Alone Together

Part II of the Dawnwalker Cycle

"A Spearfish Lake Story"


a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009




Chapter 8

July, 1997

Jon and Tanisha learned a lot about Lambdatron in the next few weeks. While the ideas might be new, the actual concept of the place went back quite a long ways. In fact, it had been inspired by Thomas Edisonís "Inventions Factory" in Menlo Park, New Jersey, back in the late 1800s, where a number of things such as light bulbs, phonographs and movie cameras were invented, and a host of industries found their start. It was the ideal Stan worked toward, even though many things had changed, and most of the actual work involved the interfaces between microprocessors and mechanical devices.

Building Seven, the unclassified building, had about a dozen engineers working there Ė the number changed as people often moved back and forth between Building Seven and the back lot Ė and a number of shop technicians who occupied the greater part of the building. They could build and test a great deal back there, and Jon and Tanisha found themselves working out in the back shop as much as they did in the front office. Jim told them that things were organized much the same back in the classified buildings behind the chain link fence. Again it was mostly research and development, although the company did do some manufacturing of classified components back there, mostly short runs where limited numbers were needed; at that, much of the work was subcontracted.

The dozen or so engineers in Building Seven worked in teams, sometimes one or two, sometimes several, changing as needed to take advantage of various talents and reflecting various needs. In practice, the two of them would be assigned to one or another of the teams, sometimes for a period as short as half a day, a couple of times for a week or more, sometimes but not always together; sometimes the work was in the intern office, sometimes in one of the team offices. In Building Seven, mostly what they did was contract design, developing products under contract for various companies that needed Lambdatronís expertise. Jon and Tanisha might not always know what they were actually working on, and one of the first projects they did know about was the development of a voice-activated water faucet.

"Youíre kidding," Tanisha frowned to the team leader, a beautiful, black-haired woman of about thirty, named Jennlynn Swift, when she told them of the project. "What would anyone want something like that for?"

"Ours is not to reason why," Jennlynn smiled. "The customer wants it and is willing to pay for it, so Iíd guess they think they have a market for it. Actually, I can think of a number of uses, especially in places where biological or chemical hazards could be transmitted on places people commonly touch, like faucet handles. Hell, thatís how colds and the like get passed around."

"Makes sense, sort of, I guess," Tanisha nodded. "It doesnít appear to be a terribly big deal to actually design it."

"Not really," Jennlynn smiled sweetly, "But it involves a technology that the customer doesnít have the expertise to develop themselves. Oh, they could possibly work it up themselves, I suppose, but itís cheaper to just farm the job out to us."

The faucet job turned out to take only a few days. Some of the work might have been considered innovative in some places, but it was mostly just standard packages pulled off of the Lambdatron shelf. It was a good example of how Lambdatron did things, and allowed them a better chance to get to know some of the usually brilliant, often quirky people who inhabited the place.

Jennlynn proved to be one of those quirky people Ė in fact, one of the quirkier ones. Outside of the fact that she tended to be a lot better looking and usually better dressed than most people would have thought a woman in the engineering field ought to be, she was brilliant and very competent; in the few days they worked with her, they learned a lot. Then, when Tasteless T-shirt Thursday rolled around, Jennlynn showed up for work in a T-shirt with a silhouette of a naked woman on it, and the words, Come party with me at the Redlite Ranch Bordello, Antelope Valley, NV."

"As much as I think this Tasteless T-shirt thing is fun," Tanisha smiled Ė she was wearing a T-shirt that said, Miller Beer Ė Breakfast of Champions that she and Jon had picked up at a garage sale, along with several other candidates for this company tradition, "I have to say that might be pushing it a little far."

"Oh, no, not really," Jennlynn laughed. "Itís just advertising, after all."

"You wouldnít catch me dead in a T-shirt like that," Tanisha shook her head.

"A lot of women wouldnít," Jennlynn smiled, "Even here at Lambdatron. Itís a little different for me, since I moonlight there some weekends."

"You . . . you . . . " Tanisha sputtered, unable to get any more words out. Sheíd known prostitutes before, sure, considering the neighborhood sheíd grown up in, but as obviously brilliant a woman as Jennlynn was, in a place like this . . . it was unbelievable.

"Oh, yes," Jennlynn smiled. "Iíll be there this weekend. Iíll hop in my Cessna, fly over there and work Friday and Saturday nights."

"But . . . but . . . "

"Jennlynn," Jon piped up, "Can I ask just how in the hell you wound up working in a whorehouse?"

