Alone Together

Part II of the Dawnwalker Cycle

"A Spearfish Lake Story"

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 9

December 1997

Two blocks away from the campus, Tanisha waited on the corner for Jon to catch up with her. Theyíd left their last final exam of the semester at the same time, but Jon deliberately took some time to study some postings on a bulletin board to let her get ahead of him a little, so it wouldnít look like they were walking together.

That didnít mean that he let her get out of sight; there was never any guarantee that her father and brother hadnít figured out the truth and could show up at any minute to cause trouble. In one of the tubes of his external framed backpackerís backpack, bought at a garage sale in Phoenix, there was a foot-long 3/4-inch steel rod that could be yanked out in a second. It was the best weapon he could come up with that was unobtrusive enough to not look like a weapon. He also carried a can of Mace, as did Tanisha. He would have carried a gun if he thought he could have gotten away with it on campus, and had wished many times that heíd paid more attention when Crystal had been trying to teach him martial arts years before. He didnít have many illusions about what would happen in a fight; the kick in the ribs heíd given Tanishaís brother the previous spring had been sheer damn luck and he knew it Ė barely enough to do the job. At least it had worked, but if her brother did show up, it would add to the score for him to settle.

But in another few minutes Ė if it wasnít the case already Ė that worry would be gone for a month. They wouldnít be getting near campus during that time, and it was really the only contact point anyone had for them. Well, almost anyone; Jim Geletzke knew how to get hold of them if he had to, so presumably Stan did, too. As it turned out, the apartment they were in was some of Jimís doing Ė a friend of a friend arrangement, dating back to when heíd gone to Tech. The apartment wasnít much, really only a single, and cramped for the two of them, smaller and not as nice as their fairly modern apartment out in Phoenix the summer before, and reached up a narrow and winding flight of stairs. The neighborhood wasnít bad by any means, about half black and half white. Theyíd noticed two or three other mixed-race couples there that theyíd seen around campus, and figured they werenít the only ones hiding out in the neighborhood, but other than an occasional friendly "Hi", they didnít dare get more sociable.

Not that they particularly wanted to be sociable anyway. If you got right down to it, Jon and Tanisha werenít really social, outgoing, gregarious people; they were both admittedly loners, and much preferred their studies and being with each other to making friends, especially when they were trying to stay as anonymous as possible. They were lucky to have found each other, and knew it; they were more important to each other than anyone else might have been, anyway. They much preferred the recreation they made for themselves. Campus activities, especially things like the concerts theyíd enjoyed a year before, were now a thing of the past. Once, a month before, over Thanksgiving weekend, theyíd taken the time to stop off at a small basement club well off campus to have a drink to celebrate their turning twenty-one, and wound up having a second one while enjoying a particularly good elderly black woman singing old-time blues.

At one point, theyíd harbored notions of getting clear out of town for Christmas break, maybe even going out to Phoenix, but the budget was just too tight. On the other hand, they werenít going to lack for things to do, even counting the wonderful times they shared in the one three-quarter bed in the apartment. Stanís idea of the courses he wanted them to take added up to a full load and then some. They would be pulling together work on an independent study over Christmas, with hopes of having the final papers prepared by the end of break, and getting a head start on other studying while they worked on that. Add to that outdoor exercise, at least on days the weather was fairly reasonable, theyíd be busy enough. Their running had suffered a little over the fall, and they hoped to get in two miles every day over the break, along with walking to the grocery store, occasional trips to their post office boxes Ė not even at the same post office, lest anyone in the administration get a hint of where they were living, and possibly pass it on to someone they didnít want knowing about it.

Feeling a little more safe, now that they were off campus a ways, Jon caught up with Tanisha, and they walked along side by side Ė not holding hands or cuddling, just a couple of people who happened to know each other talking casually, at least to a casual passer-by. Even in a place like a college campus, where color didnít mean things like it did elsewhere, they were aware that there were people who didnít approve Ė so, they did their best to ignore them, and not stand out. While they were close, and lived together, it wasnít general knowledge around campus Ė they never did things like hold hands or kiss in public, or that sort of thing, but it was clear to everyone that they were good friends. But, that had the effect of driving them closer into each otherís arms when they were off-campus. "Well, thereís that over with," Tanisha said. "How do you think you did?"

"Pretty good," Jon said. "I had a little trouble with that third problem. Mostly I had to keep telling myself, ĎDonít break the paradigm, give him what heís looking for, donít tell him it isnít done this way anymore.í"

"Yeah," she sighed. "I think I ran through the third one all right, but I found myself thinking the same thing on the fifth." She sighed. "Amazing how Lambdatron has changed our perspectives on things, isnít it?"

