Part II of the Dawnwalker Cycle
"A Spearfish Lake Story"
Not all that bad a neighborhood, Jon thought at a quarter to seven the next morning as he followed the map that Tanisha had given him to find her fatherís house. Not as nice as what I used to have in Glen Ellyn, but not some damn ghetto by a long shot.
Jon had driven hard the rest of the previous afternoon and evening, getting a motel on the outskirts of St. Louis, not far from Tanishaís. By then, he really could have used a drink, a beer or something; he wasnít much of a drinker, but since he wasnít twenty-one yet and wouldnít be for another few months, it was a moot point. All that evening, just as he had done while driving all the way down that afternoon, he found himself going back over what had happened. Had there been any other way? Had there been a chance? No, he realized hopelessly, not unless he was willing to give in to his father and spend the rest of his life at Hadley-Monroe. This would have come along sooner or later, he realized now.
He didnít sleep well that night, might-have-beens and burning bridges going through his mind. He got up in plenty of time, found a doughnut shop, and got some doughnuts and coffee, both for him and Tanisha. He was running a little early, but figured he could scout the place out so he wouldnít have to hunt for it.
It didnít take a lot of scouting. Tanishaís map and directions were good, and he was wondering if he should kill some time and show up exactly at seven, or go up and knock on the door, when he saw Tanisha sitting out by the curb, several bags surrounding her. Quickly, he braked the Monte Carlo to a stop, threw it in park, and popped the trunk. "Thank God youíre here!" he heard her say as she grabbed bags and started throwing them in the trunk. "I was hoping youíd be early."
"Bad?" he asked, grabbing a couple of bags and joining the hustle of getting them in the trunk.
"Real bad," she said, obviously near panic.
"What the . . . "
"Tanisha!" they heard a voice from the house. "Where the hell do you think youíre going with that white devil?" Jon looked up, to see a black man running off the porch toward them.
"Los Angeles," she yelled back, throwing the last of her bags in the car. "Heís my ride. I told you about him."
"Tanisha, youíre not going anywhere with a white man," he said. "I will not have the people thinking my sister is a whore!"
"I said Iím going with him," she shouted back firmly.
By now heíd reached her, and grabbed hold of her arm. "Get your black ass back in the house, you nigger whore!" he yelled.
"Get your hands off her," Jon said, as full of menace as he could manage.
"Who do you think youíre talking to, you white bastard?" he black man said.
"I said get your hands off her!" Jon said again, moving in. Oh, hell, this was about as bad as it could get. The man turned toward him, holding onto her with one hand while trying to take a swing with the other. He was off balance, and it wasnít a very good swing; Jon caught the hand in mid-air, held on, and kicked out with his right leg, aiming for the armpit. Jon missed, but his jerk on the arm pulled the man toward him, and his foot caught him in the ribs. It stunned him, and he fell to the ground, apparently with the wind knocked out of him Ė but he let go of Tanisha as he fell. "Letís go!" he yelled.
Tanisha dove for the right door of the Monte Carlo Ė Jon thanked God that heíd unlocked it when he drove up as he took off running for the driverís side, slamming the trunk on the way. By this time the man had reached the right door, and was pounding on it, but Tanisha had been able to lock it. Jon dove behind the steering wheel, again thanking himself that heíd left the engine running, dropped the Monte Carlo into drive and stomped on it. The engine under the hood roared, and left two streaks of burnt rubber behind. In the rear view mirror Jon could see the man waving his fist in the air as he held his ribs with the other.
"Holy shit!" Jon said as the scene dwindled behind them. "That was close."
"Thank God you made it," Tanisha said. "I knew we should have done it differently."
"Your brother, huh?" Jon said, his heart pounding at a pace feeling like a million beats a minute. He felt weak now. It had been close. Heíd never been in a fight before, not even dicking around in the school yard. God, it would have been nice to have had Crystal there to help out, but damn, they made it anyway.
"Yeah, the bastard," she said, taking three or four deep breaths as Jon turned the corner. "Thank God. God, I know what Dr. King meant, now. Thank God almighty, Iím free at last. Jon, I canít go home again. Ever. Not because of you, but because of me."
