Alone Together

Part II of the Dawnwalker Cycle

"A Spearfish Lake Story"

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 4

May, 1997

There was a dull glow of light off in the distance beyond the right wingtip of the South Central 757. Indianapolis, Jon guessed, having made this trip before, as if his watch didnít tell him that they were getting close to Chicago.

Heíd have given a lot to have avoided this trip, but there were too many good reasons to make it, even if some of the good reasons were as bad as they could be. He was not looking forward to the next few hours, or the next days.

It would have been better if he and Tanisha could have headed right on out to Phoenix from Atlanta, and just avoided Chicago and St. Louis altogether. But then, plans had changed a lot in the last two weeks. Theyíd faxed their résumés and transcripts out to Phoenix the same day that Dr. McDermott had tipped them off about the job, along with his promise to call his old student and give his recommendation. But then, Lambdatron seemed to drop off the face of the earth for two weeks, to the point where he and Tanisha just about gave up on the idea and went back to making plans for a summer session, with all that involved. Then, quite suddenly one evening he got a phone call from Dr. McDermottís friend, a Jim Geletzke at Lambdatron, and it quickly turned into a telephone interview; Jon realized it was a conference call, with several people on the other end of the line. They threw some tough questions at him, and he gave them the best answers he could. It seemed to go pretty well, though, and as soon as it was completed he raced to Tanishaís room and knocked on the door. Her roommate answered it, and said Tanisha was on an important phone call. He heard enough of the conversation to realize she was getting a phone interview too; he gave her a quick thumbs up, and headed back up to his room, to await the results.

It was half an hour or more before she called him. "It went pretty well, I think," she said. "I guess itís up to them."

But days went by, a full week, and then into another, and the end of the term was drawing near. As it approached, their hopes began to dry up, and it looked like they were going to be spending the summer in Atlanta. But then, one day on their way back to their rooms from their structural design class, they stopped at the student mailboxes. In each of the boxes, there was a large envelope from Lambdatron Corporation.

"Jon," Tanisha said, holding the envelope in her hands, "Iím almost scared to open it."

"Me, too," he said, "But you gotta think that if it was a turn down, it wouldnít be in such a large envelope."

"I suppose," she sighed. "Well, here goes nothing."

Ten seconds later, the students hanging around the mailboxes were just a little surprised at the nerdy white guy and the nerdy black girl, shouting "I got it . . . we got it!" and giving each other high-fives, which turned into a big hug as they danced around each other. They werenít the kind of kids who would kiss in public, but, a few minutes later, they did share a big one up in Jonís room. "Jeez-o-peet," Jon said as he held her in his arms, "Thatís over twice what I would be making at Hadley-Monroe."

"Hell," Tanisha snorted. "Thatís six times what Iíd be making at the day care! Jon, we are off to Phoenix!"

"Absolutely," he smiled. "Lambdatron, here we come!"

The next two weeks were hectic. They had a lot to do, canceling the classes theyíd already set up. There was a big complication, however; in fact, several big ones, at least partly revolving around the fact that Jon knew his parents were planning on giving him a new car as soon as he got home. This wasnít a surprise; it was actually a delayed high school graduation gift, delayed because freshmen and sophomores couldnít have cars on campus at Tech due to an extremely tight parking situation. Jon and his father had agreed two years before that there was no point in letting a new car sit on blocks and depreciate in Glen Ellyn for two eight-month periods. At that, it was a special deal; Crystal and Nanci had been given used cars, but of good value, but it had been long worked out that if Jon got good grades in college, heíd get a better deal as a reward. He already knew it was a new Chevy Monte Carlo; in fact, his old clunker heíd driven through the last part of high school and last summer had been traded in, and the papers had been signed, the plates were on the new wheels. Heíd seen a digital picture of it sitting in the front yard, white and shiny, with only seventeen miles on the clock.

Given the existence of the car, there was no way he could avoid going to Glen Ellyn to pick it up, but he knew that, carried with it, was a face-to-face confrontation with his father heíd rather avoid if he could. But, having it meant he and Tanisha could drive out to Phoenix and have wheels while they were there, and it was already pretty clear that a car was going to be needed.