"Pretty straightforward," Jennlynn smiled. "I like sex. I used to sleep around a lot when I was in college, mostly because I wanted to party with a lot of different men. It was kind of a hassle and could get dangerous. After I came here, I wanted to keep things straight but I found I just couldnít handle it. Of course, that caused me problems, and Stan got me off to the side one day. Iíll give you one guess what he said."

"Break the paradigm?" Tanisha smiled, shaking her head.

"You got it," Jennlynn laughed. "He pointed out that there was no point in giving it away, so I might as well kill a number of birds with one stone. Itís been a couple years since Iíve even had sex in Arizona. I only work in the house in Antelope Valley, and not in Arizona at all, so itís perfectly legal. Itís a heck of a lot simpler, and a heck of a lot safer, since we always use barriers and condoms, get regular checkups, have bouncers on the place, and like that. I get as much as I want, and it keeps my Cessna twin in payments and aviation gas. Thatís my other passion. Itís no secret around here what I do, and anyone from the company who wants to come visit me is welcome."

Sam, a nearby engineer, joined in the discussion. "If either of you decide to check her out, take money, lots of it," he smiled. "She doesnít give Lambdatron discounts. I found that out the hard way. Worth it, though."

"But . . . but . . . " Tanisha stammered.

"Thereís a lesson in this for you," Jennlynn smiled. "Have you heard any comment about it from anyone else?"

"Not a word," Jon said. "I mean, I canít believe it! Nobody said a word!"

"I prefer not to rub peopleís noses in it, like with this T-shirt, which is why Iíll change it as soon as weíre done," she replied. "The point is that youíre at Lambdatron. We care about what people can do for the company. We do not care about things like sex, race, color, or what people do on their own time, so long as they donít do it in the driveway and block traffic at quitting time. Now lighten up on the paranoia, you two. I fought the tolerance battle around here years ago, and I won it."

"Itís . . . not easy," Tanisha admitted. "Weíve had some discussions about it. Thank you, Jennlynn. I guess weíre even luckier than we thought to wind up here."

"If you come across any problem, even in your own minds, that you want to talk out, come to me," she told them. "I have been there and I have done that. Yes, youíre going to come across some disapproving people outside the company. I often do. I prefer to not waste time worrying about it. The hell with them, weíve got other fish to fry. On that subject, how are you coming on the software interface architecture?"

"Another hour or so," Jon said, shaking his head. "A couple of finishing touches in the voice recognition software."

"Jeez, so soon?" Jennlynn smiled. "I figured tomorrow night, maybe the first of the week."

"Pretty straightforward," Jon replied. "We broke it down into modules, and got rid of a lot of crap out of the code."

"There was a lot of deadwood in the original code," Tanisha added, a little relieved that the discussion had gotten back to business. Jennlynn really knew her stuff, and theyíd picked up several useful things from her Ė but Tanisha was even happier that her father had no idea where she was. Heíd about have had a heart attack to even hear this discussion.

"Well, good," Jennlynn smiled. "You did better on that than I expected. You worked on it together, right?"

"Yes," Tanisha said. "We seem to work better that way."

"Well, letís check it out. I thought that code looked a little bloated, but sometimes itís easy to just get lazy and adapt something else rather than just write what you need to write from the beginning. If you adapt something else, itís often full of useless crap."

* * *

One of the projects that Jim had Jon and Tanisha doing was designing a liquid nitrogen cooling unit for a ceramic superconductor coil. There was no hint about what the unit was about; it apparently was something from out back, and both of them suspected it might have been a mirror design of something that had been done earlier, anyway. It was a touch on the tricky side, as the superconductor carried a lot of power. The temperature had to be kept as nearly uniform as possible from one end of the unit to the other, which precluded just feeding the very cold liquid into one end of the unit and letting it come out of the other. They picked away at it for several days before they had a paper design that looked like it would work, and they were in the process of doing some prints on AutoCAD when Stan walked in. "So, what are you kids up to today?" he asked.

"The cooling jacket for the YM191, whatever that is," Tanisha said.

"Oh, that monster," Stan sighed. "Letís see what youíve got."

The prints werenít ready yet, but the numbers and some preliminary sketches were, and Stan spent some time evaluating their work. "Looks like it might work," he nodded finally, "And it is a different approach. How long have you been working on this?"

"Just since the first of the week," Jon said. "Kind of an interesting problem; something a little different."

"First of the week?" Stan frowned. "Jim said the two of you were fast workers, but thatís fast work, even then."

"I donít know," Jon shrugged. "The solution is pretty obvious."