"More than just our perspectives, I guess," he said, a little morosely. "Could you have ever imagined a year ago weíd be where we are now?"

"No way," she sighed. "In many ways, itís so much better itís not funny. Itís just that this is going to be my first Christmas when Iím not at home, and I donít even dare call home. Itís got me down a little, I guess."

"Yeah, me too," he said. "I feel like I ought to call my mother, just on general principles, but I donít want to if it would make you feel bad."

"Thanks, Jon, but you donít have to feel that way," she said. "Your mother, well, she deserves to know a little, after the way she handled that Heller-Aller money for you."

"Yeah, I suppose," he sighed. "I really am missing her. And Crystal, too. Lord knows what sheís doing this Christmas. Probably up with Randy and his family, I guess. I kind of envy her that."

"Do you think your mother has heard anything about Crystal?" she asked.

"Whoís to say?" Jon shrugged. "After that last phone call, my guess is Crystal is lying really low, especially around Dad."

Tanisha shook her head. "That really is some sister youíve got. I sure hope the time comes that I can get to know her better."

Jon had called his mother at work twice since the previous spring Ė once from Phoenix in late July more to work out the Heller-Aller grant than anything else, but to let her know that he really was all right, and would in fact be going back to Tech, although he didnít want his father to know. Sheíd agreed to make the arrangements but keep the secret, and said that while sheíd like to see him again, it was probably just as well. Beyond that, things werenít going well at all. Jonís father was in a worse temper than ever, and the phone call home in midsummer had just made it worse. According to him, everything was Crystalís fault, including the rainy summer and the crabgrass on the lawn. His mother thought his fatherís bad temper was the cause of most of it Ė well, maybe not the rain. Nanci was still living with Kip, although heíd apparently beaten her up once, and sheíd come home for a few days before her fatherís temper drove her back to him. Of Crystal, there was no word at all. Beyond that, there wasnít much to talk about. He couldnít talk about Tanisha, obviously, couldnít even let his mother know she existed, much less that she was black Ė it might get back to his father, and add that anger to what was already there. He didnít want to take the risk; he didnít have Crystalís size and skills, after all.

Things were a little different when he called home in early October. He learned that Crystal had turned up at his motherís office in September, and the two of them had been friendly, even though it had been clear that there was no going home for Crystal. Jon wasnít clear about what his sister had spent the summer doing, and perhaps his mother didnít know either, but perhaps there hadnít been the chance to find out. The two of them had gone home while his father was at work so Crystal could get a few more things out of the house. While they were loading the car Nanci showed up, bearing a black eye and bruises from her hockey player boyfriend. When the boyfriend showed up a few minutes later, looking to give Nanci some more punishment, Crystal interceded Ė not just flattening him in an instant, like those two guys who had attacked her with knives, but taking her time, letting him know that he was being severely pounded. Then, she hopped in her car and disappeared again, with the cops and the ambulance on the way. His mother noted that his father, to his credit, did lean on Nanci to press charges against her boyfriend, who was doing a year in the county slammer.

"Yeah, sheís something else," Jon said. "Like I said, sheís probably up with Randy, but the thought keeps crossing my mind that maybe not. She used to work at that place up there in east Tennessee. The last time I got to really talk to her, she mentioned sheíd been pals with some girl who lives up there. Then, last spring, she said she was heading back up where sheíd worked, if I remember the conversation correctly. I keep thinking thereís a chance she might be with this friend of hers. Mom might know, or maybe Randy. If thatís the case, maybe we could get together with her, have a Christmas of the exiles, or something."

"Itís a thought," Tanisha nodded. "Thereís no way youíre going to find out without giving your mother a call, though."

"Her or Randy," Jon conceded. "Well, hell, itís only a phone call," he said. "Really, if you donít mind."

"I donít mind," she said. "Itís a long shot, but if it pays off, it might take the sting out a little."

"All right," Jon said, glancing at his watch. "We should have plenty of time to call when we get home."

It was still another fifteen minutes to the apartment Ė it was close to half a mile off campus as the crow flies, and there were several major streets where they had to wait for lights. It was good to finally be back to the shabby little apartment, though; they wouldnít have to be out of the place much for the next month, and shabby though it was, it was always brightened by Tanishaís presence there. Jon and Tanisha put down their packs, loaded with books needed for their independent study project theyíd be doing over the break. While they did have a phone line, it was normally plugged into a computer modem; they only hooked up their cheap little phone they had for outgoing phone calls, which were rare indeed. Theyíd never answered an incoming call, if theyíd had any. It was only the work of a moment to call his mother at Heller-Aller, and dial her extension directly.