Tanisha hadnít really wanted to go home Ė sheíd already been told she would be expected to work in the day care center again that summer Ė but she had summer clothes in St. Louis, and some other things, though not a lot, that she really would need in Phoenix. Again, there wasnít a way to avoid it, although they kicked around the idea of her flying to Chicago or someplace, perhaps a day or two after Jon, and having him pick her up. More than anything else, though, she figured sheíd better go home and make the announcement that she was going to be spending the summer working out west out of sympathy for Jon having to make the same announcement. So, the plan was for Jon to pick her up in St. Louis and drive out together.

They had a week between the beginning of break and the time they had to be in Phoenix, so it wasnít much time, considering the distance. That may have been the one bright spot in the entire mess, Jon thought as he watched the lights pass below the wing of the airliner.

It was possible his father might not blow sky high at his announcement that he was heading out west to work for the summer. The money, after all, was terrific, and from what Jon could learn about the job, heíd be learning a lot of new, high-tech stuff that they just didnít deal with at Hadley-Monroe. He thought it might be possible to point out that heíd be learning stuff that would be useful to the company in the future, and it might come off all right.

On the other hand, he didnít dare even think the word "Tanisha" while he was around his father. Heíd never come quite clean to her about it, but Jon knew without even thinking about it that his father never would be willing to accept her, even as Jonís friend. Jon hated to use the word "racist" in connection with his father, but there it was. Tanisha had said, more than once, that her father and brother pretty much considered white people to be tools of the devil. Pete Chladek wouldnít have used that last word about blacks, but the sentiment would have been pretty similar.

Tanisha and Jon were even closer friends by now than they had been when Crystal had found them, clearly a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, although they hadnít let themselves get into another heavy petting situation like Crystal had caught them in. They were still examining the idea that they really could be romantic, in spite of the dramatic difference in the colors of their skins. Somehow, as time went on, it didnít matter that much to them, and the excitement of the job at Lambdatron overcame a lot of it. They werenít yet good enough friends to consider sharing an apartment, but theyíd managed to rent adjoining furnished ones, sight unseen, not far from their new jobs.

But was there a future there? Who knew? After several months of letting their relationship develop, she was about as close a friend as heíd ever had, far and away the closest female friend. Though there was the difference in their skins and backgrounds, they were a lot alike, had a lot in common, and thought pretty much the same way. They had the same sort of family problems, and the same way of thinking about things. It all pretty well came down to the conclusion that theyíd reached together back in the hours after Crystal had found them in his dorm room: theyíd pay a heavy price with their families if they got serious. But, if they wound up going to places like they seemed to be heading with this job at Lambdatron, theyíd both be paying most of that price, anyway.

It was too soon for an answer, Jon knew, but he was scared that a big piece was going to fall into place in the next few hours.

* * *

Jon was traveling light; he and Tanisha had left a lot of their stuff in a storage locker in Atlanta, like their winter clothes, some pieces of dorm furniture, even their desktop computers, but there were some things that he wanted to take with him, like his laptop, some textbooks, and the like. He hoped over the course of the summer to get a head start on fall classes, and there was the possibility that he might be able to still take a summer course or two at the University of Arizona, which wasnít far away from Lambdatron. In fact, when heíd talked to Jim Geletzke at Lambdatron about it, heíd said the company would pick up half the tab. No matter how he cut it, it sounded like a good deal all around. It sounded like a good place to work. Geletzke hadnít been too clear about what he was going to be doing, but what little he had said made it sound interesting.

It took Jon a while to get his bags out of the baggage area, then he carried the stack of them out the security gate to the passenger pickup area in front of the terminal building. He knew his folks were going to be picking him up, so he set the bags down to wait. He didnít have to wait long; he saw the headlights of a white car approaching out of the mass of other vehicles. As it drew closer, he could see it was a Monte Carlo. The Chevy pulled up in front, and the front doors opened. His father got out the driverís side, and his mother out the passenger side. "Damn, Jon," his father said, "Itís good to see you again."

"Good to see you, Dad," he said quietly, dreading what was to come. He still hadnít figured out the best way to hit him with the news.

"So howís the Rambliní Wreck from Georgia Tech?"

"Doing fine," Jon smiled. "Pulled straight Aís again this semester, I guess. I thought that stress analysis class was going to be a bear, and it was, but it worked out fine. I learned a ton."

"Good," his father said. "Maybe youíll get a chance to use some of it this summer. Weíve got a pile of work waiting for you."