"Glad you think so," Stan shook his head. "Iím not big on cryogenics, but it looks to me like you might have something here. But, let it go for a minute. I just wanted to say that Iíve been getting some good reports on you. Jim and Jennlynn are especially impressed."

"Well, thanks, sir," Tanisha smiled. "We feel like weíve been swimming pretty hard trying to keep our heads above water."

"From everything I can tell, youíre doing pretty well at it," Stan smiled. "Jim and Jennlynn say theyíve noticed that the two of you seem to work better together than you do as individuals. In fact, Jim says the two of you working together are worth three or four or more of you working as individuals. That might help explain why weíve been getting more out of the intern office than we expected with only half the staff that weíd planned on. You kids have done well."

"Thanks, Stan," Jon said. "Jim and Jennlynn have said that, but itís a little hard to have a yardstick to measure ourselves by, if you know what I mean."

"Donít think itís gone unnoticed," Stan told them. "I see you pulled Aís on that first round of summer classes at State, too. That, with all the work youíve been putting out here tells me youíve been busting your asses. What do you do in your spare time, if you have any?"

Tanisha threw a knowing glance at Jon, and hoped Stan didnít notice. "We havenít really had that much free time," she said. "But weíve been trying to work on getting into shape a little. Weíve been doing some running, and some other stuff."

"Running?" Stan frowned. "Thatís got to be pretty trying after work in the kind of summer heat weíve been having."

"Right," Jon grinned. "We figured that out. Weíve been getting up in the early morning, way before we come to work, and getting some miles in. It does mean weíre pretty wide awake and ready to go by the time we get here."

"It does mean we go to bed pretty early, though," Tanisha smiled broadly. "Most nights weíre in bed by eight, sometimes even earlier."

There was no way of knowing whether Stan detected what was behind that broad grin of hers, and the equally broad grin on Jonís face. While theyíd been having interesting things to do at Lambdatron for the last couple of months, they had other interesting things to do in their tiny little apartment, too. In fact, in the two months theyíd been living there, theyíd done things together they both admitted that they never could have dreamed of before. Theyíd both admitted to each other that back in high school, theyíd never quite been able to understand what the big deal with sex was all about. Oh, maybe itíd be fun, theyíd thought, but no big deal. But, together, theyíd learned, practiced, improved . . . and it just kept getting better and better. Yes, it was a big deal, after all.

It was good, memorable . . . but showed them there was room for improvement. Being engineering students, they both were pretty analytical and serious about what they started. Using the available texts they could find, theyíd worked on those improvements, taking them to places that neither of them had imagined. They found it was an activity they both enjoyed far more than theyíd ever expected they would.

But with that came an uncomfortable discovery. Neither of them were what anyone could call physical fitness freaks Ė in fact, both of them had gone out of their way, whenever possible, to avoid anything to do with phys. ed. in school. Jonís idea of exercise had been to climb the stairs from his computer in the basement for supper, just as Tanishaís idea had been to climb the stairs to her computer in her room after supper.

Now, they discovered to their surprise and displeasure that they just didnít have the stamina and endurance to do everything that they liked to do, as much as they liked to do it. Again, being logical engineering types, they set out to improve that. Running seemed like the logical answer, at least to get started Ė and doing it early in the morning, during the coolest part of the day, before the sun got up to start turning summertime Phoenix into an oven was the best time to do it. It was hard to learn to get out of bed at five in the morning, and a half a mile at a very slow pace was about the best they could manage at first. But, by the time a month went by, they were doing a mile, then two miles, at a much better pace Ė and eventually in the evenings they could notice the difference. That gave them the impetus to get out of bed early the next morning.

It turned out that most of the renters of the apartments in the building were students at Arizona State, which was not far away Ė and that meant that although all the apartments were rented, only a relative handful of them were actually occupied for the summer. In fact, they had no one actually living in any of the adjoining apartments, either alongside, above or below. It allowed them to be even more vocal and enthusiastic than they might have been otherwise, and there were plenty of new techniques to learn in their new hobby.

The end result was that Jon had lost twenty pounds, Tanisha nearly that, and they had both spent some time buying new clothes, just to take advantage of it; their evenings were even more fun than before. Sometimes they even went to bed for a while before they made dinner.

"That getting up at the crack of dawn stuff does kind of raise hell with sleeping in," Stan smiled, obviously suspecting there was more to Jon and Tanishaís statement than met the ear, but not wanting to push it. "Good to hear about the running. Engineers have a tendency to sit on their butts and stare at computer screens too much, and it can lead to problems. Iíve tried to encourage people to be a little more active. We do have company fun runs occasionally along in the cooler months, but itís just too damn hot this time of year."

