we ought to hit on everyone we know. There might be a lead there."

By the time they made it to the stress analysis class on Monday morning, theyíd pretty well settled on the option of staying in Atlanta for the summer, and were just looking for something to fill out the schedule, a research project of some sort or another. However, just as the class was breaking up, Dr. McDermott said, "Ms. Blythe, Mr. Chladek, if you have a minute, Iíd like to see you after class, please."

"Sure," Tanisha said, gathering up her books as Jon walked up to the professor. "We sort of wanted to talk to you, anyway."

"What is it, Dr. McDermott?" Jon asked.

"I was wondering if either or both of you have a job lined up for the summer," he inquired.

"Well, yes and no," Jon responded. "I do have a job lined up, but itís one Iíd rather not do. Iíd really rather have something more useful for my career."

"About the same," Tanisha admitted. "Iíll do just about anything you can think of in engineering as opposed to wiping snotty noses in my churchís day care center."

"Then I might have something for you," the balding professor said. "A former student of mine is looking for a couple of undergraduates, or possibly low graduate students, who can think innovatively and are good self starters. This isnít the first time heís come to me with that request, and the students Iíve sent out there have done well, so heís willing to listen to my recommendation."

"Sounds like it has possibilities," Tanisha nodded. "What can you tell us about it? Is it around here? Is it an internship, or a paid position?"

"Itís a paid position," Dr. McDermott said. "Iím not very clear on what the pay would be, but it would be well over minimum wage. But, itís not around here. Itís in Phoenix, a company called Lambdatron. Have you ever heard of it?"

"I think so," Jon smiled. Yes, heíd heard the name, not often, but it wasnít totally unfamiliar, either. "Mostly an R&D place, if Iím thinking correctly."

"Thatís correct," Dr. McDermott said. "Much of what they do is defense related, and Iím not very clear on what exactly it is they do, but in general, itís very advanced technology. Probably for a summer job for undergraduates, itís going to involve a lot of boring detail work, but youíd almost certainly gain some valuable experience out of it, and have a good line on a résumé. On the other hand, if you do well, it could turn into something for the future. If youíre interested, Iíd be glad to pass your names along with my recommendation."

It didnít take much discussion on Jon and Tanishaís part Ė a quick nod at each other was all it took. "Dr. McDermott," Jon said, "I think I can speak for both of us in saying weíre very interested in knowing more about it."

"And," Tanisha added, "Weíd like to thank you very much for thinking of us, and for the support youíve offered."



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