I was afraid of that, Jon thought. Iím not going to get into it here, whatever I do. "I suspect you do," he said nonchalantly. "This is the Monte Carlo, I take it?"

"Sure is," Pete said as Jon turned to his mother, Karin.

"Mom, itís good to see you again," he said, taking her in his arms. It still seemed a little surprising that he was taller than his mother, even a little taller than his father, but not by much. He and his father resembled each other a lot; his dad was getting pretty bald, now, and Jon suspected that it would be his fate, as well.

"Jon, itís good to see you," she said. "Itís been months. Youíre looking healthy."

"Iím fine, Mom," he said.

"Jon, would you like to drive?"

"Yeah, sure," he said. Despite all the worries about the announcement, getting his hands on the keys to that Chevy had been the primary reason for this trip, after all, and it was an exciting moment that heíd been looking forward to for years. "Itíll be good to get the feel of it."

"Nice car, sweet," Pete said. "I think itíll do fine for you."

"I hope so," Jon said as his father popped the trunk so Jon could put his bags inside. "Itís just about what I was looking for."

"Something sexy to pick up chicks with down there?" his father grinned.

"Just good transportation," Jon smiled. "The parking still sucks down there, but itís been a pain in the butt without wheels. I had to borrow a car to run my stuff over to the storage locker," he said. "It really wasnít easy to do."

"Jon, I want to thank you for that," his father said as he got in the back seat. "Your being able to fly home is really making things a lot simpler. Weíre way behind on this project weíve been messing with, and Iíve been looking forward to your helping out with it. I talked to the personnel director, he fought with me but heís going to burp up another fifty cents an hour for you."

Big deal, Jon thought, it still wouldnít come up to half his check from Lambdatron. How was he going to make that announcement? "Whatís on the docket?" Jon asked.

"Pretty much drafting," Pete said. "Weíre way behind on it, but the way you know AutoCAD, we ought to be able to catch up some."

Just freaking great, Jon thought to himself as he held the door for his mother to get into the car. Yes, he was good at drafting, had even enjoyed it once, but there was nothing new to learn there, nothing that would really contribute to his education. He walked around the car, got behind the wheel, and adjusted the seat as he said, "Darn," in a disappointed tone in his voice, just to start the process as he started the car, "It would be nice if there were a little honest engineering in there."

"Afraid not," his father said. "Maybe after we get the backlog of drafting caught up, we can slip you something under the table. Iím afraid it wonít be much, since they pretty much donít want undergrads doing that sort of thing, you know that. But boy, weíre so far behind itíd be nice if you could start in the morning."

About what I expected, Jon thought. Yeah, there would be overtime at the AutoCAD screen, lots of it, but it was going to be the same old shit. "No way," he said, "I just finished my last final a few hours ago, Iíve got a pot load to do, and I need a little time to rest up. Iíve been busting my butt studying for finals."

"I suppose," his father said, the disappointment evident. "Weíll just have to make do, I guess. Oh, well, some overtime next week ought to make up for a day lost."

"Believe me, I donít even want to think about it right now," Jon said even more truthfully than his father could have understood. "I need to change gears a bit."

"All work and no play makes jack, you know that," his father chided. "Iíve really been looking forward to working with you, having you around."

Iíll bet you have, Jon thought. The way you were complaining last Christmas, Iíll just damn bet youíre looking for someone to take your side with all the bitching you were doing. "So, what do you hear from anybody?" he said, just to stick his foot in the water.

"Well, Nanciís got her boyfriend, Kip," his mother said neutrally.

"Havenít met the guy," his father said from the back seat, "But she sure seems to like him. Sheís run up a pretty good phone bill calling him, ever since that asshole boyfriend of Crystalís threatened to kill her, and she had to come home. Heís supposed to be back in a couple of days, and sheís been looking forward to seeing him. Iíll bet we donít see much of her for a while."

Jon glanced at his mother, her face evident in the lights from the streetlights as they worked their way out of the airport. He could see her shake her head and roll her eyes. Jon knew what that was all about; heíd talked to his mother about it and gotten her side of the story, the part about Nanci and Kip locking her roommate out of the room. Jon had met Randy on several occasions, one of them after the fight that he and Crystal had with the knife-wielding attackers down at the Ocoee, and "asshole" just wasnít the word to use with him. Heíd sat down and had a long discussion with the Chladeks about the responsibility that goes with the use of his and Crystalís martial arts skills. He seriously doubted that Randy would have threatened Nanci directly, although Nanci knew he had the ability Ė sheíd watched the incident, too. She could have easily taken an angry glance from him as a threat on her life. But, his motherís wordless reaction told him this was another area to stay away from.