"Itís hot," Jon conceded, "But I spent a week in Atlanta in July for my freshman orientation, and the humidity just about floored me. Itís so dry here itís easier to take the heat."

"I spent a summer there, working on my masterís," Stan nodded. "I agree, this is better. And, whatís more, it beats the living hell out of Toledo or Boston in the winter. So, I take it you like it here?"

"Itís been different than I expected," Jon smiled, "But itís been a lot better. The work is interesting, this place is interesting, and there are some interesting and brilliant people here."

"Itíd be hard to quantify," Tanisha agreed, "But I may have learned more here in two months than I learned at Tech all last year. This is everything I could have ever dreamed, and more."

"I take it that your assessment of this place is pretty positive, and youíd be willing to come out here again another summer?" Stan asked.

"Well, yeah, sure," Jon said. "Iím really not looking forward to going back to Tech."

"Me, either," Tanisha agreed.

"I suppose Iím jumping the gun a little bit," Stan smiled, "But our assessment of you so far is that Jim and I want to have you back next year, and itíll be at quite a bit higher pay scale. At this distance, itís a little hard to say what weíll have you doing, but ideally itíll include responsibility for a project of your own, maybe more than one. Are you interested?"

"Very interested," Tanisha said. "Thereís nothing Iíd like better."

"Count me in on that," Jon smiled.

"Thereís a fishhook in the deal," Stan said. "I think I mentioned it to you. Let me say that if I had my way, Iíd be happiest to find some promising kid in high school, and contract with them to work for us after we paid their way through college. That way we could make sure theyíd have the background that weíre looking for. But, it wonít work. Iíve tried it a couple of times, and Iíve found that it helps if the kid has a couple years college before we bring them into the program. Sometimes bright kids in high school donít work out in college, and sometimes kids who werenít so bright in high school turn out to be stellar in college. Youíve probably seen that, right?"

"I can think of several examples," Jon said, "Starting with my older sister. She was a C student in high school, and graduated Cum Laude from college."

"Exactly," Stan grinned. "Itís cheaper if we let the colleges do some of the winnowing for us, and there are some other advantages. Looking over your transcripts, youíve taken pretty much standard courses up to this point. Your next two years will involve a lot more specialization. Thereís a number of courses over the next two years that Iíd like you to take that you may not have considered, but in the long run would make you more useful to the company. If youíd like to come back here another summer, and most likely here after college, Iíd like you to concentrate on those courses. I donít think it will be anything the two of you canít handle, but it may not be something youíve considered in the past."

"Sounds reasonable to me," Jon said. "But, I might as well ask, does it have to be at Tech?"

"Thatís my question, too," Tanisha said. "Weíve talked it over, and have been wanting to get with you about the idea of our transferring to State here, and maybe working part-time."

"Can I say that Iím more impressed with the quality of the courses and instructors youíd get at Tech, rather than something comparable here?" Stan frowned. "Or, is there something youíre not telling me?"

"There is," Jon admitted. "You see, weíre kind of on the run. Neither of our families knows weíre here."

"Neither of our families would approve of it," Tanisha added. "My family doesnít want me in engineering at all. Theyíd rather Iíd be doing social work at home, running a day care center, where they could keep an eye on me. Jon had to deck my brother so I could make my escape to come out here at all."

Stan nodded thoughtfully. "I suppose the black-white thing is part of it, too," he said softly.

"Afraid so," Jon nodded, "On both sides. They donít know weíre here, but they will know where we are if we go back to Tech."

"Damn," Stan sighed. "I didnít know that. Whatís going to happen with your scholarships?"

"As near as we can tell, theyíre both OK for next year," Tanisha said. "We may be in trouble for our senior years, since thereís paperwork our folks may have to sign. Weíre not real clear on that, and we canít get a straight answer from the Tech financial aid people."

Stan shook his head. "Iíd really rather have you at Tech, for the sake of what you can learn there," he said. "As far as that goes, if your scholarships blow up in your faces, I can come up with something, a low interest loan, maybe a grant, it sort of depends. But, given a choice, Iíd rather spend the collegeís financial aid money rather than my own."

"I can understand," Jon told him. "It is a lot of money."

Stan stared off into space for a moment. "Tell you what," he said, "Go on back to Tech. Try to make it work. Break the paradigm. If it absolutely blows up in your faces and you find yourselves having more trouble with your families than you can handle, give me a call and weíll work out something else. The problem is that if it does blow up, it costs us six months to a year that Iíd rather not lose. Do you think you can make that work?"