"Hi, Mom," he said, glad to hear her voice for the first time in a couple months. "Just called to say Merry Christmas."

"Jon!" his mother exclaimed, "Iíve been sitting here wondering if Iíd hear from you. How are you?"

"Just fine, Mom," he said. "I just got done with the last final of the semester."

"Are you thinking about coming home?" she asked.

"I donít think so," he said. "Not unless itís really needed. Tan . . . " Oh, shit! he thought, realizing heíd almost said her name. Watch it you donít fuck up again, stupid! ". . . Er, I have an independent study project Iím planning on working on over break."

"Iíd really like to see you," her voice came over the line, apparently not making any note of his near slipup Ė a huge relief Ė "But I donít think youíd better come home, unless you plan on having a confrontation with your father."

"I figured that," he said. "Iím still a traitor to Hadley-Monroe, and Crystal is all to blame, right?"

"That says it quite well," she sighed. "I mean, if you happen to be in the Chicago area, Iím sure we could arrange a quiet meeting. Iíd really like to see you again, Jon, but right now it wouldnít be wise to let your father know."

"Thatís about what I expected," Jon said. "Just as well, Iím not planning on being anywhere near Chicago. Have you heard from Crystal?"

"Yes," she said. "I talked to Randy the other day, and he said sheís going to be spending the winter working at a ski resort in Colorado."

"Sheís not living with him, then?" he said. "I kind of figured that was what was going on."

"I thought so, too," his mother said. "I talked to Randy several times last summer, and all he would tell me about her was he knew more or less where she was, she was all right the last time heíd heard, but sheíd asked him not to say where she was. Apparently since that fracas with Kip, sheís told him itís all right to tell me in general terms where she is, and I can get mail to her through him. Thatís a considerable relief compared to what happened over the summer, both with you and her. Randy did say he had hoped Crystal would at least spend the winter with him, and I could tell he was frustrated over it, so I think heís not lying to me."

"Thatís not the kind of guy Randy is," Jon agreed. "I donít know him well, but he strikes me as the kind of guy who would just tell you heís not going to say rather than lie to you."

"Thatís true," his mother agreed. "Whatís more, I went to school with his mother, and I called her one day. I didnít exactly ask her directly, but she more or less confirmed Crystal has been with them for only a few days in the last year. So, apparently sheís off in the Colorado mountains somewhere. Are you going to disappear on me again next summer, too?"

"Unless something happens, Iíll be back at the same place," Jon told her. "Iíll see if I canít work out an address so you can at least mail me, but I wonít be able to arrange it until I get back out there." Even as he said it, he wasnít sure he wanted his mother to know he would be in Phoenix. Oh, well, there was always the possibility of a mail drop with the Los Angeles field office. He could think about that another time.

"That would be a great relief," his mother said. "Last summer was sheer hell, with all three of you trying to stay out of sight, and no idea what had happened to any of you. But Jon, I think youíre doing the wise thing in trying to build your own life, rather than let your father run it."

"That was how things had to happen." he said, and changed the subject. "So, whatís happening with Nanci?"

"Oh, she sat around home for a few days, pining over her poor dear Kip in jail," his mother snorted. "But I didnít think she had a yearís attention span and she didnít. She has another boyfriend sheís living with, and we still donít see her. Heís no prize, rather dirty, with a considerable number of piercings, but it seems heís fairly kind. At least, he apparently hasnít hit her. Theyíre probably going to both have to run and hide when Kip gets out of jail, though."

"So itís still pretty much you and Dad, huh?" he asked.

"Yes," she said. "And thatís nothing much. Your father sits around watching the television or playing with his computer, and I donít dare say much, since about anything could set off a rampage."

"Mom, I donít know how to say this," he said, "But maybe you ought to think about making a change."

"Donít think I havenít thought about it," she said. "About the only thing that keeps me there is I feel like I should be a point of contact for the three of you, and especially for Nanci. From what I can tell, you and Crystal appear to be healthy and happy. I canít say the same thing for Nanci. I want to try to be available for her if she needs me. But Jon, a year ago I made some changes to my financial picture, so Iíd have some reserve should a need arise. If a dire emergency comes up, please call on me."

"Thatís not really what itís for, is it?" he asked, understanding her pretty well.

"What do you think?" she said. "Itíll be there when the need arises. The three of you are still my children, Jon, and I donít want to lose you. I may not be able to be a lot of help, but Iíll help in an emergency if I can."

"Mom," he said, "Right now I canít be a lot of help if an emergency comes up with you, but Iíll try to help when I can. Just send me a letter. My post office box isnít real close by, and I donít get to it every day, maybe once a week."