But still, he might as well find out just how bad things were. "I take it you havenít heard anything from Crystal," he asked nonchalantly.

"No, and a goddamn good thing, too," Pete said angrily. "After the way you heard her mouth off to me back at Christmas, I donít care if I ever hear from her again. After the way she treated Nanci, encouraged her to run wild, and then encouraged Randy to run her out of college, she is not welcome around me ever again. I donít know how a daughter of mine could treat me like that . . . "

Possibly because she was handing back the shit you were handing her, Jon thought as Pete ranted on about the ingratitude and disrespect his older daughter showed. Well, Iím damn sure not going to tell you that I saw her down at Tech a couple months ago. I told Mom, but itís pretty obvious she hasnít told you. Oh, God, thereís no way in hell this is going to work, he thought. I for damn sure wouldnít be able to handle that shit all summer, and heís going to be just about as pissed at me as he is at her when I tell him Iím going out to Lambdatron.

". . . I mean, donít you think that she really acted like an asshole to me back there at Christmas?" his father continued his rant without stopping. "You heard what she called me. I donít have to listen to anybody call me things like that. . . ."

She only called you what she did after you called her it first, Jon thought. Oh, damn. Oh, damn. Crystal and he had locked horns often enough over the years, but now he knew how it must have felt to be in her shoes, and they hurt his feet. Bad!

"Well, if sheís not around," he said as soon as he could get a word in edgewise, "I guess thereís not much point in worrying about it."

"I suppose," his father said. "Itís just that it still pisses me off, and it should piss you off, too, to have a sister like that. Anyway, maybe weíd better talk about better things. How are things going down at Tech? I mean, really?"

"Pretty good," Jon said, pulling out into the furious traffic of the Tri-State Tollway. It had been a while since heíd driven in a madhouse like this Ė a few times in the old clunker over Christmas Ė and he was out of practice. "Like I said, some good classes, I learned a lot. That stress analysis class was about the toughest one Iíve taken, but it went pretty well, and I learned a lot."

"Thatís what youíre there for," his father said, "To learn stuff that you can bring back to Hadley-Monroe. Itíll be good to have you back full time in another two years. You had any problem with the niggers down there?"

Oh, Christ, here we go, Jon thought. Just be cool. There is absolutely no point in mouthing off, and be damn sure you donít say anything. "No real problem," he said. "We donít have a lot of blacks in engineering, but the ones we do have are pretty cool. I worked with this one black kid on some projects, just about as sharp as I am; I picked up a few things."

"You better watch it," Pete said. "Niggers like that will steal anything you have, file off the serial numbers, and claim it for their own."

"Iíve been careful, Dad," Jon said, making up his mind. No, there was no way in hell. Crystal was right, itís hard to say no, but it would be a hell of a lot harder to say yes. Like she said, Iím going to have to cut my own trail. Now, how do I get out of this without having a fight? Yes, Crystal and his father had had a major confrontation back at Christmas, but Crystal was a black belt. He wasnít, and he didnít want to risk a fist fight, or even worse. "Hey, I hate to ask, but could you keep it down for a few miles? I havenít driven in traffic like this for months."

"Oh, yeah," Pete said thoughtfully. "Well, you might as well get used to it again, if youíre going to be living in Chicago."

* * *

For as long as Jon could remember, his father had left the house to go to work at 7:30 in the morning. Heíd stop at his regular stop along the way, get a cup of coffee and a Bismarck to take with him, and have plenty of time to be at his desk at eight. That meant that Jon had his alarm set for 7:35 AM, and at that it wasnít needed.

Sleep hadnít come easily the night before; on the way home from the airport, it had become clear that his father would throw a shit fit when Jon announced he was going to Lambdatron. Heíd hoped that wouldnít happen, or at least, had been in denial that it would happen, but there it was.