"Maybe," Jon said. "I donít think my dad is going to be able to get any more pissed with me than he already is. It could be uncomfortable, but I can probably stick it out."

"I wish I could say that," Tanisha sighed. "Iím just afraid my father is going to show up down there one day and try to physically drag me back to St. Louis."

"Itís as much a race thing with him as it is a family thing, if I read you right?" Stan frowned.

"Pretty much," Tanisha said sadly. "My brother had a shit fit when he saw how white Jon is, and I told them that I was only getting a ride from him, not that heís my boyfriend."

A sly smile crossed Stanís face. "I love it when you can solve a problem with smoke and mirrors," he laughed. "How pissed would they be if they found out your boyfriend was as black as you are, and capable of breaking heads if someone pissed him off?"

"Probably a lot better, but that doesnít exactly describe . . . " Tanisha paused, beginning to see Stanís idea. ". . . You think heíd go for it?"

"More than likely, once we explain the problem to him," Stan grinned. "Weíd have to explain it to his wife, but sheíd probably go along with it, too. Sheís white, she knows what a disapproving family is all about."

"I donít get it," Jon frowned. "You got past me."

"Fairly simple," Stan smiled. "Break the paradigm, Jon. Iím not saying this is the best way to do it, but suppose Tanisha writes her folks a letter, saying sheís gotten engaged. In the letter thereís a photo of her and Griz. Hell, she is engaged Ėitís the truth Ė but she doesnít mention heís not the guy sheís engaged to."

"Yeah," Jon smiled, getting the idea instantly. "Tanisha told her family she was going to be in Los Angeles. They could think sheís there, rather than back at Tech at all. That might work."

"Donít tell them anything more than you have to," Stan advised. "Insinuate everything you can, tell half-truths, like that."

"It sounds like it has potential," Tanisha smiled. "It might work, at least for a while."

"Now that the idea is out there," Stan smiled, "I can think of a few tweaks that could help things along, like maybe a mail drop in Los Angeles; we could get someone from our field office there to handle it." He let out a sigh. "Letís get together with Jim and see if he has any thoughts. Just because an idea feels brilliant doesnít mean that it is."

"Well, yeah," Jon agreed. "I mean, if it falls on its butt, then itíd just make thing worse."

"Come on, you two, youíre Lambdatron people now," Stan smiled. "We take care of our own. If a problem comes up, donít hide it or ignore it, talk to Jim or me or whoever. If you let a problem fester, it can cause other problems that affect your work. You know about the deal with Jennlynn, right?"

"Yes," Tanisha nodded. "It still seems unbelievable."

"She had a problem bad enough that it was either do something about it or get rid of her," Stan smiled. "Sheís really too brilliant to lose. It just took breaking the paradigm. It might not work for anyone else, but it works for her. I havenít actually visited her on her other job, but itís no secret that other people from the company have, and they all say sheís just as brilliant at that, too." He let out a sly smile and continued. "Every once in a while she gives a free seminar here. Just talking, no, uh, lab work, but they can be very interesting. If she gives one before you head back east, you might like to check it out and maybe pick up a few pointers."

Tanisha flashed a big grin at Jon. "Iíll think about it," she said as shyly as possible, which wasnít very shy.

* * *

"Thereís a phone," Jon said, nodding toward a convenience store not far off the freeway in San Bernardino, California, three weeks later.

"I suppose one is as good as the next," Tanisha said absently. "Jon, I really donít want to do this, but I suppose I have to."

"Thatís why we drove over here," he said. "I suppose we could give it a pass."

"No, weíd better not," she replied. "We do need to know."

Tanisha had heard nothing from her family in almost three months Ė they had no idea of where or how to contact her Ė but the letter with the picture of Tanisha and Jim had gone out almost two weeks before, so it must have arrived. It had been sent first in an envelope to the Lambdatron field office to a secretary named RuthAnn, after Stan had primed her about what to do about it. She reported later that sheíd dropped the letter off at a post office on her way home.

But that only set the stage, and there was no way to tell how the announcement had been received in St. Louis. The only logical way to find out was for her to call home and test the waters; if they didnít buy it, then they might have to abandon the idea of going back to Georgia Tech after all. The problem with calling home was Tanisha knew her father had caller I.D. on his phone, so a call from the Phoenix area would be a quick giveaway that something suspicious was going on. The simplest way around that was for Jon and Tanisha to hop in the Monte Carlo and make a fast trip to the Los Angeles area to make the call. Theyíd spent the last several hours driving across the desert from Phoenix this Saturday, the first time theyíd been out of town since they arrived.