"All right," she said. "If something should happen on this end and I canít get to you for some reason, Iíll try to let Thelma here in the office know where I am. It might take a while. And, Randy too, I think. Randy apparently is going to be in his home town more or less permanently."

"Itís getting pretty desperate up there, isnít it?" he said.

"I donít think of it as desperate," his mother said. "I think of it as taking precautions. Your father and I had a good life for a number of years, Jon. Things are bad right now. I keep hoping heíll come to his senses, and I need to offer him the chance. Besides, I need to get a little closer to my retirement date if I can."

"Your call, Mom," he said. "You know what Iíd tell you to do."

"I know," she said sadly. "You had to do it. Hang in there, Jon, Iíll see you again someday."

"You hang in there too, Mom," he said. "Try to have a Merry Christmas."

"Not much chance of that," she said. "You try to have one, though. Jon, Iíve got to run, Iíve got another call Iíve been waiting for."

"Not much chance here, either," he said. "Iíll try to call again in a couple months."

"Do that, Jon," she said sadly. "Take care."

Jon hung the phone up with a heavy heart. No matter that his father had been the asshole, Jon had ducked out, rather than face it. His mother hadnít taken that option, and had to face the music every day. Itís got to be sheer hell, he thought, and wished his mother would tell his father to go to hell like he had done. "Well, so much for that great idea," he told Tanisha sadly. "It looks pretty solid that Crystal is in Colorado."

"I noticed you mostly talked about what was happening at home, and not much about you," she observed.

"Yeah, after I all but fucked up there at the beginning, I just didnít want to talk about me much for fear Iíd slip up again. Itís a damn shame, Tanisha. I think Mom would be OK with you, but I just donít dare mention you or anything while sheís with Dad. If she slipped up, it could be dangerous all around, especially for her. Maybe someday. Sheís got two years and change before she can retire, I think. She seems to be trying to stick it out. As soon as she can draw retirement, things could change drastically for her."

* * *

It just about wasnít Christmas for them. They did little decorating, little to admit to the season; despite everything, they both had memories of happier holiday seasons with their families.

They didnít have a television set; they had no time to watch it and what was on TV didnít interest them much, anyway Ė especially with the time of year, and all the Christmas stuff on TV that they really didnít want to think about. For the most part, they stayed holed up in their little apartment and studied, taking joy from being with each other both in bed and out.

Since they were trying to watch their money as closely as possible, they agreed there would be no Christmas presents, although both of them cheated a little. They bought each other a couple of paperback novels at a used bookstore Ė Tom Clancy for Jon, part of David Weberís "Honor Harrington" series for Tanisha. They both did enjoy reading a little for pleasure, but, with everything else, a novel like a Tom Clancy thriller could take a month or more to get through, so the books were actually a thoughtful and major present.

But still, Christmas Eve was hard. Tanisha was especially down, and Jon could tell it as she stood talking with him while he washed the few dishes from their dinner. "You know," she said finally, "For all that I think weíve done the right thing the past year, right now Iíd like to be home, just for a couple hours, if I didnít have to talk to my family."

"Whyís that?" he asked.

"They should be starting the Christmas program at church right now," she said. "The one thing I really miss is singing in the choir." She shook her head. "I did it last year, and I guess I knew it would be the last time. I really miss it."

"If you like, thereís probably a church service around here somewhere," he suggested. "We could go check it out."

"No," she said sadly. "Itís probably getting to be a little late, and we wouldnít want to walk into a place we donít know during the program." She shook her head. "Besides, itís not the same thing, and I wouldnít be in the choir."

"I suppose," Jon said, feeling sad that he couldnít cheer her up, even though he was low himself. "What kind of songs did you sing?í

"Oh, lots of stuff," she smiled, remembering back, then beginning to sing with a strong beat,

"When I was a seeker

I sought both night and day,

I asked the Lord to help me,

And he showed me the way."

"Come on," she grinned. "You know the chorus. Sing with me!"

He didnít know the chorus from the song, but the words were familiar as she continued with them, and he sort of managed to fake it:

"Go tell it on the mountain,

Over the hills and everywhere,

Go tell it on the mountain,

That Jesus Christ is born."

"Come on, put some soul into it, Jon," she smiled. They sang it from the top again, this time rocking it a little more. They hadnít sung spirituals together for months, not since the previous spring, before she had to leave St. Louis, but now they started to come back to Jon. He finished the dishes, put them away, and just stood there singing with Tanisha in the kitchen for a long time, perhaps an hour or more.

"You know what?" she said as they started to tire of the exercise. "You may not be the best choir Iíve ever sung with, but youíre the one I love the most, and that makes up for a lot. Merry Christmas, Jon."

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