As he lay awake in his old room that night, knowing it was pretty near a certainty that it was the last night heíd be spending there, he reviewed his decision to head out to Lambdatron. Even without Tanisha being involved, he found that it was holding firm. Hadley-Monroe may have been a perfectly reasonable place to have a career, but it was the same old stuff, and worse, it was following in his fatherís footsteps. Which wouldnít be so bad, were it not for the fact that heíd have to be putting up with his fatherís perpetual temper as part of the process.

Jon always remembered his father as being a little grumpy and patronizing, but it had gotten worse as he got older, and during the last year of high school had been worse than before. Then, the situation had deteriorated considerably the previous summer, probably because of the situation with Crystal and Nanci, he guessed, and there was no sign it would get better. His mother hadnít said much of anything about it, and she wouldnít have in front of his father for fear of setting off a worse blowup. God, he thought, how does she put up with that shit? This was going to make it tough on her, but if you got right down to it, the problem was something she was going to have to deal with in any case.

And then, there was Tanisha. Heíd already pretty well known his father wouldnít even accept her as his friend, let alone his girlfriend. But, damn it, Crystal had been right again! He had to cut his own trail in life, not let his father run it. There had been a time he would have been happy to follow in his fatherís footsteps, but Georgia Tech Ė and Tanisha Ė had widened his horizons.

Back in the bad days around Christmas, Jon had at least managed to get a couple hours alone with his mother, and heíd gotten her view of the troubles between his father and Nanci and Crystal. His mother said she hadnít realized what was going on at the time, but recalled that Crystal had spent much of the four days at home over Thanksgiving going through her things, packing stuff up, throwing out a lot of stuff from high school that she had outgrown over four years and never would need again.

Jon remembered seeing Crystalís old gray Oldsmobile sitting in the driveway when he returned for break, loaded with stuff, surfboard still strapped to the top in the pouring rain. He pretty well figured it had been just too wet to unload everything sheíd brought home from college. He and his father had only been home a couple of minutes when he realized the truth, and this lesson from his older sister he took to heart: have the car packed before you drop the bomb.

Crystal had had four days back at Thanksgiving, and he had less than eight hours, so there wasnít any time to waste. Heíd already catalogued a lot of the stuff in his mind that he wanted to take with him, and stuff that could be abandoned. The one thing he had going for him was he wasnít a saver, the type to collect a lot of clutter, where Crystal did have a lot of outdoor gear that she had to take with her. He already had lot of what he needed sitting down in the storage locker in Atlanta. Shake it all out, there were things like clothes and a few books, mostly technical, various odds and ends. It was likely that it would come to much less than a car load, which was good, since Tanisha would likely have a good load of clothes and female necessities.

He headed out to the kitchen, got some coffee going, then took out his laptop, plugged it in and got online with the local dialup. It was only the matter of seconds to get on his Tech e-mail account, and he sent a brief message to Tanisha: Went as expected. See you 7 AM CDT tomorrow, as planned. Ė J. He wanted to tell her a lot more, he had a lot more on his mind, but theyíd already agreed theyíd better not say any more on line than absolutely necessary, since there was a chance that someone could be reading over their shoulders. She was still in Atlanta, but planned on flying in to St. Louis late this afternoon, to minimize the time sheíd have to spend at home.

Then, there wasnít a lot of choice left, and he had to set to work, sad though it may have been. He never thought heíd see this day come, and now it was here.

* * *

One of the things that surprised Jon about the whole process was there was no sign of Nanci all through it. He figured sheíd be at best a pest, and might even tip off their father, which would make things a hell of a lot more difficult. But Nanci was gone when they got back the evening before, with only a note, Out with Kip, probably back late. But in the morning, there was no sign of her Ė and no comment about it, as far as he knew, although what his parents may have talked about before he got up could well have been something different. There was another good reason to be moving on: if Nanci had been a quarter of the trouble that the stories heíd gotten from his mother indicated, heíd probably get dragged into that battle, as well.

He was making good progress on getting the car loaded late in the morning when Nanci showed up, with her boyfriend in tow. He was several inches taller than Jon, a big bruiser. That heíd played on the hockey team at NMU was almost evident by several missing teeth. "Hi, Jon," Nanci said shyly. "Uh, Iíd like you to meet my boyfriend, Kip."

Kip stuck out his hand; Jon took it and got a bone crusher of a handshake, and that told him about as much as he wanted to know about Kip. He had never particularly liked jocks as a class, although there had been an exception or two, but this Kip didnít seem to be one of them.