In fact, they hadnít even driven around the Phoenix area much. Their world during those three months had pretty much revolved around the axis between their tiny apartment and Lambdatron, along with some running on the sidewalks close to the apartment, and with occasional visits to the grocery store. While theyíd made a number of good friends at work, like Jim and Jennlynn and Stan, those friendships stayed at work. When not at work, they stayed pretty much with each other. They realized they were loners who didnít make friends easily, but somehow they had become very close friends with each other. In fact, they were rarely apart for very long, even at work, and over the course of the summer each of them came to prefer it that way. Being able to see each other, to hear each other, to touch Ė just to make sure the other was still real was very important to them. In spite of the friendly faces at Lambdatron, they came to realize they really were alone together. Having to reach beyond the two of them outside of work was a little scary Ė but this time it had to be done.

"I guess," Jon said, wheeling the Monte Carlo into the parking lot.

"I dread this," Tanisha said. "Itís going to be lying, and Iím not a good liar."

"I know," he said, pulling up by the outside phone and shutting the car off. "Might as well get it over with. Iíll be right there."

"Jon, hold my hand? Please?"

"Sure," he smiled. "Iíll be right with you."

It only took a few seconds to dial St. Louis. The phone rang once, twice, three times, and Tanisha sort of hoped it wouldnít be picked up at all Ė and then it was. "Hello?" she heard her fatherís voice say.

"Hi, Dad," Tanisha said cheerfully. "Did you get my letter?"

"We did," he said. "It sounds like a lot has happened since weíve heard from you last."

"It has," she said. "Nothing is very much like it was. Everythingís just fine with me. I just wanted you to know the job turned out great. Iím working with my man there, itís going real well. I just got a big raise, and theyíre asking me to stay on full time."

"Arenít you going back to school?" he asked.

"Iím going to school out here," she said. "Itís an even better arrangement."

"This man of yours," her father asked, "Is he a good man?"

"Very good," Tanisha said. "Iíve been the happiest Iíve ever been since Iíve been with him."

"Well, good," her father said. "Until I got your letter, I was worried that you were helling around with that white man."

"Oh, Dad," she sighed, turning her back to Jon. "I told you he was just a ride. I donít know how you think I could see anything in him. It worked out real well."

"Thatís all well and good," her father said. "Even so, it would be much better if you were back here in the arms of your family and your people, active in the church, working in the day care, perhaps getting to know some local man. Itís not good for a woman to be out in the world like you are, doing something you shouldnít be doing with a man you donít know that well. If you know whatís good for you, youíll drop him and come back here."

"No," she said flatly, realizing the good start had gone to hell. "Iím doing the job I want to do, Iím getting the education I want, and I have a man I love." Her voice began to rise, and her anger began to build. "Iím not going to come back until youíre prepared to accept me for what I am, rather than what you think I ought to be. It was hard enough to do it as it was."

"Tanisha, listen to me," he said angrily, "Youíre a woman, you donít have any idea . . . "

"Iíll call again sometime," she said, "Just to find out if youíve changed your mind. It wonít be soon. Sorry I bothered this time." She hung up the phone angrily, and shook her head with disappointment and frustration. "God, I hoped it wouldnít go that badly," she said. "They havenít changed a bit. They still want me to be their puppet."

"Sounds like it to me," Jon said, "At least from what I heard. I have to say that you didnít lie once, but you did crowd the truth to the absolute limit several times. I liked that bit about going to school out here, as if a couple summer classes at Arizona State count."

"Yeah, I guess I did pretty well at that," she sighed. "I think they bought the letter, and I canít think of anything I said that might give us away. I hope weíve laid some false trail, but I donít know how well itíll work."

"Nothing to do but wait and see," Jon agreed. "Maybe youíd better not call home again soon."

"Maybe not ever," she agreed. "I think at least not until weíre done at Tech."

"Sorry, Tanisha," he said, taking her in his arms. "I know itís hard to turn your back on your family."

"I hate it," she said sadly, burying her face in his shoulder. "God, if Mom were still alive, it would be different. She used to be able to keep a lid on things. I canít do it." She let out a sigh. "I really wish we were going to be staying in Phoenix, rather than heading back to Atlanta, but I guess we promised Stan we had to give it a fair try. But damn, it just makes it hard."

"I know," he replied. "Itís just about as hard for me. I hate having to turn my back on Dad, but itís for us, and itís for the best."

"Weíre both in the same boat, arenít we?" she said. "I wonder how your folks are taking it."