"Yeah," Jon said, "I have the same problem."
"Dad and my brother are determined they want me their puppet. Not only were they going to have me working in the day care, they already had some guy they were trying to shove down my throat. Heís an idiot I knew from high school; he should be in jail, and thatís where heíll wind up."
"Same thing, pretty much," Jon said.
"God, that was bad," she said. "I mean, from the minute I got off the plane, it was just all this shit about how I was letting the people down by not working in the day care, letting the church down, all that shit. I had to lie like hell, Jon. I told them that this was a good job, six times the money, and it was my one chance to find out if I could really cut it in a white manís world. I told them that if I failed, Iíd give in, transfer to Moorhead and go into social work. I think it was the money more than anything else. I told them that I was going to ride out to Los Angeles with a friend I knew from school."
"I didnít want them looking for us in Phoenix," she shook her head. "I was just scared to death about what was going to happen when they found out youíre as white as this car. I didnít know you knew martial arts, but thank God you do."
"I donít," he said, only three or four words between breaths, his heart still going hard and reeling from the adrenaline letdown. "Crystal and I sparred around a little after she got her black belt. She was trying to show me some ultimate defense moves in case I needed them. I never thought Iíd have to use them. I think that was supposed to be a move she showed me. Sheíd be pissed at how sloppy it was, but it was enough."
"Thank Crystal, then," she said. "Take a right at the next corner, letís get out on the freeway and get some miles on. The more, the sooner, the better, and out of St. Louis as quickly as possible."
"Sounds good to me," Jon said. "Thatís your coffee there, and thereís some doughnuts down behind the seats."
"Thanks, Jon," she sighed. "Oh, damn, Iím glad thatís over with. Bad on your end, too, right?"
"Real bad," Jon nodded, taking a sip of his coffee from the cup holder between them, trying to do something about his dry mouth. "Dad had this huge drafting project all lined up for me at Hadley-Monroe, at piss-ant money, and he was really pissed that I wasnít going to be working there. I told him I was going to be doing something interesting at twice the money, but he said he really expected me to be working with him, no matter what. I had to sneak out while he was at work."
"Like I said, I snuck out," he told her. "I never even breathed a word about working somewhere else to Dad till I had the car loaded and left the house. I called him at work, and it got pretty nasty. I mean, from the way he talked on the way from the airport I knew Lambdatron would never fly with him." He let out a sigh. "I was trying to avoid a confrontation with him. Guess this makes up for it."
She shook her head. "Guess itís just you and me, then," she said.
"Doesnít look like much other choice to me," Jon agreed.
* * *
Their heart rates were getting back under control by the time they got past I-270 and were heading southwest on Interstate 44. Both of them were glad to see St. Louis in the rear view mirror, and Jon knew heíd be even happier to see the Missouri state line behind them; there was no telling if Tanishaís brother had gotten his license number. Jon was getting very paranoid every time he saw a police car, but if the cops were looking for them there was no sign of it. Fortunately, he had filled his gas tank just before picking up Tanisha, so there really was no reason to stop anywhere before the Oklahoma line. Jon kept the Monte Carlo rolling fast, just over the speed limit, running with the traffic.
They tried to talk, and actually, they did talk a lot. They both knew theyíd been forced into decisions theyíd rather not made, and neither of them liked it very much. Any number of times they tried to get a pleasant conversation going. By now they knew each other well enough to have pleasant things to talk about, but somehow the subject always drifted back to what kind of assholes her father and brother were, or what kind of an asshole his father was, and that just added to their depression.
As they drove on, the west started to come on them slowly. "It really seems strange," Tanisha said, making her umpteenth try at starting a pleasant conversation. "Iíve hardly ever been out in the country before. I can only remember us taking one driving trip, and that was to a church convention in Kansas City. Dad was just about scared to death the whole time Ė to be out in the country with all the white people on the highway and like that. I believe he thought he was going to get lynched or something."