"So how have you been, Nanci?" he asked, uncomfortable being around her boyfriend, and more uncomfortable in knowing sheíd caught him moving stuff out. Oh, well, he was almost done, he could be out of here in the time it would take his father to get here from Hadley-Monroe.

"Kinda lonely," Nanci said. "Ever since I had to leave Northern, Iíve been missing Kip. Now that heís back, Iím going to be moving in with him."

Well, that doesnít surprise me, I guess, Jon thought. If NMU is on about the same schedule as Tech, classes must have just ended up there, too. "Kip, youíre what, a junior?" Jon asked.

"Naw, I was a senior," Kip growled. "Wonít be going back now that Iíve run out of eligibility."

That figures, Jon thought. Dumb jock, couldnít even pick up enough credits to graduate, but loaded with enough testosterone that Nanci landed on you like a fly on shit. "Well, good luck to you," he said, glad he wasnít going to be around for this disaster. "The folks know about your plans?"

"Uh, like no," Nanci said. "Kip and I figured weíd get my stuff out of here before we told them."

"Good thinking," Jon said. "I didnít see much of Dad, but he was in a real bad mood."

"Yeah, itís been pretty bad, ever since like Christmas," Nanci said. "Even worse since I had to come back from Northern."

"I heard you had a little trouble up there," Jon said, not really wanting to hear her version of the story since it would just drag things out.

"A little," Nanci said. "Randy was really being an asshole about Kip and me."

"I should have kicked the shit out of the little fucker," Kip snorted. "But I didnít want to start nothing."

Yeah, Iíve heard that jock bully shit before, Jon thought. So Randy really did kick the shit out of you, and you wonít admit it, huh? Iíd better keep my mouth shut about that. "I kind of heard things had been a little rough around here," he said neutrally.

"Yeah," Nanci said. "Like thatís why Iíve been waiting for Kip to get back so I could get out of here."

That puts a little different charge on things, Jon thought. Maybe sheís seeing it as the lesser of two evils, although I doubt it. Dumbass jock, anyway. "Yeah, I can understand," he told her.

"Hey, what are you doing?" Nanci asked. "It looks like youíre moving out, too."

"Yeah," he said, realizing there was no way of denying it but also realizing she wasnít going to rat on him, either. "I got a summer job out west."

"Not Hadley-Monroe?" Nanci asked. "Dad thought you were going to be like working there."

"No," Jon said, "This only came up recently. Itís a lot more money, a lot more interesting, and itís too good a deal to pass up."

"Dad didnít say anything about it," Nanci protested.

"Did you tell him you were moving in with Kip?" Jon asked.

"Well, no," Nanci nodded with understanding. "Kip, I guess we better get hauling. Itís like gonna be even worse, when he finds both of us gone."

"Thatís how I read it," Jon told her. "Letís get hauling."

Fortunately, Jon pretty well had the Monte Carlo loaded with everything he really wanted to take. Another half hour pretty well finished it up, while Nanci and Kip worked at hauling stuff from her room, a lot less carefully than he had done. Nanci always had been sort of a clotheshorse and she had a lot of them. As Jon watched them work, he plugged his laptop in again and checked his e-mail account. Sure enough, there was a message from Tanisha.

Will be waiting for you. Wish me luck.

The time stamp on it was several hours earlier; Jon glanced at his watch, and knowing her schedule figured she had to be in the air right now, probably close to St. Louis. Good luck, Tanisha, he thought. I feel like Iím sneaking out of here, but at least Iím sneaking out of here without a face-to-face confrontation. Youíre not going to be so lucky.

He made a quick final pass through his room. There wasnít much of him left there, now, and the parts he was leaving behind didnít concern him much. As he was heading for the front door, he saw his younger sister come in. "I guess Iíd better hit the road," he told her. "Iíve got a couple other things I want to get done before Mom and Dad get home."

"Weíre doing pretty good, too," she said. "We ought to be ready to go in a few minutes."

"Look, Nanci," he said, "You take care. Iím sorry it had to work out this way for us, and I mean all of us, Crystal, too."

"Yeah," she nodded. "I mean, Iím still pretty pissed at Crystal, but I guess it like worked out the same, didnít it?"