"Good question," Jon said. "Dad is still pissed, Iím sure. Mom, well, Iíve felt a little guilty about not calling her. I did say Iíd keep in touch but not often. Look, if itíd make you feel any better, Iíll call home. I donít think Dad has caller I.D., but heís kind of a gadget freak and thereís no telling."

"Iím afraid itís just going to drag us both down even more," she said sadly. "But there is that concern, and this is a good place to do it from."

"All right," he said. "I didnít plan on this, so give me a couple minutes to get my head together."

It wasnít long before Jon was on the phone to Glen Ellyn. It turned out that both his father and mother were home. "Jon!" he heard his mother say. "How are you? What have you been doing?"

"Iím fine, Mom," he said. "Iíve been working. This turned out to be an even better job than I thought."

"All right," his father said angrily. "Youíve had your fun. Now get your ass back here, and maybe we can still get some useful work out of you this summer."

"No, Dad, Iíve learned a ton, and I donít plan on coming back to Hadley-Monroe."

"You better get your ass back here if you know whatís good for you," his father said, the heat almost melting the phone wires. "If you canít be bothered to come back where you belong, then I canít be bothered to write your expense check for next year."

"Good," Jon said, just as angry now. "That simplifies things. Iíll be going to school out here. Thereís no point in going back there if I know Iím not wanted." Without further discussion, he hung up the phone, shaking his head. "Jesus, no messing around, right to the point," he said. "Guess that settled that."

"I noticed you laid some false trail," Tanisha said.

"Right now, Iím not so sure it is false trail," he said angrily. "Maybe weíd better have another talk with Stan about Arizona State, or maybe somewhere else. Hell, Purdue would be safe, now. Well, maybe not, there are kids I know from my high school going there."

"Stan really wants us back at Tech," she frowned. "That independent study he suggested and set up, it has Lambdatron written all over it. It might be hard to get that somewhere else."

"I know," Jon sighed. "Itís just that Iím scared and pissed now, too. Tell you what. Letís get a couple cans of something to drink, tank up, and point it back toward Phoenix. If we get a couple hundred miles on, things might make more sense."

* * *

It was a sad ride back to Phoenix, not that it was anything less than they expected, but the reality of it was a little hard to take. For a hundred miles and more, they just cuddled without saying much, just trying to support each other. If nothing else, the phone calls had just proven what they suspected was true Ė other than the people at Lambdatron, they didnít have much support other than each other. Now, they seemed alone together even more than before.

It was Tanisha who finally got them thinking rationally again. "How bad is not getting a check from your father going to hurt your budget?" she asked.

"Itís going to hurt," Jon said thoughtfully. "Last year, it was like ten grand. I hadnít really expected that heíd come through with it this year, but expecting it and knowing itís there are two different things. Another five grand from Heller-Aller, thatís my momís company. That should already be tacked down, but thereís no way I can get it without letting my mother know Iím back at Tech."

"Fifteen thousand," Tanisha shook her head. "Nothing from Hadley-Monroe?"

"No, the cheap-ass bastards," Jon said angrily. "They donít have a goddamned cent invested in me, I donít know why my father thinks I owe my life to them. All Heller-Aller expects out of me is good grades."

"Do you know if you can trust your mother?" she asked.

"I donít know," he said. "That is the five thousand dollar question, isnít it? Ten thousand, over two years."

"Maybe you should call her at work, and sort of sound her out," Tanisha suggested.

"I suppose," he nodded. "That call didnít really cover what I wanted to say. Mom, well, she knows Dad has a temper, and itís gotten worse. Last winter she told me things about Crystal that Iím sure he doesnít know. I suppose it canít hurt, but Iíll have to wait until Monday."

"How about the rest of it?" she asked. "Losing ten thousand this year?"

"I donít know," Jon sighed. "I can see several ways out. The first is to talk to Stan about it. Maybe ask him for a loan, or something, to be paid back after I go to work full time. I hate like hell to do it, because heís already been incredibly good to us."

"Heíd probably help," she nodded.

"I think so," he agreed, "But I wonder, just a little bit. Stan is a hell of a nice guy, we know that. But Iím sort of wondering if heís not testing us a little, to see how we deal with adversity. He likes innovation and independence, and I donít want to get too dependent on him unless we absolutely have to, if for no more reason than I donít want to get too tightly locked into Lambdatron in case something else comes along."

"I donít think Stan is like that," she frowned.

"Maybe Iím just being a little paranoid," Jon admitted. "Or maybe Iím just still pissed at the fact that my father thinks Hadley-Monroe should have a lock on me. Anyway, there are other options. A straight-ahead student loan is one of them. I really donít want to get caught up in that, and have to pay that kind of interest rate. And as far as that goes, weíre sitting in an option. This car will have depreciated a little, but I could still get ten grand out of it."