"Well, Iím a city kid, too," Jon agreed. "Itís pretty strange to me. Dad, well, he wasnít much to travel, and it was a real issue between him and Mom. We went to Disney World once, when I was about ten, but we flew down there. Mom worked on him real hard for years to do a driving trip out west, and about six or seven years ago she managed to do it. We drove out this way, saw the Grand Canyon, like that." He shook his head. "Back before Mom and Dad were married, she took a raft trip down the Grand Canyon. It was her one real adventure in life, and she came back, had a whirlwind romance with him, married him, and got pregnant with Crystal right away. Sheís always been real thrilled she did the Canyon, wanted to do it again, but Dad would never hear of it. I mean, we stood up there on the rim; itís pretty damn big and empty. You could just see she wanted to be down there on that river, but Dad wouldnít hear of it. Thought she was crazy."
"Do you remember much about this road?"
"No, not really," Jon said. "I mean, there was just a hell of a lot of road and a hell of a lot of trucks, like there are now. I wasnít really paying a lot of attention back then, I guess."
"Itís still more than we ever did," the black girl beside him said sadly. "This is all new to me. Did you ever take any other trips?"
"Not really," Jon said. "Oh, driving down to Tech a few times, including that time when Crystal took us rafting. We flew down to Florida to visit relatives a couple times. And, we made weekend trips up to visit Momís folks four or five times. Thatís way the hell and gone up in the north woods. Same town where Randyís from, in fact. God, I sure would have liked to have had Crystal and Randy with us this morning."
"You did all you needed to," Tanisha said. "I mean, if my brother werenít such an asshole, it wouldnít have been necessary. I wish my family could have gotten out and seen a little more of the country, but to them itís all white manís country, so there wasnít any way."
"Damn shame," Jon shook his head. "Now Crystal, she was always the one to get out and go. When she graduated from high school, she drove clear the hell out to Idaho to go to that special outdoor school she went to, down to Florida on spring break surfing, then down to Tennessee to work for the summer. I mean, drop the hat, turn the key and off she went."
"Did you hear anything about her while you were home?"
"Mom said she hasnít heard a word since we saw her," Jon replied. "She thinks Randy knows where she is, but Randy isnít saying. Actually, Iíd be willing to bet good money that sheís up with Randy anyway, just trying to hide out, like weíre going to have to. I doubt heíd tell me since he might suspect itíd get back to Mom and Dad, but Iíll bet he could get a message to her if we needed to. But maybe weíd be better off if we let it slide for a while."
"Yeah," she said. "Did you say anything to your folks about Phoenix or Lambdatron?"
"All I said was Ďout west,í" Jon said. "God, I could just imagine Dad calling up Mr. Geletzke at Lambdatron and pitching a fit. Heíd do anything he could to fuck it up for me out there in hopes Iíd come back to Hadley-Monroe. Iíll tell you what, Tanisha, itís going to be a long damn time before I get anywhere near Chicago again."
"Same for me and St. Louis," she said. "God, Jon, I hate to just cut all my ties, the same way you do, but there just isnít any other hope, is there?"
"No, not really," he said. "I guess we donít have anyone to depend on but each other. Iím just wondering how bad this is going to screw things up at Tech."
"Good question," she said. "Weíll just have to find out. God, if my brother and my father werenít such assholes . . . "
As they continued west, both Jon and Tanisha noticed that the trees alongside the road became smaller and scrubbier and fewer. At the first opportunity after reaching Oklahoma they stopped and filled the tank, grabbed some candy bars and snack food, and got back on the road after what could only be called a pit stop; now that they were out of Missouri, there was just a little less paranoia. As they headed westward, the sun crept around the sky; Tanisha drove a little after leaving Tulsa to give Jon a break. She was not a terribly experienced driver and was happy to let him take over again when they got to Oklahoma City, where they stopped again for gas and a decent lunch. After they were on I-40 and west of Oklahoma City, the trees disappeared completely, and the road lay broad and flat before them, dusty plains reaching to the horizon on either side, the Interstate almost a river of civilization across a nearly barren wilderness, or so it seemed to their city eyes. They were truly in the west now, deep into the Great Plains as Jon pushed the Monte Carlo ever westward.