"Yeah," Jon nodded. "Look, I donít know when Iím going to see you again. It might be a while. Iím going to try to keep in contact with Mom, but I donít know how well it will work out. I guess about all I can say is have a good life."

"Yeah," she nodded soberly, realizing this could well be the last time she saw her big brother. "You have a good life, too. You take care."

"You too," he said.

A couple minutes later, he was in the Monte Carlo, driving away from the only home heíd ever known. It seemed pretty likely that it would never be home again, and that there was a good chance he might never see it again. Oh, he still could change his mind but the last chance to do it was close. Changing his mind would mean accepting being his fatherís puppet at Hadley-Monroe, and all that entailed, including having to put up with his fatherís bad temper and racism. No matter how you cut it, the horizons seemed pretty close at Hadley-Monroe anymore, and if he was going to ever be his own person, he was going to have to do it.

* * *

Jon knew he couldnít leave Glen Ellyn without a little one-on-one time with his mother, to tell her he had a different job and apologize for the mess he was leaving her with, if nothing else. As much as he wanted to pull away from his father, it was going to hurt to leave his mother. He hadnít been to her office at Heller-Aller often, but he knew where it was, and the receptionist sent him right up.

"Jon!" his mother said. "What are you doing here?"

"Mom, weíve got to talk," he said, "In private."

A minute later they were sitting at the table in the conference room, with the door closed. "Youíve been awfully quiet," she said. "I presume this isnít good news."

Jon let out a sigh. "It is for me, I guess," he told her. "Mom, Iím not going to be working at Hadley-Monroe this summer."

"But your father said you were," she shook her head.

"Dad assumed I was without asking me," Jon replied, shaking his head. "Iíve got a job out west. It pays more than twice what Iíd be making at Hadley-Monroe, and itís real engineering applications, not just drafting."

"I take it you havenít told him about it?" she said.

"No," he admitted, "I figured Iíd better have my stuff loaded in the car first."

"Thatís probably wise," she said, "Especially with the news Nanci and Kip are going to have for him."

"You knew about it?" Jon asked.

"Iím not particularly thrilled about it," she said. "Nanci hasnít actually said anything, but she was awful easy to read between the lines. I presume she and Kip are packing things now."

"About done," Jon replied. "Look, I didnít want to do it this way, but the way Dad talked last night, I didnít see any choice."

"Oh, God," she said, "This is going to be terrible. Heís really been looking forward to you getting home, and Iíve been hoping it would settle things down for him a little." She let out a sigh. "Iíll just have to put up with it, I guess. Jon, do me one favor, would you? Donít get all the way out of touch with me. I . . . I havenít heard a thing about Crystal since you called me. Itís like sheís dropped off the face of the earth. I think Randy knows where she is, but heís not saying. Maybe someday things can be put back together again a little."

"I hope so," Jon said, realizing his father was going to have to accept some realities Ė that he was not going to be willing to accept Ė in order to do it. "Look, maybe itís best if you donít know where I am. If he should happen to find out, he might start calling my supervisors and bitching and causing me trouble."

"I think youíre right," she said. "Perhaps itís best if I donít know. But at least call me once in a while, here at work, just to let me know youíre alive and well."

"Sure, Mom," he promised. "Look, Iím sorry it had to end this way."

"I am, too," she said. "Iíve seen it coming since Christmas, at least, and perhaps longer. Perhaps itís the best for you."

"I really hate it," Jon said. "But, damn it . . . "

"I know," she said. "Jon, all I can say is the best of luck to you. Be the best person you can be, do the best job you can do. Jon, I love you, and Iím going to miss you. Maybe someday things can get better."

"Iím sorry about what youíre going to have to go through," he said. "I wish it didnít have to happen this way."

"I know," she nodded tearfully. "About all I can hope is that heíll come to his senses. Maybe the double hit heís going to take today may help."

"I hope it does," he replied. "Iím sorry this is going to be so hard on you."

"Iíll make do," she said. "Right now, thereís not a lot else I can do. Did you meet Kip?"

"Yeah," Jon admitted. "Can I say Iím not real impressed?"

"I havenít met him yet, but from what Iíve heard, can I say Randy had a really good reason to just about break his neck?" she smiled. "I understand Crystal almost had to once, too."

"Yeah, you could say that," Jon said. "I think Nanci is heading for trouble."