"There is another option," she smiled. "My grant covers housing. Actually, Iíve got several grants. Iím pretty sure that I can jiggle around which grant pays for what, and take the money from one grant to live off campus. They donít have to know my fiancé is living with me."

"I donít know," Jon frowned. "It sounds like cheating, a little. I mean, Iíd much rather live off campus with you than back in the dorms like weíd been figuring on, but, well, yeah, it might be a possibility."

"We would have to do it a little on the sly," she said. "I donít think the grant would cover things the same way if we were married."

"Damn it, Tanisha, itís your grant," he protested. "I appreciate the offer, but, it doesnít seem right."

"Think of it as sharing," she smiled. "I provide the room, you provide the transportation. We both contribute about equally. Besides, damn it, weíve spent enough time having fun together in bed this summer, that I donít think I want to go back to living with a pickup roommate in a dorm room. How would I ever get a tenth of what Iíve come to enjoy?"

Jon shook his head. "Tanisha, youíre insatiable." It might have been the hundredth time he told her that; it was almost a joke between them.

"Yes, I am," she replied with a smile, again for the hundredth time or more. "And you taught me. Do we want to let that go to waste? After all, youíre insatiable, too."

"Only because you taught me," he smiled. "All right, you win, you and your feminine wiles." He shook his head. "You know, I was thinking about it the other day. Jennlynn flew her Cessna 310 up to the Redlite Ranch last night. How many times do you want to bet sheíll party this weekend?"

"I wouldnít have any idea," Tanisha smiled. "A couple dozen times, maybe, just as a wild guess?"

"Maybe not that much," he laughed. "She has a reputation for quality, not quantity, but letís use that as a test figure," he laughed. "She gets up there twice a month. Letís say fifty times in a month. Granted, when sheís on duty, itís more intensive, but how does that stack up against us?"

Tanisha looked at him, eyes wide, obviously thinking. "Good grief," she said finally. "We are insatiable."

"Right," he smiled. "Scary when you look at it from that perspective, isnít it?"

"Letís not tell Jennlynn that," she said dryly.

"I donít plan on it," he said. "All right, weíll find an apartment, and Iíll move in with you. Iíd hate having to live in a dorm with some guy whoís spending most of his time yapping about football and sniffing about looking for the chance to get laid, when I know Iíd have him beat flat if I was living with you."

"Itís the wrong time of the year to be looking for apartments near campus," she said. "But as soon as we get back, letís get online and see what we can come up with, maybe call Atlanta and see what we can find."

"I donít know that we want to be all that close to campus," he said. "First, the rents are higher there. Second, I think weíd better not spend a moment more on campus than we need to. I think weíve got our families at least suspecting that weíre going to school somewhere other than Tech. I donít know about your school, but there could be a kid or two from mine show up, and all it would take is one word back home and Iíd be hearing from Dad."

"Maybe weíd better not be real obvious that weíre living together while weíre on campus," she submitted. "One word about that to either of our families and thereíd be someone down there with a shotgun."

"Right, that was the main argument for living in the dorms, after all," he agreed. "Youíre right, that votes for pretty far off campus. But I think weíll like it better that way. That doesnít solve all the financial problems, but it gets us a heck of a lot closer."

"I think so," she agreed. "Until we know how much itís going to cost us for an apartment, we really canít pull together a budget and know how much we still need to come up with, but we havenít been spending a lot of money this summer. But just thinking about it a little, we might have enough savings from this summer to make up the difference if weíre pretty frugal."

"I can do frugal if I have to," he agreed. "And I think weíd better start getting frugal right now, just in case. Weíre probably close to being able to make it through till we come back out here next spring. Thereís no idea what happens to any of our grant or scholarship money next year if our folks are out of the loop, but maybe being married might put a different spin on it then. But if we get through this year and it blows up on us, Iím thinking I wonít mind asking Stan for help as much."

"I think itís the right move," she agreed. "Damn it, Jon, weíre in this together. That means together."

"Thank God I have you, Tanisha," he said. "I donít know how Iíd manage this without you."

"I donít know how Iíd do it without you," she sighed. "I guess Iíd be working in the day care and having my father and my brother cramming some loser down my throat. Are we almost back to Phoenix yet?"

"Oh, donít start that," he smiled. "Weíve got five hours at least."

"I canít wait to get back," she smiled. "We may have to be frugal, but the recreation we both enjoy most is pretty cheap."

"Youíre right," he grinned. "I guess Iím especially glad that youíre insatiable, too."



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