By the time they got into Texas, Jon was starting to get pretty tired, after an uncomfortable nightís sleep followed by the desperate scene at Tanishaís house, then a long day of driving that heíd done most of. "Amarillo is an hour and a half or so up the road," he said. "I think Iíd just as soon pack it in there for the night. We could maybe make it on into New Mexico, but Iím getting pretty beat. Weíre over halfway from St. Louis to Phoenix, or thereabouts, anyway."
"I really wouldnít mind stopping," she said. "I didnít get a lot of sleep last night, either."
"All right," he said. "Itíll still be a long day tomorrow, and thereís no way we can get into Phoenix in time to do anything about our apartments, but maybe we can stop short some place and have all the next day to check them out, check in at Lambdatron, and like that."
"Probably not," she said, "Itíll be Sunday."
"Yeah," Jon replied after thinking about it for a moment, "Guess it would be, wouldnít it? Well, we might get lucky. If we did manage it, we might still be able to check in at Lambdatron on Monday."
"God, I hope this Lambdatron thing works," Tanisha said. "Weíre staking a hell of a lot on Dr. McDermottís saying itís a good deal."
"Yeah," Jon agreed. "But you know, while I was driving down to St. Louis this time yesterday, I figured it just doesnít matter. Weíd have had to make the break sooner or later."
The day was getting late and the spring sun was low in the sky by the time they rolled into Amarillo. They got off at an exit where there seemed to be a lot of motels, and headed for the one with the cheapest rates on its sign, a chain place. "I hope we donít get any static," Tanisha said as Jon pulled into a parking space in front of the office. "This neighborhood seems pretty white."
"Oh, hell," Jon snorted. "Now youíre sounding like your brother."
"Yeah," she sighed. "I guess I am. God, Iíve got to get that out of my mind. But damn it, Jon, this isnít Tech, either."
Tanisha was relieved to see an older dark Hispanic woman sitting at the front desk. "Can I help you?" she asked.
"Yes, maíam," Jon said. "We need a couple of singles."
"íFraid we donít got any singles left," the woman said. "Weíre just down to one room with two double beds."
Jon looked at Tanisha and said, "Well, I suppose we could keep looking."
"Might be hard," the woman said. "Most of these places get pretty full by this time of day, this time of year. And, thereís the rodeo in town tonight."
"Oh, hell," Tanisha said. "Bird in the hand, I guess. I donít mind if you donít."
"Itís not like it matters what anyone thinks," Jon said. "They canít think much worse of us." He turned to the woman. "Weíll take it," he said. "Any good place around here to get dinner?"
"The steak house a couple doors up is pretty good," the woman said, handing Jon a registration card.
"Great," Tanisha said. "We can walk. I really donít want to get back in the car right now. Jon, itís a nice car and all that, but my butt is getting tired."
"Mine is, too," he said.
"After you eat, you might want to go for a swim and maybe soak in the hot tub a little," the woman suggested. "That does a pretty good job on road sore butts."
"Sounds like a good idea," Jon smiled.
In spite of everything, they were still a little dispirited; the long day, the bad break from their families, and the uncertainties that lay ahead had taken a lot out of them. The steaks were pretty good, but only pretty good, and they picked at them before walking back to the car, to get their overnight items they needed. "You still thinking about the pool?" Tanisha asked.
"Yeah," Jon said. "Iíve got a swimsuit in there somewhere. You often run into motels with pools."
"Iíve got a swimsuit, but Iím going to have to dig it out," she told him.
"Go ahead, take your time," Jon said, busying himself with cleaning the dayís litter of coffee cups, snack bags, and candy bar wrappers out of the car. In a few minutes, the two of them headed up to the room, which was on a second story, off of a balcony overlooking the pool. It was fairly busy down there. "That sure does look good," he said.
"I think so," she agreed. "How about if you go in the bathroom and change, and then I will?"