"I think so, too," Karin said. "I feel like I need to try to stay strong for her when things go to hell for her, which they will sooner or later." She let out a sigh. "Right today, Iím just about half tempted to go out the door with you, except for her. Jon, we had a good family once. Iím sorry things had to end so badly."

"If he cools off, maybe I can come through on my way back to Tech, and at least say hi," he offered.

"I hope you can," she replied. "But weíd probably better talk first. Are you going to tell him before you leave?"

"Iíd figured on going over to Hadley-Monroe from here," he said.

"Perhaps youíd better call," she said. "Itís going to be bad enough for him without a face to face confrontation at the office."

"Youíre probably right," he said. "I guess Iíd better be going."

"I suppose," she sighed as she got up and took him in her arms. "Maybe someday we can put things back together a little. If not, I can retire in three years. Maybe Iíll come knocking on your door and ask you to take me in."

"I hope it doesnít come to that, Mom," he replied. "But if it does, fine."

"Take care, Jon," she said, the tears rolling now. "Have a good life."

* * *

Jon was relieved, but a little ashamed when he pulled into a convenience store on Park Boulevard on the south side of Glen Ellyn: relieved that he would be spared the face to face confrontation, but ashamed that he didnít have the guts to do it face to face like Crystal had done. Really, there were two phone calls he had to make, and he made the easier one first, to Mr. Mulcahy, the personnel director at Hadley-Monroe. He really didnít have a lot to say to him, just that heíd accepted another job for the summer elsewhere and wouldnít be working there after all, and was sorry that thereís been some confusion about it.

"Good deal for you," the personnel director said. "Itís going to make things a little tougher around here, but maybe youíll learn something that you can bring back to us in the future."

"Could be," Jon told him. "Thanks for being so understanding."

If only his dad could be so understanding, he thought, dialing the pay phone again. He pretty well had to get to his father before the personnel director could. In a moment, he had his father on the phone. "Jon!" he said as soon as he heard his voice. "Are you sure you canít come into work tomorrow, instead of Monday? We just had another one dropped on us."

"No, Dad," he said, taking a deep breath. Here was the last chance to turn back, for what it was worth, and not that he was going to do it. "I canít. I just got off the phone with Mr. Mulcahy. I told him I wonít be working at Hadley-Monroe this summer."

"You WHAT?"

"Iím going to be working at a place out west," Jon said. "I got recruited to go out there while I was down at Tech. Itís more than twice the money, and real engineering applications, not just all the AutoCAD scutwork that everyone can find."

"Jon! Jon! Youíre kidding arenít you?" his father said desperately.

"No, Iím not. This is just too good an opportunity to pass up." He decided to throw in the bone that the personnel director had inadvertently suggested; maybe it would ease things. "Mr. Mulcahy said it would be a good chance to learn stuff to bring back to Hadley-Monroe."

"But Jon!" he protested. "We need you this summer! I need you! Canít you put it off another year?"

"This could be my only chance," Jon said, trying to keep his temper. He wasnít going to get into a shouting match if he could help it. "It may not be there another year. I just canít pass it up."

"Jon, look," his father said, almost whimpering. "Canít we talk about this when I get home?"

"Afraid not, Dad," he said. "Iíve got to get moving. Iíve got to pick up a friend whoís riding out there with me, and Iím running late."

"I get it," he said, his despair instantly turning to anger. "Crystal put you up to this, didnít she? Just to get back at me. That bitch, I donít know how I could have a daughter like that! How in the hell could she turn you against me?"

"Crystal didnít have anything to do with it," Jon lied, trying to keep his temper.

"Look, you ungrateful little bastard, youíre going to be in here working at the job youíre supposed to be doing tomorrow morning and all fucking summer, not chasing out all over the goddamn place. After all I went through for you . . . "

"Dad, Dad," Jon tried to break in. "Shouting at me isnít going to solve anything."

"You irresponsible little fuck, how the hell do you think . . . " were the words Jon heard as he hung the phone up gently, a heavy feeling in his heart.

It hadnít gone any better than heíd expected, and right at the moment he was just as glad that he didnít have the guts to face his father in person. "Son of a bitch," he shook his head. "Son of a bitch," he said again as he walked the few steps to the Monte Carlo. He started it up and got back on Park, imagining the thump of the burning bridges falling behind him as he headed south for I-55, St. Louis, and Tanisha.

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