"Works for me," Jon said, reaching into his overnight bag and pulling out a swimsuit. It only took him a couple minutes; he came out with his clothes in his hand and tossed them on a bed, while Tanisha headed for the bathroom. A couple minutes later, she came out, wearing a rather revealing multicolored bikini. The sight caught Jonís eye; she was never going to be a runway model, and really was a touch heavy for the bikini, but there was no way he was going to make that comment. She looked good; she looked exotic. "Not bad," he smiled.
"This swimsuit has a story with it, Jon," she said, shaking her head sadly. "I bought it several years ago, but there was no way in hell my father would ever let me wear it. It wasnít proper for a preacherís daughter. I ought to be just a little bit embarrassed to wear something like this, but itís a way for me to tell my father and my brother to go to hell. I donít swim at all, but letís go splash around in the pool. I just want to walk out in public wearing it. Itís just another way of saying, ĎThank God Almighty, Iím free at last.í"
"You know," he said, "That thought has gone through my mind more than once the last day or so."
If Tanisha had any embarrassment about wearing the bikini down to the pool, she didnít show it Ė blushing wasnít an issue with her, of course Ė but there were women down there who were also wearing bikinis as brief as hers, and didnít wear them as well. There just wasnít any reason to comment. They splashed around in the pool for a while, just messing around; Jon had had a couple pool classes back in high school, and he gave her a brief lesson in how to float and how to dog paddle. The sun sank lower in the sky, and the pool started to get shady, and about that time, they left the pool and went over to the hot tub for a long soak, just sitting close to each other as the hot, aerated water splashed over them. After they got too hot, they went back over to the pool, splashed around some more, then went to the hot tub again. By the time the sun was setting, they were a lot more relaxed, and the edge had been taken off their exhaustion. A good nightís sleep, each of them thought, and they ought to be able to face the day ahead.
They stayed out there until it was after dark. By the time the attendant came to close the pool most of the other travelers had headed back to their rooms, so it was down to pretty much just the two of them, not talking much, more or less lost in their thoughts. It had been a tough, depressing day, and it was good to have it pretty well behind them as they went back up to their room.
"Never figured itíd wind up like this," Tanisha said as Jon closed the door.
"Me, either," he said. "Thanks, Tanisha."
"Thanks for what?" she said, a little tired and dejected. As much as she hated what her family wanted her to do, and so much wanted to be free of it, it was still hard to accept. In spite of everything, it had her down.
"Thanks for not letting me face this alone," he said slowly. "Itís pretty hard for me, but itíd be a hell of a lot worse without you."
"Yeah," she said thoughtfully. "I guess I have to thank you for the same thing." She looked at him for a moment, then added, "At least Iíve got you."
Helpless to stop what they knew was coming, they wound up in each otherís arms, their lips on each others, holding each other tight, like they had no one else in the world . . . and they didnít. Well, Jon had Crystal, out on the Starship Enterprise somewhere, but the odds of seeing her again seemed pretty distant. No, they only had each other, but at least they were alone together. The kiss went on and on, with their hands exploring each othersí bodies. Tanisha made no protest as she felt the strings of her bikini top being untied, no protest to the feel of him slipping the bikini bottom from her hips, just as he made no protest as she slipped his swimsuit off of him.
Somehow, sometime later, they wound up on one of the beds, still holding each other tight, kissing like theyíd never kissed before, but somehow managing to explore each otherís naked bodies like they never had before as well. And some unknowable eternity after that, she only dimly sensed he was on top of her, and she was guiding him into her . . . they were later to agree that, what with both being virgins and all, it was a little awkward and clumsy by comparison to later efforts, but never, ever, was it quite so meaningful as their first time. They were perfectly satisfied with it; there were no second thoughts, just excitement and thrills like theyíd often wondered about but never known until now.
Afterward, hot and sweaty from their exertions, they lay side by side on the bed, still exploring, still kissing, still caressing in the darkness of the room, until finally they made love again. They were still kissing and touching each other as they fell asleep in each otherís arms.
At least they had each other. Tonight, that was all that seemed